The other day I picked up a Michigan daily newspaper that will remain nameless, although God knows why. (Actually, I know why: Someday, I’ll need a job.) It was the day after the president presented the (first) bill for services rendered in Iraq, you know, the $87 billion one. Another Michigan daily that will remain nameless got "$87 billion" in the headline — good doggie. This one did not. This was the headline:
Stay the course in Iraq, says Bush.
To be sure, the $87 billion part was in the subhead, but it was a very small subhead.
Sigh. Pride goeth before a fall and all that, and headline-writing is difficult — this we will stipulate. Also, this: That there’s no harsher editor than a journalist on a long vacation. But, man. Maybe someone was looking for an entry to top the boring headlines famously compiled by Michael Kinsley a few years ago. ("Worthwhile Canadian initiative," "Prevent burglary by locking house, detectives urge," and "Chill falls on warming relations between Australia, Indonesia." Among others.)
At the same time, I wonder if this particular daily is planning it this way. The story about the hairy guy, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, finally starting to spill the beans on the 9/11 plot? What detail — an original plan of 10 hijacked planes on both coasts, plus more in Asia, oh my gosh the horror the horror. The headline? 9-11 could have been worse.
That’s one way of looking at it, I guess.
Truth to tell, it’s hard to cover yourself with glory on this one.
9/11 planner details scheme — The Columbus Dispatch. Yawn. Let’s check the tabs. Now, that’s more like it: PLOT FROM HELL. The New York Post, of course.
Sometimes I wonder if it ever occurs to newspaper editors that boredom is a big reason they’re losing readers. I’ve been reading the web long enough now that, most days, I turn to columns with something like dread. It’s the one place in the paper where you can roll down the windows and turn up the stereo a little bit, and yet lately, no matter which paper I’m reading, that hardly ever happens. Bring back sensationalism, I say.
Oh, don’t get me started. I do have to get a job after this is over.
Today must be National Complain About Your Newspaper Day. In the morning’s e-mail: I was fit to be tied on saturday morning, when I read an execrable above-the-fold story in our paper about miss wisconsin. the lead said it had been 20-some years since a miss wisconsin had "stridden" the runway. I spit coffee over that one. it didn’t get better, either.
waaaay into the jump, I read that miss wis’s "cause" was organ donation. she watched her father die while waiting for a kidney transplant. oh ho, I’m thinking; this is promising. the writer gives it a mere paragraph.
Maybe I can get a job at the Gap. Probably I’ll have to.
Monday is supposed to be an easy day, class-wise, but Monday is also our lecture section in Russian, and the instructor moves at the speed of, well, her glib, babbling tongue. She must believe in the immersion model of language teaching, even at the 101 level. But the cool thing is, I’m starting to understand her. A little bit, anyway. I had to miss the class last Monday for the food conference, and spent the week recovering. Never again. Today she introduced us to "our most challenging and difficult chapter in our Russian study," the language’s six separate cases, starting with the prepositional, or locative. Each has its own set of fun endings. The language also has noun gender, which affects adjective endings, and of course verb declensions and their endings. Groan.
"This is a very exciting thing for you to be learning," she told us, as we struggled through the spelling rules and exceptions and irregular words and "My professor is sitting on the table" translations. "If we did not have this, we wouldn’t be challenged and Russian would be boring. This is where the beauty of the language is revealed." It’s also, according to that New Yorker story about mat I read last week, part of its rich tradition of obscenity, which makes use of all these suffixes and prefixes in fun, filthy-tongued ways. Then, introducing the noun for "genius," she announced we would all be memorizing a short poem by Pushkin — "Alecsandr Sergeevich Pooshkin," as she put it — by the term’s end. Russians believe in memorizing poetry, she said. Of course, under the Soviet system, there were far fewer books to be had, so you sort of had to.
But I believe in memorizing poetry, too. There’s a skill that’s utterly fallen out of favor in teaching today. In fourth grade, I memorized "The Village Blacksmith" and can still summon up big chunks of it. My colleague Mike Harden wrote a column about this years ago that is one of my favorites. A teacher quoted in it said that the fashion now is for students to write their own poetry, rather than commit "Oh Captain! My Captain!" to memory. Balls to public education, I say.
Anyway, after class, I was walking through the microfilm banks in the grad library en route to somewhere else, and there was a shelf of Russian-language periodicals. Great, I thought, picking one up and glowering at it: Kultura. Well, that’s not hard to translate, but the rest was just an alphabet soup, and in something like 9-point type. And then, as if by a miracle, I saw a headline, a movie review: Krassny Dragon. Red Dragon! Victory! Bring on the Pushkin.
I wonder what the rest of the headline said. ‘Red Dragon’ comes to screen with good, bad parts. Probably.
See you tomorrow.