Sunday, June 12, 2005


A metaphor is the use of something to represent something else. Metaphors are powerful in language and in visual representation, and therefore quite popular. In Arabic poetry, the use of metaphor is very high "so and so was a lion" and that sort of thing.

Sometimes metaphors are not only used because they are powerful but because there is a social convention against discussing something or other on its own terms. In this case, you have to be pretty creative to make sure that the association is clear enough. I saw a whopper of a visual metaphor yesterday that illustrates this quite brilliantly and ties in with my earlier posts with a sort of theme. (No, just wait for this.)

I was watching 10 minutes or so of a Bond movie on the Saudi movie channel, MBC 2 (it shows American movies pretty much non-stop). It has been doing a Bond kick lately on Saturday nights (we caught Dr. No a few weeks ago which was really funny to watch). I thought I had identified this one as "From Russia with Love" so I watched through the commercials to see from the little announcement of the movie name if I was right.

The commercial showed a fast food cup with a cover on it and a hand trying to insert a straw. The straw was pink and thin, and kept bending. The hand eventually gave up on the attempt and bent the straw a couple of times experimentally before disappearing and re-appearing with a big, thick, blue straw which it jammed into the cup successfully. Then the picture disappeared and a male voice said "Viagra!" while the word and a picture of the pill appeared on the screen.

I sat there for at least a minute trying to figure out whether I was shocked, amused, horrified or what. That is a pretty effective metaphor. More so the first time you see the ad, as (at least in my case - maybe I am just too naive) you really are not psychologically prepared for the punch line.

I plan to provide more neat, salacious Saudi advertising gimmicks illustrating synechdoche or something as they come up. It will make a very amusing series, won't it?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Public Shame for Sex Offenders

Below, I posted on the issue of Medicaid coverage of prescription drugs in the US, because I had not been aware that sexual dysfunction drugs like Viagra were covered by this very limited and minimal governmental insurance program for poor people. It just seemed to me to be a very weird priority to use such a limited program to cover something that was not, by any stretch of the imagination, life-threatening.

In the course of the post I referred to the fact that this entire issue came to light because people found that sex offenders were among the Medicaid beneficiaries getting subsidized Viagra. I said that I did not see the point of generally offering it but restricting these people who presumably served their time. (I was arguing that I did not think it should be generally covered at all.) A commenter reacted to this by saying,

"Are you against the public shame programs? Also they haven't served their time, part of their time is public shame for the rest of thier lives. And sexual predator can't be cured from thier problem... it's a mental condition that is incurable. Most psyhcologist would tell you this. So it's not just about publicly shaming them, but about protecting other people from their disease."

Forgive me, but I see a contradiction here. If they are victims of an incurable mental problem, I don't see why sex offenders should be shamed at all. If they are supposed to live in shame for the rest of their lives because of the particular nature of their crime, I don't see how you reconcile it with being a disease.

I still feel that if a person's found guilty of a crime, whatever it is, and that crime has a sentence associated with it, and the person serves his sentence, he's done. I don't really feel that exceptions should be made, because if they are really bad crimes, then the person should have had an indeterminate sentence to begin with.

And I think if a person is found to have a mental disorder that causes him or her to commit violent crimes against others and there is no hope of a cure, the answer would be institutionalization, not public shame.

I am a bit of a civil libertarian, perhaps, and I have been fortunate not to have been a victim of such a crime, so I lack that perspective, but it seems to me that the public shame programs of which I have heard for certain kinds of crimes don't do anything positive.

Sorry for the political interlude - now I will return to the regularly scheduled, very intermittent, posting on educational and language issues.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Help, I have been tagged by a meme. What a first.

I can't believe this, but that's what you get for commenting on other people's sites! Thanks a lot Corpy.

Apparently, this one is about books. That's good. I am all about books. Usually they seem to be about things that are out of my league like IPod preferences or something like that.

Total number of books owned:

I have absolutely no idea - about 500 or 600 I guess. In one of my many moves, I lost a box of books so I keep discovering that a book is no longer "with me" (as they say in Arabic to differentiate actual physical possession from theoretical possession). And, I keep passing on paperbacks to other people and acquiring more. Also, I buy books for my kids and read them as voraciously as they do, so do they count as mine? That would bring it up to about 700, I suppose.

Last book bought:

For myself alone, not my kids: The Golden One by Elizabeth Peters. I have a very limited budget for books and even paperbacks in Cairo are expensive, but this mystery series about an Egyptologist family around the turn of the century is one of the few I actually am sufficiently invested in to keep buying the books. (For my kids: White Fang.)

I borrow books a lot more than I buy them because I speed read and go through them very fast. I recently borrowed The Feminine Mystique and The Second Sex. I am reading the De Beauvoir now having finished the Friedan and returned it.

Last book read:

Well, I read fiction the way other people drink coffee, and read nonfiction sort of simultaneously, so the last book I read was some fiction page-turner or other. I really am very addicted to reading. I am also not very discriminating. I can read bad fiction as well as good. I do recognize the difference though. Oh, I remember now! The last actual really well-written book I read was David Lodge's Nice Work, which was the third book in a trilogy of fun novels about academia (they make it sound like one long party, actually - he must be a secret recruiter for some university or other). My boss is loaning me his entire oeuvre little by little - so far I have read two trilogies and she just left another single novel on my desk this a.m.

Five books that mean a lot to you:

Hm. I hate these things, trying to isolate 5 books from the literally thousands I have read that mean more to me than others!




Oh damn it.

OK, this is not in order of priority. I could not prioritize these. And I know I will think of 5 others in a minute that were just as, or more, important to me as/than these, but let's fish or cut bait here.

1. Adam Bede by George Eliot.

2. The Lord of the Rings (I know, Patrick Nielsen Hayden said this first, but I did read this at the age of 9 or so and still can outquote my kids on arcane Tolkiana)

3. 100 Years of Solitude. Labyrinthine. Beautiful. Scary. Lyrical and full of word play.

4. Collected Poems by e.e. cummings.

5. The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. (A dark horse, isn't it. Read it and you will agree with me that it stays with you for a long time and gives you a profound appreciation for church bells.)


Tag five people to continue this meme:

I have no idea of how to "tag" someone but will try Jon at A Tiny Revolution, Leila at Sister Scorpion, Mark at WitNit who has probably already been tagged by a bunch of people, hmmm that's 3 - Wow, I really don't know that many people well, do I. Hmm, how about an Egyptian blogger, The Dumb North African. He seems fairly erudite.

Update June 9: And here is #5: Yakoub.

Update 2: The Dumb North African and Mark Alexander have responded so far!