365 Notes: Day 105 – De-escalation

The headlines are full of escalation and de-escalation today:

  • “Situation in Ukraine escalates”
  • “NATO calls on Russia to de-escalate”
  • “Russia-Ukraine tensions escalate”
  • “Obama urges Putin to de-escalate”

And so on.

De-escalate is an ugly word. It is mostly familiar to me from my call centre days, when the subject of “de-escalating” angry customers (of which there were plenty) was brought up on the first day of training, and reinforced many many times subsequently. The most cardinal sin one can commit in that environment is to “escalate” a call, meaning pass a call up the chain to a supervisor, who is too busy making a pie chart out of your last week’s bathroom time to talk to a customer. De-escalation was thus paramount.

As it is in today’s headlines.

Thanks to The Hermit, I have learned it is not just an ugly word, it is also an etymologically curious word.  When I gave it any thought at all, I assumed a situation or a mountain could be escalated, and that an escalator – the moving stair device - was named for this quality of ascension. Surprisingly, “escalate” itself  is derived from the word “escalator” and not the other way round. It is what is called a back-formation. The escalator came first.

While the word “escalator” to describe the system of moving stairs goes back to the turn of the twentieth century, a look at Google’s delightful Ngram viewer (which shows in helpful chart form the prevalence of chosen words in English literature) reveals a sharp rise in the use of the word “escalate” around 1960, it being unused before 1940. It’s ugly brother, “de-escalate” didn’t come into usage until the mid 60s, and has had blessedly minimal use since then.

Until the media really gets its teeth into it. If today’s headlines, and Putin’s actions, are any indication, Ngram will one day show a spike in the usage of “de-escalate” starting in 2014.

365 Notes: Day 104 – Pain in the back

I did something stupid to my lower back on Friday. I was either trying to move something I shouldn’t, or trying to move something I should, but doing it in a foolish way. Either way, I walked slowly and hunched over all weekend. The highlight came when my 110 pound thirteen year old jumped up on my back by surprise yesterday. Considerable noise came out of my mouth.

Even sitting for any length of time hurts.

So I spent today doing not much of anything. Lightweight tasks like defragmenting my hard drive, and petting the cat. The pain is less today than it was yesterday, though, so it is trending in the right direction. Back pain is no fun, but at least the cat gets some loving.

365 Notes: Day 103 – In praise of David Mitchell

I’ve given this a great deal of thought, as one should on matters of such import, and I have decided John Cleese is now my second favourite British comic.

He has been supplanted by the wonderfully cynical David Mitchell. Not only one of the funniest people on British television, he must certainly also be one of the busiest. In the last eight years or so, he has been one of the leads of the long running sitcom Peep Show; co-creator, co-writer and co-star of radio’s That Mitchell and Webb Sound, as well as its TV adaption, That Mitchell and Webb Look; and co-star of the three episode mini-series Ambassadors. All of these are extraordinarily high quality, and they are just the things he did with comedy partner Robert Webb*.

Mitchell did much more, besides. His fast and sharp wit has made him a staple of British panel shows, probably my favourite form of entertainment. A frequent guest on many of them, including QI (hosted by the delightful Stephen Fry, who comes third on my list of favourite funny Brits) and Mock the Week, he is also a prolific and capable host, having helmed The Unbelievable Truth, The Bubble, 10 O’Clock Live, Have I Got News For You, and Was It Something I Said? Throughout it all, he has been a regular panelist on Would I Lie to You?, the funniest of all the panel shows, for seven series now. And as if these duties weren’t enough, he also writes a regular column for The Guardian and hosts a web series of short rants called David Mitchell’s Soapbox. That’s busy.

Despite being so incredibly prolific, and no matter if it is scripted or off-the-cuff, if it is in print, on screen, or on radio, David Mitchell is (almost*) consistently smart and funny. John Cleese will always hold his position as esteemed elder in the the British comedy world. David Mitchell is not there yet, but he is well on his way.


*The one major project I have seem Mitchell in that I would describe as a complete dud was the movie he made with partner Robert Webb called Magicians

365 Notes: Day 102 – The Enclaves of The Lake

I learned a new word yesterday, courtesy of The Hermit: exclave. We had been talking about Russia and Ukraine, when he mentioned an odd bit of Russian geography he recently read about. It is a city called Kaliningrad that is not geographically connected to Russia itself. It is on the Baltic Sea, sharing land borders with Poland and Lithuania. “It’s an exclave,” he told me.

An exclave is a piece of territory owned by another country that is surrounded by alien territory. An enclave – an intimately related concept – is a sovereign area completely surrounded by a single alien territory. Lesotho is an enclave, because it is a sovereign territory completely surrounded by South Africa. Kaliningrad is an exclave because it is surrounded by multiple alien territories - Poland and Lithuania - as well as a sea.

Because the word was new to me, and relatively new to him, we did what we always do with new words, and looked it up online. That led us to the understanding of the distinction between enclave and exclave. It also led to the discovery that the world is full of enclaves and exclaves – some of them strange and unusual. Switzerland contains two within its borders – one German, one Italian. Alaska, separated from the United States, but sharing a border with Canada, is a relatively close-to-home example.

Truly the most bizarre examples are with India and Bangladesh. There are nearly 200 enclaves and exclaves between them. Indian territory completely inside Bangladesh. Bangladeshi territory inside India. In a couple of head-scratching examples, we found Indian territory inside Bangladeshi territory inside Indian territory inside Bangladeshi territory. It was marvelously confusing.

All of which led the Hermit around to the idea that The Lake, where we both live, is a kind of philosophical enclave. The land we live on is owned by The Hippies of Manor House. The Hippies, and hence the land they survey, are different than the people of other lands. It is not just that they are kind and generous. It is not even that they are unreservedly so. Here are welcomed Hermits and Bus People and summer campers. Here is refuge from the harsh world beyond. Here is the Enclave of the Lake.

It then occurred to me that The Hermit’s shack, and my bus, were two enclaves within the enclave. For while we can’t access our respective homes without crossing the sovereign territory of The Hippies, we do have sovereignty within them.

365 Notes: Day 101 – [filler note, fulfilling my resolution obligation]

I have tried to write a few different things tonight, but my brain is not working so well. I slept only a few hours last night, and worked pretty hard the last few days. It was a good kind of work, but my body and my brain are exhausted. So I’m kind of taking a night off. I’m writing this paragraph, and this paragraph alone. I said in yesterday’s note that sometimes I wanted to do anything other than write. Now is one of those times. And the thing I most want to do is go to bed. And so that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I won’t put it on Twitter or on Facebook – because why bother? – but this still counts as a note. Resolution fulfilled – goodnight.

365 Notes: Day 100 – 100!

As of this one, I’ve done 100 notes this year. It hasn’t been easy. Sometimes I can’t think of anything to write about. Sometimes I know what I want to write about, but not how. Sometimes I would rather do just about anything else. And once in a while I accidentally get drunk before I’ve done my writing. Those are the repetitive and poorly edited notes. They aren’t incoherent, but they are horribly written. I’m trying not to do that so much.

Besides not drinking before I write, here are a couple of other things I have picked up in the last hundred days:

I too often write “use to” instead of “used to” and I too often use “l” where I should use “me”. I know the rules governing these things, but my brain refuses to use that knowledge for some reason. The Hermit of the Lake – one of very few people who reads every note – likes to do a post-note analysis. He emails me his grammar and style nit-picks fairly often, and I find it useful. He enjoys my notes, but also enjoys finding flaws. The other day when I visited him, he greeted me by loading my blog on his computer, cheerfully saying: “Let’s see what’s wrong with today’s note.”

Something else I learned: I write better when I write about myself, not when I write about politics. I enjoy the politics more than I enjoy myself, but my writing and my readers feel differently. Not only are those self-oriented notes generally better written, they also generate better feedback.

Today is a round number day for my blog. It is not only note 100, it marked the 10,000th view of my blog. A friend said to me of that milestone today: “I think that makes you a writer.” And so a brief word to the people who are kind enough to read these notes. Or, better still, a brief two words:

Thank you.

365 Notes: Day 99 – The Great Lake Flood of 2014

Okay, so it wasn’t a great flood. But it was a flood, with actual property damage and everything. I have pictures. Sitting on my bus at The Lake, when I look out my window, I usually see grass, trees, and the woodshop. Yesterday, instead I saw a five foot wide river trying to wash debris to the lake.

The rain came just that hard, falling on land that was already saturated and frozen. The water, as water will, chose the path of least resistance. It washed away huge chunks of the driveway, as well as various bits of debris. I saw a gas can, and three full blue bags of recycling trying to find their ways down the river to the lake, only to be frustrated by my interception.

Many people reading this will know the geography of the property at The Lake. Many won’t.

There’s Manor House, where the owners of the property actually live. The epithet “Manor House” is relative. The house is, in fact, a little rundown, even if it is as home-y a place as I’m ever likely to find. It warrants the name Manor House, though, when set to the other residences on the property.

There is a small (and old, and dilapidated) travel trailer here, used by frequent summer residents. It’s door is propped close with a 2X4, and it is packed with the tools of of summer games one of its residents brings to the lake each year. Outside of it are the various bags of recycling that were collected last fall, as well as the things that either didn’t fit, or didn’t get put away, into the shed. The trailer used to be the home of the Hermit of the Lake.

Then he built a more permanent structure, and that sits on the property near to the road. There is a bit of debris in front of the Hermit’s shack, too. Then there is my bus, the eyesore of the whole shebang. A hideous red and black structure, it dissects the lower part of the yard. Whether coming from Manor House, the woodshop, the trailer, or the Hermit’s shack, it is impossible to ignore the atrocity that is my bus.

To add to the whole white trash sensation, outside my bus are all the things I couldn’t fit inside it. Plus various bit of garbage. The Hermit and I agreed we were going to clean up this spring, but I noticed how white-trashy it all looked when I was taking pictures from various angles during the flood yesterday.

The river that formed yesterday flowed from the woods above, down the hill between the shed and the trailer, onto the path, then down between the woodshop and my bus. From there, it veered sharply right into the driveway – where it caused significant erosion – across the street, then into the lake.

Yesterday, there was no break in the body of water from the actual lake, up several hundred meters through the yard and up into the woods. Which is what this note was originally about. It turns out to be also a description of the property I live on, as well as a confession about my techno-idiocy. I can’t figure out how to post my flood picture to the blog. I had intended, with this note, to let a picture represent a thousand words. Suffice it all to say: it was damned wet.




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