Wednesday, February 28, 2007

John Locke, Bastard

By which I mean if the commentator I read last night has his facts right -- and since this is a blog I should get major props for conceding he might be wrong and not be criticized for failing to confirm that he's right -- the very great thinker John Locke said that the English settlers of North America were entitled to it because the aboriginal occupants weren't farmers.

That is -- and I am paraphrasing a paraphrase here -- property and the right to have it and to keep it is God given, said Mr. Social Contract. But property must be created by taking what Nature gives and adding value, enhancing, causing it to bring forth. Indians didn't realize the earth's full potential (farm); therefore, it was first come first served when it came to the sweet seedcake of this great big juicy continent.

If you were a farmer.

This was for Journalism Ethics class. But sometimes you wander over into ethics in general.

Monday, February 26, 2007


We watched NBC national news tonight, and it was interesting to see how many times Brian Williams said "Jesus' tomb" before finally muttering out of the side of his mouth that the new documentary about the alleged discovery of Jesus' burying place implied the existence of "remains" since the box discovered in the tomb and connected with Jesus of Nazareth was an ossuary.

That is, the archaeologists think they found have evidence of the resting place of Jesus' unresurrected body. (Or at least the existence of an unresurrected body back there somewhere. Even the "good" print stories are murky. There's talk of "residue.")

It would make a nice term paper for a Media Studies course: How many headlines, teasers, etc, for mainstream newspapers, TV news shows and websites pointed out early and often that this documentary and the discoveries it describes are electric to the touch because the archaeologists say they have discovered a box that would have existed only if there were bones to be put in it..

Bones. These archaeologists say they have found the box for Jesus' bones.

What's the deal? my wife was asking. That's the deal.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Guilty, Your Honor

These are the ethical challenges we are wrestling with over at the USF Journalism Ethics class this week.

Three points:

1) The New York Times ethics guide is online. Its rigidity is unforgiving, bracing.

2) My impression is that the ethical guidelines for freebies have been tightening everywhere in recent years.

3) When I was in the city magazine game 30 years ago, we took everything we were offered and hinted that we'd like more. Of course, I lacked the fabulous training in journalism ethics I now dispense. And it was institutional: It was just the way we did business, from the top editors on down. Heck, I am where I am now doing what I do now because my wife and I took a free Eastern Airline junket to San Francisco. I wrote a clever piece. I submitted the clever piece to the Chron as my top clip. The rest is history, ancient history.

Thought it's true that 20 years ago at the Chronicle we had drinks with the publicists and looked at their legs.

It was corrupt in a small way. It's good the game is played that way less often now. But then I think about the rise of Internet journalism, which would seem to mean we will have more and more boutique news blogs with high ambitions and low low budgets. Is a new day coming for The Freebie?

Here are our little dilemmas, from a USF journalism grad.

• You are a theater critic for a big-city newspaper. You have built relationships with publicists, especially those at the smaller theaters where the companies are struggling to make ends meet but are really trying to give young directors, young playwrights, young actors a chance. One of these companies presents a play that is really terrible; it deserves to be ripped apart. But a city needs small independent theaters. Also, the publicist has made sure you were at the front of the line for various premiers and galas related to this, and other, theaters. She has put you in the best seat in the house for the past five shows by this particular company, and you have panned four of them. And here’s another stinker. What do you do?

• You are a lifestyle writer at a big-city newspaper who has been assigned to do a story on day spas in San Francisco. Your budget for the story is limited – and then seven out of the 10 days spas you are writing about offer you a free day of treatments. If you don’t take the treatments, you are going to have to write a story that’s based on the spa websites, on the spa press releases and on the spa PR people. What do you do?

• You are a lifestyle writer etc. etc. doing a story on chocolate shops. When you visit the chocolates shops, each one offers you samples. What do you do?

• You are etc. doing nightlife stories. You tour four or five hip new bars and attractive bartenders in tight-fitting garments offer you free cocktails. Seriously, three of the bars give you first-class treatment, generous with the Grey Goose martinis, while the other two offered you only a glass of ice. What do you do?

• You are a writer/editor at a music magazine that has a limited travel budget. The magazine is repeatedly offered free junkets to see a new violin shop open in Italy or to follow a famous performer on tour. As part of an invitation to review a summer jazz camp, you are offered a luxury cruise to Alaska. What do you do?

• You are a writer for a music magazine etc., and you are offered free tickets to many local musical performances, far more than you could possibly review. What do you do?

Saturday, February 24, 2007

A Poll That Stank

I thought the following was a clever, even an enjoyable poll because I thought most Friend of the Blog would recognize most of the movies from which these famous last lines were taken and, during this Oscar season, would like picking their favorite last line -- which is not quite the same as picking your favorite movie.

Such was not the case. So, as we say goodby to this poll, out of curiosity I ask: How many of these movies referenced in this poll *can* you identify?

To be honest, I would have gotten seven.

"We're the people that live. They can't wipe us out. They can't lick us. And we'll go on forever, Pa... 'cause... we're the people.” 0%0
“Pa's got things for you to do, and Mother wants you. I know she does. Shane. Shane! Come back! 'Bye, Shane.” 0%0
“Madness. Madness.” 0%0
“He was some kind of a man. What does it matter what you say about people?...Adios!” 0%0
“Mein Fuehrer, I can walk!” 100%1
“Fatigue reading four and a half. Looks good! We're going for seconds. Attention, gonads, we're going for a record.” 0%0
“You okay, Jim? How do you feel?” "Young. I feel young." 0%0
“I’m so happy that I am alive, in one piece and short. I’m in a world of shit, yes. But I am alive. And I am not afraid.” 0%0
“I'm an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.” 0%0
“Let's live here! We'll rent to start.” 0%0
“Well, nobody’s perfect.” 0%0
“Well, come see a fat old man sometime!” 0%0
1 vote total
Poll powered by Pollhost. Poll results are subject to error. Pollhost does not pre-screen the content of polls created by Pollhost customers.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Next Up: The Number of Vowels

Over at the 101 writer says:

The average length of a novel is 60,000-100,000 words.

I'm at 86,325.

Ferocious Discussion over at USF Journalism Blog

It's all about whether or not bloggers can be journalists. (We mean, of course, amateur blogs, not working journalists who *also* blog.)

Friends of this blog naturally want to know what *I* think. Argument is so messy. Go straight to the oracle.

....J.Michael Robertson said...

I just don't worry about who has the title of journalist and who doesn't unless that blurring of names causes problems for serious investigative reporting or substantive international journalism or substantive local reporting. Two of those problems:

1)readers/viewers becoming even more confused about which news sites are credible and which aren't -- many a blogger is full to the brim with lies and errors; if I concede that bloggers are journalists, I must add that only some are journalists, or that if all are, most of them are very *bad* journalists -- which is not quite the same thing as not being a journalist;

2) a growing preference among readers/viewers for blogs that give it up for nothing and thus destroy the economic model of a newsroom where people are paid to go get the news. At first, of course, blogs may simply feast on what the newsrooms provide, circulate it, increase the audience for it, get the news out there. But if fewer people pay those who produce the product, then the product dwindles and degrades as newsrooms contract, contract, contract. And then we are left with a world of amateur journalists.

Lia doesn't want to call them journalists. The nomenclature doesn't bother me. The challenge is will these blogger/journalists -- these unpaid zealots and/or hobbyists -- actually do the reporting, take the time, balance the sources (which at the end of the day you really do need to do), recognize their biases and try to be fair in spite of those biases, do the dull nuts-and-bolts meeting stories in spite of having no interest in doing them; give up their hobbyhorses in favor of the full spectrum of news.

And do all this without being paid to do it. I think it's Jay Rosen (at NYU?) who is part of an effort in which citizens contribute money to a kind of blog/ journalist clearinghouse, each donation targeted to a particular story the donator wants covered. Then, the editors at the clearinghouse organize blogger journalists to work on such stories. The editors advise and compile, and voila...

Voila, what? But the point is that traditional news media are losing eyes. I assume that the bloggers *have* to be part of the solution if we are to save journalism. We can't simply say they aren't journalists. Perhaps, the challenge is to figure how to push them toward journalism??

I end with question marks. This is a blog. This is a conversation in progress.

....J.Michael Robertson said...

Already with a clarification. Of course, most bloggers are personal essayists. But there are plenty of bloggers, almost all political, who see themselves as doing a kind of journalism.

Let's consider Matt Drudge. A journalist? I would say a partisan journalist who is often a bad journalist. But you could say the same of Rupert Murdoch.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

One clay teapot. One ceramic teapot. Two porcelain tea cups. Twenty pounds brown rice. One odious lump of rock candy in the shape of a sitting Buddha.

Could writing be like tai chi? Does an inner modesty produce an outer grace?

P.S. Of course, as Brother Daugherty actually points out, sometimes it is *not* an inner modesty that produces an outer grace. I'm just saying in his case it seems to. It might be genetic.

Hard Times

Dead metaphors are everywhere in our bountiful English language, and they are not the same as trite or overused metaphors. He had the heart of a lion is trite because it is overused. Something like "windfall" is not because we are too far from the rural life -- and orchards; and wind knocking down fruit -- for it to conjure up a mental picture. It's a dead metaphor, so dead that it is now just another word and a perfectly good one.

Thus, is "slippery slope" too trite for use? It's not dead. Who has not fallen on his or her prat in living memory? (Pratfall means fall on your ass: not exactly a dead metaphor but certainly still somehow a resonant and delicious word.) I would say slip/slope is not too trite to bear because it is still apt, still captures that sense of going too close to the edge -- which is gradual; which does not even seem to be an edge -- and colliding, as it were, with The Bitch Goddess, Gravity.

My slippery slope of the moment? I have just spent nearly three hours sorting through email -- killing, butchering even. Up until a couple weeks ago, the mighty servers of the University of San Francisco limited how many emails, read or unread, we could keep on the shelves of our inbox. Too many and you got a message you were approaching your limit. It was weed the garden or lose functionality. Given the number of things I had somehow heaped on the server in the sent file or in other folders, in recent years when I got to about 300 emails in my inbox, I was warned.

But then USF suddenly greatly increased our amount of personal storage, and unintentionally, as they made the change, they also dumped several hundred previously deleted emails back into my inbox.

So: Much greater server capacity for incoming emails, plus the return of old ones. Suddenly I've got a thousand emails *and no need to prune them.* Let them pile up like drifts of snow. No need to shovel them out today or tomorrow or ....

This way lies madness. This way lies important emails buried forever.

This is ... the slippery slope.

Today I drove my pitons into its face and crawled toward the light.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A Teaching Moment

There are two ways to teach an introductory reporting course. You can present dull workmanlike stories to the youth or you can present odd but still workmanlike stories to the youth. I like the odd stories. They remind students of The Onion, which does such a good job of illustrating some of conventions of deracinated newswriting by placing them in inappropriate contexts.

Better when it's a real story. Earlier this week I talked, and blogged, about the dead cat sitter. In some ways, it was an odd story. The follow up today was odd also, but done with care.

We join the story in medias res.

Oliver declined to be interviewed Tuesday outside his rented flat on the 1900 block of Page Street, which remained sealed by the medical examiner. A neighbor, though, said Oliver had told him the body was naked and handcuffed, with a plastic bag tied around the head. Police would not comment on those details.

Oliver told police and neighbors that the dead person might have been a man who was taking care of his cat during his trip. "There was someone coming in periodically to take care of the cat, or feed the cat," police spokesman Sgt. Steve Mannina said Tuesday.

Mannina said investigators were treating the case as a "suspicious death," meaning they did not have enough information to conclude whether the man was killed by someone.

Cops careful, reporter careful. Doesn't get any better than that.

Somebody interview the cat.

Headless Body in Topless Bar

Brother David Silver is leading the way in introducing to the USF community. Feevy is a widget that inserts into your blog a little preview screen that shows the headline and first lines of the latest posts from blogs to which you link.

I am, of course, completely indifferent to any increase in traffic such a connection produces.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

How Do You Explain to Basic Reporting Students That It is Forbidden to do This, Except When It's Not

He returns home after a two-week vacation. He finds a body on the floor of his apartment. The body is apparently that of his cat sitter. The story is meticulously sourced:

San Francisco police said...

... according to a woman who talked to the distraught resident.

Seven grafs in, the reporter adds:

The cat apparently was not greatly traumatized by the ordeal.

This is so wrong, journalistically speaking. This is so funny, otherwisely speaking.

To be fair, a couple grafs later we do get:

he cat is fine," said Animal Care and Control Lt. Le-Ellis Brown. "It's being held for next of kin."

But it's too late.

Monday, February 19, 2007

If You Came in Late: After 30 Years My Novel is Finished. My Wife is Giving it a Final Edit

This is an email to Big Pat (Friend of the Blog):

At 05:12 PM 2/18/2007 -0800, you wrote:
Six is inked in. Already some funny Edith editing stories. She reached the point where the character very loosely based on me is seduced by the character very loosely based on someone from back in the day that Edith didn't like, this seduction occuring even though a character very loosely based on Edith was elsewhere in the novel ready able and, of course, under my complete control -- as creator of the piece, I mean. But Edith didn't like it, even though this is, you know, *fiction* and the real person never laid a hand on me, and she knew the seduction was coming because she has read the original manuscript more than once.. But she didn't like it, even though if the "me" character hops in bed with the "E." character: no novel, my friend.

Big Pat (Friend of the Blog) responds:


6:00 it is.

If your unconscious was unfaithful, it was unfaithful in the service of art. I'm sure Edith will understand. In time. After a great deal of time.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Way of the Truffle, Part Two

This morning, as all the Friends of the Blog recall, we had scrambled eggs with black truffles, the most expensive scrambled eggs I have ever eaten. At this point, a little more than half of the truffle remained.

Tonight we had risotto with black truffle, which consumed maybe a quarter of the original truffle.

I am pleased to announce that the risotto was: the most expensive risotto I have ever eaten.

We still have a little more than a third of the truffle left, so at least one more break-the-bank meal is forthcoming.

I apologize for not taking any photographs. You could see the flecks of truffle in the risotto, as if were black gold dust.

Our Truffle

I am a black truffle. I am the crack cocaine of fungi.

When the truffle showed up Friday, I took a look and told my wife "Your truffle is here."

She corrected me: "Our truffle."

That was when I realized just how much the truffle must have cost. But now I was down for half, so already a savings had been achieved.

A truffle is a particularly tasty fungus, an uber-mushroom. This was a black truffle. Had I been taking a walk in the forest with a small child and had I spotted "our" truffle lying on the ground, I would have said, "Look, honey. Animal poo."

But truffles do not lie on the ground. In Europe pigs and dogs sniff them out, so it is said.You have to dig, or, in our case, order them via the Internet.

The flavor of the black truffle and of the white truffle is pungent and delicious. Oliveto's in north Oakland has a week of truffle dinners in the fall. This has been one of our yearly "special occasions," but now that we are spending our late November wedding anniversary in San Francisco, it seems we are going to have a single special occasion in November.

My wife, however, apparently yearns for the taste of truffle, or so I judge. It was not "our" truffle until I opened the package. I was not privy to the actual decision-making. I was not part of the process.

This morning we had scrambled eggs with truffles, the whipped eggs having sat overnight, truffle fragments therein.

I calculate those were the most expensive scrambled eggs I have ever had. That's my guess. In marriage, there are some things that should remain a mystery.

Giving Thanks

I am thankful for the Fox Channel TV show Mad TV because one of the indicators (I am told) of pre-senility is loss of one's sense of humor. In recent years, I watch Saturday Night Live and I do not laugh, nor even recognize what the comic intent was in the bits or in the ways the actors execute. And then I watch Mad TV and discover I that I do still have a sense of humor. (I'm not saying I have a refined sense of humor. May I paraphrase Lord Shakespeare? He laughs not wisely but too well.)

I am thankful for news from baseball's spring training. So far only the pitchers and catchers have officially reported, but the non-stories are flowing. Barry Zito has changed his delivery except he hasn't. The press misconstrued and in the morning Zito tells the press "you have lost your privileges." But by afternoon the press has had its privileges bestowed anew.

I am thankful for the rule of three. As I tell my students, you offer up two of anything and people feel cheated somehow, thinking that you came up with two ideas and then you gave up. But, I tell my students, you come up with three of something, and if those three are good enough -- let us say three good quotes from audience members after a speech -- then readers will think probably you talked to more than three people or (in the case of blog items) the blogger could probably have gone on and on from the bounty of his imagination.

As the waiters now say until I want to push in their faces: Enjoy.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Charge of the Light Brigade Seemed a Good Idea at the Time. And Have I Mentioned Little Bighorn? (As for Dunkirk? Better They Died on the Beach.)

Here's where the reporters embedded with our troops in Iraq could make themselves useful.

Barack Obama made news by suggesting the deaths of U.S. troops in Iraq were a waste. Of the many questions that could be asked in the aftermath of that comment, this is the one that interests me:

In the minds of the troops on the ground, would they consider any deaths in or around combat operations in Iraq an example of “waste”? Given their knowledge of the operations of the U.S. military from its inception – which, of course, would date from before there actually was a United States of America – are there any examples of the death of troops as “waste”?

Certainly, we can find examples of tactical or strategic stupidity, starting in the ranks but extending up through five-star generals to the president himself, that resulted in troops dying in ways and in places the did not advance U.S. self interest. The cupidity of those outside the military chain of command who supply equipment to the military certainly has resulted in deaths that need not have happened.

An example leaps to mind: Was the death of Custer's troops at Little Bighorn a waste or was it an excellent excuse to murder more Indians?

I speak as one who thinks the deaths in Iraq are a waste if the criterion for “not wasted” is advancing our nation’s interests and promoting our nation’s safety in the world. But I understand that some might answer that in any war missteps are inevitable, given human fallibility. Since waste is inevitable in the exercise of the human condition, perhaps there is no way a soldier might die that would be deemed a waste …?

(Though that might suggest that an acceptable motto for the "war on terror" would be: Don’t just stand there. Do something!)

All this may be subtle to the point of duplicity. But I am genuinely curious if our soldiers think that any combat death could be seen as waste. It might add dimension to the debate.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Day Late, a Gumshoe Short

This is from the Poynter Institute, which points us toward so many interesting stories that can be localized. A wonderful tip for journalists, more angst for uxorious spouses.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found private detectives who said Valentine's Day is a big deal for cheating spouses:

Feb. 14, these investigators joke, is their Super Bowl of Surveillance.

"Eighty percent of cheating spouses will try to spend part of the day with the other person," said Jimmie Mesis, editor of the trade journal PI Magazine.

Ruth Houston -- founder of and author of "Is He Cheating On You?" -- says she normally discourages the use of private investigators, but makes an exception for Valentine's Day.

"I've seen too many people spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, only to come up empty except for a receipt," Ruth said. "But if someone's cheating, they are going to make contact on Valentine's Day, either to give a gift or receive one."

[Jeanene] Weiner is the founder of Busted Confidential Investigations, an all-woman outfit in Marietta boasting the grrl-power motto "Where Intuition and Information Meet."

Her Valentine's Day will begin early, because she knows from experience that many of the cheaters will schedule a breakfast or lunch-hour tryst.

"This way, they get to go home after work and spend a romantic evening with the person they're married to, and no one suspects a thing," she said.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Have You Ever Had a UPS Package Stolen Off Your Front Porch?

I am in the process of finding out what happens when that occurs. We sent candy, a five-pound box of the See's mixed chocolates, a pretty decadent gift and also one that doesn't clutter up the back of your closet, like those cat pictures. (We love cats. Therefore, people conclude that our love for a living bit of nature's wonder must extend to dreck, kitsch and shtick -- as long as the likeness of a cat is involved. But it's a kind if somewhat sentimental thought, and god must have made the back of closets for a reason.)

That's neither here nor there. (Unless there is the back of a closet.) We sent dear friends such a mighty box of chocolates, but they were elsewhere for some days during the period when it arrived, so someone -- probably some workmen who had business on the property -- helped themselves.

Not so much because I thought we would get reimbursed but out of simple curiosity about how UPS would handle this -- obviously in the interests of volume they have decided to dump packages and forego getting signatures and to self-insure if pressed hard .... Well, we are about to find out what will happen if I press them hard in this case.

I'm curious. And every time you go into See's they give you a free piece of candy, so I would like to be compensated and thus have an excuse to enter their emporium. (Another bit of curiosity to satisfy: Do they give you a free piece of candy if you're just browsing. As if that were possible.)

Will we replace the candy otherwise? We like these people, but we are not besotted.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Salon, the Night and the City

Brother Dan Harder has more dimensions than a last-ditch defense of string theory. He can do that intellectual thing, with his intricate zipper poems whose innards swirl around one another like a DNA double helix. But when the fit is on him, he may also try to get you to soil your underwear as he did last night at the Salon of Mystery at the Harder Estate in San Francisco, so lovely a home in fine weather, so close a match to the house on the hill in Psycho -- when it’s a dark and stormy night.

Harder finished up the salon with a ghost story, having hidden his own brave boys in the damp bushes outside with flashing lights and garbage lids … I’m just saying I’m glad I keep a change of NASA-certified adult diapers in the car.

And yes, those of you who were afraid you would melt -- oh, I can't go out in the rain and get my wittle toesies wet -- *it was a splendid salon*, the very essence of salonicity, the A Team bringing its A Game.

Of course, Harder did a zipper. (Try saying that three times really fast.) Of course, Gayle Feyrer did a Mary Oliver. Of course, Bob Wieder exposed John Updike as a shallow fool. (This may take some explanation. Buy me a drink.) Of course, Jon McKenney juxtaposed Keats and Wallace Stevens, dashing them together and drawing sparks. Of course, yours truly read at great length from Nathaniel Hawthorne reminding us once again that that boy needed to get out more.

Of course, William (Bill) Allard showed up looking as if he had just jumped into the river to save some drowning kittens but the kittens fought back. Of course, he did the boiled-down plot of a minute movie in which love between a lady golfer and an aphasic finds its way.

After he dried out. (Bill, not the aphasic.)

And it must be added that Robert (Bob) Wieder shared a tweaked version of his classic Calories Burned During Sex bit, which made me laugh and laugh until … Out to the car for another Depends .

It was a good salon. There will definitely be another one May 5 in the Rococo magnificence of Sue Russell’s San Francisco aerie.

Those of you -- that means you Edith, Richard, Pat, Joyce, Donald, Danny, Dean, Margaret, Ora and Merrill (if that was indeed your name, striking lady) and the brave Harder boys -- all of you who braved last night’s weather: Order of the Duck Medal with Cormorant Cluster.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

University Wit

Certain jokes you hear when you are a kid are burned into your brain. They are not separable from that moment of discovery of certain nuances of humor you had not thought possible. They are entwined around the root of your awareness of the laughter that arises from causes other than watching fat people fall down, or hearing the rich music of your own bodily functions.

So it is with the phrase "Age before beauty," which I considered so amusing when I first heard it -- since it was situational, a spontaneous joke and a kind of a put down, too -- that I would literally jockey for position on approaching a doorway just to have the opportunity to use it.

Obviously, it made one's politeness less obsequious; it was the passive aggressive's delight. Of course, one used it with comrades. Accuracy to the hour and day of birth was not the issue. Back then, we had no age. We were eternal. We were beauty itself.

But when one grows older and one is in the presence of youth, there is no context for such humor to operate. To say it as you usher someone through a campus door would either be idiotic if you are ushering through a youth -- it would seem a vain dream and an empty insult -- or rude if you usher through an older colleague, a category increasingly rare at my time of life, its membership unlikely to enjoy having their withered ugliness pointed out. No, you are stuck with mere politeness, and there's no zest in that. All you can do is hold the door.

Except. If you usher through a student. And say:

"Tuition before salary."

Respectful. Appropriate. Deadly accurate.

Love is a Battlefield.

This blog is on a slippery slope, a soapy slope. This blog is moving from blog to BlogOpera with revelations coming at you in installments growing ever closer in time.

Yesterday my wife was convinced the passionate and possibly murderous -- the case is still in courts; let us not prejudge -- lady astronaut had been maddened by the physical act of love in high earth orbit, for did not the poet write?

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds...and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of...
Where never lark, nor even eagle flew.
And while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space...
...put out my hand, and touched...

My dear, it's none of our business what you touched.

But as it turned out, as my wife discovered, nothing happened in outer space because passionate lady astronaut and charismatic male astronaut were never "in orbit" together. (Ah, the ironic and euphemistic power of the "short quote.")

Well, heck, my wife decided, the lady astronaut must have fallen victim to that amazing musky man odor some men have. That was it. Earthly close quarters were probably enough. Catnip = musky man smell.

Huh? I said.

Oh yeah, she said. And today she sent me this cryptic message.


this explains it!


Mmm, sweaty! Women aroused by male scent
For women, apparently there's nothing like the smell of a man's sweat.

Okay, so the note wasn't all that cryptic.

But now what to do?

Close the windows and turn up the heat? Even though it's a work night??

As I said. Love is a battlefield, and marriage (apparently) a marathon.

(Oh: Memo to OSHA: Go to wife's workplace. Knock down walls.)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Miles High Club? Apparently Not.

My wife could be an academic if she wanted to. I asked her if she would put on an adult diaper and drive a thousand miles nonstop just so she could dispose of a rival for my affections using woefully insufficient tools more appropriate for doing minor household repair than homicide, and she said she understood the question, but it was not an *interesting* question.

What interested her was whether or not this whole mess got started with the lady astronaut in question and the male astronaut in question -- Captain Catnip? I think that's what we should call him -- because they had the sex in outer space. This had not crossed my mind, but it had crossed my wife's mind, which suggests on some fundamental level our minds are in separate orbits. (And my orbit is decaying. Subject for another post.)

I suppose that the sex in outer space might produce a special kind of bond if only because when it comes to the sex I have always regarded gravity as my friend, more or less keeping both of us in the same place, sex at its best being a matter of adjacency, at least in my experience.

I would suppose when it came to sex in space, engineers would be the best partners, though when it comes to the engineers I have known, they are probably longer on theoretical expertise than on opportunity when it comes to the sex.

My wife is an architect. Entirely different skill set.

Anyway, this was the aspect of the domestic tragedy that intrigued my wife, and apparently has continued to intrigue her, since just a moment ago I got a brief email saying:

not in space together; there goes my theory!

To which I can only reply ... as the songwriter said.

F – M – A!
F – M – A!

Force – Mass – Acceleration!

Let’s get it goin’, can ya feel the beat,
Talkin’ ‘bout motion and things ya never see,
A fundamental notion, the universal key,
Everything's in motion now get up on your feet.

One day an apple fell from the tree
Onto Newtons' head – he was chillin', see,
Sittin' there, feelin' sore,
He had an idea nobody thought of before.

The old guys thought they had it all figured out,
They called him a rebel, but he had no doubt,
He knew what he was talkin' about,
He said "hey man, check it out"

Everything's in motion, everything's in motion.
Everything's movin, no sittin' on the side,
Get wit' ya go now, and glide when ya slide,
Never gonna stop rollin' when ya ride,
Spinnin' ya wheels and flowin' like the tide.

Everything's movin' now, everything's in motion,
Force is always workin', a fundamental notion,
Always pushin' always pullin, always on the go,
Now ya see it, now ya don't, but everything's in motion.

Everything's in motion.
Everything's in motion.

Put the word "baby" at the end of this, and I think we are saying something very beautiful. And, Groove Daddy: You really want hit this link and click "Watch It."

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

We Got All the Good There Was to Get, Pat Says

It was raining in Miami during the Super Bowl on Sunday, but there was snow on the TV screen at the Sportman's Club (which is a bar) in Pt. Molate there on the edge of the San Francisco Bay where the sirens at the Chevron refinery provide easy listening when something blows and the heavy poisons come rolling down the hill, low to the ground, as you try to run away on tiptoe.

But that's stinkin' thinkin'. Back to the snows of Yesterbowl.

At first there was nothing but the shimmer of electronic snow, but then Comrade Peter, who was standing behind the TV shifting the antenna this way and that, moved a little deeper behind the TV and you could see there behind the snow:


However, Comrade Peter -- to each according to his need; from each according to his ability: Don't you remember, Comrade? -- wanted to *see* the Super Bowl, which was vulgar but understandable given its weight in contemporary culture. So after the deft placement of the antenna actually on the bar next to the TV, well, good enough.

After all, it turned out to be an ugly football game, and that was how we saw it:


We were lucky to see the game at all. We had gone up the steep hill on the pitted road and down the hill on the even more pitted road on the far side, having passed through the deserted military base and by the abandoned fort -- which could be military in origin or perhaps some relic of the Knights of Malta -- under the general impression that so sweet and hidden a treasure as the Sportman's Club (which really *is* a bar and actually also, in fact, a private club; more of that later) must be the object of many an adventurer, not to mention the presence of the private clubbers themselves, and therefore we figured we were headed toward something pretty crowded and raucous, it being the nature of Super Bowl Sunday to throw off crowds the way a battered nucleus throws off neutrons.

But what we found was the Commodore and the Vice Admiral -- these are, in fact, the titles of the elected officers of the entity that runs the Sportsman's Club -- standing on the porch of the bar overlooking a somewhat dilapidated corrugated floating shed and on to the marina beyond, just about ready to close up the desolate and empty bar and go watch the game on one of their boats, which were tethered out there somewhere (they pointed; at a certain point it's rude not to intuit where people are pointing, no matter the imprecision).

So we were not exactly welcome. We were not exactly unwelcome either, but we were not anticipated, if you know what I mean. We worked fast. Big Pat knows how to work fast, having worked for a living (worked hard, with his hands) and written for a living (written well, also with his hands) and therefore knows about all there is to know. We bought our two-dollar Heineken's and we *drained* those Dutchmen and quickly ordered more, which convinced the Commodore and the Vice Admiral that we were -- I don't know? -- sincere.

That by the way is why there are no pictures of the day. I thought of taking the camera, but when Big Pat first took me to Pt. Molate not that long ago, when we were leaving, one of the members of the Sportsman's Club -- there aren't many members; there aren't enough, which produces financial pressures; those internecine marina rivalries, you know; why can't the boat owners and the houseboat owners all just get along? -- anyway, when we were leaving one of the sportsmen said, "Slumming, huh?"

Which we were not. Slumming? I don't own a horse that high.

Still, on Sunday, I felt that pointing a camera every which way might well have appeared somewhat anthropological. And it is true that the Commodore and the Vice Admiral were true Bohemians -- pony tails, earrings, brown of skin, dressed somewhat eclectically, each with three or four wives (and other company, as a man in the course of things has company) in their pasts back there somewhere ....

Hey, wait. I've just described nine out of ten Hollywood screenwriters! Okay. The difference is the sportsmen were a weathered brown, not the creamy troweled-on brown of the tanning salon. Also, the Commodore and the Vice Admiral seemed a good deal perceptive and simpatico than your 9/10 Hollywood screenwriter.

So we weren't slumming. Give me somewhere vaguely shabby and an adult beverage whose price is not extortionate. At that point this country boy makes his homecoming.

We now return to the narrative flow. The game had not yet begun. The day teetered in the balance. The three comrades sucked up their beers with the speed that marks a promising, possibly even a driven, customer -- Comrade Richard, the designated driver communed morosely with his Pepsi -- and beers drained we grabbed more from the cooler.

Oh yes. Big Pat had slapped a twenty on the bar, suggesting that the Commodore should tell us when it was all used up, the implication being there were more to come. Big Pat had taken possession. He had staked his claim. And thus the afternoon opened like a flower. We were allowed to turn on the TV, and our praise of the quality of the blizzardish nature of the picture was accepted. And finally -- the conversation that we brought was judged to be good; the camaraderie was manly -- about halfway through the first quarter the Commodore threw some wood in the stove -- it was brisk inside the Sportsman; a true man must speak true -- and it was clear, as Pat said later, that we were in, that we had made it.

For a long time this went on. We watched the game about as much as it deserved watching. At some point we ran out of Heineken, but a third sportsman drove into Richmond and brought some more Heineken's back. Even this interruption had its uses. It was halftime, and we were able to talk at length about what swill Bud Lite is.

The Heineken's arrived. At some point we ordered pizza, also from the Richmond, and when the young fellow found us we tipped him 25 percent.

At some point I was delivered back home. Bless you, Comrade Richard.

I think perhaps it was the best Super Bowl ever because it was pretty much the anti-Super Bowl, at least as that beast has devolved. What an excellent garnish the snow was. You know, I am not as thrilled at the advent of HDTV as I might be. How much clearer will it then be that there is nothing out there to see, certainly nothing better than a wood fire, good friends who are new, better friends who are old and a twisty pitted road that made it a journey rather than a ride to the mall, that place of clear complexions and glassy stares.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Four Academy Award Nominations. Winner of Two Golden Globes.

I'm talking about Blog: The Movie, although a better name might be Blog: In the Basement of His Parents. Back in the day, one experienced life robustly but self-consciously, thinking you'd put it all in the novel. And naturally the novel would sooner or later serve as the basis for a movie. But then novels went away, so the plan was to experience life, etc., keeping a close eye on every moment so that it could be condensed, oversimplified and (in the end) pretty much misrepresented so it could serve as the basis for a screenplay, somewhat short-circuiting the process.

Our screenplay. There in the desk drawer. Where you used to keep the manuscript of your novel.

So the natural evolution of things brings us to the blog -- a kind of action, though the closest action can get to inaction, a blogger presenting himself to the world as a slug, though a fast-typing one -- which to assume its natural place in the hierarchy of valuable things must needs somewhere down the road ascend to the silver screen.

That's my aim. That's what I need to keep in mind. So today rather than going the slippers-and-cocoa route for the Super Bowl I'm going with Comrade Pat and Comrade Richard and Comrade Peter to Pt. Molate to watch the Super Bowl among the houseboat/marina crowd *just to create a cinematic moment.*

All you other bloggers. Keep an eye on the water heater. Maybe it will start to leak.

Postscript: By the way, Comrade Daugherty explains to us where Jack Bauer's attention should lie on Super Bowl Sunday. Something is stalking us.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Part of the Role of the Teacher: The Art of the Obvious

This is what I just emailed my ethics students. I email them a lot. Occasionally, one of them will complain that I'm cluttering up his/her inbox. (It's usually a "his.")

The following is a quote from an article on the death this week of the political columnist Molly Ivins. The writer makes the obvious point -- one of those obvious point we often forget -- that in a newspaper or tv news show, the issue is not only what you include but the fact that by including it you push something else out. A trivial story may seem quite benign. But what does it displace? Internet journalism gets pinched in a similar way not because you couldn't put every story in the world on your server, but that acquiring those stories would cost something -- in buying server space, in having your reporters spend time on one story but not another (since you can't write all the stories in the world), in having your gatekeepers spend time collecting stories even if they are free and then putting those "free" stories in some sort of hierarchy so that your page designers can create a page that directs readers toward those stories that will make your viewers "like" and your site and "stick" there .... The point is always that in the news business to turn towards one story means you are turning away from another. Nothing is free. No moment is (to get theological here) without sin.

On CNN's Reliable Sources on July 14, 2001, in those heady Chandra-riffic days before everythingchangedon911, responding to Howard Kurtz's question on the press's behavior on the "Did Gary Condit kill that woman?" story, Ivins said, "It's a disgraceful performance. Look, part of what happens is that in journalism there is a contest for the limited time and space we have available to try to present what is going on to people's attention. And we had the same problem during the Monica Lewinsky scandal; two-thirds of the world's economy collapsed while the press was simply obsessed with Ms. Lewinsky."

She said, often, that the sins of omission were the real crimes of contemporary journalism. Her columns so often filled that gap, talking about labor and working people and countries like the Congo and Indonesia.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

A Class Exercise from Reporting

A: Write the lead

Who: Two USF students

What: Stole six sandwiches

Where: From the dining hall

When: About 2 a.m. last night

Why: Because they were hungry

How: By finding an unlocked door and walking in

B: Change the lead

Keep all the facts from A the same except you can

Change the Who: Two USF professors, or,

Change the What: Stole a 6,000-lb. refrigerator, or

Change the Where: From Father Privett’s bedroom as he slept, or

Change the When: During a solar eclipse at noon, or

Change the Why: To throw at Father Privett during today’s convocation, or

Change the How: By climbing a 40-foot wall and smashing through a skylight

I'm sure you get the point of this exercise. Don't you??

Molly Ivins was Rude to Me

I won't say how because the incident was so trivial that describing it might make you rise up and put a dictionary in the mail. But it hurt my feelings and made me feel disrespected and thus my first thoughts on hearing of her death were: Molly Ivins is wise, funny, Shrub annointer, plant (as in Shrub) killer, stylishly funny, obliquely wise, sui generis, sexy in print even, funny post mortem (I don't mean after she's dead but funny when you thought later about what she'd written and the "get" finally happens), wise post mortem (see preceding) and did I say sexy in the way a smart woman is always sexy, particularly when she's smarter than you but sly about it.

Oh, and she was rude to me once (probably with reason and only from a distance). And that was actually the first thing I thought when I heard that she was dead.

After that incident, I still treasured her, admired her, praised her as much as ever, but I no longer liked her in that irrational way you like writers who seem to be having a personal conversation with you. You come to think of them as personal friends, and you assume they are liking you back, which cannot be the case given the way this they-write/you-read thing works.

Makes me think about some people who used to be friends and who somehow aren't anymore. Now, in some instances I understand why this has happened and Good Riddance, Asshole.

But in a couple cases I realize that maybe I was rude to these people without really meaning to be -- you're showing off in a group; you make a joke -- and could have understood that rudeness at the time and perhaps should have. And, you know, darn it! I miss them.

Molly Ivins leaves a great and wonderful legacy. Much will be written about her in the days to come, and I doubt she will be overpraised, no matter how high the praise piles up.

But let's talk about what will be written because of her, in this case two or three snail-mail letters of apology in which I will only guess at what I may need to apologize for but will anyway because life is short, my friend, which insight is not great writing but is pretty damn good thinking.