Jan 31, 2014

Cold Comfort

Some things are perfectly predictable. This weekend I'll be at the Estherville loophole. I will try to improve my collection. I will see a blue-steel candidate and, after due discourse with the owner, will make what I believe a realistic offer. He will respond: "I got more than that in it," as though that was (a) necessarily true and (b) my problem rather than his. As I say, completely predictable.

Just as are the scrambling apes we hire to represent us. The headline news in the  Midwest is still propane. It is either unobtainable or priced out of reach of poor people,and even some not so poor. ($4.99 per gallon  locally at last report.)

Our politicians are of course very concerned. They feel the pain as they lounge about the overheated Taj Mahals where they meet to dicker with your money. They flood the air waves and strain newsprint budgets with promises to "do something."

It's a tossup between my northern neighbor, Minnesota, and my home state about which looks more cynically ridiculous.

Minnesota state government is responding to the home-heat crisis with a hotline.

"Minnesota Hotline. How may I help you Sir or Madam?"

"Hello. Dis is Ole and it is 'bout 14 below and our tank it is empty and Lena and me are cold."

"We understand, Please press 13 to be connected with the the Minnesota Department of Interior Environmental Comfort."

"You tink dey help us?"

(Under breath: Beats the Hell out of Me.)  "I am sure you will find, Sir, that they understand your concern. Good bye."

We have a sort of hot line too, but our Des Moines politicians also want to throw a little money at Jack Frost, one million dollars. They are telling the media and hoping for praise -- the kind that can be turned into votes come November.

They would really prefer that you stop reaching for your $3 Chinese calculator, especially if you remember that Iowa already provides heating help for about 95,000 homes (under LIHEAP). Because then you might discover that their massive show  of compassion amounts to to ten and a half-bucks per home, or enough propane to heat your average house for maybe four hours.


There's no intent here to belittle the problem, and I'm on record as offering the comfort of the Camp Jiggleview  fire to anyone who won't steal the silver. I  doubt  if I could get any of the legislthings to tell me if they've offered to open their home.

Jan 30, 2014

Don't bury the lede

Okay. I won't:

Yahoo News needs a wire editor who isn't smoking crack on duty.


Home base for YN is here, and it has been a bookmark on my Mac for years.

This morning, the news lineup there begins with a hit piece on Obama by YN's own Matt Bai.

Next, a Daily Beast hit piece on Ted Cruz.

Then a nigh incomprehensible  satire (?) by Ann Coulter, followed by a MatchCom ad dressed up as a news headline, then another D. Beast thumbsucker on pot laws.

A couple of similar items later you get to the first actual news report which, this morning, is offered in Spanish.  And that is probably the first thing the reading masses will catch as a probable journalism screwup.


I speak now of a certain period of time, beginning roughly in the 1880s and ending  about the time the national information system was captured by vidicons imaging beautiful coifs yammering happy talk on the six-o'clock news.

In those days, every daily newspaper bigger than the Bloomington Pantograph employed a wire editor, usually a crusty old reporter too far gone to be of much use on a beat but still possessed of the single  most important thing in journalism: news judgement.

He monitored the old 66 words-per-minute Teletypes*, ripping copy, spiking** most of it, selecting the best and most relevant stories for his readers.  These he massaged in several ways and passed on to the senior editors at the "desk."

The better ones came to work sober and didn't reach for the jug of Jim Beam hidden in the file drawer on the right-hand side of their two-pedestal desk at least until the presses were rolling with the bulldog edition.

The final product was a paper which, whatever its faults of emphasis, story placement, and editorial slant, gave its readers a concise and (more-or-less) dependable  view of changes in the world and the nation since the previous day's editions.

Not even the worst of the damned Hearst rags would have gone to press with the above-mentioned Yahoo cesspool on Page One.


There are still men and women alive who practiced journalism with an almost religious belief in the sanctity of the mission. That's why you see so many of us trudging around with sad basset -hound eyes, fighting the urge to reach down for our hidden flask of Jim Beam.



*Through the WW2/Korea era there were three fierce competitors based in the U.S.  The Associated Press (AP) was the unquestioned leader, followed by United Press  (UP)  and International News Service (INS). INS sold itself to UP, creating United Press International (UPI) which went broke in the 1980s and survives today mostly as an internet logo, a feature service at best.

**Spiking: Unwanted wire copy was slammed on to the spike in case it might be needed later.

If some guy you met in a bar claimed to be a wire editor and could not display several puncture-wound scars on his palms, he was lying to you.

Jan 29, 2014

Brigid on tools. Not only graceful, but wonderfully ludditarian for the most part,  both the implements and the attitude for getting along happily without undue leaning on other people.

A blizzard in paradise

One late-winter day a long time ago, I was King of the World, a legend in my own mind. The Henderson, back from six months in the mysterious Orient,  docked at the San Diego Destroyer Base. I had just sewn on a petty officer crow  (Imagine. Me. Not yet 19, A noncom. I fear I may have strutted a little bit.). I had also qualified for special proficiency pay. My income had about doubled to something like $160 a month.  To top it off, I'd had some luck in the bos'n locker poker session the last night at sea.

So, for about $75,  I bought a 1950 Morris Minor, a little ratty but sound insofar as the word could (or can) be applied to an English mechanical device. I tuned her in my sorta-girl friend's yard and spent a few nice liberties at beaches you couldn't get to by bus -- about as far as Redondo Huntington Beach, I think.

Then came a letter from the real girl friend. She was back in San Francisco from an unhappy career move to  Seattle and  would I care to pop up for a visit?

Wangle a 96-hour liberty. Varoom.

Highway 101 takes you through Los Angeles. No other way. We all hated the traffic even then. But what the Hell.

I'll tell you the Hell. It snowed in L.A. For ten or 12 minutes. Traffic on the wet six-lane stopped. More than one piece of long, fat Detroit iron slewed across a lane or two. I pulled off and drank coffee until the sky brightened and the CHIPS had reorganized the highway. I resumed, pushing the dowager as close to her 64 mph max as I could.

Further adventures of the long weekend need not be spoken of, but Little Morris  created no drama, and I returned from liberty without having to worry about finessing an AWOL chit. The blizzard amidst the palms still sometimes generates a grin when  I scrape a few inches of global warming from my windshield.


She had only one factor of cool. The turn signals spoke semaphore. Hit the lever. Up flips an orange-lighted plastic flag from the pillar. For that reason alone I'd like to have her back.