One of These Things Is Not Like The Others

The article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch begins with a litany of unbulleted things it must want its readers to see as equivalent:

A stolen SUV.

Five unsupervised kids inside.

Police in pursuit.

An innocent in the way.

Did you spot how they are different? The Post-Dispatch wants you to know how they are the same. That’s why you bullet point things like that. To show their similarity. And here’s how the Post-Dispatch thinks there the same:

The elements of St. Louis’ ever-unfolding tragedy came together once again in a fierce collision on Kingshighway early Friday.

See? They’re all elements in the ever-unfolding tragedy that is the city of St. Louis. Want to know what happened?

Killed was Gary “Chip” Alter, 24, a recent St. Louis University graduate, a world traveler and a “handsome devil” with unlimited potential, in his mother’s words.

Alter was driving north on Kingshighway from a friend’s home in the Hill neighborhood. He took a left to go west on Interstate 44 and home to Manchester.

About 3:30 a.m., a Dodge Durango was 90 mph northbound in Kingshighway’s southbound lanes. It broadsided Alter.

“My son’s life was taken much too soon,” a broken Joan Alter said later.

Schnuck it, the Post-Dispatch isn’t going to tell you; the whole article is an exercise in passive-voice journalism, where unfortunate things occur. This pyramid structure has all of the important facts at the bottom of the article, building a sleepy storyline that casts no blame except to the abstract iniquity. Here’s what happened:

Five kids, between the ages 12 and 16, stole a Dodge Durango in the afternoon and spent the night breaking into cars while leaving the Durango running; when someone called the cops at 3:30 am, the St. Louis Tin pursued until a cop supervisor told them to back off. After the pursuit ended, the Durango, still fleeing, broadsided another car and killed its driver.

Cripes, if only the driver had been drinking, he’d have a future with the Rams when he got out of juvenile camp and if he finished high school.

Of the four things mentioned in the first lines of the article, one is responsible for the tragedy, but the Post-Dispatch really wants to blur that distinction and reduce all to just equally-weighted “elements,” probably because the actual responsible line item isn’t the SUV, the police, or the innocent. It’s the known juvenile delinquents.

Turning the Irony to the Wool Setting

Congratulations once again to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. In today’s print edition, the story entitled Hosts of sports-talk shows should follow a few basics contains rule number one for radio sports talk show hosts:

Be as informed as your listeners: Hosts should know at least as much about current events as those who are on the other end of the radio. And it doesn’t take that much work.

Accompanying this piece is a photo of Tony Twist, who has recently been ousted from a hosting position on one of the radio stations discussed in the article. The caption for the photo?

Former Blues defenseman Tony Twist was a casualty of changes at radio station KSLG.

Here on the Internet, we have a saying: Double-check your spelling when you criticize someone’s grammar.

Note to the unhockey-savvy, including the sports photo caption writers for the Post-Dispatch:Tony Twist was a winger, a forward, not a defenseman.

Kudos to the Editorial Page Editor

Thank you, wise leaders of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, for choosing this photograph to accompany Kevin Horrigan’s column this Sunday entitled “The moral clarity of death by Apache“.

Instead of, say, any of these.

I would say, “Shame on you,” but that requires someone able to feel shame.

(Thanks to Meryl Yourish whose “Meirav was two” post led me to the photos of the Hautel children.)

Take Two

Clap the, well, clapboard, for the St. Louis Post Dispatch has a new reason to oppose the discontinuation of emissions testing in the St. Louis area:

In 1999, Robert Bowers, a buyer for the Office of Administration, signed a contract on behalf of the state with Environmental Systems Products, a Connecticut-based company that runs the 15 inspection stations in Missouri. The company is the largest provider of emissions tests in the world.

Its contract runs through August 2007. Ending it early could mean the state would have to refund $40 million to company.

With a general fund that already faces shortfalls, that could mean the death of legislation that narrowly won first-round approval in the Missouri House on Monday.

Pardon my simplistic understanding of contracts, but I don’t think Environmental Systems Products paid forty million dollars to the State of Missouri for the privilege of conducting business which the state will have to refund if it revokes that privilege. I would guess that the buy-out payment is less than what the government, and buy government I mean we citizens would have to pay out to keep the program going. Not to mention our own hassles of sitting in our cars for an hour waiting our turn on the rollers.

But it’s not about just payng the forty million, oh no:

The state would also lose the $2.50 fee it collects from each $24 inspection if it ends the program. That would mean about $600,000 a year in lost revenue.

Oh, there’s the loss of the ability to strip money from motorists in the St. Louis area. That hurts the state budget, which will undoubtedly be forced to cutback to roller skates from nicely-painted vans on some meals on wheels program or another.

It’s good to see persistence on the part of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. They hit us with the dreaded runny nose and lost jobs attack, now it’s contract “refunds” and lost state revenue. What will it be tomorrow, lack of emissions testing leads to increased ecstasy use and removes St. Louis from consideration for an NBA expansion team?

Passive Voice as An Art Form

The front page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch which arrived on my driveway:

Post-Dispatch early edition

Man, you have to love the artistry in the headline JOBLESS FATHER IS KILLED AFTER BANK IS ROBBED. When an armed robber menaces bank tellers and guards with a shotgun and then points it at responding police officers, it’s important to remove all assignment of blame from the robber and build a morally neutral headline. If anyone is to blame, it’s obviously George W. Bush, whose faltering economy and job destruction has led honorable fathers to desperate acts. I guess the editor who concocted this headline was being even handed in not blaring POLICE GUN DOWN JOBLESS FATHER AFTER BANK IS ROBBED.

That, friends, is a work of art in passive voice.

I notice that the online recreation of the front page looks different:

Post-Dispatch later edition

JOBLESS FATHER IS KILLED AFTER ROBBING BANK still runs a little sympathetic for the bank robber. The headline for the online story isn’t much better: Robber is killed outside bank, police say, which uses the “authority figures allege” asterisk to show that the crusading headline writers at the Post-Dispatch won’t be duped into thinking that a man with a shotgun and a bagful of money coming out of a bank is anything but a victim of oppression by a heartless police force/society/something other than his own bad choices.

I Think It Has Something To Do With a Movie

Here’s the St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s film critic Joe “Bonwich was the food critic at the RFT, Dammit” Williams reviewing The Last Passion of Christ or whatever the damn thing is called.

It is anti-Semitic because Joe knows anti-Semitism when he sees it:

In Gibson’s version of events, the only earthly reason our hero is subjected to this interminable flogging is because he was betrayed by Jews. Those who feared that “The Passion of the Christ” would have an anti-Semitic subtext will have their worst fears confirmed. The unmistakable villain of the movie is Caiaphas (Mattia Sbragia), the leering, lip-smacking high priest who orders Jesus arrested and pays hecklers to demand that he be crucified. By comparison, the Roman overlord Pontius Pilate (the excellent Hristo Shopov) is a fair-minded if fretful bureaucrat who only consents to have Jesus executed to avoid civil unrest.

I don’t know, but I think it would have been a tad inauthentic to make the villain a Swedish media magnate. I thought “authenticity” meant something to people who critique the cinema.

But who am I to argue with the multi-lingual intellectual Williams? After all, he’s apparently fluent in a dead language:

In a scene that has been the subject of much prerelease debate, Gibson plays it coy, eliminating the subtitle when the Jewish onlookers shout, “Let his blood be upon us and our children,” but retaining the offending line in Aramaic.

Since he heard the line spoken and knew what it meant, one can only assume that Williams knows Aramaic, ainna? The other safe assumption might be that Williams has read other criticisms of the movie and is basing his column on what other people said about it, essentially making bullet points into paragraphs as best he can.

But I digress. Let’s play some more “Where’s the Anti-Semitism?” with Joe:

Except for Jesus’ disciples and the two Marys (Maia Morgenstern and Monica Bellucci as the mother and Magdalene, respectively), the Jewish characters are sinister and slovenly. Even some Jewish children are demonized, as they morph into monsters and drive the apostle Judas to suicide.

Jewish children, demonized as they morph into monsters. Heck’s pecs, I haven’t read the New Testament yet, but if they have cool special effects written right into the stage directions like that, perhaps I should. Still, I have a little trouble as a, you know, thoughtful person in thinking that these children which morph into demons to torment Judas morph into demons because they’re Jewish. I think they might have morphed into demons because Judas was tormented, and Jewish children fit into the scene. Munchkins would undoubtedly have been better to prevent anti-Semitism charges. But the Holy Land ain’t Oz.

For some inexplicable reason, Gibson’s scholarship becomes a question, not the movie:

Like his father, who claimed last week that the Holocaust is mostly fiction, Mel Gibson is neither a theologian nor a scholar. Historians – the kind who look at evidence – surmise that Jesus of Nazareth was executed because he fought back when his Middle Eastern homeland was occupied by the world’s most powerful army. That doesn’t fit the obviously heartfelt agenda of the director, who adheres to an embattled offshoot of Catholicism and often portrays a martyr in his movies.

Like me, who last week drank Milwaukee dry of Guinness Draught (well, okay, just one pub), Joe Williams is neither a concert violinist nor professional elephant trainer. But what does that have to do with the price of tee shirts in China? Not an annpacking thing, but it does ad homenim Mel Gibson, particularly the sweet bit about what Mel Gibson’s father said last week wherein Williams hopes some transference occurs in the reader’s mind between the father and the son.

Gibson’s neither Scotch nor Danish, either, but he was in Braveheart and Hamlet, and he had a heartfelt agenda in them, too. To make a film.

Suddenly, if the johnking history, that is to say the interpretation of history currently favored by professional academics, is the final arbiter on critical relevance then Shakespeare’s about to be unemployed. Methinks John Williams better hie himself hence to the University to retain his job, but he’s probably already the journalistic equivalent of tenured.

I don’t imagine I’ll see the film in the theater; maybe on DVD. However, I couldn’t let this review pass unsnarked. Thank you for understanding.

Unfair and Imbalanced

Number 1 headline on this Sunday’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Dangerous Cargo on Our Roads, Rails. Of course, if you were expecting a good, balanced view of the sometimes dangerous but necessary transporation of hazardous materials, you should wait for the story in the Atlantic Monthly.

How’s the Post-Dispatch do? Well, let’s see what we have. Lead:

PALMYRA, Mo. – First came the early morning rap on the door. Then came the coughing, the burning eyes.

In the frantic moments that followed a May 17, 2003, hydrochloric acid spill on nearby U.S. Highway 61, Shorti Garner and her husband, Steve, woke their children and piled them into the family camper to flee their home.

“My kids – in blankets and all – I scooped them up,” Shorti Garner said.

A nice play-on-the-emotions anecdote. Anecdotes! Who can deny that it’s a frightening situation? I live within a mile of the confluence of two Interstate highways and have train tracks. (Well, I am not a naturalist, but I assume a train left them. They’re two big for cat tracks.) I am right in the danger zone for a spill, but I don’t worry about it.

Why? Because every year four hundred people die from these sorts of accidents. That’s not a high number, considering all the stuff travelling about. I would expect more hit and run deaths than deaths from hydrochloric acid exposure from these things leaking.

But that’s not the Post-Dispatch’s point. Now, they don’t delve into issues such as alternate means of transportation, such as dogsleds, homing pigeons, or anything that would be safer. They also don’t explain why dangerous chemicals are transported this way, that these chemicals are used to make things people want to buy.

No, I guess the only thing the Post-Dispatch wants to do is panic its stupid readers (whether it thinks its readers are stupid, or whether the people who read it and panic are stupid, I leave to history to decide) and blame the cause of the panic on big greedy corporations who behave irresponsibly at the expense of the little man. Unlike Pulitzer Publishing.

Fighting for the Little Guy

Once again, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch issues the clarion and unfurls the banner of fighting for the little guy. In this case, it’s a 412-pound truck driver fired because he couldn’t fit behind the steering wheel of the truck he was supposed to drive.

We covered this in my collegiate class on ethics and contemporary issues. It’s not discrimination if it disqualifies you from the physical duties of the job. You don’t see many 4’8″ centers in the NBA, nor will you see paraplegics as warehouse pickers. If a person just cannot do the job, the employer has no obligation to continue paying that person for nothing.

But this guy, and his mighty champion paper, want him to retain his position and pay without doing the work. Instead of hanging onto the old, perhaps he should look for new opportunities. Like being a dispatcher, where he can sit all day.

That’s forward thinking, and that’s not what people or the Post-Dispatch do.

When is a Cliché Not a Cliché?

Obviously, when a 733t Skillz H34dl1ne Wr1t3r smears the pallete and mixes up some new metaphors, like in this St. Louis Post-Dispatch header:

Democrats shake up their slate

You see, you used to erase slates with an eraser or a cloth when you wanted to change information on them. But this headline writer updated the metaphor by including the shaking erasure style used by this new laptop called an Etch-A-Sketch. Apparently, this new gizmo has an LCD screen or something you can manually clear by, get this, shaking it!

By including it in the headline, this master craftsman ensure that today’s kids “dig it.”