Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Best Things in Life are Free

No, that's not true. Personally, I think the best things in life are odd, the "best" aspect deriving from the circumstance when you share your life with someone who has a similar relish for oddity. That is what binds you, when you discover that someone you are ready and willing to like to the point of improbable devotion is bent in just the same way you are.

I'm not talking here about the more colorful perversions, leather, games of Rumsfeld and Camilla, etc. They have too much dash to be odd. I am talking about a true peculiarity, the shared beauty of watching the odometer on a car "turn over," as they used to call it, arrive at 100,000 miles and out the other side, having made its way through all the permutations its tumblers afforded and starting over again, fresh as a lie.

All those beautiful zeros, five of them: 00000

Unfortunately -- and I would even say dishonestly; you ever seen a million-mile car? -- all these new cars are boastful, with six digits on the odometer, as if the car would run forever. And so it is with our old van. But even though we resent the nasty "1" that still remains, which turns hitting 100,000 into something literal and devoid of promise, I'm saying that to me and my wife: We don't even see that "1." It's not there. It's morning in America.

I take thee at thy word: Call me but love,
and I'll be new baptized; Henceforth
I never will be Romeo.

Which doesn't exactly, or even approximately, apply, but you get the idea. One hundred thousand miles on the odometer? New baptized.

For sure, my wife and I have been planning for the day the odometer turned for weeks now. We planned carefully. We determined distances, arranged schedules. When the moment came -- "I think it's time, dear; call the mechanic" -- we made sure we were on a surface street, so I could capture the precious instant, as you see above.

It's a landmark, better than an anniversary, rare, to a degree befuddling since no sensible person would find such pleasure not only in noting it but in sharing it, in so carefully planning to share it.

We very nearly clapped our hands together with glee when it happened. Love is many things. One of those things is a mirror.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Unconference: Guess What the Beverage of Choice is?

Brother Silver over at his Blog of Hope and Glory just introduced me to a new idea that is (quite appropriately) described by a word new to me, that is, "the unconference." He links to Wikipedia for deeper detail, and the thrust of the thing seems to be a kind of purposeful anarchy with a Sixties feel. At least it might seem so to those of us who were so happily -- and perhaps purposefully -- confused during that time of refreshment.

Anyway, this is a snippet from the Wikipedia article. It makes me hungry for more:

The Law of Two Feet -- a foot of passion and a foot of responsibility -- expresses the core idea of taking responsibility for what you love. In practical terms, the law says that if you're neither contributing nor getting value where you are, use your two feet (or available form of mobility) and go somewhere where you can. It is also a reminder to stand up for your passion. From the law, flow four principles:
  • Whoever comes is the right people
  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
  • Whenever it starts is the right time
  • When it's over, it's over
I think I can dig it. I haven't dug anything for a long time.

Mick LaSalle: A Friend of the Blog

I gave some love to a Mick LaSalle movie review in which he talked about interviewing techniques, and he gives the love right back in his SF Chronicle blog.

We bloggers are a close-knit fraternity. In a little bit, Atrios, Kos and I will take our cars to the park and wash them and then toss the Frisbee around.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Ethics Transparency in Newspaper Journalism

Here's a fascinating link, an "ethics walk" through a sensitive story. Click the question mark and see the rationale! Of course, you can't do this with every story. This is a "one-off" kind of exercise that can get shopworn pretty quickly. How many of these can you do? Newsroom staffs are shrinking. Certainly such an exercise should boost reader confidence -- unless it has the opposite effect if the readers conclude this would be a good idea for every story.

And spending time explaining what you are doing takes away from doing what you are supposed to be doing. Maybe there's less of a problem than I imagine. Maybe doing one or two of these a year reassures readers that such careful decision-making takes place for every story. Yet like so many of the bells and whistles that the Internet enables and by its existence seems to demand -- I think of those carefully coordinated multimedia stories -- it takes "group time" to do all this stuff. And does group time mean the individual reporters and editors and designers accomplish less? (I am thinking principally of the reporters.)

It's a legitimate question, but it may be that news managers have already worked out the calculus, as it were. That I raise the question may simply be carry over from those happy lone wolf days in the newsroom doing what I wanted when I wanted with no one looking over my shoulder.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Naming

A goodly friend just had a baby and put a good deal of energy (I get the impression) into picking a name in concert with the mom. The last name is a hyphenate with lots of P's and M's and N's. I put the challenge. Can you pick the first and middle names from the following list? I'm putting this challenge to friends of the friend who I think are in ignorance of the one true name.

One of them is the name, though you might not think so.

Lenore Ophelia

Gertrude Willa

Madonna Nirvana Millay

Charity Faithhope

Lara Anna Natasha

Tintern Abigail

Ruby Freedom

Dark Ladie

Sylvia Sophie-Edna

Maude Guinivere

Candi Rebecca

Esalen Quintessence

Tovah Winona

Consuela Quantum

LaGreta Bambino

Avon Elizabeth


Issa Innisfree

Chloetrope Iphegenia

Pomegranate Jardin

Clytemnestra Oresteai

Molly Miranda

Jennifer Dawnstar

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Counting Freudian Sheep

Several people have called my attention to this little gadget/widget created by the New York Times that allows the rhetorically curious to search all of Bush's SOTU speeches for the appearance of individual words, with the number of times used noted year by year.

One plays the game until one gets an amusing result. Such as the use of the word "defeat," which appears once or twice in his first five speeches, six times last year, this year not at all.

Last year the spirit of prophecy was upon him.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

An Ethics Exercise, Plus Mick LaSalle

Today in Journalism Ethics we did a little exercise the thrust of which was whether or not Oprah should have asked -- on the air, or at least on tape to be aired later -- the parents of that young man kidnapped somewhere near St. Louis and then held (and he was held in some sense of the word) if they thought he had been sexually molested.

Most of the students thought not. Then I gave the question a twist. Would it have been ethical if the interviewer had been a print reporter because the print reporter would have had the option not to use the answer, if an answer was forthcoming. Class ended before we could burrow into that variation on the basic question.

My thoughts are that such a question would be appropriate for a print reporter to ask; in fact, it was a question that should have been asked. But that assumes the print reporter was strong willed enough to then decide if an affirmative answer should go in the story. A further assumption lies within: that reporters are justified in keeping information from their editors if they doubt the integrity of those editors.

Any thoughts, people? It's easy to be hypothetical.

Postscript: And what to my wondering eyes should appear this morning but Mick Lasalle's review of the Alexandra Pelosi documentary on heartland Evangelicals. He talks about the weakness of Pelosi's interviewing approach:

Pelosi allows herself to be charmed by her subjects, which is not a position of strength for a journalist. However, because her subjects end up trusting her, they open up and we get to see what they look like when they're not on their guard.

I'd prefer if Pelosi were disarming them for a purpose, instead of disarming herself, but in her methodical, non confrontational way, she does stumble upon some illuminating moments.

Okay. I'm running with you, Mick. God have mercy on our souls we admire a certain degree of manipulation in interviewing if it gets at the truth. Then, Mick woodsheds Pelosi for her failure to press Ted Haggard -- the king-of-the-herd Evangelical who was outed as a gay whoremaster when the documentary was near release -- on his assertions about who is really a Christian and so on? But her gentle style bears fruit in other ways.

However, because Haggard likes her and feels safe, she is privy to a bizarre moment in which he claims that "evangelicals have the best sex." To prove this, he turns to two young men and asks them how often they have sex and how often their wives "climax." In light of his own secret sex life, one can only wonder what Haggard was thinking in those moments.

I'm not sure this gets Pelosi off the hook. Even if you like a subject enough not to have to pretend you like him or her, that doesn't mean you wouldn't ask tough questions somewhere near the end of the interview. It's not either/or.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


The mere vin ordinaire.

Oliver samples the bath water.


Clearly he would not drink so deep if it were not up to his standard. He does not drink unused bathwater any more than you or I would drink a Chardonnay that has not spent its time in oak.

Soap. Flakes of abraded skin. Ink -- particularly ink from the New York Times -- first seeped from its pages and then scrubbed from fingers. Sweat. Dirt and a hint of certain precious bodily fluids depending on the terroir.

Head up! He's thinking. Over to the toilet, up on the seat, paws down inside the bowl for the pleasure of comparison, though contrast is more like it. Toilet bowl water -- mere vin ordinaire but infinitely preferable to tap water in a bowl, the grape juice of household drinkables, mere eau d'ennui.

Palate calibrated, Oliver returns to the tub, flicks his tongue, savors, lifts his head, wonders if he has the aqueous version of a milk mustache, dabs at his face with his paw.

A good tub, an excellent tub, in fact, but ephemeral. A fine tub is in some ways like a Beaujolais, meant to be drunk young.

You can't lay it down, which is unfortunate.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Highest Praise is the Blank Stare. It Really is.

Here's my latest first-day joke to which you are welcome, college educators. For years my old standby has been stopping at that point in my syllabus where I list my home phone number to say: "If you call me after 10 p.m., one of us better be drunk."

What a crowd pleaser.

About five years ago this story acquired an added dimension when journalism student young George Sanchez called me at 3 a.m. just ... just to see. My wife picked up the phone. He asked for "Dr. Robertson." My wife laughed and laughed.

George is now a working journalist, covering education in Tucson. I could've told ya. Kid got moxie, which is Yiddish for balls.

The crowd pleaser grew in pleasure.

But some of these kids have me for more than one course, and even though I will never abandon so functional a witticism -- it always cheers me up to say it -- you have to keep refreshing your act because the kids *deserve* new material to misunderstand.

Thus, my new drollery. Let me set the scene. It's the first day of class, and I am explaining that sometimes I depart from my syllabus and that if students miss class, it is their job to discover what will happen in the following class; relying on the syllabus is no excuse if they fail to catch a sudden change in direction on my part.

Okay, then so I hold up the syllabus -- and just let me point out that I handle it in an offhand, even contemptuous way -- and I say:

I have a syllabus and I have a wife. (pause) I am *faithful* to my wife.

The howls of silence are deafening in the sense that absolute quiet makes you conscious of the roaring in your ears.

They have medicine for that now.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Who Can Tell the Dancer from the Dance? With Tom Friedman, We Should Have Paid More Attention

I saved this the other day, and now I can't remember who I borrowed it from. Was it William Powers at the National Journal? The point of the piece was that some publications still have "authority," that they have that combination of wide circulation and good reputation that makes you turn to them to seek their judgment on current events not to determine your own judgment but simply to see if there is "weight" on your side in the controversy.

Is your conduct changed by the presence of that weight? The writer doesn't say, but it's fair to assume, knowing human nature as we do, that we might be freer in sharing our opinion -- we might be heartened; we might use the "authority" source in making our own arguments or in tweaking our arguments-- if someone with a publication that enjoys "authority" speaks out.

The "authority" referred to was USA Today, and you know I more or less agree with qualifications and reservations. It's middlebrow and middle of the road, but it is long past its status as joke.

I know with some it's an "anti-source." Whatever it thinks must be wrong. But that is not the part of the of the piece that interested me. What got my attention was the bit near the end where the writer talked about popular websites that in his estimation lack authority on current events. And in that section he touches on what I know *is* a problem -- for myself and for others, which is that when you feel that your opinion lacks weight, you substitute stylistic tricks as a substitute for "weight." (This hints at a deeper problem in all opinion pieces. You really don't have room to make an argument. You are really just stating a conclusion and if nobody knows your name or trusts your gatekeeper .)

Anyway, here's the excerpt. (And I grieve I cannot link to it. My bad.)

The Huffington Post is an influential blog with a large following -- by blog standards, it's near the top of the heap. But as brands go, it doesn't yet have the track record to speak with authority. And while Jayne Lyn Stahl may be a brilliant poet and playwright, I've never heard of her and wasn't ready to trust her. She began: "While the president is busy poll dancing, a senior member of his beloved Pentagon has surfaced with some stunning comments about boycotting law firms who represent prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay."

"Poll dancing"? "Beloved Pentagon"? There was something inapt and tone-deaf about both phrases. I read the rest of the piece restlessly, wondering why I was there in the first place.

It's a bit unfair to single out one blogger and ask her to match the authority of national newspapers. It would be marvelous if every voice in the new agora could have equal sway. Maybe in some future online utopia they will.

All that is as may be. The part of the piece that i like was the reminder how often that I, given my lack of authority, plug in the jape and the twinkle, trying to imply the existence of some deeper intellectual quality that gives what I write heft in the arena. Mr. "Lost Name" is correct. You read some failed effort at wit from someone you've never heard of and more often than not you think: I really don't think I want Oscar Wilde as king of the world.

Friday, January 19, 2007

It's All About the Children

Anyone who reads this blog regularly cares very deeply about the children -- and I don't mean in an icky Peter O'Toole sense -- so you will not be disappointed to know that I've not been posting much this week because I'm cranking up my reporting and journalism ethics syllabi for the spring semester, which starts next week. Particularly the ethics syllabus. First two or three times I teach a course I tend to redo the syllabus drastically every semester -- all part of the fun but it eats into my playtime.

And I've also been working on the USF Journalism Blog.

For the children.

So, those of you who wonder how the youth who attended USF and who did journalism got that first job might want to take a look at this emerging thread. The USF journalism program is no mass production enterprise that clamps on your head, picks you up and runs you down the assembly line, crimping you, trimming you and running you through the acid bath before dropping you into that first job without a thought or a choice every bruising your pretty head. As a journalism program (small) wrapped in a liberal arts education (Jesuit), we prepare you generally pretty well, but it's the self starters who get ahead. Some of them are now describing how they self-started.

It brings a tear to these old eyes, as so much does these days, up to and including the gallant Katie Couric going down in flames.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Till Mermaid Voices Wake Us and We Drown

I haven't digested this yet.

It's a post by Chris Bowers of MyDD on

* rivalrous?
* mutually-reinforcing-if-in-some-ways-distinct?
* overlapping-but-don't-like-to-say-so?
* angels-dancing-on-similar-pins-but-see-the-difference?

liberal blog tension or disconnect or ....

Probably anyone who comes back to this blog has been exposed to this post elsewhere, but it just fascinates me, since my reading habits straddle the supposed divide between activist liberals and academickish moderatii.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Dolly Want a Cookie?

David Carr of the New York Times wrote about his blog today -- in the paper; his day job feeding on one of the day job's subsidiary requirements -- and he had a quote in there that I like well enough to liberate it from the confines of a mass circulation newspaper with worldwide penetration.

Come inside little quote, here where it's quiet.

“We are living through the largest expansion of expressive capability in the history of the human race,” said Clay Shirky, an adjunct professor in the graduate interactive telecommunications program at New York University. “And it wouldn’t be a revolution if there were no losers. The speed of conversation is a part of what is good about it, but then some of the reflectiveness, the ability for careful summation and expression, is lost.”

Even as Mr. Shirky is saying this, I peek at the comments section of my blog, and he goes on, “There is an obsessive, dollhouse pleasure in configuring and looking at it, a constant measure of social capital.”

It's not the comment on how blogs are sometimes more frantic than substantive that struck me. Nothing new there. But I was struck by Shirky's analogy for the care and feeding of a blog, with its implication of how tenuous the blog's connection with the outside world may be. (I don't mean pathologically tenuous, as in mental illness. I just mean most blogs are, uh, somewhat lightly read other than by their perpetrator.)

Hence, the dollhouse.

It is like having a dollhouse or like a HO-gauge railroad set up on a piece of plywood and a couple of saw horses in the garage. Mountains, trees, tiny people, little road signs. Sometimes you hardly have time to run the train around the track. So in the case of the blog, you play with it, adding Flickr and Sitemeter and Technorati search and of course every digital photograph you can lay your hands on, checking for links, entry points, referrals, trolling for comments.

It's like owning your own little publishing empire, only you get to play all the parts. All it really boils down to is building a miniature space -- just a screen's worth; much smaller than a respectable aquarium -- a microcosm that stimulates your own imagination and your quest for knowledge (so that you will have something to write) and helps put your thoughts in order.

That's at best. At its worst it's a kind of delusion of connection and purpose and accomplishment. As the cynics will say: Masturbating. And some days you do *Thank God* no one is watching.

(Obviously I do not speak of the purposeful blogs to which I link, smart blogs saying interesting things about matters of social importance. I speak only of what we might call the *expressive* blog, blog as narcissism and solipsism, blog as ingrown as a festered toenail.)

As we so often do here at Darwin's Cat (and the cat will soon be back; be patient) Shakespeare is our go-to guy, as in the opening lines of Henry V when he says (I'm paraphrasing here) work with me, people.

But pardon, gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that hath dar'd
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object. Can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? Or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confin'd two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder;
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts:
Into a thousand parts divide one man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth.
For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there, jumping o'er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass: for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who, prologue-like, your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.

Play as in presentation or as in play of ideas. And in a personal blog like this the solitary fun of living in one's own imagination, supplying both sides of the conversation.

Rupert Murdoch could be coming to tea any minute.

Ah Gogo, don't go on like that. Tomorrow everything will be better.
How do you make that out?
Did you not hear what the child said?
He said that Godot was sure to come tomorrow. (Pause.) What do you say to that?
Then all we have to do is to wait on here.

Shakespeare AND Beckett!


Sunday, January 14, 2007

But Does This Mean We Can Imagine "Doing It" All We Want?

I am finally putting this poll to sleep. It's been up for almost two months, and response has been tepid -- though not as tepid as the Garfield poll, which has been absolutely soporific.

Though when you come to think of it, how does one process a question regarding your "favorite of the Ten Commandments"? I think that most of the people who want them posted in public places don't have a favorite in the sense of really urgently needing a written rule under their noses to remind them how to resist temptation moment by moment. You know, otherwise they might just forget? They don't take the commandments that personally. That is, they don't feel that *they* need to be reminded to do or not do, as prescribed by the Big Ten.

Indeed, the Ten Commandents are not that efficient a map to the path through the minefield for anyone because, of course, most of the commandments are not self-explanatory.

Honor mom and dad -- or, more likely, dad and mom? Does that mean give up the spare bedroom or simply pay a monthly visit to the nursing home, the one the state provides for those who have given all their money to their kids. Certainly, it doesn't mean doing what parents say if they are, let us say, godless Unitarians. (Which is not the *worst* case. Think Kerry voters.)

Do not steal? Pretty clear, but what about credit card interest rates?

Do not make a graven image? Layers of puzzlement here, particularly in the digital age.

Do not murder? Define define define.

Do not covet? I suppose this one made an important point in a hunter-gatherer society, where if your neighbor has One -- a really nice One; anyone would want One that nice -- you can either steal it or kill something large and fearsome and start carving, two extremes each with a downside. But coveting today in an age of mass production? If we didn't covet, then we wouldn't go out and buy one that's identical or a little better, and if we don't buy one that's identical or a little better, we wouldn't be motivated to work hard and make money, and if we weren't motivated to work hard and make money, how would we know who the elect are, since worldly prosperity is such a useful clue to whom god favors and whom not.

The commandent should read: Covet or die.

Some of the commandments are pretty straightforward: not stealing; not committing adultery -- not much wiggle room there. But why would the prohibition against adultery turn out to be the "favorite" commandment in my little poll ...? Perhaps, it's because the word itself has such a lovely antique quality, suggesting a time when a certain kind of transgression (so sweet a transgression in and of itself) carried with it the weight of exposure, shame and even death. Sweet: "Let us dare damnation together, my dear," thus a serious sin (may I say a *ballsy* sin) and fun besides.

(But let us not skate over the death, i.e., kill-the-woman, issue, which exists still in certain cultures even today, goddamn them. I'm not a cultural relativist.)

I don't think my blog readers would go bed hopping if they failed to keep that particular "do not" in mind every waking moment. Probably, they just like thinking about sex, and this was the handiest excuse among the commandments at that particular split second in the day.

And obviously and of course, it's so small a sample it means less than nothing. It's not only irrelevant, it's misleading. Maybe one person voted eight times against adultery, out of personal desire or paranoia. Anyway, farewell to this little poll. Personally, I voted for no graven images because when I was a kid it made me think of gravy and of people with serious expressions, like the huge statues on Easter Island. It was a spur to the imagination.

It doesn't take much to make a kid happy, and that includes the Ten Commandments.

You shall worship no god but Jehovah 0%0
You shall not make a graven image 18%3
You shall not take the name of Jehovah in vain 0%0
You shall not break the sabbath 6%1
You shall not dishonor your parents 18%3
You shall not murder 0%0
You shall not commit adultery 47%8
You shall not steal 6%1
You shall not commit perjury 0%0
You shall not covet 6%1
17 votes total
Poll powered by Pollhost. Poll results are subject to error. Pollhost does not pre-screen the content of polls created by Pollhost customers.

Hands around the Lake Update: There We Are! (On the left. Can't miss us.)

We made a new friend who took a picture. Note the chain's brave beginning and its sudden end.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Too Few Hands. Too Much Lake.

When we have to blow up section of the picture to fake the moment, we are in trouble.

Thousands were supposed to gather to grip hands around Oakland's Lake Merritt this morning as a show of civic unity. Dozens did. On the other hand, hundreds and hundreds were walking around the Lake, and I dare say thousands were in the nearby Lakeshore shopping district and at the Splashpad Park Farmers' Market performing civic unity, not indicating it.

So, I prefer to think the event was not a fiasco and an embarrassment but simply underpublicized, and those who stumbled upon it and declined to participate thought it was some sort of YouTube event or a Coke commercial.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Killing Us Sweetly

Here's a quote and a picture:

One of the most frequent searches Blog Appetit gets is something like "how many calories in a piece of See's candy?".

Here's the link to the rest of the story.

Kitten on the Keys

It's been cold.

The Rest is Silence, i.e., Rewrite

Oh, I should have mentioned that I finished my novel yesterday, the one that has nothing to do with Whooping Jesus Bible College's "sunny clime/Where I used to spend my time/A fightin' for her majesty the Queen."

No, any similarities to that sad place are not just coincidental: They are impossible. It's a fact. Nothing at all alike.

Anyway, I promised myself I would finish it during semester break, and I have, in kind of a wild rush to conclusion, featuring many short sentences and perhaps a little Dickensian summation. The final scene had my hero walking down a road, so I just made the road longer and had him bump into several other characters going in the opposite direction on various plot-driven errands and, as sympathetic perhaps to the point of cipher that my hero is, well, they stopped to share ....

I'll admit this sounds like a bad allegory or a fever dream, but I will settle for fever dream. If I can achieve that effect, I will rest content. You know: Kafka Meets Abbott and Costello.

I would gladly settle for that.

And, yes, I know the chances of its making its way into print are miniscule. That is no longer the point. That was no longer the point for a long time. It was all just a kind of computer game, a Sim City thing, with the screen inside my head.

Hang On, Sloopy

Tomorrow Eydie and I will walk down to nearly Lake Merritt and join hands with a hoped-for 5-10 thousand others, ringing the Lake and thereby symbolizing community unity in Oakland.

Which we don't have: Ignacio De La Fuente, who is the president of our city council and who is Hispanic, was heckled and insulted, and urged to resign, earlier this week during what was supposed to be a sober and uplifting swearing in of our new mayor, the legendary former congressman Ron Dellums.

Who is black. So, I hear, were most of the hecklers.

Ignacio ran for mayor and got whacked pretty good. Some thought the contest had a racial component, coming as it did in the aftermath of eight years of the White Zombie, Jerry Brown. (Number me among the some.)

It's always the same argument in Oakland, no matter what the color of the Mayor's skin or the particular twist of his accent. Are we spreading the wealth and raising all boats or divvying up the spoils and adding a vessel or two to the yacht armada?

So we will stand still and hold hands. But such vague public acts may lead to something substantive, or so we must hope. Whatever happens, it will be something to blog about.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Simple Truth

Having plumped up somewhat during the last 12 months, I am recommitting to my morning walks from downtown Oakland, past beautiful Lake Merritt and on home. The natural beauty of things never being enough for a thinking man, I listen to my radio as I walk: to Michael Krassny and Forum at FM-88.5, to Gary Radnich at AM-680 (so much for being a thinking man).

This morning I heard a caller lay it out in front of the Forum panel of experts, the Iraq "must winners," just as I've been thinking it. If we "must win" in Iraq, our course is simple: war taxes, industry on a wartime footing, general conscription and a promise to our boys and girls in Iraq that if they can keep the wagons circled for the next year, help is on the way, troops by the hundreds of thousands and sand-ready killing machines as far as the eye can see.

Won't happen, the must winners said. Can't happen. American people would shit (if I may paraphrase).

Which means the latest Bush proposal isn't even pretty smoke and mirrors. It's grit and broken glass.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Mahmoud Ahamdinejad? Piece of Cake. Dominique de Villepin? That Last Syllable Will Kill You.

I've been spending all my blogging time over at the USF Journalism Forum, but I haven't forgotten about my Rush-dee kit-tees. Here's some good fun, the Voice of American Pronuciation Guide. It's not just phonetics. It *says* the name.

As the song says: "Bobby Rydell and I know darn well, Bono's there, too."

But it's very pleasant to know that Sonny Bono isn't.

The Surge

I am surging this week. Friday I have an appointment at Kaiser to have a physical, my first in almost two years. For a decade or more, these visits to my physician have been as stylized as a Noh drama. My doctor tells me I'm overweight. I agree and pledge to do better. I don't do better, but I don't do worse, either.

For a long time my weight has stayed the same, my silhouette as reliable as that at the beginning of the old Alfred Hitchcock television show. But about a year ago over the holiday season, I put on five pounds -- not unusual -- that did not go away. That was unusual. So I have been postponing my visit to the doctor because maintaining weight, excessive though that weight may be, is one thing, but adding to it is another. I am ashamed.

At a certain point the idiocy of this becomes apparent, even to a manchild like me. I made my appointment. But by god if I have to go in shamefully, I want to go in "shame lite." I'm dieting hard this week. I'll weigh Thursday morning, and -- depending on the tip of the scale -- may well fast until after my appointment.

This is vain and pointless and, worse than pointless, possibly hazardous. My friend George would understand.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

the oh frodo! mystery solved

You will recall that earlier this week I failed to accomplish what I wanted to do online because I had forgot my password for a certain site. You will recall that the clue for my password was oh frodo! -- note the exclamation point. I entered certain possibile answers to the riddle -- Sam? Gandalf? can't ignore that subtext -- but stopped when I was told that one more wrong password would result in a locked account.

I did some research. It took awhile. Buried away, I found the password. And it was:

bimbo baggins

Obviously, at the time, which was apparently a couple of years ago, I thought this invention was hilariously funny, so inspired an advance on the Naming of Hobbits that it would stick somewhere in my memory, ready to be unearthed with only the slightest clue, rather like one of those mystery stories whose mystery is unraveled by the pack of matches from the nightclub.

(What with the new limits on smoking in public places, this classic clue is surely on the endangered species list. I'm not sure about overheard phone calls. The rise of the cellphone constricts their use as a clue in some ways but opens it up in others.)

I must have been convinced that oh frodo! -- referencing the old Cisco Kid interplay: "Oh, Cisco; oh, senorita" -- would bring more or less automatically to mind the image and then the name of the luscious Bimbo Baggins.

You might disagree, but, My God, if you had a foot fetish a female Hobbit would be the ticket.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Friday Cat Blogging

Oliver does not fear the comparison.


I've spent a good chunk of the morning trying to sign on to my Kaiser account so that I can make an appointment for a "routine physical" -- as if at 62 any physical is routine. I could probably have made the appointment in five minutes on the phone (or maybe not; let's get real), but that would give the Meat People the upper hand.

Better to be kicked around by a computer -- impersonally, you know. There is no ghost in the machine.

Problems signing on, of course, ensued. But I finally managed to reach the point that I could, in fact, get the hint for my lost password. I had a password written down, mind you. But the computer did not like it.

Finally, I screwed the hint out of the Kaiser computer. And my hint was:

oh frodo!

This would seem to be a cry of sexual yearning, would it not? And in the context of the book, I would say it would have to be homosexual yearning. (Out of curiosity. you Google, and you find .... yikes!)

Or, wait! Maybe my password is Lord of the Rings: The Musical -- remember Oklahoma! --but that would make a very long password, wouldn't it?

I've tried Sam and Gandalf and Andrew Lloyd Webber.... that's it. I would love to figure out what my feverish brain had in mind -- and that's a dualistic way of putting it -- but I want to make the damn appointment.

So we shall never know, shall we? just what I had in mind when I thought my memory would be jogged by the words:

oh frodo

And the exclamation point. Don't forget the exclamation point.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Say It Ain't So, Barry

Former A's pitcher Barry Zito has put my heart on a roller coaster today. I am an A's fan, Oakland resident, adept at ducking when I hear shots, etc., and naturally have always been fond of Zito -- for his success when he had it, for his oddity that filled in the spaces between his successes.

Because I do like odd in a ballplayer. Back in the day, I did enough locker room interviews to acquire the impression that a lot of ballplayers and perhaps most ballplayers are semi -educated, culturally inept millionaires or millionaires manque, a kind of marginally classier version of Donald Trump, devoid of surprise or contradiction. But one hoped for more from Barry, with his jazz daddy and his New Age mama. One hoped that behind that layer of SoCal gauze lay substance, maybe a social conscience, maybe a better-than-average B.S. detector.

This morning: Utter delight. Zito bought a full page in the Chronicle thanking Oakland, the fans, the press, his teammates as he bid farewell before exiting Stage West to cash his $126 million check with the Giants. The ad was touchy, feely, spacey, but kind of touching, since I have always suspected Zito is just weird enough to be sincere when indulging in his spasms of softer feeling. But then I read in the very same newspaper that Zito is -- oh lord -- a Bush-loving, Fox News-worshipping Republican, just another suddenly rich boy who likes to thump brown people in the head from a safe distance.

I recall when I learned that "Coach K" at Duke was not only a Republican but used Duke's good name to support Liddy Dole when she was running for senate in North Carolina. It suggested he should stick to his X's and O's and counting his millions (millions earned on the backs of his players, too few of whom ever earn millions of their own). Suddenly, I was thinking Bobby Knight was not so bad. Knight refuses to encourage us in our delusions about excellence as pervasive, manifesting itself in every area of life. It is clear how narrowly focused his areas of competence are, how specific his genius, which limitation is always good to remember about almost everyone, genius or not.

Thus, why this Zito revelation should matter is a puzzle. The disconnect between celebrity and sense is profound and it is obvious, and I say that even as I prize the good leftiness of George Clooney and even Barbra Streisand. I do not pretend to be consistent here. I do not indulge in hero worship -- I really do fight against it -- but I do enjoy a little hero less-than-absolute contempt.

It was the Fox News preference that got me, which when it comes to Iraq welcomes any Bush pitch, the wilder the better, and then paints a strike zone around it.

Postscript: Well, I didn't think this was possible, but by going to, I was able to see a page-by-page reproduction of the print edition of today's Chronicle. Here is Barry Zito's farewell to Oakland -- appearing in a *San Francisco* newspaper, and that strikes me as a very Republican thing to do.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

What Goes on in my Journalism Classes?

You go to the USF Journalism Forum and check out the links on the left, which lead to my students' blogs, samples from my feature writing class, comments and conundrums from my ethics class. You'll find *hints* of what goes on, and perhaps more, once I figure out how to flog my students into deeper better finer blogging.

And flog myself, too. "Incentivizing" blogging is labor intensive; it takes time.

USF Rules, Baby

USF's President, Rev. Stephen A. Privett, S.J., has been invited by Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi to deliver an invocation just before she is sworn in as Speaker of the House. On Thursday, January 4, 2007, Father Privett will offer the opening prayer on the floor of the House in Washington D.C., at 12:00 noon Eastern time.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

House of Wax

This is my hand covered in wax. It's an arthritis remedy. I don't think I have arthritis, but I did strain my hand taking down the dog fence in my mother-in-law's backyard in Florida over Christmas. My wife does have arthritis, which is why we have a vessel of molten wax in our garage.

Just trying to keep the avenues of communication open. Full disclosure and so on. I thought the photo would be grotesque and fearsome, but it just looks like I'm the nightman at Krispy Kreme.