Monday, May 23, 2005

There oughta be ...

If I were more avuncular, or grandfatherly, perhaps I could look with kindly eye and consider as child-like faith a comment by a (stereotypical) journalist in a recent article about a fatal accident in an amusement park in northeastern Tennessee.
The reporter -- not a Times Free Press staffer -- said the state was one of only a few that didn't have regulations on amusement park rides.
A gentler soul, as I said, could be touched by the simple, naive belief that a government rule could have averted the accident in which a woman fell from a ride and was killed.
Reporters often say things like that: Such-and-such state has no regulations on ... whatever.
So-and-so city doesn't have any laws regulating ... something or other.
As readers of this blog, and of the Chattanooga Times Free Press and of newspapers generally, know, newspapers and magazines make mistakes (look especially at the recent whopper by Newsweek), make errors of fact and errors of conclusion and errors of general knowledge, not to mention many errors of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and usage.
(Reporters usually know nothing of economics and very little of history and of moral philosophy.)
Reporters never, though, mention this: Tennessee also has no state law overseeing language in newspapers, regulating correct editing, mandating accuracy in newspapers.
Obviously, with linguistic quality in, especially, newspapers and news services deteriorating on an almost daily basis, now is the time for the Tennessee General Assembly to step forward with some corrective regulations, to write bills to repair the situation with forward-thinking laws.
Reporters need to take note: As of now, Tennessee is one of only 50 states with no newspaper regulation, a shocking condition too reactionary for words.
All reporters and news outlets should immediately, and frequently, alert the public to this lack.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Pity the proo reader

Us artists, especially us blond artists, are frequently disorganized.
For example, I have set aside some copies of the Chattanooga Times Free Press for purposes of discussion here -- and now can't find them.
Alas, we must now depend on my fading memory. However, thanks to all the great advances in technology, if I make any misteaks, well, shucks, we'll just come back later and eddit them out.
So, what I will discuss today is some more miserable proofreading and/or miserable copy editing on the editorial pages.
Before we go further, let me urge you to refresh your memory, if you're a previous visitor, or, if you're new, to acquaint yourself with the major reason this blog was initiated: Please go to the archives and look at the second entry, "Shapes."
I'll wait ...
Welcome back.
Recent letters to the editor have contained some intriguing comments.
One said something about some proposal being "tauted."
I would not urge anyone to bet that the author used that spelling, but certainly a real editor should have corrected it -- although the possibility is great the alleged editor made the error.
Another said parents should be "roll models."
I would think that, in Chattanooga, perhaps parents should rather be biscuit models -- but that wouldn't make any sense, either. Although it would be funnier.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press, like so many other publications, needs a major infusion of knowledge, knowledge of grammar, punctuation, spelling -- of general language and language use.
Of course there will be mistakes. We all make 'em. That's why God gave us erasers for pencils; He knew ahead of time we would all make mistakes -- and that is why we have a word for it, MIStakes.
Still, the consistent sloppiness on the pages of the Times Free Press, and especially on the editorial pages, should make even newspaper owners and bosses wake up, at least enough to become aware that sloppy editing is one reason for declining readership.

Oh, about that title: Many years ago, some publication or other was lamenting the sloppiness of another's editing and typesetting, noting error after error. It extended its sympathy, saying "Pity the proo reader."
Poor editing is one reason readers, proo and otherwise, are lessening in number.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Media love Stalin?

Is the long-running love affair of "news" media and Josef Stalin still on?
Surely by now everyone knows of The New York Times, its Moscow correspondent ("reporter" is too polite a term for him) Walter Duranty, and their infatuation with the second bloodiest tyrant the world has ever known.
Only Mao Tse-tung can have more bodies counted against his name (although Ho Chi Minh might have a higher percentage of population).
A friend wrote, regarding a columnist's recent writing, "I don't know what he means about 'come clean over Stalin's crimes'; is there anybody who's denying them?"
How about Associated Press writer Maria Danilova?
An article in the Times Free Press of Monday, 9 May 2005, has this paragraph in a story about the recent visit of President Bush and his meeting with Russia's more-or-less President Putin: "Stalin came to power after the death of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin in 1924 and began a reign of terror that lasted nearly three decades, ending only with his death in 1953. An estimated 20 million people were executed, imprisoned or deported to other parts of the former Soviet Union. Altogether, 10 million are believed to have died."
I would call that "praising with faint damns."
Even a certain former New York Times figure estimated more like 85 million died as a result of Stalin's crimes.
Heck, some 15 million died in Stalin's induced famine in (what was then The) Ukraine alone.
Danilova reported several efforts at "rehabilitating" Stalin, from erecting statues to Stalin to naming streets after him to re-re-naming Volgograd Stalingrad.
She reported that "Recent opinion polls have shown that nearly half of Russians hold a largely positive view of Stalin ..."
And there is this classic line attributed to Putin: "It goes without saying that Stalin was a tyrant, whom many call a criminal. But he wasn't a Hitler."
True enough. If Stalin had shown the efficiency and organization of Hitler and his Nazi butchers, perhaps he would have been able to claim even more scores of millions of victims.
"Wasn't a Hitler"? No, but he was Hitler's ally in the invasion of Poland.
He was so much worse than Hitler, that Ukrainians first welcomed even the invading Germans as liberators, until Nazi zeal overrode any strategic common sense.
Many of the peoples conquered and destroyed by Stalin saw even Hitler as a lesser evil.
Operation Keelhaul, though, put an end to any outspoken opposition to the bloody imperialist slavery of Stalin and his murderers.
Please go to Google and look up "Operation Keelhaul" for a chilling, terrifying reminder of another example of the U.S. government's aiding and abetting mass murder and slavery.
And while you're at it, look up "Walter Duranty" for a chilling, terrifying reminder of another example of "news" media, especially The New York Times, sellout of the human race.

Larry Niven was right: TANJ

SF author Larry Niven, in several of his books and stories, coined an acronymed phrase, There Ain’t No Justice, or TANJ. It never caught the reading public’s imagination as widely and deeply as did Robert Heinlein’s TANSTAAFL, There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch (from Heinlein’s superb “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress”).

But there really ain’t no justice. Well, my word processing program keeps nagging at me to say “isn’t” and I hate to cave in to such a fussy and otherwise inanimate object, but, OK, There really is, or at least often seems to be, no justice.

In the Times Free Press edition of Monday, 9 May 2005, is this headline on the front page: Some say justice system failed family.

Perhaps the first flaw, or at least the first one seen, is “some say” is too often a reporter’s and/or editor’s way of saying “I think.”

But the reporter does begin her story with “In the days since a man paroled for a 1995 murder confessed to killing his wife, stepdaughter and infant son, some have begun questioning Tennessee’s justice system.”

The man said to have confessed had been previously imprisoned for second-degree murder of his “girlfriend,” as the paper phrased it.

The story continues: The sister of the current victim “wants to know why he was released from prison after only serving 30 percent of his sentence.”

There are two questionable sentences, that given to and served by a convicted murderer and that written by the reporter – although some mis-called copy editor could have re-written it to be that clumsy.

A paper’s employees are paid to know the English language, but in further illustration of how the industry and the language itself are being degraded, the little word “only” is far too often misplaced.

A general rule of grammar is a modifier should be placed as close as possible to the modifiee.

The convicted killer was not “only” serving. While he was serving he was doing lots of other things, including breathing air that could have better served someone else, and he was eating taxpayer food that could have better fed someone else.

No, what the reporter – and/or editor – should have said was “… after serving only 30 percent of his sentence.”

It is that fraction of his sentence that is deserving of a speaker’s or writer’s or victim's relative's ire, not the serving.

Finally, a philosophical point that brings us back to author Niven’s phrase: In Tennessee, likely in the entire United States, probably in the entire world, there is no such thing as a “justice system.”

What does exist, what is so often mis-called a “justice system” is in actuality a legal system. It is a process and perhaps a system, though maybe it is using that term rather loosely, of laws, of trials and punishments.

Justice, though, requires a redress, a returning to balance. Restitution would be justice. (And that of course asks another question: How does one provide restitution in a case of murder, or even of accidental killing? Author Barry Longyear has attempted to answer that question. He too writes SF, science fiction or, better, speculative fiction.)

The front page is not the place, perhaps, to discuss the question of justice, but front-page articles such as this one certainly do demonstrate the need for such discussion.

Friday, May 06, 2005

George Santayana: Call your office

"He who does not know history ..."
Recently a friend gave me a copy of the over-rated New York Times.
So far I have had, or taken, time to read only one article, and in it were at least two editing errors, including an "its" that should have been "it's."
Not just to bash that much over-rated publication, I point out those errors to point up the woeful dearth of intelligent copy editing throughout the industry.
So to be fair I must say the copy editing at the Chattanooga Times Free Press is not much, if any, worse than at other "news"papers.
However, another example of poor copy editing in the edition of Friday, 6 May 2005, has driven me from my sick bed to the computer to rail and rant.
In the regular section known as "Weekend," a mini-review of the movie "Kung Fu Hustle" includes this line:
Sort of a "Lil' Abner's" Dogpatch meets "The Matrix" ...
It's bad enough the kids holding the job and title of "copy editor" don't know much of anything about language, spelling, punctuation, but they don't have any concept of the American cultural tradition.
If Al Capp were alive, he'd turn over in his grave that some infantile and ignorant dropout, meaning the unidentified author (who, by the way, is at the even more over-rated Atlanta Journal-Constitution) would so mangle the name of his creation, that lovable oaf whose strength was as the strength of ten because his heart was pure (and his head was empty, said one of the character's critics), Li'l Abner.
But that authors can and do make misteaks is why the Good Lord gave us copy editors ... although it might not be He who gave us today's crop.
To those people for whom English is a second language, such as recent college graduates who become "news"paper copy editors, an apostrophe has several uses, including showing possession (as in "the boy's comic strip") or to show contraction (as in "don't y'all want to come in?" with "don't" equaling "do not" and "y'all" being the contraction of "you all," which Yankees and other ignorami so often misspell "ya'll," though that would mean "ya will").
"Li'l" as in Li'l Abner is a country way of saying "little," an obvious joke since Abner was about the size of his mammy and pappy put together and doubled.
There are some people today alleged to be musical who use the appelation "Lil'" for some reason -- and here I confess to a lot of ignorance regarding the pop culture, but I consider it to be blessed ignorance.
Actually I have heard of someone called "Lil' Kim," but know nothing other than that he or she exists.
So, OK, if I were a copy editor whose job entailed reading and proofing copy regarding the pop scene, I would make it part of my job to find out about "Lil' Kim."
Even more important, I would make it a major part of my job to understand the tools with which I work, including apostrophes.
By the way, even the most cursory look at Google shows nearly 84,000 references to "Li'l Abner," including, and if such a look is too much effort to ask of a copy editor, then I will growl, the so-called copy editor should have already known the rudiments of contraction and apostrophe use before being hired.
Which brings up another question: Who hires these people?
Finally, "misteaks" was my little joke.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Revenue enhancement: Tax bad editing

Look, first, at "Which way is up?" below, then read on here. I'll wait for you to catch up.
Thank you.
In the Times Free Press of Saturday, 30 April 2005, on Page B2, is this headline: "Georgia state tax burden 9th lowest."
The story is written by Matthew S. L. Cate, staff writer, and is much clearer than the similar story about Tennessee from an Associated Press writer.
It begins by quoting "federal figures" and "the U.S. Census Bureau" that "Georgia has the ninth-lowest per-capita state tax burden, but state budget analysts said that designation is misleading because it doesn't take local taxes into account."
Parenthetically, and not part of the Cate story, Georgia used to have a state sales tax -- on top of a state income tax and all the other property and other taxes -- on groceries.
Roy Barnes ran for governor, as a Democrat, in 1998 promising, among other things, to end the state sales tax on groceries.
Surprisingly -- perhaps shockingly -- he kept that promise. (I mean, who remembers a Democrat even promising to end any tax? And then for one to keep such a promise? Unheard of!)
The state did indeed repeal the (I think 2 percent) sales tax on groceries -- and almost immediately almost all the counties added (usually 2 percent) to the local sales tax.
So perhaps the information does figure in the story, since apparently the "federal figures" do not include that regressive tax.
Still the Cate story goes on to say the per person "state tax burden was $1,650 in 2004 ... That's what it was in 2000, and the per-capita rate has varied about $100 more or less since then.
"Tennessee's 2004 state tax burden was $1,616. That's good for seventh lowest."
At least this story has the proper perspective, unlike the earlier one cited below.
However, there is another math problem: There are 50 states; Tennessee ranks 44th highest, so it should be sixth lowest.
Unless the statistics are supposed to include Washington, D.C., even though it is not, actually, a state.
Reporter Cate, though, goes on to make some good points far too many reporters don't seek.
"Kelly McCutchen, executive vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, said when local taxes and fees are combined Georgians have the 17th lowest tax burden."
Here are the last two paragraphs: "Mr. McCutchen said if anything, state leaders are likely to look for ways to reduce the tax burden further.
"'It's what people want,' he said. 'Every dollar of taxes is forcibly taking away (someone's) money.'"
Such an accurate portrayal of the source of "government money" is unfortunately rare in "news" papers.
There is one problem, not so much with Cate's story, but with the particular analysis.
Take all the revenue, divide that number by the state's population, one gets the per capita number.
A more accurate analysis of a particular tax burden -- and I do like Cate's use of the phrase "tax burden" -- would describe the comparative rates. In a state filled with Mormons, Catholics, and Hillbillies, for example, families would tend to have more members; so taking some kind of total tax burden and dividing it among the numbers of population would not yield an accurate picture of the tax situation.
What is the rate of income tax? What is the percentage of sales tax? What are the assessment rates of property taxes?
"Averages" can be very misleading, and I'm sure neither reporters nor government officials would ever want us to be misinformed.