Can This Story Die Now? (Update: Or Not)

Filed under:Language Barrier,Need a Good Editor?,Politics — posted by Anwyn on December 23, 2007 @ 2:03 pm

I saw my father fly tankers every day for the air force, too.

Because I lived in the same house with him and saw him get up early, put on his flight suit, drink his Coke, and go to work. Did I ever actually lay eyeballs on him manipulating the controls of a KC-135? No I did not. But I saw him fly for our military nevertheless.

So now that we’ve established Romney’s dad was literally with MLK, can we all also accept “saw” as a figure of speech that means “I knew my dad was doing this”?

And even if Romney’s father hadn’t actually marched physically with MLK, marching at the same time and for the same cause is good enough to fall under the same figure of speech. He would have “marched with MLK” kind of like the British armed forces “stand with us” in Iraq even if most of our guys never inhabit a tank with them.

For pete’s sake.

Update: Or not.

Then-governor George Romney did indeed march in Grosse Pointe, on Saturday, June 29, 1963, but Martin Luther King Jr. was not there; he was in New Brunswick, New Jersey, addressing the closing session of the annual New Jersey AFL-CIO labor institute at Rutgers University.

Those facts are indisputable, and quite frankly, the campaign must have known the women’s story would eventually be debunked — few people’s every daily movement has been as closely tracked and documented as King’s. As I write this, I am looking at an article from page E8 of the June 30, 1963 Chicago Tribune, which discusses both events (among other civil-rights actions of the previous day), clearly placing the two men hundreds of miles apart. I also have here the June 30, 1963 San Antonio News, which carries a photo and article about Romney at the Grosse Pointe march; and an AP story about King’s speech in New Jersey.

A King researcher editing his letters from that time has stated definitively that the two men never marched together; Michigan and Grosse Pointe historians have stated definitively that King was not at the 1963 Grosse Pointe march; Michigan civil-rights participants of the time have concurred; so have those who worked for George Romney at the time.

So the campaign gave the two “eyewitnesses” the contact information to tell their story to Politico after Romney already said he was saying “saw” in the figurative sense, as I described above. Both statements were figurative–that George Romney “marched with” MLK (because he marched at the same time for the same cause) and that Mitt Romney “saw it” (in the same sense that I saw my dad fly for the air force). Both of those figurative uses are perfectly acceptable, grammatically speaking. But the campaign directing the two “eyewitnesses” to Politico after Mitt had already gone all-out with the “figurative” explanation, again perfectly acceptable, is at the very least a huge political screwup and at the very most the promotion of a blatant lie.

Message to the Phoenix, though:

It is offensive because of people like Russell Peebles.

Peebles is an 88-year-old man, a former resident of Grosse Pointe for 48 years, who was present at both the Grosse Pointe march in 1963, and the MLK speech in Grosse point in 1968 — the event at which the Romney campaign initially insisted Romney and King marched together.

I tried to contact Peebles earlier this week, prior to writing the original article, but we missed each other back-and-forth. Peebles sent me an email today, attesting to the fact that George Romney was at the 1963 march, but not the 1968 speech; and that King was at the 1968 speech, but not the 1963 march.

Peebles, and many others like him, deserve to have the history of what they did told honestly. Changing that history by mistake — which is quite possibly how this began — is unfortunate. Changing that history intentionally — which is what the campaign is doing now — is offensive.

A lot of people have tried to make “offensive” the last word (heh) in damning adjectives. But it’s not. Untrue is still quite a bit worse. And for the Romney campaign to promote the story of the eyewitnesses if they already know it’s untrue, after Romney himself indicated that it’s untrue by his explanation of his use of figurative language, is dumb on the face of it and promulgating a lie on people they think are stupid at worst.

(H/t: Hot Air.)

Link It or It Never Happened: Lee Harris on Huckabee and “Attacking” Christian Fundamentalism

Filed under:Need a Good Editor?,Not Cool,Politics,Priorities,Religion — posted by Anwyn on December 18, 2007 @ 3:34 pm

First red flag: “…truths that need badly to be aired.” I think he meant to say “spleen that needs to be vented.”

Lee Harris tells a heart-tugging story about how what one’s raised with never quite leaves one, no matter how superstitious or ridiculous it is, and then, dissonantly, tries without links or examples to assert that attacks on Huckabee are just attacks on the intelligence and loyalty of the evangelicals supporting him.

Hey, Mr. Harris, I too was raised not to set anything down on top of a Bible and I too generally still avoid doing so. Recognizing that God will not poke me into the hottest part of the coalbed for it if it happens is good, but there’s no harm in remaining faithful to that respectful tradition. If one takes your example to its fullest extent, then you yourself are making the attack on evangelicals by suggesting that their support of Huckabee is a knee-jerk response to somebody who talks the talk. And are we seriously expected to believe Huckabee didn’t plan it that way?

Mr. Harris, you’re whining. If the attacks on Huckabee are “more and more” becoming an attack on “Christian fundamentalism,” link these attacks. And then explain to us how Huckabee inserting his faith into every issue is not a cynical use of it for political gain. And then tell us how attacking the candidate who namecalls on immigration, who lets criminals out of prison, who’s totally easygoing about raising taxes whenever the legislature wants, don’t ya know, is an attack on Christian fundamentalism. Also, explain how people inflating to presidential proportions the kind of “current of raising” you describe with so much seriousness and agitation is not open to the same charge of superstition that you labeled your own Bible-stacking reluctance as. If this guy uses the Bible to justify letting criminals free, it must be right. I must be able to trust him, right? That is taking a look at somebody who seems to be like oneself, using that likeness to cover a multitude of stupid decisions, and justifying it all behind a shield of faith while the candidate cackles and rolls around in a stack of poll numbers.

I’ve said it before: If you honestly believe that Huckabee’s policies and beliefs on illegal immigration (flipflop notwithstanding), convicted criminal clemency, and tax-and-spend are the right direction for the country, you are in the wrong party. Republican values historically, traditionally, and modernly speaking have no place in those policies. Go on and switch parties (win-win: GOP’s primary doesn’t get screwed up and Democrats suddenly find a multitude of pro-lifers in their midst), but don’t threaten to switch, like a little petty bully, by pretending that outrage over the fact that Huckabee dresses his ridiculous positions in the clothing of the GOP because his faith lends him to two of the most unstable planks in the platform is outrage at Christians, fundamental or otherwise. It is outrage at people who, whatever their reasons, including religious, see fit to attempt to saddle us with a nominee who will do many of the horrible things Democrats typically do to make America somewhat weaker, somewhat poorer, and somewhat less livable. And if those people insist on clothing their reasons in their faith, their faith will take some of the flak. It is inevitable. It is reality. Stop whining about it.

Via Hot Air.

“Contrarian” Speaks Truth to Managed Economy

Filed under:Language Barrier,Need a Good Editor?,Wacky Oregon — posted by Anwyn on December 14, 2007 @ 11:01 am

Story outline, Randal O’Toole (heh-heh, Toole) story, Oregonian, by Anna Griffin

I. Describe the guy. Lucky here; he looks as though he shops at Old West Undertakers. Hook him up with preachers, that turns people off–

Slap a Bible in his hand and O’Toole could easily pass for a frontier preacher. He has the look, if not the Good Book: a stern, tight-lipped expression, an impressive display of graying facial hair, a wardrobe that tends toward simple black suits and looping Western-style bow ties.

II. Contrast conservative opinion with that of the New York Times

Click. Here’s a slide showing a big house on a lush, green yard. This is in Houston, a plump 2,300 square feet for $170,000.

Click. Here’s a skinny house in Portland, maybe 1,200 scrunched square feet on a sliver of a yard. Asking price: $260,000.

It’s like looking at a diet company’s before and after photos. The crowd — a room of like-minded libertarians and conservatives — quakes with laughter.

“You’d better hurry. They just dropped the price,” O’Toole says. “It’s got granite countertops and hardwood floors. Who cares if you barely have enough room to turn around in it?”

Times are flush in Portland. Planners and civic leaders from around the world come to see how we do it. The New York Times can’t stop writing about how great we have it, whether we’re sipping tea, buying big vacation homes or biking to work. Although the housing market has cooled, Portland hasn’t suffered the same steep decline as the rest of the country.

III. Make the point that it could be worse,

Still, O’Toole sees hope. Even after Oregon voters approved the property rights limits of Measure 49, Portland isn’t a lost cause. No, we’re not Houston. But we’re also not San Francisco. At least, not yet.

Snap. Article writes itself.


Portland Metro’s current policies will lead to us being as bad off, in terms of what a housing dollar will buy, as San Francisco, as the reporter herself mentions, though she doesn’t make perfectly clear whether this is only one of O’Toole’s crazy positions or if she understands that fact herself. Nevertheless, the point is well made. Not today, not tomorrow, but someday, we will be just as crowded and just as house-poor as the Bay Area. And with any luck I will be out of here long before that happens. For a city that claims to care so much about the poor and working-class, it is nigh on impossible to get a decent house around here for working-class money–especially one that does not share walls with other families–and strict land-use policies are a big driving factor in that. But hey, win-win, right? You get to keep your farmers in perpetual farmity while keeping out lower income strata that might affect our safety rating. Win-win.

H/t: Daddyman.

Read It All

Filed under:Jerks,Need a Good Editor?,Priorities — posted by Anwyn on December 4, 2007 @ 9:28 am

Read this, because I’m so angry about what passes for educated opinion at Harvard that I couldn’t add anything … even if I had anything better to add than what Rachel already said.

Oh, except this: I can’t believe college kids, supposed to be hip to new styles, still think that nuanced is a credible liberal political code word after the merciless lashing it has taken over the past couple years.

Fred Prosecuted My Poor, Downtrodden Co-Liquorists!

Filed under:It's My Life,Need a Good Editor?,Politics — posted by Anwyn on November 12, 2007 @ 12:08 am

Update: Welcome, Hot Air and Patterico readers! The hard numbers are about halfway down the post, in bold. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to look around. You may be interested in how judges do things in Oregon, how Hillary’s planted questions and other missteps are not good news for the GOP, how the U.S. Air Force really might need to hold bake sales to buy fighter jets (with comments from two fighter pilots), how editors’ worldview skews their job performance, or what the outreach representative of the local mosque had to say when he spoke at my church. Thanks for stopping by.

Or, In Which I Build an Illicit Still in Patterico’s Back Yard.

Okay, so they weren’t really my co-liquorists, but I do have moonshiners in my family tree. My grandfather helped make the stuff and my great-uncle ran it all over the county in cars that Junior Johnson had tricked out for the purpose. Yes, that Junior Johnson–my grandparents were raised in Wilkes County, North Carolina. Everything you’ve heard about NASCAR’s origins in moonshining … is true.

Anyway, so Fred Thompson seems to have made his prosecutorial bones whoopin’ up on them good ol’ boys, never meanin’ no harm, over in Tennessee.

Seriously, there must be something available in Fred’s past worse than the fact that the judge in these cases thought they were “a waste of time” (because who’s more qualified than the judge, really, to say which laws are important and which aren’t) and that the same judge didn’t think Thompson and the other members of the U.S. Attorney’s office “knew what they were doing.”

Of course, a judge’s pronouncement of “utterly incompetent” on the conduct of a prosecutor carries weight, but there’s one major item of interest the Times article leaves out: Of the 88 cases Thompson prosecuted in three years, of which 27 were about moonshine (“more than any other crime,” the Times tells us without providing a numeric breakdown of the other 61–any other kinds of crime break the 20-case mark?), how many did he win? That would seem to be a relevant number in an article quoting more than one person who suggests Fred was a lightweight.

Apparently this information is not terribly easy to come by, due to the lack of computerized records from that era. I called the U.S. Attorney’s office in Nashville, and the man there was very gentlemanly but I could tell he was trying not to laugh at me for wanting a win-loss record from over 35 years ago, even if the guy is running for president. Then I called the Federal District Court. The lady there cited the lack of computerized records but directed me to the National Archives for the region, which are housed near Atlanta. That’s where I bottomed out. They have the records, but it would involve either a significant amount of money for them to copy the case files and send them–all 88 cases, I suppose–or else a flight to Atlanta and a hotel stay while I riffle through the records and copy down the judgements myself.

Then I called the campaign. They were extremely helpful, but even they don’t have this information on a scorecard in their pockets. They sent me a news article written at the time of Fred’s resignation from the U.S. Attorney’s office that states he won 14 out of 15 bank robbery cases (27 moonshine cases vs. 15 bank robberies, if you’re counting) but doesn’t get more detailed than that. At this point I doubt even Fred himself could reel off his stats from the top of his head if asked.

But Joe Mathews of the L.A. Times does have the numbers at his fingertips, after two weeks of digging 35-year-old files out of their boxes in Georgia for his article. And to my surprise and gratitude, he was willing to share them.

He broke them down by numbers of defendants, so there are more than 88 defendants because there were multiple defendants in various individual cases. In total, 88 cases covered 115 defendants, 34 of whom were moonshiners, 21 of whom were counterfeiters, and 17 of whom were bank robbers. The remainder (43) were various other crimes.

Out of 115, nine never stood in Thompson’s district either because they were never captured, were found dead, or were transferred to a different federal district. So we’ll subtract those nine. That leaves 106.

Out of 106, 12 found the charges against them dropped, 66 defendants pleaded guilty or no contest without going to trial, and 28 went to trial. Of the 28 who went to trial, 22 were found guilty, leaving six who were not convicted.

These numbers suggest that Thompson was a completely solid, if not shining, prosecutor. Of course, you could also draw that conclusion by the very fact of his having served as a prosecutor for three years–incompetence is not encouraged at that level by continued employment, one would suppose and hope. Of the 12 cases thrown out, at least two were the direct result of an error of Thompson’s. Joe Mathews:

After charging a man with stealing checks from the mail, Thompson saw the case dismissed because the wrong date appeared in the indictment. Another indictment, against a group of counterfeiters, was thrown out when Gray ruled that Thompson had failed to allege a crime.

Even though one could assume by Thompson’s three years of employment at this level that he was doing a satisfactory job as far as his boss was concerned, having these numbers would help to balance the the remarks of the clearly adversarial judge. At the very least, I would have thought a more thorough numbers breakdown would have made a better return on Mathews’s two weeks of poking through the Archives, and I remarked as much to him. So why not include them? Mathews answered that as well in an email:

I don’t want to get into why we choose not to include things and include others. Those decisions are not always the reporter’s. But a few things to think about. As you know, prosecutorial numbers don’t tell you much in a world in which almost all federal prosecutors, good and bad, win convictions in nearly all their cases (in part because of the way the legal system works, and in part because most people are guilty). Prosecutors are also only one factor in outcomes–the investigating agents, the quality of defense attorneys, the standards of judges and the quality of juries are all big factors. The quality of justice is always going to be debated. What I tried to do–based on interviews and the transcripts and records of his actual words and actions in court — is paint an accurate picture of Thompson in the courtroom as prosecutor, with portraits of the judge and defendants that were the focus of his work then. I think I did that very fairly, and very well.

So he’s suggesting that even bad prosecutors win their cases most of the time. Patterico, See-Dub, and Mike Lief are all more qualified to give an opinion of that conclusion than I am, but it seems to me that the likelier cause of a preponderance of winning numbers is that more bad prosecutors are relieved either before they make it to the federal level or after a scant time in office that makes it clear they are not qualified.

Reporters have easier access to many facts because they are paid to spend their time doing things like what I could not–digging through files for two weeks in Atlanta to get the numbers and details of Thompson’s cases. In a long, long list of clearly egregious journalistic abuses of this greater access in order to decide what facts are and are not appropriate for public newspaper consumption, this hardly qualifies. But as a minor example of how journalists are much fonder of delivering conclusions than of providing facts, it is annoying. And far too often these agenda-driven conclusions damn public officials with faint praise in the absence of hard evidence to suggest wrongdoing or incompetence.

I’ve corresponded with Joe Mathews. He was quite willing to show me the figures it took him two weeks to compile–me, Jane Blog, for no other reason than that I asked him about the article. So it might be doubly puzzling that he would not put them in the article, editorial control aside. His explanation provides the reasons why he felt simple numbers were not as good an indicator of how good a prosecutor Thompson was as the remarks of the people in and around those old cases. I would argue instead that while they certainly are important to the “human” portrait Mathews did convey well, they are far and away not the whole picture, and that by omitting these simple facts that would allow readers greater material with which to draw their own conclusions, he attempts to substitute the judgment of the people he quoted, three out of six of whom were cool or downright damning on Thompson, with the other three commenting more on his demeanor than on his competence, for the readers’ own.

This is only human nature. It’s far more fun to draw conclusions than it is to present facts. But it’s just another example of how ingrained it is in the journalistic establishment to claim the latter when in fact they happily do the former all the time.

It is the reason the CEO of the AP himself is now having to call upon his colleagues to abandon this outdated attitude and recognize that just like the reporters themselves, most people prefer to draw their own conclusions, or at least to read authors with a track record of coming to conclusions the readers agree with–because they can follow the reasoning right there in the piece, not because the author has chosen to quote selectively while leaving out data.

Even if we assume all 12 of Thompson’s dismissed cases were dismissed on his error, that still leaves a disproportion of 88 guilty/no contest to 18 dismissed/not guilty. I don’t dismiss (hah!) out of hand Mathews’s argument that the legal system is built such that a majority of people indicted actually are guilty. But to me that’s a feature rather than a bug, and it also points to the competence of some of the other people Mathews discussed–investigators and police. Fact of guilt is not always proof of guilt, which is why we have prosecutors to begin with. Why should the fact that the system so frequently works as it should take away from a record of competency and good work prosecuting the cases that Tennessee afforded–and really, why should anybody be surprised that moonshining was far and away the highest proportion of federal crime in Tennessee in 1969? Those good ol’ boys, after all, will be boys. And it seems Tennessee is even loopier in handling them than Oregon is in handling “medical” marijuana.

Thanks to the Funkypundit and to my friend and sometime editor Jon S. for assistance with this post.

Not Good

Filed under:Need a Good Editor?,Not Cool,Priorities — posted by Anwyn on November 6, 2007 @ 3:05 pm

Boys, ever had your cockpit break away from the fuselage in flight? No, I didn’t think so.

WASHINGTON — F-18 fighters aboard the aircraft [carrier] USS Enterprise have been called in to backfill in Afghanistan after all non-mission critical F-15 flights were temporarily suspended Saturday following the crash of an older model during a routine training session in Missouri last week.

According to Air Force officials, the cockpit broke apart from the plane’s fuselage in mid-flight on Friday. The pilot ejected safely. An investigation into the cause of the accident is still ongoing.

Glad to hear we’re sending F-18s, but I hope and trust it will be found to have been an anomaly. If F-15s were prone to this kind of behavior this would have happened long before now.

In other news, another sad instance of jargon taking the place of perfectly usable English. I don’t like that word “backfill.”

In still other news, maybe Fox needs to hire a few copy editors. I counted at least two mistakes just in a quick skim. Back to the issue at hand: Why are the guys still flying these old aircraft? The F-15 is a beautiful thing, but if the USAF needs Raptors it shouldn’t have to cut support personnel to get them:

The Air Force has been struggling to free up funds to purchase more advanced aircraft such as the stealth F-22 Raptor, one the most advanced aircraft available, to replace these older planes. Attempts to create funds in recent months involved drawing down forces by 40,000 airmen, an effort that Air Force Secretary Michael Wynn has said “isn’t working.”

Ground war is expensive in more ways than one.

Is This Headline a Joke?

Filed under:9/11,Need a Good Editor?,Politics — posted by Anwyn on October 29, 2007 @ 11:02 am

Worrying about “the Americans” more than “the importance of avoiding a Muslim backlash” in the wake of 9/11 is taken as evidence of “Tony Blair’s Corrosive Allegiance to George Bush Laid Bare for the First Time.” If the authors of the book being excerpted don’t have any stronger tea up their sleeves than that … zzz. The cognitive dissonance is pretty stunning, as well:

Blair followed the call by sending Bush a five-page memo, outlining his thoughts. (“His memo is a lot better than yours,” Bush would tease his staff. “That’s why I listen to him.”)

Blair argued the Taliban regime should be given an ultimatum: hand over Bin Laden or face attack.

He also argued that restarting the Middle East peace process should be a priority.

Finally, he stressed the cancer was not confined to Afghanistan, nor indeed Al Qaeda.

They would have to act against all who financed or supported terrorism.

Blair thought those things himself? Wrote a memo to Bush on the subject? Instead of allowing Bush to lead him around by the ring in his nose? Huh. I could’ve sworn the headline said …

The “sense being communicated by the US”, Campbell wrote later, was “that they were constantly trying to link Iraq into the equation. TB was keen to pull it back”.

Tony Blair was not all that gung-ho to get into Iraq? I don’t know, man … the headline sure said …

It is to laugh. Really.

Got it from Allah’s headlines. Of course.

Okay, Now I May Stop Reading

Filed under:Authors,Church of Liberalism,Need a Good Editor?,Priorities,Television — posted by Anwyn on October 17, 2007 @ 2:32 pm

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t read many novels. The one that is the subject of this post happened to catch my eye at Costco when I was in the mood to buy books. That line of florid dreck didn’t stop me from reading, but this might: Another of the protagonists says to her niece, on the subject of “What if Indians steal our food?” (the book is set during a wagon-train prairie crossing): “If you were hungry and someone had a picnic in your yard, wouldn’t you want to join them?”

Are you kidding me with that garbage, Ms. Kirkpatrick? And here I thought only Sesame Street was that addled. I can’t find a clip, but the sketch that caused my son and me to cease watching Sesame Street involved Baby Bear becoming irritated that Goldilocks always took his porridge, setting out to rewrite the tale so that she would take somebody else’s porridge, and eventually having a friend tell him he should re-write it so that there was a designated Goldilocks bowl waiting for her when she got there.

Teaching children that stealing’s okay because it’s always motivated by need and that in fact the victims should feel guilty about this need? Oh, and that stealing is “joining?” No thanks.

“Editors are Ghouls and Cannibals” (Updated and Bumped)

Filed under:Authors,Need a Good Editor? — posted by Anwyn on October 15, 2007 @ 12:38 pm

Your opinion first, then mine. Tell me what you think of this line of prose, taken from the book All Together in One Place by Jane Kirkpatrick:

“Mazy Bacon embraced her life inside a pause that lacked premonition.”

Not much context necessary; it comes very near the beginning of the book. Mazy Bacon is the protagonist, an 1800s Midwestern farm wife, 19 years old.

Give your interpretation and your opinion of the line. I’ll update this post later after a few comments.

Update: Overwhelming majority in the comments says: Pretentious BS. Also the overwhelming majority made this judgment without going ahead and saying what they think the author is actually trying to say. And thus my point, in a nutshell: Be pretentious and you not only look pretentious but you drive people off of trying to figure out what you want to say. Anne and I were on the same wavelength–she said she’d stop reading right there. And I almost did, although since I already bought the book the fact that I might have stopped reading wouldn’t have affected the publisher’s bottom line–but it would affect the author’s exposure.

“Editors are ghouls and cannibals” was said by Harriet Vane in Dorothy Sayers’s Busman’s Honeymoon. I’m accustomed to taking the general drift of Harriet’s remarks as author’s voice, and if you surveyed a random sampling of authors on the question of “agree or disagree,” I’d lay money that the majority would come back “agree.” But the editor’s only job is to make the author look better. Whether it’s by correcting actual mistakes of grammar, spelling, punctuation, or usage or by adjusting wording for readability or by telling the author, “Look, this is pretentious BS, go back and fix it,” our only job is to make the author look good for publication. Of course there are officious editors who would like nothing better than to swap their own words in and the author’s out, but good editors use their BS detectors on the author’s behalf. Yet so many authors resist changes with everything they’ve got. I don’t blame them; I’ve been on the other side of the coin myself. It is an emotional battle. But if authors kept the basic tenet in mind–that our only job is to make them look better–both authors and editors would ultimately have an easier go of it.

Here’s the kicker: This is not a bad book. It’s not the Great American Novel, of course, but it’s not bad. It’s got a good basic story line, some interesting characters, and some good language … but stunners like this crop up from time to time and divert the flow of reader’s enjoyment right into an anger bucket. It’s not good. The kindest thing a good editor could have done for Ms. Kirkpatrick would be to have stopped her cold at lines like this and made her understand that if the reader has to wade through even one line of meaningless dreck to try to hazard what the author could possibly have meant by it, it takes away so much from the story that readers will even quit reading.

wg’s interpretation: That Mazy Bacon does not think about the consequences of her actions.
Anne’s interpretation: That Mazy Bacon is stupid and doesn’t see even what’s happening right in front of her.
My interpretation, with advantage of having read the back-cover blurb before beginning reading: That Mazy Bacon loves her life and doesn’t know it is about to change.

I believe mine is the correct interpretation (and, of course, I know the other two are incorrect because of what I already know about Mazy Bacon), but it took me a few tries even though I knew what was going on in the story, and the other two folks who hazarded guesses came up with two different ones. If a line is open to so many different interpretations, it doesn’t convey many facts about your protagonist, now does it?

I don’t know whether the problem here was an editor who embraces the pretentiousness a little too much, a dim or timid editor, or a mulish author who resisted whatever the editor might have tried to tell her about this kind of language, but the result was a book that is a lot worse than it needed to be. Sad.

This is What I Do

Filed under:It's My Life,Need a Good Editor? — posted by Anwyn on August 8, 2007 @ 10:35 am

Slow blog because I’m on vacation, although not entirely–I brought an editing project with me because it’s freelance and I can’t exactly say, sorry, that project won’t get done until a month after I get back.

Here’s a sentence pulled from the current MS, a compilation of excerpts of the writings of women travelers up to the Victorian era (I’m not editing the excerpts, just the biographical information connecting and surrouding them. This one’s from an excerpt):

“Between Jalapa and Perote, and still more between Vera Cruz and Jalapa, the astonishing prodigality and unutterable magnificence of the tropical vegetation [are] perfectly overpowering!”

Find me another clause with that many words over three syllables that doesn’t need to be simplified. Listen to the way the syllables bounce around your brain as you read it. Pretty cool.

Update: Here’s a little portion of the biographical matter:

Matters with Chazal, Flora’s husband, had never been settled. She had not been able to get a divorce from him, in part because of a prolonged battle over child custody, and Flora had been campaigning for a change in the divorce laws. Shortly after Flora returned to France, her husband shot her in the back. The divorce was granted.

And Watch Your Language, Too

Filed under:Church of Liberalism,Language Barrier,Need a Good Editor? — posted by Anwyn on July 20, 2007 @ 4:15 pm

Nevermind HRC’s arrogance in badgering the DoD about planning for a withdrawal that, as yet, has not been forced on them by the shrillers in the legislature. What I want to know is, when did people start talking like this, and why are they still?

Clinton has privately and publicly pushed Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace two months ago to begin drafting the plans for what she said will be a complicated withdrawal of troops, trucks and equipment.

“If we’re not planning for it, it will be difficult to execute it in a safe and efficacious way,” she said then.

Emphasis mine. I see this usage all the time, from writers and speakers on all topics. Why? They’re called adverbs, and they are stronger, more efficient words than “do this in such-and-such a way” (or worse yet, “such-and-such a manner”).

“…execute it safely and efficiently,” are the words you’re looking for, Senator. Or “efficaciously” if you must.

So pretentious and annoying.

Oh, speaking of arrogant, how much chutzpah does it take to accuse the DoD of a political response to a serious inquiry when your whole motivation in asking was A) throwing your weight around and B) political grandstanding? Let’s see how “political” DoD’s response was:

“We are always evaluating and planning for possible contingencies. As you know, it is longstanding departmental policy that operational plans, including contingency plans, are not released outside of the department.”

Ouch. Yawn.

What Is Fact, My Friends?

Filed under:Language Barrier,Need a Good Editor? — posted by Anwyn on May 24, 2007 @ 9:40 pm

Gerard Van der Leun discusses the absence of fact checking in publishing. I’m shocked, shocked, that there are copy editors out there less rigorous and stringent about fact checking than I am.

No I’m not. What I am surprised at is the existence of a group called “Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America” and its status as a CBS shareholder. This group is about to get all demanding and shirty with Jimmy Carter about little things like “errors” about the Middle East in his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Van der Leun notes:

The Carter book is chock-a-block full of lies and distortions and weasel phrases that are the hallmark of the sad and irritating career of the worst President the United States has had and the worst it is likely to have. But lies are as much a part of Carter’s post-Whitehouse career as the phrase “I’ll never lie to you” was part of his initial appeal. That numerous associates of the risible “Carter Center” have resigned because this time the lies were too thick to be swallowed smoothly in exchange for a check is well documented.

But to think that Simon & Schuster are going to spend one penny on a “fact-checking” system or a “code of ethics” is simply foolish. Book publishers don’t do that and not because, as was stated in the same article:

“It’s not realistic,” the editor in chief of Publishers Weekly, Sara Nelson, said. The call for publishers to have “full-on fact checking” does not make economic sense, she said, as they publish a lot of books.

Publishers won’t do it because they not only don’t have to (it would be costly, but not nearly as much as the millions they lavish on their pet authors), but because fact-checking our many fanciful and forthrightly lying authors would not be in the publishers’ interests.

It’s not totally economic. Many facts can be checked in 30 seconds of web searching and probably wouldn’t add that much to the money being paid a freelance copy editor, and as Van der Leun points out, even at maximum expense it couldn’t compete with millions paid to celebrity authors. The non-economic problem is twofold: even for the “attack dog” copy editors Van der Leun mentions, it’s not realistic to expect us to expend the mental energy to question every fact in the book, which leaves us checking only the ones we know or sense to be wrong. Which leads us to the second part of the problem. Van der Leun:

Publishers know when authors are lying but, as long as the lies map to the publishing industry’s internal view of itself, that’s just fine with them. It’s not about being “true,” but being “true to your school.”

I disagree. It’s worse than that: in a book with ideological slant that caters to the editors’ worldview, they can no longer tell fact from opinion or even from fiction, because if lies fit in nicely in with their worldview then, looping back to the first part of the problem, it does not occur to the editor to question the “fact,” much less check it. Something has to seem wrong before it gets checked; “if it sounds good, print it” becomes the de facto rule.

Celebrity authors are all well and good; the author as luminary in the editors’ worldview just makes it that much more unlikely that they will question his facts. Fact checking exists, but a fact needs to seem like it should be checked before it will be. Simple as that. If the distortions and lies are simply part of the worldview a particular editor has been listening to for years, they pass as part of the wallpaper, never noticed or remarked.

The Joke She Should Have Told

Filed under:Need a Good Editor? — posted by Anwyn on March 5, 2007 @ 2:28 pm

Dear Ann Coulter: Funny is not my first language. I’m not a funny speaker or writer. So if even I can come up with the joke that would’ve made your point without making an ass of you, you should have been able to too. As Holmes says, “Here, for example, is a possible and even probable one. I make you a free present of it.”

“So it turns out there’s a rule, if you say the word ‘faggot,’ you have to go to rehab. That is, if you deny having called someone a ‘faggot,’ you have to go to rehab. For denying it. Well, I guess that’s fair–some of us wanted Bill Clinton to go to jail for denying he had sexual relations with that woman.”

Of course, it doesn’t take a cheap shot at John Edwards, so you’d have needed to figure out another one for that and probably have gotten in just as much trouble, but damn it, grow up and find a better way to gut the thought police. That, I’m all in favor of. Just do it smarter. Please. You are finally running out of goodwill even with your [former] fans.

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace