Thursday, January 28, 2010

I Ask the Chron's Michael Bauer a Question about Restaurant Reviewing

RestaurantImage via Wikipedia

I love teaching my Arts Reviewing class because I haven't taught it over and over again, and it's not an area of expertise, only of interest, so it's a voyage of discovery for me and for the students.

I am, perhaps, a little unconventional in that the first review assigned is a restaurant review. I see it as a kind of bridge between feature writing and conventional review writing. A kind of "inexpertness" is acceptable because for most people it is the whole theatrical dining experience that matters, the mood as much as the meal. Remembering past meals and paying close attention to this meal really is enough for a clever person to write a readable restaurant review.

Is the readable review also useful? That's the question that hangs over every critique, since I enjoy reading reviewers whose recommendations I am not inclined to follow. It is the operation of the mind that draws you.

But at the end of the day I must evaluate the students' reviews: I must give them a grade. And one of the areas where I feel a responsibility to have an opinion -- that is, where an opinion might be useful in helping students improve, or at least learn how to satisfy my expectations -- is structure.


Michael Bauer:

My arts reviewing class is doing a restaurant review, and I was knocking together my thoughts on structuring reviews and I wondered WWBS: What Would Bauer Say?

My thoughts:

Key point: structure in restaurant reviews

Chronological method is effective in that it’s easy for the reader to follow, but it always seems a little amateurish, at least to me. One of the disadvantages in the method is that it encourages clutter – “and then the hostesss showed us to our table.” That is, you fall into storytelling mode and include bits that really don’t tell you useful information about the restaurant. Better reviewers usually focus on the points they want to make and don’t present them chronologically because that can waste valuable space and fog the emphasis of the review.

Of course, once chronological order is abandoned, it can result in an “elusive” structure. That is, we aren’t quite sure why the information is presented in the order it’s presented. Some reviews do seem to be exercises in “nut graf” structure. There’s the lead that grabs us by the nose, and then there’s the nut graf making several key points, which are developed in that order. And some reviews do have the feel of the old inverted pyramid structure, as if the points of criticism were presented in order of descending importance. And in other instances, the structure seems purely associational, which does give such reviews a kind of casual, conversational quality.

Bottom line:

Understand what sort of structure you are using or – having “jumped into” writing and having come up with a structure that works – be able to explain why you think it works.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Shutting Up about Falling Down

FaintingImage via Wikipedia

It seems to me that you have a 72-hour window to complain about non-chronic pain that is going to go away, probably in a day or two but certainly in a week for two. I think now is the time for the theater of my distress to "go dark." Just don't ask why I'm wincing a little and mincing a little. When anyone new inquires, I think that starts the clock all over again -- for them.

Anyway, I went to my regular Kaiser doc today, just to check in and to get permission to drive. He was in a rare mood, suggesting the Hayward ER guys were "sissies" for keeping me for six hours because of a fainting spell. Pain can cause a "vasovagal" episode, he said, and loss of blood certainly could. Checking out the purple mural on my thigh (and the domains that there adjacent lie) he guessed I could have dumped a couple pints of blood out into the fat and muscle, so that could have knocked me out, too.

The idea was that if he had been in the Hayward ER, he would have given me an inspirational poem and a pack of prophylactics and sent me on my way.

Now, of course, E. had already measured my thighs, computed comparative cubic volume using some calculus fudges and concluded I had lost three pints of blood as measured in cubic centimeters. As for the rest of it, my doc essentially said I should .... Well, he had no specific recommendations other than never ever riding my bicycle in the rain. That was right out, he said. But I had already figured that part out on my own.

Oh, I also told him I had to miss a departmental meeting today because of my difficulty sitting down and a general malaise (last complaint; no more).

Well, good for you, he said, with feeling.
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Saturday, January 23, 2010

I Fall Down, Go to the Emergency Room

Artist's depiction of the separation stage. Th...Image via Wikipedia

Big Pat Daugherty and I bike Thursday mornings. One week last year it was raining just a little, and I did not show up. Of course, Pat biked on, probably twice as fast and much of the time reared up on a single wheel.

I concluded I had done a timid thing. At the REI I bought a rain jacket and rain pants as if courage was all a matter of being sufficiently garish. I think the prediction this Thursday a.m. was 90 percent chance of precipitation, but it was only spitting rain when Pat and I rendezvoused at the Albany Bulb. Gradually, the rain increased in intensity, but Pat proceeded at a stately pace -- and my rain gear was working wonderfully well -- so perhaps I was complacent about an hour into the ride when I decided to move from beside Pat (I was chattering away) to behind him as we approached a curve.

I touched his rear wheel with my front wheel, jerked the handlebars to the left and went sprawling. It would seem -- and you must trust me on this for the photograph of the bruises is not suitable for family entertainment -- that I came off the seat and down on the bike frame before the bike tipped and dumped me.

I was very rude to myself, if you follow me.

I was mostly concerned about tearing a hole in my wonderful orange raincoat. I felt a little ... compromised, but I got back on the bike, and we finished up, and I hurried home so I could rush over to USF to greet our new transfer students.

I fell about 11 a.m. Around 2 p.m. I suddenly felt quite dizzy as I sat in my office. I walked down the hall to get a drink of water and fainted, absolutely terrifying several students who were nodding respectfully in my direction at the moment of collapse. They hauled me up (it took four of them) and kept an eye on me as I returned to my office.

About this time E. called. I told her about the fall, though I did not tell her about my fainting.

Which was stupid. And then I drove home.

Which was stupid.

Meanwhile, E. had called Kaiser and made an appointment for me at six o'clock at the Minor Injury Clinic in Hayward since -- not knowing about the fainting -- she assumed we might sit for hours in the Oakland emergency room.

I was quite proud that I was not embarrassed when the Physician's Assistant (female) examined my wounded man parts. They took an x-ray of my pelvic area. And I told them about fainting three hours after the accident.

It was then that I learned that fainting is apparently a Get Out of Jail Free card (in the sense of being a Get into the Emergency Room Fast card). I thought it was self evident that getting whacked in the testicles might light a fuse of time-delayed pain and somatic distress that would produce a fainting fit in the best of us.

Of which I do not claim to be.

Anyway, I was poked a bit and prodded a bit and deprived of several vials of blood as the docs explored the possibility of concussion, heart attack, pleurisy, walking pneumonia up to an including out of body experience. Around midnight they let me go, saying that my name had been turned in, and I wasn't cleared to drive until my regular doc takes a look at me sometime next week.

Friday morning I woke up *in pain* my friend -- barely able to walk, had no interest in walking, developed an aversion to the word. As I said, I had quite a nice bruise, which my wife has documented. (With the instructions, "Put your hand there. For modesty.")

I feel much better today, though when I sat down on a hard chair about a half hour ago....

The point is that riding in the rain didn't cause the accident. It was a diminution of caution caused by our slowing down because we were riding in the rain that caused the accident.

Or, as my wife says, parse it how you will, you don't have to be a CSI spinoff to diagnose yet another tragic case of testosterone poisoning.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Think Like a Canadian

Signature of Jimmy Carter.Image via Wikipedia

I'm trying to do that this morning.

Obama has in no way frustrated my expectations. I took him at his word during the late presidential campaign -- moderate, cautious, a treat for the eyes, brilliantly wordy. I thought his talk about bipartisanship was weak, and so it has turned out to be. But my hopes for him were high because at bottom I'm as irrational as the other guy. (Though I have it under better control. Most mornings my socks match.)

As it turns out Obama may really be the white Jimmy Carter -- smart, well-intentioned, unwilling to close the deal if it interferes with his sense of proper conduct, a happy failture. I really liked Jimmy Carter and still defend him as being a better president than most give him credit for being. And so it may end with Obama, a fine and decent man willing to lose on his own terms and whom I will defend with a whole litany of Yes But.

Ah well. In the long term we're all dead, and it would now appear in the short term we are all fucked.

Back to being a Canadian. The collapse of America's sense of its exceptionalism -- and more to the point our actual collapse, first a totter and then a crunch -- makes a fine spectacle as seen from Olympus, perhaps slightly less fine from Ottawa because of proximity but still rich in schadenfreude.

As seen from Oakland, of course, it's no fun at all. Fucked, as I said cutting to the chase.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Friday, January 15, 2010

And the Ethicist Says: Walking Away from an Underwater Mortgage is Not Unethical

Investors' Loan and Realty Co., Butte, Montana...Image by Butte-Silver Bow Public Library via Flickr

You and your lender buy the house together. Your agreement with the lender is that if you do not want to continue paying the lender for the right to own the house outright someday -- and own whatever value it gains in the meantime -- you give your ownership rights in the house to the lender. That's the risk the lender undertook: that it might end up stuck with the house if you decided to exercise an option specifically recognized in the loan documents. Moreover, the lender should have more expertise in predicting future real estate values than the average home borrower.

Bottom line: It's just business. Walking away from a bank loan secured by collateral is not unethical.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I Have Won the Leaf Lottery

I picked January 10, and Leaf Commissioner Richard Anderson announced yesterday that the last leaf had fallen. Here are the names of the other contestants and their misbegotten picks:

That last leaf has fallen and Michael is this season's champion.

> Total jackpot -- $13.
> Leaf Person Last Leaf Date
> Richard Anderson 12/19/2009
> Paula Lawrence 12/29/2009
> Gayle Feyrer 1/1/2010
> Tashery Shannon 1/2/2010
> Michael Robertson 1/10/2010
> Kay Anderson 1/14/2010
> Doris Anderson 1/15/2010
> Linwood Johnson 1/23/2010
> Jennifer Brown 1/28/2010
> Patrick Daugherty 1/29/2010
> Anna Damski 2/4/2010
> Reah Carrick 2/10/2010
> Kim Beeman 2/14/2010

As you can see, it was a close thing. I credit my victory to the ten-base system -- the final two digits of the year drove the selection of the specific date. This, you might conclude, is something less than an exercise in ratiocination, perhaps falling somewhat short of Holmesian deduction, even the Robert Downey Jr. version. But if the goddess chooses to bless me, I will let her open the door and walk through, for once the coquette rather than the cavalier.

I will plow this year's pot of $13 back into the pot for next year. If The Leaf Lottery is going to continue to expand -- already it has contestants in London and Dubai -- there must be a financial incentive. It's just my giving back to the sport.

Here's a video that gives some sense of the greatness that is the leaf lottery.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Why I Love Christmas, Jesus and All

It's all a metaphor for the innocence and ignorance of youth. It's one big festival of Isn't it Pretty to Think So.

In fact, as Wordsworth showed, it can be very pretty to think so.

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,

The earth, and every common sight,

To me did seem

Apparelled in celestial light,

The glory and the freshness of a dream.

It is not now as it hath been of yore;—

Turn wheresoe'er I may,

By night or day,

The things which I have seen I now can see no more.


The Rainbow comes and goes,

And lovely is the Rose,

The Moon doth with delight

Look round her when the heavens are bare,

Waters on a starry night

Are beautiful and fair;

The sunshine is a glorious birth;

But yet I know, where'er I go,

That there hath past away a glory from the earth.

We Been a Long Time Coming, and We'll Be a Long Time Gone

This is from 15 years ago. Jesus.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

When Somewhat Bad is Pretty Good: We Go to the Orson Welles Movie

Orson Welles in 1937 (Age 21), photographed by...Image via Wikipedia

Two things: E., BPD and I went to see "Me and Orson Welles" at the Shattuck Cinemas last night.

The nominal star was someone named Zac Efron, who played the male ingenue. I knew he was some kind of teen star but had absolutely no idea why. Anyway, he's plays a kid who bluffs his way into a small role in Welles' 1937 production of Julius Caesar. Without spoiling the plot for you, let me just say that if you conclude that the kid actor is not a very good actor, the plot makes more sense and the resolution is more emotionally satisfying.

However, it seemed to me that Zac Efron is not a very good actor, which is not the same as a good actor playing "bad." But maybe a good actor playing "bad" is too subtle by half and can spoil the fantasy, particularly if the good/bad actor is familiar. Hey, we know you are a good actor! And thus we fail to accept the fiction as it is presented.

Of course, any way this played out was going to be dissonant, I guess, though maybe I was just working too hard. During the movie -- which I enjoyed and recommend -- I kept wondering just where Efron was trying to pitch his performance: Was he trying (and failing) to suggest that the kid was actually a pretty good actor, which would have made the ending rather sad? Or was ...?

I guess the short answer is where is a young Richard Dreyfuss when you need him? The great thing about Richard Dreyfuss is that he always both repulses and attracts, in roles and in person.

E. had no problem with Efron. She "read" his character as pleasant, open-hearted, likeable and -- in the acting scenes -- unformed, good enough in context because in Julius Caesar he has a very small part. In other words, he was just right, not all that interesting but fine in context because the nonstop hugeness of Orson Welles would probably have worn us out.

We all agreed that the guy who played Orson Welles -- Christian McKay? That's what the credits said -- was spectacular, capturing the inner Welles and well beyond imitation, BPD said.

Then we went to the bar at the Shattuck Hotel and had a drink. I can't honestly recommend the bar at the Shattuck hotel because E. wanted a grasshopper, which the bartender did not have the goods to make. We asked him what else he might suggest -- girl drink! girl drink! I kept saying -- and there was a long silence, as if he was stupefied by the question.

I mean, the silence did not end, not until I suggested a glass of port. (I should have thought Cosmo. My bad.)

Either the bartender was a great actor, playing with us as a cruel youth might do to tottering elders, or genuinely didn't have a clue.

The Day After: Rereading this post the day after -- and I do, marveling at the greatness that was Robertson Yesterday -- I realize that I omitted one other possibility for my judgment of Efron relative effectiveness. It could simply be miscasting. Everyone else in the cast has a Thirties New York face -- big features, often eccentric, even Claire Danes who really sometimes does look like a handsome man in drag. But Efron has smooth small pretty boy features. He just doesn't look like a citizen in this particular movie.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Walking the Labyrinth

A labyrinth in Grace Cathedral, San FranciscoImage via Wikipedia

Tonight E. and I accompanied Big Pat Daugherty to "labyrinth Friday" at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco to listen to Karma Moffet play his 24 Tibetan singing bowls, his Tibetan longhorns, handbells, Tingsha Cymbals, conch drums and bone horn trumpet while we walked the labyrinth.

The music was variety in monotony, a pattern of long, low weirdly beautiful harmonic droning, and nothing about it I have the slightest qualification to be able to adequately describe. I will attest to my deep enjoyment of it, shrug and shut up.

The labyrinth is a design on the floor at the base of the cathedral's nave. It's a circle 40 or 50 feet wide containing a passage perhaps a foot wide that bends back on itself again and again and again until it arrives at the center of the design. At that point, it is customary for walkers to turn around and wind back out, negotiating your way past those who are still winding in.

After the music begins, people line up and are released onto the floor by a starter, as the starter might at a Tour de France time trial or a Winter Olympics slalom. As an experienced Buddhist meditation walker, Big Pat was somewhat critical of those walkers who "walked" -- if you get the drift of my quotation marks. They styled, as it were, somewhat self-conscious -- somewhat to very, it seemed.

But E. was indulgent. She said it looked as if people were finding what they needed to find, and if their third eye had drifted off 10 or 15 feet and was staring back in admiration, E. found pleasure in their self-satisfaction.

It's all metaphor, of course -- the idiosyncratic pace, the silence, the contemplation even as you focus on pace and the avoidance of collisions, the act of gracefully sliding by the slow walkers, and, of course, the slow walkers themselves, content to create a bottleneck for those behind them, leaving the decision of what to do in your hands (or feet).

E. and I waited a while to hit the floor, as we would at a dance, perhaps feeling a bit like spiritual wallflowers. But after 45 minutes or so I decided to get out there and get some before it was all gone -- the line certainly wasn't getting any shorter. And then we stood patiently in that line, as one might for a thrill ride at an amusement park, the thrill here being a willingness to dispense with thrills and go ten rounds (hah!) with introspection.

I quickly found my metaphor: balance. I had a very hard time keeping my balance as I walked because E. and I quickly found ourselves bogged down behind a pause-and-stare type, and so we had to pause and stay paused. I was not vexed by this. It was what it was, and, because I was not able to move continuously, the challenge not to totter was great.

I suppose I became what might appear a bit mannered, bending at the knee, making slow and elaborate movements with my arms, just trying to stay steady. Writing this I realize I may have looked quite foolish, but I was aware only of myself and of my concentration. I didn't feel foolish, and I didn't feel interesting. I felt involved. I'm not saying I didn't look foolish to myself, that I escaped self-consciousness -- I'm saying I was involved, not evolved. I say only that I did not assume others were looking or that their judgment mattered if they were.

Then we walked down to North Beach and had an Italian meal at an out-of-the-way restaurant and talked and drank and laughed. It was all the same journey.

Editor's Note: This contemporary business of walking medieval mazes is pretty interesting. If you're interested, I assume you'll Google it, as I did.

Editor's Note to Editor's Note: The blogshark keeps linking or it dies. Here's a very nice description of the Meaning of Labyrinth.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

My Computer is Working More Briskly

I found and removed an invasive program. It seems to have helped. When it comes to computers, the smallest task accomplished makes me glad.

Tweaking the Name of this Blog

2D structure of stimulant drug methamphetamineImage via Wikipedia

First, let me say I love the verb "to tweak."

I like to use it when I advise students about improving their stories when they have the basic elements of reporting and writing covered but simply need to refine their approach, perhaps simply by the expedient of reading and revising the work one more time. To me it conveys a sense of "almost there," of the fact that I conclude the students know what to do if they will only take the time to do it.

It's not major surgery I have in mind. It's just the kind of marginal improvement that moves work from "B" to "A," that final step that -- like pornography -- is much easier to recognize than to define.

"Tweak it," I say.

I do understand the kids might not be getting my point. I knew "tweaking" was also related to meth use, and I've also heard it used in relation to computers, though I always assumed it retained the conventional connotation. But then I Googled it and got:

Definitions of tweak on the Web:

  • pinch or squeeze sharply
  • pluck: pull or pull out sharply; "pluck the flowers off the bush"
  • fine-tune: adjust finely; "fine-tune the engine"
  • pinch: a squeeze with the fingers
  • Tweak is a graphical user interface (GUI) layer to the Squeak development environment, which in turn is an integrated development environment based on the Smalltalk-80 computer programming language. Tweak is meant to replace an earlier graphic user interface layer called Morphic.
  • CrashCarBurn is an Powerpop/Rock band from South Africa. The band was formed in London in 2006 before returning to South Africa in early 2007.
  • A sharp pinch or jerk; a twist or twitch; Trouble; distress; tweag; A slight adjustment or modification; A prostitute; To pinch and pull with a sudden jerk and twist; to twitch; To adjust slightly; to fine tune; To twit or tease; To abuse methamphetamines, especially crystal meth
  • Tweaked is the fifth studio album and first independently released collection of new material by American rock band Enuff Z'nuff.
  • Tweaking is a slang term for someone exhibiting OCD-like, compulsive, or repetitive behaviour, often making insignificantly small adjustments to things, while in a slightly agitated or confused state.
  • Tweaking refers to fine-tuning or adjusting a complex system, usually an electronic device. Tweaks are any small modifications intended to improve ...
  • tweaked - To be hallucinating, especially under influence of crystal meth or similar narcotics
  • A minor change made in a scene or portion of a screenplay or a stageplay.
  • tweaking - the process of moving individual vertices of 3D geometric object, such as a mesh or a TIN
  • The term, “tweak” refers to small changes made in a computer, such as an adjustment, to try and make it function correctly or more efficiently
  • Adjusting the position of parts in an assembly scene to avoid overlap in some views or to make some parts more visible.

Well, *some* of these definitions retain the sense I intend when I use the word, but I suppose I should start asking the kids what they see when I start casting word shadows on the wall, as it were.

Anyway, what I mean by the term "tweak" is to make a slight change with an eye to improvement, though this most recent change to the name of this blog was dictated suggested by my wife because she did not like the connotation of the old name.

Can you guess why? I'm serious. Really, can you guess why?


There's this definition.

Tweaker or Tweaking

It can mean different things to different people. It is one of those street terms, colloquialisms, that has a number of generic definitions.

Some common ones include but are not limited to:

Repeated rapid movements usually accomplishing very little.

A meth user.

A meth user feeling the effects of meth.

Tweaking is a feeling like an obsession to do things requiring fine motor movements.
Some tweakers take things apart, like VCR’s, Computers, and Motorcycles etc.

Some tweakers get into doing projects like cleaning the bathroom and end up deciding to tear all the tile out and re-tile the entire room, but never finish the project.

Masturbation is a very common tweaker activity - repeating a movement over and over again.

Tweaking can also be jaw clenching and teeth grinding, Meth users often have bad dental health.

Things that require very little mental analysis or intelligence, but a lot of meaningless movement. Washing dishes, Computer games, making projects that never work and never get completed. Taping duct tape, aluminum foil on windows. Crawling in the carpets and rugs looking for dropped dope. Some tweakers pick at their skin. Some women spend hours combing and brushing their hair.

Some tweaker jokes;
How can you tell a tweaker in the supermarket? A. He has the shopping cart turned upside down and he’s trying to fix the wheels.

What does the tweaker girl say when she is at her normies friend’s house and it’s getting late? A. “You just go ahead, go to bed and get some sleep and I’ll finish cleaning your house.”

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Where the Unemployed Could Profitably Be Put to Work

Scheme of the state pillar of the compulsory s...Image via Wikipedia

That is, as phone operators who would actually be standing by when you call state or federal offices. Today, even as I speak, E. is on the phone sorting out some things with social security.

I should say trying to sort out. Menu after menu seems designed to discourage callers from persisting in their query. Sometimes it almost seems *as if these bottlenecks were designed*.

Well. Anyway. E. was battling her way through this maze of What Did You Say? and Press Five for Other when her frustration mounted to the point -- some little trick question had knocked her back to the first menu -- that she laughed heartily.

At which point the mechanical voice said: "I don't understand.," which allowed E. to say, "That makes two of us."

Monday, January 04, 2010

How Should the Law Be Applied if One of Two Conjoined Twins (Popularly Know as Siamese Twins) Commits Murder While the Second is Merely an Onlooker?

Chang & Eng Bunker (1835 or 1836) - public dom...Image via Wikipedia

I'll cut to the chase:

As actors under American criminal law, conjoined twins present paradoxical obstacles to the application of traditional methods of criminal punishments. The Western notion of individuality precludes such duplicitous beings from orthodox measures to remedy criminal action, particularly the crime of murder. Constitutional limitations of due process and guarantees of life, liberty and property militate against equal treatment of these actors under the law. I believe that within our Constitutional framework, the only thing to be done in this situation is to release the conjoined twins.

So says 3rd year USF law student Nick Kam, to whose blog I was directed by my standing Google news search for stuff pertaining to my employer.

And what if the innocent twin was a reporter and the killer twin was his source? I'll figure out a way to shoehorn this into journalism ethics the next time I teach it.
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Saturday, January 02, 2010

Parked for Future Enjoyment: Haven't Been Paying Much Attention to JibJab

People Thinking About Adopting Cats Spend Time Looking at Cat Videos

Is Religion a Male Disease?

Financial TimesImage via Wikipedia

E. just said that, having read in the Financial Times about another attempt on the life of a/the Danish cartoonist who disrespected The Prophet.

(We try to kill people who disrespect The Profit. That's another story.)

One of the reasons it would be nice to be retired would be that I'd have the time to Sit and Read and Come to a Conclusion. Does religion do more harm than good in the conduct of human affairs? I tend to think it does, but I may not be making a judgment on the distortions religion visits on us but on our fundamental distortions as human beings that invent religion as a rationalization.

Perhaps, the fault is not in our gods but in ourselves? On my. Quipping so easily trumps thinking.

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