Jan 272015


I take the train from Vancouver to Olympia, and then back again, all the time. (The love of my life lives south of the border.)

Olympia’s Centennial Station is staffed by (usually) elderly volunteers who love trains and who love helping travelers. Built in 1993 after six years of fund-raising in the local community, the train platform is laden with metallic plaques with the names of contributors. So many are couples. To me, the plaques are very moving.

Everything about this train station is right: The seats are comfortable; the vending machines have coffee, juice, pop, peanuts, and Cheese-Its at inexpensive prices; there are plugs everywhere; and the Wi-Fi never flutters.

My favourite part of the station is the clock outside. I have often stood in the rain just to stare at it. Unlike many of my students, I have very little vocabulary to describe design (a professional nuisance, alas). But I think I “get” this clock. It looks strong; it looks old-fashioned. Trains are strong and old-fashioned, but they are neither obsolescent nor obsolete. Their design is simple and beautiful.

(I stole the title for this post from Juliana Hatfield, a great musical artist.)


Jan 182015

From an excellent article in Mediate.com called “Best Interests and Little Voices: Child Participation in the Family Mediation Dialogue” by Jennifer Winestone:

Children were historically excluded from post-separation decision-making, because of the  assumption that children lacked the “legal and psychological capacity” to participate in decisions and that insulating children from the decision-making process would somehow protect them from the turmoil of divorce. But these were not the only reasons children were left out of the post-separation conversation.  In accordance with the old adages “father/mother knows best”, “[a] related assumption was that parents know what is in their child’s best interests, and children’s views would, therefore, be adequately represented by their parents.”

Studies show that these assumptions are false; in fact, “children’s  meaningful participation in decision-making can reduce the negative affects of family breakdown” and “often promotes their social well-being.” Empirical findings suggest that children want to have a “voice” in the processes that “fundamentally affect their lives,” and that not listening to children’s voices “may do more harm than good.” Accordingly, there has been an increase in developments aimed at promoting  the “voice of the child” in family law processes.

Recognition and respect for the “voice of the child” has evolved not merely as a value-added phenomenon, but from a social recognition of children as “rights-bearing individuals rather than as merely objects of concern or subjects of decisions.” [footnotes included in full article]

I learned a lot from this piece.

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Jan 162015

I had always found eHarmony Inc.‘s advertisements vaguely disconcerting: too optimistic about romance, and too confident about its vaunted heuristic (the “Relationship Questionnaire”!).

An advertisement currently in frequent rotation on television promises viewers that “You can start communicating for free today” – a trademarked phrase (of course). This advertisement is specifically disconcerting. The company is presenting a birthright as a corporate gift.

Jan 162015

Bryan Garner, lawyer and English language usage scholar, on one of my favourite words:

A portmanteau is a type of luggage with two separate sections. A portmanteau word is formed by combining the sounds and meanings of two different words. Linguists also call such a word a blend.

Most portmanteaus merge the initial part of one word with the end of another: smog (smoke + fog) and infomercial (information + commercial). Others combine one complete word with part of another: docudrama (documentary + drama) and palimony (pal + alimony). Sometimes words with the same sounds are combined to create a pun: shampagne (sham + champagne). …

The popularity of portmanteau words continues to grow. …

My favourite recent portmonteau is “bankster.”

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