Especially at This Time of Year

Man sets car on fire on a Bay Area freeway, incinerating his wife’s two kids and critically burning her. Local police chief’s comment, as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle: “Certainly it’s a very tragic situation, especially at this time of year.”

Thanks to the magic of a Google news search, we discover that the chief isn’t the only one who’s feeling this way about a Yuletide human torching. Scotland’s Evening Telegraph reports that a 48-year-old man in the town of Kinross set himself on fire. The Telegraph quotes a witness: “It doesn’t bear thinking about, especially at this time of year, the Friday before Christmas.”

That’s actually a nice touch, reminding us just what time of year it is. But wait, here’s more tragedy and extra-heartfelt emotion stirred by the coming of Xmas. In Rhode Island, a trench collapse killed an apprentice plumber on Thursday. His employer — responding to the second such death in less than a year — said: “Our heart goes out to the family, especially at this time of year.”

In Hilton Head, S.C., a few days ago, a high school student was struck by a car and killed. The school district flack had this to say: “It’s a sad day for this family and for the island community, especially at this time of year.” I’ll refrain from comment. Especially at this time of year.

Good Satire, Wasted

A new Internet satire site in Indiana published a funny piece about a mistaken Purdue basketball scholarship. Reporters noticed the story, perhaps when it was posted earlier this week on Then the story showed up, word for word, as a piece of “real” news in the San Diego Union Tribune; an editor or rewrite guy there apparently was fooled and lifted the piece for a column of colorful sports tidbits. Amazing to me, the guy still has a job today. Decent discussion of the whole episode, including a letter attempting to explain what happened and what the paper’s going to do about it going on from the Union Tribune sports editor, in one of the Fark forums.

Prison: Their Home Away from…

I see that Illinois’s last governor, George Ryan, has been indicted. Quite a record for the last half-century of Prairie State governors:

William G. Stratton: Indicted for income-tax evasion (acquitted).

Otto Kerner: Indicted and convicted (bribery and other charges).

Sam Shapiro: Never charged with anything, but then he only had eight months in office.

Richard Ogilvie: Clean, so far as we know. Probably why he only served one term.

Dan Walker: Indicted and convicted–in his post-politics career–as an S&L thief.

Jim Thompson: His career was about indicting other people, for a change.

Jim Edgar: No dirt so far.

George Ryan: Indicted.


Seven governors.

Four indicted; three unindicted.

Two convicted.

One acquitted.

One with charges pending.

Corrections Department

One hundred years after the fact, the Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk is correcting a few facts in its first-day story on the Wright Brothers flight. For instance:

“… The plane flew 120 feet, 8 to 10 feet off the ground in a straight line on the first of four flights. It did not soar 60 feet in the air. It did not circle and fly 3 miles over breakers and dunes. It did not tack to port, then to starboard. …”

And lots more! The Virginian-Pilot also supplies a long and somewhat self-congratulatory explanation of the error-filled scoop.


Pain in the Colon

Continuing struggles in the PC (punctuation correctness) wars, in today’s Wall Street Journal:

“… Lynne Truss, a 48-year-old longtime literary editor, did an entire BBC radio series on punctuation last year. And when she mentioned in a newspaper article that she was writing the book that ultimately became “Eats, Shoots & Leaves,” she received about 1,000 e-mails and letters from readers pointing out their own punctuation pet peeves. Many of them landed in the book.

Those 1,000 correspondents were offered a discounted, signed edition, and a staggering 70% of them went for it. Otherwise, the book’s reputation spread largely by word of mouth, though it did make use of some marketing gimmicks, including a T-shirt that on the front says, “A woman, without her man, is nothing,” and on the back says, “A woman: without her, man is nothing.” …”

If a Tree Falls …

It was windy here early this morning, with a storm front coming through between 2 and 3 o’clock. Lying in bed listening to the blow, I suddenly realized the gusts were probably strong enough to knock over the three little Norfolk pines I have on the front porch. I went out there in the rain to find that one had been blown off a wide railing, broken, and probably fatally injured.

More later on the trees.

Paul Simon, 1928-2003

Paul Simon, who represented Illinois in the Senate back in from 1985 until 1997, died today. With our usual attention to substance, we in the media remember he wore a bow tie, had big ears, big glasses and a deep voice. He started as a crusading newspaperman, spent nearly two decades in the state Legislature and won recognition for his independence from the Daley machine, then lost a run for a governor to a Democratic primary opponent who not only turned out to be a charlatan but eventually was sent to prison. Anyway, he eventually made it to the House, then the Senate and onto the presidential campaign trail. He was a practical liberal who wanted to do something about schools and jobs and health care and open government (and budget deficits and violence in the media, too). And he seemed like a decent and honest guy, too — almost too decent and honest to have thrived in his chosen profession. A sad passing.

War Blogs

Two good ones:

This one from British journalist Stuart Hughes, who survived a mine explosion in Iraq and has gone on to do a video blog from a reporting trip to Cambodia.

And this one from Kevin Sites, former CNN and current MSNBC news producer who’s written some good from-the-front stuff on his personal blog.

Both links through BoingBoing.

A Cruel Hoax

Or maybe just a semi-amusing one. Here are two improbable wire service leads playing off today’s news about the Bowl Championship Series controversy. I admit I wrote them to snare a University of Southern California football fanatic in my newsroom — I was pretty sure he’d actually believe them, at least for a few minutes.

Schwarzenegger Says BCS ‘Bad for People of California’


Filed at 8:44 a.m. ET

SACRAMENTO — Seizing on the popular outrage sweeping voter-rich Southern California in the wake of Sunday’s surprise exclusion of USC from the national championship football game next month, newly elected Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger promised an investigation of a computer system he declared was “bad for the people of Colly-for-nya.”

Bush: BCS ‘Worse than Saddam’


Filed at 8:44 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON — Declaring that the inclusion of the University of Oklahoma in next month’s Sugar Bowl “a national outrage,” President Bush recalled special envoy Paul Bremer from Baghdad to deal with the BCS controversy.

“In the eyes of the world, America is about fair play,” the president said. “The BCS decision keeping the Trojans out of the national championship — well, it’s worse than anything Saddam ever did and I think it’s got nothing to do with democracy.”

But although he has recalled Bremer, his top troubleshooter, to handle the football mess, the president denied reports he’s considering redeploying U.S. troops from Baghdad to seize the rogue BCS computers.

Notes: This is a dangerous thing to do in any newsroom. As unlikely as it seems, something like this, once floated, can take on a life of its own and find its way to publication or to air. Bad. –I did take pains to plant clues that these were hoaxes. The phonetic spelling of California. The suggestion that Bush was responding to reports of a troop redeployment to seize the BCS computers. –The intended targets and (distressingly) a couple others did bite on the stories. My surmise: Part I: That they didn’t really do more than scan the first few words and hurry over the rest of what was there. The format looks right. Some of the right names and words are there. Sold. Part II: That we all encounter too much that really is unbelievable — yet turns out to be true, somehow — that we start out better than half-willing to believe the next amazing tale.