Friday, April 19, 2013

A new cap, but not my favorite

NOTE: Since I don't have anything significant to add about the tragic Boston Marathon bombing case, and since that seems to be all you can find online the last few days, a brief diversion...

After work today I drove to the mall.

That's a sentence I thought I would never utter again. I'm too old to be a "mall shopper," and malls aren't what they used to be. But I had a specific purchase in mind, and the mall was the best place to find it.

I wanted to buy a new Kansas City Royals cap.

I own several Royals hats in all styles and colors. I have a cap from Royals Spring Training. I have caps from the 2012 All-Star Game. I have giveaway caps from the ballpark. I even have one, a gift from my brother, that's bright yellow with "Royals" written across the front in a red rock-n-roll font; if you don't look at it closely, you'd assume it said "Aerosmith," or "Macho Man Randy Savage."

But my classic white-KC-on-solid-blue cap was getting a little worse for the wear. So I decided it was time to replace it.

The one I bought, from the mall hat store, is awesome. It's the exact same kind the big leaguers wear: New Era 59-Fifty, hand-stitched, MLB authenticated, fitted size 7 1/2, and, surprisingly, made in the USA. It's a beautiful cap.

But it's not my favorite Royals cap I've ever had. That distinction belongs to a cap I wore a long, long time ago.

My family had a close family friend when I was growing up, a gentleman named Ralph Lynch, who was my dad's co-worker. I could write post after post about Ralph, who passed away a decade ago. Besides my dad and my brother, Ralph was the greatest man I ever knew. Both of my grandfathers passed away before I was born, so Ralph was like a grandpa to me.

He was a Royals fan, too. One of my earliest memories is watching the 1985 World Series from the carpet of our living room next to my big brother. My mom, dad and Ralph were seated behind us. When George Brett embraced Bret Saberhagen on the mound after the final out of Game Seven, my brother and I pounded our fists on the carpets and screamed until our throats were raw.

Not long after the '85 series, Ralph was over at our house one Saturday. He and my dad were sitting on the back deck drinking Pabst, and my brother and I were pretending to be Star Wars figures or something like that. Ralph was wearing a Royals cap that day, and for some reason he decided it had outlived its usefulness - Ralph was unsentimental, and if something needed to be replaced, by god, he replaced it. Ralph took the cap off and threw it in the trash can.

But I didn't have a Royals cap at the time. So I dug Ralph's old hat right out of the trash. And I wore it.

Every day.

For years.

That was the best cap I ever owned.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lift the black cloud ... the old order is just clinging by its fingernails and the cultural glacier moves on. Someday we'll laugh at this silliness. Gun craziness. Gay marriage bans. Maybe not today... but someday

"Do you mean to tell me women couldn’t vote in America before 1920? Why, that was just 93 years ago."

"You’re not serious. Really? Blacks were once counted as only three-fifths a whole person? In America?"

"What? Coca Cola once contained cocaine? That’s crazy."

Not so crazy, actually. All true. And, this morning allow me to use those three hard-to-imagine ideas to lift the black cloud of recent events from my head.

We live in interesting times. Since the early 1960s, we have lived in a world in the midst of great cultural upheaval, not unlike the vast political, geographic and economic upheaval of the industrial revolution. Real change, real revolution is slow. The 1960s did more than introduce the world to Muddy Waters and end the Vietnam War. They began the glacial movement of the centerpoint of American culture that we are today finally able to measure.

The centerpoint will continue to move across our landscape. You can’t hold it back or turn it around any more than you could hold back a glacier once it is in motion. The game is still being played but the outcome is decided.

So, what we see in these final machinations of the political and cultural machine are the last ditch efforts of the past to hold back the future. It is that thought with which I comfort myself this morning.

Someday, I propose, somebody will say to somebody else:

‘You’re kidding. You could buy a gun at a gun show or on the Internet without a background check? That’s crazy.’

‘You mean to tell me in those days a person could keep an arsenal fit only for war in the closet of his home?’

‘That’s wild. People actually argued for fewer restrictions on the rights of people who are mentally ill to have guns? Guns?’

‘Man, what a crazy time. The government kept track of who bought cold medicine but not machine guns?’

'Really. Are you serious? A guy actually shot his wife by accident in a restaurant when the gun in his pocket went off? In his pocket? In a restaurant?'

'A teenage kid. A nine-millimeter in the pocket of his hoodie? Went off accidentally and shot a child??'

‘Are you serious? The Missouri legislature spent time debating a law about chili suppers when all this was happening?’

‘Really. Investment bankers actually got away with that shit in those days? That's highway robbery!’

'Do you mean to tell me they didn't have universal health care back then? How could that be? What happened if you got sick?'

And, of course:

‘The government actually restricted who could be married to whom? Really? If you were gay you couldn't marry? They actually said marriage is defined as one woman, one man? They said that?’

These changes are inevitable. They have already happened. Nowhere was Bob Dylan more prescient than 50 years ago when he wrote “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”

“Come senators, congressmen 
Please heed the call 
Don’t stand in the doorway 
Don’t block up the hall 
For he who gets hurt 
Will be he who has stalled 
There’s a battle outside and it’s ragin’ 
It’ll soon shake your windows 
And rattle your walls 
For the times they are a-changin’..."

Way back in 1963, Mr. Dylan just about nailed what happened in Congress and the rest of the world yesterday. As he so eloquently put it: “The order is rapidly fadin…’ Indeed, it is, though on some days it may not look like it.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Drone Reporting 101... journalism education atwitter again as technology drives innovative storytelling and shoe leather -- shoe rubber actually -- becomes obsolete

Tony Botello's new awesome unmanned tipster


We’re falling behind again. It is just impossible to keep up with the technological curve in the field of journalism.

For a while, journalism educators were all atwitter about teaching students to tweet their stories. This doesn’t make much sense, in practice, because students already know more about tweeting than even the most thumb adept professor. Most of the students can tweet with ease but can’t write a simple declarative sentence to save their souls. Come to think of it, being able to write a simple subject-verb sentence may be the most important skill a tweeting reporter needs to learn.

Some educators have been intrigued by video games designed to teach journalism.  Others are falling all over themselves to teach Facebook journalism. Of course, cell phone journalism is passé. Ipad journalism is teetering on the edge of passé. Four square anyone? Not your father’s playground.

Technology isn’t new to journalism. Reporters have always made nearly instant use of whatever tools they could. The job demands it.

My own career spans tools from the old Associated Press teletype to Google search. I nearly got fired over a teletype machine. The old machine had bells to tell you how important a story crossing the wire was. When Vice President Spiro Agnew’s resignation crossed the wire, the machine sounded four bells. Having never heard four bells I rushed to see what was being transmitted. When I saw the news I let out a hoot.

My boss, unfortunately, was a died-in-the-wool Republican. He was not amused.

I also got into trouble with a phony story I cooked up with another reporter on one of the first generation newsroom computers… but I’ll save that tale of nearly career-fatal obscenity for another time. Our pioneering mini-computer system was fragile, to say the least. One morning I was picking out my readheaded Afro in front of the screen and the static electricity turned everything to Zs, including the page I had spent an hour building.

Later, as computers moved to the desktop, I bought an early IBM PC to be able to transmit stories to New York without having to go through the rigmarole of Western Union. The first day the $3,000 machine was on my desk at home I got frustrated because I couldn’t get the dial-up modem to work. Not that I knew what a dial up modem was. I just knew the damned thing would not connect to New York, or any place else. I went to the bookstore and got a book on Basic thinking something must be wrong with the programming. Within a half-day of freeing the computer from the box, I had done something irreparable to the system. From that day until the day I finally retired the machine six years later, the second message on the screen every time it booted up read: “Unrecognized command in config system.”

I don't know to this day what that message actually means, but to me it says, "Think before you tinker, you idiot."

And, now, I am to be turned loose with a drone to do my reporting. All day I’ve been trying to figure out how I would use it -- as the Kansas City Star writers put it – to tell stories. I assume the primary use for the Lofflin-Bot will be research, not actually storytelling. I can’t see the advantage of hovering it over the keyboard, but, with technology, you never know. Maybe it could watch me type and edit my work in real time.

I can see how it might be good for interviewing. I could sit home in my pajamas and interview over the phone while sending the L-Bot through the door of the subject’s workplace to provide environmental elements for the lede.

Or, in the case of a corporate interview, the L-Bot could be unleashed to read the notes the PR guy is slipping to the CEO while he's talking to me on the phone. Intriguing.

Of course, I understand I couldn't send it into the women’s shower at the health club, but if I turned off the video couldn't I use it to eavesdrop on women council members in the powder room? Some interesting ethical issues arise. In some cities, three or four women council members might actually be a quorum and, thus, a meeting. Sunshine laws might apply.

I like the idea of sending L-Bot to city council and school board meetings instead of young reporters who are easily bored and eternally distracted. L-Bot suffers neither malady and, when the council or the board decides to hide out in executive session L-Bot might well slip through the door in pursuit of government transparency. I can see the headline: "From bathroom to backroom, we seek the truth."

I can see how useful it would be to cover fires. Ernest Hemmingway complained in a letter to his brother at the turn of the last century that covering a Kansas City fire had put holes in his cashmere overcoat and the Star had been too cheap to pay for the damage. Always be ready for the worst, he warned. The L-Bot, naturally, will eliminate this danger.

Speaking of heat, next time the temperature tops 110-degrees and we need to send someone out to fry an egg on the sidewalk – I did, actually, try this once and to no avail – we’ll send L-Bot instead and stay cool in the newsroom.

Note to students: Be warned. We’ll have a 10-point piloting quiz on Monday. I won’t be there, however. The university has decided to jump right into the unmanned classroom craze. Don’t be late because L-Bot will only call roll once.

--Lofflin – wondering after watching a few minutes of the ACM awards on television tonight, what the C stands for.