Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Yet I Still Have Trouble with the Alphabetical Order of the Letters Between "F" and "L"

I realized just the other day that over time in the course of shopping online I have memorized my 16-digit credit card number without having the slightest intention of doing so. I don't even pull the card out of my wallet anymore to confirm the number after typing it in. I know it. I did not intend to know it. That I know it disturbs me in several ways, not the least of which is the fact I have used my credit card so much that it is now a tool that fits rather too comfortably in my hand.

Under pressure I still have trouble remembering my home phone number. I do know my social security number and my wife's social security number, but I have to "play" with both in my head before writing either down because I tend to jumble the numbers. I have to say them aloud as a clue to memory.

But not my credit card number. It's in my fingers now, as are the card's expiration date and the three-digit number on the back of the card that serves as the final trip wire against fraud.

I'm curious, oh gentle reader (the adjective deals with social caste, people; not with a tenderness of disposition): What numbers have seeped into your memory almost against your will?

Oh, by the way.

I can never remember the license number on either of our cars. Is that because they mix letters and numbers? Or does it have something to do with the anxiety of checking into motels 40 years ago, convinced that we were going to be asked to show a marriage license, a practice that my friends in college all swore was true at least half the time -- the practice, not the swearing.

But that's another story about another time.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

It's Not Just a River in Egypt

As the owner of one-eighth of a Giants season ticket, I received this.

Giants Season Ticketholders should be especially proud to say, "You bet I was there!" when Barry hit the historic 715th home run ball on Sunday!

Capture the moment – and your pride – forever by wearing the official cap and T-Shirt commemorating number 715 for Barry Bonds, showing him surpassing The Babe and making him second to Hank Aaron on the all-time HR list!

The official T-shirt features Barry's famous swing on the front of the shirt and his list of accomplishments on the back. Both the hat and shirt are available in black (see below). Purchase both at the special price of $38.00 (plus tax, shipping and handling) for a savings of $6 off the retail price.

This offer is only available by phone. Order now by calling 1-800-274-3004.

Enjoy Giants history – your history!

But is it flammable?

Monday, May 29, 2006

What Didn't You Do in the War, Daddy?

Memorial Day thoughts: Neither myself nor my dad was a draft evader. But we both were draft avoiders.

I didn't do it on purpose. I fell into draft avoidance. I wanted to go to grad school long before the United States involvement in Vietnam was something to worry about. My wanting to go to graduate school was motivated by fear all right, but fear of teaching high school students, not of dying in a foreign war.

In 1969, during my fourth year at Duke -- the last year I was a full-time grad student -- they instituted the draft lottery. My number was 206, and the Roanoke County draft board came nowhere near that number.

I don't think my dad avoided on purpose either. When the U.S. got involved in World War II, my dad was: a) already married with one child; b) already working for the Norfolk and Western Railroad, and thereby doing a job vital to the war effort and automatically exempt c) pretty much clutched by the short hairs by my mom, who, I surmise, was not about to send him off to war as some Roman matron might.

And thus I came into existence in 1944, an arrival remotely possible even if my dad had joined one of the armed services -- but not bloody likely, given all the obstacles his serving would have created for that particular sperm and that particularly egg attaining proximity.

This little story has only the smallest of points. I don't recall an atmosphere of shame existing about my dad's failure to serve. He had five brothers of draftable age, and as far as I know none of them served. Four of them were working for the railroad, too, since Roanoke, Virginia, was where the Norfolk and Western had its headquarters. In a railroad town, having kept the freight moving during wartime -- in particular the coal from West Virginia -- was its own justification.

Also, my father had good luck in brothers-in-law. One of my mother's brothers was a captain in the Air Force but he wasn't a pilot, just some kind of glorified file clerk, and he came home from England with syphilis. Her second brother had a railroad deferment -- he got the job through his father, my grandfather, who was a minor N&W executive, which is how my father got his job in the first place, putting a whole new layer of moral nuance on all this -- but he also had a serious drinking problem.

My grandfather was head of the local draft board. He thought going in the army would help my uncle Linwood with his drinking, so my grandfather revoked his son's draft exemption.

My uncle died in boot camp of a heart attack. There were no war heroes in my immediate family in whose shadow my father was forced to stand.

All that being true, although I wondered how my father felt about not serving in World War II and although I was certainly glad he didn't serve -- that's how I felt as soon as I got my head around how the zygote is created -- I never felt comfortable asking him how he felt about not serving.

Probability and probabilities. I figured there was a chance the question would make him feel bad. What I wonder now is if he had a story in mind all along, polished, perfected and ready to go, and if he thought my silence was not respect but something else.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Why I Stay at the SF

My wife is out of town this weekend, and yesterday my diet consisted of corn dogs, chocolate chip cookies and Jack Daniels whiskey, a combination that is more or less the nutritional equivalent of a drive-by shooting.

I miss my wife. Symbiosis has become fusion. You've heard about how a body may miss an amputated limb, painfully aware of its absence.

Imagine how the limb feels.

Still, I was able to keep busy. Spent the early afternoon at the USF-Pepperdine baseball game, which would have propelled my beautiful Dons into the NCAA post-season had the Dons won. We were trounced 11-0, but it is a three-game set, and since mbD had won the first game, if we win today on on on we go, one step closer to Omaha and the College World Series.

Making the NCAAs would be a cross-promotional platform for the university, so I am all for it. Athletics are not the tail wagging the dog at USF -- not yet and not even close to it. We can live with a little athletic success. (If you remember the 19th Century cult of muscular Christianity, raise your hand.)

The university has a pretty little ballfield on the east edge of campus. Left field backs up to Golden Gate avenue, and during the third inning a fire department hook and ladder pulled up. The firemen climbed up on the truck and watched the game for a while. Also, we have some kind of small-needle evergreens in foul territory, pretty big guys going a hundred feet, and occasionally a foul ball would go splashing through the branches.

College baseball uses aluminum bats, of course. They produce a hateful sound, a kind of clink that sounds like empty bottles jostling together. I haven't watched enough college ball to develop an ear for the sound bat makes on ball as the preamble to a long home run. Maybe that would build a more positive association.

I wanted to taunt Pepperdine for its association with Ken Starr, who tormented Bill Clinton to so little purpose, and is now dean down there at Pepperdine's law school to the mutual disgrace of all parties involved. But there was no bad sportsmanship -- no gibes, quips or taunts. Indeed, the cheering was rather bloodless, some of the crowd cheering numbers -- "Go get 'em 44" -- rather than names, as if the fans lacked confidence in their powers of pronunciation.

But I'm glad I didn't get personal. After the game, I wandered back of home plate at the same time the Pepperdine team came off the field after the Pepperdine coach had gathered them around out on the edge of the outfield grass either to praise, advise or give them each a dinner coupon for Jack in the Box.

The Pepperdine starting pitcher came through the gate and immediately gave a woman who looked like his mom a big hug, and then an older man, a real working-class looking guy with some shine on his hair and a little bit of a stomach, came over.

I had been told earlier this guy was the pitcher's dad.

The pitcher didn't hug him. He just cocked his head to the side and said not very loud, "How are you feeling?"

And the older guy said not very loud, "That was the best medicine."

So either there's a story there or it isn't. I take that back. There is always a story, young people.

Then my friend who was doing the game on Fox Sports TV came down from the press box, and we went for a few drinks at Liverpool Lil's next to the Presidio, the old army base that looks more like a gated community, where George Lucas has created a "campus" I believe the developers call it.

We talked about his being a sports broadcaster. (He also teaches in our MA program in Sports Management. Damn, we are a wise educational investment.)

The part about his job that always interests me -- because between conversations I forget it -- is that his producer in the truck is always whispering in his ear, like a conscience or a friendly ghost. I don't know why no one has marketed that idea as a personal service. Just mike people up so people who are good at such things as winning arguments or asking for raises can listen in from the van parked in the alley when you are talking with the dean or arguing curriculum in department meetings. Me, I am always alternating between silence and intemperance in situations like that. I could use a murmur in my ear tweaking my judgment.

And after those lovely drinks -- carefully spaced for maximum sobriety -- home for more corn dogs and cookies and then back to the city to listen to Charlie Haden and Quartet West as part of the San Francisco Film Noir Festival, jazz being the hydraulic fluid of film noir.

Magnificent set. Like Sam Spade said, "This is the stuff dreams are made of."

In this case, sweet dreams. It was one of those nights that cause you to flatter yourself for living here. Moving north on Van Ness avenue, you had the symphony playing at symphony hall, across the street a hundred feet away the opera performing at the opera and another couple hundred feet along you had Herbst Theater inside one of the War Memorial Buildings where Charlie Haden and his aging jazzmen were playing. A block away in front of City Hall the opera was being televised on a big screen, and an audience of a thousand or so sat on the grass and watched and listened for free.

As I walked back to BART -- "the subway" for those of you playing at home -- with the opera echoing off the buildings around City Hall's plaza, a bum stumbled past muttering something, though whether he was cursing or reprising an aria I could not say.

Monday addendum: The Dons lost yesterday but are going to the NCAAs anyway. The team will play Miami in the Urban Climate Bowl. What you will have weather-wise is a big-city team from a steamy tropical paradise against a big-city team from a foggy Mediterrean paradise. The game will be in Lincoln, Nebraska. It will be tough. Miami will have the plus on dealing with heat and humidity. When it comes to culture shock, it's a push.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The Word is Abstruse. Hrumph.

From the New York Times:

Judge Lake commended and thanked the jurors for sitting through often obtuse and conflicting testimony. During the trial, they were shown thousands of pages of corporate documents and spreadsheets; they took 27 boxes worth of evidence with them into the jury room where they deliberated.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Textbook Examples

Every reporting textbook with which I am personally acquainted has a section on the so-called News Values, usually seven or eight in number, including things like timeliness (did it just happen?) and impact (does it matter?).

As I tell my students, these news values are descriptive, not prescriptive. They tell us what is out there in the news media, not what should be out there. If you don't like stories that feature conflict, don't put stories that feature conflict in your particular medium. Slap your audience sharply across the knuckles: No ice cream for you!

Of the items on the usual list of news values, the most elusive is currency, which does NOT mean the same as timeliness. Rather, it is something "in the air" that the reporter becomes aware of and calls to the public's attention, the grateful public responding with a hearty, "Yeah. I was thinking about that."

Two recent stories that illustrate this idea:

The first is today's front-page centerpiece in the SF Chronicle on the black community's reaction to Barry Bonds' suggestion that his blackness is a factor in the response to his overtaking of His Royal Whiteness Mr. Babe Ruth.

The second is the New York Times story from several days ago exploring the Hillary-Bill marriage, complete with an accounting of how many days -- and nights -- the two have spent together in recent months.

Some of my favorite progressive bloggers have raged against this story, suggesting its subtext is how often Bill is boinking Hillary -- or to put it another way how often Hillary is hauling Bill's ashes. (The "revenue neutral" characterization: How often are they knocking boots?)

Simple me did not get that implication when I read the story. But even if it is there -- "there" in the sense that many readers find it there intended or not -- I have no problem with such an implication and such a story. I could go into a long discussion of how the Clintons' relationship in all its nuances is an example of an "impact" story and how it will become an issue in the next Presidential campaign, news gatekeepers be damned.

But I won't. The story -- just like the Bonds story -- is an example of currency. On that basis alone, it is justified. People are interested. That makes it news. Better to pull these things out of the shadows of our semi-conscious into the light, so we can think about them more and feel about them less.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

LOL? Yeah.

I open my New Yorker today, and methodically I check the table of contents. I note that Anthony Lane has a review of the "Da Vinci Code," and I begin to smile because it is reasonable -- it is probable; it is a matter subject to prediction and thus I predict -- that I will somewhere in the course of the review

Laugh Out Loud.

I am not disappointed. At once Lane writes of the movie's opening scene that:

A dead Frenchman is found laid out on the floor of the Louvre. His final act was to carve a number of bloody markings into his own flesh, indicating, to the expert eye, that he was preparing to roll in fresh herbs and sear himself in olive oil for three minutes on each side.

I do not think that Anthony Lane is a superior movie critic. I am not sure that he is a good movie critic. Perhaps, he is not even a movie critic. He is an essayist who writes about movies, among other things.

He is superbly funny, I write, falling back on the adverb.

Lane does not use many adverbs, which is a clue right there, and a lesson, too.

Reading him reminds me I have no clear idea of what a good movie critic is, no more than I have a clear idea of what a "great newspaper" is. (More about that later.) I suppose a good movie critic knows a lot about the bottom of the iceberg of movie making, the 90 percent of the thing that you can't see. He knows about editing, narrative flow, the peripheral image, all the technique and the history of technique, all kinds of things the critic can call out to my attention that I would not otherwise have noticed.

Over time, I learn from such a critic.

Or I think I do. Or I think I might.

Lane, humorist that he is, sees the crevice in which he can wedge the joke, which means he misses a lot or at least ignores a lot. As must be, he is better with movies he dislikes than with those he admires, but that is pretty much true of most kinds of criticism other than the esoteric, that is, the kind of criticism you get when you know a lot and I know a lot, and aren't we special?
No no no. He is simply a fine comic writer and anyway I probably wouldn't know a good movie critic if I read one. (Obscurity fools me every time.)

Back to what makes a great newspaper, where my thoughts wandered as I geared up for this blog entry.

My whole professional life I have tried to talk knowledgeably about what makes a great newspaper. Generally, what I mean when I talk about it is that it's a newspaper that has more rather than less international news. It has some good feature writers, who can manage a good description and create a scene. Its copy editors don't allow that many egregious errors, particularly in grammar, to slip through.

Now and again its writers use words like egregious.

Hmm. I just glanced over the first page of Lane's review, and I did not spot a word as Latinate, as pompous, as tinny as egregious.

Memo to self in future prose: Walk. Carry a stick. People can tell if it's done softly. People will notice if the stick is big.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Some International All Stars

William Wordsworth in CF: They called him The Natural but he never could adjust to Astroturf.

Lord Byron. DH, purely station to station on the bases. A switch hitter. Maybe the greatest. Still has all the records for number and variety of groupies.

John Keats. What a talent. A couple of great seasons. Died young.

Percy Shelley. Also died young and a real talent, too. But Keats threw the complete games while Shelley wasted too many pitches.

William Blake. For one inning nobody better. But sometimes you really needed to take the ball away from him.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He could have been somebody. He could have been a contender. The difference between Coleridge and Barry Bonds is the difference between being juiced and being just juiced enough.

Pabst's Hall of Fame

Comments: OK, here's my literary line-up card:
1-Philip Roth, SS (likely to get on base, never misses a ground ball)
2-Maxine Hong Kingston, RF (always moves the runner along)
3-Tennesee Williams, LF (power threat, deceptively quick on the bases)
4-Ernest Hemingway, CF (clean up - but strikes out as often as he homers)
5-Homer, 3B (name says it all)
6-Guy DeMaupissant, 2B (so ahead of the game he uses an aluminum bat, turns the DP with grace)
6-Karl Marx, 1B (Lefty with power, slow, but original)
8-John Kennedy Toole, C (calls a great game; Mom is his agent)
9-Will Shakespeare, Starting P (knows where to put his fingers on the stitches)

John Milton, Relief P (knows where the stitches should be)

Mgr: John Donne (fair former Minor Leaguer; great student of the game)
Hitting Coach: James Joyce
Spitting Coach: Ambrose Bierce
Pitching Coach: Dorothy Parker

Broadcast Team:
Play by play - Joseph Campbell (can imagine every possibility before it happens)
Color - Dante (knows when win=loss.
Broadcast Engineer: EM Forster

On the bench:
Joyce Carol Oates (good in a fight)
F. Scott Fitzgerald (not good in a fight)
Truman Capote
Herman Melville
Emily Dickenson (just kidding)
All the Brontes (not kidding)
George McDonald Fraser (look it up)
RM Koster (ditto)
Li Po
Laura Esquival
Anton Chekov

Team publicist: James Baldwin

Inside the Mascot Suit: Thomas Pynchon

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Welcome to EBay

Oakland Athletics tickets have a bar code at the right end. That means that entrance to the ballpark is gained not by the mutilation of the ticket or by the confiscation of the ticket but by its being read by a handheld device.

That means that my ticket for today's game for seat five in row 13 of section 209 in the second level -- a seat well toward right field, which means it offered a panoramic view of Barry Bonds 714th home run -- is intact and available for purchase.

And here's some texture to give you a sense of what was happening in row 13, section 209.
As Bonds rounded the bases, first I booed and then I chanted "Babe Ruth, Babe Ruth," and when he came out for a curtain call I waved my ticket over my head and said, "EBay, Ebay!"

The ticket is also worth five dollars off a full-size Round Table pizza (single topping) if redeemed during the next seven days, but I think I can do better than that. All bids should be accompanied by a certified check for ten percent of your total bid as well as a 250-word essay explaining why you should be chosen in the case identical bids are submitted.

I would grade the condition of the ticket as Very Good to Fine. All decisions of the judges are final. Offered not valid in South Dakota, the District of Columbia or the Western Provinces of Canada.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Willy (Say Hey) Shakespeare

If famous writers were famous baseball players, what positions would they play? Theodore Dreiser would be a DH: great writer, terrible stylist. William Faulker would be a knuckleball pitcher, I think, though I'm willing to argue that one.

These thoughts come because I am thinking about an earlier comment I made on the power of statisics to deepen one's pleasure in baseball. That made me think of Faulkner because what he said (I think) of Southerners and their history: "The past is not dead. It's not even past."

Same for baseball.

I Boo, Therefore I Am

Unless Barry Bonds hits two home runs tonight, tomorrow I will have the opportunity to see a small piece of baseball history. That is, at worst I will have the opportunity to see Bonds surpass Babe Ruth's career mark of 714 home runs.

Shut him down tonight, my beautiful Oakland A's, and I might see him tie and break.

And I have a ticket for Sunday, too.

If either of those long-ball milestones is in play, at the conclusion of a Bonds at bat that results in an out, I will cheer. At the conclusion of an at bat that results in some small success short of a home run, I will sit on my hands. If Bonds hits a home run I will boo lustily. Though Saturday's and Sunday's games will be in Oakland, thousands of Giants fans will attend, so if Bonds hit a historic home run, cheers and boos will mix.

Some will cheer the man (for some sniff the jock as others sniff the cocaine). Some will cheer the talent, understanding that hitting a baseball is among the hardest athletic feats. Some will cheer the team and its history because so many of us confuse where we are with who we are. Some will cheer the moment, thankful to be a part of a Big Number in a sport in which the accumulation of numbers glues the game together.

And some of will boo for all sorts of reason, from the partisan to the ethical. I will boo for the animal joy of making a sound at a moment of physiological and psychology intensity. The boo is a tribute, I concede. You would have me feign indifference, kind of a "turn the other cheek," you suggest.

Can't do. For did not Lord Byron say?
And if I boo at any mortal thing,
'T is that I may not weep; and if I weep,
'T is that our nature cannot always bring
Itself to apathy.
Actually, he said "laugh," but you get the point.

(Time 8:03. Bonds is oh for one. I like my chances. I like my chances.)

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Force is Strong in This Classroom

That is to say that I am administering my final exam in basic reporting and have just discovered that the USF wireless network is available on the second floor of Cowell Hall so I can read email, post, behave as if I am in a coffee shop killing time instead of doing work.

Actually, that is too self critical. For the next two hours it is my job to be *available* to the students, in what one might call the street corner, not the coffee shop mode.

The students all look gratifyingly intent. Occasionally, they come up to the desk with questions, mostly to confirm a sound conclusion about some "nuance" in the drill -- for example, some little dirty trick of mine designed to catch them out such as multiple spellings of a name in the "cop notes." I encourage them to ask ask ask up to the point of irritating the person they are asking -- not me; I don't do irritation -- but then to continue in spite of that irritation.

Knowing how not to irritate, or at least to delay the onset of irritation, is a fine reportorial tool.

But better to irritate than not to ask. Perhaps, with a different set of students, in the matter of asking one would teach the art of it and the simple fact of doing it with equal emphasis. But our students are very very nice. When that gets in the way of persistence in asking questions then it's not so nice.

One example: This semester many in class were coming back with stories in which their sources were ageless; that is, they thought that was a very rude question to ask someone who was not visibly and transcendently young.

Not so, I said, gladly telling them my age.

At which point their sharp intake of breath created a vacuum in the room.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Long Day's Journey into Night

I have finished grading a set of papers, plus some miscellaneous late work from the Journalism Ethics class. They were the third essay -- a discussion of the ethical problem in a movie in which the journalist's life is prominently featured.

Capote. His Girl Friday. Absence of Malice. Shattered Glass.

The papers were good. They were very good. As one student put it -- the movie was Almost Famous, the Cameron Crowe semi-autobiography about the fine line between fandom and music journalism -- because he loved the movie, he loved doing work on the movie.

All of the papers were that way. The students were comfortable with the medium, and they had fun. The ideas came easy because what could be easier than talking about a movie?

It was a late start on the day's work, but it turned out all right. But that's just one set of papers from one class. TK as they say down at the newspaper: More to come.

You don't have to have...

one or more advanced degrees in psychology understand that...

I'm fooling around with my blog that I don't have to ...

start grading.

To All of You Who Read the Post Below and Said: "What Was *That*?"

Blogging is like newspaper headline writing. There are certain puns and little jokes you have been waiting years to use. When you first start in the business, you need to burn through 'em -- or so I tell my copy editing students.

I am reading that the San Antonio Express-News recently banned puns in heds.

These, I read, are some of the puns that vexed the editor:

"Old well ends well: River Walk threat wiped out"

"Mumps outbreak swells"

"Border violence killing tourism"

"Bell's name doesn't have a familiar ring for many voters"

"(Pope) Benedict names a flock of new cardinals"

The point isn't that these headlines should not have been written. The point is that some older wiser editor needed to groan -- a loud appreciative groan -- and then use the red pencil.

Wisdom -- talent, even -- consists of being your own editor, of giving up the easy joke, the lazy joke.

Not there yet.

The Hard Choices

Two subsets of spam artists seem to be winning the battle against my university's nutwall. The first of these offers amazing opportunities in unfamiliar stocks; the second features exuberant promises about erectile enhancement.

I know how common this variety of solicitation is. My wife was in a bit of a panic last year when her work computer was blitzed by so many messages of this kind that she felt it necessary to tell her employer's net administrator that she had done nothing to encourage these messages. (She figured her employer was monitoring her email. But that's another story.)

Of course, she was reassured that everyone else on the system had the same problem.

I know that calling these messages -- this detritus, this commonality, this pocket change of the internet -- to your attention is like suggesting to an editor, as I once did, that what the feature section needed was a story on My Saturday at Traffic School. My editor said such a story was a kind of a Coming of Age in Samoa thing. Everyone knows that story, knows it so well, in fact, that it is a very boring story and no one wants to hear it again.

But but but. In the case of these pestilent sex emails, I suddenly realized that they are a powerful argument in favor of AP style; that is, in certain areas of life we want consistency, deference to precedent. An excess of innovation, of freethinking, in spelling or in grammar or syntax or capitalization does not bolster confidence. It is not that we do not get the message. It is that if the message lacks a certain respect for conventional wisdom in areas that are admittedly unrelated to the question under discussion we do not trust the message.

A case in point. As I was erasing emails this morning, the following popped in the preview screen:

-S'ensationall revoolution in m'edicine!

-E'n'l'a'r'g'e your p''enis up to 10 cm or up to 4 inches!

And I thought:

Tut tut. I think not. This email has "offshore medical school" written all over it.

But I also had to admit: what a learning tool for educating us about the metric system!

Addendum: And I realize what I have written. My headline for this should have been The Learning Tool.


Monday, May 15, 2006

...and, finally, I wasn't wearing any pants

In my American Journalism Ethics class, we finished up the semester with a discussion of blog ethics in the context of Citizen Journalism, that noble notion that just as every star grants a wish every blogger is a journalist.

As Ernest Hemingway said in another context (and Hemingway really was a journalist except for all the times he wasn't): "Isn't it pretty to think so?"

It is pretty. It's very pretty.

Anyway, in class I have a very nice Powerpoint presentation of Rebecca Blood's six rules for ethical blogging.

(Full disclosure: I have no idea who Rebecca Blood is and thus no reason to embrace her rules other than their inherent wisdom. But what a cool name. If, indeed, it is hers in the sense of being born to it other than simply liking its looks and moving in.)

Back to anyway. Here is Rule Three.

3. Publicly correct any misinformation.

If you find that you have linked to a story that was untrue, make a note of it and link to a more accurate report. If one of your own statements proves to be inaccurate, note your misstatement and the truth. Ideally, these corrections would appear in the most current version of your weblog and as an added note to the original entry. (Remember that search engines will pull up entries without regard to when they were posted; once an entry exists in your archives, it may continue to spread an untruth even if you corrected the information a few days later.) If you aren't willing to add a correction to previous entries, at least note it in a later post.

Yesterday I wrote that John Updike and Philip Roth were octogenarians. Later in the day I looked it up. They aren't. Each is in his early seventies. At that point I changed the entry. According to Rebecca Blood, to make that change after the fact and not to note that change is unethical.

Of course, as is so often true, the "why" of the mistake is more interesting than the "what." Updike and Roth are writers I admired when I was 20 years old. By definition, they are of the pantheon. They were the gods of my youth. That they are only ten years older, that if you saw the three of us across a crowded room -- yes; we are striking men; you would feel impelled to fly to our side -- you would conclude we were a matched set....

I feel somehow diminished. In a just universe they would both be dead.

And nicely bronzed.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Road Warrior? How About Dawn of the Dead?

Unless I'm very wrong -- unconscionably wrong -- I'm guessing that my many readers, including those in the armed forces who are accessing this by satellite or NSA wiretap, would love to know what I am doing this beautiful Sunday morning.

(Writers are just so damn intriguing. I mean wouldn't you like to know who John Updike is doing this morning? Take a breath. That's right: Who. And that's not a slip. It's an ancillary income stream for this blog; that is, for a small fee I am willing to imply virility in the case of septuagenarian middle-brow writers who need some secondary sources for upcoming autobiographies. "Edith! Was that a roll of Sacajawea dollars in his pocket or was Philip Roth just glad to see you?" But enough of that. The check hasn't cleared.)

What we are doing is sitting on our two sofas in our one living room and reading the Sunday NYTimes/SFChronicle/Oakland Tribune and drinking Road Warrior coffee, which is available in quantity from Peerless Coffee, an old and respected Oakland firm.

The A's-Yankees game flickers at the periphery of my vision. A's up 3-1. Volume at oh I'd say 35 decibels. Edith reads snippets of interest from the Times, those with political content uniformly depressing.

Now, at this point I'm looking for a kicker, some line of wisdom to capture the sweetness of the moment beginning "Life is what happens..."

Personally, I'm thinking along the lines of something like "Life is what happens while you read the classified ads or better yet watch your wife in her bathrobe read the classified ads her legs stretched out along the red sofa the sun coming in her chin lifted as she reads her reading glasses slid down her nose" -- which is not bad but which is not something John Updike (the Hugh Hefner of middle class angst) would write.

So I Google and I get to my surprise:

"Life is what happens while you're making other plans." -- John Lennon.

Not on Sunday morning. Sunday morning is the plan.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Popcorn 1986-2006

She has been "mentioned in dispatches" since the founding of this blog. Her lesson was that you do not need to be ingratiating or obliging to be an object of affection. She was like a constitutional monarch. She was frequently "not amused." Her life was one long state visit, with us rearranging our own lives to keep things orderly and predictable and thus to make her life comfortable though she never indicated she found it much more than tolerable. You may approach the throne, she said occasionally.

God save our gracious Popcorn.




Je Regrette Beaucoup

David Letterman is fine, but I like my Bush critique the way I like my Bourbon whiskey. (Forgive the Shakespearean redundance.) I like it undiluted and on the rocks. That is to say (forgive the Shakespearean excess) I want it strong, cool, a sip at a time.

That's why I like Atrios/Eschaton, who links to more profuse criticism of the latest Bush -- or Bush-related -- travesty with simple disdainful phrases. For instance, he writes:

Glenn Reynolds

Was dumb as a stone when I started blogging, is dumb as a stone now.

Of course, this is inside baseball since you need to know Reynolds is Instapundit, who is pretty much a Bush cuddler and in love with Iraq the way a pig loves slop but who also is a very popular blogger.

But all us political junkies know this stuff. And all us Bush haters get red with anger every day like some poor lobster damned to an eternity in the boiling water. So all us Bush haters need a gatekeeper who with the utmost efficiency points us to the shame of the moment, either in the mainstream press or, more likely, something from the mainstream press filtered through a blog.

For me the key is efficiency. I do not want to wallow in the anti-Bush vituperation. A little more than a little is by much too much (forgive the outright stealing from Shakespeare) because even though it is at first encouraging to find those who share one's disdain, if you spend too much time wading through it you quite rightly draw back from that state of mind in which (like Lord Hamlet; forgive etc.) you conclude that "prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell (I) must like a whore unpack my heart with words and fall a-cursing like a very drab."

That's why I like Atrios. He gets on with it.

Political community on the Net?

Super dooper. Super dooper. But let us not turn it into a circle jerk.


Friday, May 12, 2006

Here is the Trophy for Which My Fantasy Baseball League Competes

The Magnificent Balco Cup Itself Posted by Picasa

Details of the Magnificent Balco Cup Posted by Picasa

Springtime for Boa (And Germany)

Thanks to the marvelous Net, no random thought need lie fallow. Woke up this morning yammering to "the wife" about the soon-to-be-in-wide-release probably six-or-seven-million-screen-big-first-weekend-damn-the-reviews movie "Snakes on a Plane."

And I thought (not "to myself," which is redundant) that if I knew the theme song I would sing snatches of it.

The convenience of Google does take the wonder out of things. I searched theme song "snakes on a plane" and was appalled.

Youth of America! You should be studying needed inventions.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

I Smiled at His Words. I Laughed at the Response.

If it weren't at night, I would go out to the book shed, perched on the sloped and ready-to-slide verge of our wedge of the Oakland Bumps -- for we are not high enough to merit the appellation (French pronunciation, please) of hill -- and dig out one of my old grad-school textbooks that describes the psychology and philosophy of humor. Bereft of my underpinnings, I can only say that I can't quite figure out what those who thought Stephen Colbert was rude and/or unfunny as he twitted the president and his court wanted him to do.

He was there defending his brand, which is Bush knocking, both rude and transparently unkind though heretofore done at a distance. He was certainly less ironic, more sarcastic, less *hungry* for laughs. Did they expect him to damage his career by softening his brand by cozying up to Bush and the attendant journalists?

Champagne bubbles and diarrhea pools in the gutter. A thing must be itself or what is it? (Okay, by no stretch of the metaphor is Colbert either Champagne or excrement. He's more like really good French toast. But we are blogging here, people. Not nobody shouting, "Rewrite!")

That he changed minds is unlikely. That he wounded his listeners is even less so. That he satisfied the expectations of the majority of those who watch his show regularly -- the howl of the wind sweeping across the Bloggerian Steppes speaks for itself. I know this is a small point but still. Colbert's business is his *business.* He took care of it. He preserved his brand.

Bush's brand is Iraq. No one expects him to dilute it. More fool they if they do.

Smoke Gets in My Eyes. Which Helps.

For a long time -- decades if you are into geological time -- I smoked pipes and an occasional cigar. I smoked to keep my hands busy, one of those admissions that can substitute for a joke among those of low wit. (People of low wit are the wallpaper of my life. No brag, just fact.) I smoked because, even with pipes and cigars and no inhaling, it is mildly addictive. And then I quit smoking for five years or so for health reasons.

Then, Lawdy, I started up again ina small way because I am getting older and my nerves aren't what they were , and *it is so damn hard to grade at the end of the semester* without a bit of aerosol tar rolling around inside my mouth. I crave a mild buzz when I grade because -- here are the two ways you can look at it -- either my students are terrible or I am terrible as a teacher.

Now you could curl up for most of the next ice age under that blanket statement, but anyone who has ever taught any sort of writing course knows the feeling. Some students just can't make sense. It is not clear what they had in mind. Let's step back: You hesitate to posit a mind. And you did try you called them in for conferences and gave them checklists and did everything but suggest their smart friends do a ruthless and extensive final edit.

In fact, that is what you suggested, hoping that their smart friend would not shrug, cough and just write the damn thing for them. You thought you knew how to teach them to get better, but it did not get done, if I may retreat into the passive sense and thus shed blame.

I don't like to grade, and a nice cigar eases the pain, so last week I ordered up a bundle of Don Diego shorts, having bid for them at the JR Cigar cigar online cigar auction. Look here from the JR Cigar website.


Successful bid was $40.75, and there were 18 bids. Look how I fought it out with mapmaker.

Bid Amount
Date of Bid
$ 40.75
05/05/06 - 07:38:17 PM EST
$ 40.50
05/05/06 - 07:37:18 PM EST
$ 40.25
05/05/06 - 07:36:38 PM EST
$ 40.00
05/05/06 - 07:35:52 PM EST
$ 39.75
05/05/06 - 07:35:52 PM EST
$ 38.00
05/05/06 - 07:35:45 PM EST
$ 37.75
05/05/06 - 07:35:45 PM EST
$ 37.50
05/05/06 - 07:17:46 PM EST
$ 37.25
05/05/06 - 07:17:46 PM EST
$ 35.00
05/05/06 - 05:12:53 PM EST

Place Your Bid
Thank you for participating in our auction. This auction has ended and was won by soylentgray.

I could have bought the damn cigars straight up for $45, but -- as the fisher kills the fish and the hunter kills the blameless bird, squirrel or Texas corporate lawyer -- so much satisfaction in the process. And now I have written about it and filled up a fraction of the time I must spend waiting for the cigars to arrive so that I can finally....