Friday, May 29, 2009

Know your U.S. Presidents

A correction today from the Times Observer of Warren, Pa.:

An errant classified "personal" ad which appeared in Thursday's Times Observer has drawn the attention of law enforcement officials.

A person from Warren placed the ad, which apparently alludes to the wish that President Obama meet an untimely end by linking him with four assassinated presidents. The ad representative didn't make the connection among the four other presidents mentioned [emphasis added] and mistakenly allowed the ad to run.

Upon realizing the mistake early Thursday morning, the ad was immediately discontinued and the identity of the person who placed the ad was turned over to Warren City Police as per newspaper policy. The local police department forwarded the information to federal authorities, as per department policy.

The Times Observer apologizes for the oversight.

The ad — thank you, Mr. Romenesko — read: “May Obama follow in the footsteps of Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy!"

The grit in the oyster

I can’t help myself; I’ve been a copy editor for too long. When I read for amusement, I notice things that go awry, and they stick in my mind.

I recently read, and mainly enjoyed, Susan Cheever’s American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Hendry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work. It was a refreshing, somewhat novelistic survey of the writers of the Concord circle.

But Martin Van Buren was not the incumbent president in the election of 1852, and Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, not April 19, and noticing these slips in the text leaves me wondering how many other, unnoticed errors it might harbor.

This week’s book was Daniel Mark Epstein’s Lincoln’s Men: The President and His Private Secretaries. Looking at Lincoln and his administration through the perspective of John Nicolay and John Hay (and William Osborn Stoddard, about whom I had previously been unaware) was informative both about Lincoln’s character and his management of his administration. Mr. Epstein’s book is also gracefully written and insightful.

Still, I doubt that Hay was the bridegroom at Nicolay’s wedding and suspect that he was instead the best man.

I sat with my son in the October sunlight last year at the Festival-on-the-Hill in Bolton Hill, with a glass of McHenry beer and a plate of oysters on the half shell. That is nearly as good as life gets. The oysters were a little gritty, which did not erase the joy of the day, but it would have been a keener pleasure without the grit.

I admire and enjoy the work of Ms. Cheever and Mr. Epstein, but my pleasure would have been uncorrupted if someone — say a copy editor — had gone through their texts on the alert for the mishaps that befall even the best writers.

'White' is also an ethnicity

The nomination to the Supreme Court of Judge Sonia Sotomayor has generated a quantity of chatter about race, little of it edifying.

Tom Tancredo, a Republican and former congressman from Colorado, has been widely quoted: “If you belong to an organization called La Raza, in this case ... which is from my point of of view anyway ... nothing more than a ... Latino KKK without the hoods or the nooses. If you belong to something like that in a way that's going to convince me and a lot of other people that it's got nothing to do with race. Even though the logo of La Raza is ‘All for the race. Nothing for the rest.’ What does that tell you?”*

It tells me something about Mr. Tancredo, but not much about the issue of race.

Let’s refresh the perspective: George W. Bush appointed two middle-aged white men to the Supreme Court.* White is as much an ethnic marker as black or Hispanic — particularly since demographic trends point to a future in which all three groups will be minorities in the U.S. population.

Given that that future is near at hand, it would be a good idea to abandon the practice of saying that ethnicity is an issue only when African-Americans and Latinos are involved. White is also an ethnicity, even if the news media and the commentators are not used to thinking in those terms.

*The quoted material is taken from It is possible that it’s a little garbled, but it is also plausible that Mr. Tancredo sometimes gets his feet tangled in his own syntax.

**It would be odious to identify middle-aged white men with a particular political party.