Friday, November 30, 2007

Turn that Frown Upside Down

Here's a link to Santa and his Reindeer in a soulful version of "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas." This is a present to myself. I want to be able to go here easily at any time of night or day.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Rough Riders Go to the Beach

I Pretty Much Love This Interview withThis Matt Taibbi Person

He's not very kind.

If you have no real knowledge or skill set and you’re lazy and full of shit but you want to make a decent wage, then journalism’s not a bad career option. The great thing about it is that you don’t need to know anything. I mean this whole notion of journalism school—I can’t believe people actually go to journalism school. You can learn the entire thing in like three days. My advice is instead of going to journalism school, go to school for something concrete like medicine or some kind of science or something and then use the knowledge you get in that field as a wedge to get yourself into journalism.

What journalism really needs is more people who are reporting who actually know something. Instead of having a bunch of liberal arts grads who’ve read Siddhartha 50 times writing about health care, it would be really nice if some of the people who are writing about health care were doctors.

At USF, of course, we are a journalism minor, and that makes all the difference.

Oliver Does an Intervention

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Simple Question Has a Simple Answer

Google "protractor." Click the picture on the right, and here you are. Why I am linked to that picture I don't know. Perhaps, I have a friend in the Google business.

A Teaching Exercise That Worked

Describing the room: An exercise for feature writing

You have arranged an interview in this room with the person named below. You arrive 30 minutes early. Since you will be writing on deadline, you decide to do a brief sketch of the room before your subject arrives, thinking you might be able to use it as part of your story.

You are interviewing a 60-year-old architect who has been hired to remodel all the classrooms on this campus.

A 35-year-old nun who is leaving holy orders to get married.

A 40-year-old USF employee whose job is cleaning this building.

A 70-year-old priest who is about to retire from USF.

The 40-year-old widow of a USF professor who died of a heart attack in this room last year.

A 20-year-old student who has just been expelled from USF for drinking.

A 10-year-old child prodigy who has just started college at USF.

A 50-year-old prison inmate who has a day pass to take classes at USF.

A 20-year-old USF student about to graduate with honors who is blind.

A 30-year-old construction worker who has been working on the gutting of Campion Hall.

Ten students, each with a different mandate. Every one of them saw the room differently depending on the source each student was supposed to meet. Was it the same room? Yes and no. Was each description appropriate though selective? Yes.


The student who wrote about the old priest noted the broken-down television set pushed into the corner. The student who wrote about the marryin' nun noted that through the windows of this classroom you can see neither church nor cloister. The student who wrote about the student bounced for drinking noted in a dry and clever way the sign that said:

No food. No drinking (!)

Sometimes it is all right to be pleased with yourself and your day's work.

Here's a New Headline for an Old Post

Thursday, August 03, 2006

I Have a Question for All You People Looking for a Picture of a Protractor

The question is why? During the last two weeks, I have had almost 2,000 visitors to this old post, all apparently directed here by a Google images search for a picture of a protractor. I would like some of you to comment at the bottom of this post. Why are you looking for a picture of a protractor?

Editor's note: It's true. I've had 2,000 protractor-crazed visitors, and I do wonder why so many people would want to see a picture of a protractor. I suspect its some sort of glitch.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Who are These Guys?

Today is the 16th day of protractor madness, that is, the 16th day after dozens of strangers began to be directed to the blog through a Google link to a picture of a protractor. The linking continues apace, 180 hits yesterday and 85 percent of them drawn by my linking to a photograph of a protractor so many years ago.

I'm not complaining. A few visitors have made permanent links to Darwin's Cat, and that has improved my Technorati ranking, though I have not yet returned to the top one percent. It seems to have produced a few more dimes in my Adsense account, and I'm thankful for that since I have sworn not to write for my first check until I break 20 bucks, which should happen sometime after the first of the year even if the protractor legions abandon me.

It's just that I have no idea who these searchers are because as part of the search process they get to see a picture of a protractor without having to proceed on to the blog post on which it appears -- or, in my case, the blog post that simply links to the picture.

Why all this vague energy around protractors? It's disturbing, mysterious, even sinister.

I bet an action-adventure novelist could do something with it. It could be a rise in the chatter, the first sign of alien invasion and me the ignorant dupe.

What if I know too much? What if I have to be elimin

Monday, November 26, 2007

A Good Morning's Work

I have decided what to put on the final exam for reporting: a news story based on a police report; a news story based on notes about a meeting; ten AP style questions.

It's time for my break.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Vegetables. Fresh Fruit. Long Vigorous Walks.

Feeling pretty good today, which is a change. Two weeks ago I started Zocor, the cheap statin, to lower my cholesterol, but it would appear -- *appear*, I say -- that I am suffering from several of its possible side effects, including lethargy, sore muscles and bouts of nausea.

So it would appear. Cause and effect can be a subjective thing when it comes to medication and one's general sense of wellness. But I have not felt particularly well this week and felt what I believe they technically call "crummy" the last half of the week and felt what they technically call "uber-crummy" yesterday; thus, I quit taking the Z.

Today I'm feeling much better. Time to try to knock down the cholesterol the old-fashioned way. The causality chain is pretty well established in regard to those methods.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Butler Did It

I have just gone to to learn how the new movie "The Mist" ends. I read the ending was bleak and disturbing and worthy of Cormac McCarthy -- I call him Catnip McCarthy -- and so I wanted to know.

But I certainly don't want to see the movie. I like only a few horror movies that have downbeat endings. For instance, I like the "real" cut of the original "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," with poor Kevin McCarthy screaming in traffic. But usually I prefer that the good guys win, sentimental as that is. There need not be many good guys remaining, nor with all their parts, and the preceding gore may have been excessive and depressing to anyone with a trace of human feeling.

That's fine. But *I don't like the final surprise shot showing The Thing is down but not out, the whole point of which is setting up the sequel.*

Let it be down. Let it be out. I like the ending of "Alien" and of "Aliens": plenty of room left for sequels without immediately suggesting the futility of resistance.

(But there's no denying the next two movies in that sequence were grotesque, though in very different ways. Then came "Alien vs. Predator." That I watched that movie on cable damns me for all time. And it had an "It ain't over till it's over, and it's never over" ending.)

I like to end on a slight uptilt or at least on a very artful downbeat, as the intended ending of "The Birds" would have been, with the Golden Gate Bridge, not just some phone wires, covered with a flock of ...

Little Alfred Hitchcocks. (Just kidding.)

I'll take a final sadness in most movies. Give me a war movie and you can kill the hero in the last reel anytime, which works equally well for pro-war propaganda and for anti-war angst. But I want my escapism to allow me to escape, at least for the span of time it takes to consume some popcorn and one large box of Raisinettes.

Oh, the end of "The Mist." The dog is actually not a gynecologist, though he was premed in college.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Two Rode Together

Big Pat Daugherty and I did our mini-ride today -- 13 miles, from the Albany bulb past the Richmond marina and back. Today Pat added a little something on the far end. He turned right into what looked like an office park, the kind of low bland faceless wall of buildings where you would imagine they store all the Amway products in the world.

"You know what that is?" he said.

It was just another smear of gray one-story concrete boxes in sequence with an occasional incongruous bit of crenellation.

I did not know what it was.

"That's the Richmond City Hall," he said, "which is about as far as you can get from Richmond while still being in Richmond."

Murder rate, violence, etc. etc? Nah, I just think they got a break on the rent.

(Next time I'll get a picture. For you classic cinema fans, our original excursion.)

By Definition You Can't Steal from Wikipedia. Call This Homage.

Icon Meaning Icon Meaning
:-) classic smile with nose :'-) happy crying
:-( classic sad with nose |-O yawn
:) smile without nose :-D laughter
>:) evil grin %-( confused
:-B buck-tooth B-) Batman / smiley with glasses
:-# with braces :-@ scream
:( sad without nose :@ what??? (seriously?)
:-| indifferent :-0 / >O former - surprised, latter - yell "Ouch! You stepped on my toe!"
;-) winking smile with nose :*) drunk smile
;) winking smile without nose (:-D gossip, blabbermouth
`:-) one eyebrow raised 8D Awesome
:P tongue sticking out (silly) :-& tongue tied
O:-) I'm an angel (boy) c^:3 Left Mouse
¬'¬ Bemused Indian woman O*-) I'm an angel (girl)

Monday, November 19, 2007


something never published from three weeks ago

One last attempt to get an item:

I wrote a 113-word blog post suggesting the University of South Florida – it has a football team that the world has finally noticed -- is not USF and never will be since “ it was founded just after 10 o'clock last night.” Tampa Tribune put said remarks on its website and linked. Comments are approaching 80, and the consensus seems to be that I am gay (since everyone here is); high (since everyone here is); smug and arrogant (since everyone here is); and that a Grateful Dead concert is taking place across the street from USFCA 24 hours a day (which I wish were true.).

So – and here’s my last try at generating an item – I can only conclude from the general tenor of this correspondence that:

If Key West is the Oscar Wilde of Florida cities, Tampa-St. Peter is Larry the Cable Guy.

Great joke I just wrote. Except no one in San Francisco has a clue who Larry the Cable Guy is. Which is why we live in San Francisco.

I give up.

No, I don’t. I did say that the exchange made me feel like Leonidas in 300 Spartans and if tonight I dine in hell, at least it’s cooler than Florida.

Now I give up. Thanks for your time. Mother sends her love.

I Have a Dog in This Fight (Just Add Gravy)

My wife agonizes whether or not she should brine our Thanksgiving turkey. That is, should she soak it for hours -- or days; even the experts disagree -- in a solution of water and salt, the aim being a kind of chemical reaction that causes protein fibers to disassociate and then reassociate, a certain amount of moisture (maybe) and tenderness (certainly) having been added.

I may have this wrong. The source from which I got my information (that I may have garbled) may have it wrong. But it is certainly correct that some people recommend brining turkeys and some are dead set against it.

Eydie worries. If you brine, you cannot put the stuffing inside the turkey because it comes out salty, and you cannot use the pan drippings for gravy. This is where I come in. Gravy first, succulence of the turkey second. Gravy is a blanket pardon. All sins are smothered by gravy.

I have made myself clear, but some recipe somewhere says that if you brine for only six hours, you can still make a delicious gravy, and my wife is a very neocon of the culinary arts, willing to take wild chances for big gains.

I'm on pins. I'm on needles. I'm also on tenterhooks if they are sufficiently different from pins and needles.

I do love gravy. I love it the way some parents love a favorite child.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Former Student Asks: What is News, Anyway?

That's a softball question. There's no really good answer, nor any really bad one either, so I said:

Okay, news is what people want to know for many reasons, all of them personal and few of them edifying. When it comes to news, your average person (including you; including me) is a glutton, not a gourmet. News is goulash, and it’s filled with unctuous chunks of gossip. Journalism, on the other hand, is information produced and distributed in the public interest, as subjective as the notion of ‘public interest’ is. In my ethics class, we talk about Benjamin Franklin’s notion of ‘the price of truth,’ which just means that if you squeeze out too much of the gossip, the trash, the nonessential, the air goes out of the balloon.

Gambling is Illegal. However....

Brother Anderson is cranking up his annual leaf lottery. It has become a holiday classic. Windage, first precip, shadow of the moon: so many variables, so great a challenge for the true sportsman.

Leaf Lottery begins.

Guess the day the last leaf falls from the crab apple tree in our front yard. Pick any day between now and next Valentine's Day, Feb 14. If someone already has that day, you'll get a chance to pick another.

Get your picks to me by Dec 1.
Costs $1, winner take all, plus the last two years winnings which our two year champ has donated to this year's pot, She probably feels guilty about having the unfair advantage of an East African viewpoint.

Here's the leaf history.



Saturday, November 17, 2007

Drunk Personz

I call those of us who occasionally get together around noon on a less intensively scheduled weekday for a hamburger and a couple drinks the Drunk Boyz. That's what it says on my email "contacts" list in that space where it must say something.

Of course, the name is a little bit of mini-macho. But really I think the word in the label that rings our bell is "boyz," not "drunk." I read a review of Philip Roth's "Exit Ghost," and either Roth talked of the "fantasy of endlessness" or the reviewer used that phrase in describing the book. I need to read that book. It is apparently Roth's meditation on how one does not want to meditate on death. Oh yes, my gong went bang when I read that the book bemoaned and perhaps decried that "fantasy of endlessness."

It comes so easily. Sometimes it takes all of one's concentration to "hear Time's winged chariot thundering near." Some days I do think to myself, "Why die? I'm feeling pretty good. I'll just give it a miss." And then I think it through. And then I really am ready for a few drinks with the Drunk Boyz.

We used to do this at Martin Mack's on Haight, but our waitress Maria (pronounced muh-RYE-uh, for she is from the old country) did something or other to make us feel less special when we flirted with her, and also they raised the prices on the food and quit carrying this really cheap Chilean red we liked.

I'm not sure what jarred us. I was in my own little haze. But something moved certain members of the group to look afield, and so we tried the Pig and Whistle on Geary, which I really like for some things but not for others. Somehow it never quite fit our group. For one thing, the Pig and Whistle does a pretty good lunch business, so our loud talk was not as private as we might like.

This lack of a mutually satisfactory venue was becoming something of an issue, an impediment to the meeting of true minds -- only one previous meeting this semester, which now that I think of it is typical; we are not what you would call clubmen -- when Boy Corwin, who knows the watering holes of Haight St. as a real lion knows really real watering holes, suggested the Alembic, which is only open for lunch on Fridays and doesn't look open even then.

That's where we went yesterday. It is pricey, but as I said this is the second time this semester the Boyz have met, so ten bucks one way or the other when we settle up .... Who cares? I always try to throw in a little more than what is determined to be my share when we settle up because I tend to eat and drink a little more of my share of whatever crosses the table so actually I'm only throwing what actually is my share.

If you follow me.

Okay, yes, this is an intricate determination when one is a little buzzed, and point is to get just a little buzzed. Yesterday, I had a traditional Manhattan made with rye whiskey, though the bartender tweaked it a little as chi-chi bartenders cannot resist doing. Later, I asked for a "cheap fierce" red wine for the table, and it was neither. I had what they called "sliders," which is a disparaging term for cheap burgers, but (again) these weren't cheap. They were made of lamb, and they were delicious. So perhaps we come back to the Alembic.

But back to the headline. Several have left the group. You would think people would see membership as a privilege, but you would see that few regard it so. And you need at least six people for camaraderie to blossom. You need a little bit of shouting from one end of the table to the other. You need that strength of numbers that allows boisterousness to flourish as it must if there is a satisfactory level of din.

Feeling somewhat depleted in the strength of our membership, we were discussing allowing women into the group. And I mean older USF-connected women. Not students. Not young women. Sensible women with a certain fine contempt for everything around them, who would look upon us and have their views confirmed and thus we would be an ornament to their philosophy, women who have as much use for the unleavened conversation of men as such conversation deserves.

Some of the Boyz thought some women of our age and station might want to join us. Caveat! Actually, a couple times women of our age and station have joined us, and they drank in thimbles and smiled with varying degrees of strain, and some of us showed off as some men will always show off in such circumstances.

I mean we verbally jousted with one another, whacking one another with the flat wooden swords of our wit square on our plump arses. Strained smiles. Very strained smiles.

The women did not come back, but that was all right because it gave us something to talk about for months and months, that they did not come back and why. The world is filled with interesting Whys, and one of the best is women and their Whys.

(I do not mean to make some sexist implication that women have more Whys than men, only that they either are more interesting or seem more interesting -- to me. And so the earth is peopled, though not over lunch.)

So it's now under discussion. As far as I can make out, the qualification for female members of the newly denominated Drunk Personz would be a willingness to be a member of the newly denominated Drunk Personz.

The bar is low, very low. I cannot in good conscience recommend our company though we are, in truth, tame as housecats.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Tie a Yellow Ribbon on the Old Oiled Beach

Went biking for the first time in a month with Boy Daugherty and have the aches to prove it. The yellow crime scene tape was one continuous ribbon on our left as we headed north on the Bay Trail. Occasionally, we saw a few workers who seemed to be thinking about doing something about the oil on the beaches, but as for actually seeing anyone doing anything?

Well, no.

At the bayside complex of condos and townhomes in Richmond, the yellow ribbons blocked our way. Apparently, the trail ran too close to the beach, and the temptation to petrochemical vigilantes might prove too great. But Daugherty knew a back way through the maze of gated mini-communities, and so we made it to the Richmond marina.

It made Daugherty think. It made him think about how he got good union wages for some months working on -- he did not say cleaning up -- the filth at the edge of the water after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The way Daugherty tells it, Exxon essentially bribed Alaska. It threw three or four billion dollar into the state economy to divert the attention of that wild and greedy state, a state which sucks the federal tit harder than any other.

So-called cleanup did no good, Daugherty said. You stick your finger into one of those beaches today, and it will come up covered with oil. When I talked to Edith on the phone after the ride, I told her what Daugherty said about doing no good. She disagreed. All that "cleanup" actually harmed the environment, she said.

Early on, they should just have spread some oil-eating microbes on the beaches and walked away, she said.

We crazy Americans. First, we ignore our problems. Then, at a certain point, we pretend there's a nice little solution, which very nicely puts some money in some pockets. There. That's taken care of.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Put a Sock in It, J.C. *Tase* Somebody

Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword."

- Matthew 26:52

Ecce Homo

I've always liked the phrase testosterone sodden, suggesting as it does through its veiled disdain that the man-animal should aspire to more than being a mere lump of reproductive energy, and a darn damp one at that, one moist drop away from crumbling.

Just look at what comes up if you Google "testosterone sodden"?

No, it is at such transparent moments that I blush for my brothers. Life is a jewel of innumerable facets, a collection of silvery bells that play a multitude of tones, and I pity the fool who lives only to groan in the little death, solo or in concert.

All that stipulated, another Kaiser result just came back. When it comes to the Big T, I need no topping off.

The Bronx and Statin Island, Too

Kaiser results continue to arrive. All are within norms except ... cholesterol. My doc says my numbers are in a "gray area" and don't worry him because I don't have any other indicators for falling down and dying clutching my chest.

But still after some talk: Zocor.

By the way, that's a pretty good joke to find some island city where so many are fat and call it Statin Island. If I knew my Midwest better, I would have some ideas.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Madness Madness

It's like one of those stories where the hero perceives something to be true -- something strange; something disturbing -- and as we step back from his point of view we realize that what he perceives is not true at all.

We realize he is slipping into madness.

Oh dear God 150 visitors have come to my blog today and almost 200 came to my blog yesterday (that's what sitemeter says) and 300 of them have come to look at my protractor.

This is insanity. It must be.

Tell Mr. DeMille I'm ready for my closeup.

World Brighter

Kaiser now *zips* your test results back to you, which means (I suppose) if you have the wit you can learn you are desperately ill long before your doctor has a clue.

First results in. My "complete blood count without differential" is normal.

So far, so good.

I Don't Like You, World

It's probably accurate to suppose that I have had 2-3 cups of coffee to begin my day 360 out of the last 365 days. Today I am having some tests and am fasting beforehand. It's not exactly clear to me if coffee with a little artificial sweetener is a fast breaker. Unsure, I choose not to take the coffee.

And it's dark in here, people.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Fourth Grade 1955. Time to Feel the Love

It is about 8:30 p.m. PST, and this blog has already had more than 150 visits today. This is unusual. I average under 50. I have had other big days, but all resulted from posts that created some interest, that drew in readers through word of mouth or because the idea I blogged about was in the air, and search engines threw up the name of Darwin's Cat.

I insulted my alma mater. I interpreted the last episode of The Sopranos. I insulted the University of South Florida. One understood what drove the momentary spike in readers of this blog.

But today more than three out of four readers have been drawn by the fact that I linked to a picture of a protractor in this column that talked about going back to school. As nearly as I can figure out, when people Google for an image of "protractor" -- and if you do, you get many pictures of a protractor -- if they click on one of those images, you are directed to my blog post in which I have not appropriated an image of the protractor, merely linked to its url.

Or am I somehow Google's "go to" example of linking to an image of a protractor?

I don't understand. But these visits have certainly inflated my numbers. That's all they have inflated. Today I've earned 13 cents on Adsense.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

If You're Hot, You're Hot

Brother Andrew Goodwin -- over there at the Professor of Pop mocking the website -- has jumped into blogging with both (fill-in-the-blank) shod feet.

That parenthetical blank is TK, "to come" as we phrased it in my newspaper days. New Journalist Tom Wolfe would have said the nature of Brother Goodwin's shodding would be a status indicator, a personality indicator and thus a kind of invaluable shorthand to the nature of the man. Such clever shorthand has about as much actual value as ... Rate My Professors. But both are intriguing and just a little suggestive; you have to give them that.

They are like Wikipedia. They are a starting point, a possibility of a category, a place to find some of the questions that need to be asked, all the while avoiding the temptation to think that here, at the starting point, those questions have been answered.

But who wants to be that subtle? We like quick answers, preferably in a neat hundred-word summary, and we want to move on. But if you regard Rate My Professors as snark and nothing but the snark: It's excellent.

As I suggested to Brother Goodwin, it's a gathering point for those who hate us and those who want us. Without comment, let me just say for some of us that's somewhat short of a crowd.

Editor's Note: And a little FYI on that whole meaning-of-the-shoe business:

The need to preserve class distinction coupled with clerical conscience would seem to have been the two main motivations for sumptuary laws governing shoes. Whilst the fashion for long toed shoes last four hundred years they were not always in vogue. The eventual restriction in length was at first to discriminate "the haves" from "the have nots", as much as to quell the reappearance of the worship of the phallus.

Personally, I like sandals.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

My Wednesday Lecture in Journalism Ethics Was on This Topic, So: Two More Classics!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

I Would Call This 'True Lies,' But That's the Title of an Arnold Schwarzenegger Movie. Ewwwwwwww!

Talking about Janet Malcolm's "The Journalist and the Murderer" in feature writing today and was caught as always in the cleft stick of how right she is, with what hyperbole she overinflates that rightness and how anyway she ends up blaming the people journalists interview for being such a grand set of chumps, since didn't their mothers tell them they should know better?

(Hmm. Is that a *treble cleft*?)

Or to put it another way, rhetorically speaking Ms. Malcolm rubs her tummy and the top of her head at the same time. Her book doesn't quite say what it says.

Recalled something Jon Carroll wrote a long time ago on Malcolm. Looked it up. Pretty good. And here it is.

He stole from me. Why shouldn't I steal from him?

Joan Didion's famous epigram that ``a writer is always selling somebody out'' has often been interpreted as a Janet Malcolm-like indictment of the vampire treachery that is at the heart of writing. But it's actually more subtle than that.

If you tell the truth, you are often selling out the people who are near to you, who have agreed to talk to you, who have told you their stories, who have gone on travels with you. Writers are not nice people, although they may be charming enough.

But: If you don't tell the truth, you are selling out the readers. And as a professional matter, that is where the loyalties of the writer lie.

A WRITER IS a kind of holy sociopath. A writer -- a good one, anyway -- is always in danger of getting run out of town or denounced from the pulpit or charged with self-indulgence or willful obscurantism or just plain rudeness.

Very few people actually like that experience. Most people want love and approval -- this is not exactly a secret. So why bite the hand that feeds you? Because the hand is corrupt. Why air dirty laundry? Because dirty laundry doesn't get cleaner sitting in a basket.

And because a story needs to be told. All writers start out as readers; all writers have read stories that spoke to them, that opened worlds, that dissected emotions, that explained relationships, that showed them other ways of being. Writers start out being drunk on someone else's words; they spend their lives trying to create equally potent brews.

.... Writing is not just a game they play in New York, although, of course, it's that, too. Writing is about the stories we tell ourselves in order to live. Someone has to tell those stories. The telling is always risky.

There's a story about the reaction to Truman Capote's ``Answered Prayers,'' his dissection of the New York society circles of which he was so much a part. Many of his friends were portrayed therein, thinly disguised and distinctly unlovable. They were furious. They cut him dead. They accused him of secret note- taking, which he freely confessed.

``What did they expect?'' he said. ``I'm a writer.''

And as a result, we are left with a document that outlines very accurately a certain kind of society at a certain moment in American history. Would that it were a better document, but quality is not the issue.

You can never know really whether what you're writing is any good; you can only hope that you have not broken faith with the reader. A writer is just someone who has lived to tell the tale. It is the tale that must never be betrayed.

Of course, Jon never stole a damn thing from me, never borrowed anything he didn't return, never short-armed a check when the reaching time arrived.

But wasn't it -- in context -- an artful lie?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Like Pimps, Artists Prostitute the World in the Name of Their Art

Don't they? Isn't that the Romantic paradigm, along with the default notion that chipmunks are beautiful?

Yesterday, I slapped together a few words about the Janet Malcolm/Joan Didion idea -- which each of those very able writers may or may not take seriously -- that journalists prey on those they write about, seducing and exploiting them in service of the story. I cribbed from a 13-year old Jon Carroll column defending the Joan Didion take on the perils of writing nonfiction.

This morning Brother Bob Wieder responded:

All very nice, but it sort of all rests on the single piling of loyalty to the reader as the prime directive, which it isn't. Plenty of writers, and there might be an argument to be made that most writers, at heart or right up front are primarily loyal to themselves, or a cause, or a philosophy, or an agenda, or a paycheck, or numerous other ors. Absent that pillar, the rest of the commentary is somewhat ramshackle.

I actually agree with Brother Bob, though I would take it one step further. First let me point out the obvious. What I tell the youth that I claim to instruct is that, when it comes to the true dilemmas of fact gathering and misleading sources, all the ethical codes for journalists that I am familiar with more or less say:

Don't don't don't.

Unless you have to.

The best and brightest rationale for "having to" is, of course, the need to inform the public so that the public can make wise political decisions and preserve the republic.

But, also of course, there is another reason I mention to the students, the one that Brother Bob walks right up to, though he does not actually pass through the door, for over the door is written: Vanity.

You know that deep in their hearts more than one nonfiction writer thinks of his or her work as a kind of art. Their ideology is beauty. They think they are serving readers' desire -- nay, the readers' need -- for the well-made tale, transcendent in its telling, not just in its message. I think lots of serious nonfiction writers are not comfortable teasing that thread out of the fabric of their self justification. But I think that thread is there, all the more sinister for being unacknowledged.

I tell my students to think about the lure of art. I tell them that if you get really good at this, you may decide to sacrifice those folk you use as subject matter to the triumph of your art, indeed to its mere possibility.

That's what artists do, right? Art can be a danger for even the lowliest of journalists, dreaming of aesthetics while prattling on about journalism's duty to the State.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Sensible Christianity

From Jim Wallis at God's Politics

Correction and Apology (by Jim Wallis)

In my post on Monday, A War Pitched with a 'Curve Ball,' I ended by saying, "And if they are found guilty of these high crimes, I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison -- after offering their repentance to every American family who has lost a son, daughter, father, mother, brother, or sister. Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven."

Several readers have correctly pointed out that the heart of the gospel is forgiveness, and judgment is ultimately up to God. You are right, and I apologize. What I meant to say was in the legal context of "If they are found guilty," deliberately lying about going to war should not be pardoned. Remember Gerald Ford pardoning Richard Nixon before he had even been tried for anything, or George H.W. Bush pardoning the leading Iran-contra figures?

I do indeed believe in God's grace and forgiveness for anyone who repents. But the crime of lying about going to war should not be politically pardoned.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

It's Pledge Week. Let's Rerun a Classic from Thirty Months Ago

Hello, Memory My Old Friend. Good to Talk with You Again

Oh damn. Next month I will be 61, and so I'm thinking about the things I said I would do during my days of 60 that I have not done.

I've done the blog. Good. I have not done the novel, which is not necessarily bad since I have a weakness for happy endings and where's the truth much less the art in that?

But most vexing I have not redeemed my pledge to reestablish contact with those old old friends from college days, grad school days and down South working days, all the friends all those times before we moved here more than 25 years ago. Haven't done it.

It's hardest getting back to those friends from the time when I was a good Christian boy because I have "fallen away" so great a distance since those days. It's not as if I have become an Episcopalian or even a Unitarian. If anyone pressed me on the question -- and no one has pressed me, so this comment is the expository equivalent of gratuitous nudity -- I would have to say I'm a generic agnostic and a Christian atheist. Yah, my old Christian friends would sure like hearing that. That will rekindle old feelings.

I was such a good boy. Let sleeping memories lie.

As for my post-Christian friends, it seems to me that there are three ideal shared elements when it comes to maintaining sporadic touch, and those are: new mates/ex-mates; children; jobs. These three categories enable correspondents to celebrate and bemoan simultaneously. No one likes a Christmas letter, since Christmas letters tend to be triumphal marches. But a nice email or phone conversation in which the participants deftly mix the good and the bad is very pleasant. It's like a tennis match in which the point is prolongation. A soft shot (my A student) gets a soft response (my gifted musician). A hard shot (my ex who disputes visitation rights) gets a matching hard shot (my ex who won't get a job). It's a nice dance, the point of which is that life is a compound of sad and glad, and that's something we still have in common even if shared experiences have grown dim or have been forgotten altogether.

But what if: same wife, no kids, a job whose pleasures and pains are subtle to the point of evanescence. That's me. Oh it's easy enough to reestablish contact -- once. But where do you go from there? (Face to face is easier. Just get drunk and remember the dead.)

Now this blog -- which is one long Christmas letter, kind of -- might be a way of maintaining touch with some old friends, and I've tried to use the blog for that a time or two. What those attempts have underlined is how much impersonality there is in a blog, how much I haven't exactly been honest about, if only through omission. This friend knows about that trouble at work, but that friend never did. She has heard all about that difficult moment in the marriage in the Eighties, but I gave him the impression my wife and I never had a sharp word. Even knowing only a little about the real You, blog-reading friends know just how thick the mask is and how much it disguises and misrepresents.

So my dear old friends, let us talk via the email. More digital photos of cats and vacations, more forwarded jokes, more comic birthday cards from the Hallmark collection -- that's just about enough, don't you think? I love you to death, but my body has completely reconstituted itself four times since those margaritas at Lenox Square. Who are we? Who were we? But let's keep in touch. Really.

Oh. If you get a Pulitzer, please just let it lie. We have plenty of mutual friends who will call me to rub it in. But if your wife shoots you in the leg, hey, I'm here for you.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Cat's Very First Pledge Drive

Darwin's Cat does not want your money. Darwin's Cat just went to the bank and took out $200, and you would be surprised how long $200 lasts Darwin's Cat, who shorts arms the check with the best of them.

No, the pledge that Darwin's Cat wants is your commitment to help boost the Cat's Technorati rating. More than 70 million blogs are tracked by Technorati, and the for the last six months the Cat has been a top half-million Technorati blog, a top one per cent blog (which startling and not altogether encouraging fact says a lot about the viability of blogs in general as a platform for making money or raising consciousness -- but that's another post).

Unfortunately -- from one point of view; from the Cat's point of view -- Technorati is empirical. The number of links from other blogs drives Technorati ratings just as respect from underlings defines a Mafia capo.

But links older than six months are dropped from the formula, and I cannot compel that they be refreshed possibly because -- unlike a Mafia capo -- I cannot enforce loyalty with the threat of death.

And so the Cat tumbled from a rating in the 400 K range to a rating of one million plus, and only a derisive link from a besotted lover of the University of South Florida pulled me back into the high six figures.

What can you do? What can you do to make sure the Cat's fall is over and it lands on its feet?

* If you have a blog, link to the Cat.

* If you don't have a blog, go to, create one and link to the Cat.

We are all in this together. I will link to your blog. I cannot threaten you so I will have to cajole you.

Here it is: the horror, the horror.

Darwin's Cat Presents the 15-Minute Man thumbnail
Rank: 962,510

I Seem to be Bright Red

That's what my wife says. Could be the inhaler I'm using to open up my lungs. But my last intake of mist was hours ago. Am I universally dilated?

Also, sweaty. Working on some jokes for tomorrow, but it's hard to put in *the verve* when one is not feeling well. And over the years our league has become a "tough house," one too much in touch with its own mortality.

Every group needs a generous laugher, someone who is either high in empathy or low in discernment who fills the silence, who fears it the way a child fears the dark. I'm a generous laugher, but I can't very well laugh at my own stuff. Physically impossible, you know, to joke and laugh at the same time. You have to be doing one thing or the other, so might as well go deadpan and act as if the point is telling jokes the audience doesn't get.

Deconstruct the conceit, you know?

That reminds me of one of my favorite grad school jokes, a joke that I thought at the time elevated the discourse.

An Englishman laughs at every joke three times: When you tell it. When his friend gets it. When he gets it.

I like that Englishman.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Things to Do

* Hotsync Palm Pilot. Was embarrassed not to have it at search meeting today. Usually wave it around at meetings even when irrelevant to the moment to clear space for my opinions. Today it was needed. Multiple humiliations.

* Work on pout. Tried to pout at search committee this morning when it appeared I had dragged myself out of bed for nothing. To spend time with one's work comrades is never a waste of time, of course; thus, couldn't sustain pout. Did try to wave around Palm Pilot to reestablish dominance. Didn't have Palm Pilot. (See #1.) Hadn't hotsynced anyway. Now, I'm pouting. Embed in muscle memory.

* Work on tasteless jokes for banquet tomorrow. Remember to insult everybody. Nothing more insulting at males-only sports-themed function than not to be insulted. Must strongly suggest males at banquet are drunken lechers, mindless -- but also legendary -- in their debauchery. Even to imply restrained, sober, sexually responsible behavior would be devastating, profoundly unkind.

"Have you no decency, sir?" all those in attendance would be justified in saying if anything I said was remotely decent.

If a man is of a certain age, the row that man hoes is a long hard row, particularly if he must pretend to be drunk and, as he walks, to be wincing from an intimate disease.
That's the idea, let's abuse each other.
They turn, move apart, turn again and face each other.

(with finality). Crritic!
He wilts, vanquished, and turns away.

* Where did I put those maracas?

Friday, November 02, 2007

PF Finley Fantasy Baseball League Awards Banquet this Sunday: I've Already Sent Out This Message. Sometimes the Boys Get Out of Hand. Jump Back, Blue!

Blue Humor—A Comedy Cop Out
Keep your humor clean for long-term success.

I've been studying and using humor from the platform for 30 years. As each year passes, I believe more strongly that keeping your humor clean is the way to go. I've made the mistake in the past, more than once, that I can take more liberties with "this audience"... and have normally been wrong.

Why do people use off-color humor?

First, it's easy. It's much simpler to say a four letter word or tell a sex joke than to use your creative muscle to actually create something that's funny on its own. It's easier to get people to laugh at shock value or by making them uncomfortable than by creating a clever and original humor bit that hits the funnybone. I call it a comedy cop out. The lazy path to humor.

Second, monkey see monkey do. They see comics use off-color material almost all the time, and get laughs. Translation, if you want to get laughs, be blue.

Third, when I'm blue the audience laughs. The myth is that laughter is the stamp of approval. I know the opposite to be true. Laughter is sometimes just an involuntary response to tension. I've seen excellent comics play to small crowds on a regular basis. Many in the audience come only once. They do not return and bring their friends. Some off color comics make it big, but their numbers are very small in comparison to those who really hit the big time with clean, truly witty material.

Fourth, thinking that "this audience is different..." I've made the mistake in the past, more than once, that I can take more liberties with "this audience"...and have normally been wrong. Some audiences are different. Drinking audiences are different...their judgment is impaired. And often with a drinking audience, especially a younger college-aged crowd, off color material may be what works best. I personally try to avoid such an audience. They are not a fit for me. And almost never do I meet a mainstream audience where a touch of blue is called for.

Although we realize that blue humor is normally not a good thing to use, are there times when it's ok to use a touch of blue humor for one audience and not another?

As the years pass, I've become more conservative. There were times when I'd slip a little "comedy club" material into a corporate program. And more often than not, I'd wish I hadn't done it. After nearly 30 years in the speaking and entertaining business I keep my programs squeaky clean 99.9 percent of the time. And if I do cross that fine line, it's on the very tame side with material that is customized from inputs from the client. And I always try to follow the sage advice, "When in doubt, leave it out!"

I direct an improv troupe in Las Vegas. We have a policy in our shows that everything be totally clean. Our motto is Clean-Burning Comedy. People can bring their ten-year-olds and not be uncomfortable. And I like to think that our humor is more sophisticated because of that. I've seen other comedy groups with great talent but off-color material struggle with a small audience size, 10, 20, 30 people. While my troupes in California and Las Vegas have consistently drawn over 100 people per show. Although blue humor has shock value, I've found that clean humor "shocks" people that you are clean AND funny. What a refreshing change.

Copyright 2006 by John Kinde

You may republish this article with the following credit line:
"Copyright by John Kinde, who is a humor specialist in the training and speaking business for over 30 years specializing in teambuilding, customer service and stress management. Free Special Reports: Show Me The Funny -- Tips for Adding Humor to Your Presentations and When They Don't Laugh -- What To Do When the Laughter Doesn't Come. Humor Power Tips newsletter, articles and blog are available at"

P.S. Miserable season, by the way. I was out of the money. Had an outing, though. And the banquet should be "relaxed."

A Question

Bull cricket. None too happy. Woke up on the wrong side of the log.

A friend asks if birdwatching is exciting. I would say yes and no. The birds seem to enjoy it. And it's peaceful. You can hear that roar in your ears that sounds like crickets. Of course, outdoors it might be crickets or something. So, yes, sometimes it's a little disconcerting to think some crickets or something might be closing in.

But then you see a bird and you think to yourself: "Is that one of those birds that eats crickets and/or other cricket-like animals?"

And you check the underbrush and then you think: "I really hope so."

Yes, birdwatching is exciting and not for those who are faint of heart or who are *seriously* weirded out by crickets or something that might be crickets.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Best Birding -- What I Used to Call Birdwatching Back Before I Knew Better -- Story I've Ever Read. They Also Serve Who Only Sit and Watch.

You have to link to it.

Here's a taste:

Over the years, I've hunted and fished when friends invited me along. I've never been moved to take on either sport or its equipment. The best part of hunting-fishing world was planning the trip, packing for the trip, traveling to the trailhead, setting up camp, drinking whiskey, and telling stories around the campfire. The killing and catching part was uninteresting to me.

Damn. Almost a 12-month High. At the End, the University of South Florida Advocates Choked. Tony Soprano Cat Episode Interpreters -- You Rule.

Visits to the Cat over the last year.

A Distant Thunder

Pabst explains it all. He has come to explain it all.

As far as the ad one down is concerned:

Yeah, it's a good ad. Here's my opinion why:

1) I'll bet it doesn't look like any other ad in SI - which is one of the reasons readers will stop and look.

2) The headline will not be ignored. There's only three reactions you want from a headline:

a) that's new

b) I've never thought about it that way.

c) I've always thought about it that way.

Depending on who you are, this headline delivers one of the three with a roundhouse punch.

3) The copy has an authentic sounding voice

4) There's an essential truth behind the concept.

5) It made me laugh and the joke holds up pretty well.

6) It's clearly targeted at young guys - that it seems creepy to you is because you're not the target. Write an angry letter and it will be used as proof in the client's boardroom that the ad is working.

Is it in poor taste? De gustibus non disputandum est. One man's meat is another man's poison.

I mostly like it because it knows where it's going and what it wants to do when it gets there. It makes fun of today's (woosie) "cocktails"
without really saying a word about them. It appeals to an inauthentic nostalgia for an imagined past (as does the the series "Madmen") when men were considered, well, MEN. But that's part of the joke.

Just trying to cop an attitude and sell some booze. And doing it with a verve not often seen hereabouts.

Greg Pabst

He is a god. Give him the city.

Why Is This a Good Ad? I'm Going to Ask Pabst. It's from Sports Illustrated, and It Doesn't Appear to be a Good Ad. It's Creepy, n'est-ce pas?

This add strikes me as somewhat creepy. I will now copy the redoubtable Greg Pabst for a definitive opinion.

Click it to make it big.