Rants and Raves!

I'm a proofreader and copy editor, an occasional writer, and a travel enthusiast (70 countries) who's interested in grammar, linguistics, funny quotes, quirky stories and bargain deals.

This is the place for rants about lousy service and atrocious quality, praise for things done right and funny or interesting items that wouldn't fit within Twitter's 140-character limit.

For quality results that even a curmudgeon wouldn't grumble about, hire me for your proofreading and editing needs. I'm Chicago-based, if the occasional in-person meeting is important to you, but I'm happy to work with customers worldwide.

Recent Posts


A Lincoln is connected to all 4 U.S. Presidential Assassinations!

Posted Saturday, August 30, 2014
The first Lincoln to be connected to the four presidential assassinations was of course A. Lincoln himself. Honest Abe was shot in Ford's Theater by John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865 and died some hours later on the 15th.

The eldest son of Abraham Lincoln was Robert Todd Lincoln. Although he was in Washington, D.C. at the time, Robert was not present at his father's assassination. However, in 1881, Robert Lincoln was serving as President Garfield’s Secretary of War. Garfield invited Lincoln to accompany him on a trip and Lincoln was with Garfield at the train station in Washington on July 2, 1881, when Garfield was assassinated.

Some 20 years later, President McKinley invited Robert Lincoln to attend the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York with him. While there, on September 6, 1901, McKinley was assassinated. Robert Lincoln thereafter declined subsequent presidential invitations. Robert Lincoln’s last public appearance was the dedication of his father’s memorial in Washington on May 30, 1922. Although two Presidents — William Howard Taft and Warren G. Harding — were present, both of them managed to avoid being assassinated.

The year after JFK's assassination, lists of "spooky" coincidences between Lincoln and Kennedy started to appear in the media. For example, both presidents were elected to the House of Representatives in '46; both presidents were elected to the presidency in '60 and both presidents had vice-presidents named Johnson who took office upon their deaths.

It was also said that Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy who warned him not to go to the theatre. While there is no official record showing that Lincoln ever had a secretary named Kennedy, Lincoln's bodyguard, William Crook, did in fact advise Lincoln not to go to Ford's Theater that night.

But the other part of that urban legend is true: Kennedy had a secretary, Evelyn Lincoln, who had warned him not to go to Dallas that fateful trip.

Tags: quirky, USA, presidents

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Where to Go on a 4-Week Vacation? Southern Africa!

Posted Monday, August 25, 2014
There is nothing quite like an African safari and the southern African countries (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia) allow open safari vehicles and don't overcharge foreign visitors with sky-high daily park admission fees. Open vehicles are perfectly safe — you can be sitting 10 feet from a pride of lions and they will ignore that noisy, greasing-smelling piece of metal and its contents, unless you are foolish enough to climb off of it, in which case you are now lunch. Jo'burg (officially called Johannesburg) and Cape Town have the best prices for incoming international flights.

South Africa is the only true First World Western-style country on the African continent, with excellent roads, quality accommodations and even upscale shopping malls. The people — black and white — are some of friendliest anywhere in the world. The country is perfectly safe from violent crime in any of the areas that most tourists might visit, although car thefts and break-ins are said to be higher there than in the West — keep your valuables in your trunk when moving between hotels.

I would recommend flying into Cape Town, which is lovely in the spring (October). Stay a few days visiting the city, go to the top of Table Mountain, then take a tour or rent a car to see the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve (baboons will climb all over your vehicle and peer in through the windows at you). Go on a wine-tasting tour — the area is known for its vineyards. Then fly to Johannesburg unless you're a train buff with a spendthrift budget — the luxury Blue Train is reminiscent of Victorian-era travel for the pampered elite. Rent a car and stay in either Jo'burg or Pretoria for a night or two. In October, the jacaranda trees should be in bloom and they are a sight to see because the trees are filled with purple blossoms rather than green leaves — it looks like something slightly alien, out of Avatar.

South Africa has a wonderful collection of upscale bed and breakfasts which are quite a bargain by US or European standards. Chain hotels like Holiday Inn offer good value with Western-style accommodations. But one 5-star boutique hotel, about 2 hours drive or bus ride from Jo'burg, should not be missed — the Palace at Sun City. It's expensive but worth it: I've only spent more than $100 a night for a hotel room on three occasions in my entire life and two of them were at the Palace. The Palace looks like a huge movie set for an Indiana Jones adventure — everything is custom designed, including the room furnishings. You could spend a couple of days just exploring the gardens, the walk-over hanging bridges, and the aviary; there's an Olympic-size swimming pool that's almost always nearly empty plus an artificial beach a short walk away with a tidal-wave generator and some very steep water slides; access is included in the room price as is a superb breakfast buffet with white-glove service. A morning/evening game drive in a big open vehicle is available for an extra charge; it explores the nearby game park. Their website's advertised rate is quite high, but you should be able to save half or more by just showing up -- access to the Palace is restricted to guests and their friends only, not gawkers, but the guards will let you through if you tell them you want to book a room. There are other hotels in the same Sun City complex if you don't like the rate they quote you and at least you'll be able to have a look at the place -- hesitate and ask to see a room and get a tour before you say no. I got a special rate there twice with no problem and added days with no hassle in each instance; the first time I paid $120/night for a single and 10 years later $220/night for a junior suite with room for 2 adults and 2 children.

Also a few hours from Jo'burg is Kruger National Park, which is roughly the size and shape of the entire country of Israel. You can pre-book multiple accommodations on-line through their website and drive slowly from camp to camp, stopping to observe wildlife. A guidebook and park road map is available at the entrance gate.

You can rent a car in South Africa and take it into neighboring countries (get approval when you rent!). In three weeks, perhaps a bit rushed, we drove a loop from Sun City and Kruger into Zimbabwe, crossed into Botswana, west to Namibia, down Namibia and east back across South Africa, stopping in Kimberly, then flew back from Jo'burg. Highlights in Zimbabwe: the Great Zimbabwe ruins, Matopos National Park (where Rhodes is buried), museum in Bulawayo, and Victorian Falls. The Falls and the jungle walk are not to be missed; Vic Falls also has every imaginable activity an adrenaline junkie could want, including the world's highest bungie jump and class-5 whitewater rafting down the Zambezi River; there's also a leisurely flat-bottomed boat cruise to watch wildlife along the shoreline. We also stayed at Hwange National Park in a private reserve — these can be expensive but if business is slow, a local travel agent might be able to get you a sharply-discounted "regional resident" rate; you may need to "officially" claim a South African address, so use the address of a South African hotel you stayed at.

Near Vic Falls (officially Victoria Falls), just across the Botswana border is Chobe National Park where you are highly likely to see prides of lions up close and rare packs of wild dogs (painted wolves). Guided open-jeep tours can be booked; take a night safari if you can, for a very different experience. Botswana generally caters to the upscale crowd, so we continued on to Namibia. Highlights in Namibia: Sossusvlei with the world's highest sand dunes, red sand and haunted-looking trees; Etosha National Park, a multi-day drive-through park in the Kruger style. At least one of the camps has a fenced-in viewing bench just across from a watering hole where animals come to drink day and night. Swakopmund is a little Bavarian town along the coast with lots of pastries and Weiner Schnitzel -- Namibia was a German colony until the end of World War I and the cross between German and African architecture is distinctive and fun, both here and in Windhoek, the capital. From Windhoek, head back to South Africa; consider the Kalahari Desert game park if you can fit it in.

Tags: travel, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Nambia

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Is it incorrect to end a sentence with a preposition?

Posted Thursday, August 21, 2014
English is a Germanic language — both English and German stem from the same historic source. In German separable prefixes are common, where the prefix ends up at the end of the sentence. Phrasal verbs are the rough English equivalent with the preposition in English acting as the prefix in German.

The "don't end a sentence with a preposition" rule was totally made up by some academic authority in the days when all educated people learned Latin. But Latin does not have separable prefixes, so it's impossible to construct such a sentence in Latin.

Because tradition dies hard, it's probably best, when writing formal papers, to minimize the use of such sentences. Even though this arbitrary rule is suspect, the tone of such sentences is decidedly informal, which may impact the credibility of your formal structured arguments. Just don't be obsessive about it — sometimes a sentence just doesn't sound natural any other way. An editor once tried to "correct" Winston Churchill's writing, to which Churchill responded, "This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.”

Tags: English, grammar, German, prepositions

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