October 31, 2002

Dug through 70+ years of archives at work today. The past is all around me, and it sure is dusty.

As Roky Erickson said,
"If you have ghosts, then you have everything."

Happy Halloween.

Posted at 04:24 PM
October 30, 2002
Red Handed

In a striking display of media one-upmanship, the Tribune and the Sun-Times have both premiered "young people's newspapers" today.

The Tribune struck first, with plans for a newspaper for the 18-34 crowd, Red Eye. Shortly afterward, the Sun-Times announced its own plan to launch the similarly positioned Red Streak.

The plan is to provide a newspaper for the youngsters so that they can become the Trib and S-T subscribers of the future. Seems like it's likely to produce is a posse of subscriibers who won't read anything longer than 500 words. Well, you can't blame them for trying, can you? Or maybe you can.

The Tribune's Eye attempts to give the top headlines, with mini-articles about the election, the Wellstone memorial, and so on. But it's still "news lite" and there's plenty of room for those all-important and so challenging restaurant and club listings. (Here's one Eye view.)

The S-T's Streak doesn't really give much attention to the news of the day. Even more curious is the editorial which tries to define the mission of the publication. The author, who purports to be one of those grumpy old men who doesn't understand the kids, sounds and probably feels uncomfortable. "We have been given the task of trying to put together a newspaper for people your age who don't read. Kind of like McDonald's coming out with a vegetarian menu, I say," he begins.

Reaction was mixed around my desk this afternoon, where several members of the intended demographic had coughed up a quarter each for the papers. One thought they both looked like high school papers. Our resident 23-year-old sniffed: "I already read the 'grown-up's' newspaper; I don't need a dumbed-down version of the news."

It's unlikely that publishers of the local alt weeklies, like the Reader or New City, are staying up nights worrying about the Eye and the Streak. Heck, if I was an 18-34-year-old, I'd be more inclined to read The Onion.

But much as I'd dislike having my intelligence insulted and my news dumbed-down, what I'd really resent is the slick corporate voice of both publications. It makes me miss the better college newspapers, like the one I worked on. College papers are places to learn; they're also places to take risks. And while there are some howling mistakes, ax grinders, and flakes, there are often fresh and original voices.

I don't hear any of those voices in the corporate-speak of these papers. We'll keep watching.

Posted at 09:50 PM
October 29, 2002
Night Falls On Chicago

The annual time change has done its magic here, rendering the city pitch-black at 5 p.m. and me incapable of coherent thought.

What I want to do is hibernate, eat chocolate, and whine, not necessarily in that order. However, none of that makes for fascinating reading.

Mimi Smartipants has a good illustration of what this season feels like; check out her ruminations about riding the el at night.

It's a season of hurrying frantically from one indoor location to another. Before it gets too cold, though, I'm using it as an opportunity to practice my outdoor night photography.

As you can see, I have some way to go. For some reason my flash won't illuminate the entire Wrigley building.

I did enjoy this advertisement, whose aim is apparently to make angst-filled rich people buy Italian sweaters. Woe is us, Sergio! I will pout and show my cheekbones to good advantage. I lament cardigans and George Clooney haircuts and the declining stock market! Is it too late to join Pulp?

Posted at 06:39 PM
October 26, 2002

This week, a visit to our printer reminded me that the smell of ink is still one of the happiest smells in the world for me. It means there's a magazine on the bubble. And I'm still revved up enough about newspapers to go tiptoeing out onto my wet, wind-swept front step every morning to bring in the Tribune and the NYT. Meanwhile, "online news" comes in and goes out of my office all day long, like the tide. We read it, we write it, we send it out.

Along those lines, it was interesting to read this article in the most recent OJR on where technology "heavy hitters" are getting their news these days. The results range from traditional newspapers to blogs to the Drudge Report.

There's a lot to be said for digital news, from speed to multi-media formats to the ability to update easily. And there's a lot to be said for blogs, though I'm not personally convinced that "blogging"="journalism" straight up.

Long may they all run, I say, though I'm still a print girl at heart.

Posted at 04:03 PM
October 24, 2002
A Day with the Anarchists

More from 1992: last in a series.

The same day as the kimchi dinner, we went to an "anarchist picnic" outdoors in the meadow. The day kicked off, inexplicably, with a rendition of "One Tin Soldier" by a Cincinnati punk band. The audience draped along the banks of the river, clad in black, watching seriously, as if it were TV.

I passed a PETA table littered with pamphlets and magazines. The pamplets were generally garish and gruesomely illustrated, with eye-catching titles such as "The Horrors of Vivisection" or "These Animals Suffer." I thought it would be more entertaining to apply those headlines to the animal-rights magazine with Paul and Linda McCartney on the cover.

Moved on to a table covered with painted rocks. "Punk rock" read one, available for a donation. I asked the guy at the table how many had been sold. "Quite a few," was the response. "Well, there's a sucker born every minute, isn't there?" I replied without thinking.

It made a bad impression, but not as bad as the fellow in tennis whites who stormed up next to me at the bookseller's table. "What's your platform?" he asked. I wanted to point him to the stage; the platform's over there, I nearly said, but refrained.

(I don't know what I had against the anarchists, honestly. The only possible grievance I can remember involves going to an anarchist potluck and not getting one of my plates back. I can only hope it's out there somewhere, serving the collective good.)

Posted at 09:23 PM
October 23, 2002
More from 1992

More from 1992:

That weekend, P. and S. from Chicago turned up asking us to go to dinner with them. We ended up at the Tibetan restaurant for a long, conversation-filled evening. S. and I shared kimchi, gossiped with some restraint about the school paper, and weathered P.'s classic digressions, such as "Why fire engines should be red."

The previous weekend we had been to a party filled with old hippies. One of them told us how he saw an alien under some chemical-induced circumstances. "I was walking down the street, and it was on fire," he told us. "A dog was barking at something behind me, and I turned and saw a little man with pointy ears and no elbow joints, like a cartoon, running into a bush." It was trashy, yet compelling, and we all huddled around a candle outside in the darkness of the back yard. E. and T. got into a hysterical conversation, during which T. referred to someone as a "raving solipsist". Behind him lay his girlfriend, silent, face down in a lawn chair.

Tomorrow, the conclusion.

Posted at 10:30 PM
October 22, 2002
Nubs of the Past

I've been listening to "Nevermind" while doing the dishes this week. It's good dish-doing music. Tonight Eric reminded me that Kurt Cobain is on the cover of Newsweek this week. Ten years ago Kurt was at the height of his fame. Where was I 10 years ago? In a very different place. This week we present three snapshots from one weekend in October 1992.

Had an hour-long conversation with coworker S., who in his way was somewhat of an anthropologist. Although he wasn't any older than I was, he professed to know nothing of our city's "alternative" culture and took an avuncular interest in my stories. He described himself as a "raver" although the dances he described didn't sound anything like the raves I had heard of. At any rate, it was difficult trying to sum up my world without sounding self-righteous or condescending. Finally, I told him hip kids "don't want to look different from each other. They just want to look different from you."

Oddly, he was surprised that I was from the suburbs.

More tomorrow....

Posted at 09:49 PM
October 21, 2002

Is it just sheer arrogance or what to put a logo on top of your building? Sometimes I walk by Niketown and I'm just amazed. It's the only "town" named after a shoe, and we're all supposed to be impressed by the brand.

Then sometimes I feel a little sorry for the building. Maybe the swoosh is a sign of weakness, like a curl on the forehead. Do the other buildings laugh at it at recess? Does the Carbide and Carbon building steal its lunch money?

Then sometimes I wonder if these thoughts mean I have a vitamin deficiency, or need more sleep, or something.

Posted at 08:35 PM
October 17, 2002
Pig Ring

Today I did a very middle-American thing--I ran errands in the car. I even parked my car in parking lots, an even more middle-American thing to do in my opinion. Not for me the gritty urbanism of taking the bus or parallel parking on a busy street. No sir, I choose the parking lot!

Of course, in one of those parking lots I was nearly run over by a rampaging Chips Ahoy! truck. Is this suburbia at its worst or urban living rearing its head after all?

The main reason for taking the car, however, was dropping off two garbage bags of old clothes at the Salvation Army. I do this about once a year; alas, I have never been organized enough to keep track of what I give away, much to our tax preparer's despair.

This year, I did make a list. (I did not, unfortunately, get a receipt, so we may still have tears at tax time.) Looking back at the list, however, is instructive. It reveals to me the mistakes, the things I outgrew, the things that worked for a while but ultimately did not make the cut.

There are also some funny juxtapositions. Is the person who owned "two spandex miniskirts" really the same person as the one who owned the always-too-big pleated front navy chinos and the always-too-small navy cords? Fare thee well, "orange bowling shirt" and "black lycra dress." Ciao, purple angora/lambswool cardigan that I wore to my post-wedding party, but which later developed an unmendable hole in the back. See ya later, terribly "Ally McBeal"-esque cream suit and green silk miniskirt and top, both purchased in desparation for various weddings.

It's also instructive to see what items got the call from the governor at the last minute. Yes, the purple cashmere V-neck and the yellow lambswool V-neck that dates from 1985 were rescued once again (!). We'll see if they can rehabilitate themselves and become productive members of society.

If not, they may join some other items in the "clothes museum" box, meaning things I can't throw away for sentimental reasons. Mostly this box currently consists of old rock T-shirts that I don't wear, but can't get rid of. Items in here include:

- T-shirts for friends' bands, such as The Smears, TBW!, and the ECC
- A relic from a 1984 Cheap Trick appearance at the Ohio State Fair
- A green and orange acrylic scarf with David Bowie's picture on it, brought back to me from London in the early '80s by a friend's dad
- A shirt from a 1984 art exhibit in the East Village (note: I was not actually in New York in 1984)
- A yard of lace my grandmother brought back for me from Switzerland
- Old shirts from the Uptown Cafe, WQAX (angry duck years), etc.

There's also some miscellaneous jewelry, which includes this cute little pig ring. No doubt given to me by a whimsical friend, the pig has movable arms and legs and detailed face and snout-work.

It's a cute thing, but I can't remember which whimsical friend gave it to me. If it was you, please let me know. (Hint: If you got here via a Google search for "Black lycra dresses" you might want to sit this one out.)

Posted at 11:49 AM
October 16, 2002
From the Wires

Over the weekend, Mike was quizzing me about my work as a journalist. I wanted to make the profession look good, of course, so I didn't mention one of the primary joys I remembered from my college days: those rare moments when the wire services got garbled.

These days, of course it's all about online news feeds, and those have distinct advantages. But no broken graphic or missing link can compare to the joy of garbled wire copy.

Here are some examples, reproduced with errors intact, that I saved circa 1989:

In his book "Once a 1/4e3/40" (Texas Monthly Press)...It is the story of a heavily decorated but mentally cj.eused%7br hero who returns from two tours in Vietnd-and serves with honor distinction, and considerable controversy as an Alaska statgurooper.
According t/!windle, the villain in this gripping story is not Littl'lnor....
An assistant managing editor at the Dallas Mo[n"]nUng News,
For 12 years he had worn irsy green;
Meet the New Rhythm and Blues Quartet, know.!
She was married once, but feels weli'qid of him."
He went to a 'red br:PIniversity' in London's East End,
"Someone said, 'Wop, gn't be fun if you and Bob could do it together,'''

OK, back to cleaning out the files. And wearing "irsy green." Wop,gn't that be fun?

Posted at 01:04 PM
Dairy of a Madman

My "vacation" this week includes re-potting the plants and cleaning out a bunch of my old papers in the office.

From a high school paper I wrote circa 1984 on Gogol's Diary of a Madman:

Our Hero laments his lowly position as a quill sharpener (they do these things in Russia, I've heard; it kills time on the steppe) when suddenly the answer comes to him. He is the lost King of Spain for whom the world has been searching. The memorable date is listed as "Year 2000, April 43."

From there real life rapidly deteriorates. The madman awaits the arrival of his court, occasionally making clinical, detatched comments such as "Can't remember the day. Nor was there a month. Damned if I know what's been going on." When the royal entourage finally does arrive, the "King" notes some of the strange deference to royalty: "The Chancellor hit me with his stick and chased me into my room. Such is the power of popular tradition in Spain!" In his spare time, he jots down his theories: "The Moon, of course is made in Hamburg, and I must say they do a very poor job...The moon itself is such a delicate ball that men cannot live there--only noses. And that's why we can't see our own noses; they are all on the moon."

...In short, it is a fascinating story, if a bit perversely so, and all the dogs I have conferred with (at least, those who have read it) quite agree.

I got a 15 out of 10 on this, whatever that means.

Posted at 11:28 AM
October 15, 2002
All Roads Lead to Olympic

Yip! Back from a long weekend in Seattle, and with the pictures to prove it. Thanks to Mike and Viv for their hospitality and for arranging such great weather.

Pictures tell the story...

Yikes! Can you believe this is me on a mountain? Whenever I go West, I'm always fascinated by the mountains. They never look real to me, because I only see them in movies. This one, in the Olympic National Forest, was real, baby!

On the way home, we stopped by the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center, sort of an environmental modern art gallery. Some great, surreal things here, such as these "ballerina" trees.

And this thing.

And it was nice to visit with our friends. Although we only see them every few years, it felt very much like family. Why is Eric smiling in this picture? Because he's with Mike.

Posted at 10:15 PM
October 09, 2002
Vox Populi?

Maybe because I lived so long in conservative states like Indiana and Ohio, I had assumed no one agreed with me about the current beating of war drums in the White House.

I am no warblogger (nor was meant to be) but I confess I was taken aback to see the kinds of messages that are being e-mailed to my congressman.

Although this isn't a statistical poll, it's surprising to see how many messages are against the prospect of war. And how few are in favor of it. Is anyone listening? I wonder.

There's also one confused person deploring the prospect of war with Iran. Now that's what I call forward thinking!

Moreover, I found the same results in Indiana and Ohio. Find your congressman here.

It doesn't make me feel any better about the government, but it makes me feel a little less crazy.

This is all getting me down. Time for a little less conversation, a little more action.

Posted at 07:08 PM
October 08, 2002
The Management Guru as Bat

When I was in college, I lived in a dorm that seemed to attract bats. It wasn't unusual to find the doors to the hallway and the lounge shut on a given evening, with some intrepid neighbor chasing the terrified animal around with a broom or a pillowcase.

Occasionally, too, you could swing a door open and find a resting bat, hanging upside down, snoozing or hanging out.

I tend to think of management gurus much the same way--if you rile him or her, he or she may get caught in your hair. But if you just leave the guru alone, you may find him or her snoozing upside down, peacefully.

Metaphor not working? Fine, but I can't get it out of my head, so it stays.

Anyway, I was intrigued by the feature in a recent HBS Working Knowledge that spotlights a book called Geeks & Geezers, which interviews people over 70 and people under 30 about leadership to find shared traits and trends.

Some people find these generation-based generalizations annoying, and they can be off the mark. But it's such a relief to read generalizations about my generation that don't focus exclusively on our spending or TV-watching habits, I went along for the ride.

There's also an interview with the authors and an excerpt from the book. The excerpt makes much out of notable leaders' ability to turn a bad situation into a good one, in the long run--lemonade from lemons, as it were. Viz:

In his 2001 memoir Vernon Can Read!, Jordan describes the vicious baiting he received as a young man from his employer, Robert F. Maddox. Jordan served the racist former mayor of Atlanta at dinner, in a white jacket, with a napkin over his arm. He also functioned as Maddox's chauffeur. Whenever Maddox could, he would derisively announce, "Vernon can read!" as if the literacy of a young African American were a source of wonderment. So abused, a lesser man might have allowed Maddox to destroy him. But Jordan wrote his own interpretation of Maddox's sadistic heckling, a tale that empowered Jordan instead of embittering him. When he looked at Maddox through the rear-view mirror, Jordan did not see a powerful member of Georgia's ruling class. He saw a desperate anachronism who lashed out because he knew his time was up.

This ability is important, the authors say, because it's adaptive. If you're able to adapt, you have a better chance of continuing to learn and change. "the model of leadership that we propose is also a theory of adult learning and development. Finding ways to live well grows ever more important as our life expectancies increase. Although some boomers are notoriously reluctant to face it, the prospect of a longer life increases the potential for suffering as well as joy.

So, what does our model tell us about both leading and living well? Both require learning how to learn. All our geeks and geezers devised their own learning strategies, applying their creativity to finding new ones at each new stage in their lives."

What does it mean? I'm still figuring it out. But somehow I thought it was important.

Posted at 08:29 PM
October 07, 2002
Journos vs. Trainspotters....

...can you tell the difference?

The "professionalization" of journalism school has long been a topic of controversy. Everyone seems to hark back to a day when journalists didn't need no schoolin', they were hard-drinkin', hard-boiled guys with "press" cards in their hatbands. (And women wrote the "Society" columns.)

That nostalgia, and a lingering doubt about the worth of a journalism degree as opposed to on-the-job experience, result in an ongoing debate as to the worth of journalism schools.

This article in Slate looks at this same issue. It's a discussion that fascinates me. I think it's good to have a professional program to ensure that everyone understands the basic standards, practices, and premises. In my case, though, a journalism degree didn't teach me some of the liberal-arts-derived cultural understandings that an English degree did. So I got both, and I'm not sorry.

The author seems to concur, but he also makes a strong case for journalism school and suggests some possible improvements.

This final sentence, though, made me pause:

I fear the day that the J-school credential assumes such an aura that it becomes a prerequisite for a newspaper job, the way the B.A. credential has. Journalism depends on uncredentialed losers, outsiders, dilettantes, frustrated lawyers, unabashed alcoholics--and, yes, creative psychopaths--to keep its blood red.

Not sure there's any other profession--doctors, lawyers, etc.--that would make this particular assertion. Maybe professional sports. But that's a discussion for another day.

"NOTHING'S NERDIER THAN A LIST—unless it's a list split into a bunch of different sublists and categories," say the creators of this detailed list of indiepop bands. Brought to you by Nerd, "the website of full-on gooberosity," this is an attempt at an inclusive indiepop encyclopedia, complete with capsule band descriptions, categories, and "best release" recommendations. A saunter through the S category yields, St. Christopher, Starlet, Stars, Allison Statton and Spike, and the Steamkings. Only a true indiepop trainspotter would know or care who all of these people are. However, it's very well done, and if you have the inclination, a handy way to learn about the genre.

Speaking of genres, I also enjoyed "The Steve Forbert Game." Sounds like it's fun at parties. Try it at home!

Posted at 06:27 PM
October 05, 2002
Voices in the Wilderness

The national news radio show Democracy Now! conducted an informal survey ... of 70 Republican and Democratic Senate offices.

Of the 26 offices which responded to our inquiries, 22 reported an overwhelming majority – in some cases up to 99 percent -- of constituents opposed war in Iraq; three said the response was split and just one office reported a majority called backing the war.

Last week we visited Coit Tower in SF. We were hanging out on the benches outside, which are surrounded by tall bushes.

A: You could really get a nice view of the city if it weren't for all of these shrubs.
E: Yes, and President Bush keeps me from seeing things I want to see, too.
A: You mean, like peace in our time?

Posted at 09:14 AM
October 03, 2002

In the subway this evening, a lone guy was plunking on a guitar and singing “A Change Is Gonna Come” made popular by Sam Cooke, Tina Turner, and others. The guitar didn’t sound very good, but the voice was heavenly. It’s a song I’m partial to because it was the last song I ever played on the radio, during the finale of my WFHB show “Filet of Soul” before moving to Chicago. (Alas, I can’t remember whose version I played.) As I tiptoed by with a dollar in my hand, I noticed that despite the material, change wasn’t forthcoming to our singer. Fortunately for him, it was mostly small bills.

Posted at 07:21 PM
October 02, 2002

Some of my friends have Livejournal sites and I sometimes wish I had the little signifiers that site adds ("Current Mood: Happy!") but I'd need a lot of space for the explanations:

Current Mood: Some residual crankiness from too much travel, sore from two ballet classes this week, tired of my hair
Current Music: I Am The World Trade Center, for their wan yet upbeat dance sound

Much has been written about the abrupt firing of a certain notorious columnist. Since then the hot air has been a-flowing from media outlets galore. Some representatives want to pat their profession on its collective back ("Of course he should have been fired, violation of the public trust, yadda yadda, besides, this is icky"). Others wax defensive ("He should not have been fired, nobody's business, 14 years ago, blah, blah, get me some coffee, honey").

This article actually attempts to look at the big picture a little more, from a journalistic perspective:

The media are always insisting that politicians and others come
clean, but these selfsame media usually clam up when dealing with their
own embarrassments.

Said columnist was not without his critics. Cocokat has already highlighted a couple of the better ones.

And yet, I am still disappointed. Part of my difficulty with this particular writer is personal: He graduated from my high school. (Or, depending on how you look at it, I graduated from his.)

Yes, all those bylines from Columbus, all those memories of being true to his school, all those bygone days are referring to my past, too. Except it's a past I don't remember and a romanticized view that was already dated by the time I came along in the mid-'80s.

The good old days he lamented were already history by the time I came along; in lamenting them, he effectively wrote off my present. The subtext of much of his writing for me was, "Sorry, kid! Take your New Coke and breakdancing over there, away from my classic car, and turn down that Duran Duran, I can't hear my Beatles record."

But let's step away from the intergenerational friction--those wacky Gen Xers vs. those nostalgic Boomers. The argument's been made to me that because of his "serious" columns about child abuse, Baby Richard, the insanity of the courts, and so forth, that I should be a little more patient. That he really did so much "good work."

But I maintain that his work was not even good. If it is "good work" to repeatedly point and scream, "Look! Child abuse! BAD!" as a career choice, then yes, he was effective. But where do you go from there?

There were 101 ways to cover this issue interestingly. In failing to attempt to understand or investigate any of the larger related issues, he did not do "good work." For instance, these questions were never really answered in his particular canon:

What are the social implications of a community that produces people who treat children so horribly? What are the long-term effects of such abuse on children, and what do we do about it? Why does the legal system fail to protect children like this?

The answer is NOT "BAD! BAD! It's BAAAAD! And, hey, things ain't what they used to be" but that's what it nearly always came down to.

Mind-numbing repetition and heartstring-pulling became replacements for intellectual inquiry and engagement. It embarrassed me. As a fellow alumna. As a journalist. As a human being.

As a feminist I feel I should be more indignant about the sex scandal. But as a journalist I just want to close my eyes and rest for a while. This stuff had been burning my eyes for a long, long time.

Posted at 06:21 PM