… reports the Times Machine:

The Lighter Side of the Convention

“The National Convention of 1908,” said Perry Heath, formerly Assistant Postmaster General, “will be known undoubtedly as the whiskerless convention.”

Mr. Heath was right. Looking over the convention, one was surprised to find so few men with hirsute adornment.

In the whole National Committee there were only five, and they affected, with one exception, not the full beard, but a sort of goatee growth, that they smoothed with a lingering fondness.

The story continues, with a ribald anecdote about jaundice. My point being: If this kind of witty reportage persisted, if we had more mustache news, more often, maybe the Tribune’s Zell & Co. wouldn’t be so close to the brink of defaulting.

“Laying down his garden hose, George D. Folkman, janitor of the county Court House, joined in matrimony Miss Mabel Blanche Cutler, the daughter of John C. Cutler, the Governor of Utah, and Thomas Edward Butler, a man of limited means and no social prominence, here this afternoon.”

Brought to you by the stellar Times Machine, and possibly a new daily feature. The news today is so depressing; A1 should carry more (obvious) pronouncements about the status ascribed to figures in New York’s highest social stratosphere.

From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

On Oct. 27, 1984, a headline on Page 14A in The Plain Dealer read: “Disgusted judge gives repeat offender 30 years for rape.”

The story followed standard newspaper protocol: In it, the victim was anonymous.

In this version, the victim has a name. I am Joanna Connors, and I am telling the story I kept private for 23 years. I’m doing it for all of the others who have survived sexual assault in silence, ashamed and afraid to tell their stories

Such an interesting story and compelling presentation — and a testament to the continuing power of the stodgy old “mainstream media.”

Highly recommended: “Working Life (High and Low),” by Steven Greenhouse, adapted from Greenhouse’s book, The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker, which weighs the challenges workers face across the country. This article excoriates Fed Ex’s ill treatment of a woman who was fired when she requested a leave of absence to battle cancer for the third time; it lauds Patagonia and employers like it that offer employees flex time and attractive health-care and other benefits.

Unintentionally laughable: “Bear Stearns’s New Hires Become Job Seekers,” by Louise Story. Poor unemployed MBAs; use that $50,000 signing bonus, which you get to keep though you won’t actually perform any work, to keep you warm. An excerpt:

They polished résumés; they sweated interviews; they landed dream jobs. But now a small group of college and business school students are discovering that their careers at Bear Stearns ended before they began. JPMorgan Chase, which bought the beleaguered investment bank last month, rescinded many of their job offers.

Yashoda Khandkar, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, is among 250 Bear hires who now find themselves unemployed in one of the worst financial job markets in years.

“The worst part about the entire situation is that it’s a really hard market for us to look for other jobs,” Ms. Khandkar said. “We probably can’t get as good of jobs as we would have had.”

Ivy Leaguers like Ms. Khandkar have more options than most, of course. And for now few of them have mortgages, unlike millions of Americans who are struggling just to pay the bills.

But instead of starting new jobs at Bear, these students are now hunting for work along with a growing number of bankers and brokers.

God, imagine if they actually had to suffer injustices like … oh, not having money to put food on the table, or needing to apply the welfare … or going to a state school!

Must rest. In the meantime: the Guardian anoints the 50 most powerful blogs. My fave from the list, I think, is Jezebel.

Fascinating op-ed from the Times today: “Really dangerous liaisons,” by Tracy Quan, a former sex worker.

Foreign Policy posted an absolutely chilling audio clip, courtesy E. Benjamin Skinner, author of A World Enslaved, of a pimp selling a girl to a man in Bucharest for a used car.

I know there are arguments for legalizing prostitution, and perhaps adequate legislation could better address the problem of sex slavery better than a shadowy journalist type, a rogue armed with little more than a tape recorder, but … this is just it. The depths. Despair. Humanity dark as night.

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Snag this snazzy T — from which I stole my post title — at One Horse Shy for a cool $22.

Lots of language stuff going on right now — and not only in relation to my unending quest to update a certain stylebook that shall remain nameless, but in the mainstream media, too! Huzzah.

When I’m not getting my kicks reading insta-classics like Lapsing Into a Comma (Bill Walsh) and Woe is I (Patricia T. O’Connor),  I’m trawling through a pile of newspapers and magazines. Generally, they’re a fertile field from which to harvest examples of the uses (and misuses) of modern language; occasionally, they cross the line into explicitly surfacing issues of punctuation, style, and usage — as the Times did today in a story about the inclusion of a semicolon in the MTA’s latest public service ads about throwing away newspapers. It’s quite mawkish, not to mention obnoxiously high-handed, but I’m always secretly pleased that someone somewhere is still pondering the importance of clarity, concision, and coherence in writing.

Elsewhere: Mike Clark of the Greensboro News-Record recently took on the colon; the Daily Freeman reported on schoolchildren protesting a restaurant’s use of capitalization; and the Sydney Morning Herald also ran a (somewhat confounding) glossary of new words that already seem a bit dated — I mean, tanorexia? How Rachel Zoe, circa 2006.

If reading isn’t your thing (which … umm … would be nonsensical, as this text-heavy post is all about word nerdery….but I digress …), you can fake it until you make it with buy grammarrelated T-shirts!)   

Maybe it’s a fluke — or perhaps all this language lovin’ is in anticipation of National Grammar Day on March 4.  The Web site devoted to the holiday has some great links, and its creators even offer a recipe for a Grammartini. See, we’re only selectively curmudgeonly!

1. “Actor Mammootty slaps fan,” Times of India, pointing to the below YouTube video as evidence of the arrogance of the Malayalam film star:

(OK, video won’t embed, so follow this link. And enjoy the rocking music.)

2. “MLAs see ‘vaastu dosh’ in MP Assembly,” The Indian Express — following the death of a local minister, legislators in the state of Madhya Pradesh are calling for vaastu experts to study the building and address any anomalies (vaastu shastra, for those of you not in the know, is vaguely reminiscent of feng shui in that it is an ancient science for determining the appropriate layout of towns and buildings — another contested space in the battle between tradition and modernity, “backward” and developed)

3. “After 14 years, dead railway employee’s kin yet to get compensation,” Times of India — ah, bureaucracy, isn’t it grand?

4. “Bird flu may kill badminton grand prix,” Times of India — I know I shouldn’t joke about the bird flu, but really, the first two grafs of this story struck me as absolutely absurd:

The bird flu outbreak may now cost India its first grand prix badminton tournament. In a formal letter sent to the Badminton Association of India this week, the International Badminton Federation (IBF) has threatened to cancel the India Open, thanks to the acute shortage of shuttlecocks in the country.Bird flu outbreaks in China had made India ban import of all premium goose feathers of Chinese origin to manufacture shuttlecocks.

5. “Lalu shifts three over bad food,” Times of India — again, the lead says it all:

Upset with a slew of events during his hectic visit to Karnataka on Monday, railway minister Lalu Prasad transferred two senior officials after giving them a dressing down.  The two officials … were punished because the minister was not satisfied with the food served on a special train from Tumkur to Bangalore.

Interesting story on the recent introduction of vending machines for female condoms in Delhi. I question some of the figures reported — for example, they estimate that 300,000 teenage abortions take place in the city every year, which, without more information/better sourcing, seems suspiciously high — but regardless of faulty reportage, NDTV certainly sparks contemplation of the changing face of sexuality in India.

Seeing Steve McCurry‘s feature in the October 2007 National Geographic irked me somewhat. McCurry, otherwise a fabulous photographer, took on a complex topic — The Great Indian Wedding — and, in my opinion, failed.

The series of 10 pictures is uncharacteristically flat, and, having attended my fair share of Indian weddings, they don’t grasp all the facets of what is a pretty universally huge undertaking. The images are obvious, they feel rushed, and worst, I feel no connection to the people in the pictures. For the man who immortalized the piercing gaze of an unnamed Afghan woman, it’s…a disappointment.

For an alternative take on the institution, here’s a link to a Flickr set chronicling my own Indian wedding — which took place at a rather dismal office and which was delayed by five hours by a bureaucrat who decided he didn’t want to grace us with his presence until he was good and ready. Ah, memories!

Witness Times Private Treaties, a hideous sham of a venture by which advertisers buy space in the Times of India, and TOI, in turn, buys a stake in the company doing the advertising, all in the name of synergy and profits and whatnot.

As Indian media watchdog The Hoot notes, “The more competitive the media business gets, the more inventive media houses become. And it becomes more of a headache to track the ethical dimensions and conflict of interest possibilities that emerge.” The newspaper industry in the subcontinent may be flourishing, but it’s certainly not without its discontents.

About 10,000 tea stalls in Chennai (formerly Madras), India, are closed in protest of spiraling fuel costs — an interesting story in the context of global energy costs, etc.

The story I’ve linked to is quite short; I’ve only found mentions of the strike in The Hindu and IndiaInteracts.com, and the reporting is woefully insufficient. Are the stall owners being reactionary? Have long-time subsidies given way to what the government and/or regulators perceive as more “fair” pricing? How does this (or can this) contrast with the reaction of, say, Americans to higher gas prices?

Discuss.

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(Photo from NYT, courtesy the man’s family)

The New York Times began a new series today, “War Torn,” that focuses on crimes and wartime experiences of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan who have committed killings (or been charged with them) after coming home. The first piece, “Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles,” is a heart-breaking, provocative, and essential piece of reportage. The paper also offers multimedia case studies, a slide show, an audio interview with a psychiatrist, and an excerpt from a related book.

 “Town by town across the country, headlines have been telling similar stories [of violence committed by veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan]. Lakewood, Wash.: ‘Family Blames Iraq After Son Kills Wife.’ Pierre, S.D.: ‘Soldier Charged With Murder Testifies About Postwar Stress.’ Colorado Springs: ‘Iraq War Vets Suspected in Two Slayings, Crime Ring.’

Individually, these are stories of local crimes, gut-wrenching postscripts to the war for the military men, their victims and their communities. Taken together, they paint the patchwork picture of a quiet phenomenon, tracing a cross-country trail of death and heartbreak.

The New York Times found 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killingi n this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war. In many of those cases, combat trauma and the stress of deployment — along with alcohol abuse, family discord and other attendant problems — appear to have set the stage for a tragedy that was part destruction, part self-destruction.”

This story hits home for me, having two brothers that have spent time fighting in both countries. I don’t see either very often, and when I do, the subject is off-limits. Occasionally, something about their time there will slip out — one Christmas, right after Saddam had been captured by the U.S. (“like a rat!”), one of my brothers kept mentioning how he swore he saw Hussein driving a taxi around Baghdad, and how he should have just shot him in the fuckin’ head right there, while he had a chance, how he always regretted not shooting the driver in the fuckin’ head. Another time, when someone asked if he had killed anyone, my brother got quiet, then noted that people there got killed all the time, but that the military was very respectful, that he had helped bury dead combatants in mass graves as soon as possible out of respect for Islamic mores and customs.

It’s hard to hear these stories, and even harder to figure out how to process them (imagine how hard it must be for my brothers themselves). As I’ve begun writing this, I’ve gotten…increasingly agitated, simply because I don’t know how to make sense of it all, or how to work my concern for my brothers (and people I went to high school with, and other acquaintances) into everyday life. But as I continue to ponder the subject, looking forward to the next story in the series, I’d like to leave you with a quote from Brockton D. Hunter, a criminal defense lawyer:

“To deny the frequent connection between combat trauma and subsequent criminal behavior is to deny one of the direct societal costs of war and to discard another generation of troubled heroes.”

It’s difficult to make sense of stories in which there may be no winners, only losers, only gaping holes where pieces of ourselves used to be. But it’s important to review them and cast a critical eye on them — and I applaud the Times for highlighting this important issue.

The Smithsonian gets in on the list game by presenting 28 must-see destinations, broken down by theme (for example, “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” — wonders on the verge of extinction — and “In the Presence of God” — temples “so magnificent they could only have been built by divine inspiration”).

I’ve seen two: the Taj Mahal (which I don’t have any fond memories of) and Angkor Wat (which really did make me feel alive in some intangible way). I may happen upon http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/lifelist-tikal.html when I’m in Guatemala, but I imagine that I’ll be so absorbed in watching Holy Week unfold that I won’t go too far from Antigua.

So … can you beat my utterly inconsequential score?

Today’s rec reading is, inevitably, Gloria Steinem’s piece in the New York Times, in which she argues that “gender is the most restricting force in American life.”

I’m not sure I agree with her assessment (nor do others; my favorite critiques are at Slate and Feministing); I’m not sure you can isolate elements of an individual (race, gender, age, physical ability, wealth, appearance, etc.) and say unequivocally that, by mote of sex, a woman can never be a political front-runner, but I am glad that Steinem is continuing to challenge the subtle pervasiveness of sexism. Because, let’s be honest, Obama getting misty-eyed would be considered genuine and winning, while Hilz’s “emotional” answer to a voter’s question about how she manages everything made four front pages, all musing on the continued viability of her campaign. Harumph.

An interesting piece about the human toll of sourcing products from low-cost countries: “In Chinese Factories, Lost Fingers and Low Pay” (David Barboza, NY Times). I think this passage should send shivers down the spine of anyone buying cheap toys from Wal-Mart:

“I work on the plastic molding machine from 6 in the morning to 6 at night,” said Xu Wenquan, a tiny, baby-faced 16-year-old whose hands were covered with blisters. Asked what had happened to his hands, he replied, the machines are “quite hot, so I’ve burned my hands.”

Equally if not more resonant was J. Adam Huggins’ documentation of Indian steelforgers contracted to make manhole covers for Con Edison. Barefoot and sweating so we can save some dollars … it just doesn’t seem quite fair.

(Password/logins may be required; I used BugMeNot to bypass it.)