well, as long as your intentions are pure.

Back in college—meaning “a few years ago” for me—my English teacher was a pleasant older woman who was married to an Iranian national. I had many discussions with her on politics, education, and the general state of affairs in this country.

Once, we were talking about the different mindsets in the Middle East, and the American tendency to go into a place and expect the folks there to think like we do. She told me of a student from an Arab country she once had. One time he didn’t show up for an exam. When she later marked his grade down for the absence, he protested.

“You weren’t there, so I had to mark down your grade,” she told him.

“I was at the library and I was running late. I meant to come to class.”

“Well, you still weren’t there, so I really have no choice. You missed the exam.”

“But I meant to come,” he insisted, quite upset that the teacher wouldn’t change her decision.

When she later discussed the incident with her husband, he explained that it’s a cultural thing. He explained that in the student’s native culture, intent is as important as–and sometimes more important than–results. He missed the exam, but his intentions had been good, so to him, the teacher marking down his grade was profoundly unfair.

I find that this explanation helps me understand the ability of so many people to dismiss the negative effects of certain policy decisions. In some ways, they have adopted the same sort of mindset that intent trumps results. That’s how we end up with rising food prices because so much of the country’s farmers are now growing government-subsidized corn to turn into fuel ethanol, for example. The intent was to help the environment and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. The results are the aforementioned rising global food prices because of all the crop acreage that is now re-purposed for fuel. (The net result for the environment has been negative in the end, because the agricultural runoff from the nitrogen fertilizers needed for all the corn has a bad impact on the Gulf of Mexico.)

That’s how we ended up with egregious systematic abuses of power like RICO and asset forfeiture excess–because the intent of the law was good (reducing or eliminating the negative effects of drugs on society), the people who voted that kind of stuff into place can hold fast to it because the actual results of the policy are not as important as its intent. Conversely, measures specifically designed to eliminate the negative results of the War on Drugs don’t stand a chance of success with the same crowd if the intent of the measure is perceived wrongly. (“You want to make cannabis legal to stop stuffing the jails with non-violent drug offenders? Are you insane? What kind of message does that send?”)

How many public policy measures have been kept in place even though they have achieved the opposite results of those desired because they were well-intended? The list is a long one, and it’s not limited to only liberal or only conservative hobby horses. Gun control, welfare, drug policy, defense policy, education, health care…it seems that too many politicians (and voters) of either party are more interested in doing what sounds right than what’s actually effective. The system is set up to favor the sound bite and the “common sense solution” because it gets more votes—and is more defensible in a campaign debate—than the ideas that are focused on producing results without giving a handy “perceived intent” adapter for the proponent.

That’s how voters can re-elect a guy accused of taking bribes or diddling interns—because his public policy efforts have the proper intent, his private transgressions are irrelevant. And that’s why they can dismiss the good results achieved by the Other Guy’s public policy efforts—because those policies don’t have the proper intent, their results are irrelevant.


highly he continued glasses purse.

Sometimes, you find a gem among all the really boring generic “Loved this post!” spam caught in the filter. The following piece of clickbait has a surreal stream-of-consciousness quality that reminded me of the Cylon hybrids running the baseships:

“There began the handbag with their main black replica about vuitton else – finger workboat loved scarred on its blueblack. He began about the tiffany, replica as marking you. Walkie had his talkie. Highly he continued glasses purse – now, was the replica. The coach quality replica so. Esq oily. Twice. The chopard began forgotten. John, unknowing a special player watches. You turned you little to continue his he’d swiss, no numerous army above watches above. Me had of coach nodded of handbag, and i focus should’ve to be this replica – scar hand in the. I closed being i’d. A zenith was the adjoining replica – to the distant rolex in suspect watches the most surprising din from the features into delgado – and he must impatiently fold and sleep, relatively focus columns. Also him looked to stonehenge and finally to replica zealand, how them had unexpectedly of two on the executive, lowering, for a lips – still as of way, and fully in after a new night. He could clear become the watches for we removed known the women never to line, and they could throw mocked talking the safety with the atomic eye at the nose and telling his arrival. Rolex said his watches. He don’t tooted. We was he to him nowhere, perhaps very in i went it, into her bangs his that rolx. I began gliding the quality.”

(I took out the clickable links.)

That is so full of meme gold I don’t even know where to start. Walkie had his talkie! He must impatiently fold and sleep! I began gliding the quality.

a linguistic PSA.

Dear language-using public:

Using the German umlaut in place of an English vowel may look cool and edgy, but it changes the way the word is pronounced.

The umlaut letters Ä, Ö, and Ü change the sound of the respective vowel from a back to a front vowel.  (To a German speaker, the first part of Motörhead would be pronounced like the French word for motor, moteur.)

Just a quick reminder to let you know that you’re actually making German speakers try and pronounce your word constructs in their heads when you indiscriminately use the Heavy Metal umlaut.  Think of the German speakers, please.


a first name like someone threw a scrabble game across the room.

Salon has an article on the most popular baby names for 2010, and it seems that the current batch of American infants will have yet another good reason to put their parents up at Our Lady Of The Clogged Feeding Tubes or Aspiration Acres nursing homes in fifty years.  Much like you couldn’t cross a kindergarten playground in the mid-1990s without having to elbow boys named Kevin out of the way, Mrs. Krabapple’s first-grade class of 2016 will have a lot of nametags reading Jacob and Isabella.

Germany has a policy that lets the civil servant in charge of filling out the baby’s birth certificate reject the parental choice of name if the bureaucrat feels that it would be inappropriate, or a burden to the child later in life.  I don’t support such draconian infringements on parental rights, especially since a legal name change is a rather swift affair in the United States, but that doesn’t keep me from flinching a little when I come across kids that have been saddled with:

  • Super-popular names that are so common that they become generic, especially Hero/Heroine of the Movie of the Year names.
  • Many siblings, all named by spinning the Wheel Of Biblical Names.  (Bonus points: having all of them start with the same letter.)
  • “Creative” spelling variants of common first names, especially those that substitute phonemes, or tack on extra letters:  Brandee, Britnee, Synndy, Stefphanye, Johnathon, etc.
  • “Ethnic”-sounding made-up names, especially the De-, Ja- and La- variants: DeShonte, JaMarcus, Lakeesha, and so on.

Name your kids whatever you want, folks.  I’m not the Arbiter of Acceptable Names, and I’m pretty sure some people would consider my kids’ names odd or annoying in some way, too.  Just be aware that a reckoning will come when little Isabella finds out that she’s been named after a bloodless emo heroine pining after a sparkling vampire.  And if you name your baby boy Edward and give him Cullen as a middle name, don’t be surprised if he ends up climbing a clock tower with a scoped rifle and a sack lunch at some point in his life.

marley was dead: to begin with.

Here’s a look at Charles Dickens’ original manuscript for A Christmas Carol, which is decidedly the coolest thing I’ve seen all week.  You can leaf around in it, and see all the sections that Dickens crossed out and edited.

That’s an undeniable advantage of the longhand method: you can see the evolution of the page, what you changed, and how you changed it.  Maybe you go back to it and find that the original word was the right one after all, and it’ll still be there.  With the computer, there’s no “original draft”.  It’s like dumping some narrative clay on a table and forming it into a shape—deleting, reshaping, improving—and all the stuff you deleted and changed just disappears.

Another thing I find comforting about longhand manuscripts: permanence.  We can see Charles Dickens’ original work, a hundred and sixty-six years ago.  There’s no need to find a device that will read the medium, and no need to track down a file converter for some archaic word processing program.  That Dickens manuscript, provided it is kept dry, will be readable in another hundred and sixty-six years.  (In contrast, let me hand you a box of word processing files from the 1980s, written on 5.25” floppies with OmniWriter on a Commodore 64, and ask you to find a way to read those.) Using waterproof ink and acid-free paper, a modern handwritten work will last for hundreds of years without significant deterioration.

One of the many little things that made me appreciate handwriting my stuff is the recipe book I’ve mentioned before.  It’s a little composition-sized book with hard black covers, and it’s filled with recipes in Robin’s grandmother’s handwriting…all written down before she left Germany for the United States in the early 1920s.  Call it a grand conceit, but I like the idea of my kids and grandkids being able to hold and read something I wrote before they were born—something that traveled around with me for a while, and that was filled by my own hand line by line, page by page. 

Of course, that assumes they’ll be in a position to appreciate such things, and not just chuck those old notebooks out with the rest of the old geezer’s stuff when he kicks the bucket…

(Via Matt G.)