Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Worst song of all time

CNN's entertainment guy Todd Leopold has spoken: The worst song of all time is ... "Honey" by Bobby Goldsboro.
"I've always been at a loss to its success. Sure, it's about a 'Love Story'-type romance, and those sorts of tearjerkers sell. But the narrator of 'Honey' isn't even kind to his wife: He laughs when she slips, describes her as 'kinda dumb and kinda smart' and mocks her for crying at the late show. ... And then there's her death. Even in 1968, what kind of jerk wouldn't be at his wife's bedside as she died?"
Boy, "Honey" was No. 1 on the Billboard charts for five weeks in 1968, and one of the year's hottest songs, so it's more like "Todd Leopold's Least Favorite Song of All Time," which is no big deal. And while I'm not a big fan of it either, I'm sure worse crap has hit the airwaves, like ...

"Tiptoe Through the Tulips" by Tiny Tim ... "Ice Ice Baby" by Vanilla Ice ... "MacArthur ParK' by Richard Harris ... anything by Tracy Chapman ...

Hey, let's build our own list! What would you say is the worst song of all time?

Next airline trend: No leg room ... period

Airline-making giant Airbus is said to be quietly shopping the idea of eliminating some seats altogether from airliners by "propping" passengers against upright backboards. If installed, they would allow more paying customers to be packed into economy.

Now, I have made adjustments for food-less flying and cavity searches at the security gate. And I understand how the airlines are having a bad time of it right now, what with profits being down. But what's next? Passing around a tin pot for making poopy?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Dear Mr. President, I'm going to Mexico ...

I don't care who you are, this is funny ...


David M. Bresnahan
April 1, 2006

Dear President Bush:

I'm about to plan a little trip with my family and extended family, and I would like to ask you to assist me. I'm going to walk across the border from the U.S. into Mexico, and I need to make a few arrangements. I know you can help with this.

I plan to skip all the legal stuff like visas, passports, immigration quotas and laws. I'm sure they handle those things the same way you do here.

So, would you mind telling your buddy, President Vicente Fox, that I'm on my way over? Please let him know that I will be expecting the following:

1. Free medical care for my entire family.

2. English-speaking government bureaucrats for all services I might need, whether I use them or not.

3. All government forms need to be printed in English.

4. I want my kids to be taught by English-speaking teachers.

5. Schools need to include classes on American culture and history.

6. I want my kids to see the American flag flying on the top of the flag pole at their school with the Mexican flag flying lower down.

7. Please plan to feed my kids at school for both breakfast and lunch.

8. I will need a local Mexican driver's license so I can get easy access to government services.

9. I do not plan to have any car insurance, and I won't make any effort to learn local traffic laws.

10. In case one of the Mexican police officers does not get the memo from Pres. Fox to leave me alone, please be sure that all police officers speak English.

11. I plan to fly the U.S. flag from my house top, put flag decals on my car, and have a gigantic celebration on July 4th. I do not want any complaints or negative comments from the locals.

12. I would also like to have a nice job without paying any taxes, and don't enforce any labor laws or tax laws.

13. Please tell all the people in the country to be extremely nice and never say a critical word about me, or about the strain I might place on the economy.

I know this is an easy request because you already do all these things for all the people who come to the U.S. from Mexico. I am sure that Pres. Fox won't mind returning the favor if you ask him nicely.

However, if he gives you any trouble, just invite him to go quail hunting with your V.P.

Thank you so much for your kind help.

David Bresnahan

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The death of news

Over the weekend, I saw "Good Night, and Good Luck" -- the story of CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow's head-on collision with red-baiter Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. Ah, the good old days of journalism, when comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable was a noble cause. Television actually had some real journalists who believed, more or less, that truth was a greater national treasure than, say, Al Capone's vault.

And I couldn't get it out of my head: The latest heir to Murrow's legacy at CBS is ... Katie Couric. Shoot me now.

The cult of celebrity in the news business isn't "news" anymore. But can you imagine Jon Stewart as editor of the New York Times? Al Roker taking the helm of USA Today? Oprah Winfrey as the news-decision maker at the Washington Post? Howard Stern as the chief of NPR? Other than newspapers' lingering devotion to covering news and not making it (and sometimes we've slipped there, too) that's what elevating entertainer Katie Couric to "managing editor" of CBS News has done. Although Murrow (and Dan Rather and Mike Wallace) became a celebrity, too, he did it on the strength of his reporting expertise.

Yeah, yeah, I've heard it from every corner of the giddy blogosphere -- where having a computer sometimes is more important than having an education -- that newspapers are dying. I don't buy it. Sure, hard-copy, newsprint newspapers will certainly find a more efficient, more earth-friendly forms in the near future, but the need for responsible messengers will be forever. We have always valued those people in our cultures who could go out and see on our behalf, then report back accurately and honestly, so the best decision could be made. That won't change.

Is that Katie Couric ... or is it the unknown-to-you staff of the New Orleans Times Picayune, my one-time colleague Jim Sheeler of the Rocky Mountain News, or David Finkel of the Washington Post? Know them? You should: They all won Pulitzer Prizes yesterday.

Former Los Angeles Times writer Bob Baker, at his Web site www.newsthinking.com, wrote something I've pinned up near my computer at work. He said:

"I don't know about you, but I'm tried of listening to our obituaries. I accept death: Everybody dies sometime. If newspapers are going to die, as most 'smart' people seem to think, let's go down swinging. Let's go down like the Texans at the Alamo. Let's publish the best, most interesting, most audacious stories we can, on our own terms. Let's not be businessmen. Let's be artists. Let's put our art -- the stories we love to write, edit and publish -- on the market and see who buys it."

The news business is neither as bad as cynical Americans think, nor as good as our own advertising. It certainly isn't a good sign when celebrities call themselves journalists and readers/viewers believe it. And if you want to rely on messengers such as Katie Couric, Bill O'Reilly, Jon Stewart, Barbara Walters and their ilk, you're a willing dupe.

Monday, April 17, 2006

A pro-war liberal unshaken

If you're one of those people who likes his/her politics to be black-and-white, you've probably long ago given up on the beautifully complex human race ... and missed out on some rather challenging thinking. But then, I guess it's easier to follow than to think.

But not everyone is like you. Take Robert Kaplan. An avowed pro-war liberal, Kaplan is a national correspondent for Atlantic Monthly and the author of, among many books, "Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground" and "The Coming Anarchy: Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War." In an op-ed column in today's Los Angeles Times entitled "Haunted by Hussein, humbled by events," he admits some reservations about the use of large-scale military operations but also describes an Iraq where incremental but important change is happening.

Kaplan has been there, while overwhelmingly most Americans have not. He has seen first-hand what Republican and Democrat strategists have only read about before they spin it into the fabric of overheated rhetoric. Kaplan writes, in part:
"I expected, as should anyone who supports going to war, that there would be a certain amount of bureaucratic incompetence in executing the invasion. The conflict in Kosovo in 1999 was marked by such a level of incompetence, with a NATO alliance that assumed that target lists were a legitimate subject for diplomatic committees. Still, the Clinton administration maintained a reasonable amount of political-military unity at the top, and the State and Defense departments were not at each other's throats. ...

"As for myself, because of the way the WMD argument intersected with the humanitarian one — buttressed, in turn, by my own memories of Iraq — there was never any chance that I would not have supported the war. Because Hussein's misrule was beyond normal dictatorship, even someone like me, skeptical about spreading democracy, felt it justified to remove him."

Kaplan's essay is not complex, but his thought processes are. For anyone who believes that being a registered Democrat means you must oppose the war and wish a hateful end for George Bush ... or that being a registered Republican means you must blindly support the war and attack dissenters as traitors ... well, that's merely close-minded and shallow.

We're complex animals, we humans. Only our need for air, food and water is common to each of us. As for politics, Kaplan shows it comes in many sizes, shapes and colors, often mixing them all together in some unique bit of art.

The best trade since Manhattan?

A guy with a paper clip hopes to parlay it into a home of his own by using the otherworldly power of Craiglist. Can Kyle MacDonald do it? He's already bartered himself up to a year's free rent on a Pheonix house ... can a Bel-Aire mansion be far behind?

OK, if this guy can make it work, I've got this really ugly tie in my closet ...

Friday, April 14, 2006

Bettie Page is hot again

Bettie Page is 82, but she's hot again. She's also among the most famous proto-porn pin-up girls of the 1950s. Unless you're older than 60 and a guy, you likely never saw her work the first time around, but now Bettie Page is the subject of a biopic, "The Notorious Bettie Page."

Half supermodel and half B-movie starlet, Page was a readily recognizable face with her dark bangs. She also had a hidden personal history, but her popularity, while mysterious, is cult-like. I'm sure she would rather not cavort in skimpy bikinis or bondage motifs today at 82, but Bettie was rather fetching and dangerous-looking in her day. She recently gave an interview to the L.A. Times:
"Between 1949 and 1957 she was immortalized in thousands of saucy photos. Those images have spawned biographies, comic books, fan clubs and numerous websites, as well as commercial products — Bettie Page playing cards, Bettie Page lunch boxes, Bettie Page beach towels, Bettie Page action figures. According to her agents at CMG, who control the images of Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana, Page's official website has received 588 million hits over the last five years. That's cult status. "
And now a movie. If you want to see what commercial porn looked like before Hugh Hefner -- before it was even porn -- take a look at Bettie's photos.

"I don't know what they mean by an icon," she quotes herself at her own web site. "I never thought of myself as being that. It seems strange to me. I was just modeling, thinking of as many different poses as possible. I made more money modeling than being a secretary. I had a lot of free time. You could go back to work after an absence of a few months. I couldn't do that as a secretary."

The San Francisco Chronicle gives "The Notorious Bettie Page" a glowing review today.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Home again

The last thing I wrote from this desk, late on Sept. 23, 2005, as Hurricane Rita closed in:
The squalls have arrived. Winds are steadily increasing, the lights flicker occasionally, rain drums an incessant bass line against the masonry skin of our building, the windows bulge with every gust, a transformer on the corner detonates in a shower of sparks ... and we're only in the tune-up. The prelude comes in a few hours, and the violent first movement a few hours after that.We have taken a head count and everyone is safe. Now that night has fallen, we can take stock and plan, to some degree, the next move. ...

We've adopted the rhythms of impending calamity, like a guy with exactly 12 minutes to live. We get a series of little shots to get this right, and each one presents a new challenge. We are one a short runway and there's no scrubbing the take-off. ...

Still, I'm not sure why we think we might deflect a 500-mile wide hurricane by throwing a scrap of paper worth 50 cents at it. Maybe it's like some many things we do in life: It just makes us feel that we did something. I'm not inclined to give it too much thought tonight. Maybe another time, after the pieces are picked up.

The lights went out in Galveston an hour ago, but they're still on here, so there's a precious moment to do one more thing. Post a blog entry. Visit one of the frightened dogs somebody bivouacked in the darkroom. Answer an e-mail from a concerned friend. Call my son in Wyoming and reassure him that we'll be OK. The hard work will be sleeping.

Rita raped our newsroom, hollowed it like a cantaloupe out with wind, rain and relentless pounding. She displaced us for exactly six months and 20 days, more than one-quarter of my life as a Texas newspaperman. The refugee experience, either in your life or your work, isn't recommended.

But today, we're back. I sit now at my old desk, in my old office -- repainted, retiled and scrubbed of waterstains and mold. I can sit at my workspace and see the outside world again. I have a proper desk, not a folding table. Moving back here won't necessarily make everything better, but it gives us a place to stand, finally, to move our little part of the world.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

What's your name worth?

Muhammad Ali has sold rights to his name and likeness for a cool $50 million. Not bad, when the largest purse he ever won while boxing was $2.5 million. The company that bought the rights, CKX Inc., of New York, paid $100 million last year for the right to market the name and likeness of Elvis Presley, too.

Kinda makes you wonder: What could you get for your name and likeness? Maybe the only red carpet you'll ever walk is in your bathroom. Maybe your likeness wouldn't sell free beer. Maybe you're so anonymous you forget your own name sometimes. Obviously, nobody could make money with most of our likenesses or names, but think about the people to whom you're already famous and important -- what's your name worth to them?

On certain days, my name and likeness is worth breakfast in bed. Or a free car wash. Or a birthday cake. Or a cold beer on a hot day. OK, it's not $50 million, but who needs $50 million if you have people who already think you're the biggest celebrity in the world?

(Of course, if there's somebody out there willing to pay six figures for the rights to "Ron Franscell," I'm willing to listen. Five figures? ... Three figures, counting decimal places?)

Monday, April 10, 2006

Do you live in a smart city?

The five "smartest" cities in America -- according to an Associated Press survey of Census data over the past 34 years -- don't include Los Angeles or New York, which only act smarter than everybody else.

No, the five most educated cities in the USA were No. 1 Seattle, followed by San Francisco; Raleigh, N.C.; Washington and Austin, Texas. (OK, I know it really rankles a lot of folks on both coasts to think that a Texas city is smarter, but that's just a pleasant by-product of this whole story!)

An interesting fact from the AP report:

"Nationally, a little more than one-fourth of people 25 and older had at least bachelor's degrees in 2004. Some 84 percent had high school diplomas or the equivalent. By comparison, in 1970 only a bit more than one in 10 adults had bachelor's degrees and about half had high school diplomas."

(When you live in Texas, you get tired of smart-asses elsewhere who are always joking about Bubba and trailer parks, so it's rather fun to have empirical evidence that the smart-asses ain't so smart.)

So what's the big deal? Who wants a bunch of smarty-pants neighbors?

Well, they're also rich neighbors. College graduates earn about two-thirds more money than high school graduates in 2004, according to the Census Bureau and AP. The median income - the point at which half make more and half make less - for adults with bachelor's degrees was $42,404, but it was $25,360 for high school graduates. Adults who did not graduate high school had a median income of $18,144.

Cities with few college graduates -- think Newark, Detroit and Cleveland -- have a hard time generating good-paying jobs, the AP said. That makes it difficult to attract more college graduates. And that's one reason why they are struggling to recover from the decline of U.S. manufacturing, the AP said.

(Yeah, but I still think it's hilarious that a Texas city is "smarter" than Boston, New York and Los Angeles!)

But also, the smart get smarter and the, um, less smart get less smart. Cities that need more skilled labor must welcome more educated outsiders, especially to improve local schools, the AP story said.

Gee, maybe some University of Texas graduates could help New York and L.A. improve their test scores.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Refugees from home

How has your life changed in the last 6 months and 13 days? Oh, a better question: what comforts have you enjoyed nearly every day since Sept. 24, 2005?

That was exactly 195 days ago. Or 4,680 hours. Or 280,800 minutes. Or 16.8 million seconds.

Why do I ask? Well, Sept. 24, 2005, is when Hurricane Rita hit Beaumont, Texas. That night, the Category 3 storm rendered our top-floor newsroom uninhabitable as wind-powered rain sliced through every weakness in our roof, collapsed our ceilings and airducts, and flooded the workplace of more than 50 journalists.

Since then, the reporters and editors at my paper have been scattered to cubby holes and dark niches elsewhere in our building, where we remain today. We have set up computers on folding tables anywhere we could find extra space; our phones are re-directed in labyrinthine ways; the ventilation in our orphan spaces is inconsistent, to be nice; we are scattered hither and yon through the buildings, making communication unwieldy and clunky; we sit -- and and reporter alike -- elbow-to-elbow, consigned to every personal tic and peccadillo of the co-workers on either side of us; and our separate mini-"newsrooms" are, in fact, hallways, passages and gathering places for customers, janitors, and colleagues from every other department.

In this time, we've had little or no access to our "morgue" -- our library of microfilm, photos and clippings. Many personal belongings and professional resources were either destroyed, lost, appropriated or safely stowed in unimaginable places when we fled the rising water. The things we carried were simply not meant to suffice for more than six months.

Contractors working to restore and renovate the newsroom have made great progress, but they can't seem to wrap it up. Our move-in dates have been set and moved so many times that it no longer fazes anyone when a new postponement is announced.

Today, we're still not back.

BUT ... we're told that we should be back in our newsroom by the end of next week, nearly seven months after the storm. Most of us -- seasoned veterans of A Series of Regrettable Delays -- can't get too excited. It'll happen when it happens. We continue to put out a newspaper every day, and it's often pretty damned good, despite the deprivations. If anything, it made us appreciate the security and comfort of normalcy. How pleasant it is to have some room of one's own. We certainly haven't suffered as much as people who lost their homes and entire businesses in the horror show that was the 2005 hurricane season.

So I ask again: How has your life changed in the last 6 months and 13 days? What comforts have you enjoyed nearly every day since Sept. 24, 2005?

ABOVE: My office, the morning after the storm.