Sunday, October 21, 2007

Prissy Press Fautleroy Makes Basic Writing Errors

Line-Item Foolishness

By George F. Will

Sunday, October 21, 2007; Page B07

Mitt Romney is an intelligent man who sometimes seems eager to find bushel baskets under which to hide his light. Romney faults Rudy Giuliani for opposing the presidential line-item veto. But Giuliani doesn't, unfortunately. The facts -- not that they loom large in this skirmish -- are:

A sentence precedes a colon. Mr. Will’s introduction should be “are these” or “are the following.”

When in 1997 Bill Clinton used the line-item veto, with which Congress had just armed him, to cancel $200 million for New York state, Giuliani harried Clinton all the way to the Supreme Court. It agreed with Giuliani that the line-item veto was an unconstitutional violation of the "presentment" clause. Today, Giuliani says, in defense of what does not need defending (his defense of the Constitution), he favors amending the Constitution to give presidents such a veto, thereby substantially augmenting what should not be further augmented -- presidential power.

The redundant commas around “with…him" cut off a restrictive adverbial prepositional phrase. The commas around “in….Constitution)” cut off another restrictive adverbial prepositional phrase.

In 1996, when a Republican-controlled Congress
tried by statute to give Clinton and subsequent presidents a line-item veto, Pat Moynihan's intervention in the Senate debate began: "I rise in the serene confidence that this measure is constitutionally doomed." He was vindicated because the Constitution says "every bill" passed by Congress shall be "presented" to the president, who shall sign "it" or return "it" with his objections.

To preen his soi-disant grammar savvy, Mr. Will indulges in a manufactured problem. The antecedent of the pronoun “it” must be “bill”; the bits of the bill get no mention as possible antecedents of “it.”

Forty-three governors have, and most presidents have coveted, the power to have something other than an all-or-nothing choice when presented with appropriations bills. This did not matter in 1789, when the only appropriations bill passed by the First Congress could have been typed double-space on a single sheet of paper. But 199 years later, President Ronald Reagan displayed a 43-pound, 3,296-page bill as an argument for a line-item veto. Today's gargantuan government, its 10 thumbs into everything, routinely generates elephantine appropriations bills.

Cutting off “and most presidents have” as a parenthetical element requires a closing comma after “presidents have.” But “most presidents” is part of a compound subject and should have no commas on either side of it.

But were a president empowered to cancel provisions of legislation, what he would be doing would be indistinguishable from legislating. He would be making, rather than executing, laws, and the separation of powers would be violated.

Windy progressive verbs sound hand wringing. Crisper are “what he would do” and “he would make rather than execute.”

Furthermore, when presidents truncated bills by removing items, they often would vitiate the will of Congress. Frequently, congressional majorities could not have been cobbled together for bills if they had not included some provisions that presidents later removed.

“Would vitiate” should be “vitiated” for economy and force. Passive verb: Leaders could not have cobbled together congressional majorities ....

The line-item veto expresses liberalism's faith in top-down government and the watery Caesarism that has produced today's inflated presidency. Liberalism assumes that executive branch experts, free from parochial constituencies, know, as Congress does not, what is good for the nation "as a whole." This is contrary to the public philosophy of James Madison's "extensive" republic with its many regions and myriad interests.

The “free from parochial constituencies” is restrictive and gets no commas. The executive branch is free from parochial constituencies, not free from other banes of politicians.

If Romney thinks a line-item veto would be a major force for federal frugality, he is mistaken. Gov. Reagan used his line-item veto to trim, on average, only about 2 percent from California's budgets. And much larger proportions of state budgets than of the federal budget are susceptible to such vetoes. Sixty-one percent of the federal budget goes to entitlements and to interest payments on government borrowing, neither of which can be vetoed. An additional 21 percent goes to defense and homeland security. Realistically, the line-item veto probably would be pertinent to less than 20 percent of the budget.

“On average” is restrictive and gets no commas around it. “Only’ is a misplaced modifier that should relocate to before “2 percent.” Pussyfooting passive verbs vitiate: “which the president can veto” should replace “can be vetoed.” “Realistically” and “probably” are blowsy redundant adverbs. The writer should cut them.

And the line-item veto might result in increased spending. Legislators would have even less conscience about packing the budget with pork, because they could get credit for putting in what presidents would be responsible for taking out. Presidents, however, might use the pork for bargaining, saying to individual legislators: If you support me on this and that, I will not veto the bike path you named for your Aunt Emma.

The comma before “because” cuts off a trailing restrictive adverbial clause that conforms to normal syntax in its end position: no comma precedes it.

After a century of the growth of presidential power and after eight years of especially aggressive assertions of presidential prerogatives, it would be unseemly to intensify this tendency with a line-item veto. Conservatives used to be the designated worriers about the evolution of the presidency into the engine of grandiose government. They should visit the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom in the National Archives building on Constitution Avenue. There the Constitution is displayed under four large glass plates. Almost half of the glass is required to cover just Article One. That concerns the legislative branch, which is the government's "first branch" for a reason.

Passive verbs add to the éclat of no writer. They also diminish the grandeur of the
Constitution: “The Constitution resides under four large glass plates. Article One requires almost half of the glass.”

A polite assessment of Romney's -- and Giuliani's -- enthusiasm for a line-item veto would resemble a 19th-century scholar's assessment of a rival's translation of Plato: "The best translation of a Greek philosopher which has ever been executed by a person who understood neither philosophy nor Greek."

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Kinsley Overuses Commas

Michael Kinsley

In Defense of the AMT

The AMT is getting more unpopular every year, as more and more taxpayers fail to make it over that second fence.

The comma after “year” is redundant: it cuts off a trailing restrictive adverbial clause.\

It resembles the "flat tax" of many reformers' dreams: a high basic exemption, so that low-income people don't pay it at all….

The comma after “exemption” is redundant: it cuts off a trailing restrictive adverbial clause.

The tax code goes through generational cycles. The last big reform was in 1986, when loopholes, deductions and credits were eliminated and rates were cut dramatically.

Passive verb: “…when the code eliminated loopholes, deductions and credits and cut rates dramatically.

a bigger exemption for dependents, to encourage "family values" (you got a problem with this, buddy?).

The comma after “dependents” is redundant: it cuts off a restrictive infinitive adverbial phrase.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Misplaced Commas in Pakistan

Bomb Attack Kills Scores in Pakistan as Bhutto Arrives


Published: October 19, 2007

The strong outpouring provided an emotional homecoming for Ms. Bhutto and political vindication of sorts for a woman twice turned out of office as prime minister, after being accused of corruption and mismanagement.

The comma after “minister” is redundant. It cuts off a restrictive adverbial prepositional phrase (gerund phrase as object of preposition). In normal syntax, adverbs occupy the end position: subject-verb-object (if there is an object)-adverb. Only if you move the end-position adverbs to the beginning or middle of the sentence do adverbs—word, phrase, or clause—get commas because the relocated adverbs disturb normal syntax. They remain restrictive wherever you put them: beginning, middle, or end.

It also demonstrated that she remained a potent political force in Pakistan, even after her long absence, and marked what supporters and opponents alike agreed was a new political chapter for the nation.

Here the adverbial phrase “even…” has commas correctly because it has moved from the end to the middle of the sentence and disturbed normal syntax, It remains restrictive.

Many young men said they were unemployed, but had traveled hundreds of miles, paying their own way, and camping out overnight on the road to the airport to await her arrival.

The comma after “unemployed” is redundant: it splits a compound verb—“were unemployed” but “had traveled.” The comma after “miles” is redundant: it cuts off a restrictive present participial phrases modifying “men”; the one after “way” is redundant because it separates a compound participial phrase modifying “men.”

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Collins Overuses Modifiers and Passive Verbs

Op-Ed Columnist

None Dare Call It Child Care


Published: October 18, 2007

I too heard Chris Matthews’ comment on men’s making enough money for their wives to stay home. His wife, Kathleen, works full-time as a TV anchor, I think. She could stay home on his salary, but she doesn’t.

Many women work for professional satisfaction just as men do. But that circumstance makes conservative, sexist thinkers count these women selfish, bad mothers despite women’s working in record numbers. To get the grudging approval from conservatives to work, women must lie and say they work from economic necessity.

I have seen several op-edit columns by Ms. Collins recently. I hope this does not mean Dauphin Sulzberger has demoted her from the flossy editorial slot to which he promoted her so as to ballyhoo his soi-disant egalitarianism. The masthead blows that claim.

I appealed to Mr. Sulzberger when he appeared at Poynter last year to hire other women to join Dowd on the op-ed page. Safire’s job had just gone vacant. Sulzberger said with a sexist smirk that he had appointed that white guy whose name I have forgotten but who has since disappeared off the op-ed page. When I asked Sulzberger as a shareholder how we women could get more women on the op-ed page, he said with his signature wit manqué that we should “beg.” I hear he demanded that his wife quit her writing job when he ascended to publishership.

The next time Le Sulzberger comes to town, I will not ask him to expand women’s role at the NYT. I will box his ears as a lost cause. I sold my stock in protest of his ignorant sexism and lost half its value. Blogs signal the death knell of print press. Sulzberger will lose his dauphinship. I won’t cry.

Ms. Collins is a solid meat-and-potatoes writer who has almost conquered punctuation—more than most of her colleagues can say. Her problem is style: she overuses passive verbs and modifiers that Strunk & White abjures.

It was one of the very first issues to be swift-boated by social conservatives.

Edit: As one of their first issues, social conservatives swift-boated child care.

In 1971, Congress actually passed a comprehensive child care bill that was vetoed by Richard Nixon.

“Actually” and “truly” are the two most over-used gaseous adverbs. Writers should dump them.

Edit: “Richard Nixon vetoed a Congressional Child Care bill in 1971.”

The next time the bill came up, members were flooded with mail accusing them of being anti-family communists who wanted to let kids sue their parents if they were forced to go to church.

Edit: Voters flooded Congress with mail the next time the bill came up accusing them of being anti-family communists who would let kids sue parents for forcing them to go to church.

Even for them, the waiting lists tend to be ridiculously long. In many states, once the woman actually gets a job, she loses the day care.

A writer should avoid adverbs, but here I would defy Strunk & White and keep “ridiculously” to emphasize the point, “Actually” must go, however.

Middle-class families get zip, even though a decent private child care program costs $12,000 a year in some parts of the country.

The trailing adverbial clause is restrictive; it gets no comma before it. Adverbs in the end position conform to normal syntax: subject-verb-adverb. If the writer moves the adverb to the middle or beginning of the sentence, adverbial modifiers get commas although still restrictive because they disturb normal syntax.

The National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, or Naccrra, (this is an area replete with extraordinary people organized into groups with impossible names) says that in some states the average annual price of care was larger than the entire median income of a single parent with two children.

The comma after “Naccrra” goes after the close of the interpolated parenthetical material.

On Tuesday, she gave a major speech on working mothers in New Hampshire, with stories about her struggles when Chelsea was a baby, a grab-bag of Clintonian mini-ideas (encourage telecommuting, give awards to family-friendly businesses) and a middle-sized proposal to expand family leave.

The comma after “Hampshire” is redundant: it cuts off a restrictive adverbial prepositional phrase. This 43-word sentence should split and start a new sentence after “baby’: “These were a grab-bag….”

Clinton most certainly gets it, but she wasn’t prepared to get any closer to the problems of working parents than a plan to help them stay home from work.

“Most certainly” is a cliché redundant modifier that must go.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

op-Ed Columnist

Tough, Sad and Smart

Published: October 16, 2007

The absence of fathers, and the resultant feelings of abandonment felt by boys and girls, inevitably affect the children’s sense of self-worth, he said.

Mr. Herbert: Mr. Cosby and Dr. Poussaint are right about the Black dilemma. But Mr. Cosby diminished his status as a preacher by his own conduct as has Jesse Jackson, adulterers both.

I taught college English for twenty-eight years. My few male Black students coasted, counting on teacher's passing them despite lack of performance. Their race had suffered enslavement. Passing without performing was reparations. My Black male students acted out the post-slavery choreograph that white society expects, even hopes for: that black men will perform ill and perpetuate their own enslavement. Black male students acted out these malignant expectations in my classes.
The Oriental students right off the boats meanwhile whizzed along in mastery of a foreign language that they had to conquer to succeed. They dogged me during office hours to explain once again the nominative absolute.

Whatever psychological mystery motivated the Orientals made them strive to master what they needed to master to get into graduate school. Their performance compared invidiously to the black boys' having given up the day they walked into class.

I guessed that the Black fellows had internalized their worthless valuation from our slave society's aftermath but reasoned that their psychological status didn't neutralize my grading them on performance, not psyches. The Black girls did well. They seemed to intuit that their survival and their family's depended upon their taking up the slack the Black boys as men would download onto them.

Every teacher faces the dilemma of understanding why a student is doing well or ill but of carrying on with the duty of wielding the red pen as a neutral instrument of performance nonetheless. Passing those that don't pass ranks mistaken compassion: it perpetuates the situation.
Black male students either dropped out of my classes when they saw I wasn't going along with the system of passing them despite their lack of performance, or they stayed and flunked. In the latter case, I inferred that they blamed a racist white woman for their failure, not their lack of effort.

In the sentence above cited from your column today, you have a subject-verb agreement error: a grammar felony. Your commas wrongly cut off as non-restrictive element a part of your subject: "feelings." If you dumped those wrong commas, your subject and verb would agree. "Inevitably" is one of those flabby adverbs that Strunk & White eschews. These vitiate a sentence. Forego them.

lee drury de cesare

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Has the NYT Abandoned the Civilty of "Whom?

Through the Eyes of an Iowan


Published: October 12, 2007

In an interview after the event, Mr. Rolph said he was impressed by Mr. Obama, but he had yet to decide who he would support. When would he make up his mind? “Probably the moment I walk into the caucuses,” he said with a smile.

Is the "who" instead of "whom" an error or a policy? I see this case error so often that I begin to believe it's one of those gauche-grammar choices newspapers make such as omitting a comma from the last item in a series or the possessive before the gerund even though the NYT Style Book warns to use it.

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