Tuesday, January 31, 2006

New Haven Register Editorial Windbaggery

EDITORIAL: Why did board ignore charges?
A New Haven Register Editorial

More than one investigation is needed in the West Haven schools. 11 words

Limp passive verb

Edit: "West Haven schools need more than one investigation." 8 words

The first is into allegations that children who live outside West Haven but are related to a member of the school board and a principal were allowed to attend an early childhood program on the basis of faked rent receipts showing they were city residents. 45 words

Convoluted forty-five-word sentence-bolus: passive verbs; flatulent wordiness. Unless written with felicity, a 45-word sentence crosses readers' eyes.

Edit: "Authorities must investigate allegations that non-resident children related to board members or principals could attend early-childhood programs. Faked rent receipts camouflaged this privilege." 2 sentences, 23 words

The second investigation should hold the board accountable for ignoring letters last July and September about the favoritism and false residency claims. 22 words

Edit: "Investigation must hold board members accountable also for ignoring last July and September’s complaints." 13 words

The schools recently launched an investigation after receiving yet another letter that was addressed to police and the state as well. It apparently made it impossible to brush the allegations aside. 31 words

Edit: "A recent letter cc'd to police and state prodded schools to investigate complaint they couldn’t brush aside." 17 words

Credit goes to George Monahan, a board member, for pointing out the first two complaints were ignored.

Pussyfooting passive verb

Edit: "Board member George Monahan gets credit for revealing the board’s ignoring the first two complaints." 15 words

Another question about editorial judgment: Editor commends a guy who sat on this information and did nothing? Would Register editors send missive to Stockholm to make this cornered informant a Nobel Laureate if he had come forward in July?

If the board wants to dispel the growing suspicion of favoritism about who is awarded slots in a coveted school program, it should explain why it was so reluctant to investigate charges of misconduct on the part of one of its members and a school principal. Certainly, they deserve exoneration if the charges are groundless. 55 words

Wordy harrumphing and gutless conditional mood to keep "upstanding" board members blameless unless caught with a bloody meat cleaver in hand.

To dispel suspicion, the board must explain reputed conduct of board member and principal. Groundless charges exonerate them. 17 words

Question: Was the assigned Register reporter brain dead? Did he doze through the rumors that must have whirled about?

So much for press vigilance

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Post Ombudsman [sic] in Drag

Post Ombudsman [sic] in Drag

Learning that protests poured in against Ms. Howell’s claim that lobbyist Abramoff donated to Democrats as well as Republicans made me sample her columns.

The Post or its blog arm shut down Howell’s email site, sniffing that protesters violated prissy Post rules against email ribald language. One infers chivalric Post Galahads effected shut-down without Ms. Howell’s knowledge or consent. Ms. Howell should raise hell about that male condescension.

Ms. Howell must also waltz into bosses' offices and demand that “ombudsman” become “ombud.” Linguistic discrimination against women slows their climb to equality. Language not only reflects reality: it also perpetuates it.

Ms. Howell defends evenhandedness in an Abramoff-donation column. She assumes as irrefutable pretensions of press objectivity. Objectivity is, of course, hooey. Repeat academic studies show objectivity to be epistemological impossibility. These studies confirm common-sense inference that individual mind’s straining data shapes product.

Selection of Howell quotes and comment:

The story has moved inexorably from Abramoff being a top dog lobbyist to his pleading guilty to scamming Indian tribes and fraudulently buying a Florida-based fleet of gambling ships.

Inexorably” ranks redundant adverb that offends Strunk & White. Even fusty phrasal adjectives before a noun such as “Top dog” merit hyphen.

--“Abramoff being” should be “Abramoff’s being”: possessive before the gerund.

Their work has been supervised by editors on the national and investigative desks.

Passive verbs vitiate and make longer a sentence.

Edit: “National-and-investigative-desk editors supervised their work.” 13 versus 6

Schmidt is known at The Post for a remarkable ability to dig and develop broad and deep sources from all sides of a story. 24

“Remarkable” qualifies redundant adjective.

Edit “Schmidt digs up and develops broad, deep sources."24 versus 8

He was often quoted in stories about Republican politics, fundraising, Jewish causes, the Capital Athletic Foundation he founded and his two restaurants.

Passive verb: Edit: “Republican-politics stories often quoted Abrahoff….”

They are quite different, though the content is much the same and the Web site delivers Post content 24 hours a day.

The compound sentence requires a comma after “same.” “Quite” is unnecessary adverb.

Edit: “They are different, though with similar content; the Web site delivers Post content 24 hours a day.” 22 versus 17
Notable are the sexist seven male Post columnists and no women whose work transfers to the Web.

The Post is primarily a local newspaper, no matter how or where it's read.

Edit “The Post is a local paper no matter where people read it.”

I'm repeatedly surprised when, reading an e-mail that is very knowledgeable about The Post, I scroll down and find out it's from a reader in New Mexico or Oregon –

Wordy with "repeatedly" redundant adverb.

Edit: “Scrolling to email bottom can reveal New Mexico or Oregon readers knowledgeable about the Post.” 29 versus 15

Yes. The Post provides the vast majority of the Web site's content.

“Vast majority” is moldy cliché.

Ms. Howell suffers weaknesses for redundant modifiers and passive verbs. Both exacerbate her tendency to wordiness. Her meat-and-potatoes style suggests she wears rhetorical cotton shirtwaist and sensible oxfords. Meaning is plain but lacks grace notes and betrays not a shred of humor. Is a whiff of fun antipatathetical to Post Ombud’s High Purpose?

Shutting down the blog is taking your marbles home in a pout.

Unburdened by Ombud dignity, I would sass potty mouths with “Same to you, buster” or “Is that the best you can do?” A solid column of barroom epithets would be condign. Half a page of Chaucerian vulgarities would be sublime.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Washington Post Scribes and One in Heartland Ohio Merit Red Pen

Confirm Samuel Alito Washington Post editorial

This editorial had only one comma error, a signal achievement in editorial writing. Its reasoning ranks potent. I agree, even though I fear Alito will overturn Roe. I don’t agree with the redundant comma in this sentence:

Yet Judge Alito should be confirmed, both because of his positive qualities as an appellate judge and because of the dangerous precedent his rejection would set.

The comma after “confirmed” cuts off restrictive prepositional phrases. Flabby passive verb weakens sentence.

Edit: "Yet the Senate should confirm Judge Alito because of his positive qualities as appellate judge and because his rejection sets a dangerous precedent."

Washington Sketch Dana Milbank

For all the expectations of fireworks on the first day of questioning of Alito, and for all the purported high stakes in the nomination, the mood in the hearing room was flat and lethargic. 34 words

The comma after “Alito” splits compound introductory adjectival prepositional phrases modifying “mood.” Sacrifice either “flat” or “lethargic.” This sentence suffers from wordiness: most prevalent press style flaw.

Edit: “Despite people's expecting fireworks because of the nomination’s high stakes, the hearing-room mood was lethargic.” 34 versus 14 words

A contagious wave of yawns spread across the dais, from Specter to Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), and crested in a brief catnap for Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.).

One is grateful for attempt to make a piece sprightly with yeasty diction and evocative metaphors, but the experiment here misfires.

The commas cut off restrictive prepositional phrases unless Schumer and Brownbeck acted dais bookends. The writer must make their bookend positions clear to rescue the commas. “Crested” is inexact diction. “Subsided into” might work. Catnapping shows less activity than yawning. Had Brownback snored—delicious prospect-- then his contribution would merit “crested.” “Brief” is redundant. Catnaps are brief by definition.

Edit: “A wave of yawns spread across the dais from Senator Shumer on one end to Senator Russell on the other. Senator Brownback catnapped.”

For Democrats, A Most Tender Roast of Alito
By Marcia Davis

One senses that Ms. Davis is a young writer swept away by the excitement of filling a blank page with words that appear in print. She overwrites to a faretheewell.

Alito's answer: "Well, Senator, I have wracked my memory about this issue, and I really have no specific recollection of that organization."

“Wracked” should be “racked.” See Garner’s A Dictionary of American Usage.

Schumer even spoke of the possibility of a filibuster.

Misplaced modifier: “even” goes before “the possibility.”

Unless you were paying really close attention early yesterday, it would have been hard to figure out whether what you were looking at was more than a garden-variety spat.

Strunk & White begs writers to jettison stocking-stuffer adverbs. “Really” tops the list. “Figure out” and “garden-variety” rank stale diction. Expletive-it constructions produce flabby sentences. Progressive verbs sound hand-wringing.

Edit: “Only close attention yesterday revealed whether you witnessed more than an ordinary spat.” 29 versus 13 words

The fact is that whatever passion and fight the Democrats had yesterday was poured through political politeness, a sieve of senatorial civility.

“The fact that” points to a fact. A writer's intuition is not a fact. The passive verb causes a mushy sentence. Saying the same thing twice guarantees wordiness.

Edit: “Democrats yesterday poured whatever passion and fight they had through a sieve of senatorial civility.” 22 versus 15 words

I'm puzzled, and I suspect you may be puzzled, by some of the questions.

Edit: “Some questions puzzled.” 14 words versus 3

I think that what people are wondering about and puzzled about is not whether you lack independence, but whether you independently conclude that the executive trumps the other two branches.

The comma wrongly splits a compound predicate nominative. The construction wobbles to thirty words.

“People wonder whether you can conclude that the executive trumps the other two branches.” 30 versus 14 words

Ohio Post editorial

The patriotic opposition

It has taken awhile, but serious and principled opposition to renewing parts of the USA Patriot Act is growing in the form of an improbable coalition that includes some of Washington's leading conservatives, the ACLU, gun rights groups, libertarians and medical privacy activists.

I check heartland newspaper writing to see whether it ranks with that in big-city press. It does. This Ohio Post editor shows as far gone in wordiness as do those writing at The NY Times and Washington Post . There goes my romantic notion that everything amid the growing corn, including grammar and punctuation, is wholesomely superior.

The Ohio Post sentence above harrumphs to 43 words. "Awhile" is the adverb: the editor needs "a while," article and noun. A beginning expletive-it construction predicts prolixity. The editor’s inability to dump either “serious” or “principled” marks tendency to wordiness. Progressive verbs (“is growing”) vitiate a sentence that wordiness already drowns.

Edit: “Opposition to Patriot-Act renewal grows from an improbable coalition of Washington’s leading conservatives, ACLU, gun-rights groups, libertarians, and medical-privacy activists.” 43 versus 20 words

One thing is for sure, the coalition with former Georgia congressman Bob Barr at its head is not going to be outflanked on the right, not with a name like Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances. 36 words

Edit: “The Right won’t outflank Congressman Bob Barr’s coalition, not with a name like ‘Patriots’ to Restore Checks and Balances.” 36 versus 19 words

The Patriot Act was passed in the immediate aftermath of 9-11, and this time the act's backers will be unable to avail themselves of the argument that the law's critics were, if not actually abetting terrorism, at least tying the president's hands in the fight. It was nonsense, of course, but they were emotional times.

Vague pronoun reference befogs clarity because we don’t get antecedents of “it’ and “they” in the second sentence. The 44-word first sentence puts a glaze on readers’ eyes.

Edit: “The Patriot Act passed in 9-11’s aftermath. Today’s backers can’t accuse critics again of abetting terrorism or tying the president’s hands." 45 versus 21

Parts of the Patriot Act "sunset" after five years, meaning they will expire at the end of this year unless Congress renews. The Bush administration would like to see them made permanent, but maintaining the sunset provisions insures that Congress, at least once every five years, will reexamine how those provisions are working. 53 words

Edit: “Parts of the Patriot Act that the Bush administration wants permanent expire after five years, and Congress must renew them. Keeping the sunset provision means Congress can re-examine the provisions’ effect at least every five years.” 53 words in one sentence versus 36 words in two

The coalition is targeting/ targets three specific provisions in the act.
The coalition asks Congress in debating the sunset provisions to satisfy itself that the courts are adequately supervising /supervise federal surveillance authority; that investigative resources are indeed being devoted/devoted to terrorism "instead of everybody else;" and that privacy rights are being respected/ are respected. 44 words

Confine progressive verbs to action in progress. Heed Strunk & White’s advice to avoid modifiers, especially adverbs: “adequately,” “indeed.” Put a semicolon outside quotation marks.

Edit: “The Coalition asks Congress to ensure that the courts supervise federal surveillance; that investigative resources go to terrorism alone; and that federal surveillance respects privacy.” 44 versus 25 words

This is only asking Congress to do its job.

This what? Don’t expect readers to trudge through the preceding paragraph to supply a missing one-word antecedent. "Only" is misplaced modifier: it goes before "to do."

Edit: “Voter expectation mandates that Congress do its job.”

Monday, January 09, 2006

NYT Public Windbaggery; Kinsley's Mauling Commas; Golberg's Food-fight Rhetoric

Behind the Eavesdropping Story, a Loud Silence Top of Form

Mr. Calame shows brave in confronting NYT management failure to publish the Bush eavesdropping story it sat on for so long. My analysis says that the stupidity of Mr. Sulzberger and the timidity of Mr. Keller explain the delay. Two men who will let a little brown wren like Judy Miller seduce and stonewall them are not the green-eyeshade palladins to push a crusading press agenda. Mr. Calame does less than brave in his treatment of language, alas.

Mr. Keller asserted in the shorter of his two statements that the article wasn't timed to the forthcoming book, and that "its origins and publication are completely independent of Jim's book."

The comma after “book” splits compound adjectival dependent clauses.

The publication of Mr. Risen's book, with its discussion of the eavesdropping operation, was scheduled for mid-January - but has now been moved up to Tuesday.

The “with” prepositional phrase is restrictive and gets no commas. The reason for the lone dash after “January presents punctuation mystery.

Passive verbs are lethal to rhetorical force and conduce to wordiness. Edit: “Publication schedule of Risen’s book with eavesdropping discussion moved from mid-January to Tuesday.” 13 versus 26 words

So it seems to me the paper was quite aware that it faced the possibility of being scooped by its own reporter's book in about four weeks.

Edit: “The paper knew its own reporter’s book would scoop it in four weeks.” 27 versus 14 words

Risen followed up the first blockbuster revelation of White House law breaking in terms of spying on American citizens with a story that received less attention, posted on January 1.

No comma before restrictive past participial phrase “posted…”: it modifies “a story,” general noun.

Written with Eric Lichtblau in the NYT, it revealed that the current Attorney General (and current Bush family consigliere), Alberto Gonzales, and Andrew Card were rebuffed by the acting Attorney General, James Comey, when Ashcroft was having gallbladder surgery.

I believe “consigliore” is the singular.

This sentence limps along to prolixity. Edit: “Co-authors NYT Eric Lichtblau and Risen reveal that during Ashcroft’s gallbladder surgery acting attorney James Comey rebuffed Andrew Card and current Bush family consigliere Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.” 39 versus 28 words.

In short, "State of War: The Secret History of the C.I.A. and the Bush Administration" is a book that blows the cover on the failed war on terror and is full of whistle-blowers revealing how the Bush Administration has engaged in torture, bungled intelligence operations, and lied about WMDs in Iraq.

Ø Whistle-blowers’ revealing: possessive before the gerund
Ø “Lied” should be “lies” for parallelism.

Edit: “State of War…” blows the cover on the Bush Administration’s failed war on terror and whistle-blower revelations about torture, bungled intelligence, and WMD lies.” 51 versus 24 words

It's a testament to how far the NYT has sunk that it was forced to pop a story about criminal behavior in the White House because a book by one of its own reporters was going to beat it to the punch.

“It” constructions are foggy, weak, and wordy. Mr. Public has two confusing “it’s” in this windy sentence.

Edit: “That the NYT pops White-House-criminal-behavior story to fend off NYT reporters’ beating it to the punch testifies to how far the NYT has sunk.” 42 versus 24 words

..the book is punctuated with a wealth of previously unreported tidbits about covert meetings, aborted CIA operations and Oval Office outbursts.

Passive verb and cliché “a wealth of” cry out for dumping.

Edit: “Unreported covert-meeting tidbits, aborted CIA operations, and Oval Office outbursts punctuate the book.” 21 versus 13 words

Grammar-checker analysis: 55 percent passive; 40 words per sentence; Flesch reading ease 39.2

One doesn’t know why newspapers evade grammar checkers to target reading ease. Anything under 50 on Flesch flags poor readability. Newspapers eschew yeasty diction and polysyllabic words for fear of inhospitable reader reaction and yet write sentences so long that they put a glaze on readers’ eyes. This fault belongs not to Le Public alone: it characterizes the paper’s product.

Michael Kinsely:

Mr. Kinsley is a liberal in politics and a free spirit in commas. He puts them where they shouldn’t be and omits them where they should be. For the last three- or four-hundred years, commas waned as we moved from the loose style—lots of commas---to the closed style---few commas. Mr. Kinsley goes both with and against this tide:

And so, at last, there are two piles of paper: a short one of stuff to read, and a tall one of stuff to throw away.

The comma after “read” splits a compound predicate nominative.

Some developed good Web sites and some didn't, but most stopped thinking of the Web as an imminent danger.

A comma follows “sites”: compound sentence. Period goes after “didn’t.” Three independent clauses in a sentence are one too many. Mr. Kinsley might argue for poetic caprice were he not to have split a compound predicate nominative in a previous sentence and blew his status as comma adept.

Today, I open the front door and if the paper isn't within about 10 feet I retreat to my computer and read it online.

Here Mr. Kinsley scorns commas altogether. Were he comma good soldier, he would put one after “door” for compound sentence and one after “feet” for introductory adverbial clause.

Without these costs, even zero revenue from customers would be a good deal for newspapers, if advertisers go along.

The trailing adverbial clause is usually restrictive in the end position and gets no comma. Mr. Kinsley’s is. If he wants commas with that end adverbial clause, he should move it to the beginning or middle of the sentence and disturb syntax.


Mr. Goldberg affects food-fight frat-house rhetoric, but his sentiments show through as template Republican larval Luddite. The rhetorical scam of being a wild-and- crazy-guy liberal doesn’t work.

Jeffrey Golberg

Mohammed himself opened a clay urn of whup-ass on tribes outside Mecca during Ramadan, in 624 AD.

The comma cuts off a restrictive prepositional phrase. Mohammed’s opening the urn was in 624, not 625. “Whup-ass” is frat-house University of Kansa epithet.

Anwar Sadat of Egypt launched the Yom Kippur war on Israel during Ramadan, with little respect to his own religion and even less for Israel's.

The comma is redundant. Sadat launched the war with little respect, not with great respect.

…instead of against terrorists, as we keep insisting.

As we keep insisting” is restrictive, so a comma shouldn’t cut it off: We keep insisting, not we keep minimizing.

Which is why I think it would be really insensitive to murder the Pope.

This is a fragment: a subordinate clause masquerading as a sentence. A fragment constitutes grammar felony. Mr. Goldberg’s writing is not good enough to make the claim that this fragment be artful fillip. Only writers who have mastered punctuation may evade writing rules. Picasso showed he could draw perfectly anatomical nudes before he made them squares and triangles.

Now, I'm not saying I'd like to kill the Holy Father. I can honestly say I love this Pope and I really, really like the Catholic Church.

Mr. Goldberg italicizes for emphasis in comic-book style. He uses “really” more than a Valley Girl, ignoring or not knowing Strunk & White’s precept to avoid redundant modifiers.

But if you're offended simply by glibness about murdering John Paul II alone, imagine how angry you'd be about someone who really wanted to do it.

The fellow is “really” addict.

When the Philippines's equivalent of the FBI investigated, they uncovered a plot to blow up 11 U.S. Airliners and destroy CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.

Pronoun-antecedent error: the FBI is an “it.”

And, they discovered that al Qaeda operatives intended to murder the Pope when he visited Manila.

“They” should be “it” or perhaps “its agents.”

They found street maps delineating the path of the Pope's entourage, and clothing matching that of papal aides.

The redundant comma splits a compound participial phrase modifying “maps.”

Okay, actually they tortured the stuffing out of the guy (but he really only gave it up when they threatened to extradite him to Israel, heh, heh).

“Actually” is redundant Valley-girl adverb. “The stuffing,” “gave it up,” and “heh, heh” are sophomoric diction. Grown men don’t use “heh, heh.” Pubescent boys have a franchise on it.

Putting aside the unfriendliness required to blow up the airplanes and the CIA, killing the Pope is a really bad thing to do.

Master Jeffrey is “really” devotee. He appears master of no other intensifier. He also appears to relish blowing up the Pope. One wishes he relished reviewing his grammar primer.

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