Thursday, February 28, 2008

Holy Smoke! I'm a low ranking nerd

I don't know which is worse, being a nerd, which I freely admit in my profile, or being a low-ranking nerd.

I have a new PC at work and I was setting up the default search on my Internet Explorer Browser. (Hey, it's what they gave me. I have Firefox as well.)

Setting up the default requires you to do a search for the word TEST. And I ran across a nerd exam, which I promptly had to fill out.

Here's what I got:

I am nerdier than 62% of all people. Are you a nerd? Click here to find out!

There were a lot of questions about the periodic table, which I contend are not necessarily definitive.

But anyway, that's my ranking and it's now official.

Friday, February 22, 2008

What Was the Question Again

Questions can make for interesting challenges in fiction writing. Yeah that's great if the hero wins the throne and takes his place after the battle. But what if he didn't take the throne after he wins the right? That'd be another story...

Questions make interesting challenges for life as well. The Table of Free Voices facilitated via Dropping Knowledge sought to pose 100 important global questions.

Last night Christine pointed me to the Vicki Robin blog, and a post about a new effort to rank the important questions of our day.

Via a Survey Monkey Survey everyone is invited to vote on top questions in order to boil those down to 10 which will be discussed during Conversation Week March 24-30.

Since we live in interesting times, it seems a worthwhile way to spend a few online minutes. Just mulling the questions is a good exercise.

The link to share if you're of a mind to is

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Tearing Up

Christine says I tear up too easily at TV shows and movies. You be the judge. I tear(ed) up when:

  • James T. Kirk is stealing the Enterprise to save Spock in Star Trek III and James B. Sikking tells him: "If you proceed with this you'll never sit in a captain's chair again," to which Kirk, without hesitation, responds: "Warp speed, Mr. Sulu." If you're a TOS fan, you know what I'm talking about. Captaining a starship is everything to Kirk but he says f*** it to save his friend.
  • Jody in Family Affair works tirelessly to save Mr. Osaki's ill bonsai tree because he believes its health will determine whether or not Mr. Osaki survives his journey back to Japan to see his family a final time. Jody pulls the tree through though all hope seemed lost and finally gets a letter with a photograph of Mr. Osaki back home.
  • The allied POW team chooses not to stage their planned escape during the soccer game halftime in Victory with Sylvester Stallone, Pele and Michael Caine. Instead they decide to play the Nazi team to the game's fruition in occupied France. They win with some play that includes magnificent moves by some of the world's best soccer players in small roles. The Paris crowd is so thrilled that they rally, shouting "Victorie, victorie, victorie," and tear down the stadium walls, thus facilitating escape for the heroes anyway. (I guess I should have said spoiler warning if you havn't managed to catch that film on cable sometime in the past 25 years.)
  • The moment I realized in Brother Bear that the mother little Koda is looking forward to seeing again is the same bear Kenai killed. Christine says even Monty the Cat who was at my side as I watched that was teary eyed, though he claimed: "No, no there's just something in my eye."
  • When Bernard and Rose were reunited in Lost. Christine teared up at that one too.
Those are just a few, but I guess they're illustrative.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Lessons From My Reporting Days - Editors Never Make Mistakes

Once, back when I was a reporter, when Reagan was president, the editors came into a meeting, with a spool of paper. We had long continuous feed rolls that fed into dot matrix printers in those days.

The city editor rolled the spool out along our conference table so that it stretched its full length.

"These are all the mistakes that have been made in the last two weeks," he said.

And by errors, he meant things that were actually wrong i.e. words spelled wrong, but he also meant deviations from AP style.

Sacred Texts
Moses was given the Ten Commandments in one hand and the Associated Press Stylebook in the other, or so it seemed.

The book is like one of many style guides that tells how to do things for the sake of consistency so that everybody isn't doing their own thing as far as a.m. vs am and the like. It would be print anarchy without the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, The Chicago Manual of Style or... ah ah ah AHHHH AHHH ah ah The Associated Press Style Book. (One-nine are spelled out. After 10 you go to digits. STAB are the street names you can abbreviate. St., Ave., Blvd. and so on.)

The spool wouldn't have been nearly so long without AP style errors. AP style was sacrosanct. Except when it wasn't.

"This is a case where our style supersedes AP style," the editors would say, usually when you called them on a point like whether or not to capitalize Antichrist. Did I mention I covered religion? Antichrist came up a time or two.

My first real life lesson in how editors are never wrong came long before that, however. I got in this pie fight, you see.

On the Pie Front Lines
Candidates for city judge and people in the media were pitted against each other on the Fourth of July in a pie eating contest the first year I was a reporter.

Everyone sat at a set of tables, and there were a bunch of pies with really thick cream toppings. I'm sure there was a time limit, but that became irrelevant because there were radio guys there.

The world was a more interesting place when you had local radio guys.

I got hit in the head with a banana cream.

From one direction.

Then I got hit from the other, and I wasn't the only one getting hit. There was pie to left of me, pie to the right of me...the air in front of me was thick with pie.

I gave as good as I got, coconut on a morning news guy, Boston cream on a candidate. When it was over everyone was wearing pie, and I did a half a league, half a league back to the newsroom to write of my adventure. A poet warrior!

They ran the story with a picture of me throwing pie on the front page. On the jump they ran a picture of a couple of candidates. The cutline--we journalist types called them cutlines, you probably thought they were captions--identified candidates.

One was the winner, the only guy who kept eating when everybody else was in battle. The other guy was just sitting there, but the cutline said he participated in the pie fight.

His supporters started calling around noon.

"He did NOT THROW ONE SLICE OF PIE! I was there! He is being falsely accused."

I didn't read the freakin' paper in the morning before work, so I had to find it and see what it said. I didn't remember giving any specifics about who threw what.

"Hmm," I thought, when I found a copy. "Wonder who wrote that?"

It was an editor of course, in an effort to polish my sparkling prose.

"I didn't write that," I told the city editor.

"Let me check on it," he said.

He talked to the editor who'd rewritten the line and came back.

"He said it was in the body of the story."

Now, in the story I noted that the guy who won was the only one who kept eating. I knew that because he won. They gave him a ribbon or something.

I didn't know who else was fighting because I was getting hit in the head with pie from about, let me see, one, two, three...there was that one guy from TV...five..NINE directions.

But because the editor had extrapolated from "ONLY CANDIDATE A KEPT EATING" that everyone else was fighting, it was my fault he changed my cutline and made it wrong.

The Moral of the Story
I didn't get in any real trouble. The falsely accused candidate laughed when we called him about it. It was after all A FREAKIN' PIE FIGHT. Sure it wasted food, but that meringue would've melted long before those pies could have been shipped to anyone hungry.

I walked away from the situation chastised and much wiser.

Think about it when you watch the news or read the paper. Reporters and editors are just humans.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lisa Kalvelage, "Murder One" and Situation Ethics

I can't help getting a little choked up every time I hear Pete Seeger's "My Name is Lisa Kalvelage." It's a musical transcription of 1966 remarks by the real Lisa Kalvelage, who had been a child in Hitler's Germany. She explained at a rally against the use of napalm that she had come to understand responsibility and "mass guilt."

When asked about Hitler's actions in Germany and where she was and where her parents were when various events occurred, she had no good answer and was initially denied an exit permit from Germany.

She stood at the protest May 25, 1966 that delayed the delivery of napalm and stated she was there because she didn't want to be asked by her children and children's children where she was when key events occurred and what she did about them.

These are certainly points that resonate with me in this, our present. I think about that especially as torture is discussed in so many corners.

I'm no fan of coddling terrorists, but reportedly, and I've only read this in a blog, not the Congressional record, my Congressman said he was OK with torture if it saved lives.

That's situation ethics of course, a classic case of the end justifies the means.

It's a path I don't think we need to go down as a people.

In the old and brilliant legal mystery series Murder One, Stephen Bochco had his lead character Ted Hoffman tell his younger associates: "We don't treat murderers well and give them fair trials for the murderers. We do it because it makes us better people."

As I sit and contemplate it all, I'm compelled to ask, is torture what it takes to feel safe?

Sadly, it's not always only terrorists who get tortured. Sometimes it's just cab drivers like Dilawar, focal figure of Taxi to the Dark Side.

Like Lisa Kalvelage, I've felt "forced to start thinking on this theme."

Dilawar was 22 years old when he died in 2002 in U.S. custody, guilty apparently of picking up a fare, of working at the best job he could find.

When I was 22 I worked as a reporter because it was a job that let me write.

Where was I, and what was I doing December 10, 2002?

I don't remember. But I was safe.

Is my life worth more than Dilawar's?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Bad Karma

Everyone encounters difficult people. I once heard a minister note that the difficult people a minister counsels are difficult everywhere.

They have to:
  • go to stores
  • to banks
  • come by newspaper offices to place announcements about public events
  • work somewhere and thus be co-workers.
We used to have a couple of people when I was at the paper who had such hair triggers everyone went on alert when they walked in. And everything they ever needed posted as a free announcement went wrong. No one set out to do it, but everyone tried so hard to please them that something went South. Sometimes even the corrections went wrong.

$#!+#{^0$ I Have Known
I had the realization the other day that I know several people these days who do the same things, and yep, things always get messed up.

Recently I discovered myself smoothing over a rift that was years old, a misunderstanding that came after a blow-up that kept some materials owned by one party out of reach for years that could have been put to good purpose.

At the same time we had another incident that went wrong in a domino-like fashion because allowances had been made for another person whose passive defiance had become legendary. Turned out the rule that was waived to accommodate was there for a reason.

Notes to self:

  • Karma is indeed a biatch.
  • Don't be a jerk, or things get screwed up for you.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

I just thought it was funny - Sarah Silverman on Kimmel With Damon

I didn't catch it live on Jimmy Kimmel, but a friend pointed me to it online, and I just thought it was funny. It's bleeped but beware the language and see if you LOL. Frankly I thought Matt Damon's knowing smile was great.

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