Sunday, August 31, 2008

Drinking Blue Ruin &c

The only time we ever drink gin is when our Austin friends come to visit. I bought a pint of the cheap stuff Thursday and pitched it into the freezer, the secret to making gin palatable. We had gin & tonics out of jelly-jar glasses and then vinho and vino when we ate both shrimp and beefsteak. They are good guests, requiring mostly enough light to read and a certain amount of food, but little maintenance otherwise. They even took away a small damncat we've been trying to place.
Looks like New Orleans may be finished, but maybe tomorrow evening they'll be gloating and saying they dodged a bullet. I suspect the city will survive as a kinda theme park New Orleans in the Quarter and the casino district on Canal down by the river and the rest will end up abandoned for residential living. I remember going on to a Missippian friend about what a cool place NOLA was, and his response was yeah, maybe, but for him it was the place his high-school classmates went to become whores and junkies. For the Port of New Orleans things are problematic, as a lot of commerce moves through there, farm commodities from the Midwest and such, given that the Mississippi meets the salt water there. Price of oil has jumped on the weekend markets as many offshore rigs are abandoned, and gasoline should be doing a jump this week.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Labor Day weekend in **Adrift

We've spent the last couple days watching Gustav with a certain complacency, reasonably certain that he'll land far away from us but not forgetting the last minute right that Rita hung three years ago. That one went for us; the next one could go against us. So we pass the afternoon watching the Weather Channel – old people's porn – with one eye. Gus is at 150 mph right now with gusts up to 175, and that's pretty fierce wind. The streets here are full of out-of-towners, lots of boats in the bay, lots of boat trailers in the parking lot by the boat launch, people down on the waterfront barbecuing and fishing. We have old-and-dears in town for a couple days, connections to a former life in Austin.
McCain picked a woman but not Kay Bailey Hutchison. One of our friends lived a time in Alaska and swears that there will be slime oozing out of the walls about Sarah Palin before too long. Still, an interesting dodge from Johnny Mac. A wingnut conservative blog I check sometimes has about a million ecstatic comments on the choice. And the goo-goos seem to be working themselves into a lather about guns and such. Someone said last night on PBS that it's 70 days until the election. Would that it were over already.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

McCain veep

There are four or five names circulating as likeliest choices for John McC's vice president. Historically an insignificant post, the vice presidensity [yeah, yeah, I know] got fat during the Frat Boy's debacle and will stand important if McCain should win not just for inherent powers but also for the possibility of promotion for the v.p. As someone pointed out, from the way he moves and sometimes seems to drift McCain is apparently in poor health so his vice could well inherit the big chair. Someone suggested Kay Bailey Hutchison last night as a possible, and I was struck by the genius of the idea. All of Hillary's Harridans who are nursing rancor toward Obama could go and vote for a woman for at least something big and important, and I suspect a lot of them would, enough to hurt in a close election. I think with a true-believing feminist that gender trumps everything, even ideology. But what do I know?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Food fight

The Victoria area may have its own tomato fight with the Tom-Tom celebration in Yoakum, but that pales beside a massive food fight in Europe. The world's most famous food fight takes place in Valencia, Spain, on the third Wednesday in August. Tens of thousands gather to chunk tomatoes at each other for a long time. It's a good-natured sort of goofiness and sounds like fun if you happened to be in Spain in August. To read about the Tomatina, click here.

Monday, August 25, 2008

More muerte

A woman writes an affecting story in the Newspaper Tree site about retrieving the body of her brother, killed in a doper shooting in Wazoo:
The morgue in Juarez screams Third World. It’s basically just a wooden shed that one might see out on a deserted landscape between nowhere and hell. Once you get past the initial stench and into the dark choking air you could see the profiles of the corpses. There was no ventilation, not even a breeze, as if the room was sucking life from the living. It was high noon in June, 2002. The bodies were shrouded in black tarp and the flies congealed in and around my little brother’s mouth, eyes and ears. I cried just for the sadness of it … the sadness of such an insult to his dignity, to his pride, his ego. ...

Read all the story here. To mess with a Porfirio Diaz saying: Poor El Paso ... so far from God, so near to Mexico.
I taught on the same campus as the medical school at UACJ and the autopsy facilities for the city were on the grounds. I watched once a group of ostensibly educated middle-class people take it all in as a nightwatchman talked about the various ghostly manifestations he said he had encountered around the place.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Light rail

State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso is an interesting guy. He's nearly the only pol around in Texas who'll speak the flat truth that the state needs an income tax. In an ed-page piece in the World's Worst Newspaper, he makes a case for light rail as a solution to transportation needs in his city. In part:
From 1881 to 1902, El Paso's street car service consisted of a few modest wooden cars, drivers and sturdy mules -- the most famous being Mandy the Mule.
At the turn of the last century, El Paso-Juárez was the leading international light rail region, and mules like Mandy were the engines that made it run.

He goes on to mention how a company owned by GM and an oil company bought up the city's streetcar system and shut it down. The car companies did the same all around the country in the 30s and 40s, trying to move people into cars as primary transport. Before that there were a lot of streetcar lines in towns around the country and interurban lines between towns. I remember playing along abandoned lines in the middle of our street in Abilene in the 40s. Read all of Shapleigh's article here. People took trains for outings and travel between towns. Two, three years ago I talked to a guy in Bloomington who said his family had ridden the train in from that village into Victoria on Saturday mornings to shop and go to the movies and then rode a train back in the afternoon. He was only around 70, so we're not talking 1926 but more like in the 40s. Rail is an idea that is more attractive daily when a little run into town costs $12 or $15 in gasoline.

Friday, August 22, 2008

More Tribune

From an architecture site:
... [T]he Tribune Tower exemplifies the way American architects have elevated office buildings to sacred status. Newspaper publisher Colonel Robert R. McCormick held a $50,000.00 international competition to design, "the most beautiful and eye-catching office building in the world."

Click through to see some of the tower. WGN's featuring the interior in ads promoting a new format. WGN was owned by the Tribune ... stands for World's Greatest Newspaper. They did that sort of thing back when. Another Chicago station, WLS, was owned by Sears. WLS stood for World's Largest Store. Colonel McCormick was a benevolent autocrat, a man who lived much like an English gentleman and hated the British. One of our standard typefaces at the Trib was called McCormick. All the old-timers spoke of McCormick with great affection. Management would pull something sleazy and the old guys would say 'This wouldn't be happening if the colonel were still alive.' McCormick was a really powerful man in the first half of the last century.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Pore ol Trib

From Newspaper Death Watch, a dying-newspaper Web site:
Tribune Co. posted a $4.5 billion loss on a massive writeoff of goodwill to reflect the lower value of its newspaper assets. There was no good news in the results. Print revenue was down 15%, classified revenue off 26%, circulation sales down 2%, even online revenue was down 4%. The company’s next move will be to sell the Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field and possibly its famous headquarters building in Chicago to meet a debt payment. ...

Read the whole post here. It's really sad about the building maybe going on the block. Tribune Tower is a spectacular building, right there on Michigan Avenue just north of the river. It's all ornate and Gothic, with gargoyles and like that, by some margin the neatest building I ever worked in. Really one of the neatest I've ever seen. Lately WGN's been running ads about a makeover and they show one of the doors in the ad. I saw Richard Nixon on the sidewalk in front, on his way up to talk to the powers. We proles used to stand out in front on bright days and watch the expensive-looking women from the offices. Big-city women really put on the dog in those days. Lady of my acquaintance told me, 'Go on over to State Street and look at the housewives out shopping ... that's more your speed.'

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Sinister implications?

I was watching some CNN dealy on the candidates this evening and noticed that both of them were signing autographs with their left hands. Does this bode evil? Is it bad joss? Did you know that 'joss' comes from the Portuguese word for God [deus], which is like the Spanish word for God, which goes back a long way to something like Ju, as in Ju-piter, God the father [you can see that father in piter], and Jupiter's Greek forebear, Zeus, father of the gods? Trade pidgin, it is. Lots of Portuguese in pidgins because they were all over the place in the 15th and 16th Centuries.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The most distressful country that you have ever seen

A result that should be shocking, from pollsters at Rasmussen Reports:
The percentage of voters who give Congress good or excellent ratings has fallen to single digits for the first time in Rasmussen Reports tracking history. This month, just 9% say Congress is doing a good or excellent job. Most voters (52%) say Congress is doing a poor job, which ties the record high in that dubious category.

Everybody despises Congress, but among Independents, only 3% rate Congress as good or excellent. That’s an amazing contempt for one of the central institutions of our nation. Read it all here. I wish I could register Independent in Texas, or that there were a third party in this country, or that one could vote 'none of the above' in any race. I suspect the results would dismay our putative leaders.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Going for the gold in plagiarism

Guy who sends me stuff sends me a link that comes from Slate. It's to a Chron story about an alternative paper in the Houston area that seems to have copped the Guinness in kited stories. Read it here and be amazed at the duplicity of some writers and some editors. The Internet has made that sort of piracy easier but also more likely to be detected. I read about a paper in Colorado that was boosting stories from other area pubs and running them as Associated Press stories when they hadn't been picked up and distributed by the AP ... and that was supposed to be a real newspaper, not an alt rag.
Alternative papers seem to have a looser concept of intellectual property with words as with music, and to feel that the idea of journalistic standards is just another crippling inconvenience unfairly put upon free spirits. I remember after the news of the My Lai massacre broke, a Boston alt paper ran a story about another purported massacre of Vietnamese civilians by American troops. When it turned out to be pure fiction, the paper offered the defense that it could have happened, and the fact that it hadn't was a grubby little factual technicality obscuring a greater truth. Pretty embarrassing. Someone has said that you're entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts.
I remember maybe 25 years back doing a piece on women with tattoos -- they were much less common then -- and finding a very similar story in the American-Statesman a few months later. They used the same tattoo shop and some of the same writing licks. I thought it was kinda funny.

Glad we're out of it

Joanne Jacobs, an education blogger from Califa, had a fascinating post on Dallas ISD policies for grades.
Last year, Dallas told teachers not to give a grade lower than 50 for any grading period, so students who fail can hope to bring up their grade for the year in the next semester.

So do nothing and get at least a 50. There's more and you can read it here. My wife, who retired from a local ISD said that organization has a similar rule. She says she is so glad to be free of that whole scene -- students, administrators, parents, and all. Public schools in Texas may be doomed.
And I had a similar moment when the first flesh-eating bacteria story of the year showed up in the Vicad. Such a relief not to have to write those annual stories.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A nadir in type design

Andrew Sullivan, writing on The Atlantic's Web site, posts an example of bad type design that's almost compelling in its awfulness. Look at it here. It uses drawn heads with beards to form the letters. Hope they don't discover it at the local paper, or we'll be trying to decipher headlines printed in bearded type.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

More muertos

From the World's Worst Newspaper:
EL PASO - Eight men were killed and five others wounded when a group of gunmen fired a barrage of more than 60 rounds during a religious service in a drug treatment center in Juárez on Wednesday evening.

Read the rest here. Do you reckon anyone in the gummint has taken note of this situation next door? Seems a lot more ominous than problems half a world away, and we get a lot of our oil from Mexico. When we can get all exercised about Georgia, why don't we worry about the stability of that country just across the river from us?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Death count update

The last paragraph from a story in the World’s Worst Newspaper on the recent body count in Cd. Juárez: 'In the evening, a total of seven men were gunned down in separate incidents. None was identified.'
That’s seven of a total of 12 dead Monday, a weekend death toll of 19. Read it all here. I suspect the dead in Wazoo for the year exceed American military losses in Iraq for the year, though I haven't checked.

Monday, August 11, 2008

More Mexico stuff

I've observed that national media in this country pay little attention to the chaos and carnage going on across the Rio Bravo. Glad to discover an article by Charles Bowden, writing in GQ:
There was a time when death made sense in Juárez. You died because you had a drug load or because you lost a drug load. You died because you tried to do a deal or because you were a snitch, or because you were a poor woman and it was dark and someone thought it might be fun to rape and kill you.

You could read the whole piece here. Bowden wrote a book titled Down by the River, about a notorious murder in El Paso wherein he catches all the opacity and ambiguity of the society of El Paso-Cd. Juárez.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Flat-worlding the flat-worlders

Here’s an interesting angle for the globalizing crowd ... displaced American journalists – and there are a bunch of them – have begun taking jobs in India. I can only hope that they are pushing Indian journalists out of jobs. Hoist by their own petard. From Media Channel:
[W]hat’s an underemployed journalist to do? Some move on to academia or cross over to the dark side of public relations. But a few forward-thinking souls are heading to a land where journalism jobs not only aren’t disappearing, but are more plentiful by the day: India.

Read the whole thing here and wonder with me at the world we live in.

A joke

nicely to the point of some absurd pontificating about the McCain ad with Paris Hilton.

Q. Can Barack Obama laugh at himself?
A. Of course not ... that would be racist.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Health-care finance on the shores of the bay

We just enjoyed an excellent barbecue plate -- a half chicken [not the leg-and-thigh portion so often served for a fundraiser plate], good beans, potatoes. Very tasty, but a sad occasion, nonetheless. The sale was to raise money for a man who'd fallen off a trailer and messed up his back or broken bones or something. It's run up to big money, and he was uninsured. From what I know of the rest of his family he is no doubt hard working, honest, and useful. But uninsured.
Another man we know, married to a friend, got lucky and got a job with the school district. First thing we thought was 'That's a good thing because now they'll have health insurance.' Turns out if he gets the health insurance for the two of them, there won't be anything left of his check to live on, so they've had to skip the insurance. These folks are nudging middle age and work at the sort of thing -- lifting, bending, pushing -- that's apt to leave you with damage. They are as far as a human can be from improvident or lazy. They are honest, work hard, and contribute to the commonweal. They don't have MBAs from Wharton School of Business or stock portfolios or software companies, but they contribute and don't deserve to live in fear of illness or injury.
One of the malicious myths of the murderous wing of the Republican party [That would be the ones with Rs after their names] is that people like these are somehow loafers, looking for benefits at the cost of virtuous corporate executives and hedge-fund managers, people who work truly hard and deserve not to pay any taxes that would discourage their industrious life program of acquisition. As the laissez-faire capitalist crowd sees it, barbecue fundraisers are good enough for the likes of my fellow townspeople. They're not; this country needs a single-payer national insurance without mealymouthing to the insurance and pharmaceutical companies. Time we caught up to the rest of the First World.

Friday, August 8, 2008


Turns out there was more than a bit of truth to that story about John Edwards hanking & panking with some chicklet on staff. I'm sorry to hear it, as i really liked him ... voted for him in the primary to avoid the Barack-Hillary choice because he was still on the ballot despite the fact that he was out of the race. Funny thing is, the National Enquirer was mostly right about what he was up to, though not about the baby he purportedly fathered with the girl. The rag is right more often than it gets credit for. I loved it in 'Men in Black' that the agents used the supermarket tabs for intelligence on alien activities. My favorite tabloid, Weekly World News has ceased publication.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Vicad's angle

There's been an entertaining run of comments today on the Advocate discussion site over the series rehashing the immigrant deaths back five years ago. One commenter has tumbled to the truth: this series is intended to be entered in the annual AP contests with the hope of winning an award. The new editor seems to set a lot of store by awards judging from the amount of attention he directed to some award they won a couple months back. If readers are annoyed with the stories, it doesn't matter because it wasn't designed for readers ... it's meant for contest judges who won't be quite as tired of the story.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Carnage on the Rio Bravo

From the World's Worst Newspaper:
The Norte de Ciudad Juárez newspaper reported that Juárez has had nearly 730 homicides, surpassing the total in Mexico City for all of last year. Mexico City has about 20 million residents.
By comparison in 2007, New York City had 496 slayings, Los Angeles had 390 and Chicago 443, according to the preliminary Uniform Crime Report by the FBI.

Read the rest of the story here. That is more than 700 people dead in a city of maybe one-and-a-half, maybe two million [Mexican govt statistics are approximately as reliable as everything else in Mexico]. One strange thing about the bloodshed is how little reported it is here in the American press. I don't know if that is attributable to a reluctance to make Mexico look bad or an indifference to Mexican deaths. I think we don't understand how close Mexico comes to being a state in anarchy, ruled by dopers and grasping oligarchs.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

G&D update

The stock of Journal Register Co. hit 1¢ a share yesterday. You can't go lower than that. They'll probably be broken up like an old horse sent to the rendering plant. Barring the obdurate stupidity and greed of newspaper management, I suspect a lot of papers could survive in a slightly truncated form. Lots of newspaper owners who always had the thought somewhere there that they could sell out to big chain like Gannett may have to find another thought to think. The Advocate today had maybe a page and a half of retail display in 16 pages of news and sports. The paid obits are gold mines, but a sensible publisher would see that particular gold mine as a mixed blessing, as those old farts dying off are the people who subscribe to and read newspapers.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

G&D, newspaper department

Recently on a journalism blog, I read the complaint of a journalist who wrote that his company’s stock had dropped so far that it was under $1 a share and in danger of being delisted, moved off a regular stock exchange to the penny-stock markets. Not very long ago, a monopoly newspaper was a goldmine, even in a smaller city. Now, any daily newspaper is, sadly, difficult to sell at any price.
The market capitalization of the Journal Register Company, publisher of the New Haven Register and hundreds of smaller papers, fell below $1 million last week, down more than 99 percent since the start of 2007. In the same period, GateHouse Media, another publisher of hundreds of small papers, has dropped almost 98 percent, to a market value under $26 million. The Sun-Times Media Group is down 91 percent, to less than $34 million.

That's amazing, to have lost 99% of market value in such a short time. The Journal-Register physical holdings must be worth more than a million. Read the whole NYTimes piece here. When I worked in Chicago in the late 60s, early 70s, there were four daily papers, two each morning and evening, and they all prospered, and they were all good papers. I'm glad sometimes I got old when I did. I'd hate to be young and facing the situation in newspaper journalism.

Nifty neologism

Neo=new, logos=word. Every trade and profession has its own vocabulary, often inaccessible to outsiders. My favorite stock-market argot expression is ‘dead cat bounce,’ for a little market rise at the end of a drop, as a dead cat might bounce a little when it hits the ground. Moneybox column on Slate has a cool neologism, coined by a stock-market guy, that describes the current market. The phrase is ‘platypus bottom,' and i love it. More poetic even than ‘black swans’ for unprecedented events. Read the story behind a platypus bottom here.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Grin, giggle, snicker

Stolen from the Phoenix Craig's List:
Electile Dysfunction : the inability to become aroused over any of the choices for President put forth by either party in the 2008 election year.