Literacy Is Painless

Watching the M*A*S*H episode “The Light That Failed”.

In the episode, the weather is cold, they have no heat, and their supplies aren’t arriving in a timely fashion.  Also, they’ve run out of amusements and are very bored.

Then, B.J.’s wife sends him a mystery novel, and everyone in camp is desperate to read it, to the point that the book is torn into chapter segments so that many people are reading parts of the book simultaneously.  And, they don’t just read it; they savour every morsel of the wordsmithing.  They’re interested in the solution to the mystery, but they also revel in their immersion in a well written narrative.  And, then, the last page is missing, which sparks a spirited discussion among the group as to the solution to the mystery.

The thing is that it seems that everyone in the entire camp is on tenterhooks, breathlessly waiting for a turn at this novel.  It’s a book, and they’re giddy to read it.  It’s hard to imagine that that many people in one place would be so excited for printed literature these days.  I know that some are — I certainly am — but it would be nice to be in a situation where an entire room of people lose their shit over the opportunity to read something.  Alas, I rarely encounter that, these days.

And, now, I’m melancholy.


Dollars and Sense

Once again, society cries out for my guidance, and I will not let my people down.

Thanks to the Internet, I’ve been noticing that a lot of people write dollar values in what I think is a curious way.  (All right, I’ll call a spade a spade.  It’s WRONG.  They’re writing dollar values the WRONG way.)  For our example, we’ll use the value of five dollars.  Often, when people want to write “five dollars” in numerals, they write it as 5$, which looks very strange to me.  (Or, yes, it looks WRONG to me.)  Since when do we put the dollar sign after the numeral?  Is this an Internet hipster thing — another rebellion against the conventions of previous generations?  Or, is this just one more illiteracy (innumeracy?) in a benighted world?

I’ve seen discussions about this where some people think that putting the dollar sign before the number is confusing.  “After all,” they argue, “I say ‘five dollars’, not ‘dollars five’!”  Holy cow.  See, it’s things like that that make my eye twitch.  Look. . . The proper form is to put the dollar sign before the number.  That’s the way it’s always been, and our sophisticated brains can sort out how to speak it out loud.

The root of the confusion is that you’re writing it wrong in the first place.  Both $5 and 5$ are wrong.  You don’t just write the numeral and then arbitrarily decide the side on which to place the dollar sign.  There’s a correct style for writing dollar values.

This is the way to write “five dollars” in numerals:  $5.00.  The dollar sign comes first, then the numeral 5, then the decimal point, then two numerals (zeroes in this case) for the cents.  Even when it’s an even dollar value with no change, you always put the decimal point and then two zeroes.  And the dollar sign comes first.  That’s how you do it.

And, the reason why you wouldn’t vocalize $5.00 as “dollars five” is because you’re brilliant, sensual, and charismatic, with Harvard debating skills, taut smooth skin, and the pervading scent of lilacs in June, and you would never misspeak so egregiously.  I have faith in you.

But, what about an amount that’s less than a dollar — let’s say seventy-five cents.  Well, that’s easy.  The correct way to write that is $0.75.  Again, the dollar sign first, then zero because we don’t have a full dollar, then the decimal point, then “seventy-five” in numerals.  But, we don’t voice the dollar sign, even though it’s there; we just say “seventy-five cents”.

But, wait!  (you exclaim)  What about that sign for cents — you know, this thing:  ¢.  Well, what about it?  Does anyone even use that, these days?  There’s not much that costs less than a dollar, anymore; the five-and-dime store is dead and buried in a melancholy little corner in Potter’s Field.  There’s no “¢” on my keyboard; while I write this essay, I’m actually cutting and pasting it from a website because I don’t know how to make it on the keyboard.  Considering that we have now learned the way to write cents in numerals, the “¢” should no longer be an issue.

So, that’s that.  The dollar sign comes first.  And, I don’t want to hear any griping about how other countries put the symbol for their money after the numerals.  We’re not in another country; we’re in Canada (or, I am, anyway) and we have the dollar, and that’s how it’s written.  You know what to do, so go forth and multiply.

And that’s my two cents.  Wait, I mean, that’s my $0.02.

Your mission, should you decide to accept it. . .

Watching a DVD set of the first season of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. I remember watching this show when it was new, waaaaaay back in the day.
Jim Phelps wasn’t always the leader of the team; in the first season, it was Dan Briggs, played by Steven Hill, who is probably best known as District Attorney Schiff on LAW & ORDER. Hard to reconcile the image of that crusty old guy on L&O with the dynamic team leader on M:I.
Some of the missions are inventive and clever, and others are just silly, but it’s all pretty cool if you let yourself forget that it’s really about the C.I.A. messing around in the affairs of sovereign foreign countries. Certainly, this show is one of the best things that came out of the James Bond craze.
The best thing in the show is Martin Landau. The silliest thing in the show is that the leader of a covert operations team keeps his agents’ dossiers in a leather folder clearly embossed with the words “Impossible Missions Force”. But, hey, it was the ’60s.
Anyway, I’m really enjoying this, and would recommend it to anyone interested in vintage television.

Reflected Glory Is Still Glory


In 1986-87, I helped to publish some comic books.  I think that most people who know me are aware that I have fond feelings toward comics, and it was my great pleasure to be involved in Vanguard Graphics.  We managed to publish two issues of THE PRIVATEERS and one issue of PROJECT:  HERO.  It ended all too soon, but it was a great experience and possibly the best thing I’ve ever done.

Our greatest claim to fame was that the creator of PRIVATEERS, Tom Grummett, got noticed by the big comics companies, and he went on to do work for DC and Marvel.  He drew a great many comics for DC, including a long run on ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN.  Even after all these years, people still talk to me about the comics that were made right here in Saskatoon and about Tom.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, a guy came into the store and started talking about old times.  I dug out copies of PRIVATEERS #1 and #2 for him to buy, but was unable to find PROJECT:  HERO.  He knew about my involvement in these comics and I had a weird feeling that he was geeking out on me as if I had been a writer or artist.

And then he asked me to autograph the comics.  Well, how about that!  I told him that he was awarding me with far too much credit — that I had come up with some investment money by borrowing from an uncle, by which I was anointed with the title of Publisher, but I hadn’t actually contributed anything to the writing or artwork; I wasn’t one of the stars.  That didn’t seem to matter to him; I had helped to make these comics, in whatever capacity, so that made me autograph-worthy.  So, I scrawled my crude signature on the cover of each comic, and he went away happy.

I guess I’ll take an ego boost any way it comes.  I don’t have so much pride that I’m above basking in reflected glory.  And, I still have ambitions of writing and publishing my own graphic novel.  One day, I shall achieve my personal glory.  Oh, yes.  One day.

Oh, yes, he does so remember it well!

What if, in the song “I Remember It Well”, from the beloved musical GIGI, it’s Maurice Chevalier whose memory is accurate and it’s Hermione Gingold who’s always wrong?

Mind.  Blown.

They’re having a warm moment that he doesn’t want to spoil, and he’s too much a gentleman to correct a lady, anyway, so he just lets it go.

Or. . . She’s angry at him for breaking off their romance those many years ago and is trying to gaslight him by contradicting him with falsehoods.  Tormenting him by making him doubt his own mind would be an exquisite revenge.

Or. . . What’s the time period of this story?  Late Victorian?  Edwardian?  In the intervening years since their parting, he’s become a functionary for the French government and she’s now a double agent for Prussia.  Everyone knows that a war between France and Prussia (i.e. Germany) is inevitable (even though it won’t come until 1914) and she’s trying to mess with his mind in order to pry state secrets from him.  Diabolical!

What other sweet and innocent songs are there for me to deconstruct and ruin?  I’m on the quest!

Ghost World


And, here’s one more comic book movie.  GHOST WORLD was written and drawn by Daniel Clowes, published by Fantagraphics Books.  The movie starred Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch.  The story is about two girls who have just graduated from high school and have to decide what to do with their lives.  I have to admit that I have neither read the book nor seen the movie, so I can’t say much about it, but it seems that both versions are well thought of.  It seems to be a low-key comedic slice of life.   The “ghost” part is a metaphor and there is nothing supernatural — but there is still the world.



And, one more R-rated harboiled-crime comic book movie:  WHITEOUT.
This is the story of a U.S. Marshal investigating robbery and murder at a research station in the Antarctic.  The movie starred Kate Beckinsale.  The graphic novel was written by Greg Rucka and drawn by Steve Lieber, published by Oni Press.  There are a lot of brutal crimes in the pursuit of avarice, made even worse by harsh weather conditions.  The movie was not a financial success, although I’d say that it’s worth a look, even if Beckinsale bears little resemblance to the main character in the comic (Janeane Garofalo might have been a better choice).  There’s also a comics sequel entitled WHITEOUT: MELT.