Reader Bill Millan forwarded my criticism of the recent L.A. Times article on the cost of the death penalty to Mr. Rone Tempest, the reporter who wrote the piece. Mr. Millan received a lengthy response from Mr. Tempest, and forwarded it to me. Since Mr. Tempest’s e-mail responded to the points made in my post, I sent Mr. Tempest an e-mail in response. The lengthy e-mail exchange is reprinted in the extended entry.
Florida legislators have introduced the Incapacitated Persons’ Legal Protection Act, which would give Terri Schiavo the same protections enjoyed by inmates on Death Row.
In a comment to this Winds of Change post, I learned something new about Ted Rall’s lawsuit against Danny Hellman. (Rall sued Hellman after Hellman sent a joke e-mail to some people, pretending to be Rall.)
Apparently, Rall claimed damages in part because Hellman’s e-mail “made [Rall] appear as a rude, petty, self-absorbed writer/cartoonist . . .”
I thought truth was a defense.
I mean, this is like Kirstie Alley suing her pants for making her butt look big.
On a point of word usage, Eugene Volokh says:
Moreover, it’s especially important for lawyers not just to be right, but to look right.
I used to work for a civil law firm, and one particular partner made this exact point to me several times, usually when I had deliberately made the error commonly known as splitting an infinitive. (If I say that I really was splitting an infinitive, then Xrlq will have a hissy fit.) Regular readers know that I am a supporter of breaking such grammatical “rules” if doing so aids clarity and avoids awkwardness.
For example, a sentence of mine might read: “It is better to awkwardly insert a word inside an infinitive than to mindlessly follow ancient rules of grammar.” In a sentence like that, this partner (a very good writer) would move the adverbs before the word “to,” so that the sentence read: “It is better awkwardly to insert a word inside an infinitive than mindlessly to follow ancient rules of grammar.”
I would object that this made the sentence awkward. She would agree — but said that our point was to influence the judge, and judges notice split infinitives. Better to show we know the rule, she said.
Any litigators out there? How do you feel about this? I see the partner’s point, but I wish that we had judges who preferred clarity of expression to a slavish devotion to archaic grammatical rules. If I were writing a brief to Judge Volokh, for example, I’d “split” all the “infinitives” I wanted.
P.S. Her other piece of advice: lose the adverbs to begin with. (There’s another bugaboo in the last sentence: a preposition at the end of a sentence!) Too many adverbs are distracting anyway, she would say, and rob your sentences of vigor. It’s decent advice. I should follow it more often.