Saturday, June 30, 2007

I Don't Think Modern Students "Get" Poetry Well Enough for Me to Use This Poem in Reporting as an Example of Summary Lead Writing

Reading an Anthology of Chinese Poems of the Sung Dynasty, I Pause To Admire the Length and Clarity of Their Titles
It seems these poets have nothing
up their ample sleeves
they turn over so many cards so early,
telling us before the first line
whether it is wet or dry,
night or day, the season the man is standing in,
even how much he has had to drink.

Maybe it is autumn and he is looking at a sparrow.
Maybe it is snowing on a town with a beautiful name.

"Viewing Peonies at the Temple of Good Fortune
on a Cloudy Afternoon" is one of Sun Tung Po's.
"Dipping Water from the River and Simmering Tea"
is another one, or just
"On a Boat, Awake at Night."

And Lu Yu takes the simple rice cake with
"In a Boat on a Summer Evening
I Heard the Cry of a Waterbird.
It Was Very Sad and Seemed To Be Saying
My Woman Is Cruel--Moved, I Wrote This Poem."

There is no iron turnstile to push against here
as with headings like "Vortex on a String,"
"The Horn of Neurosis," or whatever.
No confusingly inscribed welcome mat to puzzle over.

Instead, "I Walk Out on a Summer Morning
to the Sound of Birds and a Waterfall"
is a beaded curtain brushing over my shoulders.

And "Ten Days of Spring Rain Have Kept Me Indoors"
is a servant who shows me into the room
where a poet with a thin beard
is sitting on a mat with a jug of wine
whispering something about clouds and cold wind,
about sickness and the loss of friends.

How easy he has made it for me to enter here,
to sit down in a corner,
cross my legs like his, and listen.

-- Billy Collins

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Why I Don't Love My Wife

Or so she concluded.

The tale:

To learn how to do elementary multimedia, I signed up for last week's Digital Storytelling workshop in Berkeley where I produced Fade to Cat -- this is really a better story if you watch it first. I chose the Storytelling Center because most tech workshops are so boring. You are taught the software, but there is no time spent deciding what the workshop product will be. Usually, there is not a workshop product, just a series of exercises.

Stone chisel today. Let's crack some rocks. Marble frieze tomorrow on your own time.

On the face of it, this seems efficient. Time spent on formulating the What takes time away from the How. But practically speaking it is harder to concentrate on the How when you have no clear idea of just what the How will make possible. Indeed, I've found that in technique-only workshops I start to think on two tracks. I begin to think in some half-formed way about some interesting What I can make with the software, and I stumble in that direction, actually stealing time from the How lessons. I am out of step with the class. I wander off. I learn less and not more.

That's a reason I chose to take the Digital Storytelling workshop. Brother John Higgins took it, and I had seen Brother Higgins multimedia contemplation of estrangement from and reconciliation with his dad. It seemed to me that having something to say that you cared about would focus and perhaps even inspire your working through the processes of making.

The DSW materials suggested they were just a little touchy-feely, their notion being that telling stories that matter to the maker might well be a life-changing experience. These workshops are not something they market to would-be gearheads, which I understood.

That said, I did not begin prep for the workshop until 24 hours beforehand, dragging out some cat pictures. Our dead cats: Admitting that degree of loss and sadness would be my ante in the empathy game, and a damn small one. But then I started thinking about how our cats have been our surrogate children, and I dragged out some other pictures....

I wrote my script beforehand as instructed. We spent the first morning of the workshop around a big table reading what we had prepared and discussing why we wanted to tell our stories, which included: a video letter to the birth mother of an adopted child;a loving tribute to a "nana" who became more than that, her death fresh in memory; a wedding celebrated; a first child celebrated; getting lost on a glacier and surviving celebrated; a trip to the third world celebrated. And so on and so on.

That first day was designed to encourage the group to go deeper, to disclose, to share. I did. That which was to be implicit in my tale became pretty damn explicit. I ended my little multimedia production with an image of my wife as a little girl (fade to black; wanting to fade to black was my motivation for learning how.) The point of that fade was pretty clear. I will always wonder what our daughter would have been like, given my opinion -- quite a high opinion -- of my wife.

My wife will love this, I thought. She'll weep. There will be hugging and kissing, and on a weekend where there is time for hugging and kissing.

My wife watched the video -- if that's the correct thing to call it; it's what I'll call it. She said she liked it okay. Hmmm. No hugs. Definite absence of kisses. She watched it second time, third time. And then she got mad. She said that she had asked me long ago to erase one of the images I used in the video. She asked me to erase it when it was first taken, asked me again to erase when it appeared in a digital slide show (for just the two of us; not public) and then begged me to pull it down off the web when I put it on Flickr, and now I had put it into a video in what was obviously a cruel and vengeful act (even snide) because dammit that is not how she looks and how mean of me to think so, much less parade that lie before the multitudes.

That picture makes me look square, she said. I stipulate she is definitely not square. I really like the picture.

The next 24 hours were a little tense. Then she talked to a psychologist friend about my obscene taste in pictures, and the friend said that disagreeing about photographs is a topic on which research has been done. It is common, she said, for one half of a couple to have a photograph of the other half of that couple concerning which profound disagreement exists. Demands are made that a certain picture be destroyed. But the picture emerges years later because one half of a couple loves it so.

Well, our psychologist friend said: The point is that sometimes a person finds beauty and joy in a particular image of one's sweetie, and that the sweetie finds such judgment odd to the point of madness, or even to the point of malice. But there it is, our friend said. It's beyond the My Funny Valentine syndrome.

My funny valentine
Sweet comic valentine
You make me smile with my heart
Your looks are laughable, unphotographable
Yet you're my favorite work of art

Is your figure less than greek
Is your mouth a little bit weak
When you open it to speak, are you smart

Don't, baby don't
Don't change you hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little valentine stay
Each day is valentine's
Each day is valentine's day

Stay little valentine stay, stay, stay
Each day is valentine's
Each day is valentine's day
Valentine's day

Wrong! It's not pleasure in imperfection. One person finds something wonderful in a picture based on .... I forget what my wife said our friend said. I'll just say Love, since I'm a fool for oversimplification.

So my wife has forgiven me for my fond blindness or my blind fondness. I have asked the workshoppers to sub another picture of my wife for the offending image before they burn the definitive CD.

Check back for the final cut.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Coming Attractions

Blogging from the Digital Storytelling world headquarters while the teachers download the finished stories for the 4 p.m. show, I am delighted to announce that "Fade to Cat" will soon be appearing at this very blog.

You will laugh. You will cry. You will squint.

Actually, my undigested opinion is that this was a worthwhile three days. It is easier to learn software in the service of self-expression. When you have a sudden intense desire to learn how to fade to black, *you learn how to fade to black.*

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Tony Soprano and Hamlet: Separated at Birth (Except They Were Never Born)

Tony Soprano is exactly like Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, by which I mean neither one of them exists nor ever did.

Tony Soprano is a work of fiction, and what you see is all you get. The furious talk about just what happened to Tony after the screen went black last Sunday reminds me of the greatest of all literary mysteries, which also relates to whacking and being whacked:

Why does it take Hamlet so long to follow daddy’s instructions and kill his Uncle Claudius, who has killed Hamlet’s father and married Hamlet’s mother?

The Hamlet mystery connects to the Soprano mystery in that the Freudians solved the problem by treating Hamlet as if he had an existence independent of the text of the play, though – unlike the Soprano critics -- in the case of the Freudians they talked about what must have happened before the play began rather than after. (Hamlet is definitely dead. No doubt about that.)

The Freudians said that Hamlet failed to do what he said he was going to do because he was suffering from an Oedipus Complex. He couldn’t kill his uncle because he identified with his uncle – my Uncle, Myself – because his uncle had carried out Hamlet’s subconscious wish to kill his father and have sex with his mother.

But where’s the evidence for this state of mind? Hamlet says and keeps saying he has nothing but love and respect for his dead father and never does or says anything to suggest the existence of a latent parricidal wish. But that’s the evidence, the Freudians say. The deeper the denial the truer the truth of what’s denied. Hamlet is repressing his identification with his uncle. The fact there is absolutely no evidence of such a state of mind *is* the evidence such feelings rage beneath. So said the Freudians.

But, of course, this can be true only if you regard Hamlet as a real person. (Think all the misplaced concern about when Jack Bauer takes a dump, as if that were the only problem with verisimilitude in that particular alternate universe.)

It’s circular reasoning. All real men suffer from Oedipal urges. (We know that.) Hamlet suffers from Oedipal urges. (We know that.) How do we know? Well, real men suffer from Oedipal urges, which means Hamlet is ….

As one critic said, that isn’t literary criticism. It’s doctrine. Back when I was in graduate school taking my Shakespeare course, I came down on the side of the anti-Freudians, who said that all we know about Hamlet is what he says and does and what others in the play say and do. Hamlet stops at the edge of the play. Same thing for Tony Soprano. He is like an insect encased in amber, an image that works particularly well in Tony’s case in that he is encased in the open-ended multi-faceted ambiguity David Chase built into the last scene of the series. (It’s not as if Tony jumped out of a building and the series ended with him halfway to the ground.)

So Tony is caught in stasis, his eyes forever raised, looking at …?

He’s dead all right. He was never alive, people.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

It's Too Much Like Bang the Drum Slowly. I Want to Know *Whose* Drum These People Banged, Slow or Otherwise (Because Sometimes You Bang on Deadline)

I don't quite know what to make of the "job obits" the Chronicle is running about the victims of its current purge -- some of the victims anyway; I don't know how far they are willing to push it as the numbers mount -- all those they are declaring redundant/releasing back to the wild/letting go/firing/shit canning/all of the above.

It's hard to enjoy these brief profiles. I think perhaps it is a case of one hand clapping. I think Mark Twain got it right when he said about being tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail,

"if it weren't for the honor and glory of the thing, I'd just as soon walk."

My feelings are mixed as I read the kind of praise one usually finds in award citations and second-hand death notices. It's pretty bloodless stuff. I wish there were a shadow version of these farewells in which some anonymous journalist wretch would put some flesh and blood on these people: who drank what, who drank too much of whatever it was, who balled who, who balled whom (if one of the ballers was a copy editor), who did good work in the messy, sharp-elbowed way that most journalism gets done, who made mistakes and was forgiven, who (rare bird) hardly ever made mistakes and was loved and hated in equal measure as a result.

These were journalists. I'm pretty sure that most of them were pretty irritating and pretty good company. I'd write it myself if I could, but I've been gone from the paper too long, and I don't know any of the fallen well enough to do justice to their frail incorrigible humanity, to where and how they invested their precious bodily fluids, which would make this final praise more than faint.

Postscript: The Chron has many alumni, some with more alumni spirit than others. A friend writes:

"Michael: These were career brown-nosers, and there wasn't much poetry in their small lives. I guess the reader is supposed to see this as the print equivalent of the broadcast of our military dead by ABC. Maybe flags would help."

Textual Poaching: Director's Cut

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sopranos Cat Sopranos Cat Lincoln's Doctor's Dog

That headline dates me. Fifty years ago (or more) I read a joke in the Readers Digest that suggested "Lincoln's Doctor's Dog" would be the ideal book title if you were relying on the title to sell books.

Yesterday I discovered that the phrase "Sopranos cat," and its many variants, was drawing people to this blog in unprecedented numbers, more than twice my previous daily high. I am not one to climb down off a winning horse.

So: Once more into the breech, dear cat. A few more Sopranos comments:

* Two days after the episode I am less happy with it. Though the ending is certainly justified thematically -- life goes on for Tony and life will be a little harder -- life does not "go black." A final long shot. A slow fade. That would say life goes on. Is there a film book out there with a list of stylistic conventions for ending a story? The journalism text I use has a list of techniques, with examples, for ending stories, so I would imagine that someone has made a list for film, an explanation of vocabulary if you will. Chase's abrupt termination makes us think of ... Chase. It calls attention to the man behind the curtain. It's a vanity. I suppose it's a way of SHOUTING that that is just a fiction. And it belongs to David Chase. He was just letting us play with it for a while.


(Just a footnote here. You've read the theory that the final abrupt cut means Tony has just been whacked. No, it means Jesus has just returned and Tony has been "raptured" to Heaven. Whatever you want. I'll wrap it for you. Yes, Tony told Bobby that if you were whacked you probably wouldn't know it was happening. And when Bobby got whacked? He knew it was happening.)

* That cat. I liked seeing the cat because I like cats. I worried about the cat's welfare however, as I worry about the welfare of all animals in films and TV shows. I don't like to see them get killed. I am always afraid that maybe they actually hurt the animals -- though this fear has diminished over the years as I learn more about the rules governing the use of animals in Hollywood. Phil's head getting squashed was amusing. Paulie's hurting the kitty would not have been. Same thing would have been true of a dog or a box turtle. I am less able to suspend disbelief when it comes to violence against animals or children. But my point is that on one level the cat added to my anxiety.

* That cat as a symbol. What a lousy symbol! Back in grad school I would have called this pathetic fallacy, the notion that non-human nature can in some way reflect or embody the emotions of characters in a piece of fiction. I'm not saying The Sopranos has been an exercise in naturalistic verisimilitude, but the cat staring at Christopher's picture no matter where it hung.... It violates the Rules of Cat. In "In Cold Blood" Capote has two stray cats on the street picking over the remains of dead birds and it is clearly a symbol of Dick and Perry, but I am also willing to assume that there really were stray cats somewhere on the main street of that little town in Kansas picking a dead bird out of the front grill of an automobile. I don't believe a ginger cat wandered into Tony's life channeling nemesis or conscience or whatever. Tony's ducks: They worked as both ducks and symbol. The cat as a mirror into ... something? No.

Once again, we see the man behind the curtain. More and more I'm thinking that in his final episode Chase took the lazy way out.

The A's versus the Ants. I Mean the Giants.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Cat = Drowned Pussy. Ok....

Lots of hits on the phrase "significance of cat in Sopranos finale," which shows four legs good, two legs bad.


Anyway, I culled this (fair use!) from a much longer piece in the TV guide website on the end of the Sopranos.

But let’s talk about that cat. (I knew these guys were the type to introduce a new character in the final episode.) The poor thing certainly holds a lot of meaning for the fearful, superstitious Paulie, who actually believes that the Virgin Mary once visited the Bada Bing. (Oh Walnuts, how we love you so.) Evidently the species is so powerful they can suck the breath right out of you, and you should never leave them alone with babies. Cats also have a big presence in the Yeats poem AJ keeps quoting: Yeats’ ominous gloom-and-doom poem has a half-lion beast gazing blankly toward Bethlehem, moving without reason or a human heart to its dark destiny. Tonight the cat only gazed at a photo of the murdered Christopher (perhaps the “rat in the wall” Tony mentioned?), but while Paulie assigns a religious meaning to the cat’s brainless gaze, Tony writes it off as “abstract shapes.” Regardless, the image of the staring cat evokes the image of the television audience staring blankly at the bright shapes on their TV screens, or even of a zoned-out brainless Uncle Junior staring blankly at the birds outside his window. (Birds, by the way, also make a gloomy appearance in Yeats’ poem.) The fear and heartless bloodiness that Tony has always grappled with in his life is so perfectly expressed in that one image of the cat staring blankly.

"Brainless" seems a little harsh, particularly when the cat is juxtaposed with Paulie. Comparing the cat to your typical couch potato is also unfair to the cat. Because when a cat vegges out, it does the whole vegetable. No TV needed to dull the brain. And who knows what that brain is up to?

Let us now recall:

Macavity: The Mystery Cat

Macavity's a Mystery Cat: he's called the Hidden Paw -
For he's the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He's the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad's despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime - Macavity's not there!

Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity,
He's broken every human law, he breaks the law of gravity.
His powers of levitation would make a fakir stare,
And when you reach the scene of crime - Macavity's not there!
You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air -
But I tell you once and once again, Macavity's not there!

Mcavity's a ginger cat, he's very tall and thin;
You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in.
His brow is deeply lined with thought, his head is highly domed;
His coat is dusty from neglect, his whiskers are uncombed.
He sways his head from side to side, with movements like a snake;
And when you think he's half asleep, he's always wide awake.

Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity,
For he's a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.
You may meet him in a by-street, you may see him in the square -
But when a crime's discovered, then Macavity's not there!

He's outwardly respectable. (They say he cheats at cards.)
And his footprints are not found in any file of Scotland Yard's.
And when the larder's looted, or the jewel-case is rifled,
Or when the milk is missing, or another Peke's been stifled,
Or the greenhouse glass is broken, and the trellis past repair -
Ay, there's the wonder of the thing! Macavity's not there!

And when the Foreign Office find a Treaty's gone astray,
Or the Admiralty lose some plans and drawings by the way,
There may be a scrap of paper in the hall or on the stair -
But it's useless to investigate - Mcavity's not there!
And when the loss has been disclosed, the Secret Service say:
`It must have been Macavity!' - but he's a mile away.
You'll be sure to find him resting, or a-licking of his thumbs,
Or engaged in doing complicated long-division sums.

Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity,
There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
He always has an alibi, and one or two to spaer:
At whatever time the deed took place - MACAVITY WASN'T THERE!
And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known
(I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime!

Would You Like to Adopt that Cat from the Sopranos Finale?

Well, who wouldn't? I would like to adopt Dolores del Rio (were she still alive). But the Sopranos cat has a career and handlers and hangers on and parasitic friends. It doesn't need to be adopted.

The kitties pictured above do need to be adopted, however. They belonged to Torri Minton, the former SF Chron reporters and USF adjunct who died of cancer three years ago. These kitties were with her until the end. A friend took them in at the time, but now, once again, they need a home.

If Oliver weren't the hero of his own little psychodrama, we'd take 'em.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Meaning of the Cat in the Sopranos' Finale: A Blog Must Live up to Its Name

I don't know how to put all the pieces of that puzzling finale together, but let me talk about one of the pieces. Let me suggest that the cat -- which wandered up at the safe house and which is a good "earner" in that it catches mice -- is in some ways an anti-thug, the opposite of Tony's Mafia soldiers.

I mean Tony's guys are dog like, at least in function. They are dutiful, vicious, dependent and slow-witted. The cat certainly isn't any of the first three -- not exactly; give me some room -- and as for slow-witted....

It's cat-witted.

Who knows what in the hell a cat is thinking or even if it's thinking. But whatever is going on, it isn't slow. Cat brains *buzz*.

Maybe Tony likes the cat's independence. After he presses Paulie into heading a jinxed crew, which last was headed by Bobby and whose top guys tend to end up dead, the camera shows a wide view of the front of the Pork Store. The cat enters from the right and lies down, balancing Paulie who is sitting table left. Now, if you take seriously the whole business of the cat staring at Christopher's portrait, maybe the cat is a harbinger of Paulie's demise?!?

Or maybe David Chase just likes cats. It's a handsome ginger cat, very professional, hitting its marks with its tail high. As for the episode's ending, it doesn

More Scenes from Lake Merritt: Walking with the Egret

Saturday, June 09, 2007

My Preacher Never Talked About This

Something from Beliefnet: God's Politics, where the heads of Fundamentalists are made to explode on a regular basis.

People of faith are taking Leviticus 19: 33-34 seriously:

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

It's a Baby Goose. It's Awful Cute

Friday, June 08, 2007

End of the Week Roundup

* I read in the Chron this morning that no-hitters-in-progress broken up with two outs in the 9th inning are rarer than no-hitters. As a collector of unusual moments, I was correct yesterday to root against Schilling getting it done, my dislike for him and my boundless love for my beautiful A's ignored. Sometimes how wise the heart.

* Ken Garcia, late of the Chronicle and now of FreeAndBrief SF Examiner, says Hearst should have trimmed the newsroom long ago. Spoken like a man who caught an earlier buyout and walked himself out of the building.

* For those of you who enjoy my walking-through-Oakland videos -- a group of blog visitors that (my apologies to Mitt Romney) actually is a null set -- be ready for geese-by-lake and new-cathedral-by-lake auteur work soon. And tomorrow we go to Giants-A's in San Francisco. Be ready for YouTube magic!

* Oh, after three years my university-provided Dell laptop is falling apart -- literally; at the seams -- and will be replaced on Monday. But the U will not back up either tunes or pix or videos, fearing (I suppose) it would be abetting larceny and pornography. Thus, I bought an external hard drive by LaCie, which actually turned out to be plug and play. I breathe a great sigh of relief, though let me make clear that sigh is neither larcenous nor pornographic.

* I believe it was the New York Times that ran a story about how profits from online porno are sinking because so much cheap and free is now available on the net. But the Times did not name the most popular of these rival sites. Then a few days later USA Today ran a similar story but did name two or three of the most popular links. And so I have an interesting ethics dilemma for my next American Journalism Ethics class. And, no, I am not providing any links in this particular bullet -- to anything.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

An Unknown Now Known

Would I rather see -- in person; me present in the flesh on the spot -- a pitcher throw a no-hitter against my beautiful A's or would I rather see perfection spoiled by my beautiful A's in the bottom of the ninth with two out, which is not so good a story?

Up until this afternoon, I would have said if the pitcher in question was the Bush-loving Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, oh please let a hit spoil the moment. With some other pitchers, perhaps I would savor the "baseballiness" of being present at a big-league no hitter.

But not if the pitcher was Curt Schilling. Just too much Bush-loving.

Another hypothetical resolved! My assumption about Bush-hating trumping "baseballiness" was correct. This afternoon with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Bush-loving Curt Schilling had not allowed a hit.

I was *screaming* for Mr. Shannon Stewart to break up the no-no.

He did, sharply, on the first pitch. The next batter popped out, but that was okay.

The Bush-loving Curt Schilling had been denied his conquest if not his victory.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

I Plod Through Oakland's City Center, Jarring the Camera with Every Step

Ripping Off Romenesko's Last Chron Info

I credit you, Romenesko.

Romenesko Memos | Ghost Word
> UPDATE: "There are no more departures of managers planned," says a Chronicle memo.
"You know times are bad when executive editor Phil Bronstein gives the boot to men and women who have been his colleagues for years -- some all the way back to his early tenure at the Examiner," writes Frances Dinkelspiel. Managing editor Robert Rosenthal left on Friday. By Monday, nine other top newsroom managers -- including deputy and assistant managing editors -- had been let go. They are: John Curley, Leslie Guevarra, Steve Cook, Jim Finefrock, Paul Wilner, George Judson, Laura Impellizzeri, David Tong, and Hulda Nelson.
> Chronicle creates blog to help staffers losing jobs in downsizing (RM)
> Read Bronstein's memo on his deputy managing editors' departures

Oboglo Posits Possible Soprano Outcomes. I Respond,

Ah, the honor of being mentioned in Kwame Oboglo's comedy blog.

On a completely unrelated front, Michael Robertson in his blog “Darwin’s Cat” speculates on the fate of Tony Soprano next Sunday in the series’ climactic episode. By coincidence, my lovely wife Gloria also offered a possible scenario just before I logged onto Robo’s blog. Her take: the shrink’s rejection of Tony was so glaringly unprofessional that she has second thoughts, asks him to come in to accept her apology, a hit team arrives while he is there and, in Glo’s words, “He takes a bullet for her.”

I think that’s somewhat farfetched, which is probably in its favor as a possibility. My take, however, is that Tony reflects on the shrink’s abandonment of him, and on the utter wussie uselessness of his son, and his own murder of his spiritual “son,” Christopher, and other elements of wreckage in his life, and leaves his safe house to return to the Bada Bing where, when the assassins arrive, he does nothing to defend himself, in effect committing suicide by hitman.

Either than, or he wakes up in bed with Bob Newhart and Suzanne Pleshette.


  1. JWockyRobertson Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 12:27 am

we could set up a bet:

glo 100-1

obo 10-1

jmr 3-1

you like those odds?

Only for Fans of America's Great National Sport

That should actually say for the deluded few who think baseball is still America's national sport. You few read on.

Last night E. and I saw Matzusaka of Boston toss against the A's. Those of you who have read this far know that this is his first year in the States, that he was a great star in Japan, that Japanese pitchers throw more pitches -- both during starts and between starts -- than their American counterparts, the Stateside thought being that you have only so many full-bore efforts in your muscle set in any fixed amount of time. And Matzusaka was a prodigy even in Japan, I think, for throwing as many pitches as he felt like.

So the questions were two: How many pitches will an American pitching coach let him throw? How soon will he burn out?

The first question burned in my mind during preseason but slipped away once the season started since I have two teams -- the A's and my fantasy team, the Six Bunny Wunnies -- and they have had troubles enough to occupy my attention. Thus, last night was the first time I paid attention to how long the Sox would let Matzusaka go.

News is they let him go a long way, 130 pitches over seven innings, giving up only two runs. He lost since his team scored none for him, but he looked good, apparently better than he has in some other starts for his ERA is over four. But that's not the issue. He thinks he knows what he's doing in terms of the strength and resilience of his own arm. Apparently, the Red Sox are going to let him do what he thinks.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Richard the Third versus Tony the First

Here's what I think will happen to Tony as The Sopranos comes to an end on Sunday.

At the end of the last episode, Tony is on the run in the dark lying on a mattress without a sheet in the abandoned house of his demented Uncle Junior with an automatic weapon balanced on his prominent gut. Bobby Bacala is dead and Silvio is comatose, successfully whacked by Phil's minions. David Chase could let Tony continue the long drop, but I predict he will pull a reversal. Tony, who has shown a knack for changing his fortune at other low points, will figure something out. The solution need not be elegant because his enemies are not elegant in reasoning or in tactics.

His final position will be forlorn, however. Melfi has dropped him, concluding that he is irredeemably sociopathic. Tony's losing wife, daughter or son would seem to be necessary to make the outcome appropriately equivocal. It all must end in bitterness and uncertainty. But what Chase has so cleverly done is set up a conclusion in which those of the audience who are neither sociopaths nor from the Greater New York area -- where hatred of one's fellow man is in the water, along with the fluoride -- can still root for Tony with a minimum of embarrassment because Tony's nemesis Phil Leotardo is in most ways less attractive than Tony.

I don't like him. Phil is better looking, more ruthless, luckier in family (his dead brother was a first-rate thug, not dim and limp like AJ), a big-city guy contemptuous of the inferior Jersey product, a sociopath without Tony's engaging quality of somehow regretting the fact he is one. Or at least, as in Tony's case, having a good case of suburban middle-class angst as garnish to his sociopathy. So if we have to choose up sides -- and all those eons of evolution are on the side of choosing up sides -- we pick Tony.

Maybe that's not how it will end. I'm just saying that's what Chase has set up.

Or he could follow the Shakespearean model and torment Tony during the last episode and run him through the Pine Barrens and roll him through the squirrel poop and then chop him down, expression glazed, without a final word. Glazed and wordless would not be the Shakespearean model, of course, but letting the audience on some level understand and sympathize with The Protagonist while on a more conventional level approve of his violent end would be Shakespearean.

Shakespeare is in my thoughts because also on Sunday we saw, at matinee, Cal Shakespeare's production of Richard III. It may have been the best CalShakes production we have seen. The cast was uniformly strong. None of the actors seemed to be mumbling through summer internships as is too often the case. Other than the insane use of the song "Wheel of Fortune" as a musical motif, the interpretation was strong. Richard is so pleased with himself, with the ingenuity of his own villainy, with his artistry as a villain. As his villainy grows ever more crude, his pleasure lessens. It's the process. The more power he actually has, the less satisfaction he finds in it. He has no delight in his own viciousness at the end. He calculates but he does not play. His death is a release for villain and audience.

Richard III is not like Tony Soprano. Both are monsters, but one tends toward the majestic and one towards the domestic, if I may be forgiven so glib a rhyme. Tony really doesn't enjoy the process of becoming a mob boss and then holding on, at least the murderous part of the process. He kills in anger. He kills out of principle, to uphold the "family" code and to protect his empire. But it's survival. It's not a game. That was one thing I found in Reg Rogers portrayal -- his excellent portrayal -- of Richard III.

Up until the end, he was having fun, wonderfully wicked fun.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Jarvis Speaks

Dear Mr. Reed,

Your piece on the Humphrey "clash" was sent on to me where I reside in retirement in the hinterlands of Alabama. It is true that the Chronicle and Examiner were once great competitors and every day of my long tenure at the Chronicle I did my utmost to scoop the Examiner. I had a pretty good success rate. As for Mr. Burgin claiming credit for naming the whale, my best response to that would be for you to check the dates when Humphrey appeared on stage, so to speak. I believe you will find that the Chronicle "scooped" the Examiner for I did indeed publicly name Humphrey first (although giving credit to a Rio Vista restaurateur) and the name was subsequently used by the Examiner from whatever source. This is not to infer that Mr. Burgin did not also think of the name, but as an Examiner editor he should have been accustomed to being scooped by me.

Mr. Burgin may have "forgotten" to take credit for naming the whale but I have not forgotten the circumstances leading to MY naming the whale--and the undeniable fact that the Humphrey name appeared first in the Chronicle. I no longer have my clips on Humphrey (and others detailing a 44-year journalistic career) as they were buried under 5-1/2 feet of water a couple of years ago during Hurricane Ivan. It should, however, be fairly easy to check out my "naming" story. I don't believe the name was used in a headline, but was buried in the second or third piece I did on Humphrey. In fact, I was in the field and phoning my stories to rewrite man Jerry Carroll. He definitely recalls that I named Humphrey in the second story of my series. You can reach him for verification at 501-922-5918.

While this may be redundant, let me say that, like Mr. Burgin, the obvious connection was HUMPback, HUMPhrey.-- but I had a second reason, one that wasn't used in the recent story by Steve Rubenstein. It is lengthy, but bear with me: In 1964 I did a three-day series in the Chronicle on the Hell's Angels, being well qualified to do so being that I was a charter member (1954-1958) of the San Francisco (FRISCO) Hell's Angels. Hunter Thompson came to me after reading the series and asked me to collaborate with him on a book about the Angels that he had been commissioned to write. I told him that I was soon leaving on what turned out to be a two-year sailing adventure and wasn't interested. I did, however, introduce Hunter to a bunch of the Angels so he could get moving on the project. As I had been more than a little involved with the outlaw group during my Angel years, I told Hunter that he could write anything about me that he wanted, just to spell my first name correctly. He did, but much of the copy was thrown back by an editor who deemed it libelous (which it was). I was nowhere around to sign a release so Hunter chose a pseudonym: Preetam Bobo. He used this contrived name and my own (spelled correctly) in his book, "Hell's Angels; The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs." It was years before I learned the significance of this foreign name which, in Hindi, purportedly means Wandering soul or wanderer. I took the name Bobo to signify that I was being called a clown or, Wandering Clown.

While Hunter was doing his Angel "thing," fitting in a bit of carousing on the side, part of which resulted in a well-deserved (in my opinion) beating, I visited where he staying with a woman he had introduced as his wife. Hunter was away researching or whatever, and I visited for awhile with the "wife." Being a bit angry with Hunter at the time for varied reasons, the woman confided that Hunter was not the writer's birth name. It was, she said, in fact Humphrey and "He hates it!" I have told this story many times for I resented being called a clown. So, we get down to the fact that when I named Humphrey, this happenstance also flashed through my mind.

A recent blog by former Chronicle reporter-turned-journalism instructor, J. Michael Robertson explains why I did not take “credit” for naming Humphrey. I am herewith asking him to send you a copy of the blog which explains the move—ethical or not. I no longer have a copy.

You see, nothing is simple. If you so desire, you can use this in a Letters section, deleting the superficial stuff or using it all or not at all. You see, my reputation as a "responsible, accurate journalist" -- as noted in a letter from former San Francisco Police Chief (and later mayor) Frank Jordan in a letter to me on my reitrmen in 1987--is at stake. And Mr. Robertson's blog explains his quasi-approval of my ethics.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Partners in Ignorance

I was starting to feel bad about apparently being the only guy who doesn't get why the San Francisco Chronicle is in so deep a financial hole. Then I read the recent article in Editor and Publisher about the Chron woes, a piece in which outgoing ME Robert Rosenthal -- whose sudden exit is rather mysterious, though probably related to the newsroom cutbacks rather than a desire to spend more time with his family, no disrespect meant to his family -- had this to say:

He was not sure what impact the coming cuts would have on the paper, or why it has had to resort to such measures given the quality of work his staff produces. "I don't really understand it," he said of the Chronicle's poor financial situation. "I don't know why it has been such a difficult situation for the Chronicle on the business side."

Bubonic Internet Kills One in Four? Who's the Rat?

More more more from Romanesko:

Grade the News
John Bowman, who resigned last week as executive editor at MediaNews' San Mateo County Times, says the staff reductions were discussed at an April meeting he attended at the Mercury News along with top editors of MediaNews. The proposed cuts would affect 24% of the 250 member Mercury News staff. Bowman tells John McManus he disclosed the layoff plan and resigned because he's upset with MediaNews' policies of "trying to run newspapers short-handed."

Algorithims Protest Return of Human Intervention

Steve Johnson at the Chicago Tribune, praising the Huffington Post, points out:

Very often, though, what leads The Huffington Post are simply stories reported by three-dimensional newspapers. And the site cleverly keeps readers from clicking away to the originating sites by offering a "Quick Read" feature. Click on that and a window pops up atop the main Huffington page with a story summary.

What all of this speaks to is how very crucial the editing function is at Huffington. Many of the Web's news aggregators (Google News, Topix) and even some original news sites have the feel of "shovelware" -- a series of headlines selected and shoveled onto the page by computer algorithm.

What The Huffington Post does extremely well is select and highlight its stories to appeal to its audience. Even more important than the whiff of progressive politics is the feeling that there is active human intelligence making choices.

And the result is a far more satisfying news product than a Google News offers.

Arianna Huffington may be the frontwoman and her site's chief celebrity blogger. But the real stars of The Huffington Post, in the new iteration especially, are the anonymous editors who put the package together. You know, like at a real newspaper.

Of course, I was directed to this story by Romanesko, who -- like a Brazilian soccer star or a celebrity couple -- is known by only a single name.

I Call This: Duelling Forearms