I Must Be Ready for Retirement – I’m Starting to Think Like a Retiree

The New York Times had a story recently, “The Future of Retirement Communities: Walkable and Urban“, and that describes exactly the kind of place I’d like to live when I retire.

So when I checked walkable.com to see what the most walkable cities were, I came across the list you see at the top of this blog. While they may be walkable, none of those cities appeal to me for retirement.

So I decided to check the top city on my list (right now) for possible retirement, Sarasota. The city of Sarasota itself only scored a 52, an average walkability score. However, the walkable.com allows you to dig deeper, and check the walkability of neighborhoods within a city,

Here’s what I found as the top five most walkable neighborhoods in Sarasota:


So those scores look much more appealing.

I may have mentioned this before, but here is what I would like to have within walking distance of our residence (whatever that may be, single family home, townhouse, condo). having such a list helps us figure out what things will be important to us as we look for our retirement spot.

  • a great grocery store, like Moms Organic or Whole Foods
  • a great public library
  • a great bookstore
  • a coffeeshop
  • a beach
  • movie theater
  • a performing arts center for plays, concerts, etc.
  • a farmers’ market
  • a variety of restaurants
  • public transit
  • volunteer opportunities

and within 5-10 minutes, by car:

  • great medical facilities
  • a college

within 30 minutes, by car

  • an airport

From what I can tell, Sarasota meets all of these requirements (plus one of our most basic ones, which is a warm climate).

Hopefully we’ll get to check it out soon, and see if reality lives up to my expectations.

By the way, parts of Santa Barbara also look like great places, at least from a walkability perspective:


The problem is that California is a little far from my Philly roots, plus there’s no Wawas out there. Score one more point for Sarasota.

P.S. I’m still a good six years away from retiring…

The Power of Volunteering

I had a chance to be part of two events this weekend that opened my eyes to the power of volunteering.

The background of the people and the setting for each meeting could not have been more different.

Last night I attended a meeting of Reconstruction, Inc., an organization committed to fighting for prison reform as well as helping ease the path back into society for ex-offenders. The meeting took place in North Philadelphia, a neighborhood afflicted by high poverty, and all the problems associated with such a condition. The purpose of the meeting was to get everyone up-to-date on all the various initiatives of the organization, as well the chance to ask questions and air grievances. I was unaware of how upset people were with some of the issues that had been going on behind the scenes. But it seemed to be healthy to get such issues out in the open.

Today I attended an event at Villanova University, run by students, designed to help young adults with special needs to learn some life skills. The meeting took place on the Main Line, a wealthy suburb of Philadelphia, and most of the people at the event were from upper-middle class families. Today’s topic was math and money skills, and the Villanova students designed three stations to allow students to develop certain of these skills. One station had a series of taste tests between name-brand and store brand products to show the young adults the value of store brand products. Another station taught students how to budget for a night out, and a third station focused on the difference between wants and needs. The stations were quite clever, and the young adults seemed to enjoy them.

As I said, the backgrounds and participants of the two meetings were quite different, but there was also a good deal in common.

One item in particular that struck me was that everyone involved at each meeting was a volunteer. And while there are certain benefits one gets from this type of volunteering, what really struck me is that sometimes the benefits can be life changing.

One person at the Reconstruction meeting last night was talking about how as the time got closer and closer for his release from prison, all he and his fellow prisoners would talk about was how they couldn’t wait to do something productive once they got out. However, he learned that it was not easy for an ex-offender to find a job. So he just started volunteering, joining as many organizations as he could so that he could not only help others, buthimself as well. Volunteering was giving him the opportunity to start putting his life back together again as well. It never struck me until hearing his story that volunteering could be so powerful, and the importance of making such opportunities available.

I’ve written before about how great the Villanova students are with volunteering and providing service to the local community and beyond. And for many, such service is a chance for the students to share their time and talent with those less fortunate than themselves. But every once in a while you meet a student whose life path is changed dramatically because of the volunteering they have done. It could be choosing a different career that is directly related to their volunteer work, or becoming a lifelong advocate for the  poor, or those with physical or mental disabilities, and others they have met through their volunteering. In addition to the Villanova students benefiting from the experience, the young adults did as well. They loved being on campus, interacting with people close to their age, and the opportunity to learn some new skills. A win-win for all those involved.

This revelation about the power of volunteering to change lives was eye-opening, and has made me want to more actively look for such opportunities, and at the same time, think of ways to make such opportunities available to more people.

So thank you to the members of Reconstruction and Villanova for the good work that you do; you really do have the power to change the world.

The King and I – a Timeless Tale

Another great show at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia.

This time it was the classic “The  King  and I”. I was vaguely familiar with  the story, and I certainly recognized  the song “Getting  to Know You.”

After the  play, I went to Wikipedia to read a bit  more  about the play and found out that it is based on a true story.

The King and I is the fifth musical by the team of composer Richard Rodgers and dramatist Oscar Hammerstein II. It is based on Margaret Landon’s novel, Anna and the King of Siam (1944), which is in turn derived from the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam (now known as Thailand) in the early 1860s. The musical’s plot relates the experiences of Anna, a British schoolteacher hired as part of the King’s drive to modernize his country. The relationship between the King and Anna is marked by conflict through much of the piece, as well as by a love to which neither can admit. The musical premiered on March 29, 1951, at Broadway’s St. James Theatre. It ran for nearly three years, making it the fourth longest-running Broadway musical in history at the time, and has had many tours and revivals.

There’s a good deal of reference to President Lincoln, since the play was set in that time period. It made me wonder how news traveled back then, and how long it took to get news from one side of the  world to the other. It’s something we take for granted today. I came away impressed that the King of Siam was interested in learning how to be an effective leader by knowing  as much as he could about the President of the United States.

It was  also interesting to realize that many of the issues that people had to deal with 150 years ago are still with us today, such as international aggression, women’s rights, and how hard it is to accept that the world is changing. It’s no wonder that the play  has stood the test of time.

So thank you once again to all the performers and those behind the scenes for providing the audience with a wonderful night of  entertainment.

Here’s  an interesting  clip of the rehearsal of “Getting to Know You”.

I Thought I Had at Least an Average Vocabulary; Wrong Again

I still remember the big day.

I was probably around 12 years old, and my parents were taking me out to get something I really wanted.

Webster’s 3rd New International Dictionary.

It was THE dictionary.

It contained more than 450,000 entries, including more than 100,000 new entries.

The first print run had 2,726 pages, weighed 13½ lbs, and originally sold for $47.50 (about $350 in 2010 dollars).

Why would a sports and girl obsessed 12-year old boy want a dictionary?

Well, despite being obsessed with sports, I wasn’t very good at any of them.

And as for the girl thing, let’s just say the obsession was quite one-sided, and besides, I was more comfortable spending an hour with a book of brain teasers than a girl.

I was also studying for our school’s spelling bee, and a dictionary was the best study guide imaginable. (I had hoped to win our regional spelling bee to make it the National Finals in Washington, D.C., but unfortunately I never did.)

Anyway, I loved that dictionary, and despite my mediocre verbal SAT scores, I always thought that those years spent studying from it had helped to improve my vocabulary.

So when I came across an online vocabulary quiz, I thought it would be right up my alley.

This particular quiz was referred to as the “Slippery Words Quiz“, described as the following:

Many of the words we use have a meaning that is different from what it once was. Take the quiz below to see if you can guess the earliest meaning of some of the more slippery English words.

Well there were 11 words in the quiz, and as I found out after the test, the average score is a 6.

My score was a 3.

Looks like it’s time to bring a dictionary to bed with me again…

If you’d like to take the quiz, here is the link.

I Gave the Wrong Answer in Class Today, and the World Didn’t End…

Since high school, I’ve never been one to voluntarily participate in class.

I’m guessing the biggest reason was the fear of giving the wrong answer, and then feeling myself transform into Lobster Man in full view of the rest of the class.

Basically, I didn’t walk to be like Ivan Ackerman, as seen below.

This behavior continued all of the way through my PhD. I remember after one of my PhD seminars the professor asked me to stay after class and then he told me that I had to stop sitting in class like a “bump on a log.” I don’t recall my behavior changing too much despite his plea.

(As I’ve written about before, this type of behavior was not unique to the classroom. I tend to be the same way in other settings, whether it’s getting my hair cut or sitting in a department meeting; I just don’t have much to say.)

I was a little better when I went back to community college a few years ago to get a degree in Health and Fitness Promotion. Perhaps it was the nature of the courses or the teachers, but I found myself much more willing to both ask and answer questions.

But for the most part, I still tended to keep my thoughts to myself (except for when I’m blogging…)

Fast forward to my Calculus class. Slowly but surely, over the past semester and a half, I’ve gotten a little braver. I still sit in the very back of the room, but I’ve started asking a few questions and offering a few answers along the way, but only when I was pretty sure I knew the answer.

Well today the teacher asked a question, and no one seemed to be answering, so I thought I’d give it a shot, even thought I wasn’t quite sure of the answer.

You can tell by the title of the blog what happened, I gave the wrong answer. The teacher was kind enough to soften the blow and tell me I had given an answer to a different type of problem.

But I soon realized I was OK; I don’t think I turned red, I didn’t notice any of the students around me snickering, and the world didn’t end.

So I’m not sure if such an experience will suddenly turn me into someone who can’t stop talking (I seriously doubt it), but it did make me realize that it’s OK to be wrong, and I learned from my mistake.

I’ll now always know whether a p-series type function converges or diverges.

Some Great Ads from Around the World, and a Villanova/Lego video

I came across a company that uses Twitter to post some of the most clever ads/packaging it has discovered. As often happens, I spent way too much time on the site, because there was always one more ad to look at.

So thank you to marketing_birds for the inspiration for today’s post, in which I thought I would just share some of my favorite ads that I came across.

Best pie chart ever


It’s all about the (toilet) paper


Trident gum -it’s like brushing your teeth


Clever ad for free wi-fi at a coffeehouse


Adidas turns a bus stop into a soccer goal


Great package for a single cupcake


Tabasco Hot Sauce – hot enough to pop corn


A clever 3-d ad for really strong glue


Toyota announcing sponsorship of tennis tournament


An old Volkswagen ad touting its safety award:


And some public service announcements:

homelessness awareness




texting and driving


Some clever ads no doubt.

Marketing Birds had posted a short video about Legos, which I thought I would share. And in a strange coincidence, a friend had just posted something about this to Facebook earlier today.

And while we’re on the subject of Legos, and trying to forget about Nova’s loss this past weekend, here’s a classic Lego re-enactment of last year’s amazing finish to March Madness:

Am I Doomed to a Life of Less Than Optimal Happiness?

Today is International Day of Happiness, and it is also the day that the newest World Happiness Report was released.

The report, developed by the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network, ranks the world’s countries based on happiness.

Norway jumped three spots and displaced three-time winner Denmark to take the title of “world’s happiest country” for the first time. Denmark dropped to second place this year, followed by Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand and Australia and Sweden (which tied for ninth place).

The United States? 14th place, a drop of one spot.

The ranking is based on answers to a simple life evaluation question developed decades ago by a social scientist and posed to people around the world between 2014 and 2016 by Gallup, the polling organization:

Please imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?

The average global score was 5.3 (which is kind of depressing to me, thinking that people just have an average level of life satisfaction), based on hundreds of thousands of surveys conducted by Gallup over those years. The top five countries — Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland and Finland — all have scores just above or below 7.5. The Central African Republic, the lowest ranked country, had a score of 2.7.

So what makes the Scandinavian countries so happy?

According to an article on time.com, it looks like the answer comes down to neighborly support between citizens and state support programs for those in need. People want to feel secure and they also benefit from having a community that they can count on — an environment the Scandinavian countries do better than most in creating.

“The Scandinavian countries are very big on social support,” Dr Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, one of the study’s associate editors, said. “The top countries, you can see, have societies which are not at each others throats. But also they have high GDP per capita.”

“Creating positive social spaces where people can have good face to face interactions with each other is a start,” he said. “If you bring people together, if you have them helping other people, they feel better about themselves and about society.” De Neve also believes that job security and conditions in a workplace can have a dramatic impact on levels of happiness.

In addition, according to Professor John Helliwell, the study’s editor, these countries offer unemployment insurance and child support, and integrate these programs and have packages that are tailored for different individuals. Immigrants in these countries are often given help with language skills and those out of work are offered places on work experience programs, to avoid “the scarring of long term unemployment.”

Here are some other interesting takeaways from the report:

  • The authors found that three-quarters of the variation among countries can be explained by six economic and social factors: gross domestic product per capita (a basic measure of national wealth); healthy years of life expectancy; social support (having someone to rely on during times of trouble); trust (a perceived absence of corruption in government and business); the perceived freedom to make life choices; and generosity (measured by donations).
  • Jeffrey Sachs, the report’s co-editor and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, states, “The World Happiness Report continues to draw global attention around the need to create sound policy for what matters most to people — their well-being. As demonstrated by many countries, this report gives evidence that happiness is a result of creating strong social foundations. It’s time to build social trust and healthy lives, not guns or walls (emphasis added). Let’s hold our leaders to this fact.”
  • Helliwell notes that an emphasis on the future over the present in the Scandinavian countries is made easier by high levels of mutual trust, shared purpose, generosity and good governance.
  • De Neve, who co-authored the report’s chapter on happiness at work, added that people in well-paid roles are happier, but money is only one predictive measure of happiness. “Work-life balance, job variety and the level of autonomy are other significant drivers,” said De Neve.
  • And it turns out that the colder weather and longer nights associated with Scandinavia might actually help bring communities together.”There is a view which suggests that historically communities that lived in harsher weather were brought together by greater mutual support,” Helliwell said. So the colder climate of the Northern [European] countries might actually make social support easier.”

Since I have no interest in living in a colder climate, does that mean I’m doomed to a life of unhappiness?

Well let’s see what the report’s author have to say about the U.S.

Despite gains in per capita income and healthy years of life expectancy, happiness in the United States declined 0.51 points between the two-year periods ending in 2007 and 2016, they found.

“We’re getting richer, but our social capital is deteriorating,” Dr. Sachs said.

Social support, trust, perceived freedom and generosity all suppress happiness in America. And to offset that drag economically, gross domestic product per capita would have to rise from about $53,000 to $133,000, he argues.

“The country is mired in a roiling social crisis that is getting worse,” he wrote in a chapter dedicated to America’s flagging happiness. “Yet the dominant political discourse is all about raising the rate of economic growth.”

To fix that social fraying, Dr. Sachs argues policy makers should work toward campaign finance reform, reducing income and wealth inequality, improving social relations between native-born and immigrant populations, overcoming the national culture of fear induced by the Sept. 11 attacks, and improving the educational system.

Sounds like a good plan to me; we just need out leaders to buy into such efforts as well.

And if they do, maybe I can be just as happy sitting on a beach in Florida as those people shivering in Norway.

By the way, I’ve previously written about the World Happiness Report,

as well as happiness in general:

Well at Least One Person Agrees with Me

March Madness.

It’s one of the best sporting events of the year, filled with great teams, great players, great plays, lots of drama, and moments that will go down in history.

Perhaps none more than the final seconds of last year’s championship game featuring Villanova vs. North Carolina.

There are also moments that leave people scratching their heads, wondering what a coach or player was thinking.

Such was the case with a first round game this past Thursday that featured Northwestern (making its first ever NCAA appearance) vs. Vanderbilt.

With 18 seconds left in the game, Vanderbilt scores a basket to go up by one, 66-65. Northwestern in-bounds the ball, and four seconds later one of the Vanderbilt players intentionally fouls a , an  player, giving him two free throws.

The Northwestern player who was fouled was an 86% free throw shooter, and he made both shots, putting his team ahead by one.

Vanderbilt had one last chance to win the game, but missed a three-pointer, sending Northwestern into the second round.

The foul by the Vanderbilt player was roundly criticized, and there were headlines after the game such as:

Northwestern prevails over Vanderbilt with two gift free throws

Northwestern wins first-ever NCAA tournament game off Vanderbilt’s gaffe

Northwestern edges Vanderbilt for first NCAA win after inexplicable error in final seconds

Vanderbilt player commits huge late mistake in Northwestern win

Even the player who committed the foul said after the game, “We lost on ‘my dumb mistake’

Even the announcers on TV were incredulous, as you will see int he video below.

I did not see the game, but read about it the next day.

But my reaction was the complete opposite of everyone else’s; I thought it was a good move.

If I were Northwestern, I would have taken the ball down the court, and waited until there were just a couple of seconds left int he game, and then taken a shot. If it goes in, you leave Vanderbilt with no chance to reclaim the lead.

By fouling the Northwestern player with about 14 seconds left, Vanderbilt guaranteed itself that it would get the ball back. Assuming the Northwestern player makes both free throws, you at lest then have the opportunity to take the last shot and win the game.

I guess it comes down to the fact that I would rather have the ball in my hands to determine the outcome of a game, rather than in the hands of the other team.

Obviously, it seemed like no one agreed with me, and I thought that’s why I’m not paid seven figures to coach college basketball.

But then…

In Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, sports reporter Andrew Beaton had a full analysis of the situation.

He notes, “… (the Vanderbilt player) committed what is being hailed as a blunder for the ages. It was instantly ridiculed as a bone-headed, game-costing move that will live forever in March Madness infamy. But maybe that analysis—based on decades of conventional basketball wisdom—is completely wrong.”

As soon as I saw that, I had to read more.

Beaton shares various hypothetical scenarios for how the game could have ended, using statistics to make his points. According to his analysis, Vanderbilt had a 55% chance at winning if they commit the foul, which was higher than the 51% if they didn’t.

He also shared the advanced calculations at KenPom.com which showed that the options were very close: They give a Vanderbilt a 57.7% chance at winning after taking the one-point lead, while their numbers indicate a 52% chance for Vanderbilt winning even after fouling.

It seems clear, when looking at both of these analyses (Beaton’s and KenPom’s), that committing the foul was by no means a game-losing bone-headed play. At worst, the foul marginally hurt the Commodores’ chance at winning.

It certainly doesn’t seem like it should be considered one of the worst decisions ever by a college basketball player. (and that is why I purposely never mention his name – no need for it to go down in infamy).

Beaton also notes that while there likely isn’t a single NBA or college coach that would have had one of his players commit such a foul, international basketball teams are willing to try these things far more frequently. They think about it a different way: Would you rather have your offense, or the other team’s offense, decide the game – wish is exactly what I thought.

I’ve seen some football games where the defense will let the offense score quickly so that they can give their own offense get one last chance to score and win the game, and no one seems to criticize such a decision.

Anyway, it’s always nice when you find someone to agree with your viewpoint, especially when it seems like there aren’t too many in this situation. (If you are able to read the comments to the WSJ article, the vast majority vehemently oppose Beaton’s analysis.)

It’s good old confirmation bias at work. So thank you Andrew Beaton for your analysis.

Finally, I also can’t write such a blog without mentioning Villanova’s tough loss to Wisconsin. Despite the loss, the team still has a lot to be proud of, and as usual, Coach Jay Wright and his players were the epitome of class in defeat.

And while I have no team to really root for at this point, I must admit I was really hoping Arkansas was going to Beat North Carolina today.

After all, misery loves company.

The Drowsy Chaperone

My wife, son, and I had the chance to see the Drowsy Chaperone last night at Villanova.

The play was put on by the Villanova Student Musical Theatre (VSMT), an entirely undergraduate run organization that produces at least two musicals per year. The goal of the organization is to provide students a means to unleash their theatrical abilities on the stage. Besides performing, there are also members in VSMT who simply enjoy set building, sound and lighting, costume design, or other aspects of theater.

I have to admit that I had never heard of this play until VSMT announced that it was putting on the play.

Here’s a description of the play from Wikipedia:

The Drowsy Chaperone is a musical with book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar and music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison. It is a parody of American musical comedy of the 1920s. The story concerns a middle-aged, asocial musical theatre fan; as he plays the record of his favorite musical, the (fictional) 1928 hit The Drowsy Chaperone, the show comes to life onstage as he wryly comments on the music, story, and actors. The Drowsy Chaperone debuted in 1998 at The Rivoli in Toronto and opened on Broadway on 1 May 2006. The show was nominated for multiple Broadway (2006) and London (2008) theatre awards, winning five Tony Awards (Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical, Best Scenic Design, and Best Costume Design) and seven Drama Desk Awards. The show has had major productions in Toronto, Los Angeles, New York, London, Melbourne and Japan, as well as two North American tours.

So apparently it was a big hit, but no surprise that I had not heard of it.

But the students did an amazing job (as they always do); we loved the show.

It was funny, had great music, and an easy to follow plot line – a winning combination.

So congratulations to the students at Villanova for another standout performance. We look forward to the next one.

Here’s a clip of one of my favorite songs:

“For want of a comma, we have this case.”

That is the opening line of a recent decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. (Note – this is a long post that deals with some legal issues and some grammatical issues. I personally found both categories of issues fascinating. If you want the short version, always use the Oxford comma, so you don’t write something like the following apocryphal book dedication: “I would like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God.” Put a comma after Ayn Rand to make it clear.)

The case involved a dispute between a Maine dairy company and its delivery drivers concerning the scope of an exemption from Maine’s overtime law.

The Maine overtime law is part of the state’s wage and hour law, and there are certain exemptions to those overtime laws. The one at issue here is Exemption F. Exemption F covers employees whose work involves the handling — in one way or another — of certain, expressly enumerated food products. Specifically, Exemption F states that the protection of the overtime law does not apply to:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

(1) Agricultural produce;
(2) Meat and fish products; and
(3) Perishable foods.

The Court ruled that:

Specifically, if that exemption used a serial comma to mark off the last of the activities that it lists, then the exemption would clearly encompass an activity that the drivers perform. And, in that event, the drivers would plainly fall within the exemption and thus outside the overtime law’s protection. But, as it happens, there is no serial comma to be found in the exemption’s list of activities, thus leading to this dispute over whether the drivers fall within the exemption from the overtime law or not.”

In other words, if there had been a comma before the word “distribution”, then the exemption would have clearly applied to an activity that the drivers are engaged in (distribution), and as a result the drivers would not be entitled to overtime pay.

Such a comma is known as a serial comma, or perhaps more popularly as the Oxford Comma, and refers to the optional use of a comma after the next to last item in a list

While the use of the Oxford Comma is up for debate, personally, I am a big fan of it, since it rarely adds any confusion to what you are trying to say, but  not including it could cause confusion, as evidenced by this particular case.

I read the entire 29 page ruling (it may be the first one I’ve ever read), and it was fascinating, at least if terms like serial conjunctions, gerunds, and asyndeton (which I had never heard of) get you excited.

The Dairy Company contends that shipment and distribution are synonyms, and the phrase “packing for shipment or distribution” would be redundant if one were to lump both words together as part of the “packing” activity. The Dairy Company thus interprets the law to say that distribution, like packing, is a separate activity that is exempt from overtime laws.

In addition, the Company relies on another linguistic convention in pressing its case — the convention of using a conjunction to mark off the last item on a list. (a conjunction is the use of the word “and” or “or”). The Company notes that there is no conjunction before “packing,” but that there is one after “shipment” and thus before “distribution,” indicating that “distribution” is the last term in the list, separate from the term “shipment”.

As to the missing serial comma, the Company notes that the comma is missing for good reason; the Maine Legislative Drafting Manual expressly instructs that: “when drafting Maine law or rules, don’t use a comma between the penultimate and the last item of a series.”

Hmmmm…. that last part seems to offer some good support for the company, since the guidelines state to not use a serial comma.

Well look at some of the arguments made by the drivers:

The drivers contend, first, that the inclusion of both “shipment” and “distribution” to describe “packing” results in no redundancy. Those activities, the drivers argue, are each distinct. They contend that “shipment” refers to the outsourcing of the delivery of goods to a third-party carrier for transportation, while “distribution” refers to a seller’s in-house transportation of products directly to recipients. The court points out if the terms were synonymous, like the Dairy Company contends, then why didn’t the law just use the same term twice (“packing for shipment and shipment”) to make it clear that the law was referring to two distinct activities (packing for shipment vs. shipment) that are exempt from the overtime law.

Next, the drivers point to the exemption’s grammar. The drivers note that each of the terms in Exemption F that indisputably names an exempt activity — “canning, processing, preserving,” and so forth on through “packing” — is a gerund (a word that ends in “ing”). By, contrast, “distribution” is not. And neither is “shipment.” In fact, those are the only non-gerund nouns in the exemption, other than the ones that name various foods. Thus, the drivers argue, in accord with what is known as the parallel usage convention, that “distribution” and “shipment” must be playing the same grammatical role — and one distinct from the role that the gerunds play. In accord with that, the drivers read “shipment” and “distribution” each to be objects of the preposition “for” that describes the exempt activity of “packing.” Since the drivers are not engaged in packing, they claim that this part of the exemption does not apply to them.

As to the drafting manual that advises drafters not to use serial commas to set off the final item in a list — despite the clarity that the inclusion of serial commas would often seem to bring. The drivers point out that the drafting manual is not dogmatic on that point. The manual also contains a proviso — “Be careful if an item in the series is modified”.

And finally, with regards to the use of the conjunction “or”, which also provides a strong argument for the Dairy, this is where the word “asyndeton” comes in to play. This refers to a technique, referenced in some court rulings, in which authors sometimes omit conjunctions altogether between the enumerated items in a list. The drivers did not provide much evidence to suggest this may have been the case in this dispute.

The judges felt that neither side provided overwhelming evidence to support their argument, but in the end, they ruled in favor of the drivers.

Their reasoning was that the default rule of construction under Maine law for ambiguous provisions in the state’s wage and hour laws is that they “should be liberally construed to further the beneficent purposes for which they are enacted.” They felt a need to interpret the ambiguity in Exemption F in light of the remedial purpose of Maine’s overtime statute. And, when they do, the ambiguity clearly favors the drivers’ narrower reading of the exemption.

If you ‘d like to read more about the Oxford comma, Wikipedia has a fascinating page about it, with many examples, including situations where the use of it could add to the confusion:

“I would like to thank my wife, my best friend, and my role model.”

I’ll leave it to you to interpret that sentence…

image courtesy of grammarly.com