Bound to be controversial 😀

En dash versus em dash

The en dash is wider than the hyphen but not as wide as the em dash. An em width is defined as the point size of the currently used font, since the M character is not always the width of the point size. In running text, various dash conventions are employed: an em dash—like so—or a spaced em dash — like so — or a spaced en dash – like so – can be seen in contemporary publications.

Various style guides and national varieties of languages prescribe different guidance on dashes. Dashes have been cited as being treated differently in the US and the UK, with the former preferring the use of an em-dash with no additional spacing, and the latter preferring a spaced en-dash. As an example of the US style, The Chicago Manual of Style still recommends unspaced em dashes. Style guides outside of the US tend to diverge from this guidance. For example, the Canadian The Elements of Typographic Style recommends the spaced en dash – like so – and argues that the length and visual magnitude of an em dash “belongs to the padded and corseted aesthetic of Victorian typography.” In the United Kingdom, the spaced en dash is the house style for certain major publishers, including the Penguin Group, the Cambridge University Press, and Routledge. But this convention is not universal. The Oxford Guide to Style (2002, section 5.10.10) acknowledges that the spaced en dash is used by “other British publishers”, but states that the Oxford University Press—like “most US publishers”—uses the unspaced em dash.

The en dash—always with spaces in running text—and the spaced em dash both have a certain technical advantage over the un-spaced em dash. …


As Australia tends to British rather than US customs – and there is a monopoly that essentially prohibits retailers from importing US books – I recall seeing the m-dash on the printed page only once in my life. It looked very strange to me. I still don’t like it – rather than separating words, it seems to draw them together like an extended hyphen. It also seems visually less “airy” than the UK format, somehow more oppressive on the eye.

The m-dash is rarely seen on the internet, except on websites of certain highbrow US magazines, used in an effort to duplicate the look of the printed version. The n-dash might appear then to have won – except that it is very often (almost always?) substituted with the hyphen, which is easier to type. Deceptively, WordPress is smart enough to understand my usage and correct it as required.

As a follow-up to my piece “Bad advice for stupid writers“, here is “Learn the F**king Rules!“, in which an editor laments the degraded state of her profession. This is something I’ve been worrying about, too – my spelling, grammar and word sense are pretty good, and I have a feeling that the efforts of one of the new generation of editors will have only a negative effect. Is this a good enough reason to turn to self-publishing?

And any editor who uses the phrase “between her and I” (without ironic intent) should be sacked immediately!


“Children cannot distinguish between what is allegory and what isn’t, and opinions formed at that age are usually difficult to eradicate or change; it is important that the first stories they hear shall aim at producing the right moral effect.” (Republic, Book Two, 378).

Source: Plato vs. Grand Theft Auto

I found this article interesting, having just finished reading Watching the English, an examination of English manners by Kate Fox, which naturally spent a lot of time looking at class issues. (That book, incidentally, is over-wordy and repetitive, and I think underestimates the importance of understatement as a mode of being.)

Sandra Tsing Loh’s Atlantic article is interesting for the contrast US class archetypes make with the English types. It turns out the snooty yacht club is not just a feature of National Lampoon movies. Loh goes askew, however, when she attempts some original thought, based on Paul Fussell’s identification of the classless “category X”, which she surruptitiously conflates with the 1990’s “Generation X”.

She is correct to identify the rise of a Bohemian-identifying creative class in the US (she waves her original Ramones T-shirt as proof of her belonging to this elite, but then unwittingly proves herself a phoney by admitting she never particularly liked the band). Unfortunately, she fails to differentiate between what for want of a better word we will call “authentic” Bohemians, and those she spends half her article excoriating, who are, despite the casual dress and herbal lifestyle, mostly industry “suits”. What we used to call yuppies, in fact.

The real problem is that Loh identifies X clustering as a “problem”, which she ends up accusing of causing the current recession (or GFC, to use the vomit-making acronym). Here’s a quote:

In the relatively affluent post–Cold War era, the search for self-expression has evolved into a desire to not have that self-expression challenged, which in turn necessitates living among people who think and feel just as you do.

Does she really think that people wanting to live beside like-minded people is a new phenomenon brought about by the “self-expression” culture? Look at any society, any culture of the past, to see this is an obviously stupid idea.

Loh’s “Bohemians” “flee gritty Los Angeles for verdant Portland”, and she observes that “Portland is much whiter than Los Angeles, disconcertingly white”. Do you see what she’s doing here? She’s accusing the X’s of congregating in ghettos. Imagine if she accused a non-white group of this. Imagine if she observed that “Los Angeles is much more Latino than Portland, disconcertingly Latino”.

She carries on in much the same vein. “In Austin alone, the percentage of people with a college education went from 17 percent in 1970 to 45 percent in 2004.” She says that (pace Robert Putnam) “the highest-tech cities tended to have the lowest rate of civic connections” – and demonstrates this with an anecdote: she showed some keys she’d found to a guy in San Francisco and he said “I wouldn’t trust the police with those. Post a notice on Craigslist!” I hope I don’t need to point out to you that (a) believing the police to be untrustworthy does not necessarily demonstrate a lack of civic connection, and (b) the reference to Craig’s List actually demonstrates a new kind of civic connection, no less valid than the old, even if less physically tangible.

She quotes Bill Bishop writing “there was a surge of people who wanted to live in cities for what could only be social—or even aesthetic—reasons”. This is not actually a new thing, of course. People with money have always lived where they wanted to, and now more people have more money. It does not mean, as Loh implies, a new selfishness.

The great sin of the X’s is lack of diversity. Loh says “an over-clustering of educated people in one region is not always a social boon”, and obviously means that it is never a social boon. Why? Because, as Bishop writes, “education is presumed to nurture an appreciation of diversity: the more schooling, the greater the respect for works of literature and art, different cultures, and various types of music. … Education also should make us curious about—even eager to hear—different political points of view. But it doesn’t. The more educated Americans become—and the richer—the less likely they are to discuss politics with those who have different points of view.”

Now, Bishop is fudging here (and Loh is going along with it). If more educated people are less likely “to discuss politics with those who have different points of view” (a phrase which vividly conjures the blank banality of the survey question), so what? In any statistical analysis, one group is always going to be more something than another group. I doubt Bishop or Loh would try to assert from this that educated people are therefore less politically aware than other people, or less informed. They are probably more aware and informed. But they are not being diverse, you see (diversity being a virtue we should “nurture an appreciation of”, rather than a word meaning “consisting of several kinds”).

Thankfully, this awful situation will be brought to an end by the recession: “more Xers will have to start rubbing shoulders with The Other, living in truly mixed neighborhoods, next door to such noncreative types as Kohl’s-shopping back-office workers and actual not-yet-ready-for-their-close-up-in-Yoga-Journal immigrants”. Again, imagine if she was talking about a different group: “Urban blacks should move out of their ‘over-clustering’ regions and get some diversity.” She would be ostracised by her fellow hip-erati (oh God, did I just coin that?), and possibly shot, with some justification, for not minding her own business.

Oh, I almost forgot her big punchline. The rise of the Bohemian-identifying creative class has “brought shameful social stratification* and a consumer binge that our children’s children may well be paying off.” In case that’s not clear enough: “This economic catastrophe is teaching the Xers that their prized self-­expression and their embrace of personal choice leads to … the collapse of capitalism.” You see? Lack of diversity leads to Global Financial Crisis! Hang the whites! She provides absolutely no justification for this assertion, which emerges at the end of her article out of thin air, just as it has here.

So why this crusade against the Bobo’s? First of all, it is terribly fashionable, amongst the chattering classes, to knock white people (the fact that these chatterers are largely white is neither here nor there). Apart from goofy poor whites, and socially anxious middle-class whites, the best target is whites with an education and some money. You see, if you have money and education (and are white), you are “privileged” and “entitled”. You are, in fact, no matter how hip or “aware” you may seem to be, The Man, which means you are the cause of everyone else’s problems. You are the proverbial They, whom we all blame and hate.

Now, although Sandra would appear, by almost every definition, to one of the class she is criticising (urban, creative, educated, well off), she is part Asian, which means she’s not part of this “disconcertingly white” pariah group. (I can’t help wondering if childhood experiences of racial “otherness” helped foment her X-baiting resentment.)

So, Loh gets to have her cake and eat it. She can’t possibly lack diversity (the leading cause of economic meltdown) – because she’s not white. She is dressed-down funky (“I believe the true X philosophy is to try to destroy “hipness” wherever one sees it”), “edgy” (she said “fuck” on radio!), no doubt Twittering her fans about the details of her cool life, certainly ecologically “conscious” and globally “aware” – what in this description does not include her as one of the hip yuppies she so vilifies? And yet the blame rolls off her like water off a duck’s back. Lucky her.


* Because Xers invented social stratification, of course. Or maybe she means we used to have the good stratification?

Read this blog about hagiographic children’s books on the presidential candidates. Can you imagine such a thing in any modern Western country?

From the book on McCain (supposedly by his daughter): “the food [in the prison camp] was really bad – once he found a chicken foot in his lunch. [oh noes!] … My dad wouldn’t go home [from Vietnam] and leave his friends. I think only a great man would have made that choice.”

But the Obama book tops this: born “on a moon-lit night”, “his mother was white as whipped cream, and his father was black as ink.”

If you mixed cream and ink, I think the result would be something you wouldn’t want to eat or write with.

Alas, poor Dilbert

31 May, 2007

The world divides into two groups – no, actually, three: people who enjoy Dilbert (a popular comic strip and book series, in case you’ve been living on the moon), people who dislike Dilbert, and people who can’t bring themselves to read Scott Adams’ stuff since he went nuts and drank his own Kool-Aid. Signs first showed in his book “The Dilbert Future”, which went along seeming pretty normal, if slightly lacklustre compared to previous efforts, and then went weird in the last chapter, in which he seriously predicted that evolution would be disproved in our lifetime, and reported that any goal or desire can be achieved if you write it down 15 times a day.

Since then he has blogged further on the imminent demise of evolution, based on, among other things, articles in Newsweek. He has denied advocating the creationist entryist pseudo-scientific theory called Intelligent Design (ID), but while he argues energetically against various pro-evolution critics, he doesn’t contradict the rabid creationists who post supportive messages.

He makes all the basic mistakes: he assumes that because he doesn’t understand evolution or ID, they have equal validity. (This doesn’t stop him citing any scientific discovery he thinks might disprove evolution.) He also thinks that, because scientific theories evolve as new evidence is received, there is no such thing as scientific fact and it’s basically all made up. This from the guy who gave us the Pointy-Haired Boss (PHB).

Remember the Dilbert strip (probably more than one, as Adams tends to recycle his themes) in which the PHB argues that, because he doesn’t understand the jobs his employees do, their jobs must be easy? Adams is now the PHB, refuting something he doesn’t understand, and rebounding all criticism with the retort, “I was just being facetious.” This facetiousness comes and goes as is convenient to him.

I must now sadly cast Adams into the dustbin of history, alongside PJ O’Rourke, who used to be a funny critic of bad thinking, until he became a free market fundamentalist and refused to seriously criticise the US Republican Party. Adams, it turns out, is smart enough to criticise the delusions and poor thinking of corporate suits, but not smart enough to recognise his own delusions and poor thinking. A lesson for us all: you’re never as smart as you think you are.

A post on this subject even more intelligent than my own!:
Suckered by Intelligent Design

In case you’d begun to think that perhaps the US isn’t some bizarre theocracy in the making, check out the story of the teacher sentenced to 40 years for porn pop-ups. Okay, the anti-American title of this post is a bit rough, seeing as a number of US companies and individuals are supporting this poor woman’s cause, but the fact that this issue has arisen in the first place should give reasonable people pause.

In Australia, and probably anywhere else in the Western world, the teacher might be suspended and investigated, and at most fired or reprimanded. In the US, she is convicted by a sub-simian jury, and sentenced by a cretinous judge to 40 years for “four counts of risking injury to a child”. Injury? The kids are fine, and probably missing their teacher. If people are worried that their moral development is somehow harmed, maybe they should also arrest anyone who’s had sex while the children were home.

If this woman does one day of jail time, it’s time we finally revoked the United States’s membership of the “Western world”. They’ll get along much better with the hand-chopping, honour-killing crazies currently running the Middle East.