Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Bill Walsh: The Anecdote

One good thing about Bill Walsh's death -- possibly the only good thing when you get down to it -- is that it will reinvigorate certain aspects of my basic reporting class this fall. As Walsh's legend receded in recent years, at least among non-sports fans, the pungency of some of my recollections from my Chronicle days also receded.

Walsh, you see, provided several of my better stories about the pitfalls and the attractions of being a reporter. It was a quarter century ago, sometime in the run up to Walsh's second Super Bowl that I was chosen from among the Chronicle's feature writers to do a "personal" profile of the Great Coach, his life outside of football or before football or above and beyond football.

All this while Walsh prepared for the Super Bowl. I had a deadline. I had no expectation of doing anything in-depth and remarkable given my brief, so I did what you do: I called the Niners PR department and asked them to help me set it up and to point me toward some sources.

They said I could have 15 minutes -- 15 minutes! -- with Walsh, but that as far as pointing me towards friends and family, well no. Walsh was a very private man, the PR person said, and did not like friends and family bothered. Okay, I said, not caring much one way or the other that I did not have his permission to bother family and friends. I was no Woodward, much less a Bernstein, but I knew how to do reporting without some PR person holding my hand. I made some phone calls, talked to some people, got some refusals, got some referrals....

The PR guy called me. You're calling up Walsh's friends, he said. Walsh's friends are calling him because they don't have permission to talk to you, and they know he doesn't like to be talked about. Now back then we did not say Duh! Had we, I could have. Yeah, I did say. I'm doing you know my job. I'm, you know, reporting. At this point, the PR guy started to cooperate, gave me a list of Official Friends, who had been prepped for my call.

The unprepped friends were better interviews. Lesson One, young people.

Second lesson: Not everybody is scared of their daddy. Without the help of the Niners PR department, I tracked down one of Walsh's kids. He shared several stories of a distant father whose interests lay outside the family. I must admit that I was surprised. Lacking a journalism education, I learned the reporter's job in the school of soft knocks at a city magazine, and I had never come across someone so willing to diss a famous daddy who was apparently a nice guy or at least a much nicer guy than most successful coaches, so many of whom give the impression they are on loan from Hitler Youth.

I put some of the son's angst in the final story, but I could have got more of it, I'm guessing.

Had I wanted to write that kind of story.

Lesson Two: I wish I had pressed the kid harder. But having gotten more from him, I don't know how much more of it I would have used. Bill Walsh was no Daddy Dearest (a reference that implies the mold that covers most of my references and war stories), just a father who sometimes put career before family, at least in the eyes of his son. The older I get, the more I realize how much friction we create as we move through life and the more I realize that such details aren't exactly a revelation. So maybe I put just enough about father and son in the piece.

Lesson Three: But the more you know the better. As I tell my students, fill up your notebook and then decide. (And be careful what you tell your editor because then you lose control. Some editors are real bastards.) Having it doesn't mean you have to use it. But go get it. The PR guy still declined to put me in touch with Walsh family members -- that lust for "privacy," remember. I not only tracked down the son, I tracked down Walsh's dad somewhere in Southern California. This took some work. I got the old man on the line, made my pitch -- I think I said something like "... doing a story and would like to talk to you..." -- and the old man said, voice quavery, "He's a wonderful boy" and hung up. I did that thing the textbooks say to do. I called back and said that we had been cut off.

Well, he hung up again.

Lesson Four: Obsession is fun. Everybody was telling me that Walsh was a very private man, but no one could tell me why. He just was. I began to wonder if .... I will tell you all, friends of the blog. I have come to tell you all. I decided Walsh was either adopted or illegitimate or born a little "too soon," if you know what I mean. I obtained his birth certificate. I forget what I had to do to get it. I've long since forgotten my methods, but quite legally I got a copy, and it showed nothing unusual. He was born when he said he was and to the people his official bio said he had been born to. If they had been married for less than the requisite period before his birth, that I could not find out. I wouldn't have used that fact if I had been able to determine it. I'm almost absolutely certain I wouldn't. I don't think I would have used anything I found out of an embarrassing nature concerning Walsh's origins.

Anyway, the editors would have killed it.

But I wanted to know.

Lesson Five: A majority of American males are failed jocks. Male newspaper reporters reflect the general population in that particular. That means when you drop a general assignment reporter into a sports story the danger exists the reporter will want to seem more knowledgeable than he actually is, to buddy up, to show some cred. So it was with me during my 15 minutes with the great coach himself. I wasted valuable time asking football-related questions that the regular sportswriters had asked earlier and better.

What I should have done is say: I played high school football and am a fan of football at all levels. That means from your point of view I know *Fuck All* about football so we are not going there. I should have pressed him and pressed him more about what really did seem a privacy fetish -- and what about your son? -- and if he threw me out, all to the better.

Lesson Five and a Half, Young People: You'll become friends with a famous subject about once in a million years. And when it happens you should ashamed. Once every two million years is about right. Story short: I wasted his time. I got nothing.

Lesson Six: Oh there was perhaps one more little reason why my 15 minutes of infamy proved so useless and my good questions somehow didn't get asked. I almost never taped. Never have. Too much trouble. Made me lazy. Note taking makes clear the degree to which you are asking good questions because you are either doodling or racing to keep up. But with the Great Walsh I decided to tape, figuring everything was going to be gold. (I've said before that nothing was. A waste of his time and -- much worse -- a waste of mine.)

Maybe half way through the interview I notice the tape recorder has stopped. My face goes full spectrum, a real rainbow coalition. I open the record, pull on the cassette and out comes a veritable skein of tape. It looked like a taffy pull. Yeah, maybe so here's another reason for a failed interview.

You should have seen the look on Walsh's face. I should have said: You have a reputation for not suffering fools gladly. I see that is true. And so on and so on.... What a recovery I should have made, could have made, didn't actually make.

Thus, a nightmare interview lives on in dreams. It wasn't exactly a dropped pass in the end zone, but so it felt at the time. Today? An anecdote, a story to be told over drinks, a reminder that 90 percent of life is showing up. But only 90 percent.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

What's a Word Worth?

Over there on the left side of this blog are "living links" to the blogs of some friends. On top of the list at the moment is The Cancer Blogs, in which a former student -- a student I like to think of as a friend because who wouldn't want to have a friend who writes well and thinks clearly and is also brave -- describes his, what?

His battle with cancer? His experience with cancer? His living with cancer? His learning from cancer? You got the thing, you own the vocabulary, right?

I haven't picked up yet exactly how George wants to describe what he's going through, I mean, the one-word summary that boils it down and makes it all "simple." I wager George is much too intellectually agile to succumb to such oversimplification. It's got to be a kaleidoscope, a shifting landscape. I know I am proud of him for sharing his experiences because describing how one deals with a life-threatening disease that is still occasionally stigmatized is a guide to dealing with a great many things, not just cancer. It's a road map for more than one kind of journey.

I read with wonder and admiration. Old men can learn from the young. Old men better.

A Progressive Raises the Bold Flag

The words, they are a changin'.

At the YouTube debate, Hillary Clinton says she's a progressive and not a liberal. A new survey suggests progressive *is* more acceptable as a political descriptor. Progressive actually polls better than conservative!

Interesting. My personal definition has always been that a progressive is a liberal who chooses to take action, that liberal is a set of attitudes, a conversation around the pool, not a call to battle. I always thought of a progressive as a liberal with fire in his/her eye.

I understand this definition is personal, eccentric and unhistorical, but it helps explain why I am delighted that calling myself a progressive is now the preferred choice, tactically speaking, a label that builds support for the things I care about rather than scaring people away.

Look at me: Progressive!

It's a bold and lovely word, isn't it?

Friday, July 27, 2007

What's Good about the Wall Street Journal

The trail of crumbs:

* I find a link in Romanesko, that exemplar of the editor class, to an article by Man of the Left Zbignew Zingh explaining why WSJ is his secret addiction but one he'll kick if Rupert buys it.

* I think how I'd like to pull out a couple grafs for the Cat but feel vaguely guilty, even though it's fair use and I will link to the whole article.

* I find this at the end of the piece:

Zbignew Zingh can be reached at Zbig@ersarts.com. This Article is CopyLeft, and free to distribute, copy, reprint or repost in full with proper author citation and with the "Copyleft" designation. Find out more about Copyleft and read other articles at www.ersarts.com. copyleft 2007 Read other articles by Zbignew, or visit Zbignew's website.

I do not read The Wall Street Journal to keep an eye on my non-existent stock investments. I read The Wall Street Journal because I crave data, particularly data about what the economy, the financial sector and the business community are doing. I want to know what they are doing, and what they are thinking, because, sooner or later, what they do or think will affect you and me. I also subscribe to and read the usual alternative media, print and electronic. But there is a limit to how much political orthodoxy I can take (especially when I agree with most of it) before my political gut starts to demand more substance. It is like those damn doughnuts I eat in the morning: one is good, two is okay; but a straight diet of nothing but screeds and doughnuts leaves you with a soft, flabby belly, a soft, flabby brain and a hankering for more nutrition with less fat.

The WSJ, along with The New York Times and The Washington Post, are the three principle “opinion-makers” in the United States. They set the tone and the editorial policy which then quickly percolates through the rest of the US news media. In an age when “local” media no longer have their own national or international reporters, they rely on the “biggies” to set up the stories for them. The Times, The Post and The Journal propagate the official government stories and the “approved” propaganda. If “your government” wants to channel public opinion in a particular direction, it begins with these three papers. You can read it here today, and read it in your local newspaper tomorrow. The Post writes primarily for Washington’s political wonks and The Times for bleeding heart Republicans who fancy themselves “liberals”. The Journal, however, unabashedly caters to the ruling elite, the moneyed class that owns, and, therefore, does not need to hold elected office. This class’s watchdogs monitor what we are saying; it is imperative that we also monitor what they are saying.

Clearly, it is not every story printed in The Wall Street Journal that merits our attention. This quintessentially mainstream newspaper is as skewed to the right as the rest of them, sometimes more so. However, the staff reporters of The Wall Street Journal are a rather professional lot. The reporters are also unionized and have staged at least one little publicized walk-out to protest the sale of the WSJ to Rupert Murdoch. Buried within many of the reporters’ stories are nuggets of pure information. Thus, while a headline might blandly state that “Investors Shrug Off Sub-Prime Mortgage Collapse” or “Bankers Postpone Sale of Debt for Chrysler LBO”, there lie within the articles heart-stopping descriptions of mountains and mountains of bad debt: collateralized debt obligations, collateralized mortgage obligations, securitized financial shenanigans and unhinged hedge funds that carry book values in the billions of dollars but which really may be worth practically nothing. And then you read who ultimately owns all this bad debt - not the banks (who bundle it, slice it, “repackage” it and resell the debt as “bonds” as fast as they can), not the debt brokers, not the financial big wigs on Wall Street. No, the hot potato often ends up in the lap of teacher and union pension funds, mutual funds, city and state investment vehicles, and foreign investment banks. In the quest for the maximum return on their investments, these entities have indirectly snarfed up investment instruments comprised of the shaky mortgages and gossamer securities that have held the American economy together with spit and duct tape for the past business cycle. And, as usual, it is the lesser people who will be crushed when the edifice finally collapses.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Speaking of Brother Daugherty

It's hard to make something funny -- certifiably funny; droll -- out of a list of political contributions. Brother Daugherty does. He has what we used to call voice back when people could spell.

Addendum: Kind of a rude picture of Hillary, but columnists don't pick the art. Brother Daugherty's visual sense is much more droll. (It's a lovely word. If it applies, best use it again before you put it back on the shelf.)

The Maginot Line: That Mattered

Tomorrow Brother Daugherty and I will attend the SF Giants game in the hope that we will see Barry Bonds.... I was about to say in the hope that he will hit a home run. Since a home run will neither tie or break Hank Aaron's record, I don't suppose we much care if he hits one or not. As men of the pen, we are there for the spectacle, not so much to see the thing but to see the people who are there to see the thing.

It is a kind of curse to have spent so many years as a journalist that cool indifference is something you are able to slip on and off like a pair of sunglasses. That imperturbable neutrality is like a pair of sunglasses in another way, too. It can at times obscure -- at least reduce -- your vision. It certainly can turn into a kind of affectation, like wearing sunglasses indoors.

Not much liking Barry Bonds, I should be honest, allow myself to not much like him and not pretend I am at New Candlestick as some kind of anthropologist. It is all right for me to be mildly irritated if he hits a home run, mildly pleased if he doesn't. I know well enough that the day after he actually does break the record, I'll not give it another thought unless I write a note to remind myself to think about it so that I can write something. His record is just another means; it's not an end in itself.

We could all use a nice diversion. More power to Barry Bonds, who is less important than a mosquito when it comes to disturbing our days unless we choose to give him that power. It's just a numbers game inside a numbers game. It's not like the insurgents in Baghdad or Anbar were counting down to the 4,000th American death in Iraq, handing out specially marked bullets to certify the occasion and make it official.

Oh, we haven't already passed 4,000, have we? Anybody paying attention?

I Don't Know Either (Just Being Honest)

An excellent interview with sportswriter Frank Deford, apparently done as part of a bookstore promotion. Deford talks about his advice to sportswriter -- and, I suppose, newspaper -- wannabes.

I used to have a stock answer. It was easy to say, "You have to get as much writing done as you possibly can because it's important to show your clips. You get out of college, you may want to go to journalism school."

I can just hear myself saying this. "I'm not sure that's necessary, but it's good on a resume. And then you're going to have to go out to the boondocks somewhere, but if you're any good, it'll show itself. That's one thing about this business. You'll move up."

I used to be able to say that, but I can't anymore.

I don't have any idea what newspapers are going to stay in business. I got a call two or three weeks ago from one of the best sports columnists in the country. The top of the tree, this guy. He says, "I think they're going to let me go." Downsizing. "You got any ideas?" And I'm thinking to myself, No, because every other place is downsizing, too.

I don't even know how you recommended anybody get into the business these days. They're walking off a cliff. Something's going to survive out there, we all know that, but I sure as hell don't know what it is.

May It Rise Again, Like the Phoenix

Brother Greg Pabst (Friend of the Blog) writes:

Long Live the King.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I Make Leah Garchik

Leah knows how to take the raw idea and make a nice item. It was one of Herb Caen's talents and much undervalued.

And a pack of neighbors on Telegraph Hall - aided by the Trust for Public Land and the Northeast San Francisco Conservancy - raised almost a million dollars to buy a vacant lot on the east side of the hill, where about 15 years ago a house came tumbling down in a rainstorm. The lot will become part of the Grace Marchant Gardens.

"With all those sportswriters who have ever smoked a joint, sniffed a line or patronized a hooker self-righteously criticizing the moral fiber of Barry Bonds," asks Michael Robertson of the University of San Francisco, "aren't we justified in calling it a smugfest?"

Open for business at (415) 777-8426 or e-mail lgarchik@sfchronicle.com.

Monday, July 23, 2007

From the Gulag

The Giants write:

Dear Upper Deck Partial Season Prole/Ticket Holder,

Major League Baseball excitement continues this week at AT&T Park as our own Barry Bonds chases “The Hammer” Hank Aaron’s home run record. To help you maximize your enjoyment during this homestand, we want to provide you the following information and alerts.

Please note that as it becomes necessary for the safety and security of our Season Ticketholders and fans in the Arcade seating area, access to the Arcade and Levi’s Landing will be restricted to through traffic. Fans may be wrist-banded during this homestand and at times, limited access will be granted. As Barry chases the home run record here at AT&T Park, our first concern is the safety and comfort of our guests.

He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark visage. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Barry.

Bracketed by Babes at the Spring Do

Mama's Not Here

In August I'm going back east for a couple of days to visit my mother in the Baptist nursing home where my big sister put her a couple of months ago. I'm not exactly sure why I'm going back. My mother and I haven't been close for a long time -- she never did much like my wife; pout too much for too long and it has consequences -- and now she's pretty deep in dementia and will not recognize me.

My sister says during most visits my mother will ask her if she was married and -- when assured she was -- if her husband loved her. Then she'll ask my sister if she (my mother) has any children.

Yes, my sister will say. And I'm one of them.

Which one? my mother will say.

The pretty one, my sister will say, who has a good sense of humor, which is getting a pretty good workout currently.

I told my sister to tell my mother that her wonderful son is coming to see her. He is in prison and has been in solitary confinement because he shanked someone in the yard (it's never too late to expand your vocabulary) but that he has gotten a special furlough to come see her.

I'll show up. I assume my mother will ask the usual questions: marriage, husband, children, which one are you?

The pretty one, my sister will say.

In prison, I'm the pretty one, I'll say.

You've got to laugh, don't you.

Friday, July 20, 2007


I'm still feeling a little off-base this morning. A 4.2 earthquake woke us a little before 5 a.m. A 4.2 is just a baby earthquake, but we have lived in this house for 16 years. This was the biggest jolt yet, though all it did was shake us. Not a hair on the house's sleepy head was disturbed. Eydie insisted we go up to the living room, a room without a second-story over it. She did not need to insist much.

After a while, we settled down and went back to bed, though we did not drop off to sleep at once. This from sfgate.com:

Gordon said the quake was centered about 2 miles northeast of downtown Oakland on the Hayward fault. The actual epicenter was in the Oakland Hills near Joaquin Miller Park and the Mormon Temple, according to an online topographic mapping service that works with the USGS.

That might be a mile from us. We have put $50,000 into this house in the last five years, doing seismic strengthening. We also carry earthquake insurance, which costs $150 a month and has a big deductible. Some days I feel it's a waste of money.

Some days I don't.

Addendum: Something was knocked off the wall. One of our African masks suffered a broken earlobe.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Picture of the Birdhouse

The Birdhouse

Got a new birdhouse today. It has a New England feel to it, with a peaked roof and a porch. The roof is shingled with little shingles smaller than postage stamps. Extra shingles were included.

I like birdhouses. Eydie really likes bird houses, though the next bird that nests in one of our birdhouses will be the first bird to do so. Our little birdhouse village is really quite tragic in its emptiness, as if there had been a terrible war among the birds, and none survived.

It really is quite a fancy birdhouse. The instructions say that if it is to be used outside, we might want to spray it with a polymer coating because if we use it outside it will weather.

But that's only if we use it outside.

Harry Potter and The Curse of the New

Maybe this is an article: The degree to which old professors scramble to keep their courses current. I don't mean new information. I mean new bottles for their very old wine. How do you keep culturally plugged in? Should you? Can you?

Will anyone notice?

No need for me to fret about this today. Romanesko presents a lovely ethical question -- I hate to dignify it by calling it a dilemma. I can use it in Journalism Ethics this fall.

Huffington Post
An angry Rachel Sklar has this message for the Times: "Come on: How on earth could you run a review of the last Harry Potter? To do so, you had to break an industry-wide embargo -- and not just any embargo, an embargo that is almost tantamount to a public trust at this point, given the worldwide hype about Harry Potter and the excitement and intense emotion generated by -- finally -- the end to this epic series."

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Destroying America, One Traffic Jam at a Time

Young Brother George Sanchez called my attention to the website devoted to the notion that the destruction of the section of an Oakland traffic overpass caused by the crash of a gasoline tanker trunk was an international conspiracy.

I wrote:

Makes me think of my days back at Atlanta Magazine when I made the mistake of replying pleasantly to the man who wanted to explain to me some world conspiracy. A few days later he showed up at the magazine offices and gave me “the manuscript,” filled with numbers, coincidences, celestial signs, translations from the ancient Greek, a lot of it hand written and illustrated with drawings that looked like the insides of pond life….

Of course, I read some of the stuff and it was like a snake eating its tail. You couldn’t say it was wrong, only that it was probably – as in almost certainly/I’ll bet any amount of money at long odds against it/wake me for the Apocalypse – wrong. Then, he asked for help in overturning the terms of his recent divorce in which he lost the right to have any contact with his kid. It took me a few days of walking through the parking lot to figure out he was living in his car. So I quit answering his phone calls and letters and he went away. He never again came inside seeking me out. (I think I saw him in his car masturbating. I didn’t call the cops. Let the civilians call the cops.)

Now, that’s a good thing about the Internet. The nuts can imagine someone is listening to them, if only the other nuts. Unless this guy with the MacArthur Maze conspiracy website is just playing. If so, it’s a crazy game.

Why Buy the Cow When You Can Get the Milk for Free?

My adsense earnings during the last seven days:

Page impressions Clicks Page CTR Page eCPM [?] Earnings
AdSense for Content 381 3 0.79% $0.12 $0.04
AdSense for Search - Get started
Referrals - Get started
Total Earnings
$ .04

What Chew Lookin' At?

Wall Street Journal online says forget Rupert Murdoch: The story is elsewhere.

Even as News Corp. negotiated to buy Dow Jones & Co. over the past few weeks, a grim reality was increasingly evident to executives on both sides of the discussion: The downturn in the newspaper industry is getting worse.

Last fall, newspaper executives and analysts were caught by surprise by the severity of a slump that took hold last summer. Since the beginning of this year, the rate of decline in advertising revenue has accelerated. Total print and online ad revenue was down 4.8% to $10.6 billion in the first quarter from a year earlier, according to the Newspaper Association of America, compared with its full-year decline in 2006 of 0.3%.

I'm trying to be optimistic.

Monday, July 16, 2007

No Mo' Ink-Stained Hands?

Young Barry Toulouse, USF graduate, pointed me at the current Business Week, which dreams a dream:

Play with me on this one: Which major American newspaper should be the first to throw up its hands and stop publishing a print product?

It's a question worth asking. This could be the worst year for newspapers since the Great Depression. The double-digit revenue declines long forecast by doomsters have arrived. While nearly all the major papers still post profits, albeit smaller than before, a few prominent ones are losing boatloads. At Hearst Newspapers' San Francisco Chronicle, according to a deposition given by James M. Asher, the company's chief legal and business development officer, losses of $330 million piled up between mid-2000 and September, 2006, better—or should I say worse?—than $1 million a week. During negotiations with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's unions, the owning Block family disclosed that the paper lost $20 million in 2006. Late last year, The Boston Globe was headed for unprofitability as well, according to The Wall Street Journal.

And 2007 does not look materially kinder than 2006 for any of these papers. One senior executive describes the climate like this: "If you told me 24 months ago that revenues would be declining as much as they are today, I'd say you were smoking dope." Print newspapers require maintaining a costly status quo—paper, presses, trucks, and mail rooms—that, if only through rising gas prices, will only get more expensive.

WHEN, EXACTLY, do you junk something that no longer works? And which major paper should go first—not today, but within the next 18 or 24 months?

San Francisco Chronicle, I'm looking at you.

I think this idea is nonsense. I think it would be financial suicide given the unwillingness of advertisers to pay the big bucks for online placement. (But, Biz Week says, what if there were no newspaper in which to advertise....)

Still, I never thought I'd see such speculation in Business Week, even if it's idle speculation.
I've always assumed paper papers would outlive me, both of us gracefully fading away. I really thought I'd go first.

Here's a nice p.s., from Spring. Chron's big hit was the year *before* last.

Circulation at the Top 20 Newspapers
Monday April 30, 10:59 am ET
By The Associated Press

Average Weekday Circulation at the Top 20 U.S. Newspapers Average paid weekday circulation of the nation's 20 largest newspapers for the six-month period ending in March, as reported Monday by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. The percentage changes are from the comparable year-ago period.

1. USA Today, 2,278,022, up 0.2 percent

2. The Wall Street Journal, 2,062,312, up 0.6 percent

3. The New York Times, 1,120,420, down 1.9 percent

4. Los Angeles Times, 815,723, down 4.2 percent

5. New York Post, 724,748, up 7.6 percent

6. New York Daily News, 718,174, up 1.4 percent

7. The Washington Post, 699,130, down 3.5 percent

8. Chicago Tribune, 566,827, down 2.1 percent

9. Houston Chronicle, 503,114, down 2 percent

10. The Arizona Republic, 433,731, down 1.1 percent

11. Dallas Morning News, 411,919, down 14.3 percent

12. Newsday, Long Island, 398,231, down 6.9 percent

13. San Francisco Chronicle, 386,564, down 2.9 percent

14. The Boston Globe, 382,503, down 3.7 percent

15. The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., 372,629, down 6.1 percent

16. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 357,399, down 2.1 percent

17. The Philadelphia Inquirer, 352,593, up 0.6 percent

18. Star Tribune of Minneapolis-St. Paul, 345,252, down 4.9 percent

19. The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, 344,704, up 0.5 percent

20. Detroit Free Press, 329,989, down 4.7 percent

A Solution in Search of a Problem

Zogby Poll: Most Think Political Bias Among College Professors a Serious Problem

Four in 10 said the problem is "very serious;" Tenure seen as harmful to teaching quality

As legislation is introduced in more than a dozen states across the country to counter political pressure and proselytizing on students in college classrooms, a majority of Americans believe the political bias of college professors is a serious problem, a new Zogby Interactive poll shows.

Nearly six in 10 - 58% - said they see it as a serious problem, with 39% saying it was a "very serious" problem.

Jesus was tenured. A lot of people don't know that.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Internet: Incubator for Modesty

I just did a quick search, and you would be surprised -- I know my readers; you''re like a collection of antiques, dusty and shoved against the wall -- to learn just how many people are predicting that the final Harry Potter ends with Harry waking up next to Suzanne Pleschette.

So no fresh joke for me. That's what I tell my kids. You got a question you ask it. You won't be the only person thinking it.

As as for Harry getting whacked like Tony Soprano, or even by Tony Soprano, you're the only person in the world who hasn't already come up with that.

Apparently the Sopranos Cat Thread Has More Than Nine Lives

A fine story in the New York Daily news in which animal experts interpret the mysterious cat. But, more important, we learn the identity of the fabulous cat itself. Which turns out to be themselves.

This ginger tabby had the distinction of appearing in the final episode of 'The Sopranos.'

This ginger tabby had the distinction of appearing in the final episode of 'The Sopranos.'

"The Sopranos" gang may have left viewers seeing triple, but that could have been caused by the ominous stray ginger tabby who stole the show's final episode and, like the Sopranos, has many lives - 27, in fact.

That's because the lone feline actor was, in fact, played by three cats - Timmy, Tommy and Terry - 4-year-old identical siblings who were plucked from a California field where they were abandoned as kittens.

"These were wild, stray cats that were trained to act," said their owner, Debbie Pearl, who runs Paws for Effect, a talent agency based in Los Angeles.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


Brother Jerry Carroll sent the link to Daniel Drezner, and to celebrate my 20,000th visitor, I will borrow from DD, who, in fact, is borrowing from someone else.

It's all fair use, isn't it?

Why there will never be a reality show about academia

Four years ago (?!!), I blogged the following:

[T]he caricature of academia in popular culture is a collection of lecherous white male who inevitably bed one or more of their students.
In The American Scholar, William Deresiewicz uses many more paragraphs to make a similar point:
Look at recent movies about academics, and a remarkably consistent pattern emerges. In The Squid and the Whale (2005), Jeff Daniels plays an English professor and failed writer who sleeps with his students, neglects his wife, and bullies his children. In One True Thing (1998), William Hurt plays an English professor and failed writer who sleeps with his students, neglects his wife, and bullies his children. In Wonder Boys (2000), Michael Douglas plays an English professor and failed writer who sleeps with his students, has just been left by his third wife, and can’t commit to the child he’s conceived in an adulterous affair with his chancellor. Daniels’s character is vain, selfish, resentful, and immature. Hurt’s is vain, selfish, pompous, and self-pitying. Douglas’s is vain, selfish, resentful, and self-pitying. Hurt’s character drinks. Douglas’s drinks, smokes pot, and takes pills. All three men measure themselves against successful writers (two of them, in Douglas’s case; his own wife, in Daniels’s) whose presence diminishes them further. In We Don’t Live Here Anymore (2004), Mark Ruffalo and Peter Krause divide the central role: both are English professors, and both neglect and cheat on their wives, but Krause plays the arrogant, priapic writer who seduces his students, Ruffalo the passive, self-pitying failure. A Love Song For Bobby Long (2004) divides the stereotype a different way, with John Travolta as the washed-up, alcoholic English professor, Gabriel Macht as the blocked, alcoholic writer.

Not that these figures always teach English. Kevin Spacey plays a philosophy professor — broken, bitter, dissolute — in The Life of David Gale (2003). Steve Carell plays a self-loathing, suicidal Proust scholar in Little Miss Sunshine (2006). Both characters fall for graduate students, with disastrous results. And while the stereotype has gained a new prominence of late, its roots go back at least a few decades. Many of its elements are in place in Oleanna (1994), in Surviving Desire (1991), and, with John Mahoney’s burnt-out communications professor, in Moonstruck (1987). In fact, all of its elements are in place in Terms of Endearment (1983), where Jeff Daniels took his first turn playing a feckless, philandering English professor. And of course, almost two decades before that, there was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

What’s going on here? If the image of the absent-minded professor stood for benevolent unworldliness, what is the meaning of the new academic stereotype? Why are so many of these failed professors also failed writers? Why is professional futility so often connected with sexual impropriety? (In both Terms of Endearment and We Don’t Live Here Anymore, “going to the library” becomes a euphemism for “going to sleep with a student.”) Why are these professors all men, and why are all the ones who are married such miserable husbands?

Deresiewicz answers his own question with a Jungian flourish ( "they are a way of articulating the superiority of female values to male ones: of love, community, and self-sacrifice to ambition, success, and fame").

Drezner says the real reason is the hideous boring and inbred nature of academic life, which -- if you insist on writing about it -- must be lied about if anyone is to pay attention. Hence the bonking and its attendant misery, all of it pure fiction.

This is not exactly true. My first job several of the faculty were bonking one another and seemed to be having a hell of a time, though as far as I knew they left the students alone. Anyway, it was down South, and I blame the drink, which saturated the culture.

Here at USF, cross my heart if there's anything going on, predatory or otherwise, either intramural or extracurricular, I know nothing about it.

So well yes: Drezner is right. Of course, I suppose all us profs could revel in the caricature as it builds our myth. Except how much business did any of these art house follies actually do?

Whoops, I forgot the Nutty Professors, both that of Lewis and that of Murphy. They did business, though their point would seem to be that the only way a professor could get lucky would be through molecular reinvention right down to the bare bones of his watery DNA.

P.S. I also worked for 15 years in journalism. Was there bonking? Yes, there was. I think it was all done in support of the First Amendment. That was the music for the dance, I'm pretty sure.

The 20K Club

Sometime in the next few hours the 20,000th visitor to this blog will arrive to ... nothing. That would make a nice widget, something that would allow you to greet certain visitors with on-screen fireworks. Of course, all of us have come across screens that tell us we are a special visitor and will get a prize if only we give our credit card number and tether our first born to the mailbox and walk away.

Since the 20,000th visitor here will be greeted by nothing more than a mixture of suspicion and gratitude, if such a widget existed we would not abuse it. It would be what the Brits call a "one-off."

And thus endeth the lesson for the day.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

More 2007 All Star Baseball Game Highlights

Where Would Jesus Live?

Here's an interesting article from Sojourners asking if Jesus would have swung through the suburbs or restricted himself to cities and farms, where we know there's plenty of sin and/or oppression. Don't sell the 'burbs short when it comes to vice and spiritual anguish, the writer argues.

I don't pretend to know what Jesus' itinerary would be in modern America. Over the years, I've had my differences with Jesus, from my end centering on the question of whether or not he actually existed, much less if he were God.

Still, ours has been a friendly tension. For a long time I've had the idea that I liked him (or the idea of him) a good deal more than the religion that grew up around him, at least in its furious and absolutist fundamentalist form. Loved Him, hated It, you might say. So I'll just give it all a miss.

On the other hand, the folk over at Sojourners make me think.... I'm not sure what they make me think. They seem thoughtful, wise, compassionate. And just how Christian is that, I mean really?

If I read Richard Dawkins correctly, he thinks that what I would call the progressive end of the Christian spectrum could arrive at its moral and ethical positions -- its plan of action -- through an understanding of evolutionary biology, through an intellectual understanding of humanity and the amazing universe, without recourse to the Christian myth. I think Dawkins is saying that "liberal" Christians' acceptance of irrationality of any kind of god worship -- benign and even useful though that gentle group of religionists is -- aids and abets the crazies because once you let "faith" determine how you behave, more bad things crawl out of the darkness, since the crazies can always find a whisper in their heads urging them on. It's not that bad religion does more harm than good, but if only we could squelch the bad, Dawkins says. It's that religion is a package deal, and it's a noxious package, and there's no way to save it from its basic intellectual flaw.

That's a bigger question than how one comes down on the Jesus of the gospels. Still, one of the things on my summer To Do list is to reread those gospels in a good modern translation and decide whether there's more harm than good therein. I'll let you know.

I'll let you know what I think, I mean.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


It may not surprise you to learn I had a very nice time at the All Star game. I got there more than two hours early and saw batting practice and all sorts of noise and color in and around the stadium.

Here's a sample of the Wonders Seen.

Farewell to My Soprano's Spike. I Wrote about the Cat, *and the World Beat a Path to my Blog*. But Now the Path is Less Trod, and Weeds Grow There

This Month's Visits by Day
This Month's Visits by Day

There is Something You Might Call 'The Art of Invitation.' My Wife is Very Good at It, I'm Glad to Say.

But not everyone is. From Thomas Hardy's "The Woodlanders."

Giles himself, since the untoward beginning of the feast, had not quite liked to see Grace present. He wished he had not asked such people as Bawtree and the hollow-turner. He had done it, in dearth of other friends, that the room might not appear empty. In his mind's eye, before the event, they had been the mere background or padding of the scene, but somehow in reality they were the most prominent personages there.

Another Capitalist Moment: What Will be Cost Effective?

I'm going to the All-Star game today, having won the right to pay $162 -- which is face value -- for a third deck ticket. I own 1/8th of two season tickets and we had a little lottery to see who got the right to overpay. Actually, most of the ticket holders weren't interested, which I understand since the price is ruinous.

But at 63 I am in "last chance" mode. Many of the choices I am now faced with are not postponements. I won't have a "next time." So I thought well why not? I'm pretty much run out of things to talk about, and the All Star game should produce a nice five minutes in my next one thousand conversations -- with (I hope, and so do you) one thousand different people.

Big question now is: How early do I show up? I've paid handsomely, but do I really want to get there four hours early and watch the millionaires scratch themselves? There's always mindless conversation, of course, and my seatmate is a very good guy *but he's married to the Dean.*

Complaining about the Dean is in my DNA, as it is in the DNA of every true academic. I think it's one of those paired genes, perhaps unrelated to but always in the company of bookish inclinations.

I suppose I could walk around and look at things. That should kill a half hour. Yay. So I think I'll aim for an hour and a half early. Also, I can take a book.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Profits for Our First Week on AdSense are:

Page impressions Clicks Page CTR Page eCPM [?] Earnings
429 20 4.66% $7.30 $3.13

Total Earnings $3.13

Brother Higgins security-enables my router *and is rewarded*

Hating on Canada and Its Fundamental Decency

Brother Oberto (Beef) Wieder writes:

Click Here: Check out "Pop Culture Junk Mail"
For a TOTALLY different perspective on the Lizard Breath - Anthony thing. She blogs about the strip about once a week--the latest was posted last Thursday--and has for years, and thoroughly detests the LB-A story arc, which she predicts will conclude, as wlll the strip itself (as Lynn Johnston announced some months ago) with their marriage ceremony and the words "for better or for worse."

Click through and search and you get some prime snark, which I love.

Fear the snark, my friends. Feel the feelings but fear the snark.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

You Can Smell the Fear. You Can Smell Something.

Oakland, like many East Bay communities, contracts with an outside company to pick up its garbage, its lawn clippings and its recyclables. That company has locked out its drivers in a wage and benefits disputes. Stuff hasn't started to pile up yet. Stuff will.

The fabric of civilization is thin. You can feel how thin it is. No, that's wrong. Just a little rip and you can smell -- by inference -- how thin it is.

So on Monday I will call Oakland city hall and urge the city to pressure the garbage company to compromise, to take back less from its workers than the company is insisting upon.

Hauling garbage is a lousy job. Putting waste and residue in our own little garbage cans is just so damn unpleasant and inconveenient. When we moved here 16 years ago, each garbage truck had at least two guys, one to drive and one or two picking up the trash. Now one guy does the whole thing, and he *hustles* his way, at least thr0ugh our neighborhood.

Muzzle not the oxen that treadeth out the corn -- or in this case pick up after those oxen. I'm willing to pay a little more.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

And Just How is Adsense Working?

Lots of ads for cat products, which connection we applaud. But now this:

The Sopranos Seasons 1-6
Today Only 114.99 w/Free Shipping! All TV Box Sets on Sale!

Good job, Google crawlers!

A Secret Message for a Select Few

Elizabeth is back with Anthony.

Only members of a tribe that shrinks ever day, as the newspaper habit dies among the old and is still born among the young, have any idea what I'm talking about. Indeed, I speak to a tribe within a tribe because your serious newspaper readers have always skipped over the comics page, rushing on to the op-eds, perhaps mourning the loss of Peanuts.

(News flash: they just keep rerunning the old strips and, for better or worse, Charlie Brown *is* timeless.)

And speaking of for better or worse, cap the B and cap the W and you are on the trail of Elizabeth and Anthony as mentioned above, who are characters in the last of the wholesome comic-page narratives not written for cretins, Lynn Johnston's "For Better or Worse." It's a strip informed by a fundamental decency. Johnston is Canadian. I don't think Americans do fundamental decency anymore. We are all such damn ironists -- or religious fanatics or sex perverts.

All those things do squeeze out decency, don't they?

But Johnston has had me ever since Farley the dog died saving April from the raging creek 15 years ago. How one can weep at 7:30 in the morning for the death of a fictional animal drawn so small it could have been a sheep dog for aphids...? I guess somehow it all sparked a memory of back in the day when one was still fundamentally decent, when did not have to shape one's mouth into a sneer to get through the day.

Newspaper comics. I felt such a loss when Aaron McGruder gave up his Boondocks strip and took it to cable TV. And then I realized he was exchanging a dying medium in which old white men still shape the master narrative for the young strange polychrome world of animated -- frequently badly animated -- cartoon narrative, where there's more money, more fame, a lot more future and *maybe* more influence over the shape of things to come. If he's talking to the malleable youth, there's where the malleable youth are.

The only thing malleable about me is my gut where my belt cuts into it. But, still, this old white man misses him. I've watched the Boondocks on the TV, but it all seems like a night at the burlesque, a little crude, a little overstated. I miss that finger snap of insight or emotion or laughter you get with that rare handful of daily comics.

Of course, in the case of several of the lamentable single-panel cartoons the SF Chronicle now features, you still have the finger snap of the thankfulness that you've only wasted three seconds of your precious gauzy morning. *All* these hacks can't be sleeping with the editor.

But back to Elizabeth and Anthony. Congratulations. I hope to spend two to three weeks drinking coffee and dancing at your wedding.

Monday, July 02, 2007

AdSense Has Arrived

This is an experiment so I will have a baseline for class discussion in the fall of the possible profit in maintaining a personal blog. Given my number of visitors, I expect to make less than a dollar a month. Indeed, I may be impudent to aim so high.

My wife is not comfortable with my descent into monetizing, capitalizing, compromising, in short tarting up my little blog and dropping it off at a seedy street corner, wobbly on its 4-inch heels.

We shall see. Ad content is supposed to be driven by Google "crawlers" that survey the blog and adjust my little billboard.

"For God's sake, don't mention Viagra," my wife says.


Waiting Patiently

On Saturday I signed up to allow ads to be dropped onto the blog, but apparently -- obviously; it's Monday already -- there's a delay while the AdSense Purity Committee vets the blog. I assume ad content will somehow relate to blog content, so I expect cat products and moderate-to-liberal political sites to bask in the sunlight of my wit and wisdom. I'm not doing this to make money. I'm doing it to not make money, which will provide yet another lesson to my students when we talk about blogging.

About the middle of next year we are going to reach a tipping point: more blogs than there are hairs on the head of God at which juncture....

The things you will be able to say in the third paragraph of any post because no one is going to read that satan satan shitsack far.

But I have just locked up the Satan and the shitsack banner ads.