Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Letters to Alton: Eat the Rich

Thomas WolfeImage by cliff1066™ via Flickr

Alton, which formal address gives tone, and one thing we still have is *tone*. I will be teaching feature writing this fall – if my handful of students (just six) don’t slip away before classes start next week. It’s a class in which half of the students will get A’s because I will push them toward playing with the moment, selecting the details that set the frame (their frame) of the event, listening for the bits of high conversation, perhaps even putting their own POV in their directly – though never ever an “I.” In short, I encourage them to be "literary" and so generously reward the attempt that if you do the work, you get a good grade. This makes the class more fun, of course, and I am no longer interested in making them suffer in the name of rigor. The world rewards a lot of things, and good work is only one of them, and punishes a lot of things, and good work is *certainly* one of them. How jealous some are of excellence.

So I look forward to feature writing. The first exercise the first day of class will be sending them out to campus to (singly) pick a campus elevator and ride up and down for half an hour and bring back “the story.” Some of them will simply be an eye. Some of them will bring back a personal tail of how they were challenged or engaged by elevator riders wondering why they just keeping going UP and going DOWN. So, yes: fun.

Now you walked me through your politics, which journey I much enjoyed. My basic approach is kind of cynical but very personal. I actually wish the Democrats really were engaged in some serious class warfare! I just love seeing prosperous folk taxed because they live so rich and then they howl so loud when you claw some of it back. This comes, I guess, from my blue collar background. When I was in therapy back in the 90s – I had locked up on my progress toward tenure so I auditioned three psychologists and picked the mean one, the bitch. After some months said, with what seemed genuine surprise, “You really are serious about this class resentment.” Now, if she had added: “But I also think that you personally have the attitude that Churchill ascribed to the Hun -- ‘He’s either at your feet or at your throat,’” I couldn’t have denied it. I’ve always been too deferential to people with power simply because they have it. Now folk who make $250,000 plus a year – which we have done a time or two but only late in life – may work hard or they may be lucky or they may have inherited it or they may have stolen it, but in any case I am comfortable taking some of it (or giving some of it up) just *on principle*, which is that even Adam Smith would have puked at the sight of some of the self indulgence we now see among the mega rich. I think a lot of middle class people work pretty hard and deserve a decent share of things. *This is, among other things, a “moral” position, which means individual and arbitrary.*

How does this approach work out empirically? Are the wise stifled and the mob engorged, tick-like, with the blood of their betters?*

It’s case by case, isn’t it? It’s a question of how much waste you can tolerate to get a little good done? Every politician has a little bit of a con going on, some little self serving thing, going on, so let the horse trading begin. What this resolves into is all kinds of problems and resentments at the Democrats, those sanctimonious, self-serving bastards, and utter loathing for the Republicans who really are Know Nothings (in the modern misunderstanding of the term). I mean, denying global warming and defending BP and trying to deny Muslims the right to build a mosque on a spot they bought with good hard Yankee dollars.

And so my rant is richly vague, not a political philosophy but certainly an attitude. The average politician is a nasty piece of sausage - bug bits, rat hair, flecks of excrement. Eydie was working for Oakland when Jerry Brown was mayor, and every time she encountered him filled her with greater disdain. But I’ll still take him over the eBay lady intent on buying the election who is too scared of the press to talk to any. Oh yes I’ll take a Democrat over a Republican seven days a week. And, of course, in the long run we are all dead, and political enthusiasm is so much middle class self inflation. Yet I still think that some political decisions do make things better.

After recess, we will discuss this elusive “better.”

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

15 Most Overrated American Writers?

Image representing Huffington Post as depicted...Image via CrunchBase

Showed up on Huffington Post. Boy Koppy, of the LA Koppys, started a conversation.

From Michael, a journalism professor in San Francisco:
(Yeah, yet ANOTHER "Michael" -- every fuckin' Johnny-come-lately Tom, Dick and Harry is named Michael, dammit....)
That was fun to read because of the apparently well-informed animus of the critic, well-informed in the sense that he makes big claims based on vast knowledge of books and theories and *I* don’t know enough to challenge him. As for the list, I’ve never read a single word by most of them, which is rather embarrassing. But I read all those other older books in grad school, the contents of which I promptly forgot, so I have no illusions about having missed much. I have read a little bit of Billy Collins and a little bit of Mary Oliver and rather like them. Criticism of poets asserting that most of their work is crap is not a legit criticism from my point of view. I don’t see a book of poems as a linear accomplishment to be judged intact. If you do a few poems that stand up, that’s enough. (You may say this is the lazy man’s approach to literature – the ‘anthology’ approach, which means you only have to read the stamped and approved – and I won’t argue.) But I’ve read some Collins and Oliver that gave me pleasure. And if the earth did not move in those instances of pleasure, somehow I no longer expect it to.

John Ashbery: Read again and again that he’s great and tried some poems in the New Yorker. Left me cold. Helen Vendler: I thought she was poet and critic?? Doesn’t matter; haven’t read her either. Amy Tan? Confident I didn’t need to read her. Michuko Kakutani? The fact I have not gone to the trouble to spell her name right says it all. I do recall I have never been impressed by her reviews, though I never paused to figure out why. I knew the names of some of the rest of the list. But some of them I heard of for the first time.

What I was most impressed by was the effort on the part of the critic to grab some spotlight for himself. Perhaps, he will manage to start a few conversations. I now feel “prodded” to make an effort to read some of these folk again, or for the first time. Such over-the-top condemnation clears the field as it were, dynamites the dam, leaves some space for me to have a few modest opinions. Maybe I’ll come back and read the comments.

And Anis Shivani : my eyes are on *you*. I will talk about you at cocktail parties.

From Bob, a comedy writer and author in Berkeley:
I've heard of Amy Tan, of course, and read a short fiction by Foer in the New Yorker which I thought was okay, and The Something Life of Somebody by Diaz, which wasn't bad, but frankly I've never heard of any of these other writers. I get the impression that they mostly write for one another. I suspect I would enjoy almost anything by Bill Bryson or Carl Hiaasen more than I would these writers, but it's a near certainty that I'll never find out.
From Jerry, a travel writer also in Berkeley:
I'm finding in my own writing that 'themes' I immerse myself in help me to at least get something down, esp w/all the travelling all over my peripatetic other half still wants to do. Like this, from my 6-word 'nevel' series: "If only now, then always now." Ersatz Buddhist or song-lyric in future, who knows, but it helps keep the creativity flowing. And as for poetry (which I was never a big reader of), I have recently discovered Mary Oliver. Fantastic! Inspirational, without all the pretense. Check her out!
From Alexandra, a French reporter in Johannesburg:
As always, the point of this is that just because (in this case all these 15 writers) win the accolades or have these books in print isn't guarantee of quality of writing. The critic is probably as much jealous as correct with his thinking. I don't know any of those American writers, but it doesn't matter. Awards, academic jobs, good reviews, money are not the result of talent except of sales talent. As you always say yourself, Michael, ultimately success is only selling. This is sad cold facts. Today more than in history but it has always been this. The unknown beautiful tree falling in the forest is most often decayed to unrecognizable when the remains are finally found and gathered for only firewood. But a known tree (a tree with a publicist) doesn't have to be beautiful.
Thanks to all who contributed.
I should start a fuckin' blog on these questions....
But there's still three ice-cold Buds in the fridge. THREE of 'em!
And it IS a hot day....

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Saturday, August 07, 2010

A Cat-Naming Contretemps as Captured on Twitter

"The Names" by Don DeLillo.Image via Wikipedia


Just Googled 'Leonardo da Kitty" and got no hits. Look like our new cat has a name. 31 minutes ago via TweetDeck

Oh noes. Pater da former student hit the Google and found multiple Leonardo da Kitty refs. Let's keep it a secret from our kitty, guys.
7 minutes ago via TweetDeck

Okay trouble. E. does not want new kitty to have name intended to be unique that isn't. Common name that we know is common is all right. 2 minutes ago via TweetDeck

Stay tuned. 1 minute ago via me
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These are a Few of My Favorite Things: Two of Our Dead Kitties, Pat's Dog Rose

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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

I Don't Want the Future to Look Like Me, Just Think Like Me

By which I mean simply that ideas matter more than melanin, a thought prompted by this "duh" quote from the fabulous Josh Marshall.

But more important it brings up the question upon which all of this madness, birtherism and the like turns. Will America forever be a white country? For any demographer, this question has answered itself for many years. But the very existence of Barack Obama has startled a significant part of the population into realizing what the rest of the world has known for some time--that the day fast approaches when America will no longer be majority white--not just in population, but in governance and culture. It is only through this prism that the the new political hysterics can be understood.
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Sunday, August 01, 2010

Never Waste a Good Letter: Hello, North Carolina

Cover of "The Tipping Point: How Little T...Cover via Amazon

God you read a lot in what seems to be a pretty active retirement. I *skim* a lot, wandering the net as I look for examples for journalism class -- examples of good writing, good reporting, good organizing, good gatekeeping and, of course, bad examples of all that and more. I save all sorts of things on the computer and use so few of them because teaching journalism is all about the basics, collecting some facts that may be "facts," understanding that having collected enough information to make a good judgment about including/emphasizing only some of that information is a clear and present manifestation of the inevitable imperfection of human knowing and human sharing .... But, hey, if you wade too deep in these waters, suddenly you seem to be teaching *against* the aims of a basic reporting course. You are suggesting it's too flawed an enterprise to attempt. Well, we don't believe that. We get out of bed in the morning and do our best. So should everyone else, including all the poor young journalists. There are limits on knowing but we should still try to know, right?
That's a long excuse for not reading much anymore in the long forms, either fiction or non-fiction or poetry or essays. I read news and news about news and some thoughtful analysis of news by scholars, though less of that than I probably should. God, I hate jargon but maybe only because I'm not very good at it. I don't play well with others when it comes to pitching scholarly ideas. I once had an article rejected by a reader because, as he wrote, Dr. Robertson "seemed to be under the misapprehension he should be entertaining." Ah. Enough of that.
We are still pretty much yellow dog Democrats. As I like to say, the Dems are in the pocket of big business but the Repubs are an organ inside its body. The Republicans really are more vigorous in their "know nothing-ess" when it comes to science -- global warming and so on. We were talking about this after going to Biltmore with you. You really can sink into comfortable despair about modern politics and curse both parties and all parties. It really is an intellectually defensible position, particularly if you are older, with maybe ten years of decent life left, and money in the bank. But by temperament, I choose to think it's worth hoping that -- if the world is not going to move forward (in terms of my definition of such) -- perhaps we can slow things down as the world slides back into the abyss. So: an inch of difference between the D and the R, but I live in that inch! So: We give some money to the Ds and try to be ready to engage in rational poltitical discussion when given the chance in the hope that Malcolm Gladwell is right and there is a tipping point and I will be the one who says the thing to the right person at the right time and thus the world will be saved.
Well, there you go.


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Saturday, July 31, 2010

F&*% You, I'm a Genius

banner ShakespeareImage via Wikipedia

Reading a review of a play in the NY Times this morning, I had an idea so amusing, so filled with promise of future pleasure, I really do have to write it down before it sinks into the boneyard of all those other little spritzes of inspiration that I thought I could not possibly forget, so wonderful were they.

Because, so often, I would forget. I would wake up remembering the fact of being inspired, but there was no meat on the bones, just a memory of the moment but not the stuff itself.

Anyway, as I read the review my thoughts ran on two tracks: admiration for the work behind the play being reviewed -- the patience; the suffering; the multiple rewrites -- and for the review itself, which was giving me such pleasure, second-hand but useful in all kinds of ways, including now having one little bit more of cocktail chatter.

And the idea came to me. Why not write reviews of my own towering works of genius? I don't mean of my actual towering works of genius, but the ones I will write or might write or could write or at least can think about writing. Two for one! Efficiency squared!!

So, yeah, I am going to be doing that from now on when I have the time and if I think of it and if someone reminds me. They don't have to be long reviews, after all. Some can be those little follow-up thumbnails you see when the book comes out in paperback or the DVD of the movies arrives or the community playhouse licenses the Broadway hit from seasons past.


Two-fisted Fighting Poet Doc Scores Again

Encumbering a one-man autobiographical play performed by its author with the thumb-in-the-eye title of "F*&% You, I'm a Genius" is the sort of provocation that begs for a reviewer's most crisp rebuttal:

No, you're not.

But it's a mark of local teacher/scholar/playwright J. Michael Robertson's talent that this reviewer came to scoff and stayed to cheer.

It's a critical chestnut: Show, don't tell.
The facts are the argument -- when they are undeniable. And when it comes to charming the skeptic, that's what Robertson did last night in a three-hour monologue describing the initial resistance to his reintroduction of iambic pentameter to the Broadway stage and, quickly thereafter, to Hollywood itself, by letting his fists do the talking.

From his first "F*&% you" to his final "and if you don't like it, you can kiss my a**," he commanded his audience, even though the performance was done in total darkness, Robertson's only instrument his thrilling baritone.

Is this what it was like to be alive at the dawn of Shakespeare?
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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Movie Clips of Killing, Maiming, Typing with a Clever Song Underneath about Writing Mystery Novels

Thank you, Gayle.

Cat on a Leash: Never Rely on Anecdote, but Still...

IMG_0042Image by Spencer9 via Flickr

A story in Salon that at least made me rethink the possibility. And what a funny paragraph.

In five years of living in New York -- a city that prides itself on its vast parade of human experience -- I've only seen one cat on a leash. (Putting the ratio of strangers' penises to leashed cats at 2:1.) The New York Times wrote about a real estate broker on the Upper West Side who leash trained his cat, which suggests just how remarkable the feat is. Even the phrase "cat on a leash" has a campy spark of the impossible, like something you'd see in a Farrelly brothers movie...
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Monday, July 26, 2010

A Friend Thanks Us for a Gift of Tea

George Bernard Shaw expressed doubts about the...Image via Wikipedia

Dear A:

D left the nicest message on the answering machine yesterday. Too bad we weren’t home to glow with pride in real time. Where we were was at a matinee performance at the California Shakespeare Festival of Shaw’s “Mrs. Warren’s Profession.” I have a notion you were exposed to that play during run-up to prelims, i.e., you came across a reference in a book saying it was Shaw’s first play and that the title character's profession was prostitute/madam and the play was controversial. And you (if you were like me) thought, “Well, that couldn’t possibly have been entertaining given the constraints of 1894 – couldn’t have been entertaining then or now.”

So it was curiosity that drove me to insist we add Mrs. W. to our CalShakes playlist, kind of “academic,” you know, feeding the knowledge center and telling the pleasure center to shut up and sit down. Thus, it was quite a shock to find so much pleasure in the production. Shaw was a champion of the well-made play, and this is well made (though a bit static in the setup: two folk sitting and talking at one another like talking heads on a news set). I don’t think it was just the acting that made it plausible that a Cambridge math whiz would excuse her mother for her life as a prostitute (an inevitable and appropriate accommodation to the oppression of women under capitalism) and then condemn her for her life as a madam (a morally indefensible embrace of the exploitation inherent in capitalism).

It plays better than it summarizes.

The pleasures of living in the Bay Area in a nutshell: Too much good stuff. And we hope you drop by – singly, or with D, or (like James Dickey) with some woman you met on the plane. (But we would much prefer D.)
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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Let Me Die Obscure and Forgotten

Reading the newspaper: Brookgreen Gardens in P...Image via Wikipedia

Journalists do have their loyalties, to their former colleagues and thus, by extension, to themselves. A day or two ago the Chron ran an obit for Bob Bartlett, whom I remember from my own newspaper days. He quit in 1985 to practice law in Montana.

But the wine remembers. Or maybe I mean the drinkers remember.

For, indeed, I do not recall socializing with Bob in the newsroom but do recall having drinks with him at the old M&M, my own dear newspaper bar my association with which plugs me into something greater than myself, that is, the damp lies of clever journeymen content providers from back in the day in which the providers actually went out there and waded in the content.

He was kind of a blowhard, I recall, and *that's okay*. Modesty is ingratiating, but it's not very interesting. (And I will play the fool for you if you play the fool for me.)

Anyway, he died and some old guys in the Chron newsroom followed the accepted practice: When a former colleague dies, you give him an obit -- which is more or less an act of giving the profession, and thus yourself, a valentine because, as you read the obit currently on the table, you imagine your own obit when the time comes and how noble the great enterprise was.

I put in 11 years at the Chron and have stayed local as a "journalism educator" -- note the sly,self-effacing irony of the quotations marks -- so if I die tomorrow I will get my obit. (Here's looking at you, Nanette.)

But as I wrote to old Chron colleague JC, in his retirement fortress in Arkansas, it is my goal (as it should be his) not to have such an obit, not by declining the honor, but by outliving the very newspaper in which it would appear. (Sad: We will be dust as will the horse we rode in on.)

If we but only endure, it would seem the Chron will be a web-only enterprise, compiled by algorithm or outsourced to India. A tree will fall in the forest, except it will be the last tree in the forest.

And thus we will have the last laugh with no one to hear it.
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Among Other Things, This Would be Good for My Advanced Journalism Students to See and Ponder

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Lady Rose and Her Attendants

This is the continuing saga of our visit with Big Pat's dog Rose while he cavorts in Brazil, a big man in a small thong on a bright white beach. Rose (like the kids) is all right. She sleeps a great deal and eats quickly. Pat has Rose on a regimen: She eats at 8 a.m., noon and 5 p.m. She is to be given *slightly less* than one scoop of dry dog food moistened for exactly 20 minutes.

She is to be given no treats and no table scraps, though any tidbit that falls to the floor is fair game for her, assuming we are not inordinately sloppy. She gets five walks a day for the purpose of elimination, though we take her out more often than that because we are both afflicted with "weak bladder," so we empathize.

This visit isn't going to turn us into dog people, but we do appreciate Rose's individual appeal. She is a gallant little thing, given the fact she has epilepsy, and occasionally gets the quivers, and has some back problems, so she can "hardly wiggle" (as E's mom use to say at the end of a hard day).

Rose in a nutshell: quivering but not wiggling, if you want to get technical.

I don't know why this is, but when I take her out in the yard -- she likes being on her leash; it seems to give her security -- we do what needs to be done with dispatch. She sniffs, she eliminates, she totters back toward the house.

But when E. takes her out, Rose is far more adventurous, leading E. down the walk toward the neighbors where The Madness That is Torri the Neighbor's Jack Russell Terrier jitters and yips behind their gate.

E. says it is because E. is easily dominated, but I say it's a simple case

Cover of "Thelma & Louise"Cover of Thelma & Louise

of Hot Girls Together, just another chapter of Thelma and Louise.
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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The White Squirrels of Brevard, North Carolina

I wasn't skeptical enough to think I was being "sniped" when our friends Al and Demi insisted one of the attractions of their new home town was its white squirrels -- not albino squirrels but offspring of the mating of local squirrels and an Asian white squirrel brought home by a serviceman after World War II that escaped into the woods.

That's the local legend, anyway. (Here's another version, with a carnival atmosphere.) I don't know what in the hell they are, but they're oarful cute.

I don't think I was skeptical when they shared tales of ebony and ivory -- the regular squirrels and the white ones -- cavorting in the treetops. I don't think I seemed skeptical. But certainly our hosts were inspired -- driven, even -- to spend a couple hours taking us around Brevard until, dammit, we saw a white squirrel.

Which we did. Look, see, marvel at some real Hollywood rats, ready for their closeup and/or the red carpet at a Hollywood premiere.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Renaissance Fool

Cover of "Renaissance Man"Cover of Renaissance Man

Better get that phrase out there so I can start collecting royalties. By it I simply mean that if the growth of the net is turning us all into shallow water fish, then the Renaissance Man who knew a lot about a lot has become the Renaissance Fool, who knows just enough to crack wise over a broad range of the topics.

Oxymoron! One becomes vigorously lazy if you know what I mean, and you would if you felt like going to the trouble.
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Sunday, July 18, 2010

We Have a Visitor!

Brazil-<span class=Image via Wikipedia

Patrick is off to Brazil, and we are entertaining Rose while he is gone.

She's a very quiet dog. She needs to piddle five times a day, an activity she does not like to undertake off-lease, which is interesting. Apparently, she likes the security of limits, which may (or may not) be analogous to child raising.

Not having any -- dogs or children -- we are theoretical rather than practical. Because she is very old (and very short; she is a dachshund), we are not supposed to let her sleep on the bed with us because she might fall off. That's our great fear: Rose expires through fate or illness while Patrick is gone.

I'm not sure any friendship could survive that because there would always be suspicion.

Well, possibly not in Patrick's case. He's a pretty good Buddhist. Anyway, we are scrutinizing Rose closely. Yes there she is breathing. I'm looking straight at her. And she just quivered. Unless it goes on too long, that's a good thing I'm pretty sure.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

I Now Have an iPad

Image representing <span class=iPad as depicted in CrunchBase"

... because I am fortune's fool? No. It's just that I am wondering if some device might make paying for news so easy or cool or glamorous or beautiful or convenient that, in fact, being a journalist will not become some version of the artist's life, something one loves but at which someone starves.

I think it was Paul Fussell who wrote some decades ago that being a journalist was one of the few bohemian life choices in America. But I don't recall what exactly he meant by that, if it was the low remuneration that drove his notion. I have certainly told the kids over the years that journalism did not pay well at entry level and not spectacularly at the higher levels -- unless you make it to the TV big time.

And now things are even worse with -- from one point of view -- no hope at all. Whoa. When I say something like that I am allowing myself to mingle my worries about the willingness to the public to pay for "professional" journalism with my general despair over the public's disinclination to want information that challenges its self-satisfaction at knowing enough -- Keep those nasty facts *away* from me.

Step back and refocus. Let's see if the iPad does what I have the read the iPod did, that is, coax people into paying a little for what heretofore they were stealing.

I will keep you posted. I am part of a group at USF sharing perceptions of the value of the iPad in the classroom.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Why Shouldn't I Start Blogging Again?

Cover of "Funny People"Cover of Funny People

It's not like my words are polluting the Gulf of Mexico (which puts the bar pretty low, but at least there's a bar).

Anyway, here's a thought. Since Netflix uses one's movie ratings to predict which movies you will like, a feature I do find useful when I'm in doubt, I now find myself putting up an early "in mind" rating as I watch a movie. This corresponds roughly to the practice I assume most reporters follow of grabbing onto a tentative lead as they report a single-interview story.

(You are not at ease until something is said or seen that would work as a lead. You do not want to become complacent and cease being vigilant for something better, but your anxiety level drops because you know you have, at least, *something*.)

Point is as E. and I recover from the virus we picked up traveling in the Great American South for the past two weeks, I watched some cable TV, including Judd Apatow's "Funny People." In the first half hour it earned a tentative four stars with its sour portrayal of Adam
Sandler as a hack comic actor -- which may not have been Apatow's intended reading --suffering from a terminal disease. But then AS is cured, and it became a kind of domestic comedy of reclaiming a lost love by breaking up her family, and my rating slid back to three stars, as any surprises in the script evaporated.

That's all I have to say, though (again) it applies to certain kinds of feature writing, which I will be teaching this fall. Better a flawed mishmash with bits of sparkle than coherent mediocrity -- for me anyway.

Good summer fun: thinking about what I am going to teach in the fall and hoping this time I will get it right, though considering what I have just written, better to get it really right some days at the cost of getting it really wrong others.

I can do that. I always have.
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Saturday, May 08, 2010

Why I Love Mother Jones Blogger Kevin Drum

He says Obama will probably nominate Elena Kagan, whose written record is surprisingly thin. And just why will Obama nominate her?

Because Obama seems to have almost a sixth sense for doing things that annoy me just a little bit. On most issues he's roughly in the same ballpark as me, but in the end he always seems to end up just a notch to my right. Not enough to really piss me off, but enough to keep me perpetually just a little disappointed. A Kagan nomination would fit that pattern perfectly. So I'm bracing myself for yet another mild disappointment.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Calling All League Members (A Fantasy Draft Retrospective)

Re: calling all league members!Well, before I start calling: Thank you, Peter, for another splendid hosting and feeding. I hope everyone slipped him some ‘support’ for the meal. Also, don’t forget to slip me ten for league fees. Don’t remember who did and didn’t. Well, there you go.

And now the (!) message. I don’t make a list of teams as we draft, so it would make the BCL’s life a lot easier if you sent me a list of your players. I’ve entered my team and that great sucking sound you hear is ….

Some first draft thoughts: I don’t have a sense which teams should be favored. It strikes me that for a newbie Ed collected a strong pitching staff. It strikes me that there were some great bargains in pitching, but I didn’t get any of them. It strikes me that maybe Berger should be favored simply because he spent his money often and early and should therefore (I conclude) have gotten more value because so many of us were throwing money at the better players at 1b and 2b simply because we had it.

Great fun, though. Next year Bob will be tanned, rested and ready. I have no doubt that Larry (Bubbles) Brown will make his long delayed debut. And, of course, we yearn for the banquet.

Today I count my blessings, and I have so many, even though I did not acquire any new ones at the draft yesterday.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Charge of the Light-hitting Brigade

Birth of the Internet plaque at the w:William_...Image via Wikipedia

Saturday is draft day for my fantasy baseball league. It is our 27th year, and I am the only member who has been there since Day One. For about 15 years -- through the 90s and into the zeros -- I was a league power, possibly *the* league power -- winning money about two-thirds of the time, about twice the rate chance would predict.

But I've been out of the money for three years in a row, which suggests it may all have been chance after all. Or maybe the Internet has caught up with me in just this sense. I have a little mathematical way of ranking players that seemed to give me an advantage back in the day. I was very good at finding bargains, getting players for a price lower than their actual value. If that was indeed an advantage, the Internet has undercut it, since the Net is filled with up-to-the-minute evaluations and draft lists and even suggestions of how much you should pay for players, given your league parameters.

I've tended to ignore the Net, fooling myself with the notion my pen-and-paper methods could beat the Net. And in recent years, pressures of the job have cut into my prep time.

Like this year.


Yet the draft itself is such great fun. There is much what some people would call horseplay and perhaps a certain amount of the sipping of adult beverages. I guess that's what I'll have to settle for, the process and not the result. Because tonight and tomorrow I am surely going to go online and Google "draft list" and "sleepers" and "injury risk" and hope for the best.

Oh I will keep you posted, frequently and proudly or seldom and rueful.
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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

My Droll Wife

My wife and I were talking about the strengths and weaknesses of an acquaintance, and she said she figured his greatest strength was "twittering about vegetables."

At least I think she said that was a strength.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

I Rise from the Torpor of my Sickbed to Praise Nancy Pelosi

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 06:  A ball person holds ...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

The President and Rahm Emmanuel were playing tennis for a while, but the score was still 0-0.

"We might as well stop till Pelosi shows up," the President said, "because she's the one with the balls."

This is, of course, somewhat unfair, and I give the President great credit for finally putting his nose into the Republicans' quivering gut and driving them into their own backfield, creating stumbles and fumbles --metamorphosis! new sports metaphor coming out!

But I certainly read several places that it was Pelosi who fanned the Prez with a towel as he sat bruised in his corner and threatened to make Rahm Emmanuel drink the spit bucket when the White House got shaky after Scott Brown's senate win in Massachusetts. (It's a bird! It's a plane! It's yet another sports analogy!)

Thank you, Nancy. That was no lady. That was Pelosi.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

If Robertsonesque Were a Word....?

Lincoln Memorial Washington DCImage via Wikipedia

Certainly it would be about the children because it's always about the children. But not in a bad way, for God's sakes.

(Also, note how appropriately I used the subjunctive. Maybe that's what Robertsonesque should mean: It's always about the subjunctive.)
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Friday, March 05, 2010

Kicked in the Vanity

First, you need to know that I have got my reporting and reviewing kids tweeting news and reviews this semester using the hashtags #usfreports and #usfreview.

Second, you need to know I broke into journalism as a copy editor, leveraging my Ph.D. in 19th Century English lit in a most surprising way.

And thus: the convergence of the twain.

I send a somewhat boastful email to certain USF journalism grads and also to some friends, under the subject line:

USF reporting students tweeting news and reviews.

Friend Lowell Boileau responds:

Why would the University report students who are tweeting? Is it a violation of rules? Is Hayakawa back?

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Monday, March 01, 2010

A Sort of Anniversary ... It Was 30 Years Ago Today.

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The morning of March 1, 1980, having spent the night in Bakersfield, we arose, had waffles for breakfast, tucked our three cats into the cab of the rented truck filled with all our stuff and headed north on Interstate 5. It was pretty late in the day when we hit Livermore, but we decided to push on.

And thus on the evening of March 1, 1980, we arrived in the Bay Area. We thought it would be temporary, two or three years at the most. I had gotten a job at the San Francisco Chronicle, and that (I thought) would give me the out-of-town glitter that would get me a job at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution somewhere down the line. E. was pretty sure in a year or two she would pass her architect's licensing exams, which would sent her up for a return to Atlanta, where I had been Executive Editor of Atlanta Magazine and E. had just got her degree from Georgia Tech.

Why I was looking for work rather than staying put is a long colorful story that over the years has come to bore even me. Let me just say that my only hope of staying at Atlanta Magazine was a willingness to stab my boss Larry Woods in the back -- to replace him; to become bitch of the bosses. And, having declined that, I knew I was doomed (for bosses love their bitches) and I threw a wide loose net, trying newspapers all over the country (and Time-Life Books, and various government agencies).

A job offer in San Francisco! Wondrous strange and a way station, a footnote, a byway, nothing serious and no commitment, the vocational equivalent of a one night stand -- just the kind of long bomb (a football term, only indirectly militant) that would give me the sheen you got from abandoning the South and then coming back.

Let me divest myself of that participle. It shaded into "going back." And so we never did. And now, somewhat weak, palsied and beaten down, I work on at the university simply so that we can stay right where we are, rather than cashing in our home equity and buying a mountain in western Virginia, from whence I came originally.

Ah. We went on an adventure, and it turned into a life. Ah old California friend who back in the day used to give me merry hell when I refused to call myself a Californian. Now he don't give a damn -- what you learn late is that you shed friends (or they shed you) as a snake season by season.

But I guess I am a Californian, if I am anything.

(To celebrate we went to the Chez Panisse Cafe. Not bad.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Rage Rage Against the Dying of the Right. By Which I Mean Left.

Lieberman with Presidential Candidate John McC...Image via Wikipedia

A fundraiser for the Democratic senate reelection campaign slipped through my call screening this morning. I told him off, told Joe Lieberman to go to hell, sputtered and hung up.

It felt good. We'll give to individuals, not to any umbrella organizations. I can read polls as well as the next guy.
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Monday, February 15, 2010

Canon Restores an Old Man's Faith. For a Moment.

Modified from Commons images: http://commons.w...Image via Wikipedia

On our recent salon recon to Crockett to see if the town has the amenities, the intellectual stature, moral fiber and general je ne sais quoi (that quality being the last refuge of the person who just can't make up his mind and doesn't know why) to host a Patrick Finley Memorial Poetry Salon, I was distressed when my camera failed to capture certain amusing pictures of people drinking too much, chewing too much and generally failing to moderate the aperture on their upper orifices.

Friend Richard Anderson said that my camera has the very problem his Canon fell victim to a while back, but that the company was ready to repair the problem, no matter how old the camera. A quick click on the proper link, and I was soon reading the following:

Thank you for contacting Canon product support. We value you as a Canon customer and appreciate the opportunity to assist you. I am sorry to hear that your A95 camera is displaying symptoms of the CCD sensor failure.

It has recently come to our attention that the vendor-supplied CCD image sensor used in this Canon digital camera may cause the following malfunction: When the product is used in recording or playback mode, the LCD screen and/or electronic viewfinder may exhibit either a distorted image or no image at all. While reports of this malfunction have been rare in the United States, we have determined that it may occur if the product is exposed to hot and humid environments.

Based on the information you have provided, it appears that you may have encountered this issue...

They say send it back on their nickel. I am unaccustomed to so ready an embrace of responsibility from a manufacturer.

The Long Slow Slow Long Slowlonglongslow Death of American Journalism

First cover of The Atlantic Monthly magazine. ...Image via Wikipedia

This from Oboglo.

"America has in fact transformed journalism from what it once was, the periodical expression of the thought of the time, the opportune record of the questions and answers of contemporary life, into an agency for collecting, condensing and assimilating the trivialities of the entire human existence, [...] the frantic haste with which we bolt everything we take, seconded by the eager wish of the journalist not to be a day behind his competitor, abolishes deliberation from judgment and sound digestion from our mental constitutions. We have no time to go below surfaces, and as a general thing no disposition."

Journalist W.J. Stillman, writing in The Atlantic Monthly about the negative influence of the telegraph, 1891.

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Whatever Happened to Shoe-Leather Reporting?

Where Do Stories Come From?

A national survey, conducted by Cision and Don Bates of The George Washington University, found that an overwhelming majority of reporters and editors now depend on social media sources when researching their stories. Among the journalists surveyed, 89% said they turn to blogs for story research, 65% to social media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and 52% to microblogging services such as Twitter. The survey also found that 61% use Wikipedia, the popular online encyclopedia.

Most journalists said that social media were important or somewhat important for reporting and producing the stories they wrote.

Importance of Social Media to Journalists (% of Respondents)

Degree of Importance

% of Respondents



Somewhat Important


Neither Important nor Unimportant


Somewhat Unimportant




Source: Cision Social Media Study, October 2009

The groups placing the highest levels of importance on social media for reporting and producing stories were journalists who spend most of their professional time writing for Websites . Those at Newspapers ;and Magazines reported this less often. The differences between Magazine journalists and Website journalists is statistically significant.

  • Journalists who spend most of their professional time writing for Websites (69%) reported this the most often, and significantly more so than those at Magazines (48%)
  • 89% of journalists reported using Blogs for their online research. Only Corporate websites (96%) is used by more journalists when doing online research for a story
  • Approximately two-thirds reported using Social Networking sites and just over half make use of Twitter for online research. Newspaper journalists (72%) and those writing for Websites (75%) use Social Networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook for online research significantly more often than those at Magazines (58%)

While the results demonstrate the fast growth of social media as a well-used source of information for mainstream journalists, the survey also made it clear that reporters and editors are acutely aware of the need to verify information they get from social media.

  • 84% said social media sources were "slightly less" or "much less" reliable than traditional media
  • 49% say social media suffers from "lack of fact checking, verification and reporting standards

Heidi Sullivan, Vice President of Research for Cision, says "Mainstream media have hit a tipping point in their reliance on social media for their research and reporting...however... it is not replacing editors' and reporters' reliance on primary sources, fact-checking and other traditional best practices in journalism."
According to the survey, most journalists turn to public relations professionals for assistance in their primary research:

  • 44% of editors and reporters surveyed said they depend on PR professionals for "interviews and access to sources and experts"
  • 23% for "answers to questions and targeted information"
  • 17% for "perspective, information in context, and background information"

Don Bates, founding director of the GWU Strategic Public Relations program, cautions that, though "Social media provides a wealth of new information for journalists... getting the story right is as important as ever... PR professionals... have a responsibility... to ensure the information they provide journalists is accurate and timely... "

For a copy of the complete survey results, please go here.