08
Feb 18

A return to the books section

Today I’ll direct your attention to another part of the site. This area is devoted to my grandfather’s books. I never got to know the man, he died a few months after I was born. But he was one of those people that you only hear good things about. And, over the years, I’ve been given a few of his things. Including a lot of books. This is a lot of fun because, in his old text books, you see the man as a boy. If you click the link above you’ll see the books already uploaded to the site.

For the next few installments, I thought we might look at a few publications he had when he was a bit older, because the advertisements are always fun. And so here we have the November 1960 Reader’s Digest:

Click the cover and you’ll get four interesting pages out of that issue today. I figure there’s about a month’s worth of material we can check out. Also, check out the main section and you can see a classic literature book, some great science illustrations, some notes, newspaper clippings from his youth and more.

You remember the Manhattan gold heist in 2016. A guy just reached into an armored truck, grabbed a barrel and walked away. No one reacted. It was broad daylight, middle of the city and who he was and how it did it was a mystery, but for the ubiquitous security camera footage.

Well, that guy got caught and did a little time. And now he’s talking to the media, which makes it a story, which means we talked about it on the podcast. NBC correspondent Chris Pollone returned to the program to tell us all about it. It’s a great episode:

You can hear more episodes of the show and you can also subscribe to the syndicated versions on Google Play or Stitcher. And follow the show on Twitter: @BestStoryShow.

And some student work:

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07
Feb 18

There’s an 88-year-old jazz standard at the bottom

We talked for like 10 solid minutes and we never made a “braaaaains” joke.

We did talk about the Olympics, CTE, brain donation and the women who are offering theirs for chronic traumatic encephalopathy research. It is an interesting conversation, and a timely one. And of course I’ll be long-tailing this episode through the Winter Games.

I’m sure you saw the big rocket launch yesterday. It was of course terrific, but the booster landing was the best part. That was a somehow-inspiring bit of theater. Not the least of which for its economic impact, or the somehow nonsensical rockets descending visual, but the whole thing just looked like science fiction, but you watch that a few times and you have to come to realize that is our aeronautical reality.

Oh, the car was fun. It was a silly gimmick and a great because-we-can moment and apparently it was a placeholder for some actual payload or scientific effort. And the car won’t last terribly long in the harsh environment of space but —

Wait a minute … Oh this can’t be a good thing:

By now you know that #falconheavy sent a car into space yesterday. Welp … #tesla

A post shared by Kenny Smith (@kennydsmith) on

I have that car in my office. It was a stocking stuffer one Christmas from Santa and his helper, my mother-in-law. So I have four or five cars sitting on a shelf. That’s not exactly accurate. I found a chunk of broken asphalt outside the office one day and that seemed like a dangerous thing to leave in the road, so I picked it up. Before I could figure out what to do with it I took it inside. Since I have five Hot Wheels and they now park on the six-inch chunk of road on a bookshelf.

If anyone on my floor ever brings their children to work I’ll be able to offer them a toy. Maybe they’ll know what to do with the bit of road the cars sit on.

I’ve thought about getting a lot of that old orange car track and turning my little office into a racing wonderland, but then I’d spend days just trying to figure out which car is the fastest.

John Mahoney died a few days ago. He came to acting a bit later in life than most, having taught English for a time and then becoming the editor of a medical journal. But he built a remarkable career on stage and screen. I knew him as a college professor in Moonstruck, a manager for the White Sox in Eight Men Out and a copy in Striking Distance. He was a G-man in In The Line Of Fire. He was a newsman in Hudsucker Proxy and a lobbyist in The American President. Just recently we saw him playing a grieving character on E.R. But it was Frasier where I learned he had a gift for comedy.

This isn’t a strong Mahoney episode, but it is illustrative of one of the things he did, and remains my favorite episode:

What you see throughout the series, during the times when they wrote Niles as a cartoon and, later when they had to humanize him and, thus, made Frasier a more silly character, there was always their father, giving the show this terrific even keel. And then there were moments throughout the show that you found this thing had heart, this 11-year series had soul, which is a lot to say about a sitcom. And every time you had those scenes, every time you got that sense, it was because of Mahoney’s character and his portrayal. It is a remarkable thing.

Some Marty Crane scenes …

Sing us out, John Mahoney:


06
Feb 18

A bunch of journalism and storytelling stuff

We turned our eyes north, to Wisconsin, to talk with Green Bay Press-Gazette reporter Jonathan Anderson today. He joined the program to talk about a brand new ruling from the Wisconsin Supreme Court. It has to do with unions and votes and public records, and it could have some long reaching implications.

Yesterday’s story was about a man, his mop and criminal intent. The one before that was about iPhones, and before that we talked gerrymandering. The variety is such a neat thing, I think. Also, these shows are short. The idea is you can listen to this while you’re running an errand. You don’t have to be running a marathon.

This morning Dan Wakefield visited the television studio. We recorded a brief interview with him. Here’s a man who covered the Emmett Till murder trial, had a full journalism career, then wrote two best sellers and then had both of those books turned into movies. How do you get that down into a seven-minute conversation?

Wakefield is one of those journalists you study in school. He always gets asked, and is forever reciting, the lead to one of his stories for the magazine “The Nation.”

The crowds are gone and this Delta town is back to its silent, solid life that is based on cotton and the proposition that a whole race of men was created to pick it. Citizens who drink from the “Whites Only’ fountain in the courthouse breathe much easier now that the two fair-skinned half brothers, ages twenty-four and thirty-six, have been acquitted of the murder of a fourteen-year-old Negro boy. The streets are quiet, Chicago is once more a mythical name, and everyone here “knows his place.”

We should probably send the same amount of time on the themes of insularity, maintaining the status quo, parachute journalism, long memory, the other Others, and irony, which are all found in the last three paragraphs of his story:

It took the twelve jurors an hour and seven minutes to return the ver­dict that would evidently help close the gap between the white and col­ored races in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Tradi­tion, honor, God, and country were preserved in a package deal with the lives of Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam.

Reporters climbed tables and chairs to get a glimpse of the ac­quitted defendants, and the news­paper, magazine, and television cameras were aimed at the smiles of their wives and families in a flash­ing, buzzing finale. Then the agents of the outside world disappeared in a rush to make their deadlines and the stale, cluttered courtroom was finally empty of everything but mashed-out cigarettes, crushed paper cups, and a few of the canvas specta­tor chairs that the American Legion had sold across the street for two dollars each.

The trial week won’t be forgotten here soon, and glimpses of the “foreign” Negroes who don’t till cottonfields but hold positions as lawyers, doctors, and Congressmen have surely left a deep and uncom­fortable mark on the whites of the Delta. But at least for the present, life is good again. Funds are being raised for separate-and-equal school facilities in Tallahatchie County and on Wednesdays at lunchtime four of the five defense attorneys join with the other Rotarians of Sumner in a club song about the glad day “When men are one.”

Wakefield’s interview will be a part of a program next week. I watched two other shows being produced this evening. They’ll make it online at some point this week, I’m sure.


05
Feb 18

On the origins of nothing, and dogs

I tried an experiment this afternoon:

I also taught a class. I’m not sure which of the two worked out better, but I hope it was the class. I’ll go back and visit those students on Wednesday, though, and maybe the technical problems we had today will prove outweighed by the abundance of knowledge I attempted to bestow.

Bestow is an almost 800-year-old word. I bet you didn’t know that. In old English stow was a place. Then there was a “be” prefix and stow got an en on the end, somehow. And that’s probably a fascinating tale, but I don’t know it. I think it had something to do with a verb tense, though. You had “stow” as in a place, and then “to place,” it seems. And then someone misheard and miswrote and misread or found a better use and said “BESTOW!”

I had a professor who was a serious and legitimate etymologist. It was amazing the things he knew, the work he’d done or read. I wonder what he thinks of my ability to just Google that these days. I hope they’re all just glad we can look at things because the ease just, you know, might entice us to do so. Those etymology conferences, though, you just never know which way a committee is going to go. They could come out of those rooms at the Ramada and take an entirely different approach.

You know what’s hard? Googling things about the art and craft of etymology. You just get etymology links to the words you are co-searching. But I digress.

Digress is of 16th century latin origins, just so you know.

Anyway, that was a little experiment above, because John Curley was nice enough to talk to me last Friday. Funny story about that, I sent his station’s main account a note on Twitter and they sent me an email address and so I wrote to them. And then Curley wrote me right back as he was about to go on the air. He was very gracious with his time when we talked, and it was a most pleasant little conversation. The end of that piece is my favorite part, and the whole premise is sublimely funny anyway.

Pet poses from the weekend:

Sometimes you just have to reach out and touch someone’s big toe. That’s not my toe, of course, and here is a 90-degree angle.

We went to a Super Bowl party to not watch the game or commercials — there was something funny about Tide, and then Eli Manning did a thing and Dilly Dilly was disappointing and probably some other things, but I find it hard to follow along with the game or the spots in a crowd. Some people did seem to enjoy the halftime show and, for some reason, there was a single yelp when Jimmy Fallon appeared on the TV. But that’s small group dynamics for you. Nevertheless, a good time was had by all, as they say. And I got to play with a dog:

That is the preferred photographic style for the canine, a technique I settled on some 11 years ago now. (Time zooms.) That pose isn’t quite the perfect angle, but it was as close as this golden was going to let me get. He is a playful and loving dog, as just about ever golden ever gifted to humanity. And the outtakes are almost as fun as that pose:

More interesting material here tomorrow. I think the books section is going to finally make a comeback. There, I’ve said it out loud. Now it almost has to happen, maybe.

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02
Feb 18

Welcome to your weekend

I went into the studio first thing this morning and recorded this.

And I walked out of the audio booth and down the hall some 75 feet, let’s say and immediately into the television studio, where I produced an oral history. And that somehow ran until about lunch.

So I had a quick bowl of noodles at a place called Noodles, with The Yankee, which has the benefit of being right across the street and, usually, pretty good lunch fare. And they are quick, which is good.

After lunch it was right back into the studio where I worked with some students from the newspaper who are wanting to do movie reviews. This reporter is creating some no-doubt award-winning content and I am watching her in the viewfinder and trying not to giggle at her movie review:

She did two takes and decided she had what she wanted for this trial run episode. And after that I was down to the little this and that parts of the day, the tidying up the desk for the weekend, part of the day, and the answering all of the many emails part of the day.

On Fridays you can get all of that into one part of your day, if you are suitably motivated.

And then it was home, home to sit and read and pet the cat and enjoy doing nothing for a little while. The problem is, you could get used to that, so I ended up straightening up my office a tiny bit and doing some laundry and thinking up new projects and plotting out the weekend and, now, here we are. I’m sort of caught up on things, for a change. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do about that. Any thoughts?

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