Screenshot from HBO's magnificent "Band of Brothers."

I might have gotten my can hauled into the office for this:

"Boykin is also in a senior Pentagon policymaking position, and its a serious mistake to allow a man who believes in a Christian 'jihad' to hold such a job."

It’s a quote from an LA Times piece about this Pentagon official accused of speaking honestly; you can find the whole story at Hugh’s site. I’ll leave the particulars for others; I’m interested in the sleight-of-hand the columnist pulled here. The guy he’s quoting didn’t use the word “jihad.” The columnist put the word in quotes to signal that the guy didn’t use that word, you see.

Got it. Oh, I can imagine that conversation with the boss I'd have if I did this:

So you wrote that he believed in a Christian jihad.

(Coyly channeling Michael Palin in the dock as a professional Cardinal Richelieu impersonator) Ah did that thing.

But he didn’t say that.

Exactly? Well,he meant, it though.

He meant it.

Yes, and that’s why I put it in quotes.

Quotes. Which are usually reserved for, you know, quotes.

Right, but I used them here to set the word apart. You know, show that it was a paraphrase.

By using the means we use to indicate direct transcriptions.

Well, sometimes, sure. But I meant them more as, you know, those air quotes you do with your fingers?

So in the future should we have a picture of you with your fingers in the air to indicate that the quote is not, actually, a quote?

Look, the point is true. The guy wants a jihad; look at what he said -

Why look at what he said, when we can just ask you to describe the general aroma? You moron! There’s one standard in this business, and that these little curvy things, these dots with hooks, mean we are using the words of the person we’re talking about. WORDS.

I probably wouldn’t get fired. But I recall times in which I’ve screwed up a fact or figure, and it always took about three, four months before I didn’t approach copy desk with cap in hand. And that’s what makes me wonder about this situation: didn’t anyone on copy desk raise an eyebrow? Apparently not: either the writer had so much juice that no one dared question his Work, or he had sufficient reputation, and all his quotes were considered untouchable because he had a reputation for accuracy. Hell, if he puts it in quotes, it’s a quote. Copy boy!

But. My Strib editor, Bill, has an exquisitely tuned BS detector; he finds stuff that’s wrong in AP copy. The idea that a Pentagon official would call for “jihad” would set off a carillon in his head, and he’d ask, quite nicely: is that really what the guy said?

Copy desk is the last line of defense. In my last Newhouse column, for example, I said something about Amazonian lemurs; my editor informed me that copy desk had checked, and they don’t have lemurs. How about substituting another critter? I was stunned.

“Without copy desk,” I said, “life itself would be impossible.”

The moment a writer ceases to respect the desk is the moment he starts to screw his head into his own navel. Rule of the business: The worse the writing, the more untouchable the writer.

A cold is en route. I think I’ll just go downstairs, turn on the fireplace, and watch . . . does it matter, really? The best cold TV is all TV; you don’t feel like sticking with anything, so you just click, and click, and click. You watch a few minutes of a History Channel documentary on some Pharaoh, and then you realize A) you’ve seen it before, or B) you might as well have seen it before, because they’re all the same. “We know little of the reign of IHop-Tep, aside from his tomb, which indicates he belonged to a sect that worshiped the god Pan-Kek. He died three years into his reign, at age six.” Cut from a shot of a indistinguishable bust with its nose lopped off to a pan shot of some wall carvings underscored with crude flutes; then a 3D computer model of the Great Closets of Karnak, then some modern-day footage of pyramids in the setting sun. I saw one such doc that had a different tone; it was all about the fertility cults, and judging from the statuary Egypt had several hundred years of Boner Fever. A fella couldn’t go to church without getting his eye poked out.

Then it’s A&E, home of the long true-crime documentary you joined in the middle, so you don’t know what the hell it’s about. Unless you were there from the start, in which case you’ve spent the last half-hour waiting for the damn thing to get going. If it’s one of those Paul Winfield-narrated docs, you stick around; he sounds as if he’s crammed his mouth chipmunk fashion with Valiums. Keep going. Sound like fun? I can’t wait. The sofa calls. But before I go:

It’s been a while since I rolled out another excruciating MP3, so we’re due. This one is more incoherent and juvenile than usual. It’s part of the Trek Series - McCoy was the first, and now we have Kirk. This one presented a new set of challenges; too many of the clips I have are marred by background music, which makes them unsuitable for my purposes. And once again I found myself doing the same thing I did with McCoy - start with one mood, and drift into another. After all, Kirk is a man of action! But he’s also a man of action, if you know what I mean. So you have one minute of buildup - the main “melody” really announces itself at 1:04 - then you have mayhem and warfare, then everything stops and it turns into a porn-movie soundtrack, with some truly regrettable double entendres. You’ll recognize the white-haired woman from “The Gamesters of Triskellion,” as your Drill Thrall, for example. The Spock quote is from “The Immunity Syndrome,” but many of you knew that right away. Then it’s back to the business of improving the galaxy, with some quotes from the famous hyperventilating E PLEBNISTA speech from "Omega Glory" (a truly lousy ep that Roddenberry was quite proud of) and the obligatory destruction of the Enterprise at the end.

I’m still unhappy with the mix - in one version the guitar was swamped b the samples, and in the next version, vice versa. But I ain’t got time to tweak - this was an afternoon project done to keep me sane. It's called Captain Clanton. Enjoy!

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