Friday, April 30, 2010

This is Kentucky and this is Kentucky Derby weekend and this is a newspaper, or at least an online version of a newspaper, so it's appropriate to recognize — celebrate is too strong a word — the 40th birthday of gonzo journalism. The late Hunter S. Thompson, a Louisville native credited with birthing gonzo, created the new style of journalism at the 1970 Kentucky Derby, with a story entitled "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved." Thompson covered the event for a British sports magazine accompanied by the illustrator Ralph Steadman, whose drawings combined whimsy and vulgarity with only incidental connection to reality, much the same as Thompson's writing.

Gonzo journalism blends fact and fantasy, and it places the writer's experience at the center of the story. The modifiers he applied to the spectacle of the derby, then, necessarily applied to himself as well.

He wrote: "It's a fantastic scene — thousands of people fainting, crying, copulating, trampling each other and fighting with broken whiskey bottles." Not quite wide brim hats and mint juleps.

Gonzo journalism is an oxymoron. Though entertaining and readable, gonzo violates the inviolable rules of journalism: A journalist must report facts, leaving out his own opinions, and he must remain outside the story as a detached observer. In gonzo, facts are optional. And the writer is the subject and star of the story. It is the ultimate expression of narcissism.

Some might argue that the act of suicide is the ultimate expression of narcissism. If so, Thompson had that covered too. He shot himself in the head in 2005, four decades after a trip to Ketchum, Idaho, to investigate the reasons behind Ernest Hemingway's suicide for a magazine piece Thompson was writing.

Thompson's suicide note, entitled "Football Season Is Over," read:
"No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax — This won't hurt."

Still putting himself at the center of the story.

Thompson's best known work was "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." Although never a household name, he had a devoted following that included many Hollywood stars, as well as the cartoonist Garry Trudeau, creator of Doonesbury, who patterned his character Uncle Duke after Thompson. As Trudeau's tribute to the writer following his death, a Doonesbury strip shows Duke learning of Thompson's death after which his own head explodes.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

MSNBC blooper

A headline destined for Leno appeared on the screen yesterday at MSNBC:

Sounds like Yogi Berra has found a new gig writing news.

Friday, April 16, 2010

More AP goofs

Spot the errors in this AP story (two punctuation errors, two capitalization errors and one failure of an ill-informed reporter to recognize irony):

Tony Kueber's signs reflected the anger of the Kentucky Tea Party, where he sold banners Thursday bearing slogans such as "Taxed Enough Already" and "Second American Revolution."
"The Constitution," Kueber said. "It's not a difficult document. Anybody can read it."
That sentiment wove it's way through the second annual anti-tax day rally in downtown Louisville. Around 500 people gathered on a warm, sunny day to protest against the size of government, the tax code, the Democratic Party and President Barack Obama.
Interspersed throughout the crowd were nearly a dozen political candidates, including Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Rand Paul and GOP candidates for Louisville mayor and congress, seeking votes to join or lead the branches of government they spent more than two hours criticizing.
"I'm clinging to my guns, my religion and my ammunition," Paul said. Later, speaking to reporters, Paul said he was just using political rhetoric, not trying to incite anyone to violence.

Answer to the last spot-the-error challenge:

The photo cutline reade: Odong Obong, barely 3 days old, is tended to by his mother as he lays under a mosquito net in a hospital ward in Akobo, Southern Sudan, on Thursday.

Error: "lays" should be "lies"

Friday, April 9, 2010

Military wisdom

Spot the error from an AP cutline:

Odong Obong, barely 3 days old, is tended to by his mother as he lays under a mosquito net in a hospital ward in Akobo, Southern Sudan, on Thursday.

And here are select military quotes, with plenty of civilian applications, from reader Jack in a forwarded e-mail:

"If the enemy is in range, so are you." — Infantry Journal

"It is generally inadvisable to eject directly over the area you just bombed." — U.S. Air Force Manual

"Tracers work both ways." — U.S. Army Ordnance Manual

"Any ship can be a minesweeper. Once." — Maritime Ops Manual

"Never tell the platoon sergeant you have nothing to do." — unknown Marine recruit

"If you see a bomb technician running, try to keep up with him." — USAF Ammo Troop

"When one engine fails on a twin-engine airplane, you always have enough power left to get you to the scene of the crash." — Multi-Engine Training Manual

"What is the similarity between air traffic controllers and pilots? If a pilot screws up, the pilot dies; but If ATC screws up ... the pilot dies." — Sign over control tower door

Friday, April 2, 2010

Errors revealed

In case my reader ever comes back and can't figure out the answer to the most recent spot-the-error quiz, here it is.

1. After two tumultuous seasons under Billy Gillespie, Wall and Calipari led Kentucky to its 44th regular-season SEC championship, 26th conference tournament title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Error: Placing "Wall and Calipari" after the prepositional phrase "After ... Gillespie." John Wall didn't play under Billy Gillespie, and John Calipari didn't coach under Gillespie. They both came after Gillespie left. The phrase refers to Kentucky, so Kentucky must follow the comma.
The sentence should have read: After two tumultuous seasons under Billy Gillespie, Kentucky won its ... tournament under Calipari and behind Wall (or: ... behind Wall's leadership).

2. Asked if the issue was dead this legislative session, Thayer said, "That remains to be seen."
If the issue's status is uncertain, it cannot be dead. The answer must be no.
By the way, add "remains to be seen" to your list of evil phrases that must never be used. It is meaningless, as it applies to everything in the future.

Other evil phrases to avoid:
"The day started out like any other."
"with interest" as in "I read, with interest, the story ..."
"We'll have to see what happens."
"at this time"

What evil phrases are on your list?