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The New York Times news alert at the top of my email inbox this morning said:

Several Arab countries have offered to carry out airstrikes against militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a senior State Department official said Sunday.

I guess they were airstrikes. I say "I guess" because two paragraphs later, the official said the countries would be "taking more aggressive kinetic action.”

I guess it's too much to expect him to say the countries in question were going to blow the militants to smithereens, but "aggressive kinetic action"? Really?

The great Richard Thompson

Dan Addison Photography

If this one doesn't tug at your heart, then you've got no heart:

(Keep your distance)

Walter Trout

My friend and colleague penshark introduced me this week to a guitarist I'd never listened to: Robert Trout.

All I can say is "holy ker-f**k!" This guy can play the blues. Think Joe Bonamassa, SRV, Albert King, B.B. King, Johnny Winter—my goodness. The only problem is that now I want to buy all of his stuff.

Jeff Beck update

Beck wound up playing tonight in Salamanca; first reports were that the Beck/ZZ Top tour was canceled after Dusty Hill, the ZZ Top bassist, fell and hurt his hip midweek.

My nephew and I had fourth-row seats, but they were way, way off to the side. No matter, because so many ZZ Top fans stayed away that there were empty seats all around—including the two we moved to in the front row, center stage. Dead center.

Not a bad place to watch a true legend, a genuine guitar god, make the impossible look routine. Beck has unmatched ability coupled with a boundless and frequently puckish imagination. For his first encore, he took the stage sans band and began noodling on the guitar, and the next thing you know, the noodles had turned into the theme for the Beverly Hillbillies. Fortunately, the crowd was old enough to appreciate it.

And, as usual, his playing melted all the wax in my ears and charred my eyebrows.

In what is my new pre-concert activity, I managed to evade security and made it to the door of Beck's tour bus, but a guy who was carrying a guitar and was leaving just as I arrived wouldn't let me in to say hello to Beck. That was the only off-note for the evening.

The highest degree of suckitude

It's been a lousy summer concert season—not a single show I've been interested in enough to drive 90 minutes to Buffalo or two hours to Rochester to see. But I kept thinking, "Well, at least I've got fourth-row seats for the Jeff Beck/ZZ Top tour when it plays at the casino"—specifically, the Seneca Nation of Indians casino about a half-hour down the road.

I didn't really care about seeing ZZ Top. Jeff Beck, though? That's another story. When Beck comes around, I go. Simple as that.

So, after waiting for months to see Beck, what happens? Dusty Hill, ZZ Top's bassist, falls on the tour bus and hurts his hip last night. And the rest of the tour is canceled.

"Sucks in a massive way" doesn't begin to do the situation justice.

Ringing the big gong

It would be easier waiting for the other shoe to drop if we knew what the first shoe looked like.


photo 12

Sherry and I used to take our dogs to be groomed by a woman named Nancy Green. She was highly skilled and turned our dogs into dolls—which was OK, because they are shih-tzus, and Sherry fusses over her little divas.

Nancy had a shih-tzu named Abby who stayed in a cage right near the grooming table when Nancy was working. Nancy had adopted Abby from a truck driver who decided life on the road wasn't good for a dog.

Abby had a real throaty, gravelly bark. Sherry called her "Gravel Gertie." She was a cute little dog, and we grew to know the Greens well enough so that when Nancy and her husband, Kenneth, would travel out of town for ballroom dancing competitions, Abby would stay with us. In fact, she stayed with us one whole winter while Nancy and Kenneth visited their son in Florida.

A few years ago, Kenneth had a stroke. And it seemed that no sooner had he recovered than Nancy had a stroke, one much more severe than Kenneth's had been. They needed to find a new home for Abby. Of course, we took her.

Abby was 13 when we adopted her. She was blind and deaf, but by barking insistently, she got what she wanted because her barks had a limited number of meanings: I want to eat, I'm thirsty, I want to go out, I want someone to come sit with me, I want to go to bed. We would figure it out by process of elimination. This summer, she would lie on her belly in the grass, head up, bright faced, looking like she owned the world.

Over the past couple of weeks, Abby's health ebbed and flowed. She'd be fine for a few days, then she wouldn't eat, no matter what we made for her. This week, she ate on Monday, but that was it. I attributed it to a change we had made in our dogs' food.

The Greens have another son who lives in town. He owns a restaurant on the city's main street called Green Acres. On Tuesday, the top of the building was struck by lightning.

It was an ill omen.

We euthanized Abby last night. The vet said her heart was failing, which meant her kidneys were failing, which was stressing other organs—an unstoppable domino effect.

When we drove her to the vet, I knew she wouldn't be coming home.

That doesn't mean I cried any less.

Uncommonly good song lyrics

I went to the Henley Regatta
Intending to put out to sea
They pronounced me persona non grata

— Warren Zevon, from "Lord Byron's Luggage," from the album My Ride's Here.

This is not a particularly noteworthy song, nor is the album exceptional. But Zevon was an intelligent man, and his lyrics frequently contain words and phrases you won't hear from other artists. I can't think of another songwriter who has ever used the phrase "persona non grata."

Type 2

I'm reposting this because I limited it to "friends only" when I posted it earlier, and in retrospect, I think this topic deserves a wider readership.

From the Diabetes Pharmacist website

Two or three years ago I learned I had Type 2 (adult-onset) diabetes.

I say “two or three” because I can’t remember when it was. A broken leg is a trauma, so it’s easier to remember when it occurred. The same with a surgical procedure. My carpal tunnel surgeries occurred three years ago; I don’t need to look it up.

But diabetes is sneaky. Because it runs in my family, I recognized the symptoms—especially the constant thirst. That led to a doctor’s visit, blood tests and the diagnosis.

I’ve been taking medication twice a day since then, but to tell the truth, I was in denial. I didn’t feel any different because of the diabetes. I figured the pills were taking care of it, and besides, when my doctor ordered blood work, my blood-glucose numbers looked pretty good. I decided I could quit testing my blood-glucose level every day. I got cocky about a chronic disease. This was not smart.

Predictably, I abandoned any attempts at healthy eating. Besides eating too many candy bars and hard candy, I was eating too many hamburgers, too much red meat, too many starches, too much cheese, too much ice cream—you get the picture. And then I went back to my doctor for a regularly scheduled routine checkup, and the blood test results shouted, “Danger! Danger Will Robinson!”
The insurance company was of little helpCollapse )

Roberts 1, asshat 0

Are you laughing at this image? I didn't think so.

Here an excerpt from a New York Times news alert:

• "Senator Pat Roberts held off a challenge from a Tea Party-backed conservative to win the Republican primary in Kansas on Tuesday night."

After the usual background information, the Times describes a factor that may have set back the campaign of Roberts' opponent, Milton Wolf:

• "Mr. Wolf, a radiologist who has never sought elective office, ran into trouble after posting X-ray photos on his Facebook page of patients, including gunshot victims, with mocking commentary."

It's impossible to make up this kind of stuff.

Uncommonly good song lyrics

She's got dresses that seem to float in the wind
Pre-Raphaelite curls in her hair

— Richard Thompson, "Cooksferry Queen," from Mock Tudor

Here's a jump-around-in-your-chair video of a live performance of the song. It's so good you're going to want to watch it twice:

(One of the greats)

George Carlin and stale language

My post about empty words prompted my brother to send me this
video clip. It's going to replace George Orwell's essay
"Politics and the English Language" in my writing courses:

(Writers and speakers, beware)

The Sun shines

(Good magazine, good people)

I'm teaching a JMC 111 section this coming semester. Every student in the class took JMC 110 from me in the spring, so I've been wondering how to make 111 distinctively different than 110 so that the students and I aren't bored into a word coma.

My wife suggested having the students work on a single project that would have relevance outside of the classroom. This is a writing course, so I thought having the students write an essay for publication in a magazine would interest and challenge them.

The first magazine that I thought would interest and inspire them was The Sun. If you're familiar with the magazine, you know why. If you're not, here's my brief description: It publishes works that move your mind, your heart and your soul. I'm subscribed until April of 2017, which shows how much the magazine means to me.

I thought if each student had a copy of the magazine, she or her could get an idea of the kind of work I want them to do. So Sunday, I emailed the office manager at The Sun and explained my course goal to her.

To say her reply this morning was helpful understates the case. It will let me have the magazines in hand when the semester starts.

What a wonderful, timely response. I can't wait to get started with the course later this month.

World-class absolute extreme hardware

Photo: Daily Wrestling News
When you do a Google image search for the term "world class," you're apt to find photographs like this one.

I stopped by the supermarket today to buy dog food, and after going up and down a couple of aisles, I found myself asking a question that needs an answer: What is the difference between “crisp” and “crispy”?

Then I walked past a sign that said “pistachio nuts.” As opposed to pistachio—what, exactly?

Then I drove home and saw a sign that said “children at play.” Where is “play”? Why doesn’t the sign simply say “children playing”?

It must be the same reason that a blinking roadside sign in a construction area advised me: “Work area ahead.” Blink. “Use caution.” The word “caution” seems to me more strongly stated without the “use.”

I saw the word “absolute” quite a bit on my drive, as in the company “Absolute Construction.” I’m not even going to try to understand that one, but that word has flummoxed me for years ever since my newspaper days—specifically, an occasion when the area’s congressman visited our paper to meet with our editorial board. He and his aides swept into the conference room, and I held out my hand to shake his. We hadn’t seen him for a while, so as I held out my head, I said my name. “Absolutely,” he replied. It became a running gag in the newsroom.

Back to my drive home: I also won't try to understand the sign I saw in front of a local “extreme hardware” store. I get in my head a picture of Charles Manson with a welder’s torch.

Then I got home to watch the news. In a commercial, an auto dealership owner described his business as “A world-class dealership with small-town values.” What exactly does “world class” mean? Do the salespeople don formal wear? Do they speak in multiple languages? Are car shoppers treated to Champagne and caviar? Does the dealer sell Bentleys, Rolls Royces, Ferraris and the like? Actually, I think they sell Chevys. But however they do it, it’s “world class.” The owner has been around the world, visiting automobile dealerships on every continent, just to make sure his dealership would astonish people in, let's say, the Lesser Antilles, where there may or may not be an auto dealership, especially a world-class one.

But how can it be world class if it has small-town values? And what are those values, anyway? Do the dealer’s salespeople tell the potential customers, “Look, we’ve got to make some money on this car so we can stay in business. Here’s what we paid for the car: $27,850. But because of our small-town values, one of which is being transparent with our neighbors, we can sell this car to you for $26,850. That’s the very best we can do. Oh, and here's some free coffee, and help yourself to the doughnuts.”

Here’s a real small-town business: My neighbor runs a hardware store/auto garage about a mile from where I live. I buy all my hardware from him, unless he doesn’t have it, in which case I go to another locally owned store. But when I go into my neighbor’s store, I pull a stool up to the counter and we talk about various things: what’s going on in the neighborhood, who's sick, who died, who's moving, the state of the local economy, cars—we always talk about cars—and whatever topics other customers talk about when they slide into the conversation. The way my neighbor runs his store reflects small-town values, and I always feel entering the store takes me back to somewhere in the mid-60s.

Whether he runs a world-class hardware store is not for me to decide.


Say it loud

Watching the Olean Times Herald

I spent nearly 22 years working at the Olean Times Herald, the local daily newspaper. I grew up reading the newspaper and always wanted to be its editor. As the saying goes, be careful what you ask for. I ended up working for people who considered stories to be something to fill pages with after the ads were in place. The newspaper no longer was a vital thread in the fabric of the community. It was, in management's words, a "product." For me, it was an intolerable situation.

After four years as editor, I was blessed with the opportunity to teach journalism and composition courses full time on the university level, and I've never looked back.

I still read the paper with an editor's eye, though, and I frequently shake my head in disbelief. I fault the paper's management for these head-shakers. The reporters for the most part are young and green. They need guidance. They tell me they don't get it. The only guidance they get is a mandate to write two by-lined stories a day. That's how you run an assembly line; it's not how you run a newsroom. The result has been pages filled with press releases published verbatim and shallow stories that reporters can grind out quickly. Management seemingly is unaware of how many people see this for what it is. I know, because when I run into people I haven't seen for a while, many of them ask, "What's going on at the Times Herald?"

As a journalism professor, I think this blog should offer journalism criticism, and it occasionally has. But I'm a believer in the power of small-town media, so with that in mind, this blog is going to start watching the OTH with a critical eye.

Lately, I've been sending "attaboy" and "attagirl" emails to individual reporters when they've written a good story. I'm under the impression that they receive no such encouragement, so I'll continue to provide it. Posts on this blog will be limited to the many WTF? items appearing in the paper.

So, with that in mind:
The attack of the giant hogweedCollapse )

Just folks

An Iraqi man hugs his brother in November 2005 after being freed from Abu Ghraib prison,
a site where some prisoners were tied up, hooded and sexually degraded by the American military.
Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

I voted for Barack Obama twice and would do so again given his election opponents, but man, he often annoys the hell out of me.

This time, it’s his statement Friday that after Sept. 11, the CIA “tortured some folks.” Here’s a link to the story in The Guardian: (What he said)

Let’s dispense with the small detail first: That statement is a 10 on the no-shit-ometer. Is there anybody who didn’t believe that to be the case? We’re a long way from “breaking news” alerts from your favorite news websites.

I have a bigger problem with Obama’s use of the word “folks.” It’s a colloquial word. It’s relaxed. It’s informal. Example: “My folks have a cabin in Tennessee.” Or “I’m eating barbecue this afternoon with my folks to celebrate my dad’s birthday.”
A major differenceCollapse )

Wish I'd Said It

Nota bene: “Fear has governed my life, if I think about it. ... I always feel like I’m not good enough for some reason. I wish that wasn’t the case, but left to my own devices, that voice starts speaking up.” – Trent Reznor

"The path's not yours till you've gone it alone a time." – William Carlos Williams

“Filling this empty space constitutes my identity.” – Twyla Tharp

"My definition of peace is having no noise in my head." – Eric Clapton

"The wreckage of the sky serves to confirm us in delicious error." – John Ashbery

"We are all here by the grace of the big bang. We are all literally the stuff of the stars." – Dwight Owsley

"For my part, I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of stars makes me dream." – Vincent van Gogh

"It is only with the heart that one can see right; what is essential is invisible to the eye." — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

"Forget about being a perfectionist, because entropy always wins out in the end." – Darren Kaufman.

"Impermanence. Impermanence. Impermanence." – Garry Shandling

"Fame is a vapor; popularity an accident; the only earthly certainty is oblivion." – Mark Twain

"There is no realm wherein we have the truth." – Gordon Lish

"Actual life is full of false clues and sign-posts that lead nowhere." – E.M. Forster

“Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe." – Frank Zappa

“I try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” – Elmore Leonard

“The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.” – Voltaire

• Journal title and subtitle: Ian Hunter, “Man Overboard”

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