Friday, November 28, 2008

The Kids are Alright

Today I went to work with E.

Her floor holds hundreds, but we were the only ones there, which is why I accompanied her. It's no big thing. If I'm going to grade stories, I can grade them anywhere. Indeed, being physically separated from all diversions other than the candy machines on the 6th floor focuses my mind wonderfully.

Today I graded the AP style test I gave the Advanced Reporting class last week. It was open book -- my god pity the fool and/or copy editor who memorizes the AP Stylebook. Having it bludgeoned into your memory through repeated reference, that's something else. It's like John McCain confessing, under duress and against his will.

But actually commiting it to memory? That's marching a host of valuable brain cells over the cliff, lemming-like, with as much purpose.

Yet yet yet. There are some things even though I insist you should look up everything, I think you should not have to look up.

Is your navel an inny or an outy? I don't want to see that hand creeping inside your shirt.

And so we come to the question on my style test that made me wince.
Four of 13 students choose "alright" over "all right." I understand that usage changes and that all the fine rules of spelling and grammar describe and do not prescribe. (Don't get me started on "hone in.")

How long before those four are correct, and the nine wrong?

it doesn't matter it doesn't it doesn't matter

Reporters don't need to know how to spell anyway, and some of the best of them used to spell the worst and punish grammar like a kid stomping ants.

And these four wrong answers helped *curve* the test grades, which us teachers love god forgive us. Oh we are devils, Satan, satanic even.

And by the way the capitalization in that last sentence is all delicious AP style.

You would have been so nailed.
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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Not Bad. Not Bad at All.

Today we celebrated our 43rd wedding anniversary by going out. E. is off to Florida shortly to see the sister who is her 97.5-year-old mom's caregiver through a hip replacement. We needed some calm before that storm, so we didn't eat in and invite.

It doesn't seem as if we've been married 43 years, though that particular statement suggests we've had other 43-year-long experiences by which to measure, and this experience seems different.

Not the case at all. I suppose we mean that we imagine that the weight of the passing of time should have some special metric, that duration must effloresce some sort of incremental meaning, that somehow it does not feel as if we have been together that long even though we are not sure just how that feeling should feel, that we still have much to learn about each other and procedures to work out and treaties to ratify, that the sense of relish is still fresh, that the well of pain and wonder is not dry.

I don't know. We have been married a long time, and I still remember the first time I saw her -- walking away from me with a superb articulation of her constituents of motion that seized my attention and caused my lizard brain to bark at the moon.

Which is a considerable image. That of a lizard. Barking at the moon. Everything starts somewhere, and if it keeps going, why second

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

My Father Myself

Today I got my flu shot at Kaiser and because it's pretty late in the day for such preventive measures the line was short and thus I had time to banter with the woman giving the shots. When I was growing up, my father both embarrassed and delighted me. He styled himself a personable fellow who brought charm and wit to every encounter.

And he did or he didn't, depending on your taste for self-regarding bullshit. But he always put the ball in play, and as every major leaguer knows, that's about a quarter of the battle.

Oh I know it's emotional empty calories, all this small talk, and sometimes my dad's neediness was so transparent I was humiliated for him. But he seemed oblivious, and sometimes life is simpler if you take people at their affect and when it comes to others just leave the decoding of the signs and symbols of the subconscious alone.

Anyway, my dad loved to tease -- only connect! -- and I liked it and didn't like it, and I am his true blood son and I think that's why I do some of it myself: Hey, I'm here!

And today in the atrium of the third floor of the Fabiola Building in the Kaiser complex on Broadway in Oakland, California, I *bantered* with the woman who was giving shots, and giving them very well, too.

Just talking about this and that, you know. But once I was poked and bandaged, I did suggest she must dream of plump upper arms at night, and she allowed as how she did, adding, "You wouldn't believe some of the tattoos I've seen."

And I realized I'd just learned something and thought that if I was still an assignment editor, I'd have an assignment. And as a feature writing teacher, I now had a suggestion.

So thanks, Pops. You were obscure and died having fallen short, at least in your own mind. But you were not a *mute* inglorious Milton, and your son thanks you for it.
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Thumb Riders

This is the day before Thanksgiving, and I remember certain days before Thanksgiving more vividly than most iterations of the actual holiday. All of those recollections come from college days when I was a student at Whooping Jesus Bible College in the Indiana barrens, location as metaphor but also literally far away from my home in Old Virginny.

God, I was a homeboy. The notion of not going home for Thanksgiving was painful. Thus, I cut afternoon classes those long-ago Wednesdays and started hitchhiking.

The goal was Cincinnati, Ohio. At Cincinnati I picked up the midnight train that would take me across West Virginia and on into western Virginia -- between which wonderful place and the feuds and intermarriages of West Virginia we felt a great gulf existed -- where nestled my hometown, Roanoke, "the Star City of the South."

So they called it, and so I believed it.

The midnight train, you see, was free. My dad was a yard engineer for the Norfolk and Western Railway, and I had a pass. But the train rides are not the story, not today. It was the hitchhiking.

Do kids hitchhike today, what with murderers and perverts everywhere? I was much impressed and a little dismayed that my parents were so little concerned about my falling victim to murderers and perverts -- but if they weren't, who was I to worry?

Thinking back, I don't recall making a destination sign, you know, the ones on cardboard held chest high, garnished with a smile. I'm not saying I didn't, but I can't remember doing so.

What I do remember is that I always wore my three-piece corduroy suit. It seemed to me that suit made me look wholesome, benign, even conversational, that is, with something interesting to say. (I did not. But I was a good listener.)

I also carried a huge old brown striped suitcase that was either a gift from my Aunt Odell (who was a Depression pack rat) or something inherited from my Uncle Dumps (who whacked his head when he ran his car off the road and spent the next 20 years shuffling around the VA in Salem, Virginia).

I filled the suitcase with dirty laundry to take home to mama, convinced she would be glad to see it. I still remember that when someone stopped to give me a ride I felt it incumbent to run toward the car, thus showing gratitude and forestalling second thoughts on the part of the driver. How that clunky suitcase dragged through and bounced across the gravel.

All this was before the Interstate system was as widespread as it is now. One grabbed one's rides on the two-lanes that bridged the gaps in the interstates. Lots and lots of gravel.

I always got to Cincinnati in plenty of time, sometimes before dark even, and had one or two mild adventures, but none involved gorgeous widows twice my age -- the gold standard of hitchhiking fantasy for a good Christian boy back in the day -- and I will not talk of those mild adventures because the writerly energy has started to wane, and I have not yet expressed the point of undertaking this long and wandering furrow in the thin soil of this blog.

I am writing this because I canceled my Advanced Reporting class today and am still at home in my bathrobe with our crippled cat on my lap. I canceled my class because at WJBC afternoon classes on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving were never canceled and, indeed, I think my chemistry teacher may well have carried out his threat to dock the grade of anyone cutting his class.

Such penalties were school policy.

Which reminds me of the semester the school said that all the top honor roll students did not have to go to class if they didn't want to, since the school figured that all the top honor roll students would go to class anyway. But we didn't. And the school reversed itself.

Well there you go.

Anyway, that's why I cancel afternoon classes on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. There it is, kids. Sometimes I really am looking at you. But a lot of the time I'm looking in the rear view mirror at my own past, holding onto it, refusing to give it up, refusing to let it go dim, reliving it, savoring it, all the pleasures and all the pains that -- it turned out -- were just the tip of the iceberg.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

See the Symptoms Ripple

Since the Giants opened AT&T ballpark, I've shared a couple third-deck season tickets with 8-to-10 USF staff and faculty. The number varies year to year as syndicate members come and go and come again. But this year we've lost enough members that, to quote our syndicate chief, "I guess we're going to have to reconsider whether we can move forward."

We've opened the doors to those outside the university, but so far no takers. It would be a $400 investment for eight games in really pretty good seats -- for the third deck.

The hesitation of others makes me rethink my own decision. Am I being lavish? We also have two A's tickets for a 20-game package in the second deck complete with senior discount. Surely it's foolhardy to have *two* season ticket packages. There's parking. There's BART. There's wear and tear on one's joints walking to and fro. And what about opportunity cost?

When others who from a distance look more prosperous than us draw back, why am I the cockeyed-optimist?

On the other hand, what are the odds I'll die or lose my marbles before our money runs out? Sometimes being a pessimist can make you an optimist, at least short term.,
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Saturday, November 22, 2008

And I Replied: That is so Cool.

Learning all the time. Esteemed colleague/scholar/all-around-good-Josephine Susana Kaiser sent me information regarding a Fall 2009 course to plug into the schedule, and my reply corrected what I assumed was a typo, to which she replied:

The course is Latin@s in the US Media. (the Spanish speaking people started using "@" to mean both "a" and "o" as Spanish is such a machista language that when ever going plural adopts the masculino version ("o") even if there is only one male in a group of 50 females). The university even approved the use for the course name.

This delights me several ways, not least of which is seeing an underused and elegantly shaped linguistic symbol come into its own.

But, like a late-night TV ad, I will now say: Wait. That's not all.

I google for the name of our little friend, The Divine Miss @, striving as so many journalists do for at least a patina of intellectual rigor, and I find this in the Guardian, which I steal in toto:


Does the symbol @ have a name? If not, any suggestions?
  • IN ISRAEL the @ symbol is often referred to as "strudel". Computer books often refer to @ as the "at sign". Anyone who ever made or cut a strudel would agree th@ "strudel" is @ least as appropri@e a name as "at sign".
    Roy Sage ( ,
  • IN DUTCH it is called apestaart , which means "monkey's tail". Because it looks like a monkey with his tail curled over him.
    Martin Southwold ( ,
  • SURELY it's an "ampersat"?
    Nyk Tarr, Rochdale, Lancs.
  • IN ENGLISH, the symbol is boringly known as "commercial at", but other languages offer more imaginative names. In Swedish, it is called snabel-a , ("a" with an elephant's trunk), or kanelbulle , the Swedish equivalent of the Chelsea bun. In German it is called Klammerraffe , (a clinging monkey) - presumably hanging from a tree by one arm.
    Dr Gunnel Clark, Wotton-under-Edge, Glos.
  • IN GREEK, it's called a little duck and in Russian a dog. Since animals seem to predominate, could I suggest the British term should be a mad cow rampant?
    (Professor) Richard Macrory, Tackley, Oxford.
  • IT IS called an "atmark". Its use in internet addresses has led to the production of a computer intended for accessing the World Wide Web called the Atmark computer.
    Kit Barritt ( ,
  • THE OFFICIAL name is the "at" sign, from the same school of typographer's gobbledegook which gave us "octothorpe" (the #). This naming predates the use of @ by electronic mail systems the world over, and sadly produces many ambiguities when mail addresses are dictated over the phone. If pilots and the police can have special terminologies for clear communication, then I would like to propose an easy, relevant and linguistically distinguishable subtitute for the confusing 'at' naming. The name for @ should be "nerd". This makes my email address, read over the phone, into "cassidys nerd cix dot compulink dot co dot uck".
    Steve Cassidy (normally in London EC2 but presently bored in Stuttgart) ,
  • IN BRAZIL the symbol is known as arroba , which is also an old measure of 15 kilos.
    Michael Wrigley, Campinas, Brazil.
  • IN ITALIAN the symbol is known as a chiocciola (snail).
    Geoffrey Allen, Pavia, Italy.
  • IN FINLAND it's known as a mouse's tail.
    Stephen Ryan, Dublin (
  • I heard someone on Radio 4 refer to it as an "e-snail" which I thought was nice.
    Chris Winchester, London
  • In Hungary, the @ symbol is called "kukatsz", which means little worm.
    Chris Dalton, Budapest, Hungary
  • The Norwegian call the @ "kroellalfa",meaning curled a.
    S William Ingebrigtsen, Bergen, Norway
  • In Italian we call it "chiocciolina", which means "small snail". "Chiocciola", as Geoffrey from Pavia suggests above, is much less used.
    Luca De Piano, Milan, Italy
  • I've always understood that @ originally meant "account" and was regularly used in banking. I seem to remember that it appeared on cheques at one time. It seems a more likely explanation than "at". After all, why would anyone want to abbreviate a two letter word?
    Keith Mills, Alne, York UK
  • @ abbreviates more than just two letters. I remember it on signs in shop windows when I was a child in the early 60s e.g. Cabbages @ 3d, and on similarly on bills. It saves you writing 'at' and 'each'.
    Anne Lane, Greenwich
  • In Czech, it is called "zavinac" which means a rolled pickled herring.
    Mojmir Pribina, Velka, Moravia
  • I have heard it called "petit escargot" ("little snail") in France.
    Katherine Ellis, London
  • I've always known it to be called the "short at".
    Henry Wolny, London
  • The French have a word for it: arobasse. I can't find it in the dictionary but it does seem to have gained widespread acceptance. Quite an achievement in a country where hardly anyone knows (or cares about) the word for "ampersand".
    Rudiger Scheister, Paris
  • In Spain, we call it "arroba", which also is a measurement of weight, but I can't see the conection. ( 1 arroba = 15 kilos )
    Maria, Toledo, Spain
  • We Catalans call the symbol "arrova" from "rova" meaning 1/4 (25%), originally a weight measure, as in Spanish. Looking at most email addresses (my own, for instance, it´s certainly 1 out of 4 items!) Relationship with weight? Not sure... but I personally find it heavy going to find the right key to type it.
    Joan Diez, Amposta, Catalonia
  • How about calling it "letter a with a curly tail"? Do I win a fiver?
    Charlie Peterson, York
  • At
    David Burnfield, Sydney, Australia
  • Most people from Portuguese and Spanish-speaking countries answered that the name given to @ is "arroba" (and similars, like "arova"), the same name of a old weight measure unit. However, many people seem to ignore the history of this incidental coincidence: when the first typewriters started to be exported abroad US and UK, the key to @ had to be given a name. Since the @ was no known or used for anything on those countries, and since the current weight measure unit, the "arroba" (approximately 14 kilos) had by the time no symbol related to it, the Typewriter manufacturers and importers decided to call it arroba. Thus, for this simple and arbitrary decision, people from many countries started to call @ "arroba".
    Rodrigo Rey, Sao Paulo, Brazil
  • In Finland, apparently, it is called miukumauku because it looks like a sleeping cat.
    Andrew, Norwich UK
  • In my country we call it the "cha-cha". Historically this dates back to when dancers used to put character "a" on their back when dancing in competitions. To highlight the "a" it was put in a circle.
    Jose Luis, London England
  • In POLAND the @ sign is called a "monkey"
    peter gentle, warsaw poland
  • In Denmark we call it "snabel-a", snabel meaning the trunk of an elephant
    Stine Pedersen, Skanderborg Denmark
  • Small "a" in circle @ Please can any one let me know what this sign called ~ ? my E-mail address is thank you.
    Ab, Chicago U.S.A
  • In Jamaica it's known as the block, the swirl depicting the feeling of nausia and dizziness having spent far too much time passing the rizla and herb. Derived from the term 'block-up' or in plain English, stoned.
    Josiah Mackintosh, Port Antonio Jamaica
  • It's the AT symbol and leave it @ that! :-)
    Kat, California, USA
  • In Russian, the @ symbol is often called "sabachka", which means puppy.
    Georgeta Solomitskaya-Lester, Cleveland, USA
  • A local game show here said that the official name of the at-sign is "amphora" taken from the name of a jar they used in the ancient medterranean to measure volume of things they would trade (where the @ symbol was supposedly first used).
    Tina, Manila, Philippines
  • Printers on this side of the pond referred to it as a "commercial at," just as the ampersand was a "commercial and."
    Howard Wolff, West Orange, NJ, USA
  • In Japan it's called the atomaaku.
    Mike O'Connell, Sapporo, Japan
  • If it wasn't just the "at" symbol I'm sure somebody would have told us by now. My favourite from the foreign versions is the Czech one meaning a rolled pickled herring. Perhaps we could latch onto that one and call it a "rollmop".
    John Kemplen, Leighton Buzzard, England, UK
  • In American computer science, it is universally referred to as the "at sign", or "at" when reading out a sequence of characters or an email address. In Chinese, it's called a mouse (shu), confusingly enough.
    Ethan Bradford, US
  • I think it would be nice to call it a Titfer. @ = TITFER) As any cockney Londoner will tell you, a Titfer is an "At" in Cockney Rhyming Slang. Londoners usually drop their aitches and "At" stands for Hat i.e. Hat = Titfer Tat!
    Leslie Nicholass, Colchester, England
  • The "~" (which somebody wanted to know the name of) is known as a tilde.
    Rod Fielding, Bury, UK
  • Andrew from Norwich is right: in Finland @-sing is called (colloquially) miuku-mauku, or, alternatively, miumau, which actually referres to the sound that a cat makes (miaow) and @ thus symbolizes the figure of a cat curled up. Officially it is called ät-merkki (at sign).
    Marjut, Helsinki, Finland
  • I call it a squiggle, because it is! A swirl, wiggle of a pen and scribble all in one word. Maybe someone was twirling their pen in circles whilst thinking what to write!
    Paul Coleman, Oxford, UK
  • I agree with what said before: @ means "at £ each" and the fact that we have started using in email addresses does not mean that its name as "commercial at" should be discarded, but for ease and speed of conversation in everyday exchange of email addresses we perhaps should adopt the grammatically correct version of "ampersat" which, from the semantic point of view, means "instead of (at)".
    Roberta, London london
  • Growing up while in grammar school; 1960's; my teacher told us it was an abbreviation for "at each" (for)...such as 5@1.00 or 5 for 1.00. Made sense then and still does today!
    Jay, Atlanta USA
  • @ is an arobasse in French, and it is in the dictionary.
    alan cowling, Nevez France
  • The french word is arobase. Some are confusing the sign @ with ampersand which is not correct - ampersand is the & sign
    Marilyn, Mauritius
  • Marilyn is right. I CONFUSED THE @ symbol with the ampersand symbol (&). I suppose the @ symbol is at especially in Email addresses.
    Kelly, Orlando Florida usa
  • First description of symbol @ is dated century IV, detailing how many "arroba" (weight measurement about 25 pounds) of a freight by seaway from Seville to Rome.
    Victor, Alsasua, Spain
  • There's an awful lot of opinion on this subject floating about, but nobody seems to be citing any references. The best I can find anywhere online is at Wikipedia (but it's Wikipedia so take it with a pinch of salt!). According to whoever wrote the article, it's formal name is "commercial at".
    Rawlyn, UK
  • Of course the symbol @ has a name ... it is alison taylor.
    Alison Taylor, Moultrie, US
  • In Hungary we call it "kukac" that means in english "worm" :)
    Peter Máté, Budapest Hungary
  • It is ASCII Code 64. Common names: at sign, strudel, rare, each, vortex, whorl, intercal, whirlpool, cyclone, snail, ape, cat, rose, cabbage, amphora. It also is used in email addresses. Ray Tomlinson was designing the first email program. It is derived from the latin preposition "ad" (at). It has been traced back to the Italian Renaissance in a Roman merchantile document signed by Francesco Lapi on 1536-05-04. In Dutch it is apestaartje (little tail), in German affenschwanz (ape tail). The French name is arobase. In Spain and Portugal it denotes a weight of about 25 pounds called arroba and the Italians call it chiocciola (snail). commercial at. (n.d.). This information is from The Free On-Line Dictionary of Computing. Retrieved April 25, 2008, from website: at
    Tamera, Layton USA
  • I think the @ symbol means "at the rate of" hence 3 pencils @ of 10 cents would be 30 cents. Yes, @ means "at the rate of".
    Jim York, West Monroe, La. USA
  • The @ symbol is correctly referred to as an asperand. My nemonic is: ASP erand.
    Stuart Lawrence, Oxford UK
  • & Ampersand @ Aspersand
    Charon, Manchester England
  • In Chinese, we call it a little mouse.
    Kat Fan, Austin, Texas
  • Never mind what foreigners call it, to we Brits it's simply 'at', although its use for any other purpose than to punctuate an e-mail address or to indicate per-unit pricing is the mark of laziness or of a foolish desire to seem 'modern'.
    Pete Wigens, Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK
  • An even more perverse use of the symbol is contained in a leaflet published by Stroud District Council, in which we are asked to 'Sign up for free email @lerts'. Aaaaargh!
    Pete Wigens, Stroud, UK

Add your answer


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Friday, November 21, 2008

Res Ipsa Loquitur: The Thing Speaks for Itself

The four departments in K-Hall/first floor challenged one another to raise funds for the Thanksgiving food drive. In addition to the poor who will receive a thanksgiving gift, we are happy to report that the effort had other wonderful effects. The spirit of competition and playfulness was apparent for the last two weeks.

Specific Results:

  • $449.90 was raised for the Thanksgiving drive.

Media studies: $81.09

Philosophy: $43.81

St. Ignatius Institute: $125.00

Theology and Religious studies: $200.00

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sick Today

College teachers can't get sick. It's bad form to miss class when you only meet class once, twice, maybe three times a week.

(Five times a week? Back in the day when I taught freshman comp at NC State I did. I was fortune's punk, to paraphrase Romeo. Or, as I would have said when I taught freshman comp at NC State: That would be from William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.)

So my timing is good. Should be up and around by Monday.


Paid some bills, though. When you're down, might as well enjoy the scenery.

Oh Happy Nonsense

Kevin Drum points me at the Typealyzer, which in a click looks into my blog's Heart of Dorkness and tells me that I am:

The analysis indicates that the author of is of the type:

ISTP - The Mechanics

The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generelly prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.

The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.

And I respond: Well, damn. If being department chair isn't about putting out fires, what is? I ran all the blogs that I link to on the left side of this page, and the results have a certain logic. Which do I match in type? Only one, and the comparison is flattering. Good company!

And as for the old buddy of whom it is said, " Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about," well, there you go.

There you really do go. Sometimes.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Took the Kids to Student Senate Tonight

It's a standard exercise for basic reporting, a really good introduction to the responsibility of being where you don't want to be listening to things you find utterly boring while laboring under the requirement not only to hear but to understand. It's one thing to ask rude questions -- and about half of my beginning reporters feel any question is inherently rude -- when you care about the answer, but when all you want to do is escape not just from the place but from a world in which there are such places....

Do they still teach Sartre's "No Exit" to kids. They really should.

But back to tonight's student senate meeting, where I took my basic reporting class kicking and screaming back behind their eyes where it all really happens.

But for once *it was splendid*. A guest dean explained the ins and outs of financial aid at USF -- $41 mill total aid, about $4 mill for athletic scholarships and so on and so on and then the senators started work on a resolution to be presented to president and board of trustees urging that tuition not be raised.

The senate had done surveys. It had accumulated anecdotes. It was ready to make the case that enough students would be driven away by one last back-breaking tuition increase that such an increase would not actually increase revenues. In short, they had taken the initiative and were willing to confront power.

No, it wasn't the Sixties. I'm not even sure it was the Fifties, by which I mean all the white males would have figured there was a deal to be worked behind closed doors. It was polite. It was idealistic: We'll make our case, and we'll matter. But it was heartening anyway and an opportunity for the reporting students to get it and to realize that it was something they should care about and then to sort out how they should write about such an issue, tracing that narrow path between advocacy and moral sloth, behaving "professionally."

Let's step back a step. They need to realize that they are the pathfinders. They have to decide where that path is. Paths are like shoes. One size does not necessarily fit all feet.

I'll cut them some slack. I'm still not sure where that path is.
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I Didn't Vote for Jesus, I Voted for Moses. Please, Just One Little Plague Brought Down on His Head?

And thus Obama does Thing One that I don't agree with, apparently giving the Big Club O' Senators cover to wrist slap Joe Lieberman rather than throwing him into outer darkness, i.e., the company of Republicans.

What a whiny smarmy hyper-religious little git Joe is. He was Al Gore's mistake. Now, I hope he won't be Obama's.

Thus, I look forward even more to the moment when Obama tempers mercy with justice and crushes some traitor like a worm. Of course, you can overdo it, but occasionally you need to do some of it.

Political Game Theory 101, right? Turn the other cheek, but the third lick is mine.
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Monday, November 17, 2008

Mickey Mantle Hit 536 Career Home Runs

From Nate Silver, who made Real Clear Politics eat his shorts.

CBS's underlying problem -- and the commonality between the three items that I described above -- is the arbitrary and largely ineffectual nature of the fact-checking process employed by the mainstream media. I have written for perhaps a dozen major publications over the span of my career, and the one with the most thorough fact-checking process is by some margin Sports Illustrated. Although this is an indication of the respect with which SI accords its brand, it does not speak so well of the mainstream political media that you are more likely to see an unverified claim repeated on the evening news than you are to see in the pages of your favorite sports periodical.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


You know there is a point in life at which sex becomes if not a scheduled activity an activity that becomes associated with a particular day or days, a particular time or times, a particular place or places.

In other words, it becomes associated with certain externals, and sometimes the externals drive it. There's less madness in it and less spontaneity.

But it goes on, a package of pleasure, duty, habit, kindness and lust.

Is that a working definition of love?

Well, there you go.

Father, do not go horny into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the nooner

Wait. This also reminds of the passage from "Tristram Shandy" that I so enjoyed in grad school. It's a very modern novel, you know, very much a moving target.

First we have this:

C HA P. I.

I Wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them,
as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded
what they were about when they begot me; had they duly
consider’d how much depended upon what they were then
doing;—that not only the production of a rational Being was
concern’d in it, but that possibly the happy formation and
temperature of his body, perhaps his genius and the very cast
of his mind;—and, for aught they knew to the contrary, even
the fortunes of his whole house might take their turn from the
humours and dispositions which were then uppermost:——
Had they duly weighed and considered all this, and proceeded
accordingly,——I am verily persuaded I should have made a
quite different figure in the world, from that, in which the reader
is likely to see me.—Believe me, good folks, this is not so
inconsiderable a thing as many of you may think it;—you have
all, I dare say, heard of the animal spirits, as how they are
transfused from father to son, &c. &c.—and a great deal to
that purpose:—Well, you may take my word, that nine parts in
ten of a man’s sense or his nonsense, his successes and miscarriages
in this world depend upon their motions and activity,
and the different tracks and trains you put them into; so that
when they are once set a-going, whether right or wrong, ’tis not
a halfpenny matter, - - away they go cluttering like hey-go-mad;
and by treading the same steps over and over again, they presently
make a road of it, as plain and as smooth as a garden-walk,
which, when they are once used to, the Devil himself sometimes
shall not be able to drive them off it.

Pray, my dear, quoth my mother, have you not forgot to
wind up the clock?——Good G—! cried my father, making an
exclamation, but taking care to moderate his voice at the same
time,——Did ever woman, since the creation of the world,
interrupt a man with such a silly question? Pray, what was your
father saying?——Nothing.

And a little later on we have this context.

I was begot in the night, betwixt the first Sunday and the first
Monday in the month of March, in the year of our Lord one
thousand seven hundred and eighteen. I am positive I was.—
But how I came to be so very particular in my account of a thing
which happened before I was born, is owing to another small
anecdote known only in our own family, but now made public
for the better clearing up this point.

My father, you must know, who was originally a Turky
merchant, but had left off business for some years, in order to
retire to, and die upon, his paternal estate in the county of
———–, was, I believe, one of the most regular men in every
thing he did, whether ’twas matter of business, or matter of
amusement, that ever lived. As a small specimen of this extreme
exactness of his, to which he was in truth a slave,—he had made
it a rule for many years of his life,—on the first Sunday night of
every month throughout the whole year,—as certain as ever the
Sunday night came,——to wind up a large house-clock which
we had standing upon the back-stairs head, with his own
hands:—And being somewhere between fifty and sixty years of
age, at the time I have been speaking of,—he had likewise
gradually brought some other little family concernments to the
same period, in order, as he would often say to my uncle Toby,
to get them all out of the way at one time, and be no more
plagued and pester’d with them the rest of the month.
It was attended but with one misfortune, which, in a great
measure, fell upon myself, and the effects of which I fear I shall
carry with me to my grave; namely, that, from an unhappy
association of ideas which have no connection in nature, it so
fell out at length, that my poor mother could never hear the
said clock wound up,—but the thoughts of some other things
unavoidably popp’d into her head,—& vice versâ:—which
strange combination of ideas, the sagacious Locke, who certainly
understood the nature of these things better than most
men, affirms to have produced more wry actions than all other
sources of prejudice whatsoever.

But this by the bye.
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Saturday, November 15, 2008


Oakland/East Bay Symphony had the first performance of its 20th season tonight, and Edith and I went because Brother Dan Harder, who has brightened our pathway in our sometime poetry salon awhile, wrote the lyrics for what I suppose you might call a mini-musical, Zipperz, a playlet for two voices in which love comes, quivers, collapses and revives.

It wasn't classic zippers, a form that (I believe) Dan originated in which two poems are placed side by side, read down one at a time -- that's two poems; add 'em up -- and then read across and the two become a third. It's more than a trick the way Dan does it. Most of the time the mashup is significantly different from its two components, really artful.

Zipperz (the musical) wasn't really quite that. It was side-by-side soliloquies from two fine singers and not the true linear union of two discrete poems -- or, in this case, what would have been the melding of two sets of lyrics. But it was witty and then it was lovely, very lovely.

I can only give it my best praise: I'd like to hear it again.

At the reception into which we plowed -- conscious reference to Sarah Palin -- as Friends of Dan, who to our wondering eyes should appear but Charlies Haas of screenwriting renown who has dumped Hollywood and written a novel called "The Enthusiast" that is about to appear.

I guess you'd call Dan and Charlie our acquaintances, but I prefer my old dad's approach, which was that anyone he ever met who enjoyed any success was his "dear friend." The great thing about my old dad was that he was utterly devoid of irony when he so denominated. In his mind all these people loved them some Jim Robertson, and he told his tales with an utter lack of self-consciousness of his inherent desperation to for god's sake be somebody.

Irony is a zip, isn't it, starting out all nice and sincere and then layering on a thin coat of sour perspective, thus undercutting and reframing what was actually a lovely evening and time spent with people I like, and let's leave it at that. That's the way to frame it and not reduce it to an exercise in collecting pals the way Red Indians collected scalps.

Addendum the morning after: Sometimes friends say -- and usually they say it kindly -- that a post of mine doesn't quite make sense, that they don't quite 'get it.' My answer is that I don't always get my posts either. One starts with -- no, not an idea. One starts with an *impulse* and then the words go where they list.

Making sense? I only ever made sense when I was paid to do it. So now I add to last night that I was writing well after midnight and right after stopping at the Vine wine bar on Lakeshore, where we had never before been in attendance. We liked it very well. Of course, the wine was expensive and the music was loud, but we were surrounded by several sleek black couples whose general elegance -- whose general sense of being part of the ton -- made us feel 59 again.

But that is not why I cranked this post up once more. Thinking of Dan and Charlie, I wondered on awaking -- for some reason I always have one or two nice fresh ideas, fresh as coffee just as I get up, literally get up, in the morning -- I wondered how my knowledge of and intimacy with those two would compare to Obama's connection with William Ayers.

Since both of these fellows and their mates have been in our home for meals and play -- though not Charlie and Brenda K for years my goodness -- we know them (I think) better than Obama knew Ayers.

And I hardly know these two admirable fellows at all. That's my point.
That's all I have.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday? How Can It Be Friday?

I know people think that being Media Studies chair is a glamorous job, that it's the best table and the waiter retreating to the kitchen to bring out those special sweetbreads the chef was saving for Mayor Newsom and his organ-loving entourage. Also, famous writers want you to blurb their latest book, the thoughtful tome that sorts out all the rest of this brave new century.

And that's all true, all of it except for the frequent assumption that being chair actually entitles you to a chair, a really nice one, more of a throne really with a nice expanse of red carpet leading up to it.

But there actually is a downside, and one facet of that jewel of pain is monitoring class enrollments during registration week. We try to offer just as many fascinating courses as we can, thereby bringing variety to the students -- and faculty, too, for that matter. Yet when you walk on the razor's edge of pedagogical profusion -- new metaphor, please; the one you just handed me seems to be broken -- some courses under-enroll, and some courses must be canceled and teachers reassigned, and tears flow (mostly mine).

So those of you wondering why I haven't been posting, my finger has been on the pulse of the enrollments for Spring 2009, and sometimes one feels weakness, multiple weaknesses, and the time of triage arrives.

Like now.

Girl mourning cancelled class
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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Thinking About Obama Part 2 (He Had Me at Hello. Okay, a Little Later Than That)

We actually had the first Obama sign in the neighborhood, putting one up at least 18 months ago, when I still thought of his campaign as a futile gesture. After two or three months, someone stole it, long before his victory in Iowa which suddenly moved him beyond symbol.

Before that happened -- after his sign was stolen but before his Iowa victory -- my wife and I had moved on to what we considered a more plausible but equally disruptive candidacy (at least on the symbolic level), that of Hillary Clinton.

I bought one of her signs, put it up and before long it was stolen, too.

My wife was a powerfully committed Hillary Clinton supporter for reasons that I assume are obvious. She's worked as an architect and as a project manager for a quarter of a century, and male architects and project managers tend to be elitist assholes IMHO -- my dear lady wife would never be so crass -- so she has served on the front lines of the gender wars for a long time and identifies with other veterans of that long slog as one empty sleeve recognizes another as they pass on the street.

But we really didn't think Hillary Clinton could win and we really *really* didn't think Obama had a prayer, so we compromised by supporting John Edwards, that flawed populist whose flaws (it turned out) ran through him like mold through a fine ripe cheese.

Who knew? Well, we never bought an Edwards sign so maybe we had an inkling.

When Edwards dropped out on the same day I sent him a check, we went different ways. My wife went back to Hillary. I concluded that a big chunk of the electorate hated Hillary two ways -- specifically *as* Hillary Clinton and generally as a woman -- while a big chunk of the electorate hated Obama only one way, as a black man.

Tensions ensued. We bought no more political signs. But because she is wise, good and generous, after Obama clinched the nomination, my wife (of course) came around. Perhaps, I should say Obama brought her around. And so she was urging me to write checks when I thought perhaps enough checks had been written.

As sometimes happens, she led with her heart but followed with her mind. She would never have voted for McCain, but Obama won her over as he won me -- not over but *further* over.

So now we have all won. Think what we have won. Dreamer that I am, in eight years (which is a long time and not guaranteed) what female candidates -- righteous, by which I mean Democrat! -- will present themselves to us without our having to discount their candidacies because of the inherent impossibility of the thing?

I am just saying we all won, and the future won.

Except, of course, for the adulterers. Sorry, John Edwards, whose race and gender -- his "pale plumbing," one might say -- made me think he was the guy. When it comes to adultery, candidates need to keep it in their past or keep it in their pants.

Or panties. Everything is changed, right?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Thinking About Obama Part 1

I think I'll just dribble these thoughts out over time as I get back into the swing of tending the blog. The election seems to have paralyzed me as a blogger, making me simultaneously timid (because others seemed to have so much to say and said it so well) and superstitious (I am the most important person in the universe and God probably has it in for me so I better lie low).

But now Obama is president, God either favoring me (hah!) or ignoring me (more likely) or not being there at all (you knew that was coming). So how do I feel about it?

More relief than exultation, though I was exalted in the moment. It's all probability, you know, and probability has now moved in our favor because Obama is probably brighter, better informed and more deft in governing than McCain. I would say the probability is pretty damned high. That guarantees nothing in difficult times. But it makes it more likely our future will be better rather than worse.

And what of the fact of a black man becoming president?

* Is it a leading indicator, the first fruit of an ever-improving racial landscape in this country, that progress gathering momentum every day?

* Is it a signpost, a marker that tells us we have come a long way, but we should remember that we have a long way to go?

* Is it a trailing indicator, something that tells us that progress has come just this far and no further and who knows how much farther it may go? That is, if Obama were not black he would have won by far more, and even may be sui generis. This is perhaps the least optimistic way of looking at it, that we should look at all the contingencies that had to align for it to happen and be careful in claiming the scope of the change, that it is inevitable, that it will continue, that it is the way the world works and that work is forward.

I think I prefer the idea of the signpost, the notion -- which the wise ones reject (see my lovely footnote below) -- of steady plodding progress.

Well. More to come.

My lovely footnote:

From: Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin. N.Y.: Harmony Books, 1996. P. 197. (c)1996, Stephen Jay Gould.

"The outstanding [misunderstanding of evolutionary theory] is clearly the equation of evolution with progress. People believe that evolution is a process that moves creatures toward greater complexity through time. This makes our very late appearance in the history of the Earth a sensible outcome. The word evolution means progress, but for Darwin, evolution is adaptation to changing local environments, which are randomly moving through time. There is no principle of general advance in that."

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Description: How to Do It

You really should read the essay from which the following comes if you like fine writing.

We watch the fly-in, as birds, after a hard day of feeding, come home for the night.

It’s 4:55 p.m. A stunning orange-turning-to-pink sunset is happening underneath dark, puffy clouds. And here they come, a flock of 26 sandhill cranes making a big circle over the marsh, legs dropping straight down, wings stretched, coming in to land as darkness sweeps over the valley. And now come Canada geese and more cranes, everyone coming home, just beating pitch dark by a honk.

I feel like a World War II aircraft-carrier captain, standing on the bridge, watching his Grumman Hellcats come back from battle. No light in the sky.

Owed to Joy

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Live :Post 1826 Zulu

Here we are at the home of friends, knowing we need only one big red east of the Mississippi to clinch this thing. But even if we don't get it, I have faith in the Mountain Time zone.

We shall party, dear reader.

645 Zulu

There goes Ohio. It's over. Byron said, 'Man being reasonable must get drunk.'

Note:Okay. None of these times are actually Zulu, which is military which is Greenwich. Sue me. I'm filled with joy and a little Ozzie red.

Same for man being victorious.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Chair

I pulled this out of the New York Times today.

In his classic 1972 book, “Groupthink,” Irving L. Janis, the Yale psychologist, explained how panels of experts could make colossal mistakes. People on these panels, he said, are forever worrying about their personal relevance and effectiveness, and feel that if they deviate too far from the consensus, they will not be given a serious role. They self-censor personal doubts about the emerging group consensus if they cannot express these doubts in a formal way that conforms with apparent assumptions held by the group.

It's just an elegant way of saying what most of us know, how in a group setting many of our convictions turn to sand. Ah the danger of false consensus. Give me a series of hearty 6-3 votes and then drinks afterwards because the losers feel that have been listened to and all disagreements have kept focus on the thing under consideration, that there has been minimal "slosh" from the issue to the person.

On the other hand, what happens if one minimizes disagreement and the focus on the particular is used to avoid acknowledgment of the deeper schism? We do need some deep focus sometimes, a depth of field, both foreground and background.

Oh to be a bully, to have absolute certainty that what feels good (to me) is good (for everyone).

Or not. I am tempted to say "whatever," but I despise the way the word is now used so dismissively for it is never Whatever. It is always Something.

Sigh. They say there's art in being chair, which makes me think of Matthew Arnold, who asked (rhetorically):

Who prop, thou ask'st in these bad days, my mind?--


But be his

My special thanks, whose even-balanced soul,
From first youth tested up to extreme old age,
Business could not make dull, nor passion wild;
Who saw life steadily, and saw it whole (emphasis added);
The mellow glory of the Attic stage,
Singer of sweet Colonus, and its child.

That would be your Sophocles, who said tragedy -- whatever else it was -- was always character.