Archive for April, 2010

Modern beatniks?

April 23, 2010

The folks at Tillamook cheese have fielded an effort that sounds like professionals going “on the road.”

Wish I could have applied for a job with them.

Happy National Columnists’ Day!

April 18, 2010

For National Columnists’ Day, we’ll offer an appreciation of both San Francisco’s legendary columnist Herb Caen and of Ernie Pyle, the war correspondent/columnist whose death in combat during World War II on April 18, 1945, inspired that National Society of Newspaper Columnists to select that date as the one to be used for National Columnist’s Day.

In his book, “Don’t Call It Frisco,” Caen muses about writing columns.  Advising a rookie about the art of producing columns, he says (Doubleday hardback page 25):  “He has three choices roughly.  He can write a so-called ‘think’ column, in which he takes one subject each day and proceeds to beat it to death by expressing a variety of opinions about it, all the opinions being his own. . . .

“Then there is the folksy column . .  . . He takes a phone call from a subscriber about a parking problem; a letter from a veteran who needs an old piano; adds some cornball opinions and observations of hi sown on women who take a long time to dress and dentists who talk to you when you can’t answer back – and presto-no-change-o, he’s got a column. . . .

“This brings us to the third type – the ‘scattershot’ column, crammed with short items on a variety of subjects.”

Bloggers face the same challenges as columnists with some minor differences such as not getting a regular paycheck.

Bloggers might write a think piece about how Sarah Palin writes crib notes on the palm of her hand.  After milking the topic for all the laughs the possible, the blogger will hit the post button, sit back, and give himself an attaboy.  (Here’s a note for the gender fairness police:  Ray Stevens recorded a song titled “Attaboy, girl.”)  It’s unknown if such ridicule hurts Sarah’s feelings and if she plagiarizes Liberace’s attitude and famous line:  “Yes, I cried all the way to the bank.”  Perhaps the note on her palm says “Pay no attention to unpaid bloggers!”?

Odds are that a good deal of bloggers will comment on Bill Moyer’s posting asserting that it really was all about oil.

What will happen to blogging when the only columnists and commentators are the Republican flunkies who spew spin?

Discussions of contemporary issues will sound like a Monty Python comedy routine.  (No it won’t!)

Herb Caen covered local items and mostly ignored the war in Vietnam.

Eventually when the only paid columnists and pundits are Republican lackeys bloggers will tire of refuting the lies for free and blogging will die of malnutrition (i.e. money).  Just look at how well paid Uncle Rushbo is and how many liberal web sites are constantly asking for donations to help sustain their mission.

Since times are tough, isn’t it natural to conclude that eventually the Republican noise machine will win the war of (economic) attrition?

Today on National Columnists’ Day, bloggers should ask themselves:  If paid liberal pundits and columnists are a dying breed, where will this road take us?

So today is a day to enjoy diversity of opinion because just like Herb Caen, Walter Winchell, and Ernie Pyle, may be a thing of the past.

Obviously, with no printing costs for bloggers, there will always  be a market for local punditry.  Sure some people outside of Fremantle in Western Australia might care about a statue of Bonn Scott and folks outside of Venice CA might care about the Jim Morrison mural and the Myrna Loy statue at Venice High School, but how many people are concerned about the future of development in Marina del Rey?

Which topic will get more blogging hits:  Lady Gaga or the prospects for the surge in Afghanistan this summer?  Which will get better mainstream media coverage?

Which is more engrossing:  Kick Ass, the movie, or Kick Ass America’s war policy? . . . for unlimited profits for the private contractors?

Herb Caen became a legendary columnist by not paying attention to war.  Ernie Pyle was killed on April 18, 1945 covering World War II. 

Where are the modern reincarnations of  Ernie Pyle?  Do you think they are working for Fox News?  Is Fox producing anything like the efforts produced

by Ernie Pyle?

Herb Caen said (or wrote):  “ The trouble with born again Christians is that they are an even bigger pain the second time around.”  Amen.

Now, the disk jockey will play some pop songs from 1945: “Til the end of time” (how long will the Bush wars last?), “It’s been a long, long time,” and “Dig you later.”  We gotta split.  Have a “Who threw the whisky in the well” type week.

Coping with Spring Fever

April 10, 2010

Spring Fever On Tuesday, April 7, 2010, this columnist sat down at the computer and prepared to write a column wondering if Afghanistan’s Premier Hamid Karzai had ever read a biography of Ngo Dinh Diem (or maybe even one for Australia’s PM Harold Holt?). We figured that to make such a column work, a brief bio of the long dead Asian leader might be necessary as well as including a short recap of the particulars of the Vietnam War. We looked out the window and saw that it was a Kodachrome (R. I. P.) day. Nix the column plans. It seemed like a better idea to take our new Nikon Coolpix camera out for a walk which might produce some material to be used on our car-spotting blog. The only thing missing was a proper destination.

Then we figured that we might find some hot new column topic in the books at the Berkeley Public Library used book store. Off we went. We picked out two 50 cent bargains and enjoyed the bright warm day. Can it get any better? Well, naturally New York City just had to have a better, warmer, day. One of the books was copyrighted 1991 and had a chapter about funny election results in Dade County Florida, things called “hanging chads,” and chap named Ken Collier. Unfortunately Jonathan Vankin’s book was titled “Conspiracies, Cover-ups and Crimes.” Conspiracy? Toss that column idea into the “round file.” Using such a topic would be as unsportsmanlike for this columnist as it would be for a pitcher to use a sharpened belt buckle to gouge nicks into a fresh from the umpire new baseball.

On Wednesday, we planned to go to the San Francisco Public Library to look up information about the legendary local columnist called “Freddie Francisco,” because National Columnists’ Day is coming up and a little preliminary fact checking seemed like a perfect excuse for going across to “Baghdad by the Bay.”

When we arrived we discovered that the San Francisco Public Library book store was holding a sidewalk sale and we scored three books (one with a ragged torn cover) by James Norman Hall. Between world wars, he was one of the legions of “get-away-from-it-all” writers who flocked to the South Pacific. Hall and his war time buddy, Charles Nordoff, wrote the Bounty trilogy.

The South Pacific between world wars seems like it was a prototype for the blogosphere. There must have been days when more writers were jammed into Quinn’s bar in Papeete than there were at the round table at the Algonquin. If anyone ever starts a Beachcombers’ Hall of Fame, Hall will be sure to be included among the first group to be named as inductees. There was one problem about doing a column about that topic: Do bloggers really care who people such as Hall and Robert Dean Frisbie were? Especially if Frisbie wasn’t the guy who invented the flying disk?

We have found very little on Freddie Francisco (who was supposed to be the West Coast’s answer to NYC’s Charlie Knickerbacker) on the Internets, but we found a passel of material in the San Francisco Public Libray about the bloke. Enough to write a book perhaps? Perhaps. But National Columnists’ Day is two weeks off. It’s too soon to do that column.

Between world wars Freddie Francisco is reported to have lived in Shanghai where he found great raw material for a writer, such as General Cohen (the kosher Mandarin), Mazie Duncan of Love Lane fame, and Joe Smith who would provide the funds for shipping the bodies of indigent Americans back home for burial. He thought that it was sad that they died so far from home. (He used to put some illegal contraband in the caskets which his cronies would retrieve by digging up later.) There’s nothing on the Internets about these interesting folks and scoring a Google first would be great, but there wasn’t enough details to flesh out an entire column.

When we got back to the World’s Laziest Journalist’s Home Office, the news informed us that there seems to have been a coup in Kyrgyzstan. The turmoil in Kyrgyzstan doesn’t bode well for the War in Afghanistan. Could we milk a column out of this question: “If President Obama loses the war in Afghanistan will patriotic Republicans permit themselves to cheer wildly?”? Wouldn’t that be an oxymoron for patriotic fellows to cheer when their country loses a war?

One of the other books we bought in SF was a copy of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” In the preface to the new edition Huxley wrote: “At the time the book was written this idea, that human beings are given free will in order to choose between insanity on the one hand and lunacy on the other, was one that I found amusing and regard as quite possibly true.”

There’s no use trying to write a column about how that applies to taking troops out of a war in Iran to keep a campaign promise and then sending them to the war in Afghanistan because if I did that I’d have to be stripped of my Obama Cheerleading uniform and turn in my “Liberal Blogger’s License.” We could pump out a column just to maintain the tradition of wondering at the beginning of a new baseball season what the Fremantle team’s chances are of winning the World Series in the fall.

Since we try to be culturally aware and since we have never heard one song by Lady Gaga, perhaps we could write a column urging Uncle Rushbo or . . . could Sean Hannity play one of her songs as a way of auditioning her with his listeners for those wonderful philanthropic concerts he promotes? How are we ever going to hear a Lady Gaga song if most of the radio content is Republican spin? It will be years before her material becomes eligible to be played on the True Oldies Channel. Scratch that column idea.

Spring is the perfect season for planning a summer surge in Afghanistan. Isn’t a war the perfect way to express the springtime sensation that the French have dubbed “joi de vivre”? Emily Dickinson wrote: “A little Madness in the Spring/ Is wholesome even for the King.” Now, the disk jockey will play “Endless Sleep,” “Something Stupid,” and “Sympathy for the Devil.” We gotta get the hell outta here. Have a “we’re coming to getcha” type week.

Journalism hits the iceberg?

April 10, 2010

Since the latest winners of the Pulitzer Prizes are usually announce around the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, and are scheduled to be announced on Monday, April 12, 2010, we thought it might be timely to write a column thanking all the Journalists who are killing off the American treasure known as “the free press.”  Is Journalism in the USA in bad shape?  Does journalism now have anything in common with the Titanic after it hit the iceberg? 

Journalists who visited George W. Bush’s “ranch” during the 2000 Presidential election campaign and surely noticed that there was a big swimming pool and very little (if any) real ranching going on.  They helped the former frat boy foist the image of a hard working ranch owner on the gullible public. 

How quickly did those fighting for truth, justice, and the American way, report that the “sabotaged office equipment” story was hogwash?  Didn’t want to offend the new White House resident, now did they?  Clinton was retiring (sort of) and so who cares if the stories were ever proved to be untrue? 

The captain of the Titanic wanted to set a speed record because that would be a great image for boosting ticket sales.

Journalists never questioned the free 2004 Bush reelection campaign ad staged on the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center.  The tip-off was the clown in the fireman’s helmet three days after the event.  Those hats are heavy and the first thing a fireman wants to do when the blaze has been knocked down is get that damn thing off his head.  Republicans knew that the hat was a very appropriate set decoration.  The journalists, who love to get on TV and present themselves as omnipotent, didn’t want to “rock the boat” and point out how insipid the hat looked.

The captain of the Titanic was content to believe the “unsinkable” spin.  There had been some cost vs. shaving corners debate during the design and construction of the Titanic.  (See Stanley Lord’s two books about the famous disaster.)

Journalists relayed the “it just fell down” story about Building 7 to the public in unquestioning bucket brigade fashion.  They did not (and still do not) question the suppression of security tapes showing the impact at the Pentagon. 

Only tinfoil hat lunatics questioned invading Iraq for the attack carried out by Saudis.  Couldn’t just one paid journalist have pointed out that it was as if the Apaches attacked a fort in Arizona and the US responded by sending a massive military response to inflict def facto genocide on the Sioux?

The captain and crew of the California were perplexed by the distress signals being fired from the Titanic.  (The California was within sight of the Titanic.)

Journalists who have (as rookies) ever been scolded by a furious city desk for omitting a source just seem to have suffered a massive case of infallible editorializing (for fun . . . or profit?) in lieu of basic reporting skill.  Where were the M. E.’s who were supposed to bellow:  “You dumb illegitimate child born of a dog, have you suddenly become a PhD in mental health?  You wrote:  ‘Howard Dean suffered a mental break down!’  Do you want us to be sued for libel and slander?  You have to say who says that.  Did a famous expert say it?  If so, you have to put it in the story!  It would go something like this:  “Dr. Simund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, said that frontrunner Howard Dean showed all the symptoms of a complete mental meltdown on Tuesday when he cheered his own recent primary win.’   Where did you get your journalism degree?”  Unfortunately, all the M. E.’s in the US let this beginner level journalism go unchallenged.

Where did Captain xxx get the idea of setting a speed record?  Did he think it up himself or did some company officials suggest it?  Afterwards the ship company management did a fine forecast of Bush Administration Amnesia Syndrome and couldn’t remember any such suggestion ever, ever, ever, being made by them to the deceased captain.

Now as to the vulnerability of electronic voting machines to nefarious manipulations by unscrupulous partisans, there isn’t one scrap of paper in existence with a story printed on it about such a possibility, ergo it mustn’t exist.

After the Titanic’s side was ripped open by the iceberg, some stalwarts asserted that there was no need to rush to the lifeboats being launched.  The ship was unsinkable and the lifeboats were an unnecessary precaution being initiated by the overcautious nonbelievers.

While the Columbia Journalism Review doesn’t endorse the full Fox falderal approach to news reporting, that magazine has not been very critical of the track record for the “without fear or favor” standard during the Bush Administration. 

If the captain of the Titanic had survived, would he and a platoon of lawyers, used the Lee Harvey Oswald defense?  I.e.  “I’m a patsy.”

Will some J-school PhD candidate ever tackle the myth of Sisyphus challenge of checking to see if every attempt to repent and reform poor journalism comes only when a Republican President, who got a complete pass from a subservient press, is replaced by a new Democratic resident in the White House? 

If the nations’ paid journalists only hold a Democrat’s feet to the fire, isn’t that better than always printing propaganda?  A .500 batting average is better than a .001 one, id nit?

The Titanic sank quickly.  Perhaps historians will determine that “freedom of the press” disappeared from America just about as fast albeit much less noticed?

Does Proverbs 15:1 sayeth:  “A soft answer turneth away wrath.”?   I can’t remember.

Now, the disk jockey will play “Sea Cruise,” Jody Reynold’s “Endless Sleep,” and “My Bucket’s got a hole in it.”  We have to go torpedo the idea that the Pulitzer committee should give an award to the comedians on Fox News.  Have a “Good night, and good luck” type week.

“Limit of Function – Easter – Cross It All Out”

April 1, 2010

Yevgeny Zamyatin fans will recognize this column’s headline.  Republicans who have never heard of <em>We</em>, which George Orwell credited as being his inspiration for writing <em>1984<em>, probably won’t bother to read that obscure Russian novel, nor this column either. 

Conservative trolls don’t like it when pundits compare George W. Bush to “Big Brother,” so maybe we can duck the avalanche of “tinfoil hat” comments if we cut out the middle man and compare Dubya to “the Benefactor” and hip some folks to the story of OneState.

Zamyatin saw that one people, one state, and one leader would eliminate the need for bipartisanship.  Does anyone want to don their tinfoil hat and asset that having two constantly bickering groups helps a country find the way to national unity?

Posting a column on April Fool’s Day asserting that the search for WMD’s was a gigantic college frat boy’s prank might be inappropriate.  Denigrating the invasion of various countries in the Middle East is an insult to Bush loyalist because it insinuates (usually without any reputable source for the idea) that it was a blunder and it also simultaneously besmirches President Obama because it makes the next surge seem like a fool’s errand.

Those who want to vigorously attack President Bush’s record as being lifted from the pages of <em>1984</em> would do well to reread that book and note that in the last paragraph Winston Smith confesses to a change of heart (change is good) and adds his voice to the chorus expressing their love of the leader known as “Big Brother.”

(Here comes another spoiler.)  Zamyatin, Orwell, and Glen Beck all have the same philosophy:  “The following day I, D-503, reported to the Benefactor and told him all I knew about the enemies of happiness.”

Sooner or later all liberal pundits will come to love President Obama’s agenda.  Thus we will endorse continuing the war in Afghanistan, offshore oil drilling, and scraping any war crimes investigations.

In <em>We</em>, Zamyatin wrote (Penguin paperback page 132):  “It goes without saying that this has no resemblance to the disorderly, unorganized elections in ancient times, when – it’s hard to say this with a straight face – they couldn’t even tell before the election how it would come out.”  (Note:  On the morning of the 2000 Presidential election, CBS Radio’s World New Roundup reported that the number of newsvans outside the Bush home was much greater than the few waiting at Al Gore’s residence.  Nyuck, nyuck.  Why pay people to stand around at the loser’s home?)

Now the disk jockey will play the Rolling Stones song that has the line about “I’m a lonely school boy – just got into town” (can’t use the actual song title), “I hate Mondays,” and (a favorite with a certain inmate in Corcoran State Prison) “Helter Skelter.”  We have to go search for the enemies of happiness.  Have an “I pity the fool” type week.

“(I Don’t Know What Goes Here, Maybe Just: A Cigarette Butt)”

April 1, 2010

It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking the call for column writing time.  We can’t write a column endorsing oil drilling because that would sound absurd in the context of previous columns.  We can’t write a column critical of the Obama decision to sanction oil drilling because that would infuriate the Obama backers who read this website. 

We are assiduously working our way through Yevgeny Zamyatin’s novel <em>We</em>, which George Orwell credited as the inspiration for writing <em>1984</em>, but we haven’t gotten to the last word on the last page, so even though we’ve got the good quotes (such as this column’s headline) ready to go, we’ll have to postpone our review of that novel for a few more days so that we’ll know how it ends.

Is it too early to write the April 12 column marking the sinking of the Titanic? 

Obviously it is way too early to write our annual National Columnists’ Day column.  We have to write it a bit early and post it before the actual day arrives, but this is just a tad too early to tout the April 18 event which marks the anniversary of the day that Ernie Pyle was killed in combat.

Even though we have already had a ride in the Goodyear blimp, we haven’t heard back from the folks at <a href =>Airship Ventures</a> so we’ll have to postpone a blimp vs. Zeppelin grudge match comparison column for later.

Just about 10 years ago, we contacted Delusions of Adequacy and started pumping out columns for them.  Was it prejudicial to be covering the Internets coverage of the 2000 Republican national convention and be skeptical of the “frontrunner”?  After all weren’t the country’s leading journalists using the “wait and see what happens” attitude?  Wasn’t it premature to use the “Ducky Lucky” alarmist point of view before the fellow had even taken the oath of office?

We didn’t sound too patriotic when we sarcastically suggested that if those darn aluminum tubes were so dangerous, they should have had serial numbers on them and the sale of those items should have been regulated more strictly.

When the Bush Death Panel decreed that Americans should buy the materials to make an airtight panic room as a precaution against a chemical attack, we dashed off a letter to the editor at the New York Times and pointed out that if it was airtight, folks would suffocate and if it wasn’t airtight, the folks inside would have no protection whatsoever from the chemicals.  The day the letter appeared in the print edition of that newspaper, Donald Rumsfeld held a news conference to point out the danger of asphyxiation and stressed that the “buy plastic sheeting and duct tape” warning had been metaphorical.

We switched from Delusions of Adequacy, which wanted to focus exclusively on music, over to Just Above Sunset online magazine and mixed feature columns with ones that asked rhetorical questions about the apparent contradiction of a super secretive administration announcing plans for a Presidential Library.  Other political commentators saw the absurdity of the Bush public stance and rightly (or leftly?) ridiculed it.

Eventually we transition away from the L. A. based site and posted regularly on Smirking Chimp pointing out some flaws in the Bush Administration’s attempt to assuage any potential for dissent.

When the news stories about Howard Dean’s alleged “breakdown” appeared, we tried to point out the basic journalism lesson that when a statement such as “he suffered a mental breakdown” is used in a news story, unless the write is a well known psychologists, the reporter has to use attribution or be guilty of editorializing.  If, at the time, some well known authority on mental health had come out and said categorically that Dean had come unglued, then columns about what the expert had said were merited.  If Karl Rove called in some journalistic IOU’s and planted unattributed stories questioning the frontrunner’s (up to that point) mental health, then honest journalists would have noted that the assessment was coming from an opposition spokesman (Republican’s don’t have spokespersons). 

Didn’t the Republicans have preparations for a Kerry Candidacy, such as article of incorporation for the Swiftboat Veterans groups, in place just waiting for the signal to the bullpen?  Didn’t they want to avoid having to improvise a whole new game plan to run against Howard Dean?  So wasn’t it natural for them to work behind the scenes to grease the skids to favor Kerry?  Journalists seemed satisfied to miss the elephant in the room.  There is an old bit of journalism advice that goes:  “If you mother says she loves you; check it out before you print it.”  Abracadabra the journalists were qualified to say that Howard Dean had suffered a mental breakdown.  Hogwash!  They were kissing Rove’s ass.

Any efforts to assert that President Bush may have committed war crimes needed some authoritative substantiation.  When we talked to a woman who had worked for the Australian government collecting, during World War II, evidence for any subsequent war crimes trials and who had also attended the trial of Tojo in Tokyo, we asked about her expert opinion.  When we popped the question:  “Is George W. Bush a war criminal?” she snapped out an instantaneous response:  “Of course he is!”  When we wrote a column about her, we reported her opinion not our own.

Here it is April of 2010 and we need a topic for a column. 

It sure looks like Iran is rapidly approaching their goal of manufacturing some nuclear weapons, but unless this columnist gets to see them in person, that topic is off limits because it would sound like a conspiracy theory without some eyewitness substantiation.

At Cal Berkeley ASUC Senate Bill 118 is too hot to touch. 

There’s been a good amount of rain in Berkeley this spring, but there’s been much more in Rhode Island and it has been getting intense news coverage.

Dang, I wish those folks at Airship Ventures would respond to my e-mail soon.  What is there to write about while waiting? 

Eureka!  We’ll write a column suggesting that some radio outlet in the San Francisco area should revive <a href =>Jimmy Kay’s Sunday Night Classics</a> show with the music of the  Country Music Hall of Fame caliber. 

Yevgeny Zamyatin wrote in <em>We</em> (Penguin paperback page 36):  “The only means to rid man of crime is to rid him of freedom.”

Now, the disk jockey will play:  “Okie from Muskogee,” “On the Road Again,” and “You don’t have to call me darlin’, darlin’.”  We gotta go send an e-mail to Jimmy Kay and station KBWF (hey he could phone his program in, couldn’t he?).  Have a “the road goes on forever; the party never ends” type week.