Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Times Gentlemen (no women contaminate your editorial locker room):

Helene Cooper, Liberia native, returned to mark the election of that country’s first woman president. Liberian women voted despite death threats. Cooper’s “Waiting for Their Moment in the Worst Place on Earth to Be a Woman” appeared in the New York Times. The following ends it:

Ever since the voting results started coming in a few days ago, showing what the Liberian women had done, I've been unable to get one image from Bukavu out of my mind. It is of an old woman, in her 30's. It was almost twilight when I saw her, walking up the hill out of the city as I drove in.

She carried so many logs that her chest almost seemed to touch the ground, so stooped was her back. Still, she trudged on, up the hill toward her home. Her husband was walking just in front of her. He carried nothing. Nothing in his hand, nothing on his shoulder, nothing on his back. He kept looking back at her, telling her to hurry up.

I want to go back to Bukavu to find that woman, and to tell her what just happened in Liberia. I want to tell her this: Your time will come, too.

“Now what,” I asked myself, “does this scene remind me of?” I am an Archilochus hedgehog, so “St. Petersburg Times masthead" popped into my head.

I know. I know. You guys will say, “We’re not the worst. Guys worldwide mistreat women, so we’re normal.”

If normal means despicable, you qualify.

You pasty-faced mediocre white guys hog good jobs on mastheads. None has the decency to express guilt about this rape of women’s talent.

I bet you helped squash the feeble past outbreak for equal opportunity at the SP Times, to which Mr. Barnes wrote apologia in his customary infelicitous prose.

Women at The Times carry logs; C-student white guys saunter ahead burdened with nothing but amour propre.

The which gives me pleasure to note below how ill they write.

lee drury de cesare

A sham of a Omit. bus study

A Times Editorial
Published November 16, 2005

Brian Blair has turned an examination of HARTline, Hillsborough's bus system, into an unmitigated Avoid stocking-stuffer modifiers. Strunk & White pleads this imperative. sham. The county commissioner is so keen on showing a bus system in tatters he ensured the study panel he leads was rigged to produce that very image. This 27-word specimen needs cutting. Edit 17 words: "Commissioner Blair’s need to prove HARTline in tatters made him rig the panel to prove his thesis." His dishonesty is unfortunate, for the county would benefit from a fair review of how well HART serves riders and taxpayers. Twenty-two-word boggy sentence: prune. Edit: "Blair’s dishonesty deprives the county fair review of how well HART serves riders and taxpayers." 22 versus 16 words But this charade falls short, and any findings from it lack credibility. More wordiness: "Lack of credibility makes this charade fail." 12 versus 7

Blair's committee, from what anyone can gather, Throat-clearing: dump it. is supposed to assess how well HART serves suburban neighborhoods. That question is loaded, Redundant comma: cuts off a trailing restrictive adverbial clause. Logic: What question? One sees no question.because mass transit exists primarily Dump redundant modifier. to move people in urban settings. That's That what? Pronoun reference: There is no antecedent. what makes the economics of operating a bus and rail system work.

But Blair succeeded in convincing Reduce: convinced his board to bar Tampa city residents from serving on Dump. the study commission. Blair also won the right to hire as his consultant a former HART official who sued the agency in an employment dispute. Worse, the committee seems intent to make up its focus as it moves along. Wordy: "The committee improvises focus as it moves along." 14 versus 8 The group has just formed, and but already Blair has alienated key political players across the political spectrum. Dump. HART's state legislative lobbyist, Tampa attorney Mary Ann Stiles, resigned last month, criticizing the study and charging that HART's constituency "obviously has no public voice in this county."

The study group was conceived Passive voice: who conceived the group? as a way to placate Blair after he floated the idea to allow suburban residents to forgo funding the bus system with their property taxes. Boggy: "County commission formed the study group to placate Blair after he floated excusing suburbanites’ paying for the bus system." 35 versus 20 words It Don’t use this indefinite pronoun without an antecedent.was clear where Blair was coming from This cliché makes one cringe. before he put the wrestler? sleeper hold Is this one of Blair’s Killer Bee maneuvers? Not everyone know wrestler argot. on his committee. "Blair’s motive was apparent before he put the wrestler sleeper hold on his committee." Imagine if every resident could opt out of paying for police, fire protection, schools and other public essentials. You switch from third to second person in this last sentence. Cudgel your brains and turn it into third person.

If the county is serious about improving HART, it will give its new director, Ray Miller, time to craft a plan for improving service. Limping construction "New director Ray Miller deserves time to plan for improved service." 24-10 As she promised, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio needs take a more active and visible role defending HART in this debate.Windy. Edit: "Mayor Ioria must take promised active role." 20-7 Blair is talking nonsense - but his is the only voice the public hears. "The public hears only Blair’s voice’s talking nonsense." 14-8 If his sham becomes confused with a solution, the suburbs, which look more urban every day, will suffer with the city. "The suburbs, more urban every day, will suffer with the city if Blair’s sham becomes confused with a solution." 21-19

I don't know how you editors get away with writing this badly. The wordiness alone should sideline you. One supposes you've got away with blowsiness for so long that you assume it your right. There exists also the probability that you don't know better and that the guy who monitors you doesn't either.

No women contaminate The New York Times boys’ movie-review tree house.

Man in Black review A.O. Scott

Mr. Scott: We await this picture down here in the South. Johnny Cash reigns emotional North Star for Southerners. I think Mr. Phoenix looks the part, although he’s not big enough because he doesn’t tower over Reece Witherspoon, who is a peanut. Cash and Carter represented hillbilly Abelard and Heloise to us in Dixie, which loves stories of adultery and its frisson of sex and suffering. Juke-joint aesthetic imperative says sex without betrayal of some blameless person is not good sex in the South. This pair acted the ritual out for us, and we love them for it.

I bet the relationship was a lot more mundane than the legend. Cash was probably always nagging June about cooking him a pot of collards with fatback like his mama made. Southern men all have mother’s cooking fetishes. Close up, Cash and June would disappoint. When I found out that Abelard was twenty-two years older than Heloise, the knowledge caused more of a let-down than discovering Proust tortured rats for sexual gratification. Life never lives up to art. That's why we have movies.

I saw Reece Witherspoon recently in Vanity Fair. She was a good Becky Sharp. I wish I had Becky to help me in the Women's Movement. She had the spunk needed to fight the sexist barbarians. Aunt Toms infest my environment.

I bet Witherspoon makes a good June Carter Cash, who belonged--I don't know if you are aware or care-- to one of the South's families of country-music royalty: Mother Maybelle Carter et al. "Wildwood Flower"--I think Mother Maybelle wrote it-- was my mother's favorite song. I can't imagine a Northerner's understanding why.

Will you do better on commas and word bloat? Your errors have become aesthetic offenses:

MOVIES based on the lives of popular musicians constitute a durable genre in Hollywood, and also a fairly safe one.

That comma separates a compound predicate nominative. Don't shilly shally about the second one's cutting off a nonrestrictive element. For the last four hundred years commas have dwindled. A newspaper man should welcome fewer commas since you print-paper-press guys will lose your jobs to blogs; then print-press-penury layoffs will mean smaller paper inventories to support plethora of redundant commas for the few who survive to collect Social Security and a pension. Don't count on a pension. Mr. Sulzberger is too obtuse as his blind sufferance of Raines and La Judy shows to put aside money for out-to-pasture- movie-reviewers' pension.

…of a poor Southerner, born in the early years of the Great Depression, whose childhood…

No commas: you cut off a restrictive past-participial phrase modifying "a poor Southerner."

I shall send this to Ms. Dowd. She has trouble with commas too, although she has done better recently. She appears on "Hardball" tomorrow night. I pray she doesn't act the Patient Griselda that sexist men adore and let that barking Pekinese shout her down. Women rely on her to keep the yapping Hardball boy in check. Matthews has a twenty-to-one ratio of male guests.

These citations come from your Syriana review:

Bob, who has spent his career in cheerful spots like Beirut and Tehran, is the kind of guy who knows a lot more than he says, and who speaks in a low monotone, evading more questions than he answers.

The comma after “monotone” is dead wrong: it splits compound adjective clauses.

That sentence limps along for 39 words. It is crisper broken into two. “Bob spent his career in cheerful spots like Beirut and Tehran. He knows more than he says, speaks in a monotone, and evades most questions.” 31 words

…a rich and entertaining experience.

Strunk & White would spin in their graves. Dump one modifier. I vote to keep “rich.”

…it is likely to be greeted with a fair amount of chin-rubbing commentary.

Seldom does a passive verb help a sentence. It’s the wimp verb. Who is greeting? Critics? Then say, “Critics will greet it with chin-rubbing commentary.”

Though "Syriana" is expressly a work of fiction,

What purpose does “expressly” serve? Graham Greene joins Strunk & White in hating flatulent adverbs.

…its dark, conspiratorial view of the present and recent past is likely to be challenged, either because it is too complicated or not complicated enough.

Sacrifice either “dark” or “conspiratorial” of this cliché pair. I vote dump “conspiratorial.” Never sacrifice a one-syllable word when you can jettison a five-syllable one.

What kind of twaddle is “too complicated or not complicated enough”? Do you aim to make us feel too dumb to catch on to the preciosity of your fugitive apercus? Do you want to make us drop our eyes in shame before the subtlety of your insights, a hidden garden that we clodhoppers can’t enter? Speak American. This is not a linguistics seminar. It’s a popcorn-with-butter movie review.

…law firms and Middle Eastern regimes are not really engaged in semi-clandestine collusion,

“Really” serves favorite word for Valley Girls, hence ranks diction marker for airheads. If you won’t heed Strunk & White, shrink from airhead stigma.

…who is called upon to run due diligence in advance of a merger between two energy companies. This fusty passive-verb harrumph must mean “Matt Damon does due diligence for merger of two energy companies.”

Not one of them is in possession of a clear conscience…

In possession? Don’t turn verbs into nouns: “Not one of them has a clear conscience.”

Each of the five is afflicted by family problems - the mutual disappointments of fathers and sons is the film's principal psychological motif - and throws himself into the world of money, politics and power as a way to escape or salve his private unhappiness. 45- Word blob “Family problems afflict each, with father-son disappointments principal motif. Each throws himself into money, politics, and power to escape private unhappiness." 2 sentence: 21 words

When a character is shown working in his garden and then, later, swirling brandy in a snifter, you know he is a bad guy. “When a character works in his garden and later swirls a brandy snifter, you know he is the bad guy.” 24-19 Passive is always longer.

All of which is to say that Dump. "Syriana" is, in the end, a movie.

Something you might even call realism. Dump “even.”

lee drury de cesare

Mr. Will, you wrote a recent column saluting Eats, Shoots & Leaves because you care about commas as does its author. The which enthusiasm leads me to defend against your misuse of commas below.

A Journalist for the Ages

In his 40th anniversary toast to his Yale class of 1950, William F. Buckley said, "Some of us who wondered if we would ever be this old now wonder whether we were ever young." Those who were not young 40 years ago, in 1965, can have no inkling of what fun it was to be among Buckley's disciples as he ran for mayor of New York vowing that, were he to win, his first act would be to demand a recount.

You need a comma after “New York”: the nonrestrictive present participial phrase modifies “he,” clearly Buckley. A careful writer would substitute “Buckley” for “he” in “he ran for mayor.” The closest antecedent for both “he’s” is “Buckley’s disciples.” You shouldn’t use possessive “Buckley’s disciples” as antecedent of nominative pronouns.

…a public speaker, often appearing in as many as 70 lectures and debates a year, for almost 50 years;

The comma after “year” cuts off a restrictive adverbial prepositional phrase. He appeared in lectures and debates for almost fifty years, not almost forty, sixty, or seventy years.

Yours in commas,

lee drury de cesare

One notes that The Washington Post pundit roster is guys, guys, guys. You demonstrate habitual concern for ethics. Why don't you write a little essay on pundit sexism at The Post?

lee drury de cesare

Thursday, November 03, 2005


A better metaphor for the luncheons would be a pillow fight, which is why...

The "which" adjective clause constitutes vague reference. It has no word to modify in the previous clause. You mean something like "tepid Tiger Bay performance represents ..."

Rice said Friday she would attend the Oct. 26 event, but the damage has been done and she has elevated a divisive issue she claims to disavow.

Don't put three independent clauses in a sentence. You need a comma after "done" for the two-independent-clauses comma rule. Don't use passive verbs. Edit: Rice said Friday... But she had done damage and elevated a divisive issue.... Better: dump the cliché and say this: She has elevated a divisive issue.

Passive verbs abound. They make you sound pussyfooting (you are--prissy and cowardly too).

The race issue was raised by the mean-spirited primary campaign....

The mean-spirited primary campaign raised the race issue....

...when she was ambushed on the race issue...

The race issue ambushed her....

Rice apparently calculated it is to her advantage of continue to keep race at the forefront....

You dote on "it" constructions with no antecedent.

Edit: Keeping the race issue at the forefront, Rice calculated, advantages her....

It should be noted....

Cliché verbal padding: dump it. If you must cram it in, use "We note."

Tiger Bay's typically sophomoric rhetoric...

Tiger Bay's rhetoric was searing and erudite before your previous boss Andrew Dove-tonsils Barnes lumbered onto the board of the outfit. The rhetoric has degenerated since Le Barnes boarded. He contaminated Tiger Bay with puerile SPTimes speech patterns. When I learned that Le Barnes had ascended the TB board, I prophesied to my husband, "There goes the neighborhood." Dump the adverb “typically.” Strunk & White begs people to stop overusing adverbs. Graham Green hated adverbs. Use them as little as possible. Overusing adverbs is sophomoric.

Justice for All:
One notes that you have 22 columnists.
Women, 7, are 32 percent; Blacks, 2, are 9 percent; Hispanic, 1, 2 percent. Pasty-faced grammar-abusing white guys make up 47 percent of the opinion writers; woman and minorities are 43 percent. I don't see why anybody should trust editorial ruminations by those who endorse this affirmative-action plan for mediocre white guys.

lee drury de cesare
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