Monday, September 29, 2008

Eat What You Can. And What You Can't? You Can.

Ah, who gets that joke anymore. But this PM when I was talking with Brother Goodwin about the sky-diving stock market, he did laugh when I said, "At least, Eydie knows how to can."

Then, I suggested he modify his criteria for loving/cocooning/etc. to encompass that avocation. But he said he'd rather not.

He hath been too long in city pent.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Journey to Error Proceeds One Step at a Time

This from a post at The Panda's Thumb. The focus is on how good Christians wander into such bad science -- it's talking about the Intelligent Design cul-de-sac -- but it is certainly applicable to other things in this political season:

We slip into self-deception by means of tiny steps, each one of which is so small that we can in a sense ignore it, excuse it, not notice it. We creep up on ourselves gradually, thus enabling the story to evolve so slowly that we can justify ourselves in noticing the development. The techniques used are:

(i) Screening. This means that we select from all the information available to us that which is consistent with the beliefs we would like to have. We fail to hear the discordant notes.

(ii) Weighted evidence. We give greater weight to the evidence which supports what we want to believe about ourselves, and we discount the evidence which points in the other direction. Evidence that supports our self-interest is seen as logical and compelling.

(iii) Confirmation. Our attention is quickly drawn to little bits of evidence which confirm us in our false beliefs. Events which confirm us become significant and are remembered whilst those which might appear to have disconfirmed the event are quickly forgotten or regarded as insignificant.

(iv) Gradualism. We do not take too big a step at once because this would be difficult to deny.

(v) Refusal to review the evidence. We do not subject our preferred beliefs to periodic review in order to update them, and thus face the possible risk of invalidation.

(vi) Habit. These tricks of thinking and judging become habitual with us so that we gradually lose the very skills of self-critical knowledge. We become habituated in patterns of thought which contribute to and maintain us in our self-deception.

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Pristine. No Trash Talk in Sight

Tomorrow the regular baseball season ends and thus so ends the 25th season of the Patrick Finley Memorial Fantasy Baseball league, for the fantasy league is a kind of Platonic shadow of the thing itself, dependent, murky and unreal to those who believe only in The Thing Itself. It's just numbers, you know, and many perfectly satisfactory major league ball players, whom you would love to have in a real game or on the bench ready to go in to demonstrate their unquantifiable skill, don't generate fantasy numbers and are slapped away backhand during our yearly drafts.

This distresses some baseball purists, though I have always been able to tell the difference between this blog and Moby Dick and to continue to enjoy both, and I am able to transfer that ability of telling one thing from a loosely similar thing to the game of baseball and to number-driven baseball games and am able to take pleasure in both of those loci, too.

I say all this because it is such a temptation of end all futile and pointless arguments about such by saying: Fuck you.

But that's the slack way of doing things, isn't it? (There's being dickish, and there's being Moby Dickish.)

Anyway, our season ends tomorrow, and there will be a fine bookend quality to it, since only two of us survive from our first season 24.5 years ago, and one of us will win. That one is not me, so I am a little disappointed.

It's been a dull procession to victory this year. The standings have been close for those at the top, and the person at the very top managed to irritate one or two league members during the trading period just before our August 1st deadline, though I can't remember exactly how. There was either bullying and conniving or the appearance of bullying and conniving, and though the negative rhetoric of male companionship is both brisk and pungent -- No, Fuck You, too; (They embrace) -- it does tend to heat up and run wild, the male ego being both tinder and tender, so friendly insults do tend to turn deadly, and there goes the friendship.

It's so volatile and complicated being a man. (But some of us are so good at it.)

So: A general pissed-offness has been hovering over the league since August 1st, which means our league leader needs to lie low. He can't send out the preening taunting emails that one expects of a league leader, to which one responds appropriately until suddenly:

What? Fuck YOU. But we are already at the Fuck YOU stage and perhaps beyond it. The boys lie quiet.

More to the point, I am not contending for money this year -- a real shame since I am the only person who has been in the league for all 25 of its years but who's counting? -- and so I'm not throwing out my usual stream of wit bits, during the distribution of which I understand that I must take more grief than I give. I know how to walk the line. That's my gift. I'm a lovely man.

So all is quiet on the Finley front. Tomorrow JP will win, and I guess we will act as if he didn't. Then, in February forgive-and-forget will set in, and the squalls will dissipate and there will be: The League. I've given up on The League a dozen times, but so far it has come scratching at the door, a little more woebegone each year and a little older and a little more tattered, its breath coming in gasps. League members -- at least a few, a nucleus -- have opened that door. So far.

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in.” (Robert Frost)

It would seem that after all this time we are more like sibs than friends. It is as if we did not choose each other. We have all stepped upon the gum together. We pull. It stretches. There is no escape.

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Over at Professor of Pop

This was my comment on his most recent post:

A word is a tactic, but a sentence is a strategy. Right?

I recycle, repurpose and would mash-up if given the opportunity. But all of that is a tactic.
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Central Casting: A Younger John McCain as Soon as Possible. Somebody Who has that Pale Thing *Working*

I will say this about last night's debate. Obama could play himself on the fiction side of television, in the docudrama down the road. He has the style, the enunciation, the gravitas.

But you'd need to hire someone to play McCain. Whatever you think his basic nuance is -- the courage of the antique hero or the senescence of the grumpy old man, you'd hire someone else to do it. Particularly for the grumpy part, he provides just too much detail. It would seem cruel.

Oscar winner up for role of lifetime?

Friday, September 26, 2008

No Thermometer Here

Don't ask me who won the debate -- I mean won the battle of perceptions. I can't climb into the skin of someone whose fundamental way of seeing/feeling/knowing sees or hears McCain with any sort of pleasure, at least this season.

The polls really are the test, and the pundits are still guessing. But the debate coaches need work, so there you go.

A Little Bit of Grim Reality That Certainly Made Me Think, 'More Cigar? More Whiskey? Why Not!'

Boy Morahan pointed me at this. I am *sure he meant well.*

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Have the Work. Do the Work.

A former student who now works for Yahoo News came in today to talk to my Advanced Reporting class. Going over her life and times, she said she remembered the moment she decided to make journalism her career.

It was 9/11, she said. She showed up at my class that day, and I said (she said): Okay, let's lay out A-1 for tomorrow morning.

That was the moment she said, right then, taking control of the terror.

I remember that morning. My sister-in-law woke us up by telephone with the news that we were at war. That is my sister-in-law's gift. You can usually count on things not being as bad as she says. I got dressed and drove the Bay Bridge. My wife considered this quite daring, possibly even brave. Simple probability told me that if anything was going to happen to the Bay Bridge, it would have already happened. I was just doing my job.

Also, it was one of those rare mornings when traffic was light. Actually, I was most of the traffic. One or two National Guardsmen were standing to the right of the mouth of the eastern opening of the Yerba Buena tunnel, rifles poised. For months later a lone guardsman stood post there each day, supposedly providing comfort but more like providing evidence of the rudimentary nature of military public relations.

When I got to class, I kept doing my job, which was to use the moment to teach journalism -- and to soothe myself by having something to do and doing it. I may have actually spelled it out for the students (though I don't remember):

In the face of tragedy, it is your job to understand, to discover, to shape and to convey. It is also your privilege. It is certainly your responsibility. And it is your comfort, to have something worth doing while others cringe, hide or dither.

(Bush did the trifecta, I recall.)

We assigned stories, chalked pages on the board, considered possible headlines, sought for balance, wondered about being fair, brain-stormed whole sections.

You are lucky I may have thought and may have said to the students.

I know at this moment that I am lucky I hope I realized but certainly did not say.

Someone got the message. Who knew? Who dared hope? And if this seems self-congratulatory, cut me some slack. As the fellow said, even a blind pig occasionally finds some lipstick.

We talked about headlines. We agreed that no one would do -- or should do -- a headline like this. But then in our own San Frandisco Examiner....

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Wilhelm Scream

Daily Kos linked to this as part of a comment on Sarah Palin at the U.N. Didn't quite get the purpose of the link, but I certainly enjoyed the link.

And so Showtime has manipulated me into promoting it.

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I'll Photoshop Myself Into the Rouge Riots

Did information picketing at the U. yesterday to call out the administration on its low-ball and take-back contract offers. But I didn't get enough of it on video.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

What an exciting day. The fantasy league had its annual outing at Raider-marred Macfee Coliseum here in Oakland, though MacAfee has declined to pick up the naming rights and as a result I am having a hard time spelling ... that name.

The A's won on the dying fall of an off-field Jack Cust home run that traveled a scosh over 300 feet. For a while there my forearms were paralyzed, but around the seventh inning the sun crept up the ranked seats and warmed them and I lost the dollar I had bet that the sun would not make it and that I would never play the bottle opener again.

Deposition Man has a new girl friend, and he brought her along as Sarah Palin might bring home a trophy. Though I believe she field dresses her victims, dismembering them on the spot. So void the comparison, please.

I told Depo's new girl that the BMW was *not* his, and the rental agency would give them heck if they scratched it and that it was nice to see him out with a woman who didn't have a home arrest bracelet on her ankle.

That's what friends are for, right? It's called acceptance.

Came home and graded for a while. Saw a lovely squirrel come scurrying through the tree under whose boughs I was assigning value. The lovely squirrel jumped to the top of our attached shed.

It was a rat. We have a tree rat, which my wife says is among the most evilest of all rats. Sigh. What a day.

But good going, Depo man. Better to marry than burn. Get a restraining order against that rat soonest.

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Three Stars for 12th Night

It was quite delightful, especially the fool who was wicked, antic and spoke with precision and clarity. Not only did a male actor play the Viola/Sebastian part but a female actor played Malvolio for the perfectly good reason of just because. Neither impersonation was particularly effective, but the production taken as a whole was a pleasure. It *is* a good script. It does not need as many footnotes or as many mad dashes of recited verse during which one gets the feeling of the words if not the words themselves as some Shakespeare does.

So, bravo.

And at Least a Couple of Them Should be Syphlitic

We are off this pm to see a CalShakes production of 12th Night in which -- tada -- for at least one of the important roles they do the "historically accurate" thing and have the part of the female who masquerades as a male played by a male actor who will masquerade as a female masquerading as a male.

As my wife says, "This is not fair. Most parts in Shakespeare are already male." And I say, "Why not just douse everyone with B.O. and let history come even more alive."

It's a gimmick. Isn't the whole point of the best of Shakespeare that he doesn't need gimmicks? If you want gimmicky Shakespeare, do Titus Andronicus with squirrels.

(Of course, I absolve all the productions done in the costume of a particular period to suggest universality. All those costumers left over from The Matchmaker -- why not?)

We few. We happy few. We band of brothers....

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Satire, or Truth as Deep as the Earth's Core?

Old, Grizzled Third-Party Candidate May Steal Support From McCain

Bad Juxtaposition

Over at the Advanced Reporting blog, I have an informative post on bad juxtapositions, that is, when a story or particularly a headline seems to refer to an adjacent photograph to misleading or comic effect.

I inadvertently had created such a juxtaposition. Here's the juxtaposition. (You may need to click on it.) What I like is that by posting about the juxtaposition, I removed the juxtaposition. Heisenberg would approve.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Friends of Andrew Goodwin and David Silver.

Go here and defend their honor.

McCain Draws a Line in the Paella, or The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly on McCain. (I Think He's Lost It. I Think He's Lost It.)

He will not meet with Flamenco. If Tapas seeks entrance, he will be left standing at the gate along with his sons Nada and Cojones.

He has, however, heard many wonderful things about Generalissimo Francisco Franco, especially with a fine rioja.

With subtitles.

Moby Dick is About a Whale. Darwin's Cat is About Cats -- Sometimes. Today It is about Lulu

A friend just lost her cat. It literally died fighting. Little girl was probably suffering from cancer but hated the vet -- generically, not specifically -- and fought so hard during an exam that she had a heart attack. She was an old cat and raged raged against the dying of the light, or in this case the cold hands of the vet. I admire it anyway.

Our friend buried her kitty out in the beautiful country. The consciousness of the dead does not dwell where they are buried, but the consciousness of the living does, which argues for a green plot or a seabourne toss of the dust. If you follow the transit of me and my wife across these great United States, you will find the graves of cats.

As I described the situation to our friend:

I’m glad you have a beautiful place for your kitty. Ours are seeded all over the yard – Lawrence in the flower bed, Marguerite next to the neighbor’s garage, Boris out back next to the hedge and Popcorn under the wall with birdhouses on it. At some point the cat gods will give you another cat. That’s what they do, which is why our devotion is rewarded.

She said our kitties had nice names. They came with them. We just had to watch carefully until we knew. Her kitty's name was Lulu. Isn't that a good name?

P.S. Here's a Darwin's Cat 'Greatest Hit.'

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Playing The Penelope Card

PALIN: I didn't hesitate, no.

GIBSON: Didn't that take some hubris?

PALIN: I -- I answered him yes... (all the while thinking)

...I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

P.S. To self. Quit writing about Sarah Palin. It just puts tabasco on my ulcer.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Pretty Good Reporting Class Which I Teach Once a Week at Night, and Tonight Was the Night

Every other reporting class or so -- got to keep interested; got to rotate the notes -- I have the kids write a lead off a fake news release from an imaginary zoo that describes an upcoming naming contest for the zoo's new burro and adds that the zoo is going to start giving the zoo's female tigers birth control implants because they are producing more cubs that this zoo can accomodate or other zoos are able to take.

Typical reporting class gets a little queasy contemplating those sexy sexy tigers, and usually most of the kids choose to emphasize the burro, paying scant attention or even ignoring the fecund predators. But this new lot went for the tigers because *darn it that part of the dreary press release was the most interesting,* not to mention the larger significance of highlighting, if only indirectly, the plight of wild animals in zoos.

This gang didn't waste time imagining indignant readers, all the sex haters and granny ladies whose faces would go lemon if they were exposed to the idea of all those tigers, well .... doing it.

Doing it just for the sake of doing it, all penalties removed.

A promising class with an understanding of what is actually news, of what brings in the eyeballs that might then wander over to world affairs and political analysis. Yes, I told them, you may be the ones the legends speak of.

We Like Kitties Here at Our House. We Just Have the One Now That's Old and Crippled Up. So This is a Vicarious Pleasure.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Those Who Made Me

Tonight we had a little party for Lee Mazmanian, a USF colleague who retired last December. Many things made her special, but the one burned into my psychic hide -- a kind of tattoo only to be revealed to my nearest and dearest and now to you to whom I am the farthest and weirdest (well there you go) -- was that she was a member of the committee that hired me 18 years ago.

Two of the other five members were here tonight. (One was invited but is in Reno watching the air races.) They changed my life. They persisted in the face of opposition from an associate dean who branded me a "card-carrying journalist," not a genuine academic.

Perhaps they did it to spite the associate dean. That is a question I choose not to ask. Because here I am where I longed to be.

We actually had a jeroboam of champagne tonight, one of those double-sized bottles that show you are committed to celebration.

To comrade Mazmanian. Bubbles up.

Two roads diverged blah blah blah. Someone invited me down one of them, eased my way and secured my passage, and that has made all the difference.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Real Man Always Lies to Protect a Lady

I think that's what McCain has going for him now. Palin lies -- and to say anything else would be to judge her dimwitted -- and McCain gallantly swears she tells the truth.

I think some tens of thousands of people respect that. You stand by your gal ... as long as she doesn't take her love to town.

In which case -- she just got something in her eye, John; she wasn't actually winking at Charlie Gibson -- you shoot her.

If I understand the diktats of popular culture and small-town virtue. To preserve the natural order. For the ego of an aroused male -- and McCain is in full bull-elephant must when it comes to his Lady Veep -- is a fragile thing.

Of course, in Europe a gun is not always available, which is sad and makes things messy.

And the final magic of Youtube. Check out the bottom of Tom Jones' 'Delilah' after his song is sung and move through the thumbnails and click through to Christopher Walken singing Delilah in John Turturro's 'Romance and Cigarettes' and all will be well -- for a moment.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth. But with Some Glitter. And a Dancing Dog. And Maybe Barry Manilow is Available?

The boys and girls of USF's junior faculty who are up for tenure and promotion have got to get their apps in next week, so I spent much of the day knocking out letters of rec and signing letters of rec others have knocked out.

It's a kind of art. How do you suggest that you are sincere? You don't want to trash all your previous work in this vein by saying, ".... one of the best I've had the privilege to know. Really. No BS this time. This is not boilerplate! That top ten percent that all of us are wedged into? This one really is. No cooked numbers. No crossed fingers. No desperate hope that if we only get him promoted, he can fake his way into another job anywhere but here."

How do you let the readers know this time you mean it? Well, why do you think the back channel was invented, not to mention the glorious art of sotto voce.

P.S. As it happens, everything I wrote and everything I attested to this time 'round was God's own truth. And you can take that to the bank. Indeed, you can link to it, which is probably more useful.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Old McDonald Had an Earmark

This whole little phony uproar over Obama's use of a fine old cliche to suggest -- generically; broad brush -- that an effort to disguise the true nature of something is like "putting lipstick on a pig" did make me wonder what other pungent barnyard metaphors might be useful in unpacking the defects of McCain and the Republicans.

As it turns out, something called is a veritable cornucopia of figurative truth, to wit:

When it comes to energy independence, John McCain ain't got the sense that God gave a goose

When it comes to stimulating the American economy, John McCain's plans to cut the taxes of the super-rich are as useful as a milk bucket under a bull

When it comes to choosing between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, better a good plow mule than a lame horse!

When McCain criticizes Obama about his lack of experience, McCain may well discover that he bit a fat hog in the ass.

As the number of lies and distortions McCain utters continues to mount, his efforts to keep track of them will make him busier than a one- eyed cat watching nine rat holes

The number of lies issuing forth from the McCain campaign is so intense and unrelenting that one might say those lies are comin' down like a cow pissin' on a flat rock.

Sometimes McCain's serial dishonesties make me wonder if he fell off'n the tater wagon .

Expecting McCain's marcoeconomic theories to persuade or enlighten is like going to a goat's house for wool.

McCain's acceptance speech at the RNC fell flatter than a duck's footprint

McCain may be concerned about how others will judge him when the debate format requires him to share the stage with Obama because he is so short, he'd hafta stand on a brick to kick a duck in the ass!

Perhaps on might say of Gov. Sarah Palin that if you put her brains in a thimble they'd rattle like road apples in a bushel basket.

Don't you think it likely that Obama supporters will say to McCain that I'm going to beat you like a rented mule!

Of his daring plans for resolving world tensions, McCain might well say I'm off like a herd of turtles.

Of the basic flaw in McCain's analysis of world affairs, dare we might say It's as plain as a pig on a sofa.

One might say that McCain's heart is dark, like the inside of a cow's belly.

Don't you think that McCain is concerned that Obama's masterful speaking skills would make a rabbit hug a hound.

Not to disparage McCain's native intelligence, but his record at the Naval academy makes the scarecrow look like a genius!

The discrepancies between what Palin's record in Alaska and what she claims in her speeches makes me think something in the milk ain't clean!

Those who think McCain's ideas about Iraq will result in a satisfactory solution, should take an old cold 'tater an' wait.

McCain heard the Obama speech and thought, that was so good it'd make a bull dog break his chain!

Where was McCain during many of the senate votes where he was not present? He went to the outhouse to do his business and the hogs ate him.

The McCain advisor told him the simple truth. You look like sheep shit on a shallow pond!

And perhaps most telling, one might well say of John McCain that if bullshit were music, he'd have a brass band!

Monday, September 08, 2008

We Just Make Me Smile

This whole Sarah Palin surge really does suggest that a big slice of Americans see life as a sitcom, that there is some kind of intellectual meltdown or fuzz up that allows them to think whatever is on TV *is* TV, no more or less consequential than the claims in a late-night commercial for the Veg-0-matic, "the world famous food appliance."

Palin and McCain are going to be a kind of latter day Lucy and Ricky, with that darn plucky nutty sexy gal trying her best and fouling it up but it *will* be funny, even if some things get broken, and, sure, McCain will get mad. He'll probably call her a cunt once in a while, which is what he does because gosh-all, the little gals do make you mad.

But it will come out all right, and they'll make up even though they sleep in separate beds just like in the Fifties. Tragedy ends with death, but comedy ends with a marriage, at least a marriage of the minds.

It's just a fun story. But for god's sake keep the Coen brothers away from it.

Man on Fire

College Council meeting at 9:30 with all the other chairs, then advising students with a gentle firmness, then off to Advanced Reporting *brand-new lecture in hand*, then more advising -- haven't snatched a meal yet, please toss up a sandwich -- and then three hours of basic reporting at 6:15.

If I grab a spare minute, I'll lathe some furniture.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

What I Struggled to Express But Couldn't.

Atrios/Eschaton/Duncan Black, that three-in-one nonpareil, blogged about talking with a friend who was out doing the good work registering voters when:

a man came up and discussed registering to vote, but seemed more interested in proudly trumpeting his Hamletesque indecision as a mark of principled independence or something. Apparently had Obama chosen Clinton, but, well, now he likes Palin...

Anyway, he was clearly a member of that segment of the population for whom politics is just another reality TV show, and his vote is simply about which of the candidates is his "favorite" and who will spend the next 4 years entertaining him as the star of The Presidency. Many Villagers (ed. I think he means Washington media insiders) are like this too, and they look forward to being extras in the show.

It's probably completely rational for many people to approach politics this way. They're in a class and at a point in life such that actual policies are unlikely to impact them directly very much. Add in a touch of narcissism and a lack of empathy, and the choice really does come down to who you want to see on the teevee.

Yeah. Sometimes I feel that way myself, that the motto of sanity is 'I like to watch.' My wife and I have a decent yearly income now, and Mad McCain wants us to have more. He does love him some white people. Why not 'pity the fool' and laugh these last few years away. Heck, we don't even have any kids.

Damn my fundamental decency. Damn it.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Incubator of Destiny

If imprisonment and torture as a prisoner of war are the first and best qualification for high elective office, then a future president of Pakistan is sitting next to a future President of Afghanistan in the American prison at Guantanamo Bay.

McCain Google Team Alpha

Due to a technical glitch, the picture of Walter Reed Middle School for Wounded Soldiers stayed on the screen too long Thursday night during McCain's acceptance speech, and a national TV audience and overflow RNC crowd were unable to see the McCain campaign's tribute to the Republic of Georgia memorial carved into the "mountain of stone" honoring the heroes who died in previous conflicts with Russia.

Alaska Memories

Photo of caribou walking alongside the en:Tran...Image via Wikipedia More from Dr. Tundra, whom we may persuade to post with us regularly.

Since we’re still doing Alaska, and since my manly, self-confident critic, Anonymous, surely wants another shot, here’s a bit of Alaska at the time Sarah Palin was 16 years-old. Who knew she would win the Miss Wasilla Pageant four years later?

* * *

“Son-of-a-bitch! Goddamn, motherfucking jackhammers!”

This is December 24, 1980 in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. I’m 36 years-old, working off a class B hangover, and getting my ass kicked by an 80 pound jackhammer. Self, hangover and jackhammer are struggling at the base of GC-1, a BP Alaska gathering center, one of nine that separate oil from gas and water in preparation for pumping, every day, two million gallons of black muck 798 miles down the Trans Alaskan Pipeline to the Port of Valdez.

The sun has not been seen in these parts for 34 days. Thirty-three more days will pass before it rises again. The temperature this morning is -32 degrees, not inhumanely cold, it rarely gets under 40 below in Prudhoe Bay, but a west wind is pumping at 25, 30 mph which makes the wind chill -75 degrees. At that temperature the world implodes and there is existence without any light or heat or god whatsoever.

Even though I’d been working out of the Fairbanks laborers union for six years, living in Alaska for 15 years, I had, until now, through meticulous attention to detail, managed to avoid jackhammer work. No escape today. Six out of the eight men on my crew have left on Christmas R & R. I volunteered to stay because I hate being around people during holidays, a gift from my parents and siblings. Also, by staying I would collect two double-time pay days in one week. But, the real enticement, the real bonus, was the certainty that the job site would calm down, no one would try to get any work done, the prospect of hiding out, sleeping in warm-up shacks, reading all day, was guaranteed.

But, this morning, my foreman, a 60-year-old alcoholic by the name of Rod Vernon, walked into the warm-up shack, face flushed, adrenalin pumping – the superintendent must have been on his ass – talking about some goddamn emergency. Had to find this big electric trunk line, which was thought to be buried underneath one of the four pillars holding up the south end of the GC-1. “You men grab some gear and get on over there. Stay with it until it’s done.”

The “men” asshole is referring to is Frank Huber and me. Frank moved up from a small town in southern Indiana to work the pipeline, liked the money, and, after awhile, liked Alaska. He bought a two bedroom house in south Fairbanks, settled in as professional laborer and union man, happily collecting his $60,000 to $80,000-a-year. Frank’s 32, 5 foot 10 with a stringy build and receding hairline. Said receding hairline is magnified by a long black ponytail tied back tight. He has an angular face that resemblances, nay, duplicates, Gunsmoke top hand and Marshall Matt Dillon sidekick, Festus Haggen. Frank’s speech is laced with a thick hillbilly whine. Here’s a quote from the real Festus (played by Ken Curtis), “The onliest thing you get from straddlin’ the fence is a sore backside.” That’s, exactly, how Frank sounds.

Frank is smart, uneducated, funny and, normally impossible to come across in Prudhoe Bay, has a big, open heart. This is the guy you’d want your sister to marry. Six years from now, sitting at his kitchen table in south Fairbanks, Frank will choke to death on a piece of Safeway bought flank steak.

That was yet to come. Right now, Frank and me dress (sweaters, parka, wool gloves, arctic gloves, arctic pants, wool caps), schlep outside to the yard. I trust it’s the yard although I can’t actually see it due to the combination of deep space darkness and blowing snow. I lean hard into the wind, walk along the side of the parts warehouse, confident that I would not run into a goddamn electrician or pipefitter, not to mention a worthless Teamster - root around snow banks, find a generator, jackhammer, air compressor, space heater and plenty of visquine in order to slap together a lean-to, so space heater will make with the warm, so men and machines can function. We hook up the air compressor to the trailer hitch, the rest in the truck bed. I drive the Chevy crew cab through a near whiteout to GC-1 on A MISSION.

One wishes, always, to avoid working A MISSION. When you on A MISSION every lard-ass boss who can command a pickup truck waddles his fat butt out to its warm front seat and drives over to look at “The Job.” All you have to do is outrage one of them - and they are sensitive, delicate creatures - and this sweet $1,800-a- week gig is history.

Frank’s voice sounds over the jackhammer, “Hey, mellow down, it’s Christmas.”

“Fuck Christmas.”

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The Republican 11th Commandment

It's Been a Problem All My Life

Lydia, our program assistant, writes the university commisars:

Dear Millie & Val,

James Robertson has always been listed as J. Michael Robertson in the individual listings of the Directory which is his preference. Can you please change his listing to J. Michael Robertson.

Thank you for all your help.

And I write:

Thanks, Lydia. If that doesn't work, try Dr. Whothah Hellizdott.

And then he chuckled and slapped his thigh.

Just the Facts, M'am

Lucky Gregoire Pabst pointed me at this.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

It's Grim, Brother

You know the McCain-Palin is story is really like a wonderful fairytale in which the questing prince wakes the sleeping beauty.

Although in this case the prince looks like he's been questing for a very long time.


Which is a perfect segue into:

La Belle Dame Sans Merci



O WHAT can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.


O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms!
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
And the harvest’s done.


I see a lily on thy brow
With anguish moist and fever dew, 10
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too.


I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light, 15
And her eyes were wild.


I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She look’d at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan. 20


I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A faery’s song.


She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
“I love thee true.”


She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she wept, and sigh’d fill sore, 30
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.


And there she lulled me asleep,
And there I dream’d—Ah! woe betide!
The latest dream I ever dream’d 35
On the cold hill’s side.


I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—“La Belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!” 40


I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill’s side.


And this is why I sojourn here,
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.

And that description -- Is that Alaska or is that Alaska?

Shall I Watch McCain? What? I Missed It.

I always was a lucky sonuva gun. I'll just link.

And Then They Will Collect the Pieces of Ivory and Haul Them Away

We get this email:

Friday Jackhammering
Hi all, Facilities called to inform me that there will be some jackhammering taking place at the SW corner of Kalmanovitz this Friday from 7:00 - 9:00am. This may continue from 9 - 11:00am in the central south part of the building.

Can you please pass this information along to your faculty?

And so I email: What? WHAT?

I break myself up.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

All Quiet on the Northern Front

We didn't watch Mrs. Palin's speech tonight. I don't traffic in prophecy, but I do in probability, and the odds were high it would have soured me on the people who loved it. For it was a canned speech by McCain's men, and there was plenty of reason to think she would read it satisfactorily, and all those bright MSM folk would say that was enough, secretly relishing their contempt for the folk in flyover country.

Were I teaching a political media class or a news media class or even a broadcast reporting class, I would have watched it as part of prep. I would have watched it if I felt I needed additional stimulus to write more checks to Obama and other Dems. I read some comments on my favorite blogs, and that was how they reacted. Strikes me as self-flagellation.

Didn't watch mostly because these days I try to ration those experiences that promote sour thoughts about my fellow man. Moderation in all things, including despair.

But keep writing checks until you *feel* it.

Addendum and clarification: The people I am sour on down to the corkscrew in my gut are those Repubs who have contempt for her background and for her her religion but think they can use her to keep control of the guns and the bucks. They are confident that they can control her, mere woman that she is. And, you know -- maybe they can and maybe they can't. Have we got a Ruth who will be content sleeping at the foot of Boaz or a Joan of Arc who will wade in blood if her voices suggest it.

9/4 update from Political Wire.

The downside to big television ratings: An Obama aide confirms to Ben Smith that Sen. Barack Obama has raised about $8 million from more than 130,000 donors since Gov. Sarah Palin's speech last night -- and is on pace to raise $10 million by the time McCain reaches the stage tonight.

Well, there you go. Personally, we're waiting till we go to an Obama fundraiser next week where I can prance around and wave my check in the air.
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We Are Mentioned in Leah Garchik

And how grateful we are because the name of the blog is mentioned, which matters because "Michael Robertsons" fill the world, like dead leaves swirling down a storm drain.

Here's (not quite) everything everyone has suggested about Sarah Palin:

"Caribou Barbie" (heard on KQKE-AM by The Chronicle's David Rubien); "looks like Amy Winehouse" (Tom Ammiano); trophy veep (Gar Smith and Jerry Nachman); "looks like Peggy Hill" of "King of the Hill" (John Nunes); "They look like a typical local news anchor pair ... old white guy and perky female half his age" (Michael Robertson's Darwin's California Cat blog); "Megan Mullally's character, Karen Walker, from 'Will and Grace' " (Jeff Knollmiller).

(Wikipedia Michael Robertson. He ain't me, baby, he ain't me.)
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First They Came for Amy Goodman

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Another Dead Poet. Hold My Place in Line, Friend.

Gayle reminded me what a good poet Thom Gunn was, pointed me at this.

The Hug

It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined
Half of the night with our old friend
Who'd showed us in the end
To a bed I reached in one drunk stride.
Already I lay snug,
And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side.

I dozed, I slept. My sleep broke on a hug,
Suddenly, from behind,
In which the full lengths of our bodies pressed:
Your instep to my heel,
My shoulder-blades against your chest.
It was not sex, but I could feel
The whole strength of your body set,
Or braced, to mine,
And locking me to you
As if we were still twenty-two
When our grand passion had not yet
Become familial.
My quick sleep had deleted all
Of intervening time and place.
I only knew
The stay of your secure firm dry embrace.

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The Jokes Won't Stop

When it comes to waiting for another shoe to drop, this woman is the second coming of Imelda Marcos.

The Beats Go On

I'm building this year's Advanced Reporting class around campus beats (our campus having a population slightly larger than Wazoo, Alaska, if you dislike pictures lacking a scale model). Here's the beat list from which the kids must draw.

Possible Beats F2008/Robertson

New faculty

Teaching quality

Adjacent neighborhoods

Campus construction

Wars in Iraq & Afghanistan


Majority/minority issues



Student government

Cost of college

War on science


Campus unions


Campus safety

USF and San Francisco

Idea for beat stories: Post on your blog and invite comment of those you use as sources or otherwise feature.

The Glass is 80 Percent Full (Even if the Water is Cloudy)

Get a grip, people. According to our own soon-to-be-privatized Social Security Administration, McCain has a life expectancy of another 12 years, and there's only a 20 percent chance he'll die in office.

Mourning Roosevelt

As soon as I have the dementia stats, I'll get back to you.

Monday, September 01, 2008

My Advanced Reporting Syllabus for the Fall. Suggestions Welcome, My Friends.

Advanced Reporting
Fall 2008
Dr. Michael Robertson
Office: Kalmanovitz 119
Phone: 666 6250 (office); 510 836 4870 (home);

OFFICE HOURS: Monday, 3:30-5:30; Wednesday, 3:30-4:30.

BOOKS: Ken Metzler's Creative Interviewing. You will be expected to own and use an AP Stylebook.

You will be expected to read regularly, and preferably subscribe to, the San Francisco Chronicle. That said, I have arranged to have the Chronicle’s electronic facsimile edition available to the class online. You also will read the Foghorn and watch the news segments of USF-TV. Articles may be assigned from various magazines and books placed on reserve in the library.

ATTENDANCE: No work missed through unexcused absence may be made up. Only absences for which a signed excuse is obtained will be considered excused. The course will meet at other sites at least once during the semester. Make arrangements as soon as possible to have free the evening of Tuesday, October 7, for the Oakland City Council meeting.

If you have any physical or emotional handicap or other problems that will affect your attendance or performance, inform the instructor by the end of the first week of classes.

ACADEMIC MISCONDUCT: Any student found to have plagiarized or fabricated work will be given a failing grade for the semester.

LATE ASSIGNMENTS: Stories will be accepted after deadline. However, such stories will not receive full credit unless accompanied by a medical excuse. Stories a day late will be penalized 2/3rds of a letter grade. Each subsequent day's lateness will result in a penalty of 1/3rd of a letter grade. In other words, a "B" paper turned in two days late would be lowered to a "C" grade. A story that is never turned in will be given a zero and averaged into your final grade on the basis of A/95, B/85, C/75, D/65 and F/55.

BEAT REPORTS: Starting the third week of the semester, students will be responsible for turning in a weekly beat report in addition to the assigned beat stories. The quality and consistency of those beat reports and of the final beat summary will count for 15 percent of the final grade.

*EXTRA CREDIT*: Stories printed in campus or other publications will be considered at grade time. Those stories may be assignments done for the class or other work. To obtain extra credit consideration, you must turn in a portfolio containing your published work for the semester by exam day.

BLOGS: Most of you created blogs when you had me for previous classes, so you have a head start. Every Monday you are responsible for posting on your blog a journalism-related question, statement or observation. Every class member will then vote by email in support of which question, statement or observation she/he finds most compelling. By the following Monday, every class member other than the winner of the vote will comment on that Q/S/O. Extra credit will be given to those students who do more posting on their blogs than this minimum – if it’s good work.

MULTIMEDIA: The “big story” must have a multimedia element. Any of you stories may have such an element, which means extra credit. Such work is not the focus of this class. However, I *urge* anyone in this class who is seriously interested in journalism to take the New Media course taught by David Silver and the Video Reporting course taught by Vicky Nguyen and Toan Lam, both of which will be taught next spring.


Upon completing this course, a student should be able:

1. To write clear, accurate news stories of various types ranging in length from 250 to 2,500 words using correct grammar, spelling, punctuation and syntax.
2. To explain the decision making process for making news judgments and the ethical
challenges therein.

3. To understand the how professional journalists understand the concept of objectivity
and to be able to address its limitations.

4. To apply news judgment to sets of facts and synthesize those facts into effective, concise leads and coherent, logically organized news stories.

5. To know when information must be attributed to a source to avoid editorializing and how to handle attribution smoothly in a story.

6. To understand the general sources for news (observation, interview, written reports), the necessity of skepticism in dealing with these sources; to master the process of verifying information; to exhibit that understanding in your stories. You will supply me with a mailing address and/or telephone number and/or email address for each person quoted in your stories. At least once during the semester, I will send a copy of your story to those used as sources to get their judgment of your accuracy and professionalism.

7. To use basic AP style rules in the stories written.

8. To prepare copy so that it is clean and conforms to standard copy preparation rules. (For instance, always double space.)

9. To create and maintain a personal blog.



This grade is for work of clearly professional caliber. Writing is clear and concise with only minor editing required. Reporting is complete and leaves no questions unanswered. The work is turned in on or before deadline.


This grade is for work that could be raised to professional quality without major editing. Writing is basically grammatical and requires only routine changes but lacks the sparkle of A work. The reporting manages to focus on the main ideas of the story -- but may have a few organizational problems and a misplaced emphasis. Work is in by deadline.


This grade is for work that does not measure up to professional standards but could be salvaged through rewriting. Work could not be used professionally without being returned to the reporter -- or assigned to another reporter! Writing has obvious rough spots. Grammatical errors are present. Reporting leaves questions unanswered. Work is usually done by deadline -- but is occasionally late.


This grade is for work that is clearly unacceptable in a professional setting. The writing is confused and ungrammatical. The reporting is weak and often misses the point entirely. The work is often late.


Week One: September 3

What is news? The nature of news and newswriting. Why you are here. The assignment for the first week is to produce a back-to-school story, which will be due next Monday. It must be 250-300 words. You may choose to submit a longer version. But if it is longer, it must be accompanied by an edited version of 250-300 words.

Week Two: September 8

Covering a beat. What a beat is and how it works. What makes news on a beat? Writing on deadline. How you can get it done by the time it's supposed to be done. The why's behind getting it done on time. San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Nanette Asimov will be in class on Wednesday to describe her work as a beat reporter. Read chapters 13 & 15 in Metzler.

Due Monday 9/8: Back-to-school story.

New assignment: You will be given a campus beat. For Monday in two pages, explain why the beat is important enough to warrant coverage. Include who you anticipate will be your primary sources and the kinds of stories you believe will come off that beat. For Wednesday: Your first beat story. Minimum length 250 words.

Week Three: September 15

Interviewing review. Review chapters 1-12 in Metzler.
Due Monday 9/15. Your beat description.

Due Wednesday 9/17. Your first beat story.

New assignment: For next Wednesday your second beat story. Minimum length 250 words.

Week Four: September 22

The meeting story. The basic outline of the meeting story. Prepare for coverage of a meeting of the Oakland City Council in two weeks. A consideration of “Civic Journalism,” its dangers and opportunities.

Due Wednesday 9/24. Your second beat story.

New assignment: For next Wednesday your third beat story. Minimum length 600 words.

Week Five: September 29

Required conference with instructor. Class will not meet Wednesday.
Continue preparation for meeting of Oakland City Council.

Due Wednesday 10/1. Your third beat story.

New assignment: Tuesday October 7 we will leave USF at approximately 6 p.m. and travel to Oakland, where we will cover the weekly meeting of Oakland City Council. Class will not meet Wednesday, though I will be in the classroom available for discussion. A story covering the meeting is due Thursday 10/9 by 5 p.m.

Week Six: October 6

Tuesday evening lab, October 7. Please clear your schedule. We will attend an Oakland City Council Meeting 7:30 p.m.-? Story is due by 5 p.m. Thursday. No Wednesday class, but I will be in the classroom if anyone want to talk about the meeting story.

Due Thursday 10/9. Your meeting story.

Week Seven: October 13

The business story. The basics of business. Net and gross. Reading business reports. What makes a business story. Reading the business newspapers. What stocks and bonds are. Where PR and journalism meet.

Due: Nothing.

Week Eight: October 20

The final project, a 2,000-2,500 word story on a topic of campus interest derived from your beat. Read chapters 16 & 17 in Metzler. The Big Story is due Friday, 12/15, by 5 p.m.

Due Friday 10/24. Your business story. No minimum length.

Week Nine: October 27

Using the AP Stylebook.

Due Wednesday 10/29. Proposal for your final project.

New Assignment: For next Wednesday, your fourth beat story. Minimum length 250 words.

Week Ten: November 3

AP style test on Monday. Required conference with instructor. At those conferences you will turn in your project proposal for your Big Story. Class will not meet on Wednesday.

Due Wednesday 11/5. Your fourth beat story.

Week Eleven: November 10

The science story.

Due: Nothing

New assignment: For next Friday, your science story. No minimum length.

Week Twelve: November 17

Resume preparation. Job hunting skills and what an employer looks for. Ideas about hunting for jobs.

Due Friday 11/21. Your science story.

Week Thirteen: November 24

Working on final projects.

Due: Nothing

Reminder: Big story is due Friday, 12/5. Minimum length 2,000 words.

Week Fourteen: December 1

Feature writing. The anniversary story. No minimum length. Writing in class for practice and a grade.

Due Friday 12/5. The Big Story.

New assignment: The anniversary story is due Friday, 12/12.

Week Fifteen: December 8

Last things.

Due Friday 12/12. The anniversary story.

Final assignments: Fifth beat story and the final beat summary, a description of sources that would be useful to the next person assigned the beat, are due Friday, 12/19.