Saturday, May 31, 2008

Kitty Update

Not so good. Won't eat. Use the big syringe, mix a little baby food and chicken broth and:

Voila. We hope.

Two Smart Boys

Over on the left side of this blog are my 'star' links to blogs in which I take a particular interest, such interest billboarded because it speaks so well of me, I think. I hang the walls of my mind with work I wish I could do.

Recently in 'silver in san francisco' we have Young Silver tracing the evolution of cyberstudies. Recently in the Professor of Pop we have Youngish Goodwin interviewing (in three parts) Nicholas Garnham about the evolution of Media Studies.

(Go look, lazy linkers. I want you to look at the billboards.)

In the latter I find this:

Nicholas Garnham: I was critical of community media both because in my view it over-emphasised the power of the media to change social conditions and because it took a sentimental view of community which has been carried forward into identity politics more generally.

As a sentimental man who fights a deep and pernicious tendency to take a sentimental view of change -- not forgetting the equally pernicious tendency to overreact to the previous tendency and sink into cynicism and its concomitant passivity -- I think I agree with NG on this point. May I recommend both essays?

As for myself, I note that with the semester done, I feel much less voluble, less inclined to 'think' simply to the end that I may 'say'. Professing is a talk-talk game: keep talking in the hope of saying something useful to your students, useful now or later; keep talking because it is the job description; keep talking even if it's not the job description because you fear the silence; keep talking because it's the necessary fuel for your self love and if you don't keep stoking the boiler, mightn't you end up coasting to a halt?

(I can't go on. I go on. Heh heh heh.)

So I praise youngblood with their Something to Say, since in fact they do. Good on you, lads.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

An Oliver Update

The steroids seem to be helping. He is walking a little bit -- to walk at all, some limp and some drag, is better than he was doing Saturday and Sunday -- and he seems to have much better control of his bladder. Of course, Eydie and I are "expressing" -- weird nomenclature; whose sensibilities needed salving? -- his bladder morning and night *and I am getting pretty good.*

This means in a day or two: a video!

All Cat People Are Crazy Now

This is good, but how about cats who look like Mussolini?

Monday, May 26, 2008

We are the Sultan

Like Scheherazade, Oliver must tell us a tale each night so that he be allowed to live another day. His tales are a bit of a dumb show, of course, for a meow can be many things but never an argument.

Tonight he dragged himself into his litter box and urinated and then -- to the wonder of all -- bumped his way up the stairs.

And then he lay down. He had done enough. For today.

Twain's War Prayer

Heard about it but never read it. Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly provided the link today.

Cat Bulletin

Not good. When we got home from the A's game Saturday night, Oliver could walk only with great difficulty. He'd move a few feet -- shuffle really, like an old man -- and then sit for a while. Sunday morning we called our vet hospital, which was short staffed and told us no appointments were available, but Eydie said it IS an emergency and you WILL see the kitty and they did.

So the last round begins: a steroids shot and pills twice a day. We see no particular benefit 24 hours later. The little guy struggles to move, though he is using his litter -- some of the time. I do not think life is very pleasant for him, even by cat standards, which I have never thought of as particularly exacting.

What are the parameters of cat contentment? Were those all-night snuggles essential or incidental, one of many sources of warmth in the night? It is sentimental to put off killing him, I conclude, but I think that supposing we can be rational about all things is itself profoundly irrational and more distorted and misdirected than our wild spasms of intution. (Reverse is true, too.)

So: a few more days and then the hole in the garden, the tears at the vet (where sometimes they are unsettled when a man cries) and then the good memories take hold, and we accept things as they are and let those things resonate.

Here. Look at this. These are things I've said before.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Future of Journalism: A Profession for Saints and Masochists?

By which I mean if it doesn't pay, who will play? When I disengaged from academia the first time -- and that's a story that changes in the telling with the mood or season -- I got a job as an advertising copywriter. I left that job to copy edit for Atlanta Magazine *because Atlanta Magazine offered me more money*.

(To be fair, when I announced my exit the ad agency offered me 20 percent more than Atlanta to stick with them, but they had lowballed me too long; I distrusted.)

That was among the reasons I left the San Francisco Chronicle for here in 1991: about the same amount of money the first year, but the upside was considerable.

(Chron also offered me more money to stay: 25 bucks a week. Oh boy.)

My heart now poured out, I suppose I'm proud to say that a concern about remuneration was *not* the focus of a recent AJR article by Carl Sessions Stepp. He begins:

Two dozen journalists from a national magazine have gathered to discuss their future and how to prepare. They seem somewhat anxious and uneasy, but what most intrigues me is where they focus their main concern.

It isn't about whether journalism will survive, or even whether they will have jobs.

Their rawest worry seems to be this: With all the stresses and cutbacks, will they be able to continue doing the job right? "The hardest question," as one puts it, "is how to maintain accuracy with less time."

That is perhaps THE point -- although, of course, he goes on to talk about money money money through innovation innovation innovation -- and it certainly fits with my saints/masochists model if innovation flags and the money does not, like manna, descend.

Let us assume that saints always love the truth. And more often than not the truth hurts.

Friday, May 23, 2008

If They Are Your Really Good Friend, You Don't Resent How Well They Write

Big Pat Daugherty: remarkable; splendid.

He writes of his "farewell tour" of Alaska, where he worked on the pipeline. Good writing takes you there and sits you down and makes you see.

Unless you’ve been here or one of the few places in the world like it, you can’t imagine the scale of wilderness. How close it is to you, how far it goes on once you’ve stepped into it, and what it does to you when you live nearby.

But, that was then and those times are as dead as 40-cent-a-gallon gas. Now, I arrive at Fairbanks International Airport wearing tan khakis, a close haircut, dragging a packed-to-the-tits doublewide Samsonite suitcase, a twice-too-big computer briefcase stuffed with cameras, prescriptions, tape recorders, iBook, polo shirts, and socks. Plus, one Sherpa nylon pet carrier holding Margaret Rose, my miniature Dachshund. If I had a pair of Bermuda shorts and a beach ball I would have need of nothing.

Uneasy Lies the Head That Wears the Chair

As Dr. Johnson more or less said, "The prospect of being hanged focuses the mind wonderfully."

Thus, I begin my time as chair of the Media Studies Department in and for the University of San Francisco. I look forward to it because it is an impetus to growth in the sense that the things I will be expected to do are not things that I am constitutionally inclined to do, that is, *lead*, no matter how you define the concept.

I loved being a reporter because a very important aspect of that job is to sit, to watch, to veil, to lurk, to self efface. And then I got to pounce by which I mean I got to write from a safe distance from those I wrote about.

But now, even if I do not lead -- already I'm shrinking back from that boast -- I must *herd*. Or, at minimum, figure out which way the herd is going and at the key moment scamper around in front! (Oh that's cynical, more crumbs in my beard from my days as a reporter.)

So, eyes bright and coat glossy, I look forward to expanding my oeuvre. One does, after all, want to do a good job, to be fair, to be efficient, to be honest. Thus, today I ordered a book on determining my "management style."

If it turns out I have one, I will let you know.

An Embryonic Teacher Writes: I Don't Quite Get Your Comments on Grading That Class You Liked So Much.

And he added that he is preparing to teach his very first class, a college lecture course with 75 enrolled.

I reply:

As for grading, doing 75 is easier than doing ten. With a big class, you establish your curve, you have at least two multiple-choice/short-answer tests to go with whatever writing assignments you set, you use a number system to go with whatever grade you stick on papers (a B essay is worth 85 points), you add up all those points at semester's end, and when the results are laid out before you, you impose your template. But a ten-person class is harder to grade in that: if you have taught for a long time; and if you have had more than your share of dull classes in recent years; and if your current class is a sudden and unexpected delight in that the mood of the class is involved, challenged and challenging *and approving of you*, you don’t want to discount the fact that every member of the class has contributed to that chemistry and may well deserve some extra credit.

All that said, in the class of which I speak, when I read their final big assignment (a 2,000-4,000 word profile) some were better than others; some really were strong A’s. And that meant I couldn’t give everyone in the class an A, though I wanted to. I did let a couple B’s float up to B+, but that was it.

At the end of the day, I want an A from Robertson to be strong currency.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Would You Like to Read an Email? You Can Be My Secret Friend.


Well, bunny cat is doing better. He's pissing on his own -- sometimes in his nice litter, sometimes on the pads he is supposed to sit on because he leaks. He still leaks a little, but the amount *may* be decreasing. He is very sad because he has slept with us for 16 years and now he is locked out of the bedroom. Odd thing -- maybe not so odd -- is that we are not sleeping very well, not well at all, though I would have sworn his presence was often a nuisance.

Meanwhile, I'm finishing up grading. Question: How much extra credit should a class get that you have enjoyed teaching more than any class in recent memory? I mean, if an individual grade is a B or B+, why not an A- for charm??

Later in the day: What I did was average up the grades, assign the extra credit and give everyone they mark they got. You get an A from me it means you got an A from me.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Big Funny: Today Speaks to Yesterday

Milking the Kitty's Bladder

Last night an amazing fountain of urine, wild and comic. This morning a steady dribble at best, accompanied by yowling. The chemotherapy does not seem to have achieved improvement, so the first Hail Mary falls to earth. Now we test for some obscure fungus and then we hit him with strong doses of steroids, which have some bad side effects, the vet warns so seriously.

But the side effect of his failure to improve is euthanasia I told the vet, whose expression was concerned but inscrutable if that's not an oxymoron.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

And Robertson said: "Well, I Never."

Pabst sent me an email containing the following thoughts from Mike Bloxham at MediaPost.

Many of you will know, the site that functions rather like a collaborative social network based around brainstorming and concept ideation. Well, it has now launched Knewsroom, which not only allows its users to nominate stories of interest for inclusion in the next day's "publication," but also "invest" points in stories they particularly favor -- with the promise of a return if their invested story is included next day. Even more intriguing is the promise of a percentage of the ad revenue generated.

This is interesting in its own right. It somehow manages to mix news with the fun of game-play and investment -- wanna be a micro day-trader in news, anyone? Yet it's even more interesting to think about how this concept could play out in a TV environment. As with Google News above, substitute text for video, make it remote-friendly -- and it really would mess with all conventional notions of TV news and how it's distributed.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Hey Dr. J,

I was on MySpace and saw a feature for rating your professor. I looked up USF and then you. Looks like you got a B-. Not bad, but I would definitely give you an A+! I attached a screenshot. I don't think you can read the two comments, so I pasted them here:

Journalism 1 05/06/2008 C This professor is a great challenge, but not in a good way. In the class I found it hard to understand what my personal issues were, when it came down to writing. He never really helped me, and I advise people to not take journalism at USF, how about that. Don't take it. You do not need a class to critique you. Students need a class to better develop their journalistic voice. [Flag as Abuse]
Journalism 1 06/13/2006 B The work can be tough and at times lectures can be long and boring. What makes him great is how passionate he really is about teaching young journalists. He always is open to talk and you can always ask questions. Would highly recommend him

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Cat Neurologist

Cat resting on adult diaper

In brief, he thinks it's progressive nerve damage caused by deterioration of the spine, which would be consistent with Oliver's back and hip problems over the years, each episode a little more severe and the frequency between episodes always shortening. Loss of bladder control is no surprise in a 16-year-old cat with such a history.

There is a less than 50 percent chance that surgery would help, and surgery would be expensive *starting* with a $2,000 MRI. The cat neurologist said cat chiropractic would not help. He said the passage of time would be extremely unlikely to bring improvement. I had to bring up that idea. He didn't suggest it.

The only "hope" he gave was that if Oliver had not had the history of spine trouble, he would have thought the cat had lymphoma, which was still possible. He thus suggested one chemotherapy session from our regular vet. If the problem is lymphoma, that session will produce immediate improvement. If there is no improvement, Oliver has nerve damage and will continue to constantly dribble urine, though that habit can be somewhat ameliorated if we learn how to squeeze the urine out of the cat's bladder several times a day.

I tried under the vet's supervision, but it's a hard trick to master. So this is where we are right now. We will try the chemo, but what we are probably faced with is an incontinent indoor cat with high blood pressure, a heart murmur and feline HIV. We'll probably give the kitty two or three weeks to see if there's any regeneration of function. The first harbinger of this recent episode was his spraining his tail so that it hung down like a plumb bob, and his tail is getting a little better.

If the improvement of the tail is not at some point accompanied by his regaining control over his bladder, we will euthanize him.

This will be difficult. He's only a cat, but he's everything a cat should be.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

More About Our Leaky Kitty

Fifty dollars to tell us what we already knew. Pardon me. Fifty dollars to tell us the regular vet thinks the same thing we think and that we should take Oliver to the cat neurologist tomorrow to confirm the existence of a nerve problem that somehow keeps him from emptying his bladder.

The vet advised us that in the meantime we should "express" his bladder, that is, find the little balloon under the flesh and skin directly between his rear legs and squeeze. But -- we realized later -- he did not show us how to do so. No hands-on guidance.

Tonight we will experiment over the sink.

Could we end up trying to achieve quality of life with an aged cat whose bladder needs to be milked several times a day? This and other mysteries revealed daily at this the blog of blogs. The word of words, my friends, is quotidian.

I'll Be There When You See Me

Yesterday I registered my morning commute with and requested that I get an email at 9 every morning giving me the time it should take. (The system isn't flexible enough to give me a door-to-door time, but it will give a time from pretty near home to downtown SF.)

Here's my first:



Home to Work

(CA-13 S-I-580 E Ramp & I-580 E to US-101 N & Mission St Off Ramp)

= 17 min; Historical = 15 min

Saturday, May 10, 2008


Our cat is 16+ years old. He has lost bladder control and now leaks urine constantly. Started on Thursday because at night he shares my pillow and thus I was among the first to know.

It seems to be related to a recent strain on his arthritic spine. Previous strains have improved over time. So now we are tucking him up in distant rooms on towels on top of plastic bags hoping that time will heal.

To the vet tomorrow hoping for a good prognosis.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

What Should Young Journalists-in-Training Learn to Do?

Interesting discussion over at the blog of my feature writing class concerning the multimedia stuff -- blogs, photos, slideshows, short news videos -- I tried to give them a taste of this semester.

Kids don't think it was a success. Grads think it was a good idea, though the degree of success achieved they cannot judge.

But it is an informative discussion, at least to me. It is not a Socratic question, the answer already in the asker's mind, that answer a gate through which the askees will finally be prodded, as the interrogative mood turns into the imperative.

I really don't know what I should be doing -- if where how, the whole package of puzzlement.

Like the following: worth the trouble??

I've Got It! *Crunch*

A kind friend sent me this link to congratulate me on becoming the new chair of Media Studies. It's from the Financial Times.

No honeymoon for new Irish PM

By John Murray Brown in Dublin

Brian Cowen is expected to have the shortest honeymoon of any recent Irish prime minister as he assumes the job of Taoiseach faced by an array of political and economic challenges.

One analyst invoked a rugby metaphor, dubbing the handover a "hospital pass", coming as it does with unemployment rising, tax receipts dwindling and turbulence in international financial -markets.

From the Project for Excellence in Journalism's Analysis of The Daily Show

In its choice of topics, its use of news footage to deconstruct the manipulations by public figures and its tendency toward pointed satire over playing just for laughs, The Daily Show performs a function that is close to journalistic in nature—getting people to think critically about the public square. In that sense, it is a variation of the tradition of Russell Baker, Art Hoppe, Art Buchwald, H.L. Mencken and other satirists who once graced the pages of American newspapers.

Find the full paper here.

It's Not All About Me, But I Like the Part That Is

I am Lester's class assignment for New Media.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Oh This Kid Used to Mess Me Up

He liked to boast that he could always raise a question in class that would divert me from whatever I was trying to talk about.

Heck. He was right.

He he wants to be a TV reporter -- wants it enough to shed his beloved nickname of T.C and retreat to the blandness of Anthony, and to move from sports to "real" news.

He's started a blog where he critiques himself.
The courage to look closely at your own work goes a long way.

Smart aleck kid -- but I like him. Ain't no angels in newsrooms.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Patron Saint of Bloggers

The Curt Jester (Punditry, Prayer, Parody, Polemics, Puns from a Papist Perspective) suggests St. Jerome as the patron saint of bloggers since he had a naturally cranky temperament and lived in a cave.

CJ: I will do some research on the celibacy angle and get back to you. Also, if anything tore him apart that would be a plus.

(And thanks to my friend Jerome for pointing me at so plosive a pundit as the Curt Jester.)

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Lyle York's Trip to Costa Rica

In the Land of the Great Potoo

We heard that the land of the Great Potoo

Has marvelous creatures and places to see:

Quetzal and mot-mot and the great jabiru,

Hummingbirds jeweled in violet and blue,

Café con leche and fruits of the tree,

Lunches for school kids, and no arm-ee.

We heard these tales and packed with glee.

“Take us there, Skybird!” we cried, and we flew

To the land of the Great Potoo.

Howler and rooster at break of day;

All we could eat in the place, but no tray;

It was steaming or cold;

We were covered with mold;

We had itches and scratches and turista too

In the land of the Great Potoo.

But onward we plunged!

For the visions of green

Gave us joy, and for those who could see

There were trogon, cotinga, pauraque and parrot,

Coquette and manakin, caiman and otter.

With eagle-eyed Carlos and Caitlin the spotter,

And Lisa’s acumen and Paco’s voodoo,

We were learning the land of the Great Potoo.

Yet we had not seen the Great Potoo,

That wise old spirit, none sager than he,

Who could whisper the secret of this coun-tree.

So we braved the volcano, the tourists, the flu,

We rode through bananas and sailed up the slough

Through the mud and the goo

And knelt at the feet of … the Great Potoo.

We begged him to tell us: Was it a dream?

Did we see what we saw, O Great Potoo?

He said not a word. But we knew.

Our hearts filled with rapture

And took wing and flew,

For it’s true!

It’s all true!

It’s all true!

Obama Thoughts

Viscerally, perhaps even counter intuitively, I am feeling better about Obama's chances in the fall. For so long, he didn't seem real with his sui generis background and his plastic message of hope and change. But now -- battered, grabbed at, pulled down, knocked off balance, lumbered with a friend and pastor who is a kind of clown-genius -- he seems more real and less like a cartoon of virtues and undefined hopes.

The "man" is showing through, and I feel better about that. I think he can get down in the dirt and close the deal, a close election, dirty and stupid but still a win. I'm not saying he wasn't real before -- whatever real means. I'm just saying now he seems real in my subjective terms.

Hillary Clinton always seemed hyper-real to me because I know her. I am married to a kind of Hillary Clinton (absent any philandering on my part) who has spent her professional career in the company of rogues and fools (of both sexes) trying to do her best and willing to settle for the imperfection of what can actually get done because the world stops otherwise. I can see the appeal in Hillary Clinton, though I think she's a little too vivid for majority taste.

McCain is real, of course, caricature real, a living exaggeration done in big smudgy strokes, kind of comic. All good caricature (as opposed to a mere cartoon) is high-relief and finds some truth. My gut says it will be a close race -- a coin flip -- but Obama comes up heads more often than not.

A Walrus That Looks Like Wilford Brimley