The Green Room at The New York Times

“Nobody knows whether to treat it as a cocktail party or not,” the journalist Lynn Sherr said before the memorial began, “and Nora would have liked that.”

via Remembering Nora Ephron, Just as She Planned – NYTimes.com.

The night included an Ernest Borgnine look-alike contest. “Three women have won so far that I know of,” he said. “I’m no Brad Pitt, but I really feel honored that a woman would try to act like me.”

via Ernest Borgnine, an Actor Who Savored New Yorks Strange Embrace – NYTimes.com.

North Korean state-run television on Monday showed footage of costumed versions of Tigger, Minnie Mouse and other Disney characters prancing in front of the leader, Kim Jong-un, and an entourage of clapping generals.

via Kim Jong-un Appears With Disney Characters on North Korean TV – NYTimes.com.

The Sunday Columns

Whereas the old elites used their culture to make explicit the differences between themselves and the rest, if you were to talk to members of the elite today, many would tell you that their culture is simply an expression of their open-minded, creative, ready-to-pounce-on-any-opportunity ethic. …But if you look at the omnivore from another point of view, a far different picture emerges.

via The New Elitists – NYTimes.com.

But, says Neal Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, “Sugar — in the form of lactose — contributes about 55 percent of skim milk’s calories, giving it ounce for ounce the same calorie load as soda.”

via Got Milk? You Dont Need It – NYTimes.com.

Stylebook Entries I Have Loved

English: A standard USB connector.

English: A standard USB connector. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Abbreviations. [stuff deleted] Ordinarily use periods in abbreviations when the letters stand for separate words: F.C.C.; I.B.M.; N.R.A. …In an acronym — an abbreviation pronounced as a word — omit periods. Ordinarily uppercase such an expression if it is up to four letters long: NATO; CUNY; AIDS; SALT. Acronyms of five or more letters are upper-and-lowercased: Unicef; Unesco; Alcoa; Awacs. …Omit periods in certain technology terms for which the full expression is unfamiliar or rarely used: USB, PDF, URL, DSL.

charge. [stuff deleted] In an account of an arrest or a criminal proceeding, charge ideally means the formal allegation submitted to a court by a prosecutor or (in the case of an indictment for a serious crime) by a grand jury. At a minimum, charge may refer to the official allegation lodged by the police at the time of booking. But the informal, usually imprecise account given at the scene of a crime is not a charge. Thus: The police accused Mr. Kuzu of having thrown a brick through the supermarket window and having threatened the manager with a pistol.

conditional tenses. When a sentence expresses the dependence of one event on another, convey the two ideas in verb tenses that work together — always matched, never mixed:

      If Governor Agnello runs, Mr. Karitsa will be on her ticket. (An if clause in the present tense; a then clause in the future tense.)
      If Mr. Karitsa refused the job, Dr. Arniotis would get it. (An if clause in the past tense; a then clause in the conditional tense.)
    If Dr. Arniotis had wanted the job, he would have said so. (An if clause in the past perfect tense; a then clause in the conditional perfect.)
A picture of an old Cracker Jack box

A picture of an old Cracker Jack box (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

crackerjack is slang for excellent or outstanding. Cracker Jack is the trademark for glazed popcorn.

dash. The dash is often misused for the comma: Pat — who was badly hurt last year — was pronounced fit today. And it is often overused. A sentence with more than two dashes is confusing because a reader cannot distinguish between the asides and the main narrative.

dialect. The writer should consult an editor, and both should hesitate, before trying to render dialect in direct quotations. [stuff deleted] Usually the decision should be that word order and turns of phrase paint a clearer picture than eccentric spelling. A classic Times article captured the Lower East Side of Manhattan when it quoted an onlooker, spelling intact, about the inevitable hot dog vendor at a political campaign appearance: “Sure. For Rockefeller he gives discounts.”

gild the lily is an accepted phrase for overembellishment, but writers who wish to delight the exacting reader will use Shakespeare’s actual words, from “King John”: “To gild refined gold, to paint the lily.”

hoi polloi is Greek for the many, meaning the masses (and not, as sometimes supposed, for the elite). Do not precede the phrase with a redundant the. And unless the intent is unmistakably ironic, avoid the expression as patronizing.

hopefully. In the sense of let us hope, this adverb inflames passions. Widely heard in speech, it is also approved by most dictionaries and usage manuals, in sentences likeHopefully, Congress will pass the law. Grammarians equate that usage to universally accepted constructions with frankly and mercifully. But traditionalists insist that hopefully can be used only to mean in a hopeful manner, as in The ambassador sought hopefully for an agreement. In surveys of skillful writers and teachers, large majorities cling to the restriction. So writers and editors unwilling to irritate readers would be wise to write they hope or with luck. With luck, writers and editors will avoid wooden alternatives like it is hoped or one hopes.

kipa, the Hebrew word for skullcap, is increasingly used by American Jews in place of the Yiddish yarmulke. In print, skullcap is often preferable because it is universally understood.

lectern, podium. A speaker stands at or behind a lectern and on a podium.

The Chandos portrait, artist and authenticity unconfirmed. National Portrait Gallery, London. (Credit: Wikipedia)

manner born. The quotation, from “Hamlet,” is to the manner born, not the manor.

more honored in the breach. The passage more honored in the breach than the observance, from “Hamlet,” refers to a custom that is more honorably ignored than followed — not one that is more often ignored.

participles as nouns. Beware of a present participle (the ing form of a verb) when it directly follows a noun or a pronoun. Look twice at the meaning of the phrase, because the participle often plays the role of a noun in such a sentence. And when that happens, the previous word should be possessive (his, her, their, Ms. Lamm’s).

personal names and nicknames. [stuff deleted] An exception may be made for organized-crime figures, whose nicknames are customarily shown this way: Leslie (Racko) Lamm. Note that this style means the bearer is popularly called Racko Lamm. If the surname is not spoken as part of the nickname, do not use the parenthetical style, which would be misleading. In other words, if Toby Agneau is known simply as Toby the Nose, do not write Toby (the Nose) Agneau. And since the style clearly implies unsavory ties, use these nicknames only when such ties are well established.

Tontons Macoute. The Haitian Creole name (always plural) for a militia that terrorized the population under the Duvalier dictatorship is still sometimes applied to similar gangs. The name, from the singular Uncle Knapsack, alludes to the boogeyman of folklore.

sweatshirt, sweatsuit. But: sweat pants.

whiskey, whisky. Use whiskey (and whiskeys) as a general term for liquors distilled from a mash of grain, and in specific references to the Irish and American versions. Use whisky (and whiskies) in specific references to Scotch and Canadian varieties. Also see alcoholic beverages.

Wiffle Ball

Wiffle is a trademark for plastic balls and bats. But whiffle ball is a generic term for the equipment and the game played with it.

zeitgeist. When it appears in an English phrase, lowercase the German noun meaning “spirit of the age.” Still better, resist it, as pretentious.

Nation States, and National Plates

Still, the decision to stop serving shark fin soup at official functions was welcomed by environmental campaigners. Experts have long cautioned that soaring demand for shark fin soup over the past two decades has imperiled shark populations around the globe.

via China Says No More Shark Fin Soup at State Banquets – NYTimes.com.

Meals for heads of state and other foreign dignitaries are now used as an opportunity to showcase American cuisine, particularly local ingredients, and to show fluency in the visitors’ culinary traditions.

via Secretary of State Transforms the Diplomatic Menu – NYTimes.com.

Let’s consider the country’s natural resources, or at least two of them. Feta cheese, which is increasingly popular throughout the world, is mandated by an E.U. ruling to come from Greece. The country also harvests arguably the best olives for making olive oil. Yet somehow Greece has only 28 percent of the global feta market and a mere 4 percent share of the international olive-oil industry.

via What Greece Makes, the World Might Take – NYTimes.com.

On Segregation and the South

“That’s the way it has always been here in the rural areas,” Mr. Menendez said. “White funeral homes employ white embalmers, and black funeral homes employ black embalmers. That’s the South.”

via Funerals Remain a Segregated Business in the South – NYTimes.com.

“It’s our custom, here in the South, here in Jasper,” said Albert K. Snell, 80, a retired teacher who is white and a member of the cemetery’s board of directors. “We have the same cemetery, but we don’t mix the white and the black graves. They’re separate. Put a black up here? No, no, we wouldn’t do that.”

via In Jasper, Texas, Racial Tensions Flare Again – NYTimes.com.

“What you have is the northern section of the county,” he went on, “which is mostly white, seeking to leave the rest of Fulton County, and doing so with what I think are racially tinged arguments about the corruption and inefficiency of local government.”

via A Georgia Town Takes the People’s Business Private – NYTimes.com.

What You Missed in Today’s Times

Gritty, beautiful presses? Better get me rewrite, since I can’t stop romanticizing.

via All the News That’s Fit to Screen – Movies About Journalism – NYTimes.com.

Emphasizing their belief that the escapees had drowned, officials said there had been no nearby robberies or car thefts on the night of the escape.

via Anniversary of a Mystery at Alcatraz – NYTimes.com.

Seventy percent of the total caviar and roe exported from the United States in 2010 went to countries in the European Union, Ukraine and Japan.

via Scarcity of Beluga Caviar Opens the Door for Louisiana – NYTimes.com.

Since it was settled by Mr. Savory’s American and European followers — fortune seekers, deserters, drunkards — and their Hawaiian wives, the island has been pillaged by pirates, gripped by murder and cannibalism, and tugged back and forth between Japan and the United States in their battle for supremacy in the Pacific.

via Fewer Westerners Remain on Remote Japanese Island – NYTimes.com.

On Fugitives, and Those Who Should Be

Not since the heady days of Andrew Cunanan has a fugitive piqued our interest this much. Luka Magnotta, who apparently is something of a gay porn star, is wanted in the gruesome slaying of a student in Montreal. He is on the loose, obviously, and the authorities believe he is in Paris. Why is this interesting? Here are some key phrases from today’s news reports: “…[the victim’s] torso was found in a suitcase,” “…including a hand and a foot, were mailed to the offices of political parties…”; and “…police discovered pornographic magazines as well as air sickness bags…”

via Canada News: ‘Canadian psycho’ Luka Rocco Magnotta seen in France – thestar.com.

The author Martin Amis has apparently fled England for Brooklyn, a move that was couched with apparently offensive-to-the-English comments to a French magazine. I don’t know Amis’s writing, and don’t care that the English are in a snit. But I found The Observer’s interview with Amis to be amusing for what the probably-not-American reporter says about not-far-from-here Cobble Hill:

“There’s a small expat population here one bar nearby serves an approximation of fish and chips, others broadcast the FA Cup at odd hours, but the neighbourhood, for the most, is ideally American. There’s a beer shop a block away called just that: AMERICAN. Grid-laid roads are named after pioneering landowners and lawyers, and along the length of each theres a little iron fire hydrant for every dozen lamp-posts. Not far from Amis’s triple-stepped front porch, a little boy in a peaked cap is actually tossing around a baseball.”

Did you hear that Cobble Hill? You’re perfect for Brits, but ideally American. Of course, 236 years ago, the British were burning farmhouses and dodging musket balls not far from where Amis has his tea every day.

via Martin Amis: a new chapter in America | Books | The Observer.

Finally, and in something of a triple crown for stupidity and arrogance, three unrelated articles appear in today’s Times that reveal just how warped our financial system really is. If only bankers broke down in the stretch as often as racehorses. Actually, as you will see, they do, and so I suppose what I am wishing for is a little drab ambulance that drives up and down the angled back streets of the Financial District with a drawer full of mercy.

The hooved wonders at Bank of America actually lied to shareholders about the bath they were going to take on the 2008 merger with Merrill Lynch. Like, they found out one day about appalling losses and the next told their investors that everything was fine. Across the stable at JPMorgan, we learn that the company was warned last year that it was not keeping a close enough eye on its employees. JPMorgan ignored the warning, and in May it announced that it had lost $2 billion because of a rogue trader. And out on the paddock, it is either simple miscommunication or outright fraud that explains the implosion of MF Global.

What You Missed in Today’s Times

And there, in the back, she found a piece of paper depicting the baptism of Jesus. It was signed: “P. Revere Sculp”

via Paul Revere’s Work Found in Brown’s Rare Book Room – NYTimes.com.

The British Museum’s re-examination of a 16th-century coastal map using 21st-century imaging techniques has revealed hidden markings that show an inland fort where the colonists could have resettled after abandoning the coast.

via Map Markings Offer Clues to Lost Colony – NYTimes.com.

I turned to Eldin and said, “Think this will make us forget the 250,000 dead?”

via Marshal Tito in Queens – NYTimes.com.

What You Missed in Today’s Times

The guidelines will lengthen to five years — from 180 days — the amount of time the center can retain private information about Americans when there is no suspicion that they are tied to terrorism, intelligence officials said.

via U.S. Relaxes Some Restrictions for Counterterrorism Analysis – NYTimes.com.

Coupled with poverty and other social factors, problems with water could even contribute to the political failure of weaker nations.

via U.S. Intelligence Report Predicts Tensions on Water – NYTimes.com.

City officials in this small town about an hour west of Green Bay believe there is no physical threat to residents and note that no major damage has occurred to property. But night after night of the same quakelike eruptions has inspired a local obsession — driven by fear and fascination — to pinpoint the cause.

via In Clintonville, Wis., the Ground is Going Bump in the Night – NYTimes.com.

DePuy did not recall the device at issue, or a companion model that was used in this country, until August 2010, a year after it got the administration’s letter. But in September 2009, just weeks after the letter arrived, company executives started a strategy to phase out the devices while selling their remaining stocks for use in patients both here and abroad, company records show.

via F.D.A. Asked DePuy for Safety Data Just Before Hip Implant’s Phaseout – NYTimes.com.

Lies The New York Times Tells You

Taken together, the increasing production and declining consumption have unexpectedly brought the United States markedly closer to a goal that has tantalized presidents since Richard Nixon: independence from foreign energy sources

via Inching Toward Energy Independence in America – NYTimes.com.

How is it “energy independence’ to still depend on finite, toxic supplies of oil? This headline should read, Inching Toward Temporary Energy IndependenceReal independence from foreign energy sources would be to make oil irrelevant, but judging by another article from this morning’s Times (As Young Lose Interest in Cars, G.M. Turns to MTV for Help), that is not part of anyone’s game plan. Today’s car companies are starting to fret like yesterday’s cigarette companies.

The vexing thing is, this so-called independence is the result, not of some sea change in energy use, but merely the intersection of 1) “industry-friendly policies” and 2) “technological advances” that make it easier to get at oil “once considered too difficult and too expensive to reach.” Really, this is an article about how domestic oil companies are finding it easier to make money. Whatever is gained by this ephemeral freedom, which an oil executive refers to in The Times article, amusingly, as a “home run,” will quickly evaporate if the price of oil drops too far. In other words, energy independence for America yokes consumers to artificially high gas prices, ignores pollution concerns and does not envision a future when oil supplies literally dry up.

This is a little like an alcoholic who announces that he has his problem under control: From now on, he will only drink at home.