Monday, September 22, 2008

From the road

From Arkansas.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Smallest fish in Harpeth River caught by world's worst angler

Had a good time fishing with Miss Anne and Warren and their friend Tony at Newsom's Mill in Bellevue yesterday.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

I (heart) Skip

He spoke with a voice that reached across the miles and enlightened countless thousands.

He educated and inspired untold scores of followers.

His passing is a great loss.

Solzhenitsyn? Heavens, no. I'm talking about Skip Caray.

I cannot believe I will never turn on another TV or radio and hear him call another Braves game.

His voice is an integral part in one of my most cherished childhood memories, watching the Braves on TV with my grandfather on hot-humid summer nights, him in the easy chair and me laying on the carpeted floor, with the windows up on the screen doors to my grandparents' house and the ceiling fan going, but never fast enough to actually cool the room off.

I remember when the Braves would play the Cubs and you could flip the TV back and forth and hear both Skip and his father call the same game.

I remember all those games, year after year after year, when the Braves were so bad that if the opposing team failed to show up at the ballpark, they'd still manage to find a way to lose.

I remember him yelling "Braves win! Braves win!" when we finally won the World Series.

I was an unabashed fan. I will miss Skip Caray. My prayers are with his family.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

My city was gone

I can’t remember when Blundale, Ga., ever was much of a town. It was before I was even born. Heck, it was really before my dad was even born. Even when he and his parents moved there in the 1950s, Blundale was well in decline.
But it was still sad to drive through the old town over the July Fourth holiday and see how time has continued to wear it down.
Blundale, Ga., is no more.
This little teeny-tiny itty-bitty town was on the far northern edge of Emanuel County. In its time, it had a little downtown, with a sort-of main street and a store and railroad depot for the Wadley Southern Railroad. The railroad stopped running in the ‘50s, leaving only a raised berm that had been the railroad bed; I remember my father walking me over there as a small child and showing me where the tracks had been and telling me how the train had come through every afternoon.
Now, even the berm is gone. The ongoing widening of the highway folks there just call “Number 1” has wiped out what remained of it.
I drove between the orange barrels and turned off into Blundale’s little downtown. You couldn’t miss Miss Pumpkin’s house – an old Victorian with a huge wrap-around porch – now covered in vines and surrounded by 10-foot tall brush and weeds. Miss Pumpkin’s real name was Lumpkin, Delmar Lumpkin, and she was living in that house when my grandparents moved to Blundale from Swainsboro in the mid-‘50s. Her husband had been a supervisor for the workers on a huge nearby farm, my grandmother recalled. When I was little and she would visit with my grandparents, I called her Miss Pumpkin, and Miss Pumpkin she remained to us for the rest of her life.
Next to Miss Pumpkin’s house was the old Blundale store. It had been abandoned well before Miss Pumpkin had passed on. It, too, was grown up, weedy and forlorn.
There were a few houses about 100 yards down the way, and some people were outside cutting the grass. I would have stopped to talk but I had a long drive back to Warrenton, and a cloud was on the horizon, and I opted not to bother them on July 4th.
But saddest to me was my grandparents’ house.
The grass was all grown up. What little I could see of the backyard looked to have weeds and grass practically as high as my head. Someone had plopped a chain link fence back there, but to hold in what, I’m not sure, ‘cause there was nothing to hold in back there but weeds and what looked like a child's inflatable swimming pool. The tin roof was peeling back over part of the old garage, which will cause it to rot from the rain inside. I couldn’t see the old smokehouse or the old store building in the back, much less my granddad’s garden behind it -- it was too grown up.
At least the row of crepe myrtles are still there, in full pink bloom in the summer sun.
I wonder if my granddad’s gourds are still hanging from the wire across the backyard. I wonder if those spiky plants my grandmother brought from Florida are still back there. And the place where my father buried his two dogs behind the old store, and chiseled their headstones for them by hand out of rocks he found.
Two songs are in my head as I write this. The first is My City Was Gone by The Pretenders:
I went back to Ohio
And my city was gone
There was no train station
There was no downtown …
I went back to Ohio
But my family was gone
I stood on the back porch
There was nobody home
I was stunned and amazed
My childhood memories
Slowly swirled past
Like the wind through the trees.
The second, I’ll close with. It’s I’m On My Way Back to the Old Home by Bill Monroe:
I’m on my way back to the old home
The road winds on up the hill
But there’s no light at the window
That shined long ago where I lived.
(I’ll try to blog again some more later on about my trip to Emanuel County for the Fourth.)

Hot chicken

You gotta eat good on vacation, even when it's just a stay-cation. So I headed on down to Prince's Hot Chicken Shack today at about 1:30 -- trying to get on the tail end of the lunch rush. Had about a 20-minute wait (I was No. 36; the first number called after I arrived was 17).

I got mine as a take-out order and took it home to eat it. Was it good? Of course. 

Monday, July 21, 2008

Missing in action

Does anyone know what has become of the Emanuel County (Ga.) GenWeb page? It's disappeared. The links refer to you to a nonexistent page on .... ???

Monday, June 16, 2008

Some more random thoughts and unsolicited endorsements

While I wait for my Palm Pilot to soft-reset so I can try to reinstall my screwed-up password-storing software:
  • Spray-on suntan lotion may be the greatest thing since sliced bread. Especially for a person like me who burns easily.
  • Firefox might be even better than sliced bread. Can't wait for Version 3 to come out. The many add-ons for Firefox are awesome, and I can even install them on my work computer without having administrator privileges on my machine. I'm running the add-on, 1-click Weather, Abduction, Copy Link Text, FireShot, GMail Space, Scrapbook, ScribeFire, and as of today, TwitterFox. Why did I wait so long to switch from Internet Explorer?
  • Google Reader is up there with Firefox. Almost as good as Google Reader is Google Notebook. I am just now starting to make use of Google Documents and Google Sites.
  • Apple needs to stop trying to sneak its Safari browser onto my PC when I update my iPod software. No fair. I thought better of you, Apple.
  • I would be willing to make more use of iGoogle if it loaded faster. What gives?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Some random thoughts for no reason

+ FedEx is doing away with the Kinko's brand name. I'm not happy about that. Kinko's is an American icon. You tell someone, "I have to go to Kinko's today," and they know you're going there to make copies or get something printed. You say, "I'm going to FedEx" -- what, to pick up a package?
+ Why did Bath and Body Works recently stop selling the Cotton Blossom line? Now they sell Sea Island Cotton. It's good, and it's almost as nice, but it's not Cotton Blossom, which was my favorite. I know they have to change out their inventory every now and then to keep things fresh, but I hate it when things I like go away. Maybe it will come back.
+ I'm really enjoying Firefox lately. I've become a committed Firefox user.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Trying again with the palm tree video

It's good to be home

The Miami airport is a zoo. The seat-belt fabric barriers must go on for miles and miles and miles.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Live from the ocean

The sky is not as cloudy here now as it was a while ago. Hope this short video works. This is my first time trying to send video to the blog remotely. If not, I'm also enclosing a still pic.
NOTE, AS OF SUNDAY AFTERNOON: No, the video didn't make it onto the blog. I'll have to try to upload it the old-fashioned way.

UPDATE AS OF SUNDAY NIGHT: Got it fixed. The fixed, working palm tree video is now at this link.

This is NOT a transcript

I'm sitting in on the Q&A at the end of a panel on public documents. Once you get a record, I think someone asked, what do you do then?

Well, the first guy said, you have to verify that it's real (think CBS and Bush's National Guard records). But, the other panelist said, if you have a legit record, the interview subject will rarely try to say it's not real.

True, but it does happen. I remember an instance from a few years ago in which a reporter gleaned from a government agency (via FOIA) a document that suggested that a public official had done something they shouldn't have done. The record clearly was a transcript of a telephone conversation including that official, with the official quoted in it as saying that the agency involved should do the thing they shouldn't have done -- and the document had a header up at the top that said TRANSCRIPT (actually it was something like "TRANSCRIPT OF SO-AND-SO CONVERSATION"). When the reporter tried to talk directly to that official, they wouldn't talk, and referred the reporter to the agency spokesman, who, when asked about it, said basically, "That's not a transcript."

I don't think the PIO could ever explain what that document was supposed to be if it were not a transcript, but that was the official line.

We used it in the story, along with the PIO's response. I think the reader could make the judgment for themselves.

Some other random observations as the conference winds down:

* The sky is clouding up outside and it looks like it will soon rain.

* I see more and more need for journalists to have computer skills -- and I don't mean being able to sort in Excel. There is so much of a use for, and need for, people who can do real computer programming, such as designing ways for databases to be hooked to Websites to be publicly searchable, do mashup maps, create dynamic presentations of social networking analysis diagrams and other ways to present raw data -- databases with thousands and thousands of records -- online. I feel so behind-the-curve. The problem is, so many people in journalism like me can't do the computer stuff, and the real computer experts often come from outside-of-journalism worlds and can't make the two mesh. Reporter 2.0 may be blogging, posting their own live audio and video a la Al Franken as SNL's one-man mobile uplink unit, but Reporter 3.0 needs to be truly cross-trained in IT. Information technology -- we journalists are all about the information, but we have to keep up with the technology, too, if we want to continue to reach the public and not just be over in a corner talking to ourselves.
* I'm in the membership meeting right now, and one of the board candidates just said how much she's gotten out of IRE. I second that. IRE is a great organization, and I have gotten so much from the hands-on computer training, conferences and other programs it puts on, along with its repository for stories done by other IRE members and tipsheets, its guidebooks on reporting topics, its listservs, I could go on and on.
* I got through the conference and bought only two books from the book sale. This may be an all-time best for me at an IRE/SPJ conference. I have a hard time saying no to the book sale tables and then a harder time having to lug my new library home. I got held up at the ticket counter at LaGuardia three years ago for having overweight luggage on my way back from the SPJ convention in New York, and a substantial part of my belongings had to travel back to Nashville in Frank Gibson's suitcase. The only ones I bought this year were the two for sale by David Cay Johnston, formerly of The New York Times, who authored a great quote that is somewhere else on this blog. I wanted to hear him speak yesterday, but I stopped off at the ladies' room first and found I had a run in my stocking so big that I basically had more hole than stocking. I wound up back in my room, changing into my khaki slacks. Darn.
* I have put in my order for the audio of the conference sessions. I have done this in the past and it's very helpful. If you're an IRE member and didn't attend the conference, you can order it for $15 plus shipping from IRE.
* Blog readers: Fender says hi.
* You are supposed to be able to read more about the conference at, I think, It's supposed to be a conference blog. Haven't had a chance to check it out yet. (ADDENDUM: Yes, that is the correct URL, and it's a very good blog.)
NOTE: I went back into this post on Sunday, post-conference, and fixed some typos and added some links. So it's changed a little since I first posted it.

Glorifying the everyday grunt work

I can't say enough about the value of getting and going through otherwise-routine public records on a routine basis. You could glean that from any number of sessions here at the conference, but I'm inferring it again from the excellent session by Jim Neff and Ken Armstrong of The Seattle Times about their series, "Victory and Ruins." This is always vindicating to hear -- especially given the very bad memory I have from a few years ago, when our then-top boss banned us from FOIAing any records in any instance in which we did not already have a specific tip or allegation of explicit wrongdoing. That edict, many Salt Mine readers will recall, nearly made my head explode. But it's great to come to IRE and hear the word preached -- it is like going to church, in the religion of journalism -- and my head is un-exploding now. Can I get an "amen"?
NOTE: I went through this post on Sunday and updated it to fix some typos and add some links.

By the Bay

Dave Barry's speech was great. In Miami, he said, they could just inaugurate their public officials and indict them at the same time. Sounds much more efficient.

Update from IRE

Weather is nice here, conference is great. Some random thoughts:
* Great stories often involve a little bit of luck, but are more the product of hard work than anything else. That's one thing I'm picking up from all the speakers at these sessions.
* Our system of government was created with checks and balances - the ones we all learned about in civics class - but there is no greater, stronger check on our government than the press. I thought about that while listening to a reporter from the Detroit Free Press talk about his coverage of the mayor up there and the private e-mails/text message scandal there, which has led to further revelations about contract-steering and nepotism/cronyism in city government. The legislative branch of city government would never have worked to ferret out that story. The courts? Well, the courts are involved NOW, but only because the press fought so hard to run the story/stories down.
* Editors talking about editing can be really boring. Editors talking about stories is much more interesting. The process of editing, although it is my job, is not that interesting to me. Stories, and finding out new facts or making some great revelation or realization, are what interests me.
* Walt Bogdanich, NY Times reporter and Pulitzer winner, looks incredibly like my friend and former colleague Jay Hamburg.
* When trying to decide which sessions to attend at a professional conference, don't decide based on topic. Decide on the quality of the speakers doing the presentation. A session with some folks on the panel for whom you've never heard of or you've never heard of their work, there's a chance it'll be a really good session, but it also has a good chance of being a dud. A session with great speakers, it'll be a good session, no matter what the topic is.
* I really enjoyed the session last night that included an advance screening of an episode of the upcoming HBO miniseries "Generation Kill," which is based on a book by a Rolling Stone reporter who was embedded with the Marines in Iraq. I think I'll watch the miniseries now.
* I have been thinking for several weeks now about document retention and filing for journalists. Covering government, we routinely get 1,000-page document dumps in response to our FOIAs. Some of that material is immediately useful, some is more useful weeks or months down the road and some is, quiet honestly, not useful at all for our journalistic efforts. But keeping that material, keeping it organized, and keeping it findable over a long term is a challenge. Filing was one of the major issues talked about yesterday on the very good panel about "building the ongoing investigation," in which all the participants shared their personal memories of the late, great Bob Greene. And someone just asked a notes-storage/retention question in the session I was just in about coaxing great writing from reporters. A common piece of advice: Always type up your notes and write memos to yourself after interviews.
* Everyone, everywhere, seems to be being asked to do more with less. Why is it that we live in an era where, thanks to new technology, we have more and more media in the world, but there are less and less resources for the most important work the media does, which draws the greatest attention from the readers/audience and has the greatest impact (see bullet point above about Detroit)?
* The conference hotel is super-nice. I am so excited to hear Dave Barry speak at lunch!
NOTE: I went through this post Sunday afternoon, fixed some typos and added some links, so it's changed a little bit since I first posted it.

Friday, June 6, 2008

I'm here

Miami is huge. The airport is huge, huge. The conference hotel is huge and very nice. It's right on the ocean. They charge you $4 for a little teeny bottle of Coke.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

It would be too obvious to say 'I'm so glad we had this time together,' but I'll say it

There were few things I enjoyed as a child more than the beat-up swingset in our back yard. I swang and I swang and I swang. I swang in cold weather, with a jacket on. I swang in warm weather in shorts and flip-flops. Some of my best childhood memories are of swinging in the late summer afternoons, with the shadows growing long, and being surrounded by the sound of the cicadas buzzing in the trees.

There wasn't much that could tear me away from that swingset. But at 6:35 p.m. every weeknight when there wasn't a Braves game on, I had to be in front of the TV.

Carol Burnett was on.

Now, I'm a child of the '80s. Pac-Man. Michael Jackson and Thriller. MTV. All that. But for whatever reason, TBS, for several of my most formative years, decided to air decade-old re-runs of Carol Burnett and Friends at 6:35 p.m. every weeknight when they weren't showing a Braves baseball game. I rarely missed it.

As the Stomach Turns. Tim Conway as the character known in my house as The Little Old Man. Carol Burnett as Miss Wiggins, who couldn't operate the intercom, and Conway as her stressed-out boss. They were as familiar to me as any characters on any of the popular television shows of the mid-1980s, if not more so. They were a fixture in my house. Even my parents, who were busy people and stayed stressed out most of the time, would sometimes watch.

And we weren't the only ones. At school the following day, the kids in my class would be reciting lines or funny scenes from the previous night's re-run. I don't think we really understood that ol' Carol and her crew had been cancelled by CBS some years before. The loud '70s clothing, the wide ties and leisure suits -- well, we weren't really old enough to catch on how out-of-date they were. Carol and company might as well have been still on the air, along with The Dukes of Hazzard, Knight Rider or whatever else 10-year-olds were watching in the mid-'80s.

But I think we understood, or at least I know I did, that Carol Burnett's show was awesome.

I remember when Tim Conway, as the little old white-haired man who always shuffled around, appeared as a dentist trying to treat patient Harvey Korman, only to stick himself with the Novocaine needle and put all his limbs to sleep. I remember laughing at Carol and Harvey Korman doing their version of Max, the baldheaded butler, and Nora Desmond, aging movie star with her overly stretched-out face, years before I ever saw the original film Sunset Boulevard that they were parodying. And this punchline stood on its own in my house: "Stroke! Stroke! I'm having a stroke!" I won't even bother to try to explain it. You had to see it to understand.

But the highlight of any Carol Burnett episode in my house was The Point At Which Tim Conway Would Make Harvey Korman Crack Up. It was never a question of whether Harvey would lose it. It was a question of when he would lose it. If Tim Conway were on that night, it was coming. You just had to wait for it.

Today, out in California, Harvey Korman died. He was 81. He was awesome, and I just wanted to write this.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Charts, anyone?

In response to the recent blog post by my friend DJ Ron, graphically interpreting some popular songs, here are some more, leaning heavily toward the country side, thanks to

funny graphs
more graph humor and song chart memes

Note: This next one should rightly say "Things you can do to Carl Perkins."

song chart memes
more graph humor and song chart memes

song chart memes
more graph humor and song chart memes

song chart memes
more graph humor and song chart memes

funny graphs
more graph humor and song chart memes

funny graphs
more graph humor and song chart memes

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The morning after the Forum Banquet

Thank you to all who followed my spur-of-the-moment live blogging from the Forum Banquet. I apologize that none of the audio I tried to post last night worked. I do have audio of one speaker at the mic, though it's not really high quality (recorded it via my Palm Pilot), but I'll try to get it uploaded today as soon as I figure out how. And I should have turned off the comment-moderation feature. Sorry about that.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Auld Lang Syne

Yup, it's over. With any luck, here's a sound file of the great old Robbie Burns song being sung by us, the attendees.

UPDATE, SATURDAY MORNING: Well, I blew it on this one. Not only did I not get the audio uploaded remotely from the banquet, but the audio didn't even save on my Palm. So I don't have this to post. I hate that like heck, because singing Auld Lang Syne is such a tradition at the Forum Banquet. I'll try again next year.

Winding down

The open-mic period continues but the lines at the mic are getting shorter. A speaker just got up and said he thought many of the attendees were guilty of sedition and reiterated his desire to meet another letter-writer on the battlefield and put a bullet between his eyes. Now there's something you don't often hear at a celebration of free speech.

Some audio from Mr. Foster Shockley

fostershockley attached

UPDATE, SATURDAY MORNING: Oops. Both of my attempts to post audio to the blog from my Palm Pilot at the banquet failed, including this clip I was trying to post of Mr. Shockley speaking during his open-mic minute. The good news is, I can see the clip did get saved on my Palm. So I'll tinker with it and try to upload it later today.

'Can we not see eye to eye?'

Picture is of reporter Jaime Sarrio fulfilling the time-honored tradition of covering the Forum Banquet.
UPDATE: I should point out that the speaker whom Jaime is interviewing in this picture is frequent letter-writer and previous Forum Banquet honoree Phil Michal Thomas.

The open mic period is begun

We've had 4 speakers so far, and 3 of them got bell-runged by Liz Sharer for going over. This may be a record.

Mayor Dean speaks

Mayor Karl Dean is delivering the keynote speech.

Dessert was called "Chocolate Confusion." It was very good.

Dinner is underway

I'm honored to have sitting at my table Mr. Andy Brown, who sat with me last year -- this is his 11th banquet -- and Mr. Foster Shockley, who is at his 24th or 25th banquet.

Live from the Forum Banquet

Live from the Maxwell House ...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Some random stuff I've meant to blog about

All in one blog post 'cause I'm way behind:

  • I saw nine engines on one train the other day in the Gulch. My dad and I have a running contest to see who can spot the most engines on one train. The current record, held by me, is 11, but nine was the old record. These were mostly Union Pacifics, but there were a few orange-ish colored NLCX engines mixed in.
  • I want to see the Hank Williams family exhibit at the Hall of Fame. I'll have to let you know how it goes.
  • I'm no longer the biggest TV celebrity from Warrenton, Ga. I've been surpassed, thankfully, by Jamie Ellis and his bees. Read more about it on my Warrenton blog. Speaking of which, I was pleasantly surprised to learn the other day that Warrentonians have their own group on Facebook. I'm proud to be a member.
  • Went to roller derby last night with Monica and Ellen at the State Fairgrounds. It was a lot of fun. The crowd chanted the name of one of our star players, who calls herself Rambo Sambo. My favorite part was the halftime show, with a dance routine performed by the Nashville Rollergirls' crack cheerleading squad.
  • Shot the old .38 yesterday morning at TWRA's public range out by Percy Priest. I shot about 150 rounds at the five-yard target. Annie Oakley would have nothing to fear from me, trust me.
  • I'm getting really, really sick of our local weather patterns, where it's warm and beautiful during the week, but then it turns cold, crummy and rainy on the weekends.
  • The body shop wants $1,900 to fix the dashboard in my truck where my stereo was ripped out. Yikes!
  • I'm really enjoying the John Adams miniseries on HBO.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Monet: That's what I want

Went to see the “Monet to Dali” exhibit at the Frist today and greatly enjoyed it. Rodin, you da man. I never knew his The Thinker was supposed to be based on Dante. Man, Dante must have really been one chiseled, muscular dude. Did they have Pilates back then or something?

I remembered today something that the art students I knew at Vanderbilt often said: Don’t put a fancy frame on your paintings because it overshadows the picture itself. I accepted their wisdom at the time. But seeing all the Monets and Picassos and Van Goghs today, I noticed how many of them were displayed in huge, ornate frames – the stuff you pay the major cash for at the frame shop. So, was the advice incorrect? Or is it that when you’re Monet, the rules don’t apply to you?

I tend to think it’s the second, not the first. Breaking the rules – wasn’t that what Monet and Picasso and all those guys were trying to do with their art anyhow?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I'd vote for that

As suggested by Peter Cooper: Earl Scruggs for mayor, Kentucky colonel and homecoming queen. Let the campaign begin.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

It was a heck of a week

Last election night -- the September 2007 Nashville mayoral runoff -- we had an election and an execution.

This election night - Feb. 5 presidential primaries -- we had an election and tornadoes.

My prediction for next election night: Election + Wolf Creek Dam will break.

Check out the handiwork of my colleagues at And here's some stuff on YouTube:

Monday, February 4, 2008

Messing around with Google Maps again

I worked up a Google Map to go with our Political Datebook column this week. Let me know what you think.

View Larger Map

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Vote early with our Google Map

I've been tinkering some with Google Maps lately, and here's one I'm proud of: It's a map of early voting sites in the Nashville area that I did for Click on the balloons and it should tell you when you can vote there, links to the sample ballot (if that county's is online) and contact information for the county Election Commission. And because it's a Google map, you can also plug in your own address and it will give you driving directions.

View Larger Map

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Quote of the day

Serious journalism is vital to maintaining our society and our freedoms. ... Digging out hidden facts and making them understandable energizes me.
- New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston, as quoted by the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat & Chronicle. Seeing this quote this morning really lifted my spirits, and I sure needed it.