Monday, July 25, 2016

Because The Conservative Machine Is Swiftboating Hillary Clinton, We Must Share Videos Like These . . .

[This post is about the video.  I encourage you to watch it.  The intro has gotten longer than intended, so skip it if you will and watch the video.]

Every time the Republican nominee tweets 'crooked' in front of our future president's first name, 'crooked' embeds itself a little deeper in people's brains. He knows that repetition of a lie eventually becomes truth for many people.

Benghazi hearings and email 'scandals' show how little the other side has on Clinton.  The 'crimes'  she's been accused of are, at worst, minor offenses compared to what the Bush administration did regularly.  They really have nothing serious on Clinton.  Well, being a woman is probably her most serious crime in many Republican eyes, but most know they can't say that directly.

All the attacks so far on Clinton are part of the political weaponry of the Republicans - honed by people like Roger Ailes, who has just stepped down as head of Fox News for decades of sexual harassment.

It is the vicious fabrication of lies to bring down an honorable candidate.  They took war hero John Kerry and 'swiftboated' him until their draft-dodging candidate beat him in 2004. Such irony!  The party of the military, the party that despises draft-dodgers, the party that exalts 'war heroes,' slandering a hero so their draft dodger president would win.

Swiftboating is now part of the American political lexicon, like gerrymandering. Wikipedia says:
"The term swiftboating (also swift-boating or swift boating) is a pejorative American neologism used to describe an unfair or untrue political attack. The term is derived from the name of the organization "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" (SBVT, later the Swift Vets and POWs for Truth) because of their widely publicized—and later discredited—campaign against 2004 U.S. presidential candidate John Kerry."
No candidate is perfect.  You can't reach the political level of a presidential nomination from a major party without having had made compromises along the way.  Nixon actually was a crook.  He authorized breaking into Watergate and physically stealing files from the Democratic party files and lied about it repeatedly.

Today, it appears Russian government sponsored hackers electronically broke into the Democratic party files and leaked them the day before the Democratic convention.  And the bigger fallout is on candidate Clinton, not on the Russians, or the Republicans who are hoping to benefit from this.

That's not to say Clinton is without flaws.  None of us are.  We have to weigh the strengths and weaknesses in each candidate and figure out who will be the best president.  The Republicans are swift boating her flaws into capital crimes.

But her opponent's flaws are so numerable and egregious and his strengths are so few that leaders of the Republican party - including former Republican presidents - stayed away from the convention.  Clinton is one of the best qualified candidates we've ever had, yet much of the American public thinks she's a crook, and  one delegate at the Republican convention called for  a firing squad.  (Does he know that we don't use firing squads any more?)

But I would argue that Hillary's skills, like any woman who reaches the highest levels in her field, are at least 50% better than most males at this level and her heart, as the video below demonstrates, is in the right place. (Her opponent's heart?  Does he even have one?)  Her fight with Sanders was mainly about policy, particularly about economic policy - PPT and regulations of the financial industry.  I lean with Sanders on those issues.  And even though the emails show bias against Sanders, it's nothing like the bias against Trump inside the Republican National Committee was.

What's probably most galling for the Republicans is that they FAILED to stop Trump even while trying to change the rules to do so.  Meanwhile the Democrats' SUCCEEDED in stopping Sanders because their rules already included super delegates.  What I've seen revealed in the emails so far happens in every campaign.  Newsflash:  People in DNC had favorites among the candidates.  Is anyone really surprised?  Officials have to appear neutral, but they mostly know who they favor.  It's no surprise.  What's surprising is that the media is treating this like a major scandal.    In any case, Clinton's the candidate now and has to be the choice in November for and people with the USA's best interests at heart. (I'll give a pass to people living in states like Alaska where the outcome is clearly red or blue already.)

The faithful's minds are set - on all sides.   But the undecided and leaning folks are reachable.  . So while the Republicans make foibles into indictable offenses and launch a fleet of swift boats against Hillary Clinton, we need to share those tributes that show a different Clinton than the Republicans would have voters believe.  I urge you to watch this video and share it.



Meryl Streep tells us of the side of Hillary Clinton that we normally don't hear about - how she visits women leaders of grass roots organizations in all the countries she visited as Secretary of State, and how important that was for women everywhere.

[I proposed in a previous post that the Republican candidate's name should not be voiced at the Democratic convention this week.  I'm going to try to follow that suggestion here this week as well.  Nothing could disturb him more.]

[Sorry, reposting - Feedburner stuff.]

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Trying To Catch The Rain

A brush fire was growing last Wednesday and folks living on the southern edge of town were starting to pack things as they cleared the brush around their homes and made other preparations to protect their homes.

Thursday morning we could smell the smoke in midtown Anchorage.  But it also rained some.  It rained again on Friday and Saturday.  But there wasn't a lot of rain.  Enough to give fire fighters the edge.  Today it rained on and off all day, some of the time hard.

And I tried to catch some of that hard rain with my camera.  Not very well.  Mostly after it hit the table on the deck.   But here's the evidence and one day I hope to show that I can look back with satisfaction when I've learned to do this better.  It gets a little  sharper if you click on it.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

How About A Trumpless Democratic Convention?

I have two suggestions for the Democrats as they prepare for their convention next week.

1.  Go Trumpless

Trump has managed to get hours and hours of free media coverage for the last year.  The media has found his outrageousness both irresistible and profitable.

The Democrats shouldn't continue that.  'Trump' is a word that shouldn't be uttered once.  They can talk about about what they would do and how they would do it.  They don't have to spell out how different their vision is from Trump's.  Trust the viewers to fill it in themselves.

You know, nothing would upset Trump more than being totally ignored.  Well, they can't ignore him, but they don't have to mention him and that will have the same effect.  A Trump free media week will show Americans how wonderful that is.  Though by Thursday night, probably Trump will be trying to crash the convention just so someone has to say his name.


2.  Include the lowliest delegates in the prime time programing.

Trump said
"I alone can fix it."
Clinton belittled that idea today when introducing Tim Kaine.  Well, her nominating convention should demonstrate she really means it.  

I'd also suggest that instead of non-stop celebrity talking heads, they also let the convention delegates  be more than a mindless crowd of extras that cheers, boos, holds signs, and chants slogans.


Take some of that prime time to put the delegates in the spotlight.  Let them form small discussion groups and have the cameras follow real discussions of real issues by real people.  Highlight the voices of the people who are Clinton's partners in getting her elected.

Judge to defendant: "Come on. Jack off."

This fits in the "Not sure what to do with this" file.  I'm sure there are defiant and abusive defendants in court every day.  But this judge needs to real help.  The defendant is doing all he can to have some power in this situation and carrying it off.  What's the judge's excuse?


The defendant tells the judge he wants a new public defender because the one he has won't properly defend him unless the defendant lets the public defender give him a blow job.

From transcripts pp. 6-7


Most people would probably dismiss this as the defendant being disruptive, punishing his public defender, and making it up to get a different public defender.  And that might be the case in many even most cases like this.  (Actually, I have no idea how often something like this happens.)  But it seems to me that when someone makes a claim like this, it's up to the court to check.  We know that women's and children's claims of sexual abuse and  are true much more often than not.  The movie Spotlight highlights the investigation of the allegations of sexual abuse by the Catholic church in Boston.  If priests can abuse people in their care, why shouldn't a public defender?

And I realize that if the judge gives a week for an investigation, there will probably be a lot of defendants making similar kinds of claims.  But the American system of justice is supposed to be fair, and the right to an attorney shouldn't be dependent on sexual favors from the defendant.  Wealthy defendants' attorneys find all sorts of ways to delay proceedings.  The defendant's claim shouldn't just be dismissed.  Courts will just have to develop ways to vet their public defenders and to find ways to determine if defendants' claims are valid.  Maybe let defendants tape interactions with the public defender. (I know that will raise other issues, but I'm just brainstorming here.)

The defendant in this case remained relatively civil until it becomes clear the judge is not going to give him a different public defender or even take his claims seriously at all.  At the bottom of page seven he finally gives up on his request and responds to the judge with "Fuck you."  The judge finds the defendant in contempt and sentences him to twenty days in prison.  Then forty.  And then everything falls apart.

From transcripts page 8


Things deteriorate badly.  The defendant and the judge talk about dicks and butts and and various sex acts.  The judge tells the defendant he "looks like a queer" (page 10).

And here's the section quoted in the title.






I did check to see if this was for real or not.  There are a number of legitimate sites that have reported it.  Here's from the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

I also tried to find reports of what has happened since this June 23, 2016 incident, but found nothing except reports on that day in court.  Though there was this plea from an attorney's website:
"The hearing escalated into murder threats against Judge Durham and his family, and unfortunately for the jurist, he made some comments that could land him in hot water with Georgia’s Judicial Qualifications Commission. I truly hope nothing bad comes from this exchange. We’re all human, and when provoked by stupid, humans are prone to say stupid things and take stupid actions. As Judge Durham Jr. muses in the hearing, “You have a constitutional right to be a dumbass.” Both men were at somewhat less than their civil best last week while exercising this right. Let’s hope this moment of incivility doesn’t tarnish an otherwise fine judge’s career or cost him his job.?
The author of this piece is an attorney in Knoxville, Tennessee, which is about 170 miles from Rome, Georgia.  Perhaps he's a friend Judge Durham, perhaps he just knows about him, perhaps he knows nothing about him and this is just a defense of judges in general, who, the author reminds us, are human beings and this one was pushed pretty hard.

I'm afraid this is more than a bad hair day.  I suspect there's more going on in the judge's life than has been apparent.   The judge was provoked, but judges are supposed to be trained in how to maintain decorum in the chambers.

And sometimes it's only when someone is under pressure that we see what they are truly like.  Sometimes.  I'm not saying that's true in this case.

Less than a month before this courtroom exchange, The Rome News Tribune had an upbeat article on Judge Durham, reflecting on his recent unopposed reelection and on the next four years on the bench.  It turns out Durham spent much of his childhood in Nigeria where his parents were missionaries. He was also asked what he liked and didn't like as a judge.
"Family violence restraining order petitions are generally his least favorites, because he’s seeing either a seriously bad situation or people stretching the truth just to get back at someone. “I’ve been known to call Thursday mornings the Jerry Springer Show,” Durham said about the slot earmarked for family violence hearings. He said he enjoys most of the other work, especially trials, because there is always something new that is going to walk in the door. Laughing again, Durham said that he enjoys trials because he doesn’t have to do as much work as the attorneys." 
NOTE:  This hearing was on June 17, 2016.  A Friday, not a Thursday.

Here's the whole transcript.   Based on the times listed on the transcripts, this all took place over eleven minutes, from 2:08 pm to 2:19 pm.

There is a section where the court reporter writes:
"THE COURT:  Yelling.  Yelling."

Not sure what that means.  I'm guessing the words were left out and she just wrote in that he was yelling.  Which does suggest that the transcripts tell us very little - we don't know how calm or excited either part is for the most part.  Though there are times when the judge seems to be stuttering and the defendant interrupts him.

I suspect this case will become a classic law school case study for maintaining courtroom decorum.  

Some of you are probably wondering why I'm even posting this.  As the first line says, I'm not quite sure what to do with this, I just know it's very significant.   I'm sure this is, in its outrageousness, an extreme example of poor judge courtroom control.  But I also suspect that this is not the only judge who's abusive in court.  And I suspect defendants represented by public defenders are more likely to experience such behavior than those represented by well paid attorneys.  As I say, I'm not sure what this all means, but I think documenting it is important.  And, no, I don't think it's because it gives me an excuse to delve into a sordid situation.   It's more the fact that this sort of language and exchange took place in one of the last bastions of civility and decorum in the US.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Trump Sends Ghostwriter 'threatening cease-and-desist letter" Over New Yorker Article

The New Yorker reports that,
"Greenblatt [Trump's attorney] demands that Schwartz send “a certified check made payable to Mr. Trump” for all of the royalties he had earned on the book, along with Schwartz’s half of the book’s five-hundred-thousand-dollar advance. (The memoir has sold approximately a million copies, earning Trump and Schwartz each several million dollars.) Greenblatt also orders Schwartz to issue “a written statement retracting your defamatory statements,” and to offer written assurances that he will not “generate or disseminate” any further “baseless accusations” about Trump."
Tony Schwartz was the ghostwriter for The Art of the Deal.  The book has both his and Trump's name on the cover, but Schwartz says he wrote it all, based on what Trump told him and what he observed.  Now he's been interviewed in the New Yorker and says Trump's not fit to be president.  And Trump's attorney, as you saw in the opening quote, is telling him to recant and return all the money.


The original New Yorker interview with Schwartz is worth reading. While I'm no Trump expert, I have done some reading on him for the blog and what Schwartz says in the article is certainly consistent with the image I'm getting.

The article begins by telling how Schwartz got the job of ghostwriting Trump's book.  He'd written a piece about Trump that was anything but flattering, yet Trump loved the piece.
"In 1985, he’d published a piece in New York called “A Different Kind of Donald Trump Story,” which portrayed him not as a brilliant mogul but as a ham-fisted thug who had unsuccessfully tried to evict rent-controlled and rent-stabilized tenants from a building that he had bought on Central Park South. Trump’s efforts—which included a plan to house homeless people in the building in order to harass the tenants—became what Schwartz described as a “fugue of failure, a farce of fumbling and bumbling.” An accompanying cover portrait depicted Trump as unshaven, unpleasant-looking, and shiny with sweat. Yet, to Schwartz’s amazement, Trump loved the article. He hung the cover on a wall of his office, and sent a fan note to Schwartz, on his gold-embossed personal stationery. “Everybody seems to have read it,” Trump enthused in the note, which Schwartz has kept."
He then writes of his moral conflict when Trump asks him to write his memoir.   On the one hand he had qualms about a) being a ghostwriter and b) telling Trump's story at all.  But he had a second child on the way and money was tight, this would give him a great cushion.  He acknowledges that what he did perfectly fit the definition of 'sellout.'

And then there is handwringing about whether he should say anything about Trump now.  But as Trump's candidacy got stronger, he felt he had to speak up. (I'd guess that Trump sees anyone acknowledging any hesitation or having moral qualms as a loser.)  Schwartz had to say things he'd learned while spending so much time with Trump while writing the book.  For example:
". . . this fundamental aspect of who he is doesn’t seem to be fully understood,” Schwartz told me. “It’s implicit in a lot of what people write, but it’s never explicit—or, at least, I haven’t seen it. And that is that it’s impossible to keep him focussed on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandizement, for more than a few minutes, and even then . . . ” Schwartz trailed off, shaking his head in amazement. He regards Trump’s inability to concentrate as alarming in a Presidential candidate. “If he had to be briefed on a crisis in the Situation Room, it’s impossible to imagine him paying attention over a long period of time,” he said."  [emphasis added]
or . . .
"But Schwartz believes that Trump’s short attention span has left him with “a stunning level of superficial knowledge and plain ignorance.” He said, “That’s why he so prefers TV as his first news source—information comes in easily digestible sound bites.” He added, “I seriously doubt that Trump has ever read a book straight through in his adult life.” During the eighteen months that he observed Trump, Schwartz said, he never saw a book on Trump’s desk, or elsewhere in his office, or in his apartment. 
Other journalists have noticed Trump’s apparent lack of interest in reading. In May, Megyn Kelly, of Fox News, asked him to name his favorite book, other than the Bible or “The Art of the Deal.” Trump picked the 1929 novel 'All Quiet on the Western Front.'”
I'm sure a lot of folks don't read books these days, but they also aren't presidential candidates.  Well, there was a vice presidential candidate who couldn't name any magazines she read.

One wonders if Trump even read the original 1985 Schwartz article about him or just liked the cover and title and the fact that others were reading about him.

Schwartz talks about his frustration trying to get Trump to give him more than short superficial answers while trying to write the memoir.  He was ready to quit the project he tells the New Yorker, until he came up with an idea.  He'd shadow Trump in his office and listen in on his phone calls to understand how Trump did his deals.  He writes:
“'He was playing people,' Schwartz recalls. On the phone with business associates,
Trump would flatter, bully, and occasionally get mad, but always in a calculated way. Before the discussion ended, Trump would 'share the news of his latest success,' Schwartz says. Instead of saying goodbye at the end of a call, Trump customarily signed off with 'You’re the greatest!'
There was not a single call that Trump deemed too private for Schwartz to hear. 'He loved the attention,' Schwartz recalls. 'If he could have had three hundred thousand people listening in, he would have been even happier.'” [emphasis added]
OK, I've excerpted enough, but this is a New Yorker article, so it's pretty long and this is a tiny sampler.

Schwartz says he understood that speaking out would likely expose him to intimidation from Trump.

Having received a cease and desist order for a blog post myself, I do have a sense of how it feels.  In hindsight, it's clear that the letter was a bluff, intended to get any negative information about his client off the internet.  And Trump learned this tactic from his mentor Roy Cohn.   Fortunately, I was helped by Alaska's best first amendment attorney.

So with my experience guiding me, and remembering that a little knowledge can be dangerous, I'd say . . .  What would I say?  Unlike a with blogpost, the New Yorker can't unpublish their print article.  So what they want is a retraction and to cease and desist. And for Schwartz to pay back all the money.  So he's asking for a lot of different things, negotiating, and he'd probably settle for the retraction and a small symbolic concession check.  Or maybe just recanting would be enough.

But does he have a case?  I'd guess not.

UNLESS there was some sort of agreement Schwartz signed promising never to disclose anything he learned about Trump that wasn't in the book.  But if there were, I'm sure the attorney would have mentioned it.  And from all I'm reading, Trump is so full of himself and so impulsive that he probably didn't ask for anything like that.  After all, if the ghostwriter sees him all the time, he would only see how incredibly great Trump.  So, I'm guessing this is all bluster and, more ominously, part of a growing practice of threatening expensive lawsuits that force most reporters to give in.  Fortunately there are some protections.


Every time we get new insights into this candidate, we can find current examples to apply them to.
For example:
"it’s impossible to keep him focussed on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandizement, for more than a few minutes,"
Trump, he's saying, has to be the center of attention or he loses interest.  This Republican convention is different from any other.  It's almost like Trump thinks he's personally throwing a party and he has to be constantly mingling.  He just can't sit quietly while another person is in the limelight.

Or
"Trump would flatter, bully, and occasionally get mad, but always in a calculated way. Before the discussion ended, Trump would 'share the news of his latest success,' Schwartz says. Instead of saying goodbye at the end of a call, Trump customarily signed off with 'You’re the greatest!'"

We can all watch for this pattern:

Step 1:  Flatter
Step 2:  Bully
Step 3:  Maybe even get mad
Step 4:  Share news of Trump's latest success
Step 5:  Sign off with "You're the greatest."

OK, that's the pattern for phone calls according to Schwartz.  But we can see clear variations of it in how Trump behaves with his fellow candidates, with his audiences, with the Republican party.

I accept that there is a portion of the American public with whom Trump resonates.  Some are just very angry at their situation in life and they need someone to blame.  They love it when Trump tells them it's not their fault, it's Obama's and Clinton's and Muslims' and immigrants' faults.  They so want to believe an authoritarian Daddy will make it all better and they don't have to actually do anything themselves except cheer Daddy on.

Others have probably overcome a lot of odds by working hard and making something of themselves.  In doing so, they have become alienated from their cultural community, family, and/or friends.  They do see people they know who abuse the system and they want those others who they've outgrown to be punished for not working hard like they have.  Maybe they've made it out of an abusive family, or beaten the odds against racism or class barriers.  They too seek Daddy's approval and want him to acknowledge their achievements and punish all the siblings who aren't pulling their weight.

I'm, of course, spinning narratives that might explain many Trump supporters.  I'd guess many had erratic fathers like Trump - sometimes flattering, sometimes bullying, always telling the world how great they are.  So those aspects that disturb many about Trump feel comfortable to his supporters.  But that's just one interpretation.  Again, try it out and see if it fits.  And if you have better explanations, let me know.

Malarky or Bullshit? Editing - Some Examples From Old Posts

[This is one of the those behind the scenes posts about how I write the blog.  There were a lot more of these when i was starting out and trying to figure what blogging was about.  It may seem a bit arcane to many, but do scroll down and look at the Ngram chart, it's cool. And Strunk and White is worth everyone's time.

My key point is that writing clearly - to the extent I do - takes time and effort.  I thought I'd show some examples of sentences before and after.  These are only the last two versions.  Tracking earlier changes is harder to do.]



I was assigned Strunk and White's Elements of Style in the 12th grade. It's been a useful writing guide ever since.  Strunk and White was listed as one of the best 100 nonfiction books of the 20th Century and is now available free online.     Much is ingrained in my head, yet as I write, words don't magically line themselves up according to their guidelines.  Once the words are on the screen, I can often spot clunky sentences that need revision.

My biggest problem still seems to be unnecessary words.  But it's ok.  The first job is to get the ideas onto the screen.  The second job is to get the words to say what you mean as clearly and succinctly and 'correctly' as possible.


EXAMPLES

Here are some examples of changes I've made when rereading - sometimes hours, or days later.  They're better, but there's still room to improve.  But posting daily takes a toll on good prose.

Here are the two principles of Strunk and White I  use the most here:
13. Omit needless words....
16. Keep related words together....
Example 1:
  • ". . .  when I googled the two together, I got to a series of  Youtube excerpts that are really compelling."
  • ". . .  when I googled the two together, I got to a series of compelling Youtube excerpts."
One sentence, three unnecessary words gone.  Putting 'compelling' before 'Youtube excerpts' connects it more directly to the words it describes.

Example 2:
  • "It takes an outsider - a new editor who's Jewish, to assign the investigative team at the Globe, called Spotlight, the story."
  •  "It takes an outsider - a new editor, a Jew new to Boston -  to assign the story to Spotlight, the investigative team at the Globe."
This editor example actually gets longer, but the idea that he was new to Boston was an important.  Not being Catholic was too.  There is a better way to say this, but I couldn't figure out how to only say 'new' once and keep the meaning clear.  Also, 'the story' is dangling at the end of the original sentence, not near enough to "to assign' where it belongs.

Example 3:
  • "Most people seemed to understand that the reasoning behind the changes in requirements for abortion clinics in Texas that were passed in 2013, were just smokescreens." 
  • "Most people seemed to understand that the 2013 changes in requirements for abortion clinics in Texas  were just smokescreens."

Example 4:
  • 'Supreme Court Chooses Facts Over Bullshit In Texas Abortion Case'
  • 'Supreme Court Chooses Facts Over Malarky In Texas Abortion Case'
I think profanity is usually a form of linguistic laziness.  Sort of like 'uh' but with more punch.  But overuse of a term dulls it.  I hope my regular readers feel the sting when I do use profanity because it's so rare here.  So I thought about finding a word that meant the same, without using profanity. 'Malarky' worked and because it's less common, perhaps has even more impact than 'bullshit.'  [As soon as I wrote that I wondered if there was a way to prove it was less common.  And there is.  I checked the two words from 1950 to 2016.  'Bullshit' was slightly higher in the beginning and then rose dramatically, compared to 'malarky.'  See the Ngram chart near the bottom.]

Example 5:
  • "This helps to raise tension and conflict in the EU countries and ultimately to break down the kind of European cooperation, not only in economics, but in military strength and commitment along Russia's borders."
  • "This helps raise tension and conflict in the EU countries and ultimately to break down cooperation across Europe, not only in economics, but in military strength and commitment along Russia's borders."  
Still clunky, but better. 


Example 6:
  • "I started this post and had it part way done . . ."
  • "I  had this post part way done . . ."
I got rid of words, but not meaning.

Example 7:
  • As someone who won't write in a book with anything more permanent than a pencil, the idea of permanently marking my body has no appeal. 
  • As someone who won't write in a book with anything more permanent than a pencil, I'm not the sort of person who would likely get a tattoo.
The tattoo example follows another Strunk and White admonition, a more subtle one:  
"7. A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject"
"As someone who won't write . . ." refers to me, not to 'the idea'.  But lots of people make this sort of mistake all the time.  So I had to make the first word after the comma "I" and then make the rest fit.  I'm sure someone is asking what a participial phrase is.  Here's the link to Strunk and White again.  Or just google it.  They do still teach grammar in high school don't they?

[UPDATE July 21, 2016:  Probably I should get rid of more unnecessary words:
  • As someone who won't write in a book with anything more permanent than a pencil, I'm not the sort of person who would likely [to] get a tattoo [myself].]


Or just stupid spelling mistakes:

Example 8:

"I was also thinking about my heal . . ."
"I was also thinking about my heel . . ."




Some End Notes
  • The Elements of Style is also on Modern Library's list of top 100 non-fiction books of the 20th Century - both on theirs and on the readers' list.
  • What endeared me to Strunk and White is their advice that it's ok to break the rules, intentionally, when it's the right thing to do.  But, you have to know the rules to intentionally break them.  
  • Why writing is so complicated:  I originally wrote above that "what endeared me to Strunk and White was that they gave permission to break the rules."  Thinking about that now, many years after first reading The Elements of Style, I thought, I don't need permission and I don't want to imply that they have the power to 'give permission.'   Though back in high school, I probably read it as a form of giving permission.  Did I want to complicate this post that much to explain all that?  Not really.  But I can put it here at the end for those who find such notes of interest.  
  • All that said about breaking rules, I decided to find the exact passage.  Here's what they actually said:
"It is an old observation that the best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric. When they do so, however, the reader will usually find in the sentence some compensating merit, attained at the cost of the violation. Unless he is certain of doing as well, he will probably do best to follow the rules. After he has learned, by their guidance, to write plain English adequate for everyday uses, let him look, for the secrets of style, to the study of the masters of literature."
More like an observation than giving permission.   
  • I also changed "Some Optional End Notes" to "Some End Notes" since obviously, the whole post is optional.  

  • Here's  the Ngram word frequency chart I was talking about above.  This one confirms my sense that 'bullshit' is more commonly used than 'malarky.' (Run the cursor over the chart.)
[I also tested 'and' and 'dynamite' to get some context.  'And' scored roughly at 2.3% for the whole period.  'Dynamite' began higher than 'bullshit' is today, and ended slightly lower.   When you include 'and' on the chart, the difference between 'bullshit' and 'malarky' is hidden.  This is a fun and useful tool and you can try yourself.  This one compares all four words, but by including 'and,' you can't see the differences in the other three words.  But you can change the words and the time period yourself..  


  • Here are the rules and principles from Elements of Style. There are examples of each in the book.
II. ELEMENTARY RULES OF USAGE.....................................................................2
1. Form the possessive singular of nouns with 's'. ............................................... 2
2. In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last..........................................................................3
3. Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas. ......................................... 3
4. Place a comma before and or but introducing an independent clause. ............. 4
5. Do not join independent clauses by a comma. ................................................ 5
6. Do not break sentences in two. ....................................................................... 5
7. A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject.........................................................................................6
8. Divide words at line-ends, in accordance with their formation and pronunciation. ................................................................................................. 7
a. Divide the word according to its formation: ............................................. 7
b. Divide "on the vowel:" ............................................................................. 7
c. Divide between double letters, unless they come at the end of the simple form of the word:..........................................................................7
III. ELEMENTARY PRINCIPLES OF COMPOSITION............................................7
9. Make the paragraph the unit of composition: one paragraph to each topic......7
10. As a rule, begin each paragraph with a topic sentence ..................................... 8
11. Use the active voice. The active voice is usually more direct and vigorous than the passive:............................................................................................11
12. Put statements in positive form. .................................................................... 12
13. Omit needless words..................................................................................... 12
14. Avoid a succession of loose sentences. ......................................................... 13
15. Express co-ordinate ideas in similar form. .................................................... 14
16. Keep related words together.......................................................................... 15
17. In summaries, keep to one tense.................................................................... 16
18. Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end.........................................17

  • I'd note that edits themselves are the source of a lot of typos and bad writing.  Probably because I make a change, but then don't go back and review the change.  Often an old word is accidentally left in or the change requires a change in a verb form (say from 'to run' to 'running.'  If you don't reread the whole new sentence, it will be missed. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Fire Moves From Book To Here And Now

I took a couple of hours this evening after dinner to read The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America.

I'd gone through the preparations - the creation of the National Forests and the role of Gifford Pinchot and the recruitment of rangers - and now the fire was on.  Here's a typical passage.  Pulaski is one of the older rangers whose wife and daughter live in town and he's up on the hill trying to set back fires to prevent the fire from advancing.  But this fire has now morphed into a super fire and he and his men are looking for shelter.
"He stumbled around the steep, smoking ravine, looking for his mine.  The ground burned nearly as much as the trees overhead.  The forest was smothering them, its gases, its heat, its searing convection winds fanning the flames upward.  Next to the desiccated creaked, Pulaski ran his hands over the timbers of an open hole - the mine he was looking for.  He draped a wet gunnysack over his head and went inside, sniffing at the air, probing the ceiling, trying to determine if it was large enough to hold them all. . . 
Other options were foreclosed by the fire.  The path where the men had trod a minute earlier was now covered by flames.  With this last nudge of fire, men shoved and leaned to gt to the mine.  Inside the tunnel, voices clashed, men pushed and struggled, tears poured forth.  Two horses made it inside with them.  Stockton had dismounted and found a little pocket of darkness near the horse that had carried him, Pulaski's mount.  The air had been cold, but it quickly warmed, and the just as quickly went stale and hot.  The outside heat was sucking all the cold air from the tunnel.  How long till the oxygen was gone?"


I went through about 80 pages of men trying to fight the fires in Idaho in August 1910.  Then things change when it became one huge inferno hopping from ridge top to ridge top, incinerating every tree and shrub.  Now the men fighting the fire are trying to find creek beds, caves, and mine shafts where they might be able to survive the walls of fire.

After I came in from reading on the deck,  I found this tweet and this fire I'd been living in the book became a real life fire not many miles away:

The people in the book knew about the fires in the mountains around them.  They were waiting for August to end and the rains to come.  Like them,  I knew about the McHugh Creek fire.  It was on the news two days ago.  A small brush fire they were attacking with retardant and the Seward Highway was blocked.  I didn't think much about it.  They'd have it out shortly.  I was thinking how this was minor compared to the book.  We wondered what damage the retardant might do to area.  There was a picture in the newspaper the next day.  I was surprised it was still burning today - I heard the highway was down to one lane and backed up for hours.

And then the tweet.  Someone I know - the author of Raven's Gift who joined us at our bookclub June 20 - now facing the sort of evacuations I was reading about in Taft and Avery and Wallace over 100 years ago.  And I'm reading this book for next Monday's book club meeting which is scheduled to be on . . . the hillside.  If the fire doesn't jump the ridge.



Don's the one man facing us on the right.  McHugh Creek and Bear Valley are off in the distance behind the green ridge on the right half.

I'm hoping this fire ends soon.  That Don gets to stay home and that my reaction is coming from reading the book.  But life is constantly changing and the unexpected - even if it should be expected - can happen any time.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Plagiarism Is The Sincerest Form Of Flattery

In academia, plagiarism is one of the greatest sins.  Students who copy others' work without crediting it get failing grades.  Researchers who do that can lose their jobs.

Copyrights and trademarks in business are ways to fight stealing of others' ideas.

But everyone's creative work is influenced by one's environment.   Picasso is often quoted, "Good artists copy, great artists steal." (But The Quote Investigator shows there were many antecedents to that thought.)  And different people - as Twitter proves daily - can independently come up with the same thought.  I haven't googled the title of this post, but I'm guessing I'm not the first to come up with this idea today.*

Did Melania Trump plagiarize Michele Obama's 2008 speech?  Well, if I found a student's paper that had such close echoes in another document, I would have given her an F.  But that's the harsh rules of academia.  You can check the video showing the two candidates' wives side by side and decide for yourself.  But I think it's besides the point.

The Democrats aren't technically wrong in charging Melania with plagiarism.  But politically, they should have just said:  "She's copied Obama."  What greater sin could a Republican commit?


Of all the things that Trump has said and done in the last year, and the way the media has shone the spotlight on all his outrageousness,  this copying of Michele Obama's speech is really small potatoes.

Importantly, though, is that Trump's speech writers were stupid enough to so blatantly copy and think they could get away with it.  What does this foretell of the work that would be done in a Trump administration?   I think of students who were surprised that I figured out they had plagiarized.  In most cases,  the lifted portions are usually much better written than the surrounding text that the student wrote, and they stand out like a spaghetti stain on a white shirt to someone with any sense of writing style.  And a quick google search can locate the original.

But Democrats shouldn't be too smug here.  I'm sure that Republicans are busily searching for speeches they can use to show that Michele Obama's words came from somewhere else too.

*After writing that sentence I did check.  What I found on page one of google were several related items that said, "Plagiarism isn't the sincerest form of flattery."

Why plagiarism isn't flattery. (2011)
Why plagiarism isn't the sincerest form of flattery.  (2013)
Plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery.  (2012)


Monday, July 18, 2016

Sunny and Warm

Crossed over the bridge in Campbell Creek Park off Lake Otis and kids were swimming in the creek. (I was going to say 'cold creek' but I didn't try it.  Maybe with all the warm weather we've had the water's warmer than usual too.)

And in the spirit of all the sun we've been getting, here's a sun flower from a plant our neighbor gave us earlier this summer.  


It said 82˚ (F) on our deck thermometer when I got home this afternoon.  Feeling so lazy.  

Sunday, July 17, 2016

"The scum of creation has been dumped on us,"

From Timothy Egan's, The Big Burn:
"What passed for law and constitutional protections in Morenci, [company owned mining town in Arizona, 1910] were thugs hired by Phelps Dodge.  They maintained a three tier wage system:  one for trouble-free whites, one for Mexicans, one for Italians.  Such attitudes are typical in a decade when nine million immigrants came to the United States, and one-third of the population was either foreign-born or a child of someone born abroad.  The Italian surge in particular angered those who felt the nation was no longer recognizable, had lost its sense of identity.  And they hated all these strange languages spoken in shops, schools, and churches.  The Immigration Restriction League, founded by Boston blue bloods with family ties to the old Tories of England, campaigned to keep "undesirable classes" from entering the country.  They meant Italians, Greeks, Jews, and people from eastern Europe. 
"The scum of creation has been dumped on us,"  said the native politician Thomas Watson.  "The most dangerous and corrupting hordes of the Old World have invaded us."  It was not just pelicans [auto-correct changed my version of politicians to pelicans] who attacked Mediterranean immigrants as a threat to the American way of life.  Francis A. Walker, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, called Italian and Greek immigrants "beaten men from beaten towns, representing the worst failures in the struggles for existence."  Another educated expert cautioned Americans against "absorbing the equitable blood from Southern Europe." (pp. 131-2)

I'd note that Fredrick Trump, Donald's grandfather arrived in New York on October 19, 1885  (a year before the Statue of Liberty was unveiled) from Germany at age 16.  Twenty-six years prior to the mining and timber rush described in the book in the summer of 1910 (see below), Trump
"moved to the mining town of Monte Cristo, Washington in Snohomish County.[7] Monte Cristo was expected to produce a fortune of gold and silver because evidence of mineral deposits were discovered in 1889. This led to many prospectors moving to the area in hopes of becoming rich, with the financial investment of billionaire John D. Rockefeller in the entire Everett area creating an exaggerated expectation of the area's potential."
He returned to Germany in 1901, found a wife, and returned with her to the US in 1902.  The Trumps, coming from northern Europe, while part of this huge surge of immigrants, came from a more privileged group of immigrants, they weren't Italians or Greeks or Jews.  Though by 1917 the US was at war with their country of origin.

Mike Pence's grandfather didn't get to the US from Ireland until much later - April 11, 1923.

From what I can tell, Hillary Clinton's paternal grandfather immigrated from England and her paternal grandmother was born in the US to Welsh immigrant parents.

I would also note, that when people claim that their ancestors were legal immigrants, as the passage above suggests, the laws were much, much easier back then for European immigrants.  

Actually, immigration is but a small part of the book.  The main focus is the boom towns of Idaho and Montana as the railroads opened access to the forests just after Teddy Roosevelt, with the guidance of Gifford Pinchot, created millions of acres of national forests and parks in the West.  But they had to fight Eastern corporations that were ravaging the new public land with their rapacious taking of minerals and timber.  This included a huge scandal over Alaska coal.  Roosevelt's second term was up and he chose not to run again.  (He'd come in to office from the vice presidency when president McKinley was shot and had only served seven years.)  While he was off on safari in Africa,  Taft, who had promised Roosevelt to protect the forests and the new concept of conservation, had instead appointed pro-development  Richard Ballinger as secretary of the interior.
"The interior secretary, whose duty was to oversee an empire of public land on behalf of the American people, had once backed a syndicate as it tried to take control of coal in a part of Alaska that was later added to the Chugach National Forest. .  ."  
"Beyond the Alaska coal deal, Ballinger was now showing his true colors - as a traitor to the progressives, Pinchot believed.  "You chaps who are in favor of this conservation program are all wrong,"  Ballinger said in a speech.  "You are hindering the development of the West.  In my opinion, the proper course is to divide it up among the big corporations and let the people who know how to make money out of it get the benefits of the circulation of money."  (pp. 94-5)

That's all backdrop to the story of a band of well-trained and highly motivated new rangers  whose job was to oversee huge tracts of land newly designated as national forests and parks. ("Supervisor Koch . . . felt protective about his five million or so acres . . .")  Land that was being exploited by mining and timber companies and hordes of folks taking the new railroad into the tiny boom towns hoping to get rich.

As the title of the book suggests, the book is about fires, as the rangers struggle on meagre salaries to protect the towns and even more, the newly created national forests from the ravages of fire in the bone dry summer of 1910.  There was no rain, but lots of  thunder and lightening, which started thousands of fires that summer.

I'm not through with the book yet, but I thought the sections on immigration give some historical perspective to today's political debates.  And overall, the book shows that the fights between the corporations looking to exploit natural resources and the government fighting to preserve some of the natural space of the continent, wasn't much different then, though time allows us more facts about what was happening back then.

In a book Pinchot wrote at the time - The Fight for Conservation - 
"He predicted that America might one day, within this century, be a nation of two or three hundred million people.  And what would his generation leave them?  Their duty was to the future.  To ensure that people in 2010 would have a country of clean water, healthy forests, and open land would require battle with certain groups, namely 'the alliance between business and politics.'  It was, he said, 'the snake that we must kill.'"(p. 158)
Given that today corporations once again have great influence over Congress - enough to prevent or pervert what they most oppose - and the importance of money in politics is major issue, I'd say his view of things was pretty prescient.