The best and the worst come together in Times Square

Did you hear about the massive swarm of bees that descended upon Times Square earlier this week?

From the New York Times:

"Thousands of bees swarmed part of Times Square on Tuesday afternoon, sending tourists and passers-by scrambling before the bees settled on the cart of a very unhappy hot-dog vendor at 43rd Street and Broadway.

The mass of insects was so dense it weighed down sections of the stand’s umbrella. 

The incident lasted all of an hour before the New York Police Department’s own beekeeping team vacuumed up the horde of honeybees and took them safely to a new location." 

This story struck a particular chord with me.

I'm allergic to bees. They kill me dead if they sting me.

But hot dogs are my second favorite food item in the world, and one of my favorite things overall.

Bees and hot dogs. Friend and foe collide. A bizarre, incomprehensible combination of my favorite and least favorite things. 

It almost feels as if the universe is winking at me. Or threatening me. 

The problem with crossword puzzles

I've never done a crossword in my life. Like Sudoku, I hated the idea of working on something that yields nothing in return when I'm finished. 

Yes, my vocabulary might improve, and I'll exercise my brain a bit, but I could just read a book instead and get all that a story or nonfiction title has to offer in addition to those vocabulary and brain benefits.  

But Elysha introduced me to the New York Times crossword app, which has short, daily crosswords that are timed. 

daily mini.png

Timed means that not only is accuracy under scrutiny but also speed. 

Timed means completing one can be turned into a competition.

I like competition. I like competition against myself, and I like to compete against others, including Elysha. I also like the fact that Elysha is indisputably better at completing crossword puzzles than me. Her times are often half of my own, and I have yet to beat her. 

Recently, she asked how long the latest crossword took me to complete, and when I said, "Almost four minutes," she responded with the sweetest, "Oh..." possible. 

I like this. I love to chase a frontrunner.   

So for the past month, I've been doing the daily New York Times daily mini crosswords. The first crosswords of my life. It always takes less than five minutes, and I've admittedly learned some new words along the way.

It's also been fun, and I'm improving. This morning I completed the puzzle in 1:01.

I have yet to crack one minute, which Elysha cracks almost daily.

But I have a complaint. As a newcomer to this world of crossword puzzles, one aspect of these puzzles is complete and utter nonsense:

The two word answer.

Like today, for example. The clue was "On the ocean." The answer was "At sea."

This is nonsense. Balderdash. Hooey. Poppycock. Malarkey.  

I understand that the two word answer might seem normal if you've lived with crosswords for a long time, but as one who just arrived in this new world and has an unvarnished, objective view of the landscape, I'm here to report that two word answers are lazy, sad, shortcuts to real clues. 

This is a crossword puzzle. Not a crosswords puzzle. One word crosses another.  

Every time a crossword creator writes a two word clue, an angel's wings fall off and the once- righteous being plummets to the depths of hell. 

Two word answers are the worst. 

And this is not sour grapes. I've gradually grown accustomed to the stupidity of the two word answer in the same way I had grown accustomed to the stupidity of the Electoral College and laugh tracks. Two word answers are not delaying my crossword completion.

They are just tearing at the fabric of my soul. 

The New York Times use of honorifics must end.

I like the New York Times.

I'm an online subscriber to the New York Times.

Despite Trump's insistence that the New York Times is failing, digital subscriptions are at a record high, the stock price is near a 52 week high, and Trump gave a long and damning interview to the paper just last week.

Thanks to the New York Times, we know more about the Trump administration than Trump would ever want the American people to know. They have broken important story after important story. 

I like the New York Times a lot.

But enough already with the damn honorifics.  

In a quaint vestige of a dying era, the New York Times still uses honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. when writing about people in the news section as a means of demonstrating respect for the people on whom they report.

It's time to stop.

There are a few reasons that I want this to stop, but primarily, I want it to stop because using these honorifics is pretentious. Precious. A sad clinging to a bygone day. Unnecessary tradition that certain readers would surely hate to see go, but I suspect that those who would object the most are also pretentious, precious, and a little sad.

And the Time already more than a little pretentious. The way in which couples strive to land their wedding announcements in the Times, as if it's some kind of a badge of honor, is a little pretentious and sad. These pages are dripping with stories of the wealthiest, most privileged people in the world celebrating their nuptials and wanting anyone who is anyone to know all about it and them. And unless there is an Ivy Leaguer or a ballerina or an investment banker or a Dr. somewhere in the bunch, you ain't getting in. 

There are websites dedicated to making fun of these people, and rightfully so. 

When plumbers marry teachers in New York, the Times doesn't care.   

I hate this. And it's just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the Times pretentiousness.

But my desire for the Times to abandon honorifics goes beyond that. The use of honorifics also creates enormous inconsistencies and matters of questionable judgement. 

Take this piece about Mo'Nique's and Sidney Hicks open marriage. Because Mo'Nique doesn't use a last name, she appears throughout the piece as Mo'Nique whereas Sidney becomes Mr. Hicks.

This inconsistency is annoying and stupid. And it happens all the time. 

The same is done for someone like Meat Loaf, who the Times could refer to as Mr. Loaf but wisely does not. Also Ice Cube. Ice Tea. Snoop Dog. 50 Cent.

You get the idea.  

Then there's the Times' decision to remove the honorific when referring to someone who is considered exceedingly evil, like Osama Bin Laden, but then not removing it for someone like Saddam Hussein. 

The Times has also stop using honorifics on their sports page, because... I guess athletes don't merit the same respect as Mr. Bieber, a entertainer so annoying that he was banned from China this week? Or OJ Simpson? Bill Cosby? Vladimir Putin? 

The Times recently added the gender-neutral pronoun Mx. to their stable of honorifics, which was a good decision if you're going to cling to the needless tradition of honorifics but will surely enrage the kind of Trump supporter who thinks that our cars should be powered by coal, people should only have sex with opposing genitalia, and women shouldn't be exposing their shoulders in the US Senate. 

Actually, I guess that's kind of a good thing,

Still, rather than adding an honorific to obscure sex and gender, how about just removing them altogether.

Mr. only serves to indicate that the person in question has a penis.

Miss, Ms., and Mrs. only serve to indicate the marital status and presence of a vagina. 

Stupid. 

The only other thing I like about their rules of honorifics related to the use of the title Dr.

"Dr. should be used in all references for physicians, dentists and veterinarians whose practice is their primary current occupation, or who work in a closely related field, like medical writing, research or pharmaceutical manufacturing."

In the New York Times, a Dr. is a doctor. 

A person who has earned a PhD can also request that the Dr. honorific is used, but only if it's related to their current occupation.

I just like the idea that they have to ask. 

"Um... excuse me. I earned a PhD. in comparative literature with a focus on eighteenth century Lithuanian feminist male writers. Could you please refer to me as Dr. Jones?"

I like the groveling that's required to get that precious honorific in the pages of the paper.  

Trump called the media "the enemy of the American people." This could not be further from the truth.

Donald Trump's assault on the press took a new and ominous step yesterday when he called the press the "enemy of the American people." At a rally in Florida, he misquoted Thomas Jefferson in an effort to defend his position, a fact brought to light by journalists. 

The Jeffersonian quote that Trump should've used was this:

"The only security of all is in a free press." - Thomas Jefferson

He might've also cited the words of South African President Nelson Mandela:

"A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy."

I understand why Trump is attempting to turn the American people against the media. In just his third week in office, journalists revealed that National Security Advisor Mike Flynn had lied to the Vice President and the American people about his discussions with Russia prior to the inauguration - lies that Trump knew about for at least two weeks and did nothing about except fire the one person (Sally Yates) who warned him about Flynn's lies and his possible exposure to blackmail as a result. 

This led to the eventual firing of Flynn - something Trump obviously wanted to avoid but needed to happen for the safety and security of the country.

The truth can be inconvenient, particularly when you are attempting to cover up illegalities in your administration. 

Thankfully, Americans are supporting the media in numbers greater than ever before. Increases in subscriptions and viewership across television and newspapers is astounding:

The New York Times - a favorite target of the President - is enjoying record numbers of digital subscriptions, and their stock is at a 52 week high.  

The media is not and never has been the enemy of the American people. The media is comprised of men and women who seek the truth on a daily basis, oftentimes risking their lives in the process.

Journalism giants like Woodward and Bernstein saved our country from a tyrant (who also referred to the press as an enemy). Trailblazing journalists like Nellie Bly changed the way mental health institutions are run today.

And then there are the thousands of journalists who have been kidnapped, tortured, murdered, beheaded, and otherwise killed in the line of duty.

1230 since 1992 alone.

Here are the faces of just a few of the men and women who have given their lives in pursuit of the truth in the last few years. A President who was granted five highly questionable military deferments during Vietnam has no right referring to our press as the enemy of the American people.

Journalists are all that stands between propaganda and truth. They are underpaid, under-appreciated, oftentimes unsung heroes of the American people.

We must stand beside them in times like these.   

This correction could only be found in a New York Times wedding announcement

I'm not a fan of the New York Times wedding announcements.

Based upon some number crunching by The Atlantic, it's clear that these announcements amount  to lists of white people who graduated from Ivy League schools, work as Congressional staffers, and/or work as elite attorneys.

Not exactly scintillating reading.

Not exactly folks in need of any more attention than they're already received in life.

There's actually a website designed to a searchable database of nearly 60,000 NYT wedding announcements from 1981 through 2016 that allowed you to plot n-gram frequency and visualize trends across 30+ years of nuptials.

The website creator's goal: The New York Times’s wedding section is a perfect natural experiment designed to answer the question: What do the world’s most self-important people think is important?

All you have to do is watch how phrases like "Prospect Park," "magna cum laude", "hedge fund," and "met at Harvard, Yale or Princeton" have soared in popularity in the last 10-20 years to know who you are dealing with in these announcements.

While this correction from an October wedding announcement is certainly not indicative of every New York Times wedding announcement, I suspect that it could only happen in a New York Times engagement announcement.

One of the most remarkable pieces of writing in New York Times history - for reasons that will surprise you

A New York Times piece from July 2009 entitled Cronkite’s Signature: Approachable Authority is truly remarkable. 

It's not remarkable because of the content. The information and insight into Walter Cronkite is interesting but hardly groundbreaking or revelatory. 

And it's not remarkable because of the writing style or particular assemblage of words. It's well written and effective but certainly not Pulitzer worthy.

No, the reason this piece is truly remarkable is because of the two corrections that immediately follow it. Both the size of the corrections (273 words long in contrast to a piece that is 997 words in length) and the particular errors made cause this piece to stand out as one for the ages. 

Read the piece if you'd like, but unless you are a fan of Walter Cronkite, there is no need.

Just read this correction. You will be astounded. 

Correction: July 22, 2009 
An appraisal on Saturday about Walter Cronkite’s career included a number of errors. In some copies, it misstated the date that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed and referred incorrectly to Mr. Cronkite’s coverage of D-Day. Dr. King was killed on April 4, 1968, not April 30. Mr. Cronkite covered the D-Day landing from a warplane; he did not storm the beaches. In addition, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, not July 26. “The CBS Evening News” overtook “The Huntley-Brinkley Report” on NBC in the ratings during the 1967-68 television season, not after Chet Huntley retired in 1970. A communications satellite used to relay correspondents’ reports from around the world was Telstar, not Telestar. Howard K. Smith was not one of the CBS correspondents Mr. Cronkite would turn to for reports from the field after he became anchor of “The CBS Evening News” in 1962; he left CBS before Mr. Cronkite was the anchor. Because of an editing error, the appraisal also misstated the name of the news agency for which Mr. Cronkite was Moscow bureau chief after World War II. At that time it was United Press, not United Press International.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: August 1, 2009 
An appraisal on July 18 about Walter Cronkite’s career misstated the name of the ABC evening news broadcast. While the program was called “World News Tonight” when Charles Gibson became anchor in May 2006, it is now “World News With Charles Gibson,” not “World News Tonight With Charles Gibson.”

The New York Times gets haiku all wrong, and I’m infuriated. Probably more than I should be.

The New York Times has been publishing “serendipitous haikus” for the last couple years on a Tumblr called Times Haiku. An algorithm designed to detect potential haikus in text periodically scans the New York Times home page for newly published articles. Then it scans each sentence looking for potential haikus by using an electronic dictionary containing syllable counts.

While I am thrilled that a newspaper would support the writing and publishing of poetry, I’m rarely impressed by these haikus, knowing that they are only based upon the arcane syllable structure that is often taught in elementary school but does not actually define a haiku.

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The Times acknowledges this limitation.

A proper haiku should also contain a word that indicates the season, or “kigo,” as well as a juxtaposition of verbal imagery, known as “kireji.”

Unfortunately, these are conditions that their algorithm cannot detect, but they are far more important than the syllable rule, which isn’t an actual rule. While I am inclined to ignore the rule about indicating a season when writing a haiku, it’s the turn or the juxtaposition of verbal imagery that makes a haiku compelling.

Without it, a haiku is merely a collection of words with a specific set of syllables.

Knowing that the Times was relying on an algorithm to produce their Haiku Tumblr, I had no complaint. They weren’t pretending that these were good haikus. It was more of a clever experiment. A fanciful exercise.

It never produced something like this:

a world of dew,
and within every dewdrop
a world of struggle

- Issa

Or this:

I kill an ant
and realize my three children
have been watching.

-Kato Shuson

But that was okay. I was glad an algorithm can’t write good poetry.

I can’t exactly write good haiku either. My best attempt is probably this one:

As a little child
You held my small hand in yours.
Now I walk for you.

-Matthew Dicks

But this week The New York Times put out a call to its readers for haikus.

For National Poetry Month, City Room hosted the New York City Haiku Challenge. We looked for original haiku that told us a little bit about New York City.

We plan to publish a selection of entries that moved us in some way — that made us laugh, think, reflect, smile, blush or even fume. We plan to illustrate the best ones with Times photographs.

I was excited about the idea. I enjoy writing haiku. I intend on having my students write haiku.

But the Times self-described “101 guide on writing a haiku” could have been taken from a first grade book on the subject:

  • Only three lines.
  • First line must be five syllables.
  • Second line must be seven syllables.
  • The third line must be five syllables.
  • Punctuation and capitalization are up to you.
  • It doesn’t have to rhyme.
  • It must be original.

Where is the call for juxtaposition? Why publish a guide for writing haiku that leaves out the essence of haiku? The part that actually matters?

I know I shouldn’t be infuriated by something so small, but I am.