Monday, March 30, 2009

Sitting in the Plane at the Gate Not Moving Stuck in Atlanta

1918 grader.Image via Wikipedia

Something wasn't working, or the display said it wasn't working, so we sat for two hours before someone solved the problem or kicked the console or crossed fingers and said, "We all owe God a death, including those 264 people sitting in back. Let's fire this Mother up."

But the point is we sat there for two hours. Luck comes multiform. As it happened, my last task from Spring Break was grading a set of meeting stories from basic reporting, and what with one thing or another they were still not graded earlier today; they were to be my in flight recreation. The moment it became clear that the delay might be prolonged, I pulled out my stories and went to work.

These were 350-400 word stories, just an elementary meeting cover with the main points (I insisted) in the first 100 words, to be written as if there were no other words on the subject, not in the whole wide world. Such stories consume 20 minutes apiece to grade because I line edit each of them. It's the only way I know how to grade.

"Write tighter" -- what does that mean? "More detail" and "clearer" and "paraphrase"? Yah, why not just recommend Truth and Beauty, So I tend to scribble in what I mean, and for a page-and-a-half story: 20 minutes.

And thus it was. Six stories in, the captain said it (whatever it was) was fixed. I quit grading and watched some girls NCAA basketball on the seat-back TV, then graded six more stories, then watched Stewart and Colbert and then graded the final story, the one I'd saved because (sigh) it really is heavy lifting. This is the one where I rewrite half, and I leave the rest alone.

Well, back to the point. When I grade this sort of story, I go into my own little world. It's not a pretty world, and I don't much like being there -- I tell my reporting students that I spent 15 years in journalism avoiding writing stories the way I am teaching them to write.

But it closes the door. And sometimes you want the door closed.

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More (or Less) About Visiting My Mother

Who was in bed at mid afternoon covers up to her chin, scant hair plastered to her skull with her teeth out. Though I am told she doesn't like wearing her teeth anymore so let's not make it seem worse that it is.

Not knowing me, she hit on me, or so I think, saying I was a nice looking man and perhaps she could go home with me? Not being in a particularly playful, or incestuous, mood, I said I was her son and married besides at which point she began what my sister says is her litany:

I'm bad, no one loves me and no one has ever loved me although there was someone I loved and I prayed that God would either let me have him or let me die although I was granted neither thing so I lay in bed and cried in the dark.

This went on for a while. I mentioned my late father, her late mother, etc., pointing out that they loved her, we loved her, my god all that love. But this had no visible effect. There she lay, woe on  her face, torment on her face, reliving something she either experienced or feared experiencing. As I said: She loops. 

I kissed that little toothless mouth twice and we came away.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Off to the Happy Baptist Nursing Home to Visit My Moms

When she says, "Who are you?" I'll say, "No. Who are YOU?"

We'll see how she likes that. Two can play at that game.

If only it were.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

An Insight into the Robertson Gene Pool, or the Nuts Did Not Fall Far From the Tree. As You Can Tell by Looking at the Nut(s).


Came crawling out of the bedroom at my sissy's a little after 10:30 am apologizing for arising so late. Told my brother-in-law it felt like it was 7:30 to which he replied:

"In California it is."

It's true, isn't it? Time zones are the debt we owe to God. (No, I don't know what that means. In California, it's still 1983.)

Friday, March 27, 2009

I Have Deceived My Sister

That is, the previous post was bogus in that it implied a disingenuous when and where. We are now in Tennessee celebrating my sister's birthday, her 70th.

She is right spry. There is hope for me. Of course, there will be pictures. Posit the number of words they will be worth, given the traditional multiplier. Then think exponential.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Midnight Moan

Bye Bye BallsImage by CJ Sorg via Flickr

Two more sets of stories to grade this weekend. Three if I start remembering my favorite passages from Goodbye Mr. Chips.

Looked for a scene from the movie or perhaps a movie poster and found instead ....

Well, there you go.
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Someone Links to My Review of 'Man and Superman'; I Am Impressed with Myself

George Bernard Shaw (detail)Image by thomwisdom via Flickr

The hed on this review was Kos and Superkos, and I ended it thus:

The problem with saying something in a very clever way is that a listener may suspect you are saying it only because it is clever, paradoxical, a way of getting attention, about as sincere as dying your hair pink. And thinking so, as I watched the play, I decided that Jack Tanner was essentially a blogger, of the jokey kind, to solid argument as the canape is to the good roast beef.

Such writers assume you'll pass by his/her blog the way you pass by a lively conversation at a cocktail party: a few will stop but most will take ten seconds worth and keep moving. A blogger of this kind makes his point on the fly and hopes the listener will be prodded to consider the implications of the exaggeration, that the tickle will turn into a thought.

Thus: Kos and Superkos is not apt. The Daily Kos is a serious website. The next Shavian witticism I find in it will be the first. The posts at DK are long and tend toward the dead serious, pretty angry (but not crazed in the amount and kind of the abuse it contains, the case the idiot O'Reilly has recently tried to make). The Kossacks are not into quick hits. Daily Kos is something you have to settle down for, not like Atrios who is short and nasty in his links.

And maybe that's what a good Shavian witticism is, a link to deeper thoughts and more detailed consideration. There's a competition for attention going on in the world. When it comes to "issues," a really good joke -- a paradox, a joke so droll you want to commit it to memory for the effect if not the message -- is one way to grab some part of that attention.

Yes, once Jack Tanner is settled down and married to Ann Whitfield, he will definitely blog.
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I Like It When a Former Student is Out There Multiplying Assets, as it Were

Percy Kilbride and Marjorie Main in "Ma a...Image by via Flickr

A former student sends a link to her side project. In today's journalism environment, I approve!

Now, the implication is that my blog readers don't already look fabulous, which is a common misperception. I now invite readers to send in pictures of themselves at their most stylish.

Operators will be standing by.

Do you need an online personal stylist? Only $10
Reply to:
Date: 2009-03-25, 1:49PM PDT

Bonjour, fellow fashion lovers. If you can read this, chances are you need of a little help with your style. Let me ask you this: Do you stand in front of your closet and scratch your head every time you have a special event to attend? Do you wish you would dress more stylishly at work or in your everyday life but can't come up with a fabulous outfit? If so, you’ve come to the right page.

So why am I qualified to help you achieve fashion fabulousness? Besides being obsessed with online shopping (I get at least one package a week), I'm a fashion editor at an online blog/magazine and have my own street style blog ( I literally live for this stuff.

I’m also constantly helping friends and co-workers when they need outfits for weddings, parties, or just everyday life. I would love to do the same for you. Budget conscious gals will be happy to know that my forte is finding amazingly gorgeous looks at affordable prices.

Now she goes by Melody, but she will always be Meghedi to me as she was the first day of class.

P.S. A friend once compared me and E. to Ma and Pa Kettle, hence the art.
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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

When a $ Sign is a Road Sign


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What a pleasant vacation it has been, spending hours every day working through an unusually complicated and vexing tax prep. One satisfaction is shredding some antique receipts that had no tax significance at the time and which I saved only out of paranoia and which I am now bold enough to discard.

That's faith in you, Big O.

So I'm going through some old credit card bills, and there it is: May 24, 2000, I charged -- what is it? --$1,005 for one ticket, make that two tickets at $1,005 each, SF to Roanoke, Virginia, where I was born and raised. Damn. What was that about? A bogus charge that I neglected to catch? May 2000? May 2000?

Ohhhhhhhhhh yeah. May 24, 2000. That was the day after my dad died.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

George Clooney's Daddy Talks about Blogs (Sometimes It's All about the Headline)

Why I Would Never Be Obama's 'White Friend'

2009 Five Presidents, President George W. Bush...Image by BL1961 via Flickr

Because I really don't think he suffers fools gladly -- which comes out a little harsher than I intended (in relation to myself), but you get my drift.

Loved this moment from tonight's news conference.

Q (from CNN's Ed Henry?) It seems like the action is coming out of New York in the attorney general's office. It took you days to come public with Secretary Geithner and say, look, we're outraged. Why did it take so long?

OBAMA: Well, it took us a couple of days because I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak. (Laughter.) All right?

I'm not the best person to compare Obama's public manner with that of Bush because I don't suffer fools at all when they happen to the President of the United States, so I could never stand to look and listen to Forty Three for more than a few minutes. I was not, as they say, dispassionate, disinterested -- if I can for a moment revive that fine old word in its fine old meaning.

But my impression is that Bush was a combination of belligerence and insecurity, simmering with a kind of bullying camaraderie designed primarily to put lesser beings in their place. The stink of privilege and his confusion about how and why he was entitled to it seeped out of every pore, malformed every sentence.

Obama, on the other hand, seems to always be in a bit of a struggle with the sense that he's the smartest person in the room, and it would be impolitic to assert it but inauthentic to disguise it.

I like that quality of his just fine, but I'm not sure I could personally keep his interest being a little short of dazzle, you know, with ample room for improvement. Heck, that's why I got married, to be a good woman's project.

Oh, I'm not saying it always has to come down to being about me, just that it's a lot more interesting when it does.

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I Think Twitter Should Only Be Used for Moments of Despair. In Which Case This Would be a Fine Twit. As Am I at This Moment.

Magrão (Big lean)Image by Zanini H. via Flickr

I can't find our 1099 forms. Do you think I *subconsciously* lost them because last year was such a bad year for our retirement accounts?

And now I have to seek out the damned things, as if I were dying of something and some black-sheep relative was a tissue match.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Four Long Years Ago in the Daily Kos! How Could I Have Missed it?

More more more. Lovely funny stuff.

Those were the days, my friend. I really did think they'd never end. Perhaps, I am too complacent now, too slow to provide razor-sharp critique of the Dems missteps. But Obama on his worst day really is better than Bush on his best.

Literally. And I literally mean literally.

Standing By Me All Around the World in Virtual Concert

I got this from Oboglo, from Glo or Bo I don't know.

Stand By Me | Song Around The World from Concord Music Group on Vimeo.

The Name of This Blog Traced to Its Source

Marsh along the NileImage via Wikipedia

Which, to be honest, I was not familiar with until John McChesney-Young, friend of the blog and papa of one of USF's smartest and nicest grads, dug it up and gave me the link.

But fear not, Dear Reader. One need not have traveled to the headwaters of the Nile to splash in the streams of its delta.

And here is an excerpt from Darwin's letter to Asa Gray. Surprising how much it reflects my own notions.

Down, May 22nd 1860.

My dear Gray,

-- snip --

With respect to the theological view of the question. This is always
painful to me. I am bewildered. I had no intention to write
atheistically. But I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as
I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us.
There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself
that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the
Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living
bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. Not believing
this, I see no necessity in the belief that the eye was expressly designed.
On the other hand, I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful
universe, and especially the nature of man, and to conclude that everything
is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as
resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left
to the working out of what we may call chance. Not that this notion AT ALL
satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound
for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of
Newton. Let each man hope and believe what he can. Certainly I agree with
you that my views are not at all necessarily atheistical. The lightning
kills a man, whether a good one or bad one, owing to the excessively
complex action of natural laws. A child (who may turn out an idiot) is
born by the action of even more complex laws, and I can see no reason why a
man, or other animal, may not have been aboriginally produced by other
laws, and that all these laws may have been expressly designed by an
omniscient Creator, who foresaw every future event and consequence. But
the more I think the more bewildered I become; as indeed I probably have
shown by this letter.

Most deeply do I feel your generous kindness and interest.

Yours sincerely and cordially,

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Living in Oakland, or Blood on the Streets

One of the things I tell my journalism students is that if they show the initiative and energy to unearth a story about a problem they must also push through all the delicious detail of inequity and injustice to find those who can at least imagine solutions to the problem.

I don't want only hopeless wailing.

Yesterday three Oakland cops were killed, and one is now apparently dead-in-life, as the result of a confrontation with a heavily armed parolee not that far -- about two blocks, I reckon -- from a crossroads on the route we take when we drive down to A's games.

If my kids were on the story, what possible solutions, what *reasonable* solutions, would they uncover? For always there must be good judgment in choosing among suggested solutions. The news does not write itself.

More Jesus? More centers to promote Zen meditation? Certainly more money for schools -- as if just the opposite weren't happening. Certainly more and better gun control -- as if the Democrats hadn't given up on that one for the very practical reason that it's a loser, and -- as the Bush years have shown us -- losing "for the right reason" does not result in a just universe giving you virtue points that protect the world you live in from the depredations of the depraved winners.

Politics is the art of the possible. What do we learn about the "possible" after a bloodbath like this? I don't know. I do, however, believe one should try to do something. One should listen to suggestions from those who study the problem as well as to those who are immersed in it, to the pragmatists who triangulate, to the meliorists who know it's always half a loaf, half a loaf forward.

(Charge of the Light Brigade. Only the fossils will get the reference. It seems to be a warning against rash action.)

The last several years, we haven't been going to community meetings down at the Baptist Church on Lakeshore Avenue. That would be a good idea, I think.

There's that stanza from Eliot's "Prufrock":

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use, 115
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

Well, you know, there are two ways to read this. You can conclude it's an exercise in self-mockery verging on self-loathing. But you can also choose to think: Better to be up there on the stage in a bit part, paying attention to what others are saying and getting ready for your single word, your nod of agreement, than just lounging in the audience, cultivating a set of fine feelings.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Of Atlas Shrugged and Lord of the Rings

Atlas ShruggedImage via Wikipedia

Daily Kos pointed me at Kung Fu Monkey, and there it was, as promised:

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

Yet, for all, that The Fountainhead, and its praise of individuality and the artist's life, did help wean me away from the lockstep monotony of fundamentalist Christianity. Every little bit helps, you know.
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Friday, March 20, 2009

Just a Twitter, Really

ingredients for a martiniImage via Wikipedia

Had a martini at Zam Zam yesterday. Met with C., who is looking for work.

It was not clear to me just how many NCAA brackets he had filled out, for money and for fun. It would seem to be several, perhaps in the High Severals.

This year I did ... none.

There would seem to be a correlation between time on one's hands and number of brackets filled out . On the other hand, back in the day there was a fellow with two hands and three apples.

Voila: Juggling was born. But this year my balls were already in the air.

P.S. Damn the way one thought leads to another. The *beginning* of my fading fascination with following the NCAAs was in 2002, when the Duke coach Mike Chiropractic -- or syllables to that effect -- came out in support of senate candidate Liddy Dole, who proved to be just the empty pantsuit I thought she was. He did a a fund-raiser and besmirched used Duke's name to promote the event.

I got my Ph.D. at Duke. I have many pleasant memories -- of the inside of the library. Sports loyalties and bonding with one's alma mater are both tribal, hormonal, at bottom irrational, and all the more powerful as a result. It was always pleasant to "borrow prestige" as Duke moved through the NCAAs, which for a while there they did with great regularity.

But then Coach Kaleidoscope pushed his way into the real world, and I reacted much as I might have if the Cat in the Hat had come out as a holocaust denier. I suddenly felt stupid about having been stupid, which sports loyalties are, as delicious and as stupid as a bowl of ice cream.

I would go on, but, as I said earlier: Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Robertson's balls!!
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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Opposites Attract (She Completes Me)

Map showing ten largest municipalities in Mich...Image via Wikipedia

While I drove my wife to work this morning, the beauty of the day drew out of my memory bank one of the first nature poems to which I was exposed, to wit:

Spring is sprung
The grass is riz
I wonder where
The birdies iz

E. responded that she was enamored of the very same poem at a similarly tender age, when it was one of the first windows for both of us into the whimsical power of irony -- except that in Michigan the payoff was

I wonder where
The flowers iz

At first I resisted that variant, since my first inclination was to prefer the notion of looking skyward, of the eyes lifted up as the spirit is lifted up on these first fine days, of the eye searching, questing, yearning and then to see the dot, the speck -- yes, there it is: a bird! a bird!

But almost at once I appreciated the organicism of her version, of the clean narrative line it implies, in that one indeed would naturally, when noting those first stirrings of the grass, yearn for the beauty of the flowers so long absent. Indeed, those very flowers might rise amid or directly adjacent to where the grass is struggling to appear.

Here is both literal and metaphorical focus.

But in the case of absent birds, for the poem to have a point one is necessarily referring to those that migrate, else the poem is in danger of falling into non sequitur. For some birds have endured among us all winter, and it seems ungracious to wonder where "the birdies" are when, in fact, *some* birds have never left us. And thus a poem of celebration could transform into a hymn to the fickleness of humanity, of our desire for incessantly fresh sensation, of disloyalty to nature, not its celebration.

I was abashed. Yes, E.'s version is superior. She's quite a wonder.
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Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Picture of Our Table! Dim Light, Brilliant Conversation

Tommy Can You Hear Me?

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table...Image via Wikipedia

Last night we broke out the round table for guests. The round table has a long tradition. More than 40 years ago when I was still a grad student at Duke and we were living in Colonial Apartments, having splurged for the $130 a month two-bedroom unit rather than the $70 a month unit in student housing, we bought a round Knoll table made of white ... something.

Hard and durable plastic?

Quite a lovely table which fit the space at the end of the kitchen, and we enjoyed it very much without quite knowing why. It moved with us: from Durham to Raleigh to Atlanta and finally to Oakland, where we had many jolly meals with folk crammed in elbow to elbow and -- this is a warm memory -- Bodo the cat, who was intellectually curious, would come to the guest-crammed table, jump onto my lap and remain there, his own cat elbows parked on the table's rim, staring at whoever was speaking, alert and thoughtful as I stroked him.

This was on Thomas Avenue just above Broadway. Our neighbor Klay looked out her window into our window and noticed how tightly we were packed. Later that weekend, she called us over and gave us the folding table top her late husband had made back in their social days. It was two semicircles of wood hinged together, meant to be placed on a smaller round table. The result: more space and no less conviviality, one of the attractions of a round table. At a round table, it's much easier to have conversations in which all are involved.

When we moved to Paloma in late 1991, we bought a narrow rectangular table that better fit our dining area. It has two expansion leaves so we can easily fit ten when needed. But, as the years have passed and the acuity of my hearing has diminished, even with six people at the table, it's hard for me to keep track of the talk at the far end, and thus conversation tends to fragment, which is fine.

Except sometimes I really want to know why everyone is laughing and gesturing down there in the distance. The grass is always greener, the wine tastier, the mots moh-ee-ur, etc.

I was sorting out the junk in our garage in December, and I came upon Klay's folding table top, somewhat water damaged and delaminated but still intact. Well, I thought we have always talked about moving the dining room down into the so-called family room -- though E. has been hesitant to do so, since she says she gets "nervous" when serving company and is pretty sure at some point she would come tumbling down the stairs, various serving dishes and what they contained scattering around her like Aurora Borealis.

But I am more confident than she in her sure-footedness. I ordered a sturdy collapsible card table, a round one. And thus it came to pass last night that we entertained, family room temporarily transformed into dining room, and may I give a particular shout out to Gayle and Richard and Pat, who worked overtime keeping me occupied for the six weeks E. spent in Las Vegas with the pool boy in Florida nursing her 98-year-old moms.

This was the purpose of the evening to say thanks, and to welcome David and Jerry back from their latest tour of The East. (Viet Nam, Cambodia and Thailand this trip.)

I like the round table. I can hear everyone so much better, and it certainly is more conducive to general conversation, though I concede one of the charms of the long skinny table might be the absence of general conversation. I don't know. What do you think? (See footnote.)

And if any of you readers think, "I'd sure like to be gathered round that big fine table sometime having one of E.'s big fine meals," you have only to say, "That sounds like fun." I have this long list of people who have turned down invitations to one thing or another two or three times, and it is my understanding of game theory that two or three times means: Take the hint, brother.

But perhaps it was all a misunderstanding, and your heart yearns toward Paloma Avenue and the circle of friendship, or, at least, respectful acquaintanceship or drunken impropriety, which has its own charm.


Sharing Secrets: Disclosure and Discretion in Dyads and Triads

Ralph B. Taylor/Center for Metropolitan Planning and Research
Johns Hopkins University

Clinton B. De Soto and Robert Lieb/Johns Hopkins University

To develop a more comprehensive picture of the variables that influence disclosure patterns, the impact of group size on sharing secrets was explored. Given Derlega and Chaikin's suggestion that the existence of a closed dyadic boundary is a prerequiste for intimate self-disclosure, it was hypothesized that subjects would be more willing to disclose intimate information in a dyad than in a triad.

The results of Experiment 1, which used a role-playing methodology,
confirmed the hypothesis. The main effect of group size was observed over a range of roles and items of information. In addition to the main effect, group size interaction effects also indicated that the difference between dyad and triad disclosure rates increased with more intimate items of information and with more intimate roles. These interaction effects suggested that the importance of a closed dyadic boundary depends in part on the expected confidentiality of the interchange. In Experiment 2 the conversations of groups of acquaintances were recorded and rated for intimacy. As predicted, the conversations of dyads were more intimate than those of triads

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MoreMore More on Dying Newspapers

Here are comment made by John -- no last name; the mystery, the mystery -- over at Alan Mutter's Reflections of a Newsosauer. Is he right? Is emphasis on local news some sort of American oddity? Would word-of-mouth, plus "volunteer" blog-based news, actually work for cities like Oakland and San Francisco?

The US newspaper market has always bemused me in it size and structure. There is no other news market in the world with such a strong reliance on locally driven content. This creates a byzantine cost structure that ultimately harms the industry. That mid-sized cities cannot support more than one paper is barely a surprise. The question should be whether it can support a paper at all.

A shakeout that results in a ~4-6 national papers (perhaps with the odd local insert) will bequeath a stronger industry where the parent company can capture more synergies across the group. Not only that but the funds will remain in place for high quality investiagtive reporting that is essential for a well functioning democracy.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Oboglo Shot a Newspaper in Reno Just to Watch it Die. For its Own Good

The amount of workforce dedicated to agricultu...Image via Wikipedia

From Kwame Oboglo:

on Boing Boing today. There's more there, but it's too techy to maintain my absorption.

When reality is labeled unthinkable, it creates a kind of sickness in an industry. Leadership becomes faith-based, while employees who have the temerity to suggest that what seems to be happening is in fact happening are herded into Innovation Departments, where they can be ignored en masse. This shunting aside of the realists in favor of the fabulists has different effects on different industries at different times. One of the effects on the newspapers is that many of its most passionate defenders are unable, even now, to plan for a world in which the industry they knew is visibly going away.

And here's the money-shot:

When someone demands to be told how we can replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Pissed: Day Sixteen, or the Long March

Art of WarImage by Emerging Birder via Flickr

Had drinks with Z. earlier this week, who is always an agreeable companion, particularly when one is talking about the difficulties of sorting out one's relationships with the great beast Mankind.

Z., who is as much artist as honcho, has had good jobs, editorships and such. Some of them he walked away from and in some cases he has been walked out of the building, but never dragged out and always with some small bits of integrity intact.

He has never been long between jobs and is thus a confident man and thus an inspiration.

He visits this blog occasionally, and he had noted my earlier posts about being PO'ed, though he said it was pretty darn gauzy just what I was mad about. He said he had supposed there were legal implications, or I was just too lazy to rewrite for clarity.

Frankly, my dear (he said) explain why I should give a damn?

Of course, I was eager to fill him in as long as there was beverage service. As I said he's had some success managing people, the finest high-strung creative types, so his experiences have a certain story-board quality; they seem illustrative and to show the way.

I'm talking furiously -- by which I mean energetically, nothing more -- about this perceived insult and that supposed indignity, and he doesn't say much, just listens.

Finally, he said: "Tell me something interesting."

That's Z. He gives you your money's worth. He's a kind of an anti-therapist. He's not exactly working with you, and he is not afraid to show impatience. He's rude, really, but what semi-genius isn't?

What? I said.

Well, he said, you're angry, and they're angry, and everybody has a case, a side, a perspective, all of which is fascinating, I'm sure, to those on the inside of this argument, who were in the room at the time and "own stock" in the outcome, as it were.

But what *I* want to know is how all the parties in this discord are plugged into the larger power structure, that is, who has allies, who's got backup. Outside the boundaries of this specific argument, out there where no one really gives a damn about what it was that caused all this, *who has got whose back*? I am asking who is on your side if this blows up big. And who is on the side of those with whom you are (let us say) impatient?

Talk to me about the sociogram, the web of influence. Let's not talk about who's right and who's wrong. Let's talk about who's tight and who's strong. (Or words to that effect. I'm tarting this up.)

At which point I said: Oh noes. Now that you mention it, I think I have fallen into discord with the wrong people. To draw on Seinfeld, I am mixing it up with people who have got HAND. I have failed to cultivate relationships with those higher in the food chain.

Oh my.

Just keep that in mind, Z. said. Don't make any sudden moves.

And then he asked me if I had ever read Sun Tzu's Art of War. And I said funny you should ask because I bought a copy for cheap at Barnes and Noble just this Christmas. (This irony, this coincidence, by the way, was the impetus for this post.)

Read it, he said. Any page.

I did. And you know what the Art of War is about?

It's about war! Not very nice reading, my friends, all quite belligerent and depressing. This was the thing most pertinent to my situation I could find.

It is the rule in war. If our forces are ten to the enemy's one, to surround him. If five to one, to attack him. If twice as numerous, to divide our army into two. If equally matched, we can offer battle. If slightly inferior in numbers, we can avoid the enemy. If quite unequal in every way, we can flee from him.

Adios? Run like the devil?

Is that the advice you are giving me,

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Oh See the Poor Newspaper Stocks Lying There in the Gutter

Brother Pat Daugherty pulled this out of the San Diego Reader and shared.
From this week's Reader no less
Here's how much the market has knocked down newspaper stocks in the last 52 weeks. I picked 10 representative newspaper stocks; half of them are significantly diversified into other media. The list includes the cream from a quality standpoint: Washington Post, NY Times, etc. During the last 52 weeks, the Standard & Poor's 500 has gone down 46.55%. Seven of the ten newspaper stocks have gone down more than 90%. Here they are, with stock performance over the last year: Gannett (the largest chain, whose bonds were downgraded to junk this week) down 92.04%; E.W. Scripps down 99.28%; McClatchy down 95.59%; Lee down 96.9%; Media General down 90.05%; GateHouse Media down 98.61%; AH Belo down 92.92%; News Corp. (Murdoch's company, including Dow Jones) down 63.8%; New York Times down 76.72%, and Washington Post down 52.82%. It could be overkill -- but what will be the societal effects if it isn't?

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Life in the Old Lane

Location in Polk County and the state of FloridaImage via Wikipedia

First, the good news. I own half of a house in Florida. The bad news is actually NOT, not in the operant sense of the word, as in, "Take the money and run."

Because California is a community property state, I have recently discovered that it turns out that I am, indeed, half owner of my mother-in-law's home in Winter Haven, which she signed over to my wife nearly 20 years ago, retaining a "life interest," which allows her to stay in the home as long as she is able.

Now almost 98, my mother-in-law has proved surprisingly "able," and until Monday was still in her home, my wife's sister Esther serving as caregiver for some years now, and when the roll is called up yonder *she* will be there.

If there is, indeed, a "yonder" and Justice minding the door.

But Monday my mother-in-law went into the hospital -- again, but this time at least one of her doctors says it's time she went into a home, adding, "She won't be coming back."

There is not a good moment for this sort of thing, but this week is a particularly bad moment because we are on the verge of signing up for a reverse mortgage because my mother-in-law has managed to outlive her money. Her only remaining asset is her home, which isn't actually hers but is sort of hers.

(It's half mine! Sort of.)

My wife and I can, in fact, get a reverse mortgage on the house, the terms of which are tied to my mother-in-law's health. If she dies (obviously) or if she permanently moves out of the house, we are committed to selling the house.

This is now a vexed point because the upfront costs on a reverse mortgage are considerable, which is compensated for by the fact you don't have to pay any of them until you sell the house. But if you *immediately* have to sell the house, your effective interest rate is astonishing.

So that's where we are. If mum-in-law goes into a home, we are going to need cash, and we've taken a beating (like everyone else) in the financial meltdown, so we need to find that cash in the Winter Haven property. So, now perhaps an equity loan is the way to go? Or can we even get one???

It's a muddle, and we have 48 hours to try to figure it out. But at least we are receiving looks of admiration. Several folk have displayed various levels of disbelief at the fact we are not chucking the old lady in a home, getting her on Medicare reimbursement as soon as possible, forcing a sale of the house and taking that cruise I've always dreamed of, the one to Alaska in a hundred-passenger cruise ship where you actually get to ride a whale or something.

Well, what are you going to do? I love my wife, and my wife loves her mother.

Hey, baby, what you want for your birthday? I got half a house I'm not using. Nah, go ahead. Take it.

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Sunday, March 08, 2009

Be Your Own Medici, or Mrs. Robinson Saves the Republic

CougarImage by digitalART2 via Flickr

Talking yesterday with the indestructible G., who is typical of our successful USF journalism grads in the sense that he was a self-starter, finding internships, cultivating would-be employers, working like a dog at successive internships and jobs, in short, taking the rough map sketched on the back of the napkin and venturing out into the unknown, brave and bold.

Or, to put it another way, we are not a big journalism program. We don't manufacture journalists, though I think we are pretty good at "enabling" those who already know what they want to be.

And, in fact, enabling is a pretty good word, suggesting as it does that a career in journalism is a kind of addiction. Which it is. And now a technological and financial climate change has reduced the supply of stuff, as it were. Where do you get your job, i.e., your work-as -fix, as news organizations crumble?

So I'm talking to G.

Turns out he and an acquaintance were talking about the plight of the young journalist today, about how innovative economic models for paying reporters to go get the news may yet emerge, but that, at best, for some time to come journalists both young and old will continue getting dumped into a trough of non- or under-employment.

That's best case. Let us hope this bleak abyss is merely the perigee of what will prove to be a sharp "V" of collapse and recovery, and that after a brief season of famine, new jobs will emerge, and once more this rag-tag army of vagrant journalists will have work-with-a-paycheck, doing what they love to do.

But meantime -- even if the future is brighter than it looks -- times will be tough. As I said: That's best case.

Well, G's acquaintance suggested that perhaps it's time for you (G, smiling and being smiled at) to find your own foundation support, as it were, your own "non-profit" sponsor. It's time you found yourself your own personal Cougar, she said, to collaborate in this great enterprise of news gathering during these hard times so that you can continue to do the reporting you love and the nation needs and thus help preserve the democracy, as journalism is supposed to do.

This giver of advice being herself a Cougar, G. noted, for he has the reporter's sharp focus on relevant detail.

To which I can only say: Every art must have its patrons. Same as it ever was.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Huh. It's Always Darkest Before the Dawn?

Living Through a Computer Mishap

Yesterday I "cracked" my laptop display, as the photo above illustrates. Finally having plugged the laptop into an old Dell monitor I had lying around, I am now able to do my usual, somewhat awkwardly and sans mobility. I think I also jangled the computer's guts because today has been a long struggle to print out the student's stories that I was supposed to have graded yesterday and today but will instead grade tomorrow and Sunday.

Why is it I do not just allow but actually enjoy allowing the students to turn in their stories by email, usually with a midnight deadline. I suppose there's a faux journalism quality that I am trying to replicate, arranging a schedule so that students naturally end up pushing against the clock.

Or perhaps it's all a kind of covert sadism, just another bit of passive-aggressive pedagogy.

This time it blew up on me. The computer and its false efficiencies! It's a kind of religion, isn't it, this belief that the machine is answering our prayers rather than throwing snares at our feet?

Friday, March 06, 2009

Oh No. You Don't Live Longer. It Just Seems Longer.

Sleeping catImage via Wikipedia

From USA Today

The greater the drop in cholesterol from taking statin drugs, the more sexual pleasure is reduced, suggests a study due Friday at the American Psychosomatic Society meeting in Chicago.
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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

He's My Student. He's Out of Work.

Rat - RatteImage by gynti_46 via Flickr

He's got an idea.

Young is a damn fine thing to be. There's nothing to fear, and you're stuck like a dope with a thing called hope.

I was only 31 when I jumped ship (there was a push in there somewhere) and became a journalist, leaving academia behind.

And then, when that gig got rocky in the 90s -- I looked into the distance; I saw the rocks -- I jumped off that ship and came back.

Every time nemesis has come calling he's found a forwarding address.

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This Morning the SF Chronicle's Own Don Asmussen Made Me Laugh Out Loud

Here's the whole panel.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

BBP Pointed Me at This

Click and it grows. From Salon.

Pissed: Day Seven, or Revenge is a Dish Best Served with a Merlot (Which Means It's Not Much of a Dish)

Robert De <span class=

Don't get mad, get even. Right?

Not really. I suppose if one is actually injured, one's career derailed, one's character defamed as clearly defined under law, then well yes:

Wait by the trail and pounce.

But, if as in my case last week, it's really just a bruise to the ego, a moment of disrespect, better to concentrate on grading stories and preparing for the fantasy league draft. One mustn't let all that testosterone go to one's head. (Make that "ascend." Good to remember where it originates.)

So many of these "man" moments just get you into trouble. I was talking with E. this morning about the football players missing in the Gulf of Mexico. She wondered why they didn't turn toward shore once the wind started to kick up, and the waves to rise.

"Well," I said, "when you've got a small group of guys, the courage of the most courageous is the courage of the group."

And then I thought and then I said. "Or, to put it another way, the foolishness of the most foolish is the wisdom of the group."

Because who wants to be the wuss who says I'm getting a little scared; let's get the hell out of here.

It's a man thing. You wouldn't understand. Wait a minute. Yes, you would, my very darling dear.

So we circle back to the notion of the absence of anger and the concomitant necessity for revenge. Heck, I'm not even angry, just pissed off, and the latter phrase makes a fine distinction, rich in connotation of the maleness of the impulse, the hyper-sensitivity.

"You talkin' to me?" That kind of thing.

Also, how many of us have carefully and obsessively planned on handing it back, slight for slight, and then actually carried out that plan? Sounds like work to me. Better just to behave in a generally disagreeable way to everyone, always staying just a little bit ahead of the game.



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Yeah. Yeah.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Power Outage, or Mr. Blackout Spreads the Word

Had lunch today with .... Doesn't matter with whom. It was one of those instances where I said to "companion" that I'd like to help you, but I can't.

Sometimes that's code for, "Of course, I have the power to help you, but I am not going to. And because I have the power, a power that you will continue to both fear and covet, I need not be honest with you. I can tell you a lie. But you know and I know that the truth is: 'I don't want to help you, which explains the absence of helping at this particular juncture and at all future junctures.' "

But in this case meaning is as meaning said: "Would love to make it happen. That and a nickel gets you a presidential bas-relief."

Sunday, March 01, 2009

I Repurpose a Comment Left at 'Reflections of a Newsosaur'

Lifeboat (film)Image via Wikipedia

[Reflections of a Newsosaur] New comment on SF Chron plan: Web fees, job cuts, givebacks.


....J.Michael Robertson has left a new comment on the post "SF Chron plan: Web fees, job cuts, givebacks":

Here's an unpleasant thought. If you assume that what is precious and must be preserved is the paper's content -- and thus its content makers -- the Guild members who take this sacred trust seriously now have a responsibility to throw all the other newspaper unions under the bus. Perhaps, back in the day union solidarity maintained wages and benefits for all -- though during my time at the Chronicle the Teamsters were really the only union that mattered and when they cut their own separate deals we all fell in line. But today under the theory that any and all must be sacrificed to the preservation of editors and reporters .... You remember the movie Lifeboat. Put the weak over the side and let them drift away.

Has it come to this? It really is a question of where the greater loyalty lies, and how serious you think the loss to the community will be if the Chron dies or shrinks back into only an online presence.
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