Welcome to this blog thing... whatever it is

Blog is an ugly word. It sounds like a job for Roto Rooter when Drano and Liquid Plumber can't get the job done. "The drain's backed up again -- looks like we've got another blog."

I had a blog as a columnist at the Cincinnati Enquirer, and there were many times when I wanted to call Roto Rooter to clean it out. Something about the camouflage of anonymity gives some knuckleheads "blog courage," which is like beer courage without the excuse of inebriation.

Before online blogs came along, a profanity saturated insult or threat of violence at least required a stamp. The threatening letters I got from the leper colony on Molokai (true) required several collectible stamps, and were so creative and colorful I shared them with the Tucson Citizen newsroom.

I wonder if online comments would not be so ugly if "blogs" had a more congenial name. Arguetorium. Idiotorial Colosseum. Carping Diem. Common Tater. 


I long for the daily newspapers that had great names. In my career in Michigan, Arizona and Ohio I worked for The News, The Outlook, The Independent, The Review, The Republican Tribune, The Dispatch, the Tucson Citizen and The Cincinnati Enquirer. Readers loved them so much they had affectionate nicknames: The State Urinal (Journal), the Unconcerned Citizen, the Inkwire, the Daily (Red) Star.

My favorite newspaper name was unfortunately fictional, from National Lampoon: The Dacron Republican-Democrat. Of course, that's an impossible name for a modern newspaper. At least the "Republican" part. Which may help explain why many of those great newspapers have folded.


Words of Wisdom

"No good deed goes unpunished." 

I used to keep that blue-collar quote on a three-by-five card in my cubicle in the Cincinnati Enquirer newsroom, next to my "Reagan on Rushmore" button and a Gary Larson cartoon of a dog wearing "cement overshoes" being dropped off a bridge by two mobsters who said, "He bit the hand that feeds him."

"No good deed goes unpunished" seemed to describe an unusual number of management decisions.

For example: I would choose a letter from a stack of hundreds to publish in Letters to the Editor. We would shorten it to fit our guidelines and clean up bad spellings and fractured grammar. Then the next day I would get a call: "You took out my favorite part!" I finally started warning readers that we had an uncanny talent to find their favorite paragraph in a letter to the editor... and remove it.

Another example was on one of the Enquirer's anniversaries, when we announced that we would make the daily paper smaller -- as a "birthday present" to our loyal subscribers.

This is how my boss probably felt.

This is how my boss probably felt.

One year when we ran our annual August stories about heatwave suffering and deaths in the poorest neighborhoods, I bought a couple of air-conditioners and enlisted the help of some local ex-cons at a halfway house to deliver and install them (Thank you, Mike Howard) for two families in sweltering subsidized housing. The air-conditioners cost about $300. The cost of the dog that bit me: Ouch! The look on that elderly couple's faces as they stood in front of the cool blast of air in a room that felt like 106 degrees: Priceless.

When I wrote a column about it, I was warned by the editor in chief: Never, ever do anything like that again.

It didn't stick. 

Words of stupidity

OK, so I watch way too much TV. And I have noticed that the so-called pundits are like the meteorologists: they never get fired no  matter how many times they are spectacularly wrong.

They also seem to work from a the same dictionary of Buzzwords for Any Occasion, which is thinner than Bill O'Reilly's Book of Conversational Manners. (I think it's called "Killing Courtesy.")

So I dare you to try the Fox News/CNN Challenge: Turn on any shout show and try to listen for five minutes without hearing:

"At the end of the day..." This tired, geriatric phrase is older than George Will's quill pen that he lifted during the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It's pure filler, a phrase of foam packing peanuts from the Smithsonian Museum of Government Weasel Words. What's wrong with, "In summary," or the most welcome word at every public speaking occasion: "Finally..." Better yet, if that's all you have to say, just stop talking before you say something even more hackneyed and stupid such as "that being said."

"Look..."  When someone starts a sentence with "Look..." I immediately "look" for another channel.

"Optics." This one is the 100-proof, distilled spirit of the Washington culture. "Optics." What they mean by "bad optics" is that it looks bad. Never mind the truth or the facts. Everything is appearance. It could be wrong or right, but what matters is the "optics." When so-called journalists use words like "optics," that's a warning sign that they have been hopelessly brain damaged by too many rides on the D.C. spin machine. Please. To paraphrase the redneck test: If you say "bad optics" to describe a felony stupid Washington scandal, you just might be a punditiot, way past your sell date.

... And the Ron Burgundy-Ted Baxter Award for Broadcast Balderdash goers to:

"Double down." If Washington is Hollywood for homely people, TV news is apparently Las Vegas for losers. During the past year the pundits have lost every bet they've made, but they still "double down" like five-martini drunks blowing the college fund at Caesar's Palace. No news analysis or discussion is complete without at least one mention that someone has "doubled down," which in ordinary English means "said something twice that I disagree with," or, "refused to be bullied by media attacks."

One of these nights I will hit the five-fecta and Chris Mathews or Charles Krauthammer will say: "Look, at the end of the day, having said that, they will double down on bad optics." Which, come to think of it, is a pretty good description of the Washington media.

Addicted to old roadsters

My "rescue" roadster, a 1977 MGB, aka "Sooper B"

My "rescue" roadster, a 1977 MGB, aka "Sooper B"

This is how it looked when I bought it. Love at first fright.

This is how it looked when I bought it. Love at first fright.

I started restoring this LBC  (Little British Car) in 2006. Now almost 11 years later, I have skinned hundreds of knuckles, expanded my vocabulary in the wrong direction and replaced every part that could fail -- except the ones that are waiting for the right opportunity. And I am still working on it, of course. Because British cars are never finished. They're just "resting."

I've had the engine out more times than I want to remember. Skinned knuckles heal, but the moment you find out you have to pull an engine for the third time can leave permanent scars on that part of the brain that feels pain and attraction to old British cars. The day I discovered that the parts company sent the wrong flywheel still grinds me like the new $175 starter that cranked and cranked in futility because the $400 Italian alloy flywheel was several millimeters out of reach.

1970s styling with the latest mechanical technology... from 1955

1970s styling with the latest mechanical technology... from 1955

With help from my mechanical Kung Fu "master" Sam Smyth, I apprenticed as a grasshopper grease monkey and learned the art of pulling wrenches... and occasionally throwing them. For some reason, they seem to go farther when accompanied by a blue cloud of curses that hang in the air like oil-burning exhaust. 

A stock MGB has about 80 horsepower. Hardly enough to get out of its own way. But if feels and drives "Safety Fast," as the slogan went, because it is as close to the ground as a roller skate and corners like a carnival ride. This one is not new, but it is improved beyond recognition. It's supercharged and re-bored for "Holy bleep" giddyup. It has a tuned exhaust, performance cam, alloy intake, aluminum pistons, high-performance suspension, stiffened anti-sway bar and blah, blah, blah car guys can get really boring talking about this stuff.  

I went through almost as many dollars as dumb mistakes. Sam: "I told you to put a rag in the end of the exhaust pipes when you pull the manifold. You dropped a screw in there, didn't you, dumb----. Now you have to pull the whole exhaust system off. Again."

But on a warm spring day, when I unzip the back window, put down the top and cruise the scenic farm country that frames the licorice twisty back roads of rural Clermont County in the Land of Goshen, all is forgiven. 

Big-time drug trouble in small-town Ohio

CINCY MAGAZINE, April -- Sleepy little Felicity is so small it doesn’t even have a stoplight. So it must have felt like an invasion when a convoy of cruisers from the Clermont County Sheriff’s Department brought a task force of undercover narcotics officers, K-9 teams and detectives to bang on doors and haul away 13 suspects running a heroin network and meth lab.

“The undercover agents took one of them right out of our restaurant,” says Don Larrison, owner of the village gathering place, the Feed Mill. Most of Felicity cheered, he says. “Oh, yes, it was quite a bit of excitement.” Read more.

Cold case: Supper Club fire was arson

The 1977 Beverly Hills Supper Club fire lit the skies over Cincinnati

The 1977 Beverly Hills Supper Club fire lit the skies over Cincinnati

CINCY MAGAZINE -- A conspiracy to cover up the most deadly crime in Kentucky history sounds like a topic for the Tinfoil Hat Society—unless you know the local underworld history...

Busboy David Brock says he was too scared to tell police what he had seen in 1977. “Anyone who would kill that many people wouldn’t think twice about me.” But since a reunion in 2002, when survivors compared notes about mysterious “maintenance men,” threats and arson, he has been tenacious. Read more.

The 'bleeping' Wall Street Journal

The newspaper industry had another death in the family on Valentine's Day. Decency was killed by the Wall Street Journal in a front-page story about an obscene YouTube star, who was quoted saying that "Context f---ing matters." Except that it was spelled out, letter for letter.

Yes, context matters. This kind of thing is callously common on cable TV. But newspapers always maintained higher standards. There was a time when even the "C-word" (crap) was not allowed in a newspaper because we knew that we were a guest in the home of each subscriber, and guests do not wipe muddy words on the carpet, belch profanity at the breakfast table or barf locker-room language in the living room.

If anyone cared about the murder of common decency by one of the nation's great newspapers, it was hard to tell. I couldn't find any complaints or comment about it on the web.