Monday, April 21, 2008

who lives here

Race and the election have been on my mind of late, especially after having a drink with a journalist friend who has spent the last week attending a dozen naturalization ceremonies for a story about immigration. I don't know if the following anecdote fits well into modern-day conversations about race, but it struck a chord for me.

I was in the checkout line at a convenience store the other day. Two loud and obese women were having trouble finding money to pay for their items. The unimpressed checkout clerk stood waiting. Then one of the women noticed her name tag--Bathule--and asked where she was from.

"Ethiopia," she said.

"Oh cool," the two women said.

When they left, I looked at Bathule as if to commiserate, more about the time they took to get organized than about their attempt at small talk.

"America has all kinds of people," she said. She was annoyed, and although I want to give the women the benefit of the doubt, imagining that they were genuinely interested in the origins of an unfamiliar and pretty name, I suspect Bathule was correctly touching on something less positive: that these women weren't interested in her name, but rather a vague sense of foreignness.

It was Bill Clinton, Bathule continued, "who once said: 'We are all immigrants.'" The she bagged my purchases and I left.

incoming info

Monday morning is often a good time for corralling the cool stuff piling into my inbox. First, there's this brand of deodorant and after-shave products, which I obviously have to use during my book tour in the fall. Enuf said.

A fellow journalist also recently pointed me toward a small piece debunking the myth that left-handers more frequently suffer from migraines. Another reader who's interested in autism sent me a mountain of material on the tricky question of how autism might be different in boys compared to girls, men compared to women.

And then there's this: Last week I met with the two founders of an interesting project called Imindi. If you know of Twine you're 1.) three steps ahead of me, because I only heard of it last week and 2.) well-positioned to understand what Imindi is or aspires to be. The short (because I'd butcher the long and the short): It's not a search engine; it's a thought engine. World-changing stuff? Beats me, but it's always energizing to meet with people who think they're on to something huge.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

their (sic), typo tour guys and peter mark roget

Southpaw Bill Clinton recently committed, and was cited for, a nice little grammar gaff. The repeated "their (sic)" construction here on this LA Times blog is particularly amusing, each set of parentheses acting like little gotcha daggers. And on the topic of grammar policing: While Righting the Mother Tongue goes under the copy-edit knife as we speak, I'm planning to have a beer this evening with a couple of guys who're touring the country correcting typos. Sharpies and White-Out in hand, Jeff Deck of New Hampshire and a few of his friends have made their way to Oregon. Check out the Typo Eradication Advancement League. It's good fun in the spirit of Lynne Truss's cheeky crusade. Although my linguistic sensibilities are significantly more liberal, the discussion should be a fun one.

Lastly, and still on language, author Christine Kenneally recently reviewed a new biography of Peter Mark Roget, of thesaurus fame. The book and the man both sound interesting, and Christine was nice enough to give a shout out to Righting the Mother Tongue as well. See her piece here on Slate.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

the brothers torres

This spring, if you buy just one book for yourself or for a teenager in your life, it should be The Brothers Torres, by Coert Voorhees. See a terrific trailer here.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

paleo poop

While working on a story last year about how and when humans first came to the New World, I learned about Dennis Jenkins and his team's work at a (fabulously named) spot in central Oregon called Paisley 5 Mile Point Caves. Silly asides aside, these bits of old crap are quite a big deal when it comes to archeology of the Americas. The media embargo for Jenkins' forthcoming Science paper has finally lifted, which means the cat is out of the bag. Take a look at this short piece I threw together for National Geographic News.