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:

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.

Jan 13

Clever title to come

Hey, did you notice? I updated all the photo galleries! I changed the font on the blog! And I added new banners to the top and bottom of this page! There are 36 headers and footers now. Refresh to see them all!

I also changed the site’s links to a server side include system. And I’ve tinkered with some other ideas too. These are productive times.

Rode a few miles on the bike. Not very many because I am still sore. Maybe someone will say differently, but there is a difference in suffering and hurting on a bicycle. I don’t mind the legs and the lungs and the feet and the seat. But my neck — which is connected to my collarbone and shoulder — that hurts. It is something about the necessary posture of cycling and whatever related muscular problems I’m enjoying.

Can’t even stay on the bike long enough yet to suffer, a point of honor when it comes to a bicycle, so I take it easy. Which is a good thing since my fitness is presently lousy.

So I did a little work on a paper, I cleaned out an inbox and made a lot of recruiting phone calls, talking to high school students who are looking for their college. I get the chance to talk up Samford, our journalism and broadcast and public relations programs, the student media, the new MBA program and more. Lots of good fun.

Had a long dinner at an Irish place with a friend, we talked sports and the rodeo and cannons, which just capped off a fine day.

Good thing, since tomorrow will be a lot like it.

Also, Justified, Justified, Justified: