Daily Archives: May 27, 2003

Me Rite Guud!

“Junior Dominique Houston is a straight-A student enrolled in honors and advanced placement classes at Northview High School in Covina, Calif. She is a candidate for class valedictorian and hopes to double-major in marine biology and political science in college, preferably the University of California at Los Angeles or the University of San Diego.

But the 17-year-old said she has written only one research paper during her high school career. It was three pages long, examining the habits of beluga whales.

‘Bibliographies? We don’t really even know how to do those. I don’t even know how I would write a 15-page paper. I don’t even know how I would begin,’ she said.”“Writing term papers has become a lost art,” The Los Angeles Times (via the Boston Globe), 5/27/03

Two things here:

1. When I was in elementary school, I used to live six houses down from Northview High School. It had this huge pile of dirt near the football field that I would haul my Huffy up and then do little bmx-like stunts until the pain brought on by repeatedly slamming my tender young reproductive organs into a banana seat as I landed forced me to stop. Go Northview Vikings!

2. When I was in high school (harumph, harumph), I took a class called Individual Humanities, which, in addition to regularly (i.e., once a month) requiring ten-page papers, had as its final paper a 50-page biographical study of a single person (I chose HL Mencken) plus a ten-page bibliographical essay (in which you talked about the several books you used to research your subject) plus another 10-page essay in which you discussed why you chose the subject you chose and how researching and writing the biographical essay affected you.

And when I was in high school, I had no idea of the concept of “double spacing.”

You may think this is one of those “life was so much better when I was a kid” sort of thing people do as they get older, but it’s not. It’s a “I’m pleased we’re raising a nation of people unable to write because that means I’ll never be out of work” sort of thing. So go on, kids! Keep on not writing those term papers! Every one you don’t write means less competition for me. I thank you. My mortgage thanks you.

So That’s How You Do It.

“In a racially charged book proposal bristling with anger at the New York Times, Jayson Blair likens himself to teenage sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo and rages at the newspaper he calls ‘my tormentor, my other drug, my slavemaster.’

The proposed book, which some literary agents say could bring the disgraced former reporter a six-figure advance, is titled ‘Burning Down My Master’s House.’”“Blair Book Proposal Lashes Out at Paper,” Washington Post, 5/27/03

It’s an interesting point in time to ask the question of whether there is any percentage in doing things honestly if one wants to get ahead. Let us stipulate that most excellent journalists, working diligently for decades could not yank a six-figure advance out of a book publisher for a first book (a memoir, no less) regardless of how excellent their book might be. Blair may be richly compensated for nothing more than being a spectacularly bad reporter for a very few years, and will have an opportunity to blame his downfall on an institution that gave him rather more trust and opportunity than he deserved.

And indeed there’s a real chance at the end of this, more people will blame the New York Times for the implosion of Jayson Blair than Jayson Blair himself (check the Blogoverse for confirmation). There is no penalty for Jayson Blair to have screwed up as badly as he has, except the possible deep-seated self-loathing that comes from knowing that you’ve screwed up incredibly badly, and it’s nearly all your own fault. But of course, any misgivings that Blair may have had appear to be gone now in a wave of personal calculus regarding how to make this all work for him.

As for Blair’s book itself, I figure it will sell pretty well, and will have two primary audiences: Conservatives, who are wallowing in the pleasure of seeing a liberal bastion like the Times take a hit, and journalists, who like nothing better than a long deep plunge into schadenfreude, especially as it regards the NYT, which nearly all of them would plunge ice picks into each others’ eyes in order to work at. I don’t expect anything would be able to keep conservatives from buying the book, since as a class they’ve shown time and again that their hatred of liberals outstrips their stated statutes of morality, i.e., they’re willing to reward deception and incompetence so long as it’s the Times that goes down. Indeed, if most of the major publishing houses cames to their sense and chose not to reward Blair for screwing up — which they won’t – I would expect some place like Regnery Publishing (motto: “We’re still making book on Clinton!”) would step in and generously offer its services.

But I do hope journalists will avoid the temptation of rewarding Blair for his actions. Schadenfreude or not, this is not primarily the story of the New York Times betraying the public trust, it’s the story of Jayson Blair imploding and then trying to find a way to make it someone else’s fault but his own. And if journalists can’t look at it that way, they should think of it like this: Every Blair book that gets bought reinforces the message that as far as journalism goes, hard work and effort don’t matter so long as you can cause enough damage to others on your own way down to Hell. I don’t know that a momentary spasm of Schadenfreude is worth that.

New Cat

Meet our new kitten, who we received through the good graces of our neighbor, whose cat had yet another litter of kittens. We decided we’d take one on — there are always more field mice to deal with — and this is the one we got. We’re pretty sure that Lopsided Cat, one of our other cats, is his older brother. Despite his coloring, he is not either Siamese or Himalayan, he’s just cat. Or kitten, actually — this little ball of fluff is only slightly larger than my hand. Balled up like he is in this picture, I can sit him in my palm. I don’t exactly have Michael Jordan hands.

The new cat is not entirely pleased to be here — previous to this, he’d been running around our neighbor’s yard, and was successfully avoiding capture by the neighbor until our neighbor flung a fishing net on top of it. Those crafty humans with their nets! What are you going to do. Right now he’s sitting far back inside a cat carrier I’ve made his temporary home in my office. I honestly don’t expect him to come out anytime soon. This is just as well. We’ll be doing the slow introduction to the other animals, so that none of them get it into their fuzzy little heads to eat the new guy.

The animal I worry about the least in this regard, I should note, is Kodi — Kodi loves Lopsided Cat to death, and would love Rex too, were Rex not so studiously unlovable. Kodi will probably just be thrilled she has another new buddy to play with. The other cats will probably be more of an issue. A good friend of mine suggested that one way to make them all a big happy family would be to rub tuna juice around all three cats and put them into the bathroom; after a few minutes of required hissing and swatting, they’d engage in an orgy of mutual licking to extract as much of the tuna essence from each other as possible. It’s not a bad idea, I suppose, but I don’t much want to imagine how painful the initial “dousing the cats liberally in tuna juice” phase would be for me, so I’ll probably just let them get used to each other gradually.

The new cat hasn’t got a name yet. As with any family with small children, we’re likely to let Athena do the honors, but if any of you have any suggestions, I may slip them to our daughter as a viable alternative to “Fluffy,” “Fuzzy,” “Kitty” or “Nietzsche” — the last of these seems improbable, sure, but then again, yesterday, Athena chose to describe a tummyache with these exact words: “Every single thing in the entire universe makes my stomach hurt.” Which is a line ol’ dreary Fred certainly would have approved of. So you never know.

Anyway: Got cat names? We’re open.

Interesting Factoid

So, from early Friday morning, when I powered down my computer to head off to vacation, to 6am on Tuesday morning, when I am typing this, I have received just short of 1500 pieces of e-mail. Of which six were not spam. Incidentally, this latter number does not include the piece of mail I received from “iamnotaspammer.com.”

If you don’t get as much spam as I do, well. Just you wait.