I seldom like seeing the New York Times on my doormat in the morning, but I enjoyed it today. Headline, in that alarming Italic typeface and reinforcing diagonally-slanted layout of theirs:
GRAB FOR POWER
IN CRIMEA RAISES
It’s a haiku, except that each line is short a syllable. And of course the double enjambement into and out of the middle line is genius, sheer genius.
‘With the Russian flag planted atop the regional Parliament, Crimea raised the specter of secession from Ukraine, threatening renewed civil conflict and a showdown between Ukraine’s fledgling government and the Kremlin.’
The Times’ reporters are unfortunately not up to the literary standard of its headline writers. The cliche density in this graf approaches neutron-star levels: specters raised, showdowns, fledglings, and that fine old staple, The Kremlin. Of course I indulge a lot in the last-mentioned myself, so I probably shouldn’t shy any cobblestones at that target. The Kremlin! Even now, doesn’t the mere phrase make your blood run cold? Is there… laughter in The Kremlin? I think there is. I can just hear it. Ah quel frisson!
And what’s this about ‘planting’ a flag? Doesn’t one usually raise a flag? And how are we to construe the curtain-raising ‘with’ clause — a kind of poor man’s ablative-absolute?
Anyway, I’m too lazy to transcribe more, and the version of this story now online has changed a great deal since the print edition went to bed last night:
Masked Forces at 2 Airports in Crimea; Russia Disavows Move
SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine — Armed men of uncertain allegiance took up positions at two airports here in Ukraine’s Crimean region on Friday, fueling concerns about possible Russian military intervention or a separatist rebellion in a region with stronger historical ties to Russia than to Ukraine’s central government in Kiev.
Although there were no confrontations or bloodshed by evening, the appearance of a large number of masked men with assault rifles unnerved residents and travelers, who were buffeted by warnings from Kiev of military meddling by Moscow and statements from the deposed Ukrainian president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, that the country had been taken over by fascists and “bandits.”
‘Buffeted by warnings,’ eh? How do these people pick a verb — by tossing a coin? ‘Were no confrontations or bloodshed.’ Get me rewrite, doll!
The only thing unpredictable about the Times is how bad the prose will become.
There was, of course, nothing unpredictable about the events themselves. In spite of much nervous whistling past the graveyard in various US media, it seemed quite unlikely that Putin would soak up this intervention without response.
By the way, the map up top — which somehow lost its labels when I plagiarized it — depicts the Russian-speaking areas of the Ukraine with a barred pattern. Maps are always so interesting, don’t you think?