Monday, March 2, 2015

The law – an editorial

As practiced in the United States, law is largely a filthy business, for which the practitioner needs a devious mind and strong stomach.

A recent, widely publicized letter from a lawyer demonstrates the point. The letter discusses an 18-year-old porn star, a professional poker player, a swimming pool and a broken foot.

You can read the background story and the lawyer’s letter here. Warning: risqué language.

The Takeaway: Don’t encourage your children to become lawyers.

See disclaimer.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Quotations on thinking, speaking and writing (36)

“Comics are a gateway drug to literacy.”
~Art Spiegelman

“Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.”
~Robert E. Howard

“The problem is that it has become politically awkward to draw attention to absolutes of bad and good. In place of manners, we now have doctrines of political correctness, against which one offends at one’s peril: by means of a considerable circular logic, such offences mark you as reactionary and therefore a bad person. Therefore if you say people are bad, you are bad.”
~Lynne Truss (pictured), in Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door*

“Washington and its fawning presstitutes branded the elected Ukrainian government that was a victim of Washington’s coup, ‘a corrupt dictatorship.’ The replacement government consists of a combination of Washington puppets and neo-nazis with their own military forces sporting Nazi insignias. The American presstitutes have been careful not to notice the Nazi insignias.”
~Paul Craig Roberts

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
~Alvin Toffler

“Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders; no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way out for himself if society is sweeping toward destruction. Therefore, everyone, in his own interests, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle.”
~Ludwig von Mises

“I’ve finally gotten to the bottom of things.”
~Ilka Chase (her epitaph)

The Takeaway: “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.” ~Robert Frost

*Burt Shavitz seems to be of a similar mind.

See disclaimer.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Uninhabited Clause (24)

Here’s another example of the overuse of the Uninhabited Clause.* Below (in green) is the first paragraph of an article in Slate. The writer uses eight uninhabited clauses and only three inhabited clauses. I have boldfaced the subject and verb in each clause. In blue, I have interspersed my comments:

The great city of St. Louis has a major problem with gun violence.

   Non-human subject: city

Even as homicide rates have continued

   Non-human subject: rates

to decline elsewhere in the country, they have surged

   Non-human subject: they (i.e., rates)

in St. Louis, which last year saw a 33 percent rise in killing, to 159 in a city of 318,000.

  Non-human subject: which (i.e., St. Louis)

(Note: this does not include the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson,

  Non-human subject: this (the antecedent is ambiguous)

 which is in St. Louis County, a separate jurisdiction with 1 million people.)

   Non-human subject: which (i.e., Ferguson)

Criminologists point to all the usual reasons for the violence: a thriving drug trade, high unemployment among young men, and so on.

   Human subject: Criminologists

But a New York Times article on Tuesday noted

   Non-human subject: article 

that St. Louis police are contending with a factor that

   Human subject: police

their counterparts in many other high-crime cities are not (contending with): exceedingly lax gun laws.

   Human subject: counterparts

The Times reports:

   Non-human subject: Times

The Takeaway: Unless you are writing about abstract topics such as metaphysics or mathematics, you should strive to include persons in most of your clauses. Otherwise, you risk sounding academic and boring.
*My coinage, so far as I know.

See disclaimer.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

"Comprised of" – an editorial

Whenever he sees the phrase “comprised of,” Bryan Henderson corrects it. He has corrected it 47,000 times. Read the story here.

I call Mr. Henderson a hero.

I also point out that if US high schools still taught Latin, people would not confuse comprise and compose.

The Takeaway:  If you are a well-educated person, give something back to society: good English. Always use correct diction and grammar, and refuse to imitate the diction and grammar of semiliterates.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Inspiration from W. C. Heinz, sportswriter

W. C. Heinz (pictured), who died in 2008 at the age of 93, was an impressive and influential sportswriter. He is especially remembered for the column “Death of a Racehorse,” which he wrote on deadline, in “about an hour, one draft, on a manual typewriter, in the rain,” at the racetrack.

The Takeaway: If you are a budding writer, you will be inspired by “Death of a Racehorse.” It has been called the “Gettysburg Address of sportswriting.” Read the full text, plus commentary, here.

Thanks to Paul G. Henning for pointing me to this gem.

 See disclaimer.