Tuesday, February 28, 2012

If not duffers won't drown

Today's quiz: When you weigh anchor, the anchor is

1) away
2) aweigh
3) heavy!
4) all of the above

If you must top your homepage with an ad disguised as a feature, at least try to get the cliches right.

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The Wrath of Kahn

How many more times, Nation's Newspaper of Record?

An article on Sunday about the publication by the New York City Education Department of performance rankings for 18,000 teachers misspelled the surname of a parent at Public School 333 on the Upper West Side who was surprised that some of the teachers whom she considered outstanding had earned poor ratings. She is Vicki Kahn, not Khan.

This is a twist on the Times's usual Kahn problem, but it does suggest the need for a version of the Whom Rule: Whichever way you want to do it, do it the other way.

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Let us not praise famous men

How stands the state of American reporting on religion, neighbor?

More than a century before Rick Santorum made his Christian beliefs the centerpiece of his candidacy, William Jennings Bryan, in 1896, ran the first national campaign aimed at people of faith.

Bryan, who would end his long public career defending the Bible at the Scopes "Monkey" Trial, not only opposed the new gold standard, he called it "the devil."

"You shall now press down upon the brow of labor your crown of thorns," he said. "You shall now crucify mankind upon your cross of gold."

Top that one, Rick.

Uh, no. Or more precisely, "no," "huh?" and "oh, stop it." Here's the Great Orator concluding his "Cross of Gold" speech:

Having behind us the commercial interests and the laboring interests and all the toiling masses, we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.

Slight difference, you think?
Read more »

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Poll: Nothing new here!

Here's another illustration of why most polling data isn't very interesting -- or, put more formally, why the exciting stuff about polls isn't very valuable, and the valuable stuff isn't very exciting. Let's go to the larger of the morning fishwraps, under the hed "Romney grabs slight edge over Santorum in Michigan primary, 2 polls suggest":

A pair of new polls suggest the race for the Michigan primary has swung to Mitt Romney’s advantage heading into the last weekend before the election – but his lead is a slim one.
Read more »

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Alone again, unnaturally

Accused Hutaree ringleader David Stone Sr. didn't want to kill police officers alone

Today's quiz: What's next?

-- he had no qualms about killing their wives and children, too, according to a taped conversation played in federal court Thursday.
Chalk up another entry in the category of stuff that isn't grammatically wrong; it's just correct about one too many things for its own good. An informal poll in the kitchen this morning found a 50-50 split on the clause before the dash. Language Czarina went for the intended meaning ("not just police officers"), but I was stuck on "by himself." Clearing up that sort of confusion, however slight it might seem in real life, is why we interpose editors between the people who write news and the people who read it.

More details to follow for those of you making travel plans for New Orleans, but the headline remains the same: Editing works. You don't have to set the brakes and sit immobile for hours on end while you ponder the meaning of life. But if a clause means two different things, you're doing it a courtesy if you ask it which one it prefers.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Two Minutes Hate

No peeking, now: How many times in this 523-word Fox story* do you suppose Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- the incarnate spawn of Satan there, staring lustfully at his "Crude Behavior"  -- is mentioned?

a) 0
b) 1
c) 5
d) 10

Did I not just get done saying "no peeking"? Yes, your correct answer is "a," none. Why waste space explaining what the illustration has to do with the text when -- you know, Iran! At least it isn't the file photo of Ahmadinejad in a lab coat, wandering among tall scary tubes, that appeared on the front page Feb. 20, Feb. 15 and Jan. 12.**

As Fox turns up the heat for war, it's no surprise to see Ahmadinejad on the Two Minutes Hate list. But let's not put all the blame on Fox here -- at least, not until we check in on the discussion of rational-actor theory over at the National Review Online. Here's the kickoff:

He (the chairman of the Joint Chiefs) has described Iran as a “rational actor.” I write in my column, “Really? Hope he’s right. A lot hinges on that . . .”
Read more »

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Thanks, liberal media!

Setting aside for a moment the unusual delight of seeing international news on the front pages of the regional press, let's consider where this piece* sits in the great scheme of things.

In US press-and-policy terms, the hed at top is the extreme left: a McClatchy Washburo story in a college-town paper, containing a few reasonably informed voices that actually put the "defiance" into context, sorta, but no immediate demands that Tehran be turned into a pile of rubble with a permanent night-light on top. The center and the right, you can figure out for yourselves.

That's the early 2012 edition of why the American press remains a realism-free zone. There's simply no room for the idea that being thuggish (and Iran is, to the extent we can see through the opacity) isn't the same thing as being childish or insane, or the related idea that if we want a regime to stop doing something, the first step is figuring out why the regime thought it was a good idea in the first place. I don't expect the mullahs' feelings are hurt by the random jingoism of American headlines, and I really wouldn't care if they were. I do think the reading public would be better off if it had regular access to news that had less "defiance" and more "compared to what."

The smaller hed at right is --surprise! -- from the notionally liberal partner in the local JOA. Dear cousins downtown: If you're ready to demonstrate to your readership that Iran has "nukes," you sort of owe that information a spot on the front page. If not, you might want to avoid casual fabrications like the one here. People might take it seriously.

* Heds aren't, we should note, written by reporters

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Dangler of the month

Surely, wherever you stand on the prescriptive/descriptive divide, you will have a who-did-what-to-whom moment with this participial phrase and the clause that follows it:

Leading Duke by 10 with 2 minutes and 38 seconds to play, the Blue Devils went on a 13-2 run to close the game and won it, 85-84, when Austin Rivers made a long 3 as the buzzer sounded.

Can we simply specify that whoever it was that was leading Duke by 10, it wasn't Duke?

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Poorly timed hed of the month

Did you look under the snow?

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Colin? Boog? Lewis F.?

None of the above. If you recognized the protagonist at all, it might have been as Husband of Missing Mom -- which admittedly doesn't narrow things down a lot, but at least it has more to do with why the story's in the paper than his family name does.

Advice for hed writers, with a nod to Strunk and White: If you're going to go tabloid, go tabloid in a way that broadsheet readers can understand.


Monday, February 06, 2012

You through?

Disclosure time first. Your Editor doesn't pay much attention to football and thus deferred watching the 2012 Chrysler ad -- the two-minute epic starring Clint Eastwood -- until this morning. I wasn't all that impressed initially, but having watched the Fair 'n' Balanced Network's evolving reaction over the course of the day, I'm inclined to revise that opinion. Any mediated event that puts a knot so large in Fox's knickers is fine with me, and that's over and above the innate awesomeness of Clint Eastwood.
Read more »

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Sunday, February 05, 2012

Snowpocalypse now

In which nonfunnny humor columnists demonstrate that they can be nonfunny across platforms.


Thursday, February 02, 2012

It's called 'chance'

Yes. Yes, there is.

It's called "chance."