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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Golf balls, National Parks, Memory, and the Newspaper

I grew up in a newspaper reading family.  Even as a child, I liked reading the newspaper.  We got the afternoon paper most of my childhood and then switched to the morning paper when I was a teenager.  Let's pause for a moment and think about that.  Morning paper.  Afternoon paper.


I grew up in Atlanta and the two papers were co-owned in my lifetime.   Of course, they had been separate newspapers once upon a time.  Though co-owned, they maintained separate newsrooms through 1982 and maintained separate editorial boards through 2001.    The Journal was liberal.  The Constitution was not.


Now the combined Atlanta Journal-Constitution, according to my Dad, who reads it every day, is "terrible."  It's delivered once a day (morning) and focuses on local news.  My parents get the New York Times every day as well.  They're newspaper readers and getting the Times means they still get a real newspaper.

I went through a period of not reading the paper much.  I read Salon and Slate, checked the Los Angeles Times web site when there are wildfires, watched Rachel Maddow with Teresa sometimes, and listened to NPR most of the time.  I figured I was getting my news.  I never gave up the Sunday paper thing, though.  I always read the Sunday paper, even as it got gutted.  No more Book Review, no more Opinion, no more Magazine.

I've been lucky, in my adult life, to live in cities with decent papers.  The Washington Post does pretty well.  The Los Angeles Times has something to say most days.  I moved away from Washington before the decline of the newspaper.  I am certainly not qualified to speak on the newspapers' decline in any expert way.  There are those far more in the know who I have asked about the situation (folks who teach or taught journalism at my University, for example) who just shake theirs heads when I ask about the future.

And, of course, the future looks bleak.  The LA Times runs large number of corrections every day because they've fired their fact checkers and copy editors.  One day last year, their Calendar briefs had stand-in headlines that read "sub head here" printed instead of the actual sub head.

For a while I was getting the Thursday-Saturday papers for free and paying $1.25 a week for the Sunday paper because every time I tried to cancel, they'd offer me a better deal to keep me as a single number on the subscriber list.

Lately, though, I'm glad to get the LA Times.  It may not be the great paper it was even ten years ago, but they employ a number of writers and critics I really like.  I would read anything Dan Neil writes about anything.  Mr. Neil, here's a box of hair, please write about it and I will read it.

I even sent Neil an e-mail some years ago praising his review of a car Chevrolet (the SSR) put out that was supposed to look like it had been chopped and altered.  Neil's take on the difference between mass-manufacture and art was one of the best things I've ever read about folklore.  I told him so by e-mail and have used the piece in my class.  He, in turn, worried in his e-mail response to me about what happens when a writer's writing makes it into a college class.  Does he lose his edge?   Even recounting the incident here now makes me happy.

I always read Susan Carpenter (who they should let review motorcycles again).  I like Robert Lloyd and Ken Turan.  Mary McNamara and Sandy Banks.  Steve Lopez.

The paper may have had the great short-sightedness to fire its copy editors and fact checkers (surely a necessary group of folks).  I am glad they kept some  of the people they did.  And so I read it Thursday through Sunday.  I'm not looking to it for the latest news any more.  I'm looking for in-depth reporting.  Good writing.  Stuff I didn't know.

I guess an aside is worth making about the other daily Los Angeles paper, The Daily News.  I don't read it, but one of the reporters calls me a lot to be a quoted expert.  I'm sure it says something about the self-absorption of the city and time in which I live when I say I always look those articles up online to see if I sound good in the quotes.

All this lead-up brings me to the piece they ran on page A3 in yesterday's (9/18/09) Los Angeles Times Valley edition by David Kelly.  I won't hotlink, since at some point it won't be available any more, but here's the first paragraph:

"A man claiming he was paying tribute to dead golfers tossed up to 3,000 golf balls into the biggest sand trap he could find: Joshua National Park."



Yes, indeed.  That right there is why the paper is worth reading.  This item didn't go viral on the internet (maybe because it didn't involved Kanye West).  It didn't get picked up by NPR because it's a little too long for a quip and doesn't have the pathos needed for a feature.  Rachel Maddow didn't mention it.  Salon and Slate didn't cover it.  I read about it in the newspaper.  The same daily print newspaper that had a very interesting piece from Neil about Diesel/Electric hybrids (want!), an hilarious panning of the Matthew Modine play making its world premiere at the Taper, a good review of both The Burning Plain and Bright Star, as well as a bad one of The Informant! (Very helpful--I now will not go see it).

I also read an interesting piece about why the NFL is helping the Washington football team keep its racist name and an obituary of Frank Coghlan, Jr. who played Billy Batson in the Captain Marvel serial.  (Shazam!)  Just so you know, Southerners read the obits.  Every day.  There was also a well-done (and scary) feature by Richard Fausett on the Oath Keepers.

To get back to the golf balls, I read every word of the story.  Twice.  Thought I should tell Teresa about it.  Thought I should say something on Facebook about it.  Then, I decided to blog about it.  Because, of course, my connection to and fascination with the story was about more than the golf balls in the National Park.  It was about why newspapers should still matter.  Do still matter.  It's good to slow down, read the paper.  Think about it.  Talk about it.  It's also good to listen to NPR, read the web, follow blogs, tweet (I suppose, though I'm not yet convinced).  None of these things have to be either/or zero sum things.

Quoting again from Kelly's piece, wherein park rangers noted that the golf balls had some tennis balls mixed in, he writes:  "Rangers also found cans of fruit and vegetables left in the desert along with park literature tossed around."

According to Ranger Joe Zarki, Jones [the accused] spread the golf balls around the park, "'to honor all the golfers who had died.'"

"Contrary to what rangers originally though, Jones wasn't chipping golf balls into the desert with a club.  He was hurling them from his car."  Mr. Kelly, you've got me hooked.  Tell me more, please.

"Jones was unavailable for comment Thursday.  He lives with his 84-year-old father, Douglas, who didn't know about the incident until a reporter called him.  'It certainly sounds strange,' said his father.  'He hikes out in Joshua Tree every three months or so, and he golfs maybe once a week.  But I don't know where he got that many golf balls.'  He did, however, say that his son works at a local golf course."

Well done Mr. Kelly.  Well done LA Times.

Support your local newspaper.  It may be dying, it's certainly flawed, but it's still worth having around.

Now, about afternoon delivery...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Serial carogamous

"Am I obsessed with justifying this decision?"  I asked Honey.

"Every human want to justify her decisions.  It's what makes us human," was her reply.

I had noted that I would be glad not to have to worry about the size of open parking places in the really impacted Whole Foods parking lot.  This was after saying early this very afternoon, that I would be glad:

1) Not to have to worry about the enormous blind spots on the FJ

2) Not to get 18 mpg

3) Not to have my car mistaken for a Hummer ever again

I may have come up with another thing or two or three.  Or eleven.

You see, friends and blogreaders, it's a mere three years after procuring my Toyota FJ Cruiser and enduring the summer of 08, where filling it up was a $65-75 endeavor that had to be done every 300 miles (or fewer).  Usually fewer.  And my time with the FJ is drawing to a close.  Not because I leased it.  Not because there's anything wrong with it.  But because I just can't deal with it any more.  I've got other reasons.  I'll throw some around now:

I've been furloughed from work two days a months with an accompanying 10% pay cut.  I would like my car to be cheaper.

It has faux-suicide doors and very few adults want to get into its back seat.

It will need new tires in the next six months and that will cost $1000 or more and I still won't be able to change them by myself, given how large they are.

Gas is back up over $3.00 a gallon.

Americans still want "cute" SUVs and the FJ is cute.  And newish.  And retro.  Someone will want it.  It still has value.

I don't like having to hoist up into it.

I would like to make less impact on the environment.  It qualified for Cash for Clunkers.  A 2007 vehicle.  Seriously.

I know, by the by, that someone else will buy it and use it and they will make an impact on the environment with it.  That will be partially my fault.  I'm ok with that.

Ok, see what I mean about justifying what I want to do?  A lizard brained serial carogamous, I am.

Anyway, all of which is to say, I put a deposit down on a 2010 VW Golf TDI.  Clean Diesel.  40mpg.  German made, just like my Passat of yore.  $1300 tax break.

It won't be here until December or January.  In the meantime, though, I'm a little obsessed.  In a good way.  Want to see what it will look like?!


That one is British, but it's the color I ordered.

We had our usual terrible time with car dealers trying to get one ordered.  We went to test drive the Jetta TDI (same engine) to make sure I liked it and to order one.  It's not even worth going into much detail about how much both dealers we visited did sucketh.  Van Nuys VW and Livingston VW both refused to take my order, had marked up the TDI cars above MSRP, and said that the dealers who would take orders were "lying."   Commonwealth VW has my business in buying the car for sure.   Some car advice:

1) Do your research on the interwebs before you go

2)  Walk away from people who call you "ma'am" in a condescending way and

3)  Always always always always bring Teresa.

Then you'll be fine.

More details to come, I'm sure.  Vroom (in a clean diesel way).