Post-printing book editors

I just read two great novels by Brad Smith (a Canadian, even Ontarioan, author): All Hat (which was made into an enjoyable movie as well), and Busted Flush. Two interesting novels with good stories, interesting characters, and some humour. Quite enjoyable reads.

The only distraction from this, and the motivation for this posting, was the penciled-in comments from one of my fellow library patrons. I didn’t think to write them down, which is unfortunate, but anybody who’s in Halifax can check these books out and experience the erudition (or lack thereof) for themselves.

Now, just to set the stage, I do notice printing, spelling and grammatical errors in books I read. I have seen homonym errors (using “sail” instead of “sale” for example) in real live books, bought with real live money. I have wondered (sometimes aloud) who might have been the cause of these mistakes – whether it’s the author or editor, or if the printers just like to mess with text for fun. I have noticed and wondered about all these things, so I can empathize with my fellow library patron to a certain extent.

I didn’t, though, in any of these cases, write and circle and draw lines in a book that didn’t belong to me. I didn’t inflict my observations on a disinterested third. I didn’t start a dialogue which had no chance of going anywhere (since the writer is unlikely to check the books out again, unless they’re curious to see if anyone responded).

This patron, you see, circled things that they though were errors, often adding questions or comments in the margin. Maybe it’s just me, but I was unable not to read these, even after the general quality and tenor of them was established to be low (quality) and shrill (tenor). For example:

  • Smith used the word “pedestrian” in the sense of “normal, average” (my thought), or “commonplace“. Our patron wrote “Does he mean plebian?”. You will, no doubt, note that this should have been “plebeian”. Anyhow, what we have here is someone who knows some off-the-stack words, but not less common meanings for common ones.
  • Smith used the US spelling of “cesarean,” as in a “cesarean section”. Our patron wrote something along the lines of “What the hell kind of editor can’t spell Caesar?” A better question would be, “What the hell kind of reader doesn’t realize that US spellings have been taking over everything since the invention of spell-check?” The patron never made similar comments about “color,” for example, so maybe they don’t know the “proper” Canadian spelling.

You get the idea. These were not isolated incidents, but rather a comment every few pages, mostly ill-founded and all irritating. They did, of course, find a couple of legitimate spelling/typing/printing errors as well, in amongst the ill-educated ranting. Well done, I suppose. Ultimately, these comments and notations were far more distracting and disturbing than the actual errors in the text (which were few and inconsequential).

I have been planning to get back to using the library after spending a ridiculous amount of money, over the past few years, on a lot of books I will never read again. As it happens, Smith is someone I may well return to with enjoyment, so I will probably pick up my own copies. Still, if I have to wade through the ramblings if very many more disturbed minds, I may have to give up this approach to the wild world of literature. There’s something about knowing that you’re dealing with a new book, soiled only by yourself. There’s something, too, about knowing that you won’t have to shake off the slime from the shallow end of the gene pool as you wade through a new book.

Plot holes in Salt

As mentioned in Spys in Flats, I noticed a couple of gaping plot holes in this week’s new release, Salt. Well, to say I noticed them isn’t an attempt to flatter myself – you would have to be blind or in Hollywood to miss them. Or maybe they were noticed and nobody cared. I don’t know, but given that it looks like there may be a sequel, I thought a little illumination on the subject might be worthwhile.

Note that there are SPOILERS-A-PLENTY in the following.

At the beginning of the movie, and shown in all the previews I saw, Salt’s cover is blown. A Russian, who proves to have been her handler for the past 30 years or so, walks into the CIA (or whatever cookie-cutter-type agency) Salt works at, and gives up the information that there will be an attempt on the life of the Russian President while he’s in the States for a funeral. He then wraps up by saying that the assassin’s name is Evelyn Salt (and thus that Jolie is the spy).

She is, of course, immediately detained until they can look into this. During this time, the Russian agent kills his two escorts and walks to safety, leaving Salt (the Russian agent) to look out for herself.

Surely this must be the all-time most incomprehensible way of kicking off a mission! I mean, I’ve heard of leaving chalk marks on mailboxes, or having the window blinds half-way up. These days there’s email and phones and on and on and on. The only kickoff this guy could think of was to focus everybody’s attentions and suspicions on his long-hidden and very well-placed assassin?

It turns out that all this is a long-established plot to place well-trained Russian child agent sleepers in the US, so that they could grow up and attain positions of trust. Salt certainly did, and there are early indications that she’s not the only one. This isn’t a unique plot element, as I know I’ve read something similar before, but I can’t place it at the moment. Still, this general idea was handled well. So well, in fact, that the whole situation above seems even more moronic in comparison.

OK, so that’s one. Surely they would have had a way to notify Salt, to set her “active” and give her a mission, without blowing her cover at the same time (thus making it impossible – or movie-all-but-impossible – for her to succeed). Granted that thirty years ago it wouldn’t have been email, but there are plenty of options.

The second came at the end of the movie. Note that I’m not describing action-holes (one person going hand-to-hand with two or three other trained professionals and kicking their butts) here, but rather plot holes. Action holes are part of the genre, and we accept them even as we remember that these things are just begging to kill us if we tried them in real life. Just as punching somebody in the face is just as likely to break your fist as it is their jaw – still, there are few things as movie-satisfying as somebody crumpling under the hero’s (gender-free term) righteous blow.

OK, so the second plot hole (again, SPOILERS). As forecasted, there are other Russian sleepers in positions of trust. One of these gets Salt into the White House, and then sells his life in a bid to get the (US) President into a bunker under the White House. She also manages to get down there, and kicks and punches her way into the bunker itself. There she finds that (yet) another Russian sleeper has killed everyone but the President, after waiting for them to get the nuclear missile launch codes almost all the way verified. This new sleeper has a little conversation with the President (while Salt was running and kicking outside) in an attempt to get the President to OK the final launch, explaining the sleeper plot, giving his “real Russian name, and so on. The President bravely tells him to get lost, and receives a pistol-blow to the head for his troubles, knocking him unconscious – I think – after which his hand-print is used to verify the launch.

Two-minute delay before launching, during which time Salt breaks in, beats up the new sleeper, and cancels the launch at the last second. The (too late) security forces arrive at that moment, and shoot her in the back just as she disables the launch. It’s OK, she was shot in the vest (surprise, surprise) and is fine. Everybody knows getting shot in a bulletproof vest is like a walk in the park (never mind – action hole, not plot hole).

Here comes the plot hole: Salt, in cuffs, is marched out of the bunker, through the White House, toward a helicopter that will take her somewhere cold and dark (presumably). They walk her right past the new sleeper (the guy who killed all the bunker personnel and knocked out the President). She, in quite a cool scene, kills him. The reasoning she gives is that someone had to do it, and that nobody else would believe he was a sleeper.

What about the President?

Unless I missed it (always possible) there is no clear indication that the President is dead. You don’t see him again, but the sleeper does say “Somebody look after the President” or words to that effect when the security people finally break into the bunker and shoot Salt. The President is certainly never shot (though others are, and shooting him would have been a great “evil sleeper agent” moment). So, as far as I can tell, the President (who, you remember, heard what amounts to a full confession by the new sleeper agent) is alive and well, though possibly with a headache (another action plot hole to do with blows to the head and concussions, but never mind).

Salt, at the end of the movie, is on the run, having vowed to kill the other sleepers. OK, and more power to her, but there’s no reason for her to be on the run at all. Two minutes with the President, asking him to point a finger at the person who hit him and killed everybody else, would be enough to clear up the ultimate-bad-guy problem. Now, granted, Salt did cause a little mayhem and beat up some people. She even shot some folks, but they were just red-shirts (turns out she didn’t kill the Russian President after all, just paralyzed him). So, maybe a slap on the wrist …

Now, obviously this movie wasn’t written by John Le Carré or even Tom Clancy, and I’ve been told it was originally meant for Tom Cruise – troubling in itself – but surely whomever did write it could have done better than this? I watch a fair number of movies and a fair amount of TV, and I’ve come to expect plastic-thin characters, meaningless dialogue, and plots that are obviously an excuse for action as opposed to a motivation for it. Even so, surely this must be a new low?

Or am I thinking too much about an action movie? Should everything (including plot) be put under the action-movie banner and just brainlessly enjoyed for what it is? Clearly, the Karate Kid franchise couldn’t survive any other way …

Restless Legs

I just had a discussion with a friend about restless leg syndrome (or something like it) being brought on by sleeping pills. We’ve all (maybe) had that feeling when you’re drowsing off, not quite asleep, and you get jolted by some dream-motivated movement, even though you weren’t quite dreaming yet.

I’m aware that this isn’t the strict clinical symptomology of restless leg syndrome, but it’s pretty similar, and something we’re more likely to have experienced. Talking about it made me realize that there are a lot of other potential “leg syndromes,” each with their own set of symptoms, that might be usefully labeled and brought in to the light of day, if not the light of modern pharmacology. I offer this list as a starting point, and welcome your non-R-rated contributions.

  • Irritable leg syndrome: while sleeping, your leg will, of its own accord, haul off and kick the person who has been irritating you. You may or may not be consciously aware of said irritation – the continual kicking may, in fact, be what brings this subconscious feeling to your attention. Repeated occurrences should be viewed as a warning that the end of a relationship may be approaching (if for no other reason than that your partner may not enjoy being kicked into awakeness every time you fall asleep, whatever your protestations of innocence).
  • Stealth leg syndrome: One or the other of your legs will, without conscious control, end up somewhere other than where you thought it would be, without your noticing it has gone. This usually happens while you are in motion, resulting in your falling down/up the stairs, falling on your face, falling on your butt; generally, falling. It’s not easy when you go to step onto a leg only to find out it’s now behind you.
  • Hollow leg syndrome: Big eaters and drinkers of the world are familiar with this one. It’s what allows you to put away that additional couple of pounds of food or liters of liquid without apparent effects. This syndrome can mistakenly be diagnosed as a fast metabolism, so be on the lookout.
  • Bashful leg syndrome: In a standing position, this manifests itself when one leg hides behind the other, without your conscious control. Typically, it is the same leg that does the hiding. This can also be seen in the bedroom, where one leg slings itself off the side of the bed, and remains “hidden” there. This may or may not be the same leg that is bashful in public.
  • Jittery leg syndrome: You know, the one that never stops bouncing, kicking, tapping, moving, etc. On yourself, usually not noticed. On others, potentially a cause of irritable leg syndrome.
  • Cold leg syndrome: Can be merely a matter of general body temperature, with some people being generally warmer than others. People with this syndrome, though, often have one leg that is markedly colder than the other. The leg will feel colder to the sufferer, and also to other people.
  • Friendly leg syndrome: The one that ends up pressed against someone else’s leg with no conscious thought on your part. Often happens while sleeping, which, when combined with cold leg syndrome, could almost be considered assault. When not sleeping, and when exhibited against a stranger and observed by one’s partner, another possible cause for irritable leg syndrome.

I’m not at all sure that this list is exhaustive. I would appreciate any suggestions you might have.

Spys in flats

I just watched “Salt,” the new Angelina Jolie spy-action movie. In terms of the action, it was pretty impressive. There were a couple of plot holes big enough to drive a truck through, which I’ll address in another posting, but I thought I should mention something specific that leapt out in the early moments of the movie. There are no spoilers involved, as the action I’m discussing was in the preview anyway.

At the beginning of the movie, Salt (who is an acronym-agency spy of some kind, possibly CIA) is outed as a Russian agent and brought under suspicion with her colleagues. They promptly detain her, and she promptly escapes. During the escape, she removes her high heels so that she will be able to run/fight better. She then proceeds to run around the building she’s in, escape through a window, and run around the streets of DC in bare feet.

I can understand the not wanting to run in heels part, and I’m sure that the “I’ll just beak the heels off and then I’ll be fine” approach doesn’t really work in real life. But in the back of my mind, throughout all this action, was the thought, “That must be KILLING her feet!” Similarly, “No, not the fire escape! Don’t run across the grate! Watch out for broken glass!” and so on.

Now that I think of it, the Japanese Yakuza guy in the new Predators movie also chose barefoot over dress shoes, in the jungle, with a lot of freaky wildlife around. I did  notice it then, but he carried it off with a certain “curling my toes into the mud” nonchalance that made it seem a little more natural. And, of course, ot was the jungle, which everyone knows is easy on the feet (?).

I don’t spend a lot of time in bare feet myself, aside from wandering around my apartment. Maybe I’m different from everyone else; maybe my feet are softer or wimpier than most. And, needless to say, I don’t spend a lot of time in high heels either (I can never find anything in my size). But given the wincing and mincing that has accompanied past bare-footed forays across roads (to get to the beach), gravel (to get to the lake), and so on, there’s no way I would choose bare-footed as my escape-and-evade option. Heck, I’d pick up a pair of high heels before going barefoot. Otherwise, my slow and cautious escape would be bound to fail miserably. Of course, my high-heeled escape would be equally slow and cautious, with the added embarrassment of everyone commenting on my gams.

So, a word to all those spies out there. Maybe it’s time for a general fashion choice: Wear flats. Or even trainers on those “Might get my cover blown today” days.

Facebook “friends”

Anybody who knows me knows that I am not an avid facebook fan / user / whatever. I have an account which I check every six months or so, on the off chance that something important will have happened. Usually, not the case.

Anyhow, I do have a suggestion that would make facebook a lot less lame. My main issue with the system is that it allows only one category of association: “friend”. The reality of the situation, of course, is that few of the people you’re linked to on facebook could actually be described as friends. Maybe people just don’t understand what “friend” actually means, but I think it’s more likely that people just don’t have any choice. I propose that a whole series of new categories be added:

  • acquaintance
  • somebody I was friends with 10 years ago
  • somebody I met once who thinks we’re friends
  • friends of a friend who I don’t really know
  • somebody I went to school with but don’t remember
  • and so on …

You get the idea. If I didn’t have to respond to friends requests from people who belong in one of the categories above with “Yes” or “No” – if I had more choices – I would probably be a little less creeped out by the idea. And think of the additional layers of drama that could ensue from people sending friend requests and getting approval for “somebody I went to school with and don’t remember” instead. Would they accept? Burst into tears? Get a grip on their lives and stop trying to befriend people they don’t even know?

Dream the dream, facebook aficionados!

Angels and Devils

During the past few episodes of 24 (and needless to say, there is a SPOILER ALERT in effect), a fair amount of time has been given to the good vs. evil struggle between former President (and known evil bastard) Charles Logan and current President Taylor’s Secretary of State (former Chief of Staff Ethan Kanin). There is a very palpable sense of the little devil and the little angel on President Taylor’s shoulders as these two play tug-of-war with her surprisingly malleable opinions and decisions.

So much so, in fact, that I find myself singing softly to myself, “He’s the devil,” whenever Logan appears and makes another bid for Taylor to do something unethical and doomed to long-term failure (because it’s against Jack’s wishes, among other reasons).

I guess, having thought about it a bit, that I actually enjoy President Taylor’s being a lot more flawed this season. Gives the show a bit more depth, and some of that “the government can never work because” sort of feeling. Democracy is flawed because people, both as individuals and in the aggregate, make terrible decisions (less flawed than when only one person gets to make all the decisions, mind you). This plays out well on the show, as they’re now trying madly to cover up their cover-up of the initial incident this season.

I think that the worst part of this (from a “feeling for the characters” sort of view) is that President Taylor knows she’s wrong, knows it’s all slipping away, and yet can’t help herself. I anticipate her cracking up before the season ends, but I’ll just have to wait and see.


As far as I know, Battlestar Galactica (the original one) was the origin of the word “frack” (replacing another well-known f-word). In the recent remake, it became “frak” (a more typical four-letter word). The use of frak in the show was never excessive (like the frakin’ use of the frakin’ f-word in a frakin’ lot of frakin’ places, for frak’s sake) which was fine. Understandably, people need an expletive at times (like getting shot, or finding out that your wife – or you, for that matter – is/are a cylon). Sometimes, “well, gosh” just doesn’t cut it. So far so good.

Making this about a million times better, though, is the use of “frak” becoming more common outside the show. Just this week, characters on The Big Bang Theory and Criminal Minds used “frak” as it was intended to be used – to express shock/surprise/disgust at ongoing events in the show.

This is great for a couple of reasons:

  1. No need to offend the easily offended. “Frak” doesn’t refer to any body parts, bodily functions, sexual activity, or excretions (the main source of “swears”). So, there’s nothing to complain about. It’s just a made-up word that has been given “swear” status.
  2. Since “frak” is being used in the present, because of its use being demonstrated in the future, this provides an excellent example of time travel. Also, it explains where the word came from in Battlestar Galactica – they learned it from us.

Just kidding about that last one. Still, I think that reason #1 is legitimate. There have been any number of people who have written about the lack of “common courtesy” or politeness in today’s society (citing some people’s complete lack of awareness of the difference between public and private space, for example). I think we could use a few additional new expletives which would allow for the function of swearing without the additional rudeness. I’m accepting suggestions.


Justified is a new cop drama that I’ve just caught up on (it’s in the first season, but has been approved for at least one more). It stars Timothy Olyphant, who is usually fun to watch, as Rayland Givens – a US Marshall. The main interest here is that his character in Justified is basically exactly the same guy as Seth Bullock in Deadwood. I’m not complaining – I think there’s a place for the soft-spoken filled-with-burning-rage lawman in almost any TV show. Well, maybe not any show, but at least the cop variety.

Justified is based on some Elmore Leonard novels and short stories, so it’s not like somebody said “Well, Deadwood’s over, so let’s give young Olyphant another vehicle to continue his journey as a lawman”. Or, at least, I assume that’s not what happened, though it wouldn’t be impossible that his performance in Deadwood had something to do with getting this role.

Anyhow, it’s nice to see another series starting up. Initially, quite watchable, some good dialogue, and a good (realistically flawed) main character. I’ll be keeping up for the time being.

Unskilled and unaware of it

While doing my undergrad at Dal, I read an article called “Unskilled and unaware of it“. The article blew my mind at the time, and the authors have come out with several updates in response to criticism and further debate. Well worth following up! The jist of the article is the idea that someone who isn’t very good at doing something is unable to accurately assess their abilities in that area. For example, if your skills at writing English aren’t any good, you are unable to say with any accuracy whether a piece of your own writing (or anyone else’s writing) is any good.

Seems like a fairly obvious statement, but I (and probably you) frequently encounter people who don’t think this applies to them. An easy example is the student who can’t produce a coherent sentence,  but can’t understand why their mark is so low. They, of course, really do not see the problems with their own writing – they don’t have the skills necessary to assess their own work accurately.

The second element of this failure to assess accurately (and I don’t remember if this was brought up in the original article – I’ve certainly seen it elsewhere) is the tendency everyone has to assess themselves inaccurately. Many people, in today’s culture of rampant narcissism, regularly assess themselves higher than they should (witness the never-ending cavalcade of  untalented people who are willing to make fools of themselves exhibiting their non-talent on TV talent shows). Others assess themselves more harshly than they should, for whatever reason. There is a host of studies that show large groups of people, on average, assess themselves as being above average (sometimes called the Lake Wobegon effect, after Garrison Keillor’s fictional town). On the whole, it seems, it is pretty rare for one to be able to take a clear look at one’s own abilities, talents, and so forth.

This is important, in the end, for one simple reason. It is impossible to teach anyone anything until they realize that they have a need to learn. When your default assessment of yourself is that you can handle whatever comes your way, that you know it all (or enough), that whatever you don’t know can’t be that important anyway, you are not likely to pay too much attention to anyone telling you how to do something new. After all, you already know everything you need to … don’t you?

Hiring Policies at CTU

So we’re well into season 8 of 24. I’m finding it a bit hard to watch again this time around, but having invested so much time already I figure I might as well keep up. My only problem is that since you now it’s going to be 24 episodes, it’s a little anticlimactic when Jack gets oh-so-close to catching the bad guys in episode 6 or whatever, when you know full well they’re going to just barely slip through his fingers (again and again and again).

My real problem, though, is with the oh-so-inevitable mole in CTU. I was unhappy to find out that it was (SPOILER ALERT) Dana this time, as I still had some bad/good girl carryover from Battlestar Galactica. Anyhow, aside from that level of disappointment, I was unshocked but still heartily displayed by the existence of yet another mole in the newly refurbished CTU. Has there been a season without a mole? I don’t remember one, but I’d be happy to be corrected. In any case, it’s certainly a common plot element.

My question is: Who is doing the job screening and interviews for this place? Clearly, they need someone more along the lines of Jack for the job interviews. Imagine:

Jack: Are you a terrorist?
Prospective Employee: No.
Jack: <grabs their throat> ARE YOU A TERRORIST?
Prospective Employee: <breaks down in tears> Yes, yes, I confess, I was going to be next season’s mole.

Problem Solved.

Granted, this might pose some problems on the “how do the bad guys slip away so many, many times” front … maybe some sort of low blood sugar episode for Jack could make up the difference. Good opportunity for some product placement as well. Hmmm. Somebody get back to me on this.

Of course, this being the last season, I guess I’m a bit late with the constructive criticism. Maybe the movie could, dream of dreams, be mole-free! Anybody?