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22
Apr 13

Catchy title here

I’d like to know where I was, a week ago today, when my phone told me about the bombs in Boston. I bet I wasn’t far away from where I was today when my phone buzzed to tell me that the remaining suspect had been formally charged. All of that in a week.

As I said to a classroom today, when an Elvis impersonator sending dangerous things in the mail to people in Washington is your fourth story, that’s a bizarre week.

Seems like a lot longer, doesn’t it?

So there’s something new here. I tweaked the sidebar to the right. Took out the Twitter box. (Follow me on Twitter!) Shifted the table that holds all of those buttons at the top of the page and compressed that side altogether.

I did that so I could expand this main content area. And after plugging away at several different stylesheets for a few minutes I had the new look. It is exactly like the old look — which is what is so nice about it — except for the size. The photographs can be bigger, now.

This will look nice on modern, larger, screens. Even looks nice on my phone, so I awesome that means everyone’s experience with the site is lovely, no?

I’m sure it is not. Some 0.08 of my visitors have been here with a 640×480 resolution. We need a rollout for them as well.

Here’s the solution: bigger screens, kids.

Auburn’s athletic director, who is presiding over a major sport 15-48 record against conference opponents since last season’s baseball tournament, is the only AD in the country who has “fisking poor news reports” as part of his job description. This is part of his second open letter in less than a month:

As Auburn’s Athletics Director, it’s my job – no matter how proud I am of Auburn – to carefully review charges made against our program when warranted.

As the facts demonstrate, the article is clearly flawed. I want you to know that I will always act on the basis of facts. I will continue to fight for Auburn University, and I will continue to defend this great institution against such attacks.

Here’s the first. All of this gives the guy a sympathetic ear from a lot of fans who are ready to see him go. It is a curious thing.

But there’s a real and interesting phenomenon at play as well. I’ve grown convinced in the last five years or so that there is a big shift coming in sports journalism. Beat reporters sometimes have to worry about being frozen out by the team they are supposed to cover. Alienate the wrong person, you don’t get interviews and all of that. This is made possible because the programs have figured out the true power of their brand and the tools they have at their disposal. Auburn didn’t go to the media with these letters, they simply published them on their site and let fans know it was there. Sports writers covered it — that is their job — but they weren’t an integral part of the process as a filter. Sports outlets have the tools, the audience and their message. They don’t need the media the same way they once did. (Well, the TV deals, naturally.)

I see this as a reality, rather than a good or bad thing. It just is. In some respects it is good. In other respects, and in particular in the long term, there are some negative worries.

The old saying was “never pick a fight with someone that buys ink by the barrel.” But if everyone buys pixels … well, that’s just even.

Things to read: The debt-ridden EU stares bankruptcy in the face:

Shouldn’t it be making more headlines than it has that the European Union is today insolvent – since its astronomic debt in unpaid bills is nearly twice as large as its annual income? Such is the crisis lately highlighted by its parliament’s budget committee, which finds that the EU now owes 217 billion euros, or £182 billion, as compared with its current year’s income of just £108 billion. Much of this represents “cohesion funding” relating to Eastern Europe, in contracts agreed under the EU’s current budgetary arrangements. But when, at the end of this year, those arrangements come to an end, the rules strictly prohibit the EU from rolling forward its debts from one period to the next. So, in eight months’ time, it will lurch into bankruptcy.

Wherever we now look at the EU, its affairs seem to be in an astonishing mess. There is the ongoing slow-motion train crash of the euro. There is rising panic over the policy of unrestricted immigration, which threatens at the year’s end to flood richer countries such as Britain with millions of Romanians and Bulgarians. As Europe’s economies stagnate or shrink, the EU’s environmental policies fall apart, with the growing refusal of many countries, led by Poland and Germany, to accept curbs on fossil fuels.

13 Worst Predictions Made on Earth Day, 1970:

In 1970, the first Earth Day was celebrated — okay, “celebrated” doesn’t capture the funereal tone of the event. The events predicted death, destruction and disease unless we did exactly as progressives commanded.

[...]

“Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions…. By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine.”

That’s one of my favorite, but there are plenty of gems in that list.

Mistakes in news reporting happen, but do they matter?

There’s no excuse for getting the facts wrong. It’s a basic rule of journalism, drummed into every rookie reporter’s head: Get the story right. In addition to potentially harming a news outlet’s credibility, erroneous reporting can have devastating consequences, from ruining a subject’s reputation to endangering public safety. Competitive pressure and the desire for scoops can increase the potential for errors.

But reporting mistakes may not be as consequential as they used to be, media observers say.

People are forgiving, to a point, if you acknowledge the problem. Those are errors that apply to the individual outlet. All of these things, however, become cumulative on the business as a whole, a function of trust, and so pieces like this become dangerous.

Here’s the top comment as of this writing: “The fact that this ‘journalist’ doesn’t seem to think mistakes/lies matter is an example of why the pubic doesn’t trust the media therefore they don’t buy newspapers or watch the news.”

Many of the people in the comments tend to disagree with the nature of this particular article. But mistakes don’t matter, we’re told.


17
Apr 13

Spring, finally

Big temperature shifts. Sun, amazingly enough. Cold in the mornings. Humidity at 74 percent in the evening. Finally spring showed up.

Patton Oswalt will guest star on Parks and Rec this week. The Yankee and I have been watching it recently. It is mindless, but the characters have charm. Ron Swanson being the best thing on network television, I’m pretty sure.

This performance won’t hurt anything, though:

I managed to read two things in The New Yorker today. So, you see, I have to look down upon a sitcom. This is an interesting read about the success of the Boston hospitals:

Something more significant occurred than professionals merely adhering to smart policies and procedures. What we saw unfold was the cultural legacy of the September 11th attacks and all that has followed in the decade-plus since. We are not innocents anymore.

[...]

Talking to people about that day, I was struck by how ready and almost rehearsed they were for this event. A decade earlier, nothing approaching their level of collaboration and efficiency would have occurred. We have, as one colleague put it to me, replaced our pre-9/11 naïveté with post-9/11 sobriety. Where before we’d have been struck dumb with shock about such events, now we are almost calculating about them.

[...]

We’ve learned, and we’ve absorbed. This is not cause for either celebration or satisfaction. That we have come to this state of existence is a great sadness. But it is our great fortune.

Several hospitals are clustered nearby. The medical tent was doing triage quickly. Lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan are being put into use. Stellar work meant people lived.

Here’s another New Yorker piece, about the things we say over and over:

I was in Iceland, talking with Stein, the eleven-year-old son of some friends. His English was dauntingly good—and all the more so given that he’d never spent any real time off the island. I’d just flown over in a packed plane, and I said that tourism seemed to be exploding, and he, deliberating, looking older than his years, replied, “Yes, they come from the hot countries.”

[...]

My grandfather was fond of the phrase “Now, I’m not lecturing you.” It sent a sinking feeling into the chests of his children and grandchildren alike, for it reliably heralded a lengthy and dour disquisition on the hardships of life. He came by his lessons honestly. A powerful and athletic figure in young manhood, he was laid low by emphysema in early middle age. Though he was a smoker, I suspect his illness was largely brought on by chemical exposure as a construction rigger back in pre-OSHA days. In any case, pulmonary problems were a grim motif in his life; he lost his first wife to tuberculosis while she was still in her teens.

Of all the helpful lessons he imparted to me, I recall nothing in any detail. No, after all these years, I can retrieve verbatim only one thing he ever said, and this didn’t originate in his dutiful tutoring. It was a spontaneous remark.

[...]

Similar catchphrases, in which casual comments are promoted into a sort of immortality, doubtless exist in nearly every family, every close friendship. I find this notion deeply heartening—that people are everywhere being quoted for lines they themselves have long forgotten. And of course each of us is left to wonder whether, right at this moment, we’re being quoted in some remote and unreckonable context.

What a charming notion.

We need some charm after what happened in West, Texas tonight:

What a terrible scene, hundreds of police and fire and EMT rigs. Triage on the high school football field. Dozens of homes feared destroyed and a casualty rate so high no one will even dare talk about it. (Finally, some sensibility.) All of that in a town of 2,800 people.

This is terrible anywhere, but it strikes a different cord in a place where everyone knows everyone.

So we’ll end on something uplifting from Boston, where people can’t maintain a moment of silence, but they will stir your very core:

More venues should do it that way.


1
Apr 13

A new thing

I have been playing with code. This will be a fun format for the occasional piece.

Here are the fruits of both my bike ride, figuring this out while I was struggling up a hill and taking pictures. I could talk about it, but it is all in the new Big Stories section.

I won’t use that often, but it does have some nice flexibility and really lends itself to long form essays. I like it. Seems to work well on the phone, too. What do you think?

I could write about other things, but aside from doing some work, watering a plant, riding my bike, taking those pictures, editing them and building that and doing some more work … well, that’s been pretty much my day.

Plus there are several words on the Big Stories page. Check it out.


3
Feb 13

Paul Harvey, FFA, Dodge win the Super Bowl

Maybe I’m aging out of the demographic. Maybe a lot of sponsors should demand their money back. Either way it seemed that with costs ranging from $3.8 to $4 million per 30-second spot, the value seemed to be lacking.

Unless you look at all of them as regressions, then even some of the average spots might get some Monday replays. For once the game was compelling, and you could actually leave the room during the breaks. In hours of programming, only spot one stood out.

Blake Harris wrote “So the only time all night the room has been totally silent has been during the Paul Harvey commercial. Everyone was glued to tv.”

You could write an essay why. Some obvious points — Paul Harvey, a way of life, a lack of shrill Madison Avenue attitude and agriculture — jump out.

Paul Harvey was the consensus best broadcaster in the business for generations. There’s not much argument on this, nor should there be. The industry won’t allow anyone like him again, let alone better than him. A statement like that owes a lot to his longevity and his staff, but the man had a voice and an intriguing pace. He had a touch with a microphone and everyone attached to his programming had a deft feel for a central element of society.

And maybe those times have changed. Demographies are always changing, improving and evolving. Maybe the people that could identify with Harvey are just living quietly and being drowned out by the morass of mass media. Maybe there’s a lifestyle of quiet humility and moral rectitude that is just beneath the surface. Maybe the spot appeals to a generational nostalgia for which we long. Maybe that’s gone forever. None of these are particularly true over another. All of those things — celebrated in a spot like that, by a man like that — still exist. They’re just a little harder to see because of all the other noise.

You’ve watched commercials, seen ads, felt the highs and lows of every medium. You’ve seen the Super Bowl spots. Reduce any of these things to their own elements. Make them stand alone, apart, from their advertising counterparts. They can be absurd, necessary of course, but absurd. Take your financial advice from a talking baby. Choose your insurance because an actor is pretending to be snow on a roof. Consider every ad produced since “Sex sells” became the first rule of the creative industry. There’s not much else to say about Madison Avenue after that. Perhaps an ad not designed to shock or titillate is actually a winner

Not to talk about that ad frame for frame, but that long, wide, bleak shot of that Angus at the beginning said so much about what you were about to experience. Paul Harvey was talking to the 1978 National FFA Convention in Kansas City in that speech, extolling the virtues of a way of life that, as a society, we’ve almost forgotten because most of us have never known it personally. Because of economic turns and technology and the postal system and education and all manner of things the farm has typically become a big corporate organization. There are less people doing the hard work to keep us fed, even as the production is increasing.

When Paul Harvey made that speech in 1978 the national numbers were:

Total population: 227,020,000
Farm population: 6,051,000
Farmers 3.4% of labor force
Number of farms: 2,439,510

Things were changing awfully fast. Still are, in many respects. These days only 1.96 million people in the U.S. are farmers or working directly in the agricultural industry whereas the nation is filled with an estimated 315,268,206 people as of this writing.

When I was in the FFA — I had the pleasure of attending five national conventions and served as a state officer in the Alabama FFA Association — the stat in use was that two percent of Americans were farmers. That percentage continues to decline, making a narrow part of the hourglass ever more slender.

There’s a movement afoot, the locavore movement, people that aspire to eat local produce, which would naturally promote a simpler example of farm economics. It must be serious because we’ve mangled words to create a new title for them within the language. Maybe a quiet shift is coming. Maybe there’s just a longing for a more romanticized time. Maybe it is just a great spot, filled with both nostalgia and truth.

Ultimately you take two iconic pieces of Americana, Paul Harvey and the men and women on the farm. (Yes, the spot needed migrant workers.) Put them in a quiet presentation that belies every other spot running against it with a tone that didn’t need to be crafted by a skyscraper executive* and you’ll beat a GoDaddy commercial every time. A Wall Street Journal blog has already called it “The Great American Super Bowl Commercial.”

Put together components that bespeak of a certain quite nobility, and you’ll get that.

Ram is raising $1 million for the National FFA Organization. Here’s how you can contribute. You can support them directly, too.

FFA

*Indeed, the Super Bowl spot was actually an updated version of this YouTube video that was uploaded in 2011:


24
Jan 13

A few photographs

Here is a panorama of the historic Auburn train station. Click to embiggen in another tab:

Train Station

Lot of history in that joint. Jefferson Davis reviewed the Auburn Guard there as he was on his way to his inauguration at Montgomery. That was, apparently, the first presidential review in the Confederacy. This is also the place where students sabotaged Georgia Tech’s football team in 1896:

The Wreck Tech parade, and the pajamas, date back to their first football meeting in 1896 where legend has it that the A.P.I. students snuck to the train station under cover of darkness and greased the tracks. The train couldn’t get stopped at the station and the Tech players had to walk some five miles back to Auburn to get their 45-0 beating.

The last train passenger was called aboard in 1970. Empty for almost a decade now, the last tenant was a real estate agency. The old building needs a lot of TLC.

Here’s a door handle at the train station:

Train Station

And by the rails, a self portrait at the first sign passengers would have seen getting off the train:

Train Station

A closer view of a font you’ll never see again:

Train Station

These shots were part of a brief ride today. I got other pictures today, so the marker series will return next week. That’s progress.

Nothing about the ride felt very good today, though. Nothing about me felt very confident of myself. Just a lousy ride. But I also found an incredible curve I had to slow down through, lest I wind up in the trees. And then I had to ride through a big neighborhood disagreement that involved at least five police officers, two of which I almost hit on my bike because they didn’t look both ways before crossing the street. One of those days.

Here’s a sunset over Agricultural Heritage Park, with the intramural field in the background to the right:

Train Station

Even “those days” are beautiful.