Sunday, May 31, 2009

My Natural Accent is CP (Corn Pone)

Romeo and Juliet in the famous balcony scene.Image via Wikipedia

Image via WikipediaMay write more about the CalShakes 'Romeo & Juliet' we just saw, but here's something while it's fresh in my mind. I stumbled on a review of a recent performance of R&J at the new Globe in London in which the young actor playing Romeo was highly praised. Clicked through to his Royal Academy of Dramatic Art bio and noted that his "natural accent" was described as RP.

A few more clicks and wikipedia tells me:

Received Pronunciation (RP)—also called the Queen's (or King's) English[1] and BBC English—is the accent of Standard English in England.

Let's call this RC, or really cool. RADA's "voice reels" for its young graduates.

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When a Friend Gets Dumped

<span class=Rincon Park and Cupid's Span in the Embarcadero Image via Wikipedia

I just made a reservation for next Saturday at one of the more exclusive restaurants on the Embarcadero in San Francisco. We've been there only once before, and it was painful experience in what seemed to be a very pleasant restaurant, but we were so busy at the emotional buffet we really were not able to experience the restaurant.

It seemed nice. It was certainly a serviceable background for domestic drama.

A friend of us wanted us to meet this guy with whom she had been having a long-distance relationship for a couple years. She thought she might be ready to let the thing move forward.

Not make it. Let it.

The relationship was angled forward, we were led to believe. All she had to do was take her foot off the brake and enjoy the view. Before I let the metaphor move us too far away from what I actually mean, I mean she thought it might be time to go to bed with him.

I found this immeasurably touching and quaint and possibly even wholesome, a woman in her 40s who had been spending time with somebody for over 18 months and who had not tumbled into bed, which is pretty rare, isn't it? Isn't that something people get out of the way early on to clear the air for conversation?

But our friend didn't, and her new guy maintained the relationship, asking her down south, taking her to nice places, even showing her off to his friends. So finally she thought maybe it was time to boldly go, etc. She said he was cute.

He was in town. She wanted us to meet him. I don't know if were we supposed to inspect him or he was supposed to inspect us or if it was just a box in a checklist.

Intimacy (sexual) ... Check
Friends (meet) ... Check
Friends (replace) ... Check

I assumed that if he didn't like us, we'd be checked off, which seemed reasonable to me. If were turned out to be baggage, so be it. But until our vetting was over and our fate determined, I figured our job was to bend the conversation -- either clumsily or deftly but certainly persistently -- around to our friend. If we were categorized as dim but loyal, that would be okay.

But from the moment we sat down, we knew something was off. Our friend was relating to him, but he wasn't relating to her. She was talking about him, but he wasn't talking about her. It devolved into that default man thing where the guys *joust* with one another over credentials and accomplishment, that combination of one-up and put-down that I do less than some people. But I do do it.

After the meal came all these promises about how we were going to keep in touch -- why do people do that? Since we are never ever going to see one another again, let's pretend that's not the case! We exchange business cards. Farce. Farce.

He walks away, and our friend tells us it's over, something she learned I guess that day. He's got a new girlfriend down south. They never did make it into bed. (She tells my wife later, not me.)

Of course, what I want to know is if she regrets that. There's a lesson in there somewhere. There's relief or there's disappointment or an insight for next time.

But that's a question I wouldn't be comfortable asking, though I would like to know the answer. If I'm ever going to be a novelist rather than just a journalist, I really do need to start understanding people.

Friday, May 29, 2009

She Will Not Place Biscuits in the Oven. She Has Placed Her Buns on the Bench and Not the Bed.

Borrowed from TPM who got it from the good gray Times. (Hey, I've been grading. Can't read every word in every issue.) Just telling us what we already knew.

"Some lawyers just don't like to be questioned by a woman. It was sexist, plain and simple." -- Judge Guido Calabresi, Judge Sotomayor's colleague on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, on suggestions that her tough questioning from the bench suggests a problem with her 'temperament.'

More more more unstable irony. Calling Wayne Booth. Calling Wayne Booth.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Daugherty and the Buddhist Retreat

Raisins and instant oatmeal prior to preparation.Image via Wikipedia

Daugherty is dry to the point of crisp, self-aware, *clean*. I wish I had the confidence to write like that; instead, I throw in every damn thing and hope for the best.

It’s Sunday night now.

This morning’s breakfast was oatmeal with prunes and honey. The bowl I dished out for myself contained my normal portion, but twice times larger than I needed, or, come to think of it, what I wanted.

I have my parking spot — very important, since the center is a long way down a steep, narrow dirt road. I have a camper, and it’s parked at the end of the road for maximum privacy; in fact, it’s the only spot on the property that can fit a camper. I got here early to score that. I have my spot in the Zendo: it’s second row…don’t like to be in the first row, a little too kiss-ass, but second row is just right, good view. I have my shower time; there’s only one men’s shower, and I have it to myself at 11:45. Got my pot-and-pan job; it’s the best job because it’s the first job in the morning. Got my dining spot: an easy chair next to the wood stove. Within 48 hours I have my routine locked in and am ready to defend my turf.

I see what I’m doing. I’m still doing it, but I see. It’s a start.

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Even Though I Support Gay Marriage, I Am Delighted Prop 8 Was Upheld Yesterday

Actually, I'm not, but expressing disapproval of the California Supreme Court ruling won't excite any search engines. See, of the several arts of being read, contrarianism is among the most dependable. I aired this idea more than four years ago, after Hunter Thompson shot himself.

Clarification: The post below is a repeat from four years ago. Not a word changed, not the date nor nothing.

Monday, February 28, 2005

He Wasn't Drunk or Stoned. He Was Just Shy and Very Much Understood.

I should have said this last week. It is the nature of the media, and of columnists and opinion writers in particular, to yearn for that sweet spot in public opinion at any given moment, the one that will get them read. Many things can derail the search for that personal sweet spot. Many of those things are idiosyncratic and mysterious to the writer. You open your mouth and out come the words, who knows from where. Or the words may have been stored up, prepared long beforehand, as the ant prepares its winter feast. You've been whispering this thought to yourself every morning in the mirror for ten years. Today is the day to tell the world.

But another thing that determines where on any given day any given columnist or opinion writer finds his or her sweet spot is good old-fashioned contrarianism. And if your aim is being read, contrarianism is more reliable than idiosyncracy or long-held conviction. Calculation is all too often superior to inspiration. Everyone else is saying one thing till we are sick of it. Time to say the opposite, whether you believe it or not.

This week that will happen with Hunter Thompson. It has to. It's the nature of the enterprise. Last week we wept. This week we jeer. Ross of the Chronicle may have started the ball rolling yesterday. The pendulum is swinging. The barometer is falling. The tides rises, the tide falls. We breathe out carbon dioxide; plants breathe it in. When it comes to praise, a little more than a little is by much too much.

The great circle of life asserts itself. Hakuna Matata. All together now:

Hunter Thompson, you ignorant slut.
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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

With This Ring I Do Thee Define

Now that the California Supreme Court has confirmed the legitimacy of all those same-sex couples who married during the brief window when gay marriage was legal, I'm wondering how many other "window tribes" there are, that is, select groups of people who for one reason or another gained status that was denied to those before them and to those who came after.

I'm thinking and I'm thinking ... but I'm not remembering. Surely there are some citizen categories related to wartime?? Any help out there?

Tangentially, I recall the fun we used to have back in South Africa's apartheid days ridiculing the regime's obsession with classification, though that was all about the fluidity of identity as the rules changed, the fact you could go to sleep one way and wake up another.

Just a three-minute Google search pulled this out of the Times of London.

Each year, the official Government Gazette would register the number of people who had been re-classified on racial grounds. As late as 1984 there were still re-classifications.

• 518 coloured people were defined as white.
• Two whites were classified Chinese.
• One white was reclassified Indian.
• One white became coloured.
• 89 coloured people became African.

At first, classification was based largely on "general appearance" rather than any notion of racial purity, but by 1960 the criteria had become "acceptance". It created the conditions whereby "informers" could raise questions about an individual’s classification and vendettas could be settled by casting doubt about a person’s "acceptability" as a member of a particular racial group. In the 1960s, at a cost of R20, one could lodge an objection to a person’s classification leading to an investigation of their background and social relationships.

"Should a man who is initially classified white have a number of coloured friends and spend many of his leisure hours in their company, he stands to risk being re-classified as coloured. This is a method of preventing friendships across an arbitrarily determined colour line, which is one of the objectives of present policies"

("Race classification in South Africa: Its effects on human beings", Fact Paper published by the South African Institute of Race Relations, No. 2, 1958, p. 25).

In 2010 or 2012, the electorate will vote a new wave of picket-fence and Target-store wannabes onto the island of legal matrimony, or so I hope. But, for now, at least the Supreme Court has saved us from a historical footnote that says on May 26, 2009, the state of California transformed 36,000 respectable married folk into shackers of up.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Hail to the Sonny Boy (and then things get weird)

I'm not sure where to go with this, but Memorial Day starting me thinking about my dad (see below) and that started me thinking about fathers and sons and *that* suddenly -- oh the mystery of association -- led me to the following:

Obama is my first "son" president. That is, he's the right age to be my son. Bush and Clinton were my "brother" presidents, which made me dislike the former more and the latter less -- with Clinton there would always have been girls to spare. First Bush, Reagan and beyond were all "dad" presidents, and that connects up with a different set of approving and disapproving, resentment and attraction.

That is perhaps part of the reason I find it hard to criticize Obama even when I disagree with him and think he isn't doing exactly what he promised. Not having any actual kids -- and I cannot add "that I know of" -- I'm not sure if my feelings are typical. I mean, my dad refused to be as proud of me as he should have been. But I look at Obama, and I think: damn, what a fine young man.

We shall see what this goes, this thinking of him as a gawky adolescent who's finally grown into his length and the size of his feet. But it's true. Right now he's my metaphorical sonny boy.

And now *for some unfocused irony*. I had never seen the movie, nor the clip from the movie until I went searching for a nice illustration for the preceding.

But this is a blog: no turning back.

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Memorial Day: Just Another Conversation My Dad and I Never Had

Norfolk & Western Railway Herald. Source allow...Image via Wikipedia

I wonder how many people were born on the day their fathers died? I wasn't. My question is not that gaudy a rhetorical flourish. But I was born on June 10, 1944, and I am sure the combat that day, only four days after D-day, was fierce enough that more than one soldier died in France even as his child was coming into the world stateside.

I'm not quite sure what the logistics would have had to have been to put the soldier next to his significant other nine months previous, but I'm sure it was managed.

Nine months previous to my birth my dad was exactly where he was on the day I was born, working for the N&W railroad in the switching yards in Roanoke, Virginia. He almost never worked "the road," as they called it. He liked staying at home.

His new father-in-law had gotten him a railroad job in the late Thirties, new father-in-law being a minor railroad executive. My sister was born in 1938, and railroads were -- actually *were* -- an important part of the war effort, so it made sense that my dad stayed on the job and resisted the romance of enlisting. He had duties and responsibilities.

But all this is assumed. I was occasionally curious about his sticking around, but I suppose the self-evident charms of my own existence -- for I was for many years a man of destiny, having been (of course) before that a boy of destiny -- made it equally self-evident that he needed to be home to sire my sweet self.

That's one reason I never asked him about why he didn't go to war. Also, as a man/boy of destiny, I understood it might be an embarrassing question. What didn't you do in the war, papa?

It's just another of our unasked questions. There were many. I'm sure he had just as many in relation to me: Why *did* you quit loving your Lord Jesus? Why do you seem to prefer your wife to your mother and father? Why do you seem to prefer your *cats* to your mother and father! Why won't you come home to visit more often?

Isn't it interesting that if you pile certain questions together they almost answer themselves?
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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Second Thoughts on The Third Man

Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West.Image via Wikipedia

I urge my journalism students to send copies of their stories (particularly the unpublished ones that otherwise fall silently in the forest) to their most important sources, the ones who are quoted and/or described. And particularly to their *most important* sources, if you know what I mean. You don't fiddle to flatter, as it were, but most stories a student journalist writes are pretty benign and most people like reading anything about themselves.

It's just common sense. Give people a chance to remember you, to think well of you, to be primed for a word, a wink or a nod in your favor. Oh yeah, I remember the word: networking.

One of the students in my reviewing class followed my instructions. He'd quoted a Chron man in several stories, all of which he then shared with his source. Source made a comment that struck me as odd. He said the kid's work -- which the kid had posted on his blog for easy access -- was "blog-style" writing. The oddity lay in the fact none of the reviews were written for the blog. They were written for me, and they were written in a generally conversational style I encourage the kids to try.

Shall we go back to Addison and Steele? It ain't a new style.

This rather odd comment made me think about what *my* blog style is. Look at my "Third Man" comments from a few days ago. They are no more or no less informal and casual than much of the feature writing I did in Chron days. My spelling and grammar are no more or less conventional. Indeed, I'd say the sentences are no more or no less polished. But it is "blog style" in just this way: It is unrevised and hence -- let's call a spade a spade and a Spode a Spode -- does not always quite make sense.

The form of my exposition is the same as always. But we've got some content problems here, people. What the Eff do I mean? I'm thinking on the fly, or -- to put it another way -- *beginning* to think.

This is on my mind because yesterday I read David Denby's essay on Victor Fleming in the May 25th New Yorker. This is what he said about Fleming and the Hollywood of his day.

(Michael) Sragow is immensely attentive to Fleming’s films, and he traces in detail the fortunes of all the people connected to them, but his book is held together by what can only be called the romance of movie-making in the studio era—the large, free, hard-drinking life that the men (but rarely the women) enjoyed when movies were still made quickly and relatively cheaply, craft was spoken of with respect, and art was barely mentioned.

That's what I meant about the charm of all those old black-and-white films. The filmmakers weren't choosing black and white to make some artistic statement; it was simply the tool that was in their hands if they chose to make such a statement. But -- Denby suggests -- craft was what they were about, or what they talked about anyway.

I'm saying black and white is a beautiful tool, which helps tell the story but, in the "old" movies, doesn't get in the way of the story. I guess I'm struck by the easy beauty of some old b&w because no one can be that easy in its use anymore. Hey, what if I wrote this little blog post in iambic pentameter?

Now if I had seen about a hundred times the number of movies I actually have seen, my idea might have more weight, or might even be correct. But that's the thing about talking about movies. Most of just assume we have the right. And if I'm babbling? So what?

There is a bar to clear called Blogworthy, and you can rest it on a grass blade.

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Giants in the Earth, Also the On Deck Circle

September 11th 2008 - It's not great art unles...Image by Stephen Poff via Flickr

E. and I were at the A's May fireworks game last night -- one a month and we have tickets for them all -- and saw Jason Giambi hit his 400th home run, something I will remember for

Ooooh. I accidentally hit return and .... It'll come back to me.

By the way, the title of the photo upper right is "It's not great art unless the eyes follow you."
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Friday, May 22, 2009

Giving Thanks

The Third ManImage via Wikipedia

I am thankful that I was born at such a time that black-and-white movies were not an affectation, but the best the filmmakers could do, at least the best they could do in the 30s and then the best they could do -- at least in the 40s and maybe in the first part of the 50s; I don't know enough to know that -- given the cost and difficulty of color.

I know my ignorance is showing here. I'm not really sure when color became a matter of choice -- one or the other; money's not object! -- but I do like to think that all those black-and-white movies I loved on TV were not some cranks effort to fight the last battle in a lost war, a war where the soldiers were all those ticket buyers who did want their color.

They say that kids now have no patience with the old black and white movies. They are just too odd for the kids, not the color of dreams (as they were for me) but the color of mold or ash or 'technical difficulties.' Well, I do love black and white. I'm thinking about it because over on Netflix instant, where I've paused it, "The Third Man" is racked up and ready to go. It's all shadows, mood, like the photos in newspapers used to be, the inside stuff of black and white photography.

Sure, it makes me feel old, but in just a little bit I'm not there any more, just the movie just the movie and the dream.

You know, I read the original "Third Man" in a Graham Greene omnibus I was assigned in grad school and the "hero" -- and never were quote marks used to greater or wiser effect -- gets the girl. But then again the original story was some kind of back story or treatment for the movie, as I recall. So when the hero got the girl in that version it was just Greene being soft, slumming.

Carol Reed had the best kind of "black and white" mind. All those lovely shadows, soft and hard at the same time.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Fist Unclenches

Isolation, psychiatric treatment and prisoner'...Image by publik15 via Flickr

Had a big meeting yesterday to deal with unresolved issues, murky futures and personal grievances. Given the anxiety I had going in, I'd say the meeting was an 8-out-of-10 rather than the minus-2 I anticipated. So: good news; hope.

The possibly odd thing is how let down I feel this morning. I don't feel relieved or encouraged, though I "think" both feelings if you get my drift. But down in my viscera: a void, a slouching, a lethargy.

Hmmm. I need to do some grading. That will stir the blood.
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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Sour Prediction. A *Dour* Prediction

The State Capitol in SacramentoImage via Wikipedia

Today I will vote yes for all the Cal save-the-budget props on the principle that when you combine the agony of getting the last flawed budget deal through the California legislature -- 1/3rd of the Repubs, plus one equals stalemate -- with the willingness of those Repubs to push off a financial cliff for partisan advantage, well, there are degrees of lousy. I'll take what's on the table.

But it looks as if all the important propositions will lose. And I'm thinking all those who think we can play chicken with the legislature are wrong.

I would be so glad to be wrong.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

More Important than Cats

Yeah, and harder work, too. This guy is a good guy in the only way one is ever good: by doing something good and then doing something else good.


I'm challenging myself here.

Tales of the Kitty

A hed that should be followed by a TK, for 'to come.'

Sometime this summer or fall, probably after E. gets back from her semi-annual trek to Florida to give a break to the sister who watches over Moms Landrith, we will get that basket of kittens we have been talking about ever since Oliver died in bed beside me during her Xmas trek.

I'd like a couple kittens with attendant mom. I want kittens one more time, but I dislike creaming off the cute and fuzzy and leaving mom to be executed. It's rather like what happened in Argentina when the junta killed the lefties and took their babies for adoption into their own homes.

So it will be a package deal, one last sequence of cats owned from cradle to tomb. And after that? Let's imagine we live another 20 years in decent health, sanity and finance. That's the point we'll go catless to the pound and ask for an older cat who's moments away from death. So we die in our sleep six months later? Kitty can lick our faces and then eat our noses until someone checks us out -- if anyone ever does.

Kitties have moved to the top of my Thought Queue because Brother Michael Tola pointed me at this story in the Chronicle about a vet who runs a cat shelter for cats too mangy or sick or irritable to be adopted -- to be *immediately* adopted. But a little TLC, and here's your baby.

I'm stupid about cats. It would be better if I were stupid about Rwanda or Somalia, but you can't always choose your stupid. I won't consider going to that apparently hilarious and provocative Berkeley Rep comedy The Lieutenant of Inishmore because cat murder is what drives the plot, and apparently faux dead cats are a key prop.

What will we name our new cats? It's not like naming babies, where you plan ahead. I'm not saying the cat brings its name with it, but it brings its unique catness, and in the moment catness connects with circumstance, producing a name.

Back in '71 Marty Loftis told us about a dream she had. I think it was Winn-Dixie or maybe Piggly-Wiggly -- proud regional grocery chains -- that was running a 'name the elf mascot' contest, the winner of which contest would get free groceries, always valuable to young academics.

Marty had a midnight inspiration, jumped up and wrote the inspiration down (as one should). In the morning she examined what would, she had been so certain, would be the prizewinner.


She told us the story, and thus Kitty Beanscorn got his name. It was 35 years ago, give or take a month, that he was run over in front of our house on Dogwood Lane in Raleigh, North Carolina, dragged himself 20 feet into the neighbors yard and died. Which is where I found him, still (as in quiet) in the grass.

Give me five minutes to recall that day to E.'s memory, and I bet I can make her cry, if only by example.
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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Existence Before Essence: A Teacher's Motto

"The Three Bears", Arthur Rackham's ...Image via Wikipedia

There is no such thing as a bad semester -- I mean, if no one slashes your tires or eggs your house and especially if you don't get a certified letter from the dean or arrive to find the locks changed on your office door.

No, of course, a semester could go wrong in some operatic way suitable for description in recitative. But I've never had one go bad in any of those ways. USF students are many things and one of them is: nice.

I'm talking about a very pleasant place to teach. Here at USF, typically, you come to the conclusion you've done a decent job. You have your notion -- your inner checklist -- of what good work is, and most semesters enough of the kids do enough right for you to conclude there's no disconnect between your goals and your methods.

Also, you've had enough satisfied classes, as measured by the multiple-choice tests the university mandates at semester's end (and pretty much ignores once you're tenured and promoted) to recognize the superficial signs of satisfaction that predict a good score on the "money" question: Overall, do you consider this instructor a good teacher? (rate 1-5)

But here's the good part. Sometimes, you conclude that the kids didn't learn what you wanted them to learn and/or, moreover, they understood what they didn't understand and resented you for their failure. Either or both. Either they and you are dissatisfied, or just you. And that's okay -- as long as it doesn't happen semester after semester. Your *baseline* must be success, most of the time.

If a class goes bad, in a weird way it can be exhilarating because perpetual success is boring and stultifying. (And possibly delusional. I know I may sound somewhat boastful and self-serving here. A former student reads this and replies: What? It's a wonder I didn't kill you with my bare hands, old man.)

I've had some long and interesting conversations this semester with Nick the Student, who would really like to see tenure abolished because he says too many of his teachers are in a kind of comfort zone because their lives are devoid of pressure.

I tell him good teachers create their own discomfort zone. Sometimes you conclude you tried something new, or perhaps hung onto something stale too long. And it just didn't work. Suddenly your next semester becomes much more dramatic, your next class an arena in which you have something to prove. You become the hero of your own epic, reading new books, planning new activities, doing that most daring of all pedagogical acts: drastically revising your syllabus.

It never gets boring. When I first came here nearly 20 years ago, I taught the media management class. I did the classic thing. I found two pretty good books on the topic and assigned the lesser and taught from the better. One of the suggested exercises to illustrate how one should manage was to give a student a waste basket and a bunch of paper wads and tell the student her/his task was to make a game of tossing the wads into the waste basket.

The idea was that the student would begin either by dropping the wads into the basket or by going to the other side of the room and playing long toss, but that finally she/he would settle on a midpoint where she/he was successful most of the time but not all of the time.

And when I did the exercise in class, that's how it played out. Constant success was boring. Too much failure was distressing. That's how to design tasks for subordinates, the text said.

I think that's why I enjoy teaching. It's how I choose to frame the task. Call me Dr. Goldilocks. The porridge is neither too hot nor too cold. It's just right.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Anyone Can Twitter. It Takes a Man to Blog.

GPS broadcast signalImage via Wikipedia

Sitting in class watching the reporting students work on their final. What a Twitter this would make if there were any need to Twitter it, which there is not given the fact all 13 of my students are here working away.

Of course, the deans might like knowing where I am, but I think the GPS strapped to my leg has that covered.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

USF Makes the Bottom of a Weekly Standard Article Fretting about Obama's Honorary Degree From Notre Dame

An essay worth thinking about.

My not being Catholic shouldn't mean I just stand by and smile when these controversies arise. Most of the time, I'm proud of how USF deals with the contradictions in its philosophy/theology, noting that such contradiction is inherent in all the religious systems I am familiar with. But, as I said, I'm not Catholic.

The conclusion of Joseph Bottum's essay, which first appeared in the Weekly Standard.

Any Catholic with an ounce of awareness knew this fight was coming. The ordinary Catholic Church and the Catholic colleges were bound to clash, and it's a little unfortunate that it actually spilled into public view with a visit of the president of the United States to the campus of Notre Dame. A better place to make all this public might have been the Sacred Heart University dinner this spring, which honored the pro-abortion activist Kerry Kennedy. Or the Xavier University commencement, which is honoring the pro-abortion political strategist Donna Brazile. Or the University of San Francisco graduation, which is honoring the pro-abortion district attorney (and prominent Proposition 8 opponent) Kamala Harris.

- snip -

There are reasons, however, that the struggle over Catholic culture broke into open battle over a visit of Barack Obama to Notre Dame. In part, it's simply because Obama is the president and a whole lot more prominent than Kerry Kennedy or Donna Brazile or Kamala Harris. But in greater part, it's because Notre Dame is, well, Notre Dame: home of the gold dome, the basilica, the grotto, and Touchdown Jesus. If Georgetown doesn't appear Catholic to ordinary Catholics, that's just Georgetown.

But if Notre Dame is shaky--if the most identifiably Catholic place in America doesn't seem Catholic--then the old connection between Catholic culture and Catholic institutions and the Catholic Church really is broken beyond repair. And where will Catholics send their children to school then?
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Kos Obscenities in the Mother's Milk of Newspapers and 'Sense of Community'

According to the San Francisco ChronicleImage by Thomas Hawk via Flickr

I don't agree with him completely, since I think for some people -- and not only the rich and powerful -- newspapers provided a sense of local identity, if it was only Herb Caen nattering on about cool grey fog and local drink menus. Let us not deride the great middle class and its wish to know, to belong, to understand. To some degree, newspapers focus our interest on things local and do create some commonalities.

To which I imagine Kos might say bullcrap, because he does say:

That "sense of community" thing? It never existed. Newspapers have always served the wealthiest members of their communities -- the people that will buy the stuff that advertisers were peddling. So ethnic communities have always been underserved. In San Francisco, Asians make up over a third of the population -- the largest single ethnic group in the city -- yet the San Francisco Chronicle doesn't have a single Asian columnist in its stable. Do you think the Asian community sees the Chronicle as a member of its community? Of course not. And given they were traditionally a relatively poor immigrant community, the Chron had little interest in engaging that part of the city.

All around the country, you see the major metro dailies completely ignore entire chunks of their cities. Why do you think the New York Times writes story after story after story talking about those poor unemployed Wall Street types no longer able to buy caviar or $800 doll houses for their daughters?

The reason alternate media has taken off was because the traditional media didn't deliver a product people wanted. If people felt a "sense of community" from their newspaper, perhaps they may have stuck with the product. But they don't, hence it's easy to toss it aside for the countless alternatives at the public's disposal.

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More More More on the Treachery of the *Mostly* Reliable Source

E-Media Tidbits

A group weblog about the intersection of news & technology
Posted by Will Sullivan 12:30 PM May. 8, 2009
Hoax Leads to Questions about Journalists' Use of Wikipedia
A 22-year-old student in Dublin, Ireland, recently set up a Wikipedia hoax that led several major United Kingdom news outlets to publish a fake quote after they used the socially-curated encyclopedia site to get information about French composer Maurice Jarre, who died in March. The hoax was left unnoticed for weeks.

Genevieve Carbery of The Irish Times reported this week:

"The quote ... was posted on the online encyclopedia shortly after [Jarre's] death and later appeared in obituaries published in the Guardian, the London I! ndependent, on the BBC Music Magazine Web site and in Indian and Australian newspapers.

Oh You Bitch Goddess Wikipedia

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Day for Us

A's-Jays yesterday afternoon, Dvorak's Stabat Mater as performed by the Berkeley Community Orchestra and Chorus at St. Joseph's the Worker Catholic Church last night.

I'd seen the A's lose before but never heard the Dvorak. E. seldom gives herself a full day of pleasure. I do my best to revel for two, of course.
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Friday, May 08, 2009

Today I Was the Hooky Monster

Covered Andrew's Pop Music class this morning, where a doughty youth talked about the Clash's "London Calling" during which disquisition he asserted (to which I said: maybe?) and then illustrated (well why didn't you say so?!) that the eponymous album cover is a conscious ripoff of Elvis Presley's first album.

Pink and green lettering? Same layout? A-plus, little brother, and adequate compensation for having to admit, if only to myself (oh; and to you, dear reader) that I know eff-all about The Clash other than that there was -- and for all I know still is, in some obscure Vegas lounge -- such a thing.

And there was a video! I do love a video.

This selfless act of inter-generational cooperation did not take too long, and I hit the neighborhood around a quarter to one and thought, in the spirit of inquiry, to see how long the lines were at Grand Lake Theater for the first showing of the new Star Trek movie.

There were no lines.

I stopped and checked with the box office to discover the movie had only been going for five minutes, and as the nice lady said, "It starts off slow."

And two hours later here I am. I had a good time. Having enjoyed the original series -- which I now find unwatchable, except as camp -- and many hours of the many subsequent series and movies, and always finding them an easy diversion from the pain of thinking, I am pretty much an easy mark for the brand.

I had read that the new movie used the old time-travel gimmick to reset the premise, to fudge the back story of Kirk and Spock so that we can start anew -- more movies, more series, more lunch boxes, more doctoral dissertations.

I, for one, didn't think the evolved premise -- which if we imagine it as a companion animal would be warty, hairy, somewhat cockeyed and certainly walking with a limp -- had enough of an explicit back story to need fudging.

Is it the fanboys and all those Star Trek novelizations, which have created a detailed history of people and times, any violence to which would cause a psychic tremor in all the basement and garage apartments of America where lurk the Nation of Trek?

I don't care enough to find out. Make it so Number One. Heh heh.

Turns out I liked the movie just fine. Boy Kirk may be Kirk Lite, but William Shatner was Kirk Marbled, as in pass the ham. This new captain is energetic and engaging, and not some big mope like whatsisname in the first-shall-be-last Star Wars trilogy.

New Spock just loves his mom and will bop you if you diss her. (It's a plot point.) Okay I like that. What would have been weird in Nimoy Spock -- too much mother lovin' past a certain age, and you're suddenly in Anthony Perkins territory -- does no violence to my notion of how Spock developed emotionally.

Here's a spoiler. Stop stop stop. New Spock and New Uhuru get busy, which works for several reasons, not the least of which is my hitherto unsuspected satisfaction at seeing New Kirk not get the girl.

New Bones is an actor I must put a name to, Karl Urban, the New Zealander of LOR fame. He can do nervous, testy and mildly comic. Who knew? Who knew he would settle for so subordinate a gig?

New Scotty I'll also put a name to: Simon Pegg of That Zombie Comedy. (Which wasn't the name. But close enough for zombie work.) I'm not quite sure how to put this. Pegg is genuinely funny, as in droll, understated when appropriate. I think maybe there's some *acting going on,* not enough to set a cast precedent, happily.

Much noisy and occasionally confusing hurtling through space and blowing up of things -- including the planet Vulcan, giving Spock an edgy kind of "Last of the Mohicans" vibe. (But nothing homoerotic. No none of that; cf. Spock and Uhuru getting busy.)

Some plot nonsense as the mechanisms and motives of the vengeful time traveler -- the deux ex machina, the mcguffin -- emerge, though that's the kind of analysis one does not pursue. If you are lucky enough not to see the holes in such popular entertainments, what a blissful myopia it is. Don't open the drawer and drag out the magnifying glass.

Oh. Old Spock shows up, although looking somewhat dessicated, and I swear his false teeth click. I took pleasure in his presence not for reasons of continuity or nostalgia but just because at 78 he's still coherent and continent enough to get through 45 seconds of dialogue without calling for a potty break. He's a ruin but a noble ruin, lean and vaguely Roman, suggesting in some sense I can't quite put into words that seriousness is afoot or perhaps merely underfoot, rubbing against our ankles.

I shudder to think of them dragging Shatner back on screen to bless his earlier self, Shatner, who at this stage of his life looks like an unholy amalgam of himself and the Pillsbury Doughboy.

You can't go home again, not if you can't fit through the door.
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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Post Prandial

A pleasant meal for the Media Studies majors, though not as raucous or emotional as some I've been to. The question is: Does the reality of the job market mute the mindless hope to which all graduates are entitled, college or otherwise?

Back in '66, we had a nice little war, getting worse, so let's not pity the young too much. What I tell them and what I mean with all my heart is that there's a decent probability they'll live to 150, which means (among other things) they will have a decade or two to focus up and get serious. Bartend now, save the world or make a billion later.

To which advice, if I were a kid, I would respond with a polite nod and a renewed determination to figure it all out as soon as possible. If the old man is right, I'll take the 2060s off.
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Having Plenty to Say Doesn't Mean You Say It

Cover of "Lady's Not for Burning"Cover of Lady's Not for Burning

I have posted -- really posted -- very little lately. It has been a difficult semester in many ways, and talking about it publicly wouldn't help. Oh my no.

Is anonymous blogging cowardly? Maybe. But certainly therapeutic.

In happier news, tonight we have the annual dinner for Media Studies seniors at the Villa Romana in San Francisco. That's where we had it last year, and I thought it a big success. I don't think students want their senior years to dribble away in a series of fragmented moments. This will be a pause, a signpost. Friends will be embraced. Faculty will be honored.

The last week of my own senior year of college went by well enough without such a moment, I recall. From one point of view, that last week was one big moment, a great holding of breath. E. and I had been secretly married for six months, and if that fact had emerged, even at the last minute, I would have been tossed out of school, and my lovely fellowship at Duke lost as well.

You may say: secretly married? Expelled??!! There you have Whooping Jesus Bible College in a nutshell, and why my memories are less than fond.

I'd already been expelled once my senior year, for having a roommate whose oil lamp set the room on fire. Not ciggies. Certainly not the dopeawanna, of which I knew nothing. It was just an oil lamp that turned over on his desk when we were out of the room.

What I remember -- my signpost -- from those final days is the night before graduation. (E. was driving in from Detroit the next day; we would announce our marriage to our parents in the parking lot outside the gym immediately after I had my degree in hand.)

Carl Haaland suggested we drive down to Ball State in Muncie to see a student production of Christopher Fry's "The Lady's Not for Burning."

In his car. In that vintage Volvo. I considered him quite the sophisticate.

I remember the play and then the drive back through the dark Indiana countryside afterwards, remember it so clearly. Carl and I talked about the future, and its uncertainty, but also how it was going to be okay, Vietnam or not. (As it turned out, Carl went. I didn't.)

I thought about telling him E. and I were secretly married, but ... no. No point showing off, and he was a pretty religious fellow, Volve or not, maybe more than he let on. Still, this conversation, this good fellowship, has to mean something, I thought, because this is a moment meant to mean.

But it didn't. Fifteen years later, after I had got the rest of my degrees, lost a job, moved around, come here to work for the San Francisco Chronicle, I got a note from Carl. He and his family were going to be driving through, from Arizona on the way to Oregon, and he wanted to stop by.

I wrote back saying he was so very welcome. As long as he didn't talk about Jesus. Because I didn't talk about Jesus anymore. And I never heard from him again.
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Friday, May 01, 2009

My Bookcases Have Arrived. My Pictures Are Hung. I am Ready to Entertain Callers.

The Chronicle Tour: Yes, There Were Neutron Bomb Jokes

SAN FRANCISCO - SEPTEMBER 20:  (FILE PHOTO) Fr...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

I thought the Chronicle tour yesterday was a success, if only because the students must have thought, "With all these empty cubicles, there must be room for me."

Actually, the nightmare vision of holes in the fabric of the newsroom was a little misleading. We showed up at 11 a.m., and things are busier 3p-11p, when the business of putting the paper together gets serious. But a lot of familiar faces were absent -- Rubenstein, Rubin, Carl Hall, Bonnie Lemon, Tom Meyer, plus all those who came after I left in '91 who have since moved on.

The highlight of the tour was an impromptu rant from living legend Carl Nolte (USF, class of Cambrian Era) who more or less told the kids that, lacking a business model, journalism was something they needed to put in their rear view mirrors. Our guide, the wonderful Nanette Asimov, listened for a bit and then gently disagreed, suggesting quality journalism would find its way -- e-paper, anyone? -- and that people would want it, that some "monetized" delivery method would emerge. She told the kids not to give up, not just yet, not if journalism was something for which they had Passion.

The ever cheerful Kevin Fagan wandered over and shared his impatience with the self-styled "journalists" who cluttered the weird press conference he'd covered the day before at which a woman announced her dad was the Zodiac killer. But covering the various loonies was so much fun, he manifested, and God knows he's done enough good grim work to justify his pleasure in the occasional loon-fest.

His contribution to the discussion was more one of mood: Who knows the future but so much fun in the job today.

I don't know what the kids thought. They'll tell me on Tuesday. If they show up.