Just the Facts

Guess what trivia freaks, research addicts, editors, writers, diligent students, aimless procrastinators and The Evil Ones have in common? They all find almanacs — yes, almanacs — indispensable to furthering their passions, work and studies — or hastening Death to the Great Satan. The source of this revelation: The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which according to a story in the Washington Post (and other sources), sent out an intelligence bulletin last week warning ” ‘terrorist operatives may rely on almanacs to assist with target selection and pre-operational planning’ because they include detailed information on bridges, tunnels and other U.S. landmarks. Further, the bulletin reportedly asks your local police to be on the alert for suspects carrying almanacs, especially almanacs with notations in them, because such well-used reference works might be a tipoff to something really bad about to happen.

Two Temblors

A week ago (Dec. 22) in Central California shook the hell out of Paso Robles (my friend Pete says his brother, who lives there, told him that just about everything in his house that could have fallen and broken did). But his house itself was fine, and there was little damage, relatively speaking. Overall death toll: 2.

Then you have the event of Friday, Dec. 26, in Bam, Iran. There, just about everything that could have fallen did — walls, roofs, entire buildings. Death toll — what? at least 25,000? A story tonight says 40,000.

Why the difference (and does the answer go any deeper than the obvious difference in building materials, standards, etc.)? Haven’t seen anyone put the two events together yet.

Blog Time

There’s some research out there on blogging activity: How many blogs are out there, how many are abandoned, frequency of updates, etc. But, having dabbled ever so lightly in online diarizing, and having come across some reasonably well informed, well written, and constantly updated blogs — let’s list BoingBoing (maintained by a group of friends), Dan Gillmor’s eJournal, the Volokh Conspiracy, and Bruce Sterling’s Wired blog (modestly titled Beyond the Beyond) for starters — the question I always have is: Where do these people find the time?

For me, it’s a conundrum: Getting my work done in a halfway respectable manner, doing the nonwork stuff I want to do (in random order: cycling, working out, being a halfway attentive husband, father, son, brother, and friend, reading, and watching “24” and “Survivor,” then thinking about and occasionally noodling with “my spare-time literary activities,” which might, by a stretch, be said to include blogging).

I don’t see any research about that. Maybe there’s a story in it.

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 fark.com. 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.