Wednesday, September 26, 2007

When is an air not an air?

OK, I know that the Telegraph Herald occasionally has spelling, grammar or editing errors. More than I would like, even when one considers the volume of copy that is written and edited in a short time period. Even when I don't spot the errors myself, TH readers (usually with great indignation and condescension) call them to my attention.

Which brings me to this message sitting in my e-mail "in" box this morning. This message was unusual because it is so polite:

Brian, I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings but the footnote at end of Rebecca Christian's article caught my eye Saturday. She is a Des Moines (?) based "righter" ---OUCH!!! Also she may be "preached" at --- OUCH!!! I realize the preached is a legitimate word and could easily get through spell check but not sure about the righter??? Takes some imagination for this one but what type of background does the person have that wrote this?

I DO sympathize with you for the job and headaches you have but just couldn't let this one go by without a mention.

It is also unusual because my correspondent was wrong about our being wrong. She was caught in Christian's snare. Her column topic was mistaken use of words. So, in that spirit, she changed her biographical paragraph to slip in a couple of oopsies.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!

Few Americans now 50 and older didn't watch The Beatles when they appeared three consecutive Sunday nights on television's Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964. The band's appearances put the British Invasion into high gear and changed popular music.

Appropriately, it was Sunday night when we hosted another 50-something couple to watch a DVD of the four Ed Sullivan shows on which The Beatles appeared live (one show was taped before a studio audience).

After only seeing the briefest of clips from those performances, it was interesting to see the band go through their entire sets. Just as entertaining was the rest of the show, including commercials for Lipton Tea, Aeowax, Anacin and Cold Water All.

I had to feel sorry for an illusionist named Fred Kaps. On Feb. 9, 1964, poor Fred was saddled with being the act to immediately follow The Beatles. About the last thing the studio audience -- and millions of TV viewers -- was interested in seeing at that moment was a guy doing a card trick.

It seems curious now, but it made sense in the era of Top 40 radio, that The Beatles performed "I Want to Hold Your Hand" all three February 1964 shows. They sang "I Saw Her Standing There," "She Loves You" and "All My Loving" two of the three nights. Ringo got one solo ("Act Naturally") but George had none. (No wonder they called him The Quiet Beatle. He didn't get a chance!)

There was no doubt that this was live production. The microphone settings for their performance in Miami were off, with John on background vocals drowning out Paul's lead.

Forty-three years later, it was fun to see what all the fuss was about.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Cubs pitch a shutout

I was on the computer anyway, so on Sunday morning I entered the Chicago Cubs' virtual waiting room for National League Divisional Series tickets.

Of course, this is contingent on the Cubs holding on in this final week of the regular season and winning the NL Central. Going into Sunday's games, the Cubs held a 2.5-game lead over the Brewers (2 games in the all-important loss column). The Cubs have lost more "certain" berths in the playoffs, so anything can happen.

Anyway, the virtual waiting room is a Web version of a ticket lottery. If you are lucky enough to have your computer connected to the ticket sellers, you are allowed to pay exorbitant amounts to be on hand to watch the Cubs make another bid for the World Series.

No doubt, there were thousands -- hundreds of thousands? -- of other fans in the waiting room with me. There I "sat" until the notice came up that tickets for both NLDS series games in Chicago were sold out.

I was shut out at the ticket window. I'll get over it.

Besides, I have been at Wrigley to see the Cubs in the post-season. It was in 1984, their first playoff appearance since the 1945 World Series. I saw Chicago defeat San Diego twice (before collapsing in California).

So I'll just have to watch the Cubs in the NLDS on TV.

But I wonder about tickets for the National League Championship Series ...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Editorial cartoons -- a historical perspective

When I field complaints about the editorial page at the Telegraph Herald, it is rarely about the words. Most complaints concern the editorial cartoons. Folks object to the cartoonists' opinions, or portrayals or a lack of objectivity. (Not that editorial cartoons are supposed to be objective ...)

Complaints increase during presidential campaign cycles (which seem to be perpetual anymore).

Anyway, not long ago I came across this quotation:

“Newspaper cartoons that ridicule and vilify rival presidential candidates have been seriously criticized in the present campaign, but they are nothing new in American politics.”

Those words were spoken not during this campaign. Not the previous campaign. Not even this century.

I found the quotation in an old Chicago Daily News. It came from L.H. Stattuck, director of the Chicago Historical Society. The year was 1936.

Thus, pointed cartoons were considered "nothing new" 71 years ago.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Setting baseball lore on its end

I have watched 2,500-3,000 (at least!) baseball games on TV over the past 40--plus years. But I've never seen or heard of this. I didn't see this major league game between the Braves and Mets, but I came across this video on a web site.

Even though many of today's bats have concave ends, that is one strange feat! I'm just surprised that it didn't involve the Cubs.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Think a semicolon is a surgical procedure?

Jeff Rubin might be a modern-day Don Quixote. He imagines that he can slay the dragon of poor punctuation.

The former newspaperman tilts at windmills and hopes that through his promotion of National Punctuation Day, people -- from students to corporate executives -- will be aware of, learn and practice proper punctuation.

Just in case you don't have the date marked on your calendar already, National Punctuation Day is each Sept. 24, meaning that the 2007 observance -- the fourth annual -- falls on Monday next week

On his Web site, Rubin explained that he created the observance out of his "frustration with the lack of proper punctuation, spelling, and grammar in newspapers, magazines, and books."

The resident of Pinole, Calif., also stated, "Creating a cause on the calendar doesn't mean much unless you're willing to do something about it."

What Rubin and his wife, Norma, are doing about it is generating publicity and promoting their educational video, "Punctuation Playtime," which is designed to make punctuation easy and fun for elementary school students. The newsletter editor and consultant appears at school assemblies dressed as superhero Punctuation Man.

Rubin's firm also sells Punctuation Products, including posters,T-shirts and coffee mugs with such punctuation quips as:

"An ellipsis is not when the moon moves in front of the sun."

"A comma is not a state of being."

"A semicolon is not a surgical procedure."

"Is there a hyphen in anal-retentive?"

What good is an American "holiday" if no one tries to make a buck off of it?

Anyway, I hope that Rubin is wildly successful in his noble effort. If he is, that means that more folks -- especially the school kids -- will have a better handle on punctuation. After all, punctuation marks are not interchangeable parts. And it's art, not science. Though there are occasions where the choice of a mark -- the dash or the comma, for example -- can be left to the author's style and discretion, there are lots of examples where the author flat out missed the call on which mark to use.

Rubin does offer some help in that regard. His Web site features summaries on each punctuation mark. Maybe it will help some people understand certain marks. They might realize why a sentence should end with a period instead of the mark favored by many authors of letters to the editor, the comma.

What's the difference between the colon and semicolon? How about the semicolon and comma? Rubin's site could clear up the confusion.

Now, of course, I fully realize that by mentioning punctuation errors, I have invited tens of thousands of readers to comb through this column -- and the rest of the TH, for that matter -- intent upon spotting a punctuation error. Then, with great delight and an expression of indignation, they will call said error to my attention. People in glass houses throwing stones, or something like that.

If no one -- and that includes people who work at newspapers -- ever made punctuation errors, there would be no perceived "need" for National Punctuation Day.

Oh, one more thing: To properly observe National Punctuation Day, people are invited to send a greeting card -- with check enclosed, of course -- to their favorite newspaper editor.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Put your feet up and relax

Granddaughter Claire (and her parents) are paying a visit this weekend. It had been a month since we had seen them. Her parents looked the same but Claire added another 10 percent to her life -- she is 10.5 months old -- and has added a few tricks to her repertoire.

Before her afternoon nap, Claire enjoyed this relaxing luncheon.

All together now

Thursday was red-letter day in the Telegraph Herald newsroom. Every member of our copy desk team was on the job. These are the folks who give stories their final edit, design pages and write headlines -- and be sure it is all done despite deadline pressures.

With an every-day publication cycle, we must schedule staffers accordingly, including weekends and holidays. On this particular day, illnesses and regular days off were not in play -- and we had everyone on the job Thursday. No one remembers the last time that happened, but it has to have been a year or two.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

They're biting at Heritage Pond

It doesn't seem that long ago, but it has been a decade since our youngest was hooked on fishing. He'd beg and cajole his parents to take him fishing, and the most convenient location was Heritage Pond, just north of Dubuque. He caught barely enough fish to maintain his interest.

We thought of our son on Sunday morning, when we saw the unusual sight on Heritage Pond -- the surface of the water literally bubbling with teeming fish. We're regular visitors to the park -- it adjoins Heritage Trail, where we often run -- but we'd never seen that activity before. We could just imagine G hurriedly tossing his line into the pond, intent on catching one of The Big Ones.

Weekdays without 'Peanuts'

Today's edition of the Telegraph Herald was the fourth without "Peanuts" on the weekday (and Saturday) comic page.

Once one of the world's most popular comics, "Peanuts" has been in perpetual repeats since creator Charles Schulz retired in 2000. (He died virtually simultaneously with publication of his final episode.)

After more than seven years of repeats, I decided it was time for a change. Peanuts left our daily pages, but, for the time being at least, it will be in our Sunday section.

Usually, if there is reader backlash to a comics change, it comes within the first two days. I received one complaint before the change, after I announced the plan in my column.

After that? For those of you keeping score at home: One complaint. A long-time subscriber (and neighbor, by the way) called to protest Peanuts' departure.

More complaints might come in, but if folks haven't protested by now, they either didn't notice the change or they don't care.

That tells me that it was time.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Quotation on freedom

"Everybody is in favor

of The First Amendment.

But we'd have a hell

of a time ratifying it today."

-- Patrick Leahy, U.S. senator (D-Vt.),

Leahy made that statement in 2000 -- before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Since 9/11, what is the likelihood that we'd enact a First Amendment today?

Monday, September 03, 2007

Favorable review

When I noticed that the newest edition of the Society for American Baseball Research's Deadball Era Committee newsletter included a review of my Red Faber biography, I held my breath.

SABR membership roll is full researchers, historians and sticklers for detail and accuracy. What would the reviewer think?

I exhaled when I got to the end of Les Masterson's review. He was quite generous.

If you're interested in the review -- or other articles dealing with major league baseball from 1901 to 1919, here is the publication, in PDF format. The Faber book review begins on Page 5.

Case of the slows

In the Cooper household -- dwindling in numbers as it is -- our Labor Day tradition is running the Mississippi Valley Running Association's annual Benefit Classic.

The event features competitions at two distances, 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) and a half-marathon (13.1 miles). My record of never attempting the longer distance (including the killer hill of Eagle Point Park) remains unblemished.

After missing 4-5 months of running in late 2006 and early 2007 due to knee problems, my two goals for 2007 were a) be able to resume training, and b) be competitive on Labor Day 2007.

Anyway, to make an uninteresting story short, I met the first goal. Regular training began in early spring. And though I failed to defend my age-group title, I managed to finish second despite running nearly a full minute slower than a year ago and 15 seconds slower than two years ago.

Yes, Father Time continues to catch up. I remember, 35 years ago, when I would run faster than I did today during warm-ups before track practice. But in competition now, I feel as if I'm working every bit as hard as I did in high school. It's just that advanced years bring on cases of the Slows.

(PS: For those keeping score from afar, the other member of the household, who prefers anonymity here, placed third in his/her age group.)

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Reporting the difficult story part of the job

It's been more than a week since I last posted here. And what a week it has been -- difficult and challenging for many in the Telegraph Herald Editorial and Electronic Media departments.

To review: A street fight culminated in a fatal stabbing. The deceased was white and the accused, in custody, is black. Racial tension. Racist messages and a photo (multiple times) so polluted our newspaper's web site the we shut down the comments feature. More racial tension. The fallout of all these events included expressions of anger, rumors of retaliation as well calls for calm and healing (including such a message from the deceased's family). A terrible week for everyone.

Certainly, our experience at the newspaper was not as difficult and challenging as it was for the principals in the story; but it took its toll nonetheless.

It is challenging for a local newspaper when a major crime occurs. Factor in the racial tensions that, justified or not, emerged, and the challenge is multiplied.

There are people who have the idea that all journalists relish covering crime, tragedy and human misery. I wish they could have spent some time with us last week. They would have seen no one clamoring for the opportunity to interview people in grief, people in anger and people in fear. No one was happy to have drawn the assignment to be on hand for a wake or a funeral. They accepted and carried out the assignment because it is their job.

We’re not looking for sympathy. It’s our responsibility to cover the news, including sensitive and emotional situations. Difficult decisions and criticism go with it.

News and information, especially in criminal cases, does not come out in convenient, balanced and evenly proportioned pieces. Certain facts -- those found in investigative reports, for example – are not available to us or the public before they are presented in court. Some sources and witnesses are more accessible and willing than others; that is not unique to Dubuque or to this case.

In any case, we will continue to do our best with this difficult story.