Thursday, November 09, 2006

Email to SPTimes Columnist Bill Maxwell

Mr. Bill Maxwell:

My husband welcomes you back from sabbatical. He has resumed exclaiming, “Maxwell hits it on the head!” Howard Troxler pinch-hit as favorite during your absence. Howard’s back to second place.

Your fan handed me the column about suffering Palestinians.

I sympathize with Palestinians. But why do they elect terrorist members to office? These want to wipe out Israel, so the West skimps on aid money.

Your column reminds me to write the Prime Minister of Israel not to give up an inch of the Golan Heights to Syria. If Israel does, the Syrians will cut off the Jewish infidels’ water again.

And why do Arabs use Israel as scapegoat instead of confronting potentates who rule them? These prevent the area’s advance, not Israelis. Israel stands model for progress in an area barren of it and has the effrontery not to agree to its annihilation.

Besides, doesn’t the world owe Jews the little postage stamp of land that Balfour awarded them for serving as default scapegoat since time immemorial? The Holocaust alone demands a home of their own. Besides, think of the Jews' utility as perennial scapegoat. If Arabs wipe out Israel, whom will we scapegoat? Gays don’t make the cut because they lack role venerability. Jews reign embedded in the race’s reptilian brain as default scapegoat. Did they not exist, bigots would have to invent them.

From your article, I cast my eye leftward across the fold to the masthead.

Encountering on the way pictures of Crist-and-Davis advisers—four men and one woman each—I find my constituency in masthead penumbra: womankind, half the human race.

There are five women amongst twenty-three masthead names: 22 percent. This lopsided count comes after Title VII’s being on the books over forty years and despite writing’s not requiring upper-body strength.

Sebastian Dortch’s human-resources office, one infers, handles in-house “diversity.” Diversity hums along at the Times without reconfiguring the masthead. A diversity officer’s bona fide occupational qualification involves ability to skew employment facts to say black is white.

Bottom-of-the masthead-y-chromosome-sexist-crypt moribundi reign good ol’ boy “leaders” for the ages. They symbolize patriarchal post-mortem ghoulish triumph in perpetuity.

I gather data for my battle for womankind wherever I go. At the recent Savita Society luncheon, which the Patel family sponsors, I gathered these:

  1. Women work two-thirds of the world’s working hours and produce half of the world’s food, yet women earn only 10% of the world’s income and own less than 1 % of the world’s property.
  2. Women eat last—and least. Their health and nutritional needs are often ignored despite the fact that a woman’s health is the single most important factor in determining the health of her children.
  3. The gap between men and women caught in the cycle of poverty has widened since 1990.
  4. An estimated 80% of the world’s refugees are woman and children.
  5. Two-thirds of the world’s illiterate are women.
  6. Bob Herbert’s comment on United Nations' attached report shows the global abuse of women and girls. I wrote him a note of thanks for featuring these horrific data. Usually such repellant reports on the savaging of women worldwide get no attention: they record business as usual.

The Savita group helps third-world women—the ones who produce the food, cook it, but eat last even if pregnant. The organization will have as speaker soon the guy who got the Nobel for his idea of lending third-world women small sums to start businesses. The Nobel winner's project turned out a runaway success. How could it lose when it funded the sex that does 2/3s of the world’s work?

And where does these Times masthead fit into the abuse profile of over half the human race? It resides on the side that keeps women doing two-thirds of the work but getting 10 percent of the world’s income and 1 percent of the property.

That’s a convenient arrangement for men. No wonder fellows fight to keep it.

Don’t argue proportion and claim that the Times is not as bad as Uganda. The sisterhood stands against women’s mistreatment everywhere, whatever the degree. The mother dipping water for her child from a worm-infested pond in some third-world hell hole connects with the woman corporate lawyer working in Manhattan but earning less than her male equivalent.

My husband would have alerted me with a whoop had you written a lament on your masthead’s sexist breakdown. You doubtless would have used Jesuitical gloss in the subjunctive mood to excuse the Times louts who do their bit to degrade the female half of the world’s people. My experience says Black men luxuriate in the benefits of sexism with men of other colors. I exempt Mr. Herbert. Tokens get hired by dominant white males and remain mute for job-protection collusion.

One of those elegant sari-clad Indian women chatted with me at the luncheon. In Raj cadence, she said, “My dear, American men are as bad as Indian men.”

An upper-class Indian accent makes me revert to my Georgia patois for some reason.

“Hon,” quoth I, “you are preachin’ to the choir. The selfish s.o.b.’s sit on their backsides while women do most of the work. ‘Bring me a beer’ is their national anthem. Why in the world would these lazy scalawags want to change things? They're born with half the world their slaves.”

Men get bad press at all-women’s gatherings. While male locker rooms resound with improbable feats of sexual athleticism in porn-fantasy exploits with female helots, women’s powwows bring forth bitter assessments of male fairness. The few luncheon guys looked defensive. They should have worn Teflon codpieces just in case.

I asked the sari lady to introduce me to Dr. Patel, marvel saboteur of his sex’s perquisites. He turned out inky black with the aristocratic bone structure of a Leslie Howard and a Raj accent. Howard, you recall, was the guy who played patrician Ashley Wilkes in Gone with the Wind.

I paid my respects to the paragon's tiny mother. She had flown from India. She instilled in her children the belief that they should do something for humankind as adults. Such mothers civilize the world.

Dr. Patel along with John Stuart Mill contrasts with Mr. Paul Tash, guardian of the y-chromosome Times flame. That sexist gatekeeper has, I understand, daughters but no complementary impulse to even things up on the masthead. God knows how Le Paul’s synapses align themselves in the equality node of his subdural hickeymadoodle.

My forty-five years in the Women’s Movement has made me mutable tactician. Starting out, I reasoned, begged, pled, cajoled, flattered, insinuated, supplicated, suggested, negotiated, importuned, beseeched, and sniveled. That Patient-Griselda routine never works. Groveling is women's template tactic. Sexists patted me on the head as ninny x-chromosome cipher. They didn’t even bother to acknowledge as did 6th-century Greeks that society couldn’t run without us worker slaves.

I have smartened up and adopted termagant maneuvers. Today, I snarl, battle, remonstrate, expostulate, scuffle, dispute, protest, demand, defy, sneer, ridicule, slam, deride, disdain, and nag.

My evolved theory says that if nice doesn’t work, go not-nice.

A subtext of latter-day tactics subsumes grammar and punctuation. If a mere woman can’t reason with Fourth-estate sexists and their Aunt Toms, she straps on linguistic armor and savages writing errors. Arrogance fades when targeted with grammar-punctuation missiles because news-biz dandies suspect basic-writing mess-ups are their Achilles heel. They know in their bones that professional writers should have down cold the tools of their trade: grammar and punctuation.

This tactic complements my conviction that press galoots who can’t punctuate don’t have credentials to expect half of the human race to do 2/3s of the work but get 10% of the pay and 1 % of the property. Y-chromosome beneficiaries of the millennial affirmative-action plan for mediocre white men in the newspaper racket don’t have a right to hog masthead slots at the St. Pete Times.

From Mr. Maxwell

…forced to live in modern-day refugee camps, while most of the world looks away.

The comma after “camps” cuts off a restrictive adverbial trailing clause. This error involves syntax: the restrictive adverbial modifier’s normal syntactical position resides at the end of the main clause. If one moves the adverbial modifier to the beginning or middle of the main clause and disturbs syntax, it then requires commas but remains restrictive.

…the new reality of having to actually govern…

…Hamas would have to fully recognize…

Strunk & White inveighs against redundant adverbs. You used this little gem on style in freshman English. Graham Greene hated adverbs, hence his elegant style. Greene didn’t get the Nobel, according to Greene biographer Sherry because a guy on the committee hated him. Everything is political, even Nobels.

Redundant adverbs suggest that a writer lacks self-confidence to let his ideas stand without adverbial buttressing. Dump both “actually”—which makes you sound like a Valley Girl—and “fully.” Go ahead and split that infinitive with my blessings. The prissy split-infinitive superstition gives grammarians a bad name.

Shimon Peres, Israel’s former prime minister, who encouraged the Gaza pullout, is said to be ready…as an increasing numbers of weapons-smuggling tunnels are discovered.

The comma after “who” cuts off a restrictive adjective clause that modifies general noun “minister.” Israel has more than one former prime minister: this is the one “who encouraged the Gaza pullout….” The “is said to be” and "are discovered" passive verbs mark tendency for wordiness.

Many Israeli officials are talking seriously

Eschew “seriously.” Go on the redundant-adverb wagon.

Your Number One style fault is wordiness. Every word you prune represents rhetorical victory.

Mr. Gailey’s lucubration on the tremendous trifle of his taxes

Mr. Gailey comes from Georgia, I understand. I’m from Georgia and know his mythos. He enjoyed sole-son status in a Georgia peach-farming family with a half dozen smart-as-whips sisters, all of whom could think rings around Gailey frere. Since peach farming allows but one child to go to the University of Georgia, the y-chromosome spoiled-rotten son went to Athens to the oldest chartered university in the country while his gifted sisters remained on the farm to can Dempsey dumpsters of peaches to sell at the county fair and to marry dim-witted peach farmers to continue their peach drudgery.

Another document said:

I have long jousted about misused colons. Mr. Gailey lapses into one above.

My Bibliography for colons:

1. The Bedford Guide for College Writers, 4th edition, page H-120:

In a sentence, a colon always follows a clause, never a phrase. …Any time you are in doubt about whether to use a colon, first make sure that the preceding statement is a complete sentence. Then you will not litter your writing with unnecessary colons. (The Bedford Guide for College Writers, 4th edition) page H-120.

2. Colon Dust-up with University of Chicago Manual people:

Exchange with Online Chicago Manual:

Yes. I'm afraid that the definitive word (from a U of C mathematician) is: you are wrong. Sorry!

At 03:47 PM 1/21/02 -0500, you wrote:

Chicago Manual of Style people: Isn't your above colon after "is" unorthodox in the FAQ section of your web site? A whole sentence should precede the colon, should it not?

Your Manual seems to confirm my belief in 5.97; all examples in that section have a complete sentence before the colon. Your erring colon splits a subject and elliptical noun-clause complement. This error--for I believe it to be one--often appears in the NY Times. The Harbrace, sixth edition, forbids the comma you use. I didn't check any of the dummied-down recent editions.

I suspect that this erroneous colon use has become so frequent that it will triumph soon. When the Chicago Manual of Style blazons this error online, the world has leave to luxuriate in one more surrender to language barbarism. Woe, woe to such surrenders.

Following redundant commas, this redundant colon is the most frequent punctuation error in The NY Times. I tried to interest William Safire in these unneeded colons. He was resistant or incurious about the suggestion.

I heard Le Safire say that somebody "felt badly" on one of those talking-head shows on which he appears. He continues to use colons to split subject and complement. Anyone who "feels badly" would.

Safire is reputed to be such a grammar god that Doris Kearns Goodwin licked his boots for his supposed grammar infallibility on a Larry King Show in their joint appearance. That Mr. Safire enjoys the fame of grammar savant says something about the decline of grammar in this country. I trust Mr. Safire on rooting out and alerting us to government skullduggery, not on grammar.

I can't discover why "The Taliban" is plural, as in "The Taliban are." Why isn't "The Taliban" a collective noun with a singular verb?


Lee De Cesare

UChicagoManual Reply:

I can only surmise that our writer was being playful, using the colon to force and emphasize a rupture between the first part of the sentence and the second part. The reader expects a definitive, authoritative explanation after "is," but that definitive word turns out to be a summary put down instead.

This fellow should replace Le Dortch at the Times. He could be cost-effective by sharing faux diversity slot for Poynter sexists too, who have three women out of fifteen faculty members.

The University of Chicago linguistic brigand knows how to manipulate language and is doubtless writing his doctoral thesis on some Chomsky rhetorical flapdoodle. He reminds me of Obadiah Slope in Trollope’s Barchester Towers. This University-of-Chicago Slope pulls out of his linguistic hat “rupture of sentence between the first part of the sentence and the second part.” He will go far in the universe of hey-nonny-nonny linguistic studies at some prestigious university at which such skill represents a must for survival in the repartee free-for-alls in the faculty lounge.

In more formal contexts, I wholeheartedly agree with you. We at the press always try to stamp out such improper breaks. Authors frequently try to use colons whenever they set up a big series, and we're just as frequently deleting those colons or recasting the introduction.

Such incorrectly used colons are interesting because the entire burden of the error is in them: simply remove one such colon and you've solved a problem and vastly improved a sentence.

As for "Taliban," I can only observe that it is more common for British journalists to consider collective nouns in the plural: e.g., Led Zeppelin were a great band. And a lot of the English-language coverage of
Afghanistan seen in America over the past few months has come from British journalists.

Thanks for writing.


Gailey continued

I showed up for my hearing before the Value Adjustment Board not knowing what to expect.

Le Gailey needs a comma before “not.” The “knowing” participial phrase modifies “I.” There is one “I.” That “I” is Gailey. Besides, “not” marks the participial phrase as a contrasting element.

I asked how could it be that the assessment on the house in quotation could have increased by almost one third in a single year, during a time when the real estate market was cooling down?

“One third” gets a hyphen. The comma after “year” is redundant because the modifier it cuts off is restrictive. The market was cooling down; it was not lapsing into the doldrums or revving up to blow sky-high.

I was told that the assessment was based on…

Two passive verbs back to back vitiate Mr. Gailey’s head-editorial-macho pedigree.

Why not a muscular declarative sentence consonant with Le Grand Gailey’s exalted status? “The Board told me it based the assessment on nothing but a feeling in members’ upper-right quadrant.”

I would have to present “overwhelming evidence” to overcome the appraiser’s decision.

How dare these people demand "overwhelming" evidence from a citizen? And what kind of Percy Dovetonsils is Gailey that he didn’t rise on his haunches to demand definition of “overwhelming” on the spot? Gailey let down the state of Georgia and besmirched the escutcheon of the Georgia Bulldogs. He should go back to picking peaches and send in his sisters.

[new paragraph] I also was curious about the appraiser’s use of “comparable sales” to determine a house’s market value. They refused to even consider my examples of comparable houses….

The split infinitive gets a pass.

Again, Gailey lets the bureaucrats best him without putting up a fight. He should not have been a “curious” wimp about the comparable-sales criterion. He should have become combative citizen. He should have boomed, “Listen, my bureaucratic buckoes: I reign puissant editorial-page editor of the Times. Give me an exhaustive list on ‘comparable’ pronto, or I shall investigate your demi-monde activities and write an expose of the non-family-values didos of this cabal of bureaucrats in the honky-tonk interstices of the social contract that they stain with sordid conduct. Then none of this band of officious bureaucrats will eat lunch in this town any more.”

Gailey’s beating his chest here with peach-picking fists would be condign gesture.

“They” is plural; its antecedent “appraiser’s” is both singular and possessive, both of which disqualify as antecedent for “they.” A writer can’t expect a reader to plow through previous paragraphs to eke out antecedent. He must provide it close by.

My house, it was explained, was just inside…

Percy Dovetonsils must wean himself from passive, pigeon-hearted, pussyfooting, pusillanimous verbs. Words in the newspaper racket make or unmake the man. Percy should say instead, “That accursed bunch of bureaucrats caterwauled….”

Therefore, only sales in the Old Northwest could be used for comparable value purposes.

Gailey is incorrigible. The Centers for Disease Control has proved in experiment after experiment that the passive-verb-addict man suffers low testosterone-tank levels and risks hoof-and-mouth disease. Any one of Gailey's sisters would have mopped up the floor with these bureaucrats.

Hyphenate “comparable value” as two words before a noun that act as a single adjective. All Gailey sisters know and apply this rule when they are not putting up bushels of peaches back on the farm, waiting to marry some Stanford-Binet lower-quartile peach-farmer and produce a family of learning-disabled rustics.

Mr. Gailey shows far gone in wordiness. Nobody dares edit these spoiled-rotten editors. They bloviate at will.

The Mayor:

The Mayor occupies a class all his own for infelicity of rhetoric and wretched punctuation. He probably didn’t write his piece. A $100,000-a-year bureaucrat ghosted it. Either way, the taxpayer gets a shoddy product from Le Burgomaster, who has an ego the size of the Hindenburg unsustained by IQ to match.

To burnish my status as impediment to my husband’s political career, I got into a fight with Mayor 8-foot-tall Pantagruel at some political conference my husband dragged me to as show-and-tell spouse when he was mayor of our little town. I asked Jack-and-the-Bean-Stalk Rick how women fared in his office. He launched into a spiel on how well the “ladies” got on there.

I told him that he should refer to women as women because his use of “ladies” continued dismissive euphemism for “women” that Freud explored in his whore-Madonna bifurcation in “The Most Prevalent Form of Degradation in Sexual Life” and that feminist linguistic scholar Robin Lakoff at Berkeley summarized with, “He could hardly wait to get out of jail and find him a lady/woman.”

Women’s sexual power has terrorized men through the ages because it taps into male performance angst; so fellows deny it by reducing women to sexual slaves in a multi-billion-dollar porn industry and by sanitizing non-porn-defined women’s sexual dimension with “lady.” "Lady" strips woman of sexuality to make them non-threatening to the hordes of performance-anxiety wretches who boast in locker rooms about their mythic potency.

Lady Madonnas shrink back from sex. They are safe to work in the mayor's office. Women--terrifying whore contingent--don't and can't be keyboard artists for Mayor Rick.

Mayor Beanstalk blew up and told me not to tell him how to talk.

I sent His Honor one of Dr. Lakoff’s essays nonetheless. Mayor Rick is Baptist, the sect that is doctrinally down on any manifestation of fun sex but requires as civic duty an affair between the male choir director and the female piano player in every little born-again church in Georgia to give the town something to talk about besides the Bulldogs.

With the end of court-ordered desegregation in Pinellas County's approaching, it is certain that our communities and public schools will be significantly affected, just as they were after original court decision 35 years ago. 34 words

The beginning sentence of his essay represents Mayor Rick’s gaseous style.

Edit: “The impending end of 35-year-old-court-ordered desegregation will affect our communities and schools.” 12 words

Many families will pick a school close to home. This likely will result in less integrated schools, because of our county’s neighborhoods are not as integrated as our schools have been for the past three decades. 36 words

Edit: “Families’ choosing neighborhood schools will cause less school integration than that during three decades of busing.” 16 words

The comma cuts off a restrictive adverbial clause.

If students…better chance of catching up and their school will achieve greater success.

Mayor Rick ignores the easiest comma rule: two-independent-clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction require a comma before the conjunction.

…that enables a successful principal to advance professionally, and earn more money while continuing to lead a school.

Mayor Rick splits a compound verb with a redundant comma.

..and reduced lunch populations.

Reluctant-scholar Rick should hyphenate “reduced lunch”: two words before a noun acting as a single adjective.

As we go through a transition period, stability for the students and stability for the schools is important.

Rick stumbles into a grammar felony: subject-verb agreement error.

Among the ways of rewarding success are St. Petersburg’s “Top Apple” program, which uses…

Mayor Rick bungles subject-verb agreement again: subject “program” is singular; verb “are” is plural.

Our schools are clearly getting better every single year.

Le Rick indulges in display of redundant adverb and adjective. He thinks pile-up of modifiers lifts him into the rhetorical empyrean.

Anybody with minimal editing skills could boil the mayor’s piece down to half its blowsy size.

The editor: The Times Recommends: The Editorial Priesthood Speaks

Doubling the homestead exemption could force cuts in services by local governments, and making the Save Our Homes tax break portable only exacerbates its unfairness.

I had trouble reading this sentence. In questions of clarity, the customer is always right unless the customer is a congenital dumbbell. The parallelism of gerund-phrase subject for each clause is adroit in theory, but in this construction, the device causes reader double-take. Omitting “and” and using a semicolon would assist clarity. “Only” is redundant adverb. Hyphenating "Save Our Homes" would assist clarity.

His proposal to force auto insurers who sell homeowners coverage in other states to sell it in Florida is a nice sound bite, but it might not be legal, and it could create new problems with auto insurance.

Three independent clauses are one too many in single sentence. “Homeowners” is possessive. I will meet in the parking lot anyone who excuses it an attributive noun.

Davis offers the best opportunity to steer state government to the middle and the most substantive approach to addressing the pressing issues facing Florida.

The banality of this sentence and passim represents St. Petersburg Times editorial rhetorical stasis. Such stale writing ranks so moss-grown that editorial fuddy-duddies should retire it to the outback of press rhetorical pasture to sink into the eternity of worn-out windbaggery.

“Substantive” is one of those fifty-cent words the use of which nobody can defend without stuttering. Mediocre writers stick in such specimens to give their construction the bogus gravitas they think a hefty piece of irrelevant high-falutin diction imparts. My advice: Dump "substantive" for dignity’s sake and order these editorial windbags to a series of restorative baths at some minerals spa in the metropolis of Seffner to be followed by a walking program in the fresh air that comes off the marine sludge lapping Bayshore Boulevard.

The next time a promotion to masthead arises, I trust that knowledge of their lack of infallibility in basic tools of the trade—grammar and punctuation—will nudge boss journalizers toward a fairer treatment of Times women. Guy journalizers would do well to submit their egos to Oliphant’s spoof of Ozymandias on 2P as prediction of their importance in the sands of journalism's long shadow of Grub Street's minions.

How in the world did the French guy’s essay on the sexual threesome that begat him get into the Times? For a paper that shrank back in horror at publishing the early leak of the Foley scandal, this piece puzzles. Expect to hear from repressed sexual ethicists in Lutz.

And, Mr. Maxwell, lay off raining on Obama’s parade. Why do mediocre and worse white men run for president with a hey nonny nonny, but a Black man who edited Harvard Law Review must hang back in humility lest he offend massah’s sense of automatic entitlement?

Obama’s done everything you urge for Black kids. He’s studied, got into the Ivy League without heritage points, and mopped up the academic floor there. Obama’s background entitled him to a life of crack cocaine and methadone. But instead he wants to run for president, and you natter about its not being his time.

Remember that Dr. King told us in "Letter from the Birmingham City Jail" that time is neutral. What we do with it is what counts. Let Obama fill his time by running for president of the United States of America without the crepe-hanging of an old Black guy writing essays for the St. Petersburg Times.

I applaud Obama's race for president two years past the age Kennedy did. With his physical grace—I marveled at the TV image of his leaping onto a podium in the lithe arc of a panther-- his keen intelligence, his Spock physiognomy, his ascetic bony cranium, and his beguiling dumbo ears, Obama could be our first Black president--and the first president of any color who headed Harvard Review.

What a relief Obama would be compared to those obnoxious Clintons and straight-talk-Bob-Jones-University sellout McCain.

Don’t be an old Black stick-in-the-mud for the dead hand of tradition. Don't drone on in support of Alexander Pope's "Whatever is, is right." We have sufficient Caucasian laggards stuck in that rut already—some writing your editorial page. Stifle your lugubrious advice on Black-man obsequiousness and say with me, “Go, Obama!”

Meanwhile, I hope to hear that you have leapt atop a desk in the newsroom, executed a buck and wing, and demanded an end to slavery at the Times and a chicken in every pot.

Stokeley Carmichael would have done.

lee drury de cesare

15316 Gulf Boulevard 802

Madeira Beach, FL 33708


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