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The Economist publishes my criticism of former British prime minister Tony Blair

The Economist‘s May 31st issue contained an article titled “What I’ve learned” by Tony Blair in which he “reflects on the lessons of his decade as Britain’s prime minister.”

A few days ago The Economist printed my letter in response to Blair’s piece on its website (scroll down to the last letter):

SIR–

Tony Blair lays out evidence for Iran’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Al-Qaeda’s having been “in Iraq before Saddam’s fall”. It’s unfortunate that Mr. Blair’s credibility is such that my immediate reaction was to wonder if he was exaggerating. Notably, Mr. Blair did not reflect on the need for accuracy and honesty in dealings with the public.

Mr. Blair goes on to write “terrorism recruits adherents on the basis of an appeal to human emotion”. How do accounts of yellow cake purchases in Niger and Mr Hussein being 45 minutes away from unleashing weapons of mass destruction differ from the terrorists’ tactic? It’s unfortunate that none of Mr. Blair’s reflections pertained to the need for world leaders to be honest and forthright when advocating a course of action—especially when making the case for war. Inflated, or “sexed up”, claims cause a loss of credibility which, in turn, can mean future threats go unheeded. And leaders who exaggerate these threats see their potential wasted and legacies tarnished.

Zach Everson
Washington, DC

(Please note the punctuation, notably putting commas and periods outside of the quotation marks, follows the standards for British English.)

I’m no longer a writer, editor, and consultant

My new title is grammar and strategy tsar.

From The Economist—”Absurd titles: Tsarstruck“:

When, a few years ago, word came that British bird lovers anxious about the decline of the house sparrow had appointed a sparrow tsar, it seemed that the tsar vogue must have reached its zenith. France already had a crime tsar, London a traffic tsar, Japan a banking tsar, the European Union a foreign-policy tsar, and America had tsars for adoption, baseball, B-movies, manufacturing, record labels, you name it. No one, however, could outdo the sparrow tsar, or so you might think. Surely he would prove to be not so much the reductio ad absurdum as the dernier cri, the ne plus ultra in the once-rarefied realm of tsardom? But no. The latest newcomer, unless one has been added since you started this paragraph, is President George Bush’s war tsar.

Can electronic style manuals replace the paper format?

While reading last week’s New Yorker, in which two of my favorite writers had articles about two of my least favorite people (Jeffrey Toobin on Arlen Specter and Ken Auletta on Lou Dobbs), I noticed a small advertisement toward the back of the magazine:

The Chicago Manual of Style is now available online.

One of the great benefits of freelancing is that I can work from anywhere. Having to lug around style manuals, however, hinders my mobility. So the ad got me thinking about electronic style manuals: might they make it easier to travel?

Unfortunately, there are several drawbacks about this new product:

  • It only is available online. So if you are going to rely on it, you need to have Internet access.
  • Annual subscriptions cost $25. As the hardcopy costs $35 (with free shipping) on Amazon.com and the manual is not updated every year, the website is more expensive.
  • My copy of Chicago—as I’m sure is the case with many other writers and editors—is dog-eared. I’m not sure how to replicate that timesaver online.

Chicago, however, is available as a CD-ROM. I figured that format might better suit my needs as it’s only a one-time purchase and it doesn’t require Internet access.

Then I read the feedback on Amazon.com: “The software implementation permits users to read only a single numbered paragraph of the book at a time: those who know the print edition will readily understand that having to click one’s mouse repeatedly to move from paragraph 17:148 to 17:149 to 17:150, each occupying just a few lines on separate screens, is an unbelievably cumbersome way to use this essential reference tool.”

So much for not having to cart around the big orange book any more.

Other style manuals have been similarly clumsy in their electronic formats. The Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications, which I reviewed earlier, comes with a CD-ROM, but it does not work on Macs and most reviewers have deemed the disc useless. And while The Economist’s Style Guide is available online, other than The Economist I don’t know of any publications that use it.