Looking For Love With The Oxford Comma

December 31, 2019

This post, first published on 22nd February, was the most viewed on my site in 2019:


Image: from Reddit

I have always used the Oxford comma. Because of it, I have been abused by grammar “purists”, marked down in school, and “corrected” by copy editors all my life it seems, but still I am happy to cheer lead for it. The battle for and against the Oxford comma is deeply divisive but limited, or so I thought, to those who write a lot. No more, according to an article in GQ:

“Recently, the Oxford comma has found a spot on the Bingo card of online-dating profiles, alongside mainstays like “no hookups,” “no drama,” and “420 friendly.” Whether you’re mindlessly grazing on Tinder or Bumble, OkCupid or Match.com, you’re now as likely to learn someone’s thoughts on the Oxford comma as you are their job title or their penchant for tacos. On the Tinder subreddit, which has 1.8 million subscribers, one user lamented that the Oxford comma features in “like a quarter of bios ’round my parts.” Another said, “It’s everywhere.” Even a journal entry on Tinder’s own blog mentions it: “Honestly, I’m not sure how compatible I can be with someone who is anti-the Oxford comma.”

I sympathize with that final cri de coeur.  However, is it really so important that it can affect your love life?  According to GQ, it is a reliable class signifier:

“The blue-blood punctuation mark, named after the Oxford University Press, acts as a social signifier, a sieve for the bookish and studious (and, perhaps, pretentious). It suggests personality traits that extend far beyond punctuation preferences …  I think it suggests care. It suggests somebody who’s structured and disciplined and not a slob … Somebody who’s into detail, who likes precision. Somebody who has standards.”

Gosh. Who knew?

Image: Bold Colour

December 31, 2019

Why Time Flies

December 31, 2019

The other day I blamed Einstein for why time seems to go faster by as one gets older.  However, a neuroscientist has another idea:


The four minutes will fly by!

What This Decade Hath Wrought

December 31, 2019

2010 to 2019 …

Blurrier, hairier, and 30 pounds heavier — not to mention ten years older!

Night Music: Paris (Acoustic)

December 30, 2019

Poem: December 31, 2000

December 30, 2019


In a bus line

in the heart of the city,

in a hailstorm thrusting silver shards of icy glass

deep into the concrete earth,

a woman holds a little Japanese baby

the colour of Cadbury’s

Dairy Milk Chocolate.


Asleep in peace,

his little fingers wave in the air like

undulating undersea fronds.

Beneath the coloured threads and protective fibres

of his logoed rainsuit,

no fever shakes the young child’s bones,

no distrust disturbs the sleep of purity,

no threats or worries fly about

in his head so full of wonder and learning.


In this child’s dreams lies the promise

Of the new year.



Image: Corner Suites

December 29, 2019

The States They Are A’Changin’

December 29, 2019

As part of its end of year review the Pew Research Centre has issued a number of graphs and reports about the changing face of the United States.  As someone who believes in open borders and the power of diversity, I was particularly interested in the following conclusions.



These major demographic trends will doubtless create a more interesting and pluralistic society.  However, I have concerns that the nativist white identity culture enraged and encouraged by the current crop of GOP leadership will fall back on violent means to retain their grip on power. The long term hope has to be in the youth of the country who seem, in general at least, to be far less interested in ideas of racial purity.  Fingers crossed.

Night Music: Champagne and Reefer

December 28, 2019

Best Ad of 2019

December 28, 2019

I am not an Apple user nor indeed an Apple fan, but this is genius storytelling at its commercial best — a full-on story in 2:50.


Thanks to Adweek for the link. They think the Game of Thrones Super Bowl ad was best, but I prefer this.

Image: Flock #1

December 27, 2019

Night Music: Una furtiva lacrima

December 26, 2019

One of the great arias.

I Blame Einstein

December 26, 2019


When I was a kid, the hours seemed to fly by.

Then, older, it was the years that passed so quickly.

Now, it seems that decades don’t last as long as they used to.

I guess it is all relative, which is why I blame Einstein.

Image: Shavings

December 25, 2019

Night Music: Fairytale of New York

December 24, 2019

The New Normal

December 24, 2019

My favourite cannabis ad (or PSA) of the year.

Cimabue Blocked

December 24, 2019

Back in October, I reported on the accidental finding of a medieval masterpiece — Christ Mocked by Cimabue — and its sale for $26.8 million.  At the time of the sale, it was not known who had purchased the painting.  Now, the buyers are revealed as US-based Chilean collectors.

However, the French government has declared the painting to be a ‘national treasure’ and have refused an export license.  This refusal gives the French thirty months in which to raise the money. “The culture minister, Franck Riester, said the export block ‘gives us the time to mobilise all efforts for this exceptional work to enrich our national collections.'”

All well and good perhaps, except for the original owners of the painting:

“France’s move to block the export complicates matters for the family of the woman in whose home the picture had hung. They had remained anonymous in what was seen as an improbable saga of overnight riches … But Agence France-Presse reported this week that the woman, who had moved into a retirement home, died shortly after the painting was auctioned. Her family, who must continue to pay high fees to insure the work until the sale is finalised, could now have to negotiate with tax officials over the timings of inheritance tax payments while the sale is in effect suspended for almost three years.”

Definitely a case of not counting one’s chickens before they are hatched.


Western Tales

December 23, 2019

In my continuing effort to read all the best novels of the 2010s, I sat down yesterday to read Denis Johnson’s novella Train Dreams.  I read it in one gulp — in the time it took to do the laundry, and for the Seahawks to lose to the Cardinals — and wished it would never end.

This is a masterpiece of storytelling in which we follow the life of Robert Grainger, a woodman in the first half of the twentieth-century. In simple direct prose, in paragraphs that could be poetry, we see his tough upbringing, the loss of the family he makes, the daily trauma of life as a lumberman, and the extraordinary changes that were transforming the west in those decades.  Without the slightest sentimentality, we are touched deeply by his tragedies and his ability to continue against awful odds.

This is work of genius, reminding me of Richard Brautigan but without the comic surreality.  I was certain it was the best book I had read in 2019; but then ….

I turned to The Buddha In The Attic by Julie Otsuka which covers much of the same period,  I gulped this exquisite gem in just two bites, almost not breathing throughout because I was so entranced by its magic.

In a marvelous and innovative way, Otsuka recreates the lives of a group of Japanese women shipped to San Francisco as mail order brides at the beginning of the century. Each chapter describes in vivid and intimate detail a portion of their lives: the trip across the Pacific; the first night with their new husbands; learning about how to deal with white folks and the hard work they were forced to endure; having babies; raising children who often reject their history; the shock of internment, and life after.

Her method — a sequence of linked narratives, often of a sentence only, which works throughout the novel — is hard to describe. I hope this small excerpt does it justice:

“We gave birth under oak trees, in summer, in 115-degree heat. We gave birth beside woodstoves in one-room shacks on the coldest nights of the years. We gave birth on windy islands in the Delta, six months after we arrived, and the babies were tiny and translucent, and after three days they died. We gave birth nine months after we arrived to perfect babies with full heads of black hair. We gave birth in dusty vineyard camps in Elk Grove and Florin. We gave birth on remote farms in the Imperial Valley with the help of only our husbands … we gave birth in Rialto by the light of kerosene lantern on top of an old silk quilt we had brought over with us in our trunk from Japan …”

I feel privileged to have read this.


Image: Coaster #5

December 23, 2019

Poem: Midnight Snack

December 23, 2019



It’s 2am and the furnace

of our passion

is cooling     slowly


we rise, tottering together,

arms entwined,

to the kitchen    kissing


after making love

we make toast

thick with butter     oozing


rich strawberry jam

streaked liked blood

or rust on a fence     rich


as sweet love’s triangle:

you and me and toast