Posts Tagged ‘Herb Caen’

Marking National Columnists’ Day

April 17, 2013

[Note: The annual task of writing something to be posted honoring National Columnists’ Day on April 18, which was the day that war correspondent/columnist Ernie Pyle was killed in action on the island of Ie Shima in the Pacific Theater of  WWII, is always a challenge because the intention is to keep the tone lighthearted and upbeat but this year, because it falls at a time when the national mood is very somber, we will, after a moment of silence, proceed with this year’s installment, for the same reasons that Boston will hold their marathon again next year.]


A hint of scandal for this year’s America’s Cup Races in the San Francisco Bay area will provide us with a chance to examine how two of our favorite columnists might take different approaches displaying their unique styles to the task of informing their readers of the looming potential for an economic blunder with dire implications for the taxpayers in the town Herb Caen dubbed “Baghdad by the Bay.”


While preparing to write this year’s installment of our annual National Columnists Day posting to mark the day which honors both war correspondent Ernie Pyle and the vocation of being a columnist, we decided to focus this year’s effort on legendary San Francisco scribe Herb Caen who served in the Army Air Force during WWII.


Pyle wrote from the point of view of the G. I. in the foxhole, while Caen, in his civilian phase, preferred to let his audience participate vicariously in his life as a flâneur, a boulevardier, and a bon vivant, who hung out with and traded gossip with “the swells.”  Caen’s first effort was published on July 5, 1938, and ended with his last column in 1997.


Obviously if both of them were still alive and churning out words, they would both take very different approaches to the growing grumbling about the Americas’ Cup races scheduled to be held later this year on San Francisco Bay.


The race’s lawyers seem to have outwitted the ones working for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and so the two parties signed a deal that, upon closer reading, will leave the citizens liable for a large financial shortfall.


We assume that Caen would look forward to rubbing elbows with the “swells” who will conduct the races and hold the accompanying “invitation only” parties and maybe he would also describe the spectacle as seen from a private airplane flying overhead.  Isn’t it logical to conclude that Pyle would side with the taxpayers who can only use binoculars to see some (three?) sailboats on the bay?


Caen’s pioneering approach to celebrity journalism made him a star in the ranks of columnists.  He coined the word “beatnik” and quite often his witty way with words won him a mention in the monthly “towards more picturesque speech” feature in the Readers’ Digest. 


Caen was a staunch supporter of iconoclastic wit and provided a continuing source of publicity to Lenny Bruce for his pioneering efforts in the realm of “sick” humor.


In addition to honoring and remembering Ernie Pyle each year, the day is also intended to draw attention to the career of being a columnist, which in the Facebook era should make Pyle the Patron Saint of Facebook, since the mission statement for a columnist is essentially the same motivation for churning out the keystrokes for a Facebook page, i.e. tell the world what you are doing and thinking.  Ernie Pyle, Herb Caen, and Bill Mauldin all have a Facebook page.


Can a Facebook blurb make or break a restaurant?  Once, many moons ago, Caen wrote a blind item blurb about a restaurant that incurred his wrath.  After it was published, the owner of another restaurant that fit the vague description of the offending culprit, contacted Caen’s office and begged him to explain that their restaurant, which had suffered a consequent crippling of their usual business level, was not the one that folks should boycott.  He immediately cleared up the misperception.  Can a Facebook writer have that big of an impact on a community? 


The fact that Caen’s style of quick verbal jabs was dubbed “thee dot journalism,” because he used the punctuation of three dots (called an ellipse) to separate items, preceded the Internet phenomenon of catering to an audience with an attention span that demanded items with the complexity level of a bumper sticker and that should endear him to the new generation that operates with a self imposed 130 word limit.  For example, isn’t just the fact that Anthony Grafton wrote a scholarly book, title “The Footnote a Curious History,” enough information for a great Herb Caen-ish column item? 


A fellow who went AWAL from a military hospital, three weeks after the liberation, and went into Paris with a nurse who spoke French told us about going into a fine restaurant and ordering a “once in a lifetime” meal.  When the fellow asked for the bill, management considered it a matter of honor to refuse to let the sergeant pay for the meal.  We like to think that Ernie Pyle, if he heard about it, would have devoted a full column to that incident.  He would (we assume) have compared and contrasted the best that Paris had to offer with the famed K-ration that the GI’s often disparaged with very salty language.  (If the disk jockey is alert he will play “Moose Turd Pie” as part of the “outro” music at the end of this column.)  Herb Caen, who served in WWII, was a gourmet who savored fine meals and shared his enthusiasm with his readers. 


Many Facebook entries include a snapshot of a meal.  Would young folks appreciate the subtlety if an Ernie Pyle wannabe posted a photo of a K-ration being served?


Once, according to an anecdote provided by one of Caen’s contemporary rivals in the realm of column writing, the two competitors for the right to the title of “Mr. San Francisco,” were out cavorting in some fog city bars after WWII.  They became a bit rowdy and a rookie policeman started to arrest them.  They simultaneously asked if the youngster knew who he was trying to arrest.  He didn’t know and didn’t care.  He led them down to the local station.  When the trio entered, the desk sergeant began to laugh boisterously and asked the newcomer:  “Do you know who you are trying to arrest?”  Case dismissed!


The San Francisco Chronicle would, when Caen was on vacation, run a box on the front page above the fold saying “Herb Caen is on vacation” to cut down on the number of complaints from people who would call and bitch about not being able to find that day’s installment of the column simply titled “Herb Caen.”


Once, back in the season when the Oakland Raiders won games when George Blanda would kick a last second field goal, a reporter for the Tahoe Daily Tribune rushing a “starter” copy of the day’s publication, noticed that at the beginning of the lead story, the words indicated that the story was about the will a local celebrity had written “after” he died.  The ME had a “Stop the presses!” moment and the word was quickly changed to “after” and one of the typesetters was given a stern lecture about the rule that only editors could change copy.  The incident was quickly forgotten until the next week when the secret goof-up was prominently mentioned in Herb Caen’s column.


According to Barnaby Conrad, in his book “The World of Herb Caen,” the Frisco phenomenon produced enough columns of approximately 1,000 words (about three takes) that Caen’s lifetime total would verify this boast: “If laid end to end, his columns would stretch 5.6 miles from the Ferry Building to the Golden Gate Bridge.”


At the height of his popularity Ernie Pyle was read by approximately 3 million readers nationwide.


Facebook posters might note with extreme envy that in his prime, Caen received 45,000 letters a year.  Isn’t a fan letter better than a quick “like” click?


Herb Caen wrote:  “If I do go to heaven, I’m going to do what every San Franciscan does who goes to heaven. He looks around and says, It ain’t bad, but it ain’t San Francisco.


Now the disk jockey will play the “Vertigo” soundtrack album, the “Moby Grape” album, and the Jefferson Airplane’s “Surrealist Pillow” album.  We have to go reread Ernie Pyle’s very gruesome and lugubrious columns written on the Normandy Beach (as foud in the Random House book “Ernie’s War: the Best of Ernie Pyle’s World War II Dispatches” edited by David Nichols) immediately after the D-Day Invasion.  Have a “soldier on” type week.


On being a Hemingway Wannabe

June 8, 2012

If Ernest Hemingway interrupted efforts to cover Occupy Madrid and came to Berkeley and was told by the street people that their ranks were swelling because a local (several?) hospital(s) were dumping indigent patients on Shattuck Avenue, how would he react?  Would he raise funds for and write and provide the narration for a documentary film titled <I>The Berkeley Earth</I>?  Would he write the best of all his novels and title it “<I>For whom the UCB Campanile Tolls</I>”?  Would it delineate the exploits of a <I>fashionista</I> who joined the ranks of the legion of destitute victims of home foreclosures who were struggling to put an end to the economic domination of the work force by the one percenters?  If he did that would he be vulnerable to charges of exploiting the panhandlers for his own fame and fortune?  Since Hemingway has been dead for more than 50 years, he won’t have to deal with these hypothetical challenges.  What about the legion of Hemingway wannabes?  How should they handle the issue in his stead?

To a high school student the prospects of studying long and hard to become a lawyer or doctor who would work relentlessly for 50 weeks of the year just to be able to afford a better vacation paled in comparison to a career that would require a fellow to go to far away exotic locations, meet the movers and shakers of the world, and then write it up for fabulous sums of money.  The life of a writer errant seemed like a more appealing vocational decision.  Positive proof of the lopsided nature of the choice might be evident when the latest copy of LIFE magazine arrived in the mail box containing photographic evidence that such an escape from tedium was possible.  For a kid who hasn’t yet experienced the much desired rite of passage known as passing the driver’s license test, the chance to travel the world for pay held a hypnotic allure.

Growing up in Scranton Pa., offered a basic binary choice:  you could go to work in the coal mines (literally or figuratively) after high school, or (if your parents could afford it) you could go to college and then get a job in coal mine management, marry your high school sweetheart, and have bunch of kids.  The fact that Scranton became the setting for a fictionalized look at the absurdity of working in “The Office” would only become apparent much later in life.

In the Fifties, the ticket out of what Fred Allen called “The Treadmill to Oblivion,” was to become:  a rock star, a movie star, one of Mickey Mantle’s teammates, or learn to type as the first step on the Hemingway wannabe road to fame and fortune.  In high school, given the choice of two more years of Latin vs. learning to type, a young man didn’t need “Papa” Hemingway by his side to make the call.

The grim reality that <I>Collier’s Magazine</I> would, after 1957, no longer be available to subsidize sending the next generation of Hemingways to far away places with strange sounding names was irrelevant because at the same time that they folded, a young writer named Jack Kerouac was demonstrating that if you subsidized your wanderings, you could always recoup the bankroll by publishing the results in book form.

After college, books about Hemingway began to appear.  Heck if you couldn’t write like Hemingway, you could always write about Hemingway.  Using that logic had its drawbacks because that would indicate that eventually some writers would be writing about this Kerouac fellow who had, by the Vietnam War, faded into obscurity.  It was worth noting, however, that this beatnik fellow made more appearances on “The Tonight” show than Papa Hemingway did.

The torch had been passed to a new generation of writers and guys like Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson were generating scads of publicity for inventing “new journalism,” which some (sour grapes?) critics dismissed as repackaged and relabeled examples of the Hemingway formulae “<I>Veni, vidi, escribi</I>.”

Unfortunately, reading novels such as “Goldfinger,” “The Big Sleep,” and “The Maltese Falcon,” meant that when it eventually came time to enter the “Good Page of Bad Hemingway” contest, this columnist would submit something that sounded like:  “He was an old detective who worked alone out of an office on Santa Monica Blvd. and he had gone eighty four days now without a client.”

Hemingway’s name was synonymous with hunting and fishing but if the A. E. Hotchner or Carlos Baker biographies mentioned that Papa supported conservation, this columnist didn’t notice such passages.  Sure he was glad to lead the wolf pack of writers (called the War Tourists) to the cause of the workers in Spain, but did he ever say anything about the retched treatment that was given to Native Americans?

All the Hemingway aspirations had been safely tucked away in the recesses of the World’s Laziest Journalist Memory Archive until we began to read books such as “Gellhorn” by Caroline Moorehead and “The Women Who Wrote the War” by Nancy Caldwell Sorel at about the same time that we began to cover the Occupy Oakland, Occupy San Francisco, Occupy Berkeley, and Occupy UCB stories.  When we got the chance to see a screening of “Hemingway and Gellhorn” at the Castro Theater in San Francisco, we were fully aware of why the plight of the ordinary citizens objecting to high tuition, home foreclosures, union busting, and layoffs sounded so very <I>déjà vu</I>.

Authorized biographies provided a stealth introduction to spin.  Reading the Gellhorn biography by Caroline Moorehead, copyrighted and published in 2003, recently, it was a bit of a shock for a Hemingway wannabe to learn that Mr. Macho consistently delivered shabby treatment to the women in his life.

If he were still alive, the newer books revealed that the Nobel Prize for Literature winner would also be a leading Souse and Louse of the year award.  Does the Modern Drunkard online site even give such an award?

Is the new HBO film a variation on an old existentialist trick?  While he was a POW, Jean-Paul Sartre staged a play that was about the history of ancient Greece.  The Germans running the POW camp didn’t notice that it was also a metaphor for their heavy handed methods for governing an occupied country.

There is an old saying that those who forget history are bound to repeat it.  How many young folks in the United States know what the issues that sparked the Spanish Civil War were?  If Rupert Murdoch will not permit any disparaging words about the US during the Bush Era, could a film about a tempestuous love affair between two writers covering the Spanish Civil War actually be a clever way to slide the topic of the age old struggle between the wealthy (and their lackeys – the politicians, the police, the press, and the clergy) against the wage slaves past the old biddies delivering Murdoch’s rules for living on the Fox New programs?

Disgruntle slaves have always infuriated the plantation owners by their lack of gratitude via the “Oliver Twist” question:  “Please, sir, may I have more?”

Back in the Thirties, Ford shot strikers and Chevrolet caved in to their demands and ever since then, it’s been a continuing struggle for the landed gentry to regain the upper hand.

Which automobile company response to strikers would Hemingway have endorsed?

In the biography “Gellhorn,” readers are informed that the only time Martha Gellhorn ever saw Hemingway cry was when he learned that a Franco victory in the Spanish Civil War was inevitable.  After Tuesday’s election results in Wisconsin, we wonder if another Fallangist victory (no matter how well it was disguised) would still get the same result.  Would Hemingway see a Republican domination of the US Presidential Election in 2012 as another fascist victory?  Would Hemingway notice similarities between the causes of the Occupy protesters and the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War?

Hemingway loved bull fights because of the ritualized ceremony’s pageantry (a High Mass for sadists?) and that makes us wonder if Papa would note the similarity to the paradigm script for modern controversial wedge issues in American politics.  When a controversial wedge issue is decided by the voters, the electronic voting machines must always decide in favor of the conservative program.  The bull must die even if a relief matador (from the bull pen?) has to be brought off the bench.

Would Hemingway be intimidated by the prospect of being called a “conspiracy theory lunatic”?  The fact that unflattering criticism did seem to wound a man who was being called the greatest writer of the century and that he worked tirelessly to build and protect his image indicates that he might have been vulnerable to such a threat.

If Spain is going to have to endure austerity measures, will it hurt only the workers or will the wealthy also suffer?  Would Hemingway (and Gellhorn?) rush off to cover the impact of austerity on the average citizen in Spain (if they were still alive)?  Regardless of what the banks do, won’t the <I>glitterati</I> attend this year’s “Running of the bulls” and won’t it be held on schedule?

Reading about the long list of journalists who were alarmed about the possibility that the struggle of workers in Spain against the Falangists was a prediction that eventually and inevitably the USA would be forced to participate in a European war against fascism, and then reading about the frantic scramble to get an assignment to cover the European phase of World War II, only makes a columnist in America all the more aware that Journalism in the states today bares a remarkable resemblance to the paucity of news available to Germans during the Hitler era.  Reading or listening to foreign based news was strictly <I>verboten</I>.  Reading or listening to a non conservative point of view in the USA today is just about as foolhardy as listening to the BBC in Berlin was in 1943.  (Google hint:  “gray and black radio propaganda”)

Friday, June 8, 2012, is World Ocean Day and it isn’t hard to figure out how Hemingway would celebrate it, but that causes us to wonder:  If the Gulf oil spill kills off all the Marlins would Papa attack the company responsible for the atrocity against nature?

Hemingway tended to see life in terms of a prolonged boxing match, so we like to imagine that if he were still alive, he would enthusiastically urge the Liberals in Wisconsin to get up, take a standing nine count, and then plunge back in the fight by starting a new effort this weekend to collect signatures for another recall move against Scott Walker.

Somewhere along the way, the Dionysian approach to writing new columns about a variety of topics, in the Herb Caen manner, began to appeal to the World’s Laziest Journalist more than the Apollonian formula of spending months of pounding out a novel.

Consequently, to put it in the terms that would be understandable to someone who read extensively about the exploits in the old West of the U. S. Cavalry, the World’s Laziest Journalist tends to approach the world like an Indian Scout rather than like an egotistical general.

Santa Monica had to contend with the rumor that some cities were giving their charity cases a one way Greyhound ticket to “Skid row by the sea,” and Los Angeles had a scandal about patients being dumped on Fifth Street, so if the rumors about increase in the size of the Shattuck army of panhandlers is true, other writers can do the extensive amount of reporting that the topic will require; meanwhile this columnist will start checking the logistics for tackling other topics such as this year’s Running of the Bulls or the 24 hour sports car race at Le Mans.

In “Death in the Afternoon,” Ernest Hemingway wrote:  “There are two things that are necessary for a country to love bullfights.  One is that the bulls must be raised in that country and the other is that the people must have an interest in death.”

Now the disk jockey will play “Frankie and Johnnie,” Jerry Lee Lewis’ “I wish I was 18 again,” and the Plimsouls’ “You cant judge a book (by its cover).”  We have to go see if LIFE magazine wants to assign us to write “The Dangerous Summer on the road to the Hemingway Days in Key West” story.  Have a <I>Botellazo</I> free week.

This columnist celebrates National Columnists’ Day

April 18, 2012

On theislandofIe Shima, on April 18, 1945, war correspondent Ernie Pyle was killed in action and that is why that date has been selected by the National Society of Newspaper Columnist to be designated as National Columnists’ Day. 

After a few years of writing about Ernie Pyle for National Columnists’ Day, it grew a bit challenging, and so the focus for our annual column for that occasion was expanded to include homage to other famous columnists from the past such as Herb Caen and Walter Winchell.   

For a columnist named Bob Patterson, who was born and raised inScrantonPa.and now lives in Berkeley CA, to celebrate National Columnists’ Day by writing this year’s installment about a columnist, scalawag, and rascal named Bob Patterson, who was raised about a hundred years ago in Berkeley CA, is a daunting challenge.  In order to produce a column that doesn’t sound like a noteworthy example of shameless über-egotism and crass self-promotion, we will refer to the writer from the past by his pen name of Freddie Francisco and note that the facts for this column were contained in the “exposé” story Freddie Francisco wrote about himself for a weekly newspaper named “The City of San Francisco” in their August 10, 1975 issue.

Francisco revealed that during the Twenties Patterson landed a $47 a week reporter’s job on the New York <I>Graphic</I> and when he began to work the police beat Freddie/Bob was offered a $100 a week bonus from a Prohibition entrepreneur who wanted a phone call tip whenever the Prohibition agents left on a raid.  That stunt got him fired.  His confession relates that subsequently Freddie/Bob went to work for the fellow who had supplied the tip bonuses.

In the early Thirties, Freddie/Bob moved toJapan.  To augment his pay while living there Freddie wrote about the forbidden topic ofTokyo’s notorious Yoshitwara district.  That got him another pink slip and deportation status on the same day that he contracted malaria. 

Freddie quickly transitioned to the staff of the China Press inShanghai.

Freddy/Bob arrived inShanghaibetween World Wars.  Freddie described his reactions thus:  “It was fine, fine, fine; Patterson decided to stay forever, and maybe three days over.”  It took only two months for him to get the assignment of writing a daily column he dubbed “The Dawn Patrol.” 

During Freddie’s stint inShanghai, he gathered enough human interest stories to fill a thousand novels, if he ever retired from journalism. 

In describing the conduct of a battle between rival houses of prostitution, he informs readers that the madam with seniority hired coolies to defecate on the front steps of the rival location just as the evening was about to begin.

One kindlyShanghaimortician used to offer free services to indigent Americans who died far from their native land.  He also, Freddie reported, paid for shipping and interment back home in theUSA.  Customs started digging up the opium laden coffins before the morticians’ associates and then the concept of the altruistic motivation went up in smoke (as it were).

Freddie got to visit at Madame Sun Yat-sen’s home, thanks to Andre Malraux.

Freddie wrote a book about the glory days inShanghai.  When the book was republished in theUSA, the American publishing firm gave Freddie the run-a-round rather than residuals.

In the 1975 article, Freddie glossed over the time line and ignored certain gaps in the narrative saying only that when it came time to apply for a job at the San Francisco <I>Examiner</I>, that “Sing Sing doesn’t provide irresistible references.”

Back in the day when Frisco was home for very memorable gin mills  such as “The Fly Trap,” “Mark’s Lower Bar,” and the “Home That Jack Built;” Freddie/Bob became good friends with San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen, and the two gathered material by going bar hopping together.  Feddie/Bob conceded that his arch rival was “a shade faster because of fancier footwork and better streamlining.”

Once, after the two purchased some toy machine guns and participated in some late night frolicking, they were apprehended by two rookie policemen and the columnists indignantly inquired if the youngster knew who they were trying to arrest.  When they arrived at the station house, they walked in and the watch commander broke into a hearty laughing fit and finally managed to ask the two patrolmen if they knew who it was that they were trying to arrest.  (Case dismissed – on the spot.)

Freddie pushed the boundaries and got in hot water with management when he used the word “poontang.”  He was forbidden to use that word ever again and the top proofreader was charged with making sure the embargoed word was banished forever.  In a description of a party that included a list of forty names, a mysterious guest named Poon Tang was listed and won Freddie a wager for a double sawbuck.

In a dispute about running a story about a business man and a bimbo, Freddie asked about using that information in the paper.  His boss, out of concern for the fellow’s wife, replied “Forget the story and give him a call so he knows that we know.”  Freddie elaborates the result:  “Max dumped the doll and stayed away from expensive poontang from then on until coffin time.”

Freddie was involved in a plot that involved hush money for his prison record and he spurned the chance to cover it all up.  His termination was reported to the readers in a box on a subsequent <I>Examiner</I> front page.

Freddie/Bob reports that he then went into business with “Honest” Luke Carroll playing poker on various passenger liners sailing the Pacific.  The company that owned the vessels eventually stopped selling tickets to the two card players.

Freddie/Bob bummed around the Journalism Industry and picked up some writing assignments inHollywood, but then:  “In 1967, Patterson felt homesick for the <I>Examiner</I> and asked them for a job.”

In 1960, the <I>Examiner</I> had suffered some humiliation when (according to the Freddie exposé) Bud Boyd “was discovered (by Ed Montgomery) to be writing a wilderness survival series from the comfort of his living room.”

A few years after rejoining the <I>Examiner</I> staff, the rehired Freddie/Bob scored some exclusives fromChina; the newspaper’s managment didn’t take kindly to allegations that the scoops had been penned in Hong Kong and not the interior ofChina.  It was time for another front page box informing readers that Freddie/Bob had been fired again. 

A copy of the Freddie/Bob story was located in the San Francisco Public Library and other sources indicate that Freddie/Bob’s story didn’t end there.  Due to a law suite, Freddie/Bob was suspended from writing assignments but was kept on the payroll at full pay until the legal matter could be clarified.  (Some guys have all the luck?)

Like Elvis, Jim Morrison, and James Dean, Freddie Francisco (AKA Bob Patterson)’s death was well reported in the Bay area many years ago.  The World’s Laziest Journalist intends on holding a brief memorial service on National Columnists’ Day for Freddie Francisco.  Since one of the legendary Frisco bars, the Gold Dust Lounge (Est. 1933), which got fond mentions from Herb Caen, is in immanent danger of closure now, perhaps we will hoist a glass of diet cola in Freddie/Bob’s honor there as our celebration of National Columnists’ Day.  What’s not to like about a fellow who loved traveling the world, having good times, and then writing about his own adventures?  Putting it on the expense account could only have been putting frosting on the cake.

Freddie Francisco’s lead for his exposé provides an apt closing quote for this column:  “Bob Patterson, erstwhileSan Francisco<I>Examiner</I> newsman,Chinaexpert and scoundrel is a very misunderstood man.  He is misunderstood by his critics, by two former wives and by at least one god-fearing and red-blooded former employer who recently fired him on the front page.”

Now the disk jockey will play “On a slow boat toChina,” the soundtrack album from “The Lady fromShanghai,” and the Flatlanders “My wildest dreams get wilder every day.”  We have to go over toSan Franciscoand look for some very old books.  Have a “stay out of jail card” type week.

The crazy world of citizen journalism

September 14, 2011

Back in the Sixties, the New York Times had a daily box listing the books that were officially being published on that particular day.  When the Internets were younger, this columnist made some feeble efforts to contact Amazon and see if he could interest them in paying him to provide an online version of the newspaper’s daily listing.  One of the joys of a bookstore is the serendipity factor when a buyer stumbles across an item that makes a strong case for indulging in an impulse purchase.  Since Amazon seems to lack a method of making a direct approach to impulse buys, we thought a listing of new books could be a strong unique, drawing feature for the online firm.  Our efforts to be the Internets pioneer who started such a daily draw for the book selling firm were for naught.  They didn’t hire this columnist and they still don’t offer such a listing.

Since everyone loves the idea of winning free stuff in a contest, we also assessed the potential for doing the work necessary for starting a web site where contest fans could find a daily resource for news and information about <I>exciting</I> (isn’t there a law that requires that adjective to be attached to all contest announcements?) new contests. 

One of the negative aspects for both these ventures was the large potential for ultimate boredom.  If we had undertaken (pun alert here?) either of these monumental tasks, it seems likely that we would have eventually used up our initial adrenaline burst of enthusiasm and energy and then be forced to rely on the all American motivation of greed to carry the task to completion.  Only large gobs of money can cure boredom and inertia, eh?

When we got a gig being a columnist errant for Delusions of Adequacy online magazine, we envisioned it as a chance to help that magazine duplicate the Rolling Stone magazine success story by becoming the digital version of an ersatz Hunter S. Thompson.  The web site’s management (AKA <I>el jefe</I>) decided to concentrate their editorial content exclusively on music and we had to move our Don Quixote efforts elsewhere. 

In the process of providing book and film reviews, photos, and political punditry to the management at Just Above Sunset online magazine, we were able to scratch two items off our bucket list: a ride in the Goodyear blimp and a ride on a B-17 G bomber.  Soon, we were cross-posting our political punditry efforts on both Just Above Sunset and Smirking Chimp.  Later we added cross posting on Op Ed News and Bartcop to our online “to do” list.

It seemed to the World’s Laziest Journalist that, in an era of specialization, an effort to imitate online what columnist Herb Caen had done for San Francisco for almost six decades by providing a string of rather short snarky tidbits about one particular city could be expanded to appeal to a more geographically diverse audience, and that it would work well in the digital era because skimming has become ubiquitous.

Last week, this columnist took some photos and did an item on a group of protesters in People’s Park who were conducting their efforts while living up in one of the park’s trees.  The day after Labor Day their efforts had vanished.  We learned that one of the protester’s had fallen out of the tree during the night (Monday to Tuesday morning).  The Cal Berkeley student newspaper reported that other park residents had said that the girl broke her back in the fall. We should do a Google news search for a more authoritative update.

We also ran an item about the past weekend plans for theNorthern Californiagroup that wants to bring out the truth about what happened on 9/11.  Their promotional literature mentioned a Toronto Hearing.  We should do a Google news search for information on that unexplained aspect of the 9/11 topic.  As this column is being written, we have skipped an opportunity to take a photo of their Sunday parade downMarket StreetinSan Franciscoand have chosen, instead, to do the first draft of this column.

As the overwhelming aspect of doing all that simultaneous work became more and more apparent, we considered doing an entire column asking if the overworked writers for liberal web sites were facing a situation that could be compared to the task of the reporter who was with General Custer when he was surrounded at the Little Big Horn river by attacking Indians. 

(Would it be worth the effort to do some fact checking on the idea that the American soldiers only had old obsolete muzzle loader weapons and that the attackers had repeater rifles supplied by an unethical gun dealer or is that something on display in the Amalgamated Conspiracy Theory Factory’s “Hall of Fame” display area?)

On Monday September 12, 2011, we knew that there was going to be another protest at theBARTCivicCenterstation, but we decided to skip the chance to take new news photos that would probably be very similar to the images we had recorded at several other recent similar protests. 

Is there a potential column topic in the possibility that Karl Rove and Rupert Murdoch are conspiring to work liberal writers to death (like the dog in “Cool Hand Luke”?) by inundating them with bullshit that needs to be refuted with extensive fact finding and careful logical analysis?

Could we do an issues oriented roundup column under with a headline reading:  “Has American Democracy been scuttled by the Republicans?”  It seems that Democrats must now simultaneously mount efforts to revive interest and enthusiasm for:  the unions, the social security program, verifiable election results, voter registration, fair taxation rates, ending extraneous wars, providing social welfare programs for the homeless, and maintaining affordable quality education while the Republicans flash their “Just vote No!” bumper stickers and head for the golf course with campaign donors?

With all the pandemonium surrounding the P. T. Barnum approach to selecting next year’s Republican Presidential nominee, shouldn’t it soon be time for Barbara Bush to hold a press conference and admonish all Americans to come to their senses, get serious, and nominate her son JEB?  Hypothetically wouldn’t even Edward R. Morrow himself have to utter a subservient response to such a clarion call?  “Yes, mom, we’ll get to work on that right away.”  (Wasn’t last weekend’s terrorist alert a delightful bit of Bush era nostalgia?)

Recently we learned online that Herb Caen’s typewriter is on display in the San Francisco Chronicle’s newsroom.  Unfortunately the public can’t drop in to see it.  William Randolph Hearst made an exception to his own iron clad rule for a columnist named Bob Patterson.  Is it worth all the effort it would take for the World’s Laziest Journalist to get a photo ofCaen’s Royal to use with one of his own columns? 

In a world where solipsism rules and where Sisyphus is the citizen journalists’ team mascot, it seems to this columnist that it might be worth the effort to shoehorn an appointment with a typewriter into a schedule that is already an insurmountable challenge to efficient time management.  

After we do our next installment of volunteer work for the Marina (del Rey) Tenants Association, check out the statue of an alligator in theEl Pasotown plaza (or is it a crocodile?  They look alike in the dark.), we will start holding a schizophrenic style debate with ourself about assigning ourself to doing some columns about the earthquake recovery efforts in New Zeland.

If it seems that such a gig doesn’t have any connection to American political punditry, perhaps we can ask some of the relief workers the Goldwin style question:  “How much do you loveAmerica’s latest war crimes?”

Writing about the same topic, over and over, such as what books are new or what contests are new, might earn a columnist an opportunity to be cross posted on one particularly big aggregate web site, but, to this columnist, that seems too much like a job and we prefer to continue our efforts to build a collection of readers who ask:  “What did he write about this time?”

Recently a fellow blogger in theBerkeleyarea noted with trepidation that the three dot (it’s called an ellipse) style of column writing often triggers skeptical responses from readers.  If some fiddle head conservative troll, who tries to evoke the old high school bit of humor about the world’s smallest violin playing “My Heart Cries for You” or accusations such as “You are crazy!”, can do better aren’t they free to submit such efforts?  It seems that those who can, do; and those who can’t, post troll comments. 

When the manager of a hotel informed the music group “The Who” that there had been complaints from other guests about noise in the rock stars’ room, legendary drummer John Bonham (allegedly) threw the TV out the window and said “That was noise; this is music.”

Now the disk jockey will play Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” and a bootleg recording of the Rolling Stones project sometimes called “The Contractual Obligation” album.  We have to go post bail (again?) for a friend.  Have a “OR’ed” type week.

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.