Author Archive for

27
Jul
16

ghostess with the mostess

MarniNixon3.

On Sunday of this week, we lost one of the most-heard but least-known singers of the last six to seven decades: Marni Nixon, American soprano and ghost-singer for featured actresses in movie musicals. She is best known for dubbing the singing voices of the leading actresses in films, including Natalie Wood in West Side Story, Deborah Kerr in The King and I, and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, among many others. She was 86.

Nixon’s career in film started in 1948 when she sang the voices of the angels heard by Ingrid Bergman in Joan of Arc. The same year, she did her first dubbing work when she provided Margaret O’Brien’s singing voice in 1948’s Big City and then 1949’s The Secret Garden. She also dubbed Marilyn Monroe’s high notes in “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953).

In 1956, she worked closely with Deborah Kerr to supply the star’s singing voice for the film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I and the next year she again worked with Kerr to dub her voice in An Affair to Remember. That year, she also sang for Sophia Loren in Boy on a Dolphin. In 1960, she had an on-screen chorus role in Can-Can. In 1961’s West Side Story, the studio kept her work on the film (as the singing voice of Natalie Wood’s Maria) a secret, and Nixon also dubbed Rita Moreno’s singing in the film’s “Tonight” quintet.

This is shameful but oh-so-Hollywood: she was virtually invisible through much of her career.

Deborah Kerr was nominated for an Academy Award in 1956 for her role as Anna in The King and I; the film’s soundtrack album sold hundreds of thousands of copies. For singing Anna’s part on that album, Nixon recalled, she received a total of $420.

“You always had to sign a contract that nothing would be revealed,” Nixon told the ABC News program Nightline in 2007. “Twentieth Century Fox, when I did The King and I, threatened me.” She continued, “They said, if anybody ever knows that you did any part of the dubbing for Deborah Kerr, we’ll see to it that you don’t work in town again.”

She asked the producers of West Side Story for, but did not receive, any direct royalties from her work on the film, but Leonard Bernstein contractually gave her ¼ of one percent of his personal royalties from it. In 1962, she also sang Wood’s high notes in Gypsy. For My Fair Lady in 1964, she again worked with the female lead of the film, Audrey Hepburn, to perform the songs of Hepburn’s character Eliza. Because of her uncredited dubbing work in these films, Time magazine and many newspapers called her “The Ghostess with the Mostest.”

Though Ms. Nixon honored the bargain, her work soon became one of Hollywood’s worst-kept secrets. She became something of a cult figure, appearing as a guest on To Tell the Truth and as an answer to clues featured by Jeopardy!, Trivial Pursuit, and at least one New York Times crossword puzzle.

Her increasing renown helped bring her spectral trade into the light and encouraged her to push for official recognition. “The anonymity didn’t bother me until I sang Natalie Wood’s songs in West Side Story, ” Nixon told The Times in 1967. “Then I saw how important my singing was to the picture. I was giving my talent, and somebody else was taking the credit.”

Although she did appear as herself on stage early in her career—such as on Broadway in 1954 in The Girl in Pink Tights—it wasn’t until she had already proved herself a dozen times over that she finally began to receive on-stage credit for her magnificent gifts. In 1961 she made a special guest appearance on Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts broadcast. Before My Fair Lady was released in theatres in 1964, Nixon played Eliza in a production at New York City Center. Nixon’s first onscreen appearance was as Sister Sophia in the film The Sound of Music (1965). In the DVD commentary to the film, director Robert Wise comments that audiences were finally able to see the woman whose voice they knew so well.

Although the studios seldom accorded Nixon the screen credit and royalties that she began to demand, both later became customary for ghost singers.

Nixon, who continued singing until she was in her 80s, eventually came to regard her heard-but-not-seen life with affection. She paid it homage in a one-woman show, “Marni Nixon: The Voice of Hollywood,” with which she toured the country for years.

In the few movie musicals made today, directors tend to cast actors who are trained singers, like Meryl Streep in Into the Woods. What does this mean? According to The New York Times, it means that the ghost singers who were once a Hollywood mainstay have now, for the most part, become ghosts themselves.

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26
Jul
16

executive pay

Although this story has been around for several years, the Utah-based corporate-governance research firm MSCI has completed a new study that leads to the conclusion that the highest-paid CEOs often run the worst-performing companies. The report found that the link between high pay and low performance remained strong even when tracked over the course of many years. “The highest-paid had the worst performance by a significant margin,” said Ric Marshall, a senior corporate governance researcher at MSCI. He said the findings show companies should be “more conservative” with equity incentive pay awards, which now account for 70% of US CEO compensation.

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Exec Comp.

Study shows highly paid CEOs often run the worst-performing companies

by Theo Francis, The Wall Street Journal

July 25, 2016

The best-paid CEOs tend to run some of the worst-performing companies and vice versa—even when pay and performance are measured over the course of many years, according to a new study.

The analysis, from corporate-governance research firm MSCI, examined the pay of some 800 CEOs at 429 large and midsize U.S. companies during the decade ending in 2014, and also looked at the total shareholder return of the companies during the same period.

MSCI found that $100 invested in the 20% of companies with the highest-paid CEOs would have grown to $265 over 10 years. The same amount invested in the companies with the lowest-paid CEOs would have grown to $367. The report is expected to be released as early as Monday.

The results call into question a fundamental tenet of modern CEO pay: the idea that significant slugs of stock options or restricted stock, especially when the size of the award is also tied to company performance in other ways, helps drive better company performance, which in turn will improve results for shareholders. Equity incentive awards now make up 70% of CEO pay in the U.S.

“The highest paid had the worst performance by a significant margin,” said Ric Marshall, a senior corporate governance researcher at MSCI. “It just argues for the equity portion of CEO pay to be more conservative.”

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Theo Francis is a special writer for The Wall Street Journal. He covers corporate news from Washington D., and specializes in using regulatory documents to write about complex financial, business, economic, legal and regulatory issues.

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The Highest-Paid CEOs Are The Worst Performers, New Study Says

by Susan Adams, Forbes

June 16, 2014

Across the board, the more CEOs get paid, the worse their companies do over the next three years, according to extensive new research. This is true whether they’re CEOs at the highest end of the pay spectrum or the lowest. “The more CEOs are paid, the worse the firm does over the next three years, as far as stock performance and even accounting performance,” says one of the authors of the study, Michael Cooper of the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business.

The conventional wisdom among executive pay consultants, boards of directors and investors is that CEOs make the best decisions for their companies when they have the most skin in the game. That’s why big chunks of the compensation packages for the highest-paid CEOs come in the form of stock and stock options. Case in point: The world’s top-earning CEO, Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison, took in $77 million worth of stock-based compensation last year, according to The New York Times, after refusing his performance bonus and accepting only $1 in salary (he made a stunning total of $96 million in 2012). But does all that stock motivate Ellison to make the best calls for his company?

The empirical evidence before fell on both sides of that question, but those studies used small sample sizes. Now Cooper and two professors, one at Purdue and the other at the University of Cambridge, have studied a large data set of the 1,500 companies with the biggest market caps, supplied by a firm called Execucomp. They also looked at pay and company performance in three-year periods over a relatively long time span, from 1994-2013, and compared what are known as firms’ “abnormal” performance, meaning a company’s revenues and profits as compared with like companies in their fields. They were startled to find that the more CEOs got paid, the worse their companies did.

Another counter-intuitive conclusion: The negative effect was most pronounced in the 150 firms with the highest-paid CEOs. The finding is especially surprising given the widespread notion that it’s worth it to pay a premium to superstar CEOs like Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase (who earned $20 million in 2013) or Lloyd Blankfein ($28 million) of Goldman Sachs. (The study doesn’t reveal individual results for them.) Though Cooper concedes that there could be exceptions at specific companies (the study didn’t measure individual firms), the study shows that as a group, the companies run by the CEOS who were paid at the top 10% of the scale, had the worst performance. How much worse? The firms returned 10% less to their shareholders than did their industry peers. The study also clearly shows that at the high end, the more CEOs were paid, the worse their companies did; it looked at the very top, the 5% of CEOs who were the highest paid, and found that their companies did 15% worse, on average, than their peers.

How could this be? In a word, overconfidence. CEOs who get paid huge amounts tend to think less critically about their decisions. “They ignore dis-confirming information and just think that they’re right,” says Cooper. That tends to result in over-investing—investing too much and investing in bad projects that don’t yield positive returns for investors.” The researchers found that 13% of the 150 CEOs at the bottom of the list had done mergers over the past year and the average return from the mergers was negative .51%. Among the top-paid CEOs, 19% did mergers and those deals resulted in a negative performance of 1.38% over the following three years. “The returns are almost three times lower for the high-paying firms than the low-paying firms,” says Cooper. “This wasteful spending destroys shareholder value.”

The paper also found that the longer CEOs were at the helm, the more pronounced was their firms’ poor performance. Cooper says this is because those CEOs are able to appoint more allies to their boards, and those board members are likely to go along with the bosses’ bad decisions. “For the high-pay CEOs, with high overconfidence and high tenure, the effects are just crazy,” he says. They return 22% worse in shareholder value over three years as compared to their peers.

Yet another surprising finding: The high-paid CEOs did poorly for themselves when it came to cashing in their options. Among the bottom-paying firms, 33% of the CEOs held onto their options when they could have cashed them in for a profit, which the paper calls “unexercised in-the-money options,” while more than twice as many high-paid CEOs, 88%, held onto their options when they could have made money selling.

What can be done about all those negative numbers? The paper doesn’t venture to say but Cooper notes that some finance experts have suggested so-called claw-back provisions. In a CEO pay contract, there would be an item that says, if the firm does poorly compared to its peers, the CEO loses a share of his compensation. “That proposal hasn’t gone over real well,” says Cooper. “There is another school of thought, that CEOs are just too highly paid, period,” he adds. “The US is pretty egregious as far as the ratio between median pay and what the CEO makes.”

Though four years ago the Dodd-Frank law instituted a requirement that firms divulge the ratio between CEOs and median pay, the SEC has yet to issue a final rule ordering it, and companies have been less than forthcoming. But Bloomberg compiled data last year showing that the average multiple of CEO compensation to that of rank-and-file workers was 204, up 20% since 2009. At General Electric, with its star CEO Jeffrey Immelt ($28.2 million in 2013), the ratio was 491, according to Bloomberg.

The Occupy movement, labor unions and some members of Congress have pushed companies to divulge more information about pay ratios, and complained about excess CEO pay, while boards have pushed so-called say-on-pay provisions that would allow them to vote on executive compensation packages. Now those groups have some new empirical evidence to support their positions.

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Susan Adams writes about entrepreneurs, small business owners, and what drives them. Since 2016 she has been with the magazine’s Entrepreneurs team, after spending the previous six years writing for the Leadership channel.

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25
Jul
16

broken promises

Crossed Fingers Tattoo.

Day one of the Democratic convention. Get ready for another week of promises and rhetoric and news coverage that you’d best not believe. Too good to be true. But politicians aren’t the only ones with empty words that play us all for suckers.

Emma never made it out here last week. Frankly I’m not surprised. In my heart-of-hearts, I knew her visit was a long-shot. Now she says she’s coming in August, but we’ll just have to see. Most young people are a jumble of good intentions, but with very little follow-through.

I have more faith that I will meet the German journalist next month. A couple days ago, we had a long conversation on the phone and I shared all the gory details of my recent experiences. She seemed most impressed that my commitment to recently-released parricides has not flagged.

However, I don’t think it’s such a big deal. “A promise is a promise.”

But it is sufficiently unusual from her point-of-view. “Yours is one of the most interesting stories I have heard in a long time.”

Are there really that many unreliable people out there?

When I seemed to doubt her, she added: “And I’m of Russian extraction. We don’t just say things to make people feel good.”

Isn’t “Trust but Verify” also of Russian origin? We’ll see how it goes.

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24
Jul
16

a blast from the past

Former President George W. Bush reportedly isn’t sure the Republican Party will ever get another shot at the presidency. At a reunion for former members of his administration back in April, Bush admitted to a small group of former aides and advisers that he’s seriously concerned that this election cycle might spell the end of the GOP, Politico reported Tuesday. “I’m worried that I will be the last Republican president,” Bush said. To a great extent, it’s his own doing.

This article is a little out-of-date, but very relevant today as the Republicans appear to be going the way of the Whigs.

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etchdubya.

We’re Not in Lake Wobegon Anymore

How did the Party of Lincoln and Liberty transmogrify into the party of Newt Gingrich’s evil spawn and their Etch-A-Sketch president, a dull and rigid man, whose philosophy is a jumble of badly sutured body parts trying to walk?

by Garrison Keillor, In These Times

August 26, 2004

Something has gone seriously haywire with the Republican Party. Once, it was the party of pragmatic Main Street businessmen in steel-rimmed spectacles who decried profligacy and waste, were devoted to their communities and supported the sort of prosperity that raises all ships. They were good-hearted people who vanquished the gnarlier elements of their party, the paranoid Roosevelt-haters, the flat Earthers and Prohibitionists, the antipapist antiforeigner element. The genial Eisenhower was their man, a genuine American hero of D-Day, who made it OK for reasonable people to vote Republican. He brought the Korean War to a stalemate, produced the Interstate Highway System, declined to rescue the French colonial army in Vietnam, and gave us a period of peace and prosperity, in which (oddly) American arts and letters flourished and higher education burgeoned—and there was a degree of plain decency in the country. Fifties Republicans were giants compared to today’s. Richard Nixon was the last Republican leader to feel a Christian obligation toward the poor.

In the years between Nixon and Newt Gingrich, the party migrated southward down the Twisting Trail of Rhetoric and sneered at the idea of public service and became the Scourge of Liberalism, the Great Crusade Against the Sixties, the Death Star of Government, a gang of pirates that diverted and fascinated the media by their sheer chutzpah, such as the misty-eyed flag-waving of Ronald Reagan who, while George McGovern flew bombers in World War II, took a pass and made training films in Long Beach. The Nixon moderate vanished like the passenger pigeon, purged by a legion of angry white men who rose to power on pure punk politics. “Bipartisanship is another term of date rape,” says Grover Norquist, the Sid Vicious of the GOP. “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” The boy has Oedipal problems and government is his daddy.

The party of Lincoln and Liberty was transmogrified into the party of hairy-backed swamp developers and corporate shills, faith-based economists, fundamentalist bullies with Bibles, Christians of convenience, freelance racists, misanthropic frat boys, shrieking midgets of AM radio, tax cheats, nihilists in golf pants, brownshirts in pinstripes, sweatshop tycoons, hacks, fakirs, aggressive dorks, Lamborghini libertarians, people who believe Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk was filmed in Roswell, New Mexico, little honkers out to diminish the rest of us, Newt’s evil spawn and their Etch-A-Sketch president, a dull and rigid man suspicious of the free flow of information and of secular institutions, whose philosophy is a jumble of badly sutured body parts trying to walk. Republicans: The No.1 reason the rest of the world thinks we’re deaf, dumb and dangerous.

Rich ironies abound! Lies pop up like toadstools in the forest! Wild swine crowd round the public trough! Outrageous gerrymandering! Pocket lining on a massive scale! Paid lobbyists sit in committee rooms and write legislation to alleviate the suffering of billionaires! Hypocrisies shine like cat turds in the moonlight! O Mark Twain, where art thou at this hour? Arise and behold the Gilded Age reincarnated gaudier than ever, upholding great wealth as the sure sign of Divine Grace.

Here in 2004, George W. Bush is running for reelection on a platform of tragedy—the single greatest failure of national defense in our history, the attacks of 9/11 in which 19 men with box cutters put this nation into a tailspin, a failure the details of which the White House fought to keep secret even as it ran the country into hock up to the hubcaps, thanks to generous tax cuts for the well-fixed, hoping to lead us into a box canyon of debt that will render government impotent, even as we engage in a war against a small country that was undertaken for the president’s personal satisfaction but sold to the American public on the basis of brazen misinformation, a war whose purpose is to distract us from an enormous transfer of wealth taking place in this country, flowing upward, and the deception is working beautifully.

The concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few is the death knell of democracy. No republic in the history of humanity has survived this. The election of 2004 will say something about what happens to ours. The omens are not good.

Our beloved land has been fogged with fear—fear, the greatest political strategy ever. An ominous silence, distant sirens, a drumbeat of whispered warnings and alarms to keep the public uneasy and silence the opposition. And in a time of vague fear, you can appoint bullet-brained judges, strip the bark off the Constitution, eviscerate federal regulatory agencies, bring public education to a standstill, stupefy the press, lavish gorgeous tax breaks on the rich.

There is a stink drifting through this election year. It isn’t the Florida recount or the Supreme Court decision. No, it’s 9/11 that we keep coming back to. It wasn’t the “end of innocence,” or a turning point in our history, or a cosmic occurrence, it was an event, a lapse of security. And patriotism shouldn’t prevent people from asking hard questions of the man who was purportedly in charge of national security at the time.

Whenever I think of those New Yorkers hurrying along Park Place or getting off the No.1 Broadway local, hustling toward their office on the 90th floor, the morning paper under their arms, I think of that non-reader George W. Bush and how he hopes to exploit those people with a little economic uptick, maybe the capture of Osama, cruise to victory in November and proceed to get some serious nation-changing done in his second term.

This year, as in the past, Republicans will portray us Democrats as embittered academics, desiccated Unitarians, whacked-out hippies and communards, people who talk to telephone poles, the party of the Deadheads. They will wave enormous flags and wow over and over the footage of firemen in the wreckage of the World Trade Center and bodies being carried out and they will lie about their economic policies with astonishing enthusiasm.

The Union is what needs defending this year. Government of Enron and by Halliburton and for the Southern Baptists is not the same as what Lincoln spoke of. This gang of Pithecanthropus Republicanii has humbugged us to death on terrorism and tax cuts for the comfy and school prayer and flag burning and claimed the right to know what books we read and to dump their sewage upstream from the town and clear-cut the forests and gut the IRS and mark up the constitution on behalf of intolerance and promote the corporate takeover of the public airwaves and to hell with anybody who opposes them.

This is a great country, and it wasn’t made so by angry people. We have a sacred duty to bequeath it to our grandchildren in better shape than however we found it. We have a long way to go and we’re not getting any younger.

Dante said that the hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who in time of crisis remain neutral, so I have spoken my piece, and thank you, dear reader. It’s a beautiful world, rain or shine, and there is more to life than winning.

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Garrison Keillor was the host and writer of A Prairie Home Companion, which ran for 46 years on the air. He retired this year.

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23
Jul
16

punked

flat_tire_1a.

Anger Management and the Code of the Street

by James Barrett and Elizabeth Janopaul Naylor, Youth Today

July 20, 2016

The room was stuffy and hot, the scent of stale snack foods hung in the air and the boys in the anger management group in this locked facility were distracted. As a young clinician and group facilitator, I was frustrated.

We had been reviewing the steps of the “anger cycle” for weeks and no one seemed to be retaining the information. With an exasperated sigh, I tried to remind them that this material was designed to prevent the situations that got them locked up, and thus stuck here with me.

Before I could start back on the first step of the cycle, a boy who I will call Jay dismissively rattled off all eight steps as well as the positive coping skills taught to avoid violence. I was stunned. Jay was a frequent flyer to this detention facility. Of the many groups I’d had with him, he was never an active participant.

I asked Jay why, if he knew the material so well, he had never used them to avoid incarceration. He replied, “This stuff would never work in the neighborhood where I’m from; you try this, you’re gonna get punked.”

Jay, like many of the other boys in that facility, got into trouble due to the “code of the street.” This code dictates that any sign of disrespect must be aggressively avenged with retaliation.

After several conversations with Jay about why the skills we were teaching were not helpful, I began to question the effectiveness of teaching these kids skills that are irrelevant to the situations they encounter in their neighborhoods. This frustration would mount as I started to notice retaliatory violence glorified and celebrated in popular culture.

For example, in hockey there are “enforcers” on each team, prepared to defend the honor of a smaller, more vulnerable teammate. Similarly, in baseball, if a batter “shows a pitcher up” by staring at a home run ball for too long before running the bases, that batter is likely to be intentionally hit by the pitcher the next inning.

Indeed, the ubiquity of these messages explicitly endorsing “justified” violence make it very difficult for a clinician to teach a maxim such as “be the bigger person and walk away from a fight.” This is clearly not the message that popular culture is giving to young people.

Sadly, today the “code of the street” is not taken into account when arresting, sentencing and treating these adolescents. According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, in 2013 there were 1.1 million juvenile delinquency cases. Approximately 186,000 of these cases were for charges of simple assault. Most of these youth come from lower-income minority families.

Jay, like many young men charged with simple assault, was referred for anger management treatment. The group I facilitated centered on learning anger management and conflict resolution skills.

The assumption that all violence stems from the same emotions and thoughts has led many clinicians to apply this one intervention across the board. While anger management curricula can be quite effective for adolescent struggling with mood swings, impulsivity or difficulty with affect regulation, they often do not take into account the social pressures of maintaining a reputation.

Time and again I watched the students in my groups fail to utilize the strategies they were taught as they cycled in and out of lock-up. When they were faced with ongoing and real threats to their reputation, fighting back was not just a question of managing anger. To these boys, “anger management” can be another example of how the rest of the world doesn’t understand their dilemma.

Needless to say, clinicians like myself who facilitate these groups often struggle with burnout, and both parties can feel like failures perpetually frustrated with the other.

As with any form of effective treatment, the messages clinicians deliver have to be relevant to the lived experience of our patients. These youth are in a terrible bind: Fight or be shamed. If we, as clinicians in the juvenile justice system, fail to recognize this predicament, our interventions will be ineffective and our patients will feel unheard.

It is frustrating to be told you have “anger issues” when in fact you are following the example of those around you, including athletes and celebrities. With the current national attention on violence prevention, it is a glaring omission that we do not systematically train clinicians about the culture of violence in which so many youth are forced to live.

The principle of using evidence-based practices has forced health care to empirically support its methodology. We need to take this one step further. Treatments and models of care must be contextually relevant.

In order to decrease crime and violence in this country, clinicians must acknowledge and understand the code of the street. The work we have done through the Cambridge Safety Net Collaborative on the Fight Navigator curriculum integrates the lived experiences of youth into a violence prevention program.

The curriculum was developed through focus groups with mostly urban youth of color. They described strategies that work to respond to a threat in a manner that avoids violence and allows them to maintain a reputation.

In the same way that we know that talking about abstinence alone is not an effective way to prevent teen pregnancy, assuming that young people from dangerous neighborhoods can always “just walk away” will not reduce violence.

Cure Violence is a program that has also demonstrated success in reducing violence, by focusing on interrupting the transmission of violence with a public health approach. If we can intensify our efforts to provide tactics for effective de-escalation in this demographic, we could potentially keep a number of young people from entering the juvenile justice system.

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Dr. James Barrett is the director of school-based programs at the Cambridge Health Alliance and an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He also serves as the clinical coordinator of the Cambridge Safety Net Collaborative with the Cambridge Police and is the author of the Fight Navigator violence prevention curriculum.

Dr. Elizabeth Janopaul-Naylor is a third-year psychiatry resident at Cambridge Health Alliance, affiliated with Harvard Medical School. She completed her undergraduate studies and medical school training at Brown University.

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22
Jul
16

goodbye cleveland

Trump Quote.

I don’t like Ms. Pantsuit, either. No matter who she chooses as her Veep, she will still be too strident.

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Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter of The Art of the Deal, says Trump has a short attention span, is reactive, and not thoughtful.

“If Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes,” said Schwartz, “there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”

Trump has demanded a refund of Schwartz’s book royalties or face a lawsuit.

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Gary Johnson is said to be out-polling Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton with military members.

Roger Ailes seems to have cashed out pretty well.

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What’s a guy to do?

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The lesser of two evils? I don’t think so.

I think I’ll throw my vote away on a third choice.

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21
Jul
16

punchuation

I went down to town today, did a dryer-full of laundry, and spent 20 minutes (while folding my clothes) reading a sign that nearly drove me nuts. If there had been an employee of the motor lodge present, I would have seriously considered punching them out.

sign

Maybe I’m over-reacting. But don’t we teach punctuation in our schools anymore? It seems our educational establishment is trying to create a bunch of young Trump supporters. Talk about working against their own self-interest!

How many times have you known people who are clueless about the different meanings of “their,” “there,” and they’re?”

Or seen the apostrophe misused in a way akin to a fingernail scratching a blackboard? The rules are pretty simple. To make a word plural, you add an “s” to it. To make a word possessive, you add an apostrophe, as in “my son’s book.” To make a plural noun ending in “s” possessive, you need only add the apostrophe, as in “my sons’ books.” You don’t use apostrophes to pluralize acronyms and abbreviations, such as CEOs and DVDs. And the plurals of numbers do not use apostrophes. It’s 1970s, not 1970’s.

People probably have more trouble with the semicolon than with any other punctuation mark. Yet high school students are taught a simple rule of thumb that’s often forgotten over time (if it’s ever absorbed in the first place): A semicolon should be used to separate two independent clauses (or complete sentences) that are closely related in meaning. Use colons, not semicolons, before a list of three or more items. And when items in a series themselves contain commas, separate them with semicolons. For example, you’d write: We visited Miami, Florida; Austin, Texas; and Salt Lake City, Utah.

But what drives me nuts about the above sign is not just that there’s no period after “closed,” but the insertion of a totally meaningless comma… as well as the reality that keeping the door closed keeps as many flies in as out.

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