What Now? Can We Find Peace Amid Rising Waters, Rising Gorge?

God willing and the creek don’t rise…  I wrote earlier this week about the likely election of Hillary Clinton.

The creek rose. And now so will the seas. And now what do those of us, more than half the country, who think Trump is horrendous do to find some equilibrium? Anger shock and griping isn’t a healthy plan for living.

Donald Trump’s first act as president elect will ensure that his son Baron and Baron’s children will live in a world of horror. You think there are refugee problems now, Mr. Trump? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Wait until your know-nothing policy on global warming has its effects and tens of millions of poor people who don’t look like your voters flee the rising seas. Trump named Myron Ebel of the Competitive Enterprise Institute to head his transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency. The fox has entered the henhouse. “Mr. Ebel has asserted that whatever warming caused by greenhouse gas pollution is modest and could be beneficial,” The New York Times writes today. Bye Bye Paris climate accord. Bye Bye livable earth.

Every day there will be another outrage like this. But these won’t be like Trump’s campaign outrages. Those could have still been addressed by the voters. Too late now. Too many of these new daily outrages will become policy.

Can I stand to be outraged every day? Angry? Depressed? Clinton in her concession speech said we owe the president elect an open mind. I’ll try. I’ll have to or I’ll go crazy. Or I’ll have to go up in the hills and live alone and become a helmet, as Maynard G. Krebs said.

Perhaps this man will grow in the office. He seems not to have fixed convictions, and he’s certainly not an orthodox Republican. So I suspect he’ll sometimes pleasantly surprise us. He may push for government-supported work repairing infrastructure that was the first thing the Republicans blocked President Obama from doing eight years ago. Clips and pictures of him meeting with Obama yesterday showed Trump looking as if he’s realized what deep water he’s in. That, or he was already bored.

I can’t live in anger for four years. People who thought Obama was an abomination and that his policies were ruining the country felt every day for eight years what I’ll feel now for four. Their representatives in Congress did little but bitch and say no. That wasn’t very satisfying or useful. I don’t want to do that.

So I’ll watch and read less news. Try not to wallow in the daily transgressions. Read more books. Write more books. Watch more movies. Talk with Lisa more instead of sitting next to each other watching MSNBC. Bowl. Do something. Actively try to stop some of the worst things Trump and his backers will do. Are already doing. But I can’t be sad or angry every day or the cats will hide under the bed and Lisa will make me live on the screen porch where my black cloud won’t foul the air.

Half the country is crawling out of their cellars these last three days and looking around at what the tornado rearranged. It’s an apt cliche to say we’re in shock. Moving slow. Staring off in the distance. Wishing it weren’t so.

The dark parts of me want to say to Trump voters, “You picked him, you got him, don’t come to us when you realize he’s screwing you.” And the nasty parts of me want to say to Democratic primary voters, “You picked her, a terrible candidate, and look where that got us.” The late great Molly Ivins wrote a book about George W. Bush’s years as governor of Texas to show voters what Bush would be like as president. And he was (sort of) elected anyway and he acted just like Ivins warned he would. She wrote a second book before Bush’s reelection and said in the introduction “If y’all hadda read my first book I wouldn’t have had to write the second one.” If we’d paid attention to Carl Bernstein’s study of Hillary Clinton’s actions and character “A Woman in Charge” we would have put up someone this year who wasn’t so reviled and could have won.

But that didn’t happen. And I have to stop moaning about it all. For my own peace, and so people and small animals don’t flee from me on sight. Pick a few important causes to back and then back away from the daily deluge. Find quiet corners.

We survived eight years of Reagan (the poor didn’t survive very well as income disparity started to skyrocket under this earlier actor who played a president). We survived eight years under Bush (the soldiers and civilians killed and maimed in Bush’s endless wars didn’t survive very well under this earlier front man who didn’t know much). We can probably survive four years of Trump. But the planet and our progeny?

Get thee to a hammock, Bruce. Squeeze a cat pet a dog love the kids. Turn down the temp inside yourself. And send Elizabeth Warren flowers.


— Bruce Benidt


I know, wrong?

i_know_right_-_Google_SearchEvery generation has its annoying catch phrases.  The valley girls and their wannabes famously sprinkled every sentence with “like.”  More recently,  “not so much” has been used ad nauseum to express disapproval or disagreement.

“Whatever!”  It’s not “all good.” Admittedly, often it’s “my bad,” “yada yada.”

I have a house full of teens and young adults these days, so I’m particularly aware of a prevalent catch phrase.  When I assert something that meets with the youngsters’ agreement, a rare event, they invariably respond with “I know, right?”

The main problem with this, or any catch phrase, is that I know it’s only a matter of time before I hear those words coming out of my mouth.  Catch phrases are contagious that way.

I desperately don’t want to let this phrase into my lexicon, because it particularly irritates me.  It makes no sense to respond to an assertion with a question about whether the assertion is correct.

My mama taught me that it is polite to respond to direct questions.  So, it strikes me that the “right?” part of the response requires a response, which leads to mind-numbing exchanges such as this:

Me:  “The Twins starting pitching is crappy.”

Youngster:  “I know, right?”

Me:  “Right.  That’s why I just said it.”

Youngster:  “I know, right?”

Me:  (stink eye)

I know, it’s not really a question.  But then, why include the “right?” part.

I guess this is the “everyone gets a ribbon” generation that we raised.  Even when they are agreeing with us, they need still more affirmation that agreement is acceptable.


– Loveland


News flash:  Minneapolis is a snobby city.  This from Travel and Leisure:

In the annual America’s Favorite Cities survey, we asked readers to rank 35 major metropolitan areas for features such as trendy food trucks or good-looking locals.

To determine which city has the biggest nose in the air, we factored in some traditional staples of snobbery: a reputation for aloof and smarty-pants residents, along with high-end shopping and highbrow cultural offerings like classical music and theater.

But we also considered 21st-century definitions of elitism: tech-savviness, artisanal coffeehouses, and a conspicuous eco-consciousness (say, the kind of city where you get a dirty look for throwing your coffee cup in the wrong bin).

Minneapolis ranked 4th, trailing San Francisco, New York City and Boston, but edging out Seattle, Santa Fe and Chicago.  The Travelers’ and Leisurers’ take on us:

Perhaps readers felt intimidated by these bookish, indie-music-loving, craft-beer-drinking hipsters, who also ranked highly for being exceptionally tidy. If these Minnesotans feel self-satisfied, is it any wonder? They also scored well for being fit and outdoorsy; you can join them at the Chain of Lakes, where, depending on the season, folks are hiking, paddling, or even ice-surfing.

Snobby?  Really?  Isn’t having interesting stuff in your community a desirable thing?

Of course it is.  Having the option of experiencing something new and different that isn’t available just anywhere is a huge advantage of living in a great city like Minneapolis.

But T and L got it right.  Minneapolis is a snobby city, because having new and different things is not enough for many Minneapolitans.  They feel obliged to look down  from their lofts and rooftop cafes judging people who don’t worship at the altar of all that is new and different.


For instance, God help you if you express dislike for Surly Furious beer inside the Minneapolis city limits.  It’s perfectly reasonable that some people would enjoy the bitter taste of the hop-heavy brew, and some would not.  Preferences are preferences.  But to hipster Minneapolitans, a distaste for the hops in IPAs is a clear sign that one is not sufficiently evolved.

The same thing applies to food and wine.  If my God-given tastebuds just can’t distinguish between a ten buck meal and a fifty buck meal, does that really mean that I’m a closed-minded rube?  Maybe it just means that I’d rather hold onto the extra forty bucks to buy four extra ten buck meals.  Saffron and truffle oil?  Can’t taste it dude.  Hints of oak barrel?  Even if I could taste it, why would I necessarily desire it?

I also plead guilty to wearing khakis and not possessing a single pair of skinny jeans.  Why?  One, BECAUSE I’M NOT SKINNY.  (Neither, by the way, are many of you.)  Two, because I still have khakis in my closet from the 90s that have some more miles on them.

And then there are bicyclists.  Minneapolis is thick with them these days, and I’m all for them.  I support more bike lanes, bike racks, and people out of cars, if that’s what works well for them.   But just because I prefer not to arrive at meetings drenched in sweat and expect bicyclists to obey traffic laws doesn’t make me a Neanderthal bike hater who doesn’t understand the profound awesomeness of Amsterdam.

The fact that many Minneapolitan hipsters equate rejection of a trend with inferiority is what makes them snobby. Trends are fine.  Enforcement of trends is snobby.

It’s a little more difficult for me to understand when snobbery happens in a city of folks who are largely transplants from small towns, suburbs and rural areas.  Even most of the free spirits in Uptown and downtown lofts did not grow up in Soho or Greenwich Village.  They are only a few short years removed from enjoying Folgers, Mogen David, Buckhorn and IHOP.  If those folks find that  Peets, Pétrus, Surly, and Café Lurcat brings them more joy, enjoy already.  But really, there is no need to evangelize and snigger.   We hayseeds are perfectly comfortable, in all our glorious frumpyness.

– Loveland

Ship-for-Brains Kmart

For many of us, our biggest strength often also turns out to be our biggest weakness.  For ad agencies, their biggest strengths often are their creativity and sense-of-humor.  Those wacky guys in the skinny jeans and pointy shoes crack me up!  But when not checked by clients and agency grown-ups, that strength can sometimes manifest itself as a weakness.

Witness K-Mart’s ad agency, Draftfcb.   (You can already tell how hip they are just by the funky corporate name.)  This is the assignment Draftfcb was given:  Promote Kmart as an online shopping outlet, something Kmart is lightly associated with.

But, it’s also critically important that any ad agency also be mindful of the overall brand backdrop for their narrow marketing assignment:   Historically, K-mart has had shitty stores, a shitty customer experience, shitty customer service, and shitty products, and, consequently, a shitty brand image.  Kmart desperately needs to change both the reality and perception of its wall-to-wall shitty-ness.

So, Draftfcb created, and Kmart approved, this gut-buster:

Continue reading “Ship-for-Brains Kmart”

MnDOT Battles Minnesota Nice

Zip it.
Governments conduct public education campaigns on many important issues, but I especially have zeal for a righteous cause being promoted by our Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) – the Zipper Merge movement.

During Minnesota’s construction season, drivers are frequently required to merge due to a closed lane. And merge they do. In fact, they overmerge. Seemingly in a silent competition to showcase how doggone polite and law-abiding each of them is, Minnesota Nice drivers tend to merge the nano-second they learn of the lane closure.

The problem is, this early merging leaves vast expanses of unused road capacity in the merging lane. And as we all know, unused road capacity is a priceless commodity in a construction zone. Unused road capacity aggravates traffic congestion. It costs millions per mile to construct urban freeways, and yet we leave them vacant?

In this particular scenario, Minnesota Nice effectively becomes Minnesota Moronic.

But thank goodness, MnDOT has come to the rescue with it’s Zipper Merge campaign. Instead of the “early merge” the Minnesota Nicers use, drivers are urged by MnDOT to “zipper merge,” or drive to the very end of the merging lane before taking turns merging. When the zipper merge is done correctly, an aerial view of the lane looks like a closing zipper, with little-to-no unused road space.

This utilitarian MnDOT video won’t win any cinematic or soundtrack awards, but it explains the concept well enough.

So, my oh-so-nice Minnesota neighbors, please repeat after me: Zipper Merging is our friend. Zipper Merging is not rude. Zipper Merging makes maximum use of the merging lane, and consequently reduces construction-related congestion. Therefore, Zipper Merging is what good neighbors do for each other.

But despite MnDOT’s best efforts, the Zipper Merge remains a VERY challenging concept for most Minnesotans. It still feels naughty to them, like budging in the school cafeteria line on Tater Tot hotdish day.

The situation isn’t helped by vigilante drivers, who are apparently so convinced that the Zipper Merge represents highway robbery that they straddle the two lanes so as to clog the zipper, and force inefficient, self-defeating early merging. Needless to say, sometimes the communications between the Zippers and the Minnesota Nice vigilantes gets Minnesota Nasty.

So anyway, you go, MnDOT. I’ll happily march with you to right this wrong.

– Loveland

Confession of a Bandwagon Fan

I mostly subscribe to the adage “a bad day at the ballpark is better than a good day anyplace else.” And I have been known to get too wrapped up in sports. For instance, I spent some quality time getting ulcer treatment at the George Washington University Hospital ER after Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

But I have a confession to make. Bless me, Father Gardenhire, for I have sinned. Please don’t tell the fellas I share season tickets with, but I’m not watching the Twins games much these days. I also haven’t been watching much of the slumping Wolves, Wild or Gophers. I must admit, I’ve evolved into what I once loathed – a bandwagon fan.

The face paintin’, tail gatin’, trash talkin’, blog readin’ Real Fans despise bandwagon fans. They view switching the channel to a movie while your team is getting thrashed as akin to cheating on your terminally ill spouse. The look Real Fans give you when you leave in the 8th inning with your team seven runs behind is the same look of contempt chicken hawks give flag burners. Real Fans call into sports talk radio shows to admonish bandwagoners to “man up!” They do what loyal fans do, stay and heckle your beloved team mercilessly!

Continue reading “Confession of a Bandwagon Fan”

Ice Whine

It starts roughly the day after Valentines Day – the upper midwest’s snow and ice whining season. This is the time of year when typically upbeat midwesterners complain bitterly and incessantly about, of all things, snow in the winter.

To outsiders, complaining about snow in February and March in the upper midwest might seem about as logical as complaining about sunsets at days end. Or Vikings collapses in January. After all, these are statistically inevitable occurrences. But still we whine.

Actually, we’re not always this unstable. There are distinct snow psyche seasons in the upper midwest. From mid-October to Thanksgiving is the Giddy Season. If it snows in the Giddy Season, we frolic. We also wrap our SUVs around telephone poles. After all, it’s been six whole months since we’ve driven in the stuff.

Continue reading “Ice Whine”

Save the Tiger

What should Tiger Woods do?

Something other than what he’s doing, surely.

John Feinstein wrote Monday that Tiger, like most big businessmen, likes control. He’s carefully controlled his image and the media’s access to him, and now, by running down a fire hydrant and a tree, he’s lost control over the conversation about him.

Feinstein said Woods is probably being poorly advised. Just as likely, I’d say, that he’s ignoring advice. Hoping he can somehow hunker down, swear privately at the damned media (which, come on, is the conduit to the fans who give him his living) and feel like a victim. People with power love to blame the media for their own mistakes.

I know nothing of what happened, of course. Could be Woods was in a fight with his wife, over an affair or over salad, doesn’t matter, and he got royally pissed off and stormed out to his mini-tank and hit the gas. And the hydrant. And the tree. I’ve been that mad, done things that stupid, in fights with several wives (consecutive, not concurrent). Maybe his wife smashed the windows with a nice follow-through before he drove off, maybe after. Doesn’t matter.

If something like that happened, I’d advise Woods to say, “My wife and I got in a fight. Couples do. I did something incredibly stupid, and dangerous. For that, I’m sorry.” End of story. No more questions.

Feinstein offers this advice:

To speculate on what occurred is unfair. But only Woods can stop the speculation. Something got him into the car in a state so frazzled he literally couldn’t drive safely a few yards from his own driveway. He doesn’t need to go into a lot of detail, but it is best for Woods to admit that something happened because clearly something did. Woods should read this statement at a news conference and then answer questions. If anyone asks about the tabloid reports, he should smile and say, “Come on, guys, I told you what happened that caused me to leave the house; that should be enough. Can we please move on?”

What’s your crisis-management advice?

— Bruce Benidt
(Picture from Getty Images)

small business loan nice

In the Year Twenty Eighteen…

I just re-upped for the domain name thesamerowdycrowd.com. For nine years. Don’t know why nine, exactly. Mainly because I’m terrible at keeping track of things and now we won’t have to worry about it again until 2018.

When a small nerdy herd of us dreamed this blog up three years ago — mostly it’s Austin’s fault, and the fact there wasn’t anything good on TV — we signed up for the domain for three years. I never think the world will last for three more years, so that seemed like plenty.

Now, nine. Will there be domains in nine years? A web? Austin? Earth? People talking with one another?class_of_2018_tshirt-p235356420350196888qiab_400

What do you think? How will we be communicating in 2018?
Will there still be two major parties in the US — Republicans and Democrats?
Who will be president of the US?
What will the terrorism situation be?
What will China be up to?
Will there have been a major disaster?
Will you be happy and fulfilled?

As to the first question, I think we’ll have thought-transference communication. Think it and it will happen. And we’ll have comm-free zones and restaurants and resorts and days and settlements. Where the thoughtcommweb isn’t on. And that will be heaven.

— Bruce Benidt

Stompin’ at the Loft and the Dakota — Jazz and Poetry

My friend John Gaterud and his daughter Abbey have created Blueroad Press, and their newest offering, Stompin’ At The Grand Terrace, is being celebrated tonight at The Loft in Minneapolis and Sunday at the Dakota, also in Minneapolis.

If you need a break from baseball or from the shock of cold weather — I could see my breath this morning — go and give a listen. It’s piano jazz and great poetry reading. The author, Philip S. Bryant, has written a memoir in verse about growing up and about his father and about his love for jazz. His book is a conversation between two old Jazz fans in Chicago arguing and talking about the history of jazz, and Phil’s reading makes you feel as if you’re sitting in a smoky bar or on a front stoop listening. Phil’s voice roams from booming to a whisper and he loves every word, and Carolyn Wilkins’ piano music will lift you.

Here’s a sample of Bryant’s verse:

Come on darlin’,
I can’t dance that well
and neither can you
and we aren’t those young’uns
we were a few years back
and we’re a few pounds more
but to hell with that.
I wanted to be an astronaut
or some such thing and you
a First Lady of a President
whose name was John or
Jack — and thinking like that
we probably screwed up our
lives, or at least part of the way.
It looks a whole
lot different than we
thought it was supposed to be.
And we look in a mirror and say
Shit! This isn’t what we
were supposed to be,
this isn’t it at all.

But hang it and dang it.
I want to kick up a fuss and
hold you tight for one last
whirl across the dark dance floor
’cause we ain’t getting any younger
and time’s flying out the side door
and the youngsters will laugh and say,
Look at those old codgers —
what do they think they’re doing?

But the hell with them.
Will you take this dance?
The clock is ticking
but it ain’t stopped yet
and there’s a few minutes left
before the big hand strikes twelve,
so what the hell
what do you say we get up
while the band’s still playing our song
just as a condemned man
would whistle along
with the nightingale
singing outside his cell
at dawn
just about when it’s time
to get up and face the music.

The book is available at most bookstores and at blueroadpress.com, and it’s a treat.

The Loft Literary Center, at Open Book, 1011 Washington Ave South, Minneapolis, at 7 p.m. today. And The Dakota Jazz Club, 1010 Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis, at 7 p.m. Sunday — $10 cover at the door for the Dakota. Come on down.

— Bruce Benidt
(Poem, titled Face The Music, stolen from John and Abbey, as is the pic.)

Riding The Slippery Slope At The State Fair

I don’t know about you, but I can’t get enough Minnesota State Fair food “on a stick” jokes. Every time a local anchor lays one of their highly original State Fair food bits on me, it just gets funnier and funnier and funnier. I swear, it never gets old.

But if you are one of those sourpusses who whines about the endless Schtick on a stick, thank goodness Minnesota’s Great Get Together also offers the opportunity to engage in thoughtful public debate.

– Loveland

July 20, 1969

Apollo_11_lunar_moduleThe 60s were a tough time in terms of news that sticks with me.  Maybe it’s because I was young – I was born in 1959 – but mostly, what I remember are the low points when it seemed like my whole family, my neighbors, the world for all I knew,  had stopped and were gathered around the television.  I’ve experienced days like that since then, of course, most memorably 9/11 and when the Challenger space shuttle blew up in 1986, but by then we had grown somewhat used to the spectacle of continuous news coverage.  Back in the 60s, it was much rarer, but I remember:

  • The day Kennedy was shot in Dallas and the four days afterwards when the TV stayed on all the time.
  • Lyndon Johnson’s announcement that he wouldn’t stand for re-election
  • The assassinations of Martin Luther King and then Bobby Kennedy.

But I also remember the night of July 20th, 1969 when I played outside until it was dark and my parents called me in to watch Neil Armstrong step onto the moon and – we found out much later – bungle his lines.  The picture was grainy, oversaturated black-and-white but for a kid who’d grown up on black-and-white and rabbit ears, it seemed pretty good to me.  The event itself was magical.

Like a lot of us back then, I thought that by now – 40 years later – we’d have permanent colonies on the Moon and maybe Mars.  The year before, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 had shown us a vision of Pan Am space planes, orbiting Hilton hotels and more.  It seemed very doable and natural, an extension of the settler impulse that had pushed us across a continent and out into space.

Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out quite the way we expected.  Space is a lot more inhospitable to Earth-evolved humans than we realized back then and it’s very, very, very expensive to put people and stuff into orbit (much less to the Moon or Mars and back).  The evolution of computing power and robotics means that it’s far safer and cheaper to send unmanned missions anywhere in the Solar system (and beyond) than it is to send fragile, bulky, needy humans.

But still…it seems like an awful big waste of space if we’re sentenced to this 3rd rock from a non-descript sun drifting in an out-of-the-way corner of a pretty unremarkable galaxy.  “Look but don’t touch,” doesn’t sit well with a kid raised on Tom Swift and Andre Norton and Robert Heinlein.

Maybe, though, there’s still hope.  In recent years, there’s been an expansion in the efforts of the private sector to get into space.  Several teams are competing to develop reliable launch vehicles that are orders of magnitude cheaper than the government-run alternatives.  This trend could accelerate if somebody figures out how to make money – preferably a lot of money – up there.  If that happens, who knows?  Some day, this old guy might just take a trip up there to see what its like.

Until then, though, let’s tip our hats to Messers. Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins for what they accomplished and the hope they took with them.

“They came in peace for all mankind.”

– Austin

Who Are We, Guys?

Do you believe in the Myers-Briggs Personality test? I had one administered years ago by a little old nun (one of the famous SSNDs of Good Counsel in Mankato who’ve been studied for decades for their ability to live, work and thrive well into their 90s). All I remember is that part of my type is the letter “E.” I remember it because “E” can also stand for “Ellen.”

Anyway, today I found a website that claims to perform a Myers-Briggs test based on your blog content called typelyzer. So I plugged in the URL of The Same Rowdy Crowd to see what kind of a personality we/I/all of us were/am/are. And according to the site we are:

INTPs – The Thinkers

The logical and analytical type. They are especially attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.

This sounds good until you realize what the SRC is not: we rate like zero, nada, zilch on feelings. I blame Keliher for this.

I also visited the ArcheTypealyzer which tells you the persona of the blogger (I’m not sure why the site places persona in italics but there you are.) Now according to this site, the SRC sounds like an entirely different creature. We have the following motivations and desires:

Motivation: Belonging

Desire to be yourself and find out about the world

The Orphan – “All men and women are created equal”
Lover – “I only have eyes for you”
Jester – “If I can´t dance, I don´t want to be part of your revolution”

Now I’m really confused as to what type of Crowd I’ve been associating with. Is/Are/Am it/we/I really that disorganized, disembodied and/or delusional?

All I really know is that I joined the SRC because I wanted to belong.

I think.

John Updike’s Reputation, Overshadowing Better Writers

John Updike died this week, and his passing was marked by a front-page New York Times article and two full pages inside. That treatment is indicative of what is, in my humble opinion, his inflated reputation.

I loved reading the early Updike. His stories about a marriage breakup, the Maples stories, collected in a little volume called Too Far to Go, are as humane and insightful and harrowing as fiction gets. Rabbit Run, like Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road, showed the agony of conformity in the 1950s, and was a lovely and frightening and compassionate book.

updikeBut Updike later in his career was writing unconscious self-parodies, like Hemingway’s Across the River and Under the Trees, where the old tricks seem just old and tired. Rabbit Redux tried to encompass the uproar and dissonance of the Sixties and early Seventies and was just clumsy and embarrassing, an aging white guy failing dismally at being hip. In the Beauty of the Lillies was Updike’s attempt to capture the turmoil of the end of the 20th Century, including the craziness of the FBI debacle at Waco, and again the writing was ham-handed and way too obvious.

I loved reading his books The Witches of Eastwick and Couples, and others. But the problem with Updike is that he got in the way of other great writers. His reputation was so huge, and he was so prolific, and he was so loved by the literary establishment — of which he was a full scratch-each-others’-backs participant as an essayist and so-dense reviewer (I could almost never finish one of his reviews, they were so pompously erudite) — that he overshadowed writers who continued to do what he had done in his early books but was no longer doing.

Updike was celebrated for “giving the mundane its beautiful due,” but too often he was just giving us the mundane. While hundreds of column inches were devoted to Updike, wonderful writers like Anita Shreve and Alice Hoffman were treated lightly, even though they work the same territory Updike did, and their books are far more fresh and vibrant and ring far more true. But they are considered “women’s writers” while Updike and Roth were Mount Rushmored as The Serious Writers. Read The Witches of Eastwick and then Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic and tell me they aren’t equals. Read anything by Anita Shreve next to Updike’s earlier books and tell me Shreve doesn’t more than hold her own.

Not all writers become lighter and recycled with age. Kurt Vonnegut did, I’m afraid, but Reynolds Price has stayed as strong and lyrical and true through all his decades of writing. But he doesn’t have Updike’s reputation.

Who am I to criticize Updike? An avid reader, nothing more. But one who wants better writers to emerge from Updike’s inflated shadow. John Updike gave us some great books, and bless him for that. But others picked up his torch long ago.

–Bruce Benidt

(photo from Frank Capri/Archive Photos)

Not the Top 10 Albums of 2008

This is about the time of year I wish I wrote for a music blog so I could write one of those clever little year-end music critic retrospectives.

But I don’t. So in a shameless attempt to shoehorn music into this space, I’ll just share my favorite intersection of music and the news media from 2008, in which John McLaughlin and Pat Buchanan debut as indie rock lyricists (“At last!” I hear you cry).

– Hornseth

P.S. Oh, whatever. My favorite album of 2008 was I Woke With Planets in My Face by the ridiculously talented, Cincinnati-based, do-it-yourself indie-rock chap Peter Adams. If you buy one CD this year featuring a song written from the perspective of a continental-shift-weary Antarctica, make it this one. Stream it, or download it (paying whatever you choose), here business loan nice

How to Get A Job: Part II

A couple of weeks ago, I posted “How to Find a Job in Public Relations,” a piece that grew out of concern for graduating seniors at my university who are hitting the job market this month. Many of you kindly commented with great advice.

Tomorrow I’m going to be addressing a women’s leadership class through the Mankato YWCA around a slightly different topic: “How to Use Social Media to Get a Job.” Any job, really.

Now, I’m no expert at social media. The last time I posted an image of “the new social media prism,” Benidt quipped that it looked like a turkey on steroids. And it’s true: it does.

But it seems to me that one of the ways you can get through the loss of a position or even prepare yourself for the worst of times is to reach out now to others in your industry or profession, to long-lost colleagues and best friends, to new people who share your interests. Put together a safety net, so to speak, so if you fall you might have a softer landing spot.

Look. You already participate in the social media set. That’s why you’re reading this blog. (And we at the SRC thank you.) But if you actually comment on the posts, you become a public part of the social media landscape and we get to “know” you.

Actually, what we at the SRC don’t want to tell you is how easy it is to set up your own blog. Just go to http://www.blogspot.com or http://www.WordPress.com and if you can follow three steps, you’ll be blogging. Write about your field, your profession, your passion. (Let us know where you are and we’ll send you some “link love.”)

Do you twitter? Why not? In 140 characters or fewer, you can carry on mini-conversations with others around the world about industry openings, helpful articles, best practices in any profession (try #journchat on Monday evenings for great discussions among journalists, public relations people, students and nerdy professors.) WARNING: twitter may be addicting.

Are you on LinkedIn? Think of it as a grown-up version of MySpace. Or, how about MySpace or Facebook? Those are certainly ways to build contacts. Just remember: what you put on the Web lives forever.

What other ideas do you have for helping each other out during these uncertain economic times?

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A Mirror in the Crowd

mirrorAbout six months ago I posted a reflection on who was coming to the Crowd and what they were looking for (porn as it turns out).  With the election behind us and year-end being a time for looking back and summing up, I thought I’d take another look at our traffic patterns and the search terms that most often bring people to our doors.

Politics, politics, politics.

As the graph below most clearly illustrates, the Crowd was way into the election and tended to follow its twists and turns day-by-day.  We saw steadily increasing traffic throughout the summer and fall, culminating on election day, and then a big fall off in site visits, back to the levels we saw at the start of the summer.


I suspect a lot of us are just a little burned out and need a little break from the subject (not that I don’t appreciate those frequent personal e-mails from David Plouffe).

The traffic patterns also are a reflection of how much the authors are posting; prior to the election, we were posting much more frequently than after (on 10/29 alone, for example, we posted 9 items).

Continue reading “A Mirror in the Crowd”

Do You Doodle Like A President?


The other night I was wandering the stacks of a discount bookstore when I spotted a book simply titled Presidential Doodles (text and introduction by David Greenberg. Basic Books, New York. 2006).

Presidential doodles. Somehow, I’d missed this. OK, I thought. I’ll bite.

Turns out, you can judge this book by its cover. It’s a collection of, as it says on the cover, “two centuries of scribbles, squiggles and scrawls from the Oval Office.” It was put out by the editors of the arts and culture quarterly Cabinet, and I’ll agree with back-cover blurb writer Michael Kinsley, who wrote, “If you read only one book on presidential doodles this year, make it this one.”

There appears to be some debate over whether doodle interpretation can offer any sort of portal into the psychology of the doodler. The book’s editors seem to dismiss the idea (or at least argue that it’s not really the point), writing:

Presidental doodles are intriguing, above all, because they provide us with a glimpse of the unscripted president … It renders the president human in ways that a staged family outing cannot.

These glimpses, strewn across agendas, speeches, White House stationery, margins of lined sheeets and all sorts of other papers, include:

  • Andrew Jackson’s crude drawing of what looks like a alligator.
  • Martin Van Buren’s take on clouds and rectangles.
  • Herbert Hoover (clearly a leading president in terms of sheer doodling output) favoring intricate systems of shapes.
  • Eisenhower’s delicate portraits of people and things (this guy was pretty good)
  • Kennedy’s repetitous doodling of dozens of squares and single words over and over (“Vietnam” eight times in one doodle, most of which he then contained in a box). A collection of his doodles was exhibited in 1964.
  • LBJ’s dual approach — either drawings of weird looking figures worthy of a third grader or orderly assortments of well-aligned lines and shapes.
  • Lots of presidential cubes, diamonds and boxes, subdivided and subdivided again (my general approach — identity politics by doodling type may be the next big thing).

And there’s my favorite: This charming fellow, rendered by President Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893).


The book’s website, with a few of the doodles, is here. small business accounting nice

Our Streak of Consecutive Political Posts Ends at 78

Had to happen sometime.

So here we go. A gentleman named Paul Lukas runs a blog called Uni Watch, which he describes as “a media project that deconstructs the finer points of sports uniforms in obsessive and excruciating detail…. [F]or those who understand the pleasures of detail obsession, programmatic classificatmlb-logoion systems, information overload, and sports history, you’ve come to the right place.”

In a piece he contributes to ESPN.com, Lukas today considers the Major League Baseball logo, which just turned 40. If you like baseball, history, logo design and controversies (I’m 3 for 4), you’ll enjoy this.

An excerpt, in which Lukas interviews the guy, now 76,  who designed it in 1968:

UW: Did Major League Baseball accept the logo pretty much as you designed it, or did they ask you to make adjustments?

JD: Nope, no adjustments. I cleaned it up and that was it.

UW: What do you mean “cleaned it up”?

JD: You tighten it up so it can be reproduced. What I had originally created was just a Magic Marker sketch.

UW [incredulous again]: The original version that you created in one afternoon, and that was presented to Major League Baseball, was rendered in Magic Marker?

JD: Right.

Read the whole thing here.

Thanks to my pal Peter for the tip.

[Image credit: Major League Baseball] state tax help nice

Election Night Warmup #6

1860: On election eve, Mr. C.F. McIntire, manager of the Springfield office of the Illinois and Mississippi Telegraph Company, offers an election night suggestion to Abraham Lincoln.

Telegraph Office Springfield Nov 5 1860

To Hon. A Lincoln

Dr Sir

If convenient for you, we would be happy to have you and any friends you may wish to bring, Spend tomorrow night with us, where you can receive the good news without delay.

(Not wishing to have a noisy crowd inside, the doors will be closed at 9 oclock pm.)


C. F. McIntire
Springfield Office

Despite Mr. McIntire’s kind invitation, Library of Congress records indicate that Lincoln in fact spent election night at his state capitol office, where he received the returns with friends. Sorry, C.F.

UPDATE: I owe Mr. McIntire an apology. Lots of cool, online accounts of how Lincoln spent election day 1860 (like this one) have Lincoln leaving his office at about 9 p.m. to head to, yep, the telegraph office, where he monitored returns into the wee hours of the morning when the result became clear. Sorry again, C.F.

[Photo and transcription: Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress] invoices for free nice