Month: August 2012

The big one

Recently, one of my long-time style dreams became a reality. I acquired my dream bag. The dream bag – the bag to rule all bags. It was an acquisition a long time in the making, not least because (as you might guess), my dream bag is not exactly, ahem, frugal. Nor is it easy to find in my neck of the woods. But after a lot of research, hours of searching (both of the soul and internet variety), and long months of saving, she is finally mine. Without further ado, I present: my dream Chanel bag.

 

My dream Chanel bag – isn’t she pretty?

I know y’all are just dying to get the technical details, so here they are. This is a vintage Chanel which, based on the hologram sticker, is likely from ’89/’90. She is slightly taller, and thus more square in shape, than the most common medium flap and, as a result, is quite roomy. I briefly toyed with the idea of getting a vintage Jumbo XL flap bag, but decided it might be a touch on the large side for my purposes. I wanted something classic, elegant yet understated. And I think I got it.

 

Iconic and timeless
The chain strap can be worn doubled-up for the classic look, or extended for a more casual vibe. 

It works with everything … every-thing!
For anyone interested, I purchased my dream Chanel bag from the lovely Cyndee at Chanel Touch on Malleries.com. Chanel Touch is an Ontario-based, reputable reseller of vintage Chanel bags (among other luxury goods), with great word-of-mouth on The Purse Forum, my go-to authentication place for designer wares. Given the cost at stake, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of doing your research on both the item and the seller in a situation like this, so that you may protect both your wallet and your peace of mind.I’ve been teasing you with my “dream bag” purchase for a while now; had you guessed what it would be? Share your dream bag in the comments.

I went to Oxford and all I got was this lousy comma

If motherhood has taught me one thing … it’s probably not what you think. It is how to proficiently waste time on the internet. Before my son made the transition from vocal, but largely immobile, blobby entity to premium battery-powered howler monkey, my daily routine as a primary care-giver consisted of periodic spurts of frenzied activity – which had more to do with my perma-panicked first-time parent mindset than with my son, still months away from his gravity-testing daredevil phase at that time – interspersed with the occasional hour of respite, aka nap time. Since my “breaks” were too short for, say, getting properly engrossed in a book, I turned to my tablet. Once the Angry Birds addiction subsided, I was left with the internet. And that great, big, black hole that is the blogosphere.

This is just a long-winded way (sorry!) of telling you that I’ve gotten into some dubious sites over the past year. No, not that kind of dubious. I’m talking about the kind of sites that would provoke an initial response of “Who thinks of stuff like this?” Evidently, somebody is smart enough to think of it, because a lot of other people are reading it. Including me. One of the sites I stumbled upon is Reblogging Donk. I can’t really explain its purpose or the nature of its charm, but suffice it to say that its sole focus is covering the public antics of one Julia Allison, internet fameball extraordinaire. Don’t worry if you have no idea who she is. It’s not important. That’s not the actual topic of this post. [Hah! I bet you thought I was finally getting close to it. Not yet.] Reading Reblogging Donk has afforded me many hours of Schadenfreude-ian enjoyment, but imagine my surprise when, one day, it also provided a dollop of education. Reading the comments on one of its posts, I was introduced to the Oxford comma.

It will come as a surprise to absolutely no one that I am passionate about the written word. But my dedication can be haphazard; I’m fanatical about semantics and spelling, but merely pedantic about grammar, and sometimes downright sloppy about punctuation. I hate reading style manuals – is there anything more snooze-inducing than reading a book about the technicalities of writing? – but I am always interested in picking up tidbits that might help improve my skills. Since I make my living on those skills, it literally pays to polish them up whenever possible.

Enter the Oxford comma.

Chances are that, like me, you’ve used the Oxford comma countless times, without realizing it. [Or, rather, knowing what it was.] Take it away, Wikipedia:

“The serial comma (also known as the Oxford comma or Harvard comma, and sometimes referred to as the series comma) is the comma used immediately before a coordinating conjunction (usually and or or, and sometimes nor) preceding the final item in a list of three or more items. For example, a list of three countries can be punctuated as either “Portugal, Spain, and France” (with the serial comma) or as “Portugal, Spain and France” (without the serial comma). Opinions vary among writers and editors on the usage or avoidance of the serial comma. In American English, the serial comma is standard usage in non-journalistic writing that follows the Chicago Manual of Style. Journalists, however, usually follow the AP Stylebook, which advises against it.”

Neato, huh? OK, you’re probably thinking, “What’s the big deal about this comma … and why does it have a hoity-toity name, anyway?” We’ll get to the first question in a second, and as for the second … beats me.

The Oxford comma is important because it can help avoid ambiguity. Ambiguity results in sloppy writing. Sloppy writing derails an otherwise coherent and logical argument; alternately, sloppy writing is, in fact, the sign of sloppy thinking. Either way, not a good thing. Take the example given in Wikipedia’s entry: a fictional book dedication directed “To my parents, Ayn Rand and God.” At first blush, you might not see an issue with this statement, other than its author’s possibly dubious philosophical inclinations. But take another look. Is the author giving a shout-out to four entities (three human, living or deceased, and one divine), or to only two – a strange conjugal relationship if there ever was one? Without the aid of the Oxford comma, we could never really know.

That is not to say that the Oxford comma can’t cause its own mischief if improperly used, or that it is always a butt-saver. Take, for example, this chuckle-worthy excerpt published in The Times, describing a Peter Ustinov documentary in which “highlights of his global tour include[d] encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector.” Bet you just learned something new about Nelson Mandela … or did you? The addition of an Oxford comma in this case wouldn’t resolve the ambiguity; it would merely rectify any assumptions about Mr. Mandela’s collecting habits, not his demigod status.

Of course, not all instances of missing commas are hilarity-inducing. [And maybe not everyone shares my love of language-based humour.] Some are merely banal. Some, on the other hand, can cost you millions. [No, really. Just ask Rogers Communications.] In order to avoid that occasional real whopper, it’s best to mind your fancy-toff commas at all times. Now that you’ve had a chance to get acquainted with it, you’ll never not think of it every time you write out a three-item list. Trust me on that.

Oh, what the hell! Here’s one last reason why the Oxford comma is the sexiest punctuation mark around [You’ll want to look, it involves strippers. And JFK. And Stalin.]

 

 

 

Friday Flashback: the intelligence-religion link

I was inspired to re-post this week’s flashback by a Telegraph article with a most provocative title: “Intelligent People Are Less Likely to Believe in God”.

 

 

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

— Friedrich Nietzsche
Nietzsche had balls. Whether one agrees or disagrees, or even understands, his philosophy, one must recognize the man’s audacity. Openly admiring Nietzsche remains, to this day, a rather dicey proposition. I am, for better or worse, an inveterate fence-sitter; it makes it that much easier to swing over to one side or the other, depending on whom one wants to antagonize. I will not go as far as to denounce myself as a Nietzschean. But I recognize his brilliance. I think that’s a pretty safe step; madmen, as much as geniuses, are often brilliant. I need not decide which category is most apt in this case.

As an aside, in the course of researching this post (I hasten to add that only a minimal amount of research can ever be said to lie behind my musings), I noted that Wikipedia credits Nietzsche with the development of perspectivism, the view that “all ideations take place from a particular cognitive perspective … [in other words] individual concepts of existence are defined by the circumstances surrounding that individual.” Now, I haven’t read any Nietzsche since my undergraduate days, and couldn’t possibly vouch for the accuracy of this neat little Wiki snippet. But if Nietzsche really did come up with that concept (or wrote authoritatively enough to be given credit for it), I cannot help but allow a little admiration to flutter in my cynical, black heart. [Ed. note: as someone who has more experience in cultural and geographic displacement than your average North American, I find this explains a lot about the differences in perspective that I encounter on a daily basis.]

When Nietzsche boldly declared the death of the divinity, he didn’t mean it literally. Recently, however, a spate of books seems intent on proving that God is not only dead, but non-existent. Great minds produced these works; more importantly, they are best-sellers (I note that not as evidence of greatness, but of the fact that they are being, presumably, widely read). Their titles are adamant (God Is Not Great; The God Delusion; God: The Failed Hypothesis) and exhorting (Letters to a Christian Nation; The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason). I confess that I have been tempted to peruse at least of couple of these books. As with any phenomenon, one is often loath to feel left out. But time and time again, I have recoiled from committing myself financially to the task. After all, that’s what libraries are for.

It is a necessary caveat to state that I haven’t read the very books I am about to discuss. I wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. As such, the point of this post is not to criticize these books; that would be absurd in the circumstances. Besides, it may well be that I agree with much of what is said in them. I merely want to comment on what has struck me as an unusual trend. I can’t help but wonder why or how it was decided that the time is ripe for this sort of discourse; clearly, the decision was an astute one, considering the books’ aforementioned popularity. Then again, I also fail to understand why or how someone decides that fashion needs to revisit the 80s, or teenagers with no apparent talents need to become famous and fabulously wealthy.I should also mention that I am, publicly at least, an agnostic. However, as I stated here before, I do not believe that faith can be explained by reason or science; it is, fundamentally, a private experience – and a uniquely individual one (and I don’t propose to share mine). My comments below are aimed at small-r religion – personal faith – and certainly not organized Religion. The latter is an entirely different beast.What interests me about the efforts of Hitchens, Dawkins et al., is their sheer proselytizing zeal. Why bother convince people that God doesn’t exist? I understand the missionary’s purpose – people might not find God without a little help. But who is the God-denier’s audience? There are, of course, the atheists; but it seems rather redundant to preach to the choir. I suppose there are the agnostics; for all intents and purposes, though, most of them are default atheists anyway. As for the believers – it strikes me that the moderate, rational ones, who might be swayed by the arguments found in these books, are not the ones who typify the ‘dark’ side of religion. They are probably people who diligently go about their lives, observing the law, doing their bit for the economy, raising the next generation – nice enough people by virtue of the law of averages. What victory is it to rob them of what may well be a source of solace or strength or personal contentment? They’re not the ones who start wars, promote intolerance or generally make life miserable for everyone else. What has their God ever done to you? As for the fundamentalists and other fanatics – is it all that likely that any of them will give considered thought to these arguments, if they even bother to read the book? And, further yet, actually be converted?

An oft cited argument is that religion is responsible for a lot of the ills that plague our modern world. I think there’s some truth in that, though I find it a rather facile statement. There are plenty of other factors that fuel human discontent, for which I think religion might function more as an outlet, than a source. The argument suggests that, by abolishing religion, we can root out some of the problems. Of this, I am skeptical. Here’s where my cynicism rears its Hydra-like head(s). I have a feeling that, deprived of religion, people would find something else to fight about. It’s not the gods who’ve sown discontent among us; discontent is bred in our hearts, just as grace or compassion is. I don’t believe that, in a state of nature, humanity is free of flaws. Society does what it can to polish the raw material, but it’s not, itself, a perfect mechanism; in lieu of that, it provides certain, more or less legitimized, outlets for the imperfections. Religion has, no doubt, been a justification for terrible deeds for centuries, if not millennia. But I wonder how often it is a justification raised in abiding conviction, rather than mere convenience.As ready as I am to absolve religion of a great portion of the liability attributed to it, I’m equally prepared to shear it of credit for humanity’s acts of compassion. In that sphere, it is also merely an outlet. You may ask, then, what is the point of religion? I am not religion’s apologist (were such apology necessary). I am reminded, however, of Marx’ famous dictum. It is not the Marxian perspective on religion I wish to adopt; but the phrase is suggestive. Religion is the opium of the people. Think of it as drugs. You choose to take, and what to take and how much. You choose how far you will go to get your ‘fix’. People can try to tell you what’s good for you, and baby-sit your choices – a mostly futile endeavour. Taking drugs will not solve your problems but it might give you a new perspective; you might feel good and you might wind up dead. As with all choices, you have a (moral, if you will) obligation to be informed before you act; beyond that, it’s free will, baby, and personal responsibility all the way.

Despite appearances to the contrary, my view of religion is no more negative than my views of any other human endeavour. It shares, with all of them, the same basic flaw – the inherent imperfection of humanity. I am, to that extent, baffled by its attackers. It’s not their arguments that intrigue me, but their motivations.
Still, this is not the first time that someone has made an assault on the heavens, so to speak. I think it apt (if not particularly witty) to end this meandering post by borrowing from Mark Twain: with all apologies to Nietzsche, reports of God’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

 

Ed. Note (August 2012): As it happens, I ended up getting Dawkins’ God Is Not Great a while back. [Bargain bin at Indigo, and no, that is not intended as a commentary on its qualities. Just that patience can pay off if you’re looking for a bargain.] I did enjoy it, and as I had anticipated, did not disagree with most of it. I am still somewhat ambivalent about its fundamental intent or purpose, though I suppose it can be seen as the “cri de coeur” of the atheist movement in the face of the growing mass of evolution-deniers. On that level, I can support its aims because we definitely do need more intelligent discourse on this. Incredible, in fact, that the discourse is still ongoing – well into the 21st century.

As for the study mentioned in the article I linked at the top, do I think that intelligent people are less likely to believe in God? I think the link between intelligence and non-religiosity is, as critics have said, simplistic. First, if the sample population considered consisted solely of academics … no offence, but they don’t have a monopoly on intelligence. And perhaps the social and institutional structures associated with academia attract, or promote, people with no religious affiliations or beliefs. Second, the fact that religious belief has “declined across 137 developed nations in the 20th century” might have any number of causes other than the purported increase in intelligence during that time. [I say “purported” because my daily morning commute, alone, makes me seriously doubt this fact. If the average IQ is, indeed, rising, the curve must be bulking around the centre.] After all, it’s not like the 20th century witnessed a series of cultural and economic upheavals, global conflicts, or massive technological booms … right?

What do you think? Are more intelligent people less likely to believe in God? And is that an unfairly loaded question?