My inner grammar Nazi makes an appearance

Commas, semicolons, colons, lists and “and”, and how they work together to handle nested lists.

Poor usage:

“Metro’s operating expenses are paid through three sources: passenger fares, revenue raised by the agency through advertising and other sources and taxpayers in the District, Maryland and Virginia.” — “Metro Considers Increasing Rail Fares” by Lena H. Sun, Washington Post Dec. 11, 2006, Page A11 (from A1).

What’s happening here? There’s a list, the colon tells us that, but then there is but one, wait, no, two commas and three “and”s to help us sort it out. No semicolons. Lots of words that go together in confusing ways.

The most likely answer is that there are nested lists and we need some way to sort them out, and this is where semicolons working with colons, commas and “and”s shine.

Try this:

“Metro’s operating expenses are paid through three sources: passenger fares; revenue raised by the agency through advertising and other sources; and taxpayers in the District, Maryland and Virginia.”

Not only is this now clear, but it opens the sentence up to paring unnecessary words.


“Metro’s operating expenses are paid from: fares; advertising and other revenue; and taxes from the District, Maryland and Virginia.”

No need to say “three sources, because our semicolons make that perfectly visible, and this leads us away from other cruft like “passenger fares” and “revenue raised by the agency.”

My inner grammar Nazi usually stays in the background, but occasionally there’s something that requires action.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Intipuqueños celebrate … someone … or something

Among the anonymous sources floating administration trial balloons and salacious dirt came a nice front-page story in today’s Washington Post about Salvadorans living in Washington who return to their home town of Intipucá in the “state” of La Unión, and the changes in the town and the emigrants. It’s a pretty good story, with a lot of cultural sensitivity and human interest in both El Salvador and Metro Washington. But the narrative hook the reporter chose was the event that drew back the former residents, referred to as a “patron saint festival” apparently honors some saint whose name must not be mentioned. It’s really the celebration of the immaculate conception of Mary, which is rather more of an event than a “patron saint,” unless you’re going to claim that Mary was a different person at each of the celebrated eras of her life.

South America may be the last place outside of Vatican City where the Catholic calendar of saints is still the defining latticework partitioning out the year. Cities and towns traditionally celebrate one (or more) of the festivals much like American ones do everything from oatmeal to pickles to pumpkin chunkin’ on any given weekend, in addition to the major feasts that everyone celebrates like Carnivale, Christmas and Easter (or New Year’s Day, Easter, Independence Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas for the states). Referring to the festival in this way may be intended to preserve its relationship to festivals honoring saints’ entire lives, but it doesn’t make grammatical sense nor does it tell that the city is honoring not only Mary, but what is perhaps one of the most agreed-upon celebrations in Catholicism, and it is only one of several festivals in the calendario de fiestas patronales that honor something other than a single saint, from the divine face of Jesus to the black Christ of Esquipulas, a statue of Jesus in dark wood housed in a nearby Guatemala town that is now the most significant pilgrimage site on the continent. Mary herself is celebrated in many different ways, both as symbol and as person.

Why would a story sensitive enough to use the correct name for a town native, intipuqueño and intipuqueña, including the tilde (though it omits the accent from the town’s name and capitalizes the nouns despite proper Spanish usage, both common occurrences in American newspapers; the presence of the tilde in so many may be due to the difference in meaning between ano and año and the popularity of a telenovela rendered in many listings as “Los Anos Perdidos,” translation: The Lost Anuses) gloss over the question of what the focus of the festival actually is? After all, this isn’t just a festival of Mary, it’s a festival of the immaculate conception, an event signifying Mary’s lack of original sin, probably the most important reason she is held in adoration by Catholics comparably to Jesus, the only woman of comparable importance among prominent religions and certainly of the Abrahamic strains. It’s probably too much to ask that the writer note that the immaculate conception celebrates Mary’s conception (and existence thereafter) in a state of grace and is set on a date (Dec. 8, though Intipucá starts two days earlier) nine months in advance of Mary’s birth, a parallel to the celebration of the incarnation of Christ on March 25, nine months before Christmas, and not the virgin birth. But in a story about a significant minority in a geographic area with a sizable Catholic population (both Salvadoran and other nationalities), naming the festival wasn’t important?

Pierce Presley is a graduate student in journalism at the University of Memphis and a freelance writer living in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. He received his B.A. from Loyola University New Orleans, a Jesuit Catholic university.

Note: edited to correct babelfish link.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Death (by Inches) of Journalism

I have rarely read anything I’ve hated to have to agree with more, but Marty Kaplan accurately describes the current situation in big-time journalism.
Since most of us who are in journalism aren’t there, the question becomes (at least in part), what do I aspire for now? How do I make a living doing what I love without selling my soul to the point that I no longer love it? Can I continue to do this in light of the tarnish these idiots have put on my profession, avocation, whatever?
Why isn’t Woodruff isn’t joining Miller on the unemployment line? Even more so and even quicker, since he’s an icon. She was, in many ways, a product of favoritism much like Jayson Blair (and for a similar reason, too; except in her case, it was “see, we do have conservatives” instead of “see, we do have minorities’) and her statements as to her perception of her job clearly illustrate her bankruptcy as a journalist. He is, along with Carl Bernstein, the reason many of us got into this business, someone who spoke truth to power and blew the bastard’s damned kneecap off. (Bonus points for those recognizing the second reference.) But when the leaders transgress, is it not worse than when the flock does? Aren’t they supposed to be somehow elevated, held to a higher standard? (Please don’t give me any of the oversimplified democracy crap about how we’re all equal unless you’re willing to support election to public office by random means; I’m ambivalent and unsure if it would be that much worse.)
If you care at all about journalism and democracy, do something. (I’m writing this, for starters.) Push your paper, station, whatever to cover this, not just repeat the RNC talking points released into the magical media echo chamber. Write something yourself, and send it in. Call, write, fax, moon your representatives and senators, anything to get the message across. (Note: message mooning tends to require the assistance of another person for legibility. Caveat exposor.) Shake the hell out of the next person who says “they’re all corrupt”–if we run the corrupt ones out of town on a rail, tarred and feathered, other corrupt ones will be less likely to try and take up residence in the capital. Same thing for the next person who pillories the entire media–there are still some who can read, think and report,, like Keith Olbermann and the K-R DC Bureau. Even Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are worth more to a functioning democracy than a thousand Millers and Woodruffs.

Marty Kaplan
Journalism: R.I.P.

Mainstream journalism has cancer. The diagnosis – stage three, terminal – was made this week, by anyone with eyes to see.

Before now, the symptoms were alarming, but there was still hope. Fox’s “liberal media” lie; the reduction of all debates to polarized left/right shouting matches; the triumph of infotainment and missing-white-women-as-news over information we actually need to know; the substitution of he-said/she-said for shoe-leather and fact-finding; the social coziness of reporters and sources; the bottom-line obsession; the consolidation of power in fewer and fewer owners’ hands’ the politicization of public broadcasting – these, and more, were tumors, but their fatal metastasizing was not inevitable.

But the coverage of the battle between the White House and the Democrats over the use of prewar intelligence, and the reporting on l’affaire Woodward, is the end of the road for the mandarin gatekeepers.

Read the rest at the Huffington Post

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

What he said, and more

From Billmon:

I know that the freest and fairest societies are those with a free press . . . publishing information that the government does not want to reveal. If they can do that, surely I can face prison to defend a free press.
Judith Miller

Even under the best of circumstances, that would have been a repulsive exercise in shameless pandering. But coming from Judy Miller — the Pentagon’s favorite pre-war pipeline for feeding WMD bullshit to the American public — it’s enough to induce projectile vomiting. …
When I read Miller’s little speech, I’m afraid something snapped. Fuck journalistic principles. I was glad Judge Hogan locked the bitch up — I only wished he’d thrown the key away. And since we’re dealing with a critical national security threat here — after all, there’s a traitor running around the White House making things easier for nuclear terrorists — it occurred to me that a few stress positions might be in order for a high value detainee like Miller, or maybe a little of the Fear Up Harsh approach — with a nice lemon chicken dinner afterwards, of course.

Pierce says: You know, if I needed any other evidence that this is just another episode of Judith Miller’s persecution complex theater, this little speech would be it. But she’s dragged far too many journalists on stage with her, and it’s time to stop enabling her sad act.
Note to Ms. Miller: I don’t know exactly why you’re going to jail, whether it’s pure obstinance or protecting one of your pimps, but it sure the hell isn’t as a staunch defender of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. I have a strong feeling it’s much more about not being seen as the obvious tool you’ve been, not to mention part of the fine New York Times tradition of admitting error only when it doesn’t do anybody much damned good; and to try to hide behind the soldiers you helped put in harm’s way for a shitload of lies is crass beyond measure and unforgivable. If you’re a journalist, call me something else; I would hate for anyone to conflate myself and my work with you.
It’s a damned shame so many people in journalism, both individually and collectively as professional organizations, feel they must stand by this useless, self-important hack who’s using the First Amendment as a damned toreador’s cape to distract and distort. I’m all for defending the First Amendment, even on principal alone in cases where the speech (or speaker) is repugnant, but that’s not what is happening here. Miller’s defenders are merely aiding a serial liar.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Missing the Larger Truth in the search for "Truth" About Iraq has a teaser for its article The “Truth” About Iraq” claiming that right wing talk show hosts “are headed to the war zone to report what they already know: U.S. Troops are winning….”
The problem here is that we’re winning our way into a Vietnam-style exit; it’s not that our troops can’t defeat insurgents in open battle, it’s that we can’t (or won’t, in many cases) protect them from the tactics used by the insurgents, whether with enough armor or enough people. But I suppose they have to bring a straw man to the Green Zone, or it wouldn’t be right-wing radio.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email | The blue dress of Baghdad

From | The blue dress of Baghdad

Now, can we talk of impeachment? The rueful admission by former chief U.S. weapons inspector David Kay that Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction or the means to create them at the time of the U.S. invasion confirms the fact that the Bush administration is complicit in arguably the greatest scandal in U.S. history. It’s only because the Republicans control both houses of Congress that we hear no calls for a broad-ranging investigation of the type that led to the discovery of Monica Lewinsky’s infamous blue dress.


Surely you jest.

That, like taxes, is only for the little people, Democrats and other nonhuman enemies of the GOP.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Judge Chooses San Mateo County as Site of Murder Trial

From Judge Chooses San Mateo County as Site of Murder Trial:


January 21, 2004

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 20–Tourism officials in San Mateo County cheered wildly on Tuesday when a judge announced that the murder trial of Scott Peterson would be moved there.

Alas, for my republic, which has fallen so far as to cheer a murder trial for the money it brings!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

NYT Op-Ed: One Nation, Under Secularism

From One Nation, Under Secularism By SUSAN JACOBY

“Today, many voters, of many religious beliefs, might well be receptive to a candidate who forthrightly declares that his vision of social justice will be determined by the ‘plain, physical facts of the case’ on humanity’s green and fragile earth. But that would take an inspirational leader who glories in the nation’s secular heritage and is not afraid to say so.”

As much as I would like to believe this, I think Ms. Jacoby overstates the case. Too many Americans fear the reprisals some, and probably most, Christians would hand out as a result of even supporting someone of faith who dared support secularism.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Dispatches: The Military: Marines Plan to Use Velvet Glove More Than Iron Fist in Iraq

From The New York Times: Dispatches: The Military: Marines Plan to Use Velvet Glove More Than Iron Fist in Iraq:

“CAMP PENDLETON, Calif., Dec. 10 � No force has a tougher reputation than the United States Marines. But the marines who are headed to Iraq this spring say they intend to avoid the get-tough tactics that have been used in recent weeks by Army units. “

More proof Marines are smarter than Army grunts. Of course, we have a lot more experience fighting “small wars” at the behest of the administration. One thing Marines pride themselves on is learning from mistakes and successes.

Lt. Gen. Conway sounds like one hell of a leader; so many in the military would have made noises like they were going to bring even more death and destruction, just to salvage ego and no matter what they had planned. To be willing to say, “We’re going to try and work with the Iraqis” is a good sign for the sucess of the operation, as is sending in the Marines generally.

One last thing: Conway is too classy to make this point, but one advantage the Marines will have is that everybody is expected to have basic infantry skills, including ambushing, responding to ambushes, patrolling and operating both personal and crew-served weapons.


5. Policy

a. Every Marine regardless of MOS will be taught those

fundamental combat skills needed to survive and fight on today�s

battlefield. The references contain the tasks and standards

required of Marines (private – gunnery sergeant). Sustainment of

these skills is the responsibility of commanders at all levels.

b. Combat skills proficiency is an integral part of every

Marine�s performance of duty. Commanders will consider a Marine�s

combat skills proficiency when assigning proficiency marks and

writing fitness reports.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Op-Ed Columnist: Returned to Life

From “Returned to Life” by Bob Herbert in The New York Times: “As for the work that he and his students are doing: ‘Some people think it’s inspiring,’ the professor said. ‘I think it’s dismaying. Seniors in college should not be the last line of defense against an innocent person being executed.'”

Dismaying indeed. It’s not that I’m against executions entirely, but to kill 2-3 innocent people out of every 10 is simply unacceptable for a civilized society.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email