Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Geezer Lunch at the Club

At 72 Clyde is the youngster in the lunch bunch, where, no matter how it starts the conversation inevitably turns to medical updates.

I mentioned my macular degeneration.

"You should try audio books," Clyde said..  "They're really nifty."  ("Nifty"!?!)

"Can't hear," I said. (I have worn electronic things in my ears for nearly 20 years.)

"I FORGOT," Clyde apologized.

Bruce, who had hobbled to the table on a cane, said they were going to have to redo his latest knee surgery.  Same as with the other one three years ago.  "Old age isn't for sissies," he said.

"Beats the alternative," Clyde said helpfully.  He still plays a little tennis, albeit badly.  Bunt and lob, that sort of crap.

The rest of us simply exchanged the kind of glance that implies a shrug.

"Had to have the pacemaker replaced last week," Garry reported.

"Infection?" someone asked.

"Bad battery," Garry said.

"Technology of those things is getting better by leaps and bounds," Clyde said.  (He doesn't even have a cardiologist yet!)

"Hmmm," Garry said.

John updated us on his plantar fasciitis.  The $400 shoes hadn't helped.  He said he had found a new podiatrist.  "Any progress?" I asked.  "Too soon to tell," he said.  "How's your hand?"

"Decent range of motion," I said, "but the arthritis is worse." John had fasciitis in both feet.  I had it in both hands.

"You were wise to opt for surgery," Garry said.  "Ron had the injection and the contracture just got worse.  Poor guy can't even hold a tennis racquet any more."

All of us had once been tennis players.  One by one the infirmities of age had forced us to quit. I had bought five "bonus years" with a left hip replacement in my late 70s, but now the other hip is causing problems.

"Maybe you guys would like pickle ball," Clyde said.  Pickle ball is the latest fad at the club.  Sort of like geriatric badminton played with some kind of whiffle ball.

"Rather play dominos," Garry said.  I agreed.

We finished lunch quickly because everyone was on some kind of special diet imposed by doctors.

"How about an aperitif?" Clyde suggested. "I'll buy."

The rest of us rolled our eyes.


Friday, May 20, 2016

Knights of the Language War

I googled “Winners and Sinners” today and got reams of information about a martial arts movie.

God help us.

Winners and Sinners was the name of an in-house organ written by Theodore Bernstein, assistant managing editor of the New York Times, its guru of style, arbiter of grammar and usage and minder of language and taste.

Ted came to mind when I got to thinking about how sloppy writers and editors have allowed “media” and “data” — both plural nouns — to become commonly wedded to singular verbs.  “Where are all the slot men?” I asked myself.  Gone to graveyards, every one, myself replied.

Slot men, also called copy chiefs, were the last bastion against bad or careless writing in good newspapers, back when there were good newspapers and they cared about good writing.  Good slot men had virtually memorized Ted Bernstein’s books, “Headlines and Deadlines,” “Watch Your Language,” “More Language That Needs Watching,” “The Careful Writer” and others. Good slot men worried about the crimes against the language committed in common usage, and pounced upon them when they crept into newspaper copy.  Jim wilson of the Detroit Free Press wearied of the fight.  “I think we’ve lost the battle  of ‘anymore,’” he once lamented.

Ted Bernstein, who died in 1979, kept up the fight until he was in his grave.  Winners and Sinners waged the battle so elegantly, and so wittily, that it built up a subscriber list of “freeloaders” throughout the world of journalism.  “It has,” the Times reporter Wayne King once wrote, “the force of law.”

Ted, a kindly and genial presence in the Times newsroom, was no autocrat of the bullpen; he considered the language to be a living thing, always evolving, always illuminating the life of letters in new and exciting ways.  But he would not allow it to be altered by whim or fad or carelessness. 

As our political discourse coarsens, I am reminded of a debate that took place in newsrooms across the country during the political unrest of the 1960s.  The zealots of the young left were particularly profligate in the use of what the Knight Newspapers journalist Lee Winfrey called “a 13-letter appellation for those who are hopelessly Oedipusly inclined.” Copy chiefs and style arbiters on most newspapers militantly policed reporters’ copy to root out nasty words, even in direct quotations.  Many reporters argued that in the new standards of the times, newspapers should relax their rules.  Ted heard the arguments, weighed them, but wrote: “Be a motherfudger.”

Copy editors and slot men labored in under-appreciated anonymity. Ted used Winners and Sinners to applaud their efforts.  One of the favorite features of W&S was called “trophies of a headhunter” which singled out headlines that told the story with wit, or humor, or, as Ted often wrote, represented “a tough one made to look easy.”  The writers of trophy heads were always named.  Sinners, on the other hand, were spared public identification although their misdeeds were dissected in features like “two-faced heads.”

When Ted Bernstein died, the Times continued Winners and Sinners with other authors, including Evan Jenkins, a longtime national desk editor, but eventually it died.

Shoddy sequence of tenses, litotes, split infinitives, officialese and kindred sins are more remindful these days of Miss Thistlebottom than of the witty and wise journalist who invented her.  These are the days of reporters who  wrote fiction and had it published, of bureau chiefs who regurgitate the government’s lies unchecked and unverified, of propagandists pretending to be journalists who make heroes of people like Donald trump.

Sad.  Maybe it had its beginnings when we lost “the battle of anymore.” Who knew back then how far we would fall?

Friday, May 13, 2016

Profiteer in Depravity

How fitting in Donald Trump’s Amerika: the craven racist who killed an unarmed boy over a bag of Skittles is auctioning the weapon he used to snuff Trayvon Martin’s life.

Bidding starts at $5,000.  The killer, George Zimmerman, will get much more than that.  Amerika is full of boastful haters willing to pony up  for such a fine, racist souvenir.  Zimmerman is a hero to them. And Trump’s successful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination has given them a fuhrer, a populist fascist to idolize.  What a fine icon Zimmerman’s gun will be to wave at Trump’s political rallies.

Trump’s ascent to the status of serious presidential aspirant accelerates his country’s descent to fourth-nation status — an economically broken, politically corrupt, culturally riven,  war-driven oligarchy led by profiteers whose morality degrades as their riches rise.  

There is no hope for redemption now, just as there is no choice for the largely ignorant mass of voters in next November’s election.  Trump is the Republican nominee.  Thanks to the rigged Democratic nominating apparatus, Hillary Clinton will be the Democrat.  Scylla and Charybdis. How did this former democracy arrive at such a state? Perhaps, as many revisionist historians suggest, it’s been lurking within us for a long, long time.

Jim Crow.  The KKK.  Woodrow Wilson.  Slave-owning founders.  The Philippines.   Remember the Maine.  The Gulf of Tonkin.  Sacco and Vanzetti.  Vietnam. Throw a dart at an era in our history and it will stick in something unsavory.

Zimmerman’s sick notion to profit from the sale of the weapon he used to kill an innocent black kid is one small symptom of the greater malaise afflicting the United States in our era.  A particularly disgusting one, but small in the scheme of things.

He says he will donate the proceeds from the sale to fighting against the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

So what?  Black lives will still matter.  His still will not.