Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Hard Choices

Two subsets of spam artists seem to be winning the battle against my university's nutwall. The first of these offers amazing opportunities in unfamiliar stocks; the second features exuberant promises about erectile enhancement.

I know how common this variety of solicitation is. My wife was in a bit of a panic last year when her work computer was blitzed by so many messages of this kind that she felt it necessary to tell her employer's net administrator that she had done nothing to encourage these messages. (She figured her employer was monitoring her email. But that's another story.)

Of course, she was reassured that everyone else on the system had the same problem.

I know that calling these messages -- this detritus, this commonality, this pocket change of the internet -- to your attention is like suggesting to an editor, as I once did, that what the feature section needed was a story on My Saturday at Traffic School. My editor said such a story was a kind of a Coming of Age in Samoa thing. Everyone knows that story, knows it so well, in fact, that it is a very boring story and no one wants to hear it again.

But but but. In the case of these pestilent sex emails, I suddenly realized that they are a powerful argument in favor of AP style; that is, in certain areas of life we want consistency, deference to precedent. An excess of innovation, of freethinking, in spelling or in grammar or syntax or capitalization does not bolster confidence. It is not that we do not get the message. It is that if the message lacks a certain respect for conventional wisdom in areas that are admittedly unrelated to the question under discussion we do not trust the message.

A case in point. As I was erasing emails this morning, the following popped in the preview screen:

-S'ensationall revoolution in m'edicine!

-E'n'l'a'r'g'e your p''enis up to 10 cm or up to 4 inches!

And I thought:

Tut tut. I think not. This email has "offshore medical school" written all over it.

But I also had to admit: what a learning tool for educating us about the metric system!

Addendum: And I realize what I have written. My headline for this should have been The Learning Tool.


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