Apr 13

Sunny Mondays are the best Mondays

I’ve just this now learned an interesting thing about WordPress. When you are in the Dashboard, after you’ve clicked Posts you get that list of entries you’ve been writing about. Some people, and I’ve seen you, have many different posts in progress at one time saved as drafts. I don’t usually write drafts, unless I’m interrupted, but it happens every so often. And it happened last night when the computer popped and the screen turned gray.

Well, OK then. I stared at it for a respectful amount of time, checked the plug, the battery, did the random search on the keyboard for the Any Key and then rebooted the thing. It all came right back. Somehow rebooting the machine, restarting the browser and restoring the tabs meant that I’d created two versions of the Sunday post. I published one, didn’t realize I had the other and it stayed on as a draft.

Write me! Write me!

I didn’t notice that until just now. I have two posts titled Catching Up. Well, click, examine, verify. Problem understood. Now it is time to run the resolution protocols, initiate. So I did all that, realized the draft could be deleted …

No! No! Not me!

And clicked Trash — if ever there was a more prescient judgment of the thing you’ve been working on, there it was. When I clicked Trash that joker disappeared.

There was no “Are you sure?”

“Really sure?”

“Cause we think it’s Trash. Mullenweg says so right there. But if you want to keep this around, you might think about Cancel.”


“OK then.”

“Last chance.”


“Can’t you hear your words dying?”

“Fine. Let it be on your head.”

“We can’t drag this out any longer. This platform powers 16 percent of the web you know.”

None of that. Just gone.

I’ve just written 300 words on the a delete function. (It took about two minutes. It will not be trashed.)

So a lovely Monday. The sun was out, just a hint of warmth in the air. We hit 76 today, which is just two degrees off the average. I believe I’ve said it three times already this year, but spring is finally here. And if we’re proven wrong again we’re all going to write Al Gore a note.

After purchasing locally grown, artisanally-made carbon offsets printed on fair trade, Brazilian rainforest hand-woven stock. When those come in, and we’re shivering in May, we’d write the former vice president and congratulate him on his success at beating back global warming. The suggestion would be that maybe he turn down the air conditioners in his mansion, close the doors and windows and let us get on with the season.

But it has been lovely today, even for Mondays, which are never really all that bad. I had a burger for lunch, because it is Monday and I do that every other one or so. I watched this clip that landed in my Twitter feed:

It truly is all of the things Ray Hudson said, and so was Hudson’s call. If you don’t know the sport I can’t explain to you how impossible it is to do what Lionel Messi just did. What Hudson suggests is that Messi is a mutant, and that might not be far from the case. He’s short, but fast. His pace over the ball belies his size. He has amazing control of everything, himself, the ball, sometimes defenders and maybe the tides. He has the benefit of playing on a terrific team with other potent weapons and in a system that benefits him perfectly. All of these things are true. It is also true that, for the last three years or so, he’s been not far from becoming the greatest player of all time. And he’s only just entering his prime.

Not nearly as good as all that, but 60 Minutes recently produced a package on him:

Anyway, yes, a beautiful Monday. Everyone is smiling on campus. What’s not to smile about? The sun, the sky, progress!

Someone asked me last week about teaching at Samford. What are the students like? I get this question from time to time. It is a good question, because I get to talk about what they are, and what they are not. I’ve had students who take spring break trips to Jamaica, but not the tourist part, the part where they go do mission work. I have students who’ll spend a summer involved in third-world countries, doing their part against this or donating to that. They are, by and large, extremely motivated, caring people.

And then I get to share anecdotes like this one that President Westmoreland shared today:

One night last week this post appeared on the Samford Facebook page:

“I’m a Homewood PD Officer. I was in the drive thru at McDonalds last night about midnight – I work night shift -to grab a quick dinner. There was a car load of Samford students in front of me. When I got to the window to pay I was informed that the students had paid for my meal. It was a small gesture but it was a bright spot in my shift. Please share this on the page – with any luck they will see it and know it was greatly appreciated.”

In class today we discussed movies and the trade publications of journalism. A student stayed late to work on her foreign language homework. Two others were designing an advertisement sample.

I saw a former student who is shooting a video package and we talked about his summer plans covering political activism in Washington D.C. He’s interning at a church right now, too. Multiple internships are important these days.

Most are drawn to hard work, which suggests they can be successful. They all seem to come from places that make them care about the things around them, which gives me great hope that they might all be content.

If, that is, I warn them about this delete function in WordPress before it is too late.

I’ve forgotten this, but we’ll make up for it now. Normally I add these links at the end of the week, just to be synergistic, but have neglected to do so the last several weeks. So here are things I’ve posted on my campus blog:

Five things to count on and remember in big stories

What do journalists do if the 3G network is down?

Don’t get absorbed in this Twitter mystery, this isn’t the Zapruder film

What mobile isn’t

Harnessing the power of crowdsourcing over West, Texas

Studying the atmosphere in West, Texas

Beware the television GFX error

The key skill of modern journalism, according to Jarvis

Layout: how not to do it

Sometimes less is more

Also there are two new images on my Tumblr blog, which has once again returned to action. The first one is here, and has a long quote, which all the Tumblr kids go crazy about. The second one is a drawing involving babies and hearts. What’s not to love?

And, of course, there is always much more on Twitter as well. Tomorrow, more Tuesday than anyone knows what to do with, also the spring picnic!

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.

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.

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.

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.


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