Caffeine = good.

Call me crazy — Hey! You crazy! — but in all the discussion of getting news online, my imagination is increasingly taken with the, shall we say, meta. Let lesser drones worry about delivery systems; I’m all about the voice. The syntax. The evolving grammar of a new language of news. (And if you can’t tell I’m being kind of snarky here, move along, you lesser drones.)

I can, and have, gone on for many zillions of words about this, but here it is in a nutshell: I once heard Nora Ephron speak, and she quoted Milton Glaser on car design. (I have looked high and low for the original citation of this, to no avail. So let’s trust Nora for a bit, shall we?) He said the look of cars mimics the prevaling mode of transportation of any era. When cars were first invented, they looked like buggies. As horses gave way to trains, cars started to look like locomotives (witness the Cords of the 1930s). As the interstate highway system began to spread, and cars came into their own, so commenced the glory days of car design, in the 50s, when they looked their most carlike. And then we were in the Jet Age, the come-fly-with-me years, and cars began to resemble airplanes.

(Yes, this train of thought begins to go off the rails in recent years, but I heard the speech in 1980 or so. Nowadays you’d say car design is tapping a deeper vein in the human subconscious. As the gap between the classes grow, we increasingly armor ourselves in quasi-military vehicles, the Hummer being only the most obvious and unimaginative example.)

Anyway, the same can be said for news media. Each technological advance starts by mimicking the one before. When radio news came along, it was little more than newspaper stories being read on the air; same with television. The telephone allowed radio reporters to give live reports on the air, something newspapers could obviously never do. As satellite trucks, ever-shrinking equipment and easy-edit videotape came along, TV news came into its own, fully exploiting its visual potential, and giving us the one-alarm house fire or two-car fatal as the lead story. We could write a whole book about the curious rise of the car chase as national news, but we won’t — I think the New Yorker had a pretty good piece about it earlier this year.

You could cite 1980 as the year newspapers finally acknowledged the obvious, when USA Today debuted with short-short stories, flashy graphics, throbbing color and, just in case you were still too stupid to get it, vending boxes that looked like televisions.

(So ends the in-a-nutshell version of my theory. A very fat nutshell.)

And now here we are in the 21st century, and online news is coming into its own. Newspapers are starting to figure out that putting the same old crap online isn’t going to make it, that you have to use the medium’s unique capabilities to craft a new kind of storytelling, and anyone who sits in a meeting and says, “But if we put links in stories, people will go away from our site and never come back” needs to be told to go make some more coffee. And as this is still a transitional period, occasionally you get a glorious mash-up. I give you this item from the Freep’s main page today, flagged as a “news bulletin:”

A manhunt is under way this morning after a prisoner escaped at Detroit Receiving Hospital.

According to a report from WDIV Local 4, the man, who police identified as Cortez Rogers, and a 17-year-old girl were pulled over on the city’s west side at about 1 a.m. Police suspected the car they were in was stolen.

WWJ-AM (950) said Rogers was taken to Receiving after he said he wasn’t feeling well and began banging his head on the wall of his cell.

Local 4 said the man slipped out of his handcuffs and wrestled a gun away from a police officer. Rogers carjacked an ambulance, police said, which he abandoned.

Police on the ground and in the air were searching the area of Canfield and Third.

The Michigan Department of Corrections lists multiple

Check back for more developments.

Now that’s immediacy, eh? The story’s main source is a TV report, which tells you the newsroom is still virtually empty but for a few website-updaters, who have the right idea but no staff yet, but screw it, cite the TV guys, information wants to be free. Yet note the language and imagery, which is right out of a Superman movie: manhunt, carjacking, police searching “on the ground and in the air” and then, that bang-up last line, cut off in mid-sentence — can’t talk now, deadline! You can almost hear Perry White: “Olson! You know about these newfangled machines. Get this story on!” (Meanwhile, Clark Kent slips quietly from the room.) Check back for more developments! This story’s so hot we gotta get it out there now!

OK. Maybe I’ve had too much coffee.

I think I have. God, I love this French Roast stuff.


Slate caps its gallant crusade to promote “The Wire” with a lengthy interview with David Simon, the show’s creator. If you’d like, Wireheads may use this thread to discuss the penultimate episode, although I just watched the finale and can barely speak of it yet. It should win every Emmy and six more Peabodys, just for good measure, but it won’t. Ah, well. No one should go into any business to win awards, but still, some truths need to be acknowledged, and this is one: Best season of television, ever.

Jimmy Lileks writes five, or maybe fifteen, columns a week about nothing. Jon Carroll writes five columns a week about all kinds of things, and once in a while he tackles a real manageable topic that fits well in a 650-word space, like, oh, work and illusion and our lizard-brain fears. Enjoy.

I have no strong opinions about the six imams ejected from the US Air flight in Minneapolis. People are jumpy; these things will happen. Considering the things that have gotten people ejected from flights in this country — everything from having a buzzing sex toy in your luggage to defecating on the beverage cart — my policy is this: Give the folks a seat on the next available and chalk it up to experience.

However. Reading Debra Burlingame’s revved-up account of what got them booted — chanting “allahu akbar” at the boarding gate, bitching loudly about the war in Iraq, asking for seat-belt extenders for no apparent reason, I have to wonder if anyone thinks these things through. Sure, they were acting suspicious, at least as we consider suspicious behavior in a post-9/11 world. But they were acting ridiculously suspicious, at which point it comes around the circle and becomes non-suspicious again. Because really, if you were going to hijack a plane, would you stand at the gate with five other traditionally clad Muslims, chanting “allahu akbar?” Hell, no. You’d shave your beard, wear Western clothes, carry a briefcase and adopt the bored/irritated expression of every other air traveler. That’s how I’d do it, anyway. Just a thought.

Posted at 10:15 am in Current events, Media, Television |

15 responses to “Caffeine = good.”

  1. Dorothy said on December 6, 2006 at 11:20 am

    I just read that entire David Simon interview. And I’m positively salivating thinking about Season 5 of The Wire. It’s going to be a long wait.

    I’m wondering if the crew doesn’t carry any kind of credentials to prevent them from being arrested at 1 in the morning. That just floored me, and I understand the scenario. But it also pisses me off that the police don’t do a better job of making sure they are justified in their actions.

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  2. Joe Kobiela said on December 6, 2006 at 12:04 pm

    Being a pilot I think I can weigh in a bit on this. The action of the muslims was enough to get them thrown of the plane. I say good I would want ANYONE acting that way tossed off. I don’t care if it was a WASP. When I am forced to fly commercialy I am on high alert looking for anything or ANYONE out of the ordinary, the rules changed on 9/11 and I can tell you, I aint going quietly, I am fighting like hell if anything happens. The Muslims said they are going to boycott US AIR I say let them, in my mind US AIR is now the safest airline in the usa.

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  3. mary said on December 6, 2006 at 12:26 pm

    To carry the car analogy a little forward and a little to the side, in the past six or seven years we’ve had cars that look like toys or cartoons of cars like the PT Cruiser, HHR and new Beetle. I give the Beetle a pass because it’s been a cartoon car for about sixty years. A Hitler cartoon car, but still a cartoon. I think this trend ties in with stuff like chocolate martinis, Disneyland being marketed as a destination for adults, and Spiderman movies.

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  4. alex said on December 6, 2006 at 12:32 pm

    Those imams can go ahead and hire Gloria Alred or whatever, but it’s pretty obvious they were trying to raise a ruckus.

    These days, the pilot will take the plane down even if you’re trying to be inoffensive:

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  5. Maryo said on December 6, 2006 at 1:20 pm

    Mary, I like your analogy about cars these days as cartoons. For awhile there they all looked like jellybeans.

    The last episode of The Wire left me tired, depressed, speechless. I can’t wait for more.

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  6. Dorothy said on December 6, 2006 at 1:36 pm

    Maryo, I wasn’t tired after watching it, but I guess I was depressed. Or just sad; depressed sounds like too much. Still, on Monday at dinner time my husband said “I can’t believe how I haven’t been able to stop thinking about last night’s ‘Wire’ episode today.” It sure stays with you, that’s for sure. We also talked about how the 4 core kids have not ended up the way we sort of expected them to. Michael appeared to be the most promising one, and Namond seemed to be the most likely of the bunch heading for disaster. Now look at them. Just about complete opposites. (We’re praying that Bunny is able to save Namond from his god-awful mother.)

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  7. Dick Walker said on December 6, 2006 at 2:16 pm

    Re: Muslim clerics. You’re exactly right; they were way past suspicious, even far gone into obvious. I might act that way if I wanted to be “mistreated” for my religion. I’d also have a good lawyer on standby.

    These guys have assimilated into our society pretty well.

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  8. Maryo said on December 6, 2006 at 3:11 pm


    Maybe my words were too strong, but I was also talking about the finale, on OnDemand. I tried to leave it until Sunday, to extend the season, but I couldn’t wait. I watched it last night. And I intend to watch it again tonight. And a few more times this week.

    Those four kids have done an outstanding job of portraying the different pressures and effects of life on the corner. I can’t get any of them out of my mind. at the end of the penultimate episode, Randy’s plaintive “You gonna look after me Sgt. Carver? Huh?” was nothing short of excruciating.

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  9. Dorothy said on December 6, 2006 at 5:03 pm

    Oh yes, Maryo, I agree. Randy’s face and the disappointment showing on it, just killed me. And Bubbles sobbing over Sherrod’s body. I saw the foreshadowing of that development a mile away. That poor guy just can’t get a break. I’d love to have those actors over for dinner and just get to know them better. They are just outstanding.

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  10. czucky Dimes said on December 6, 2006 at 5:17 pm

    Mr. Dick Walker (previous comment) has it right. The six imams are no dummies. They must have taken the Jesse Jackson-Al Sharpton correspondence course, “Corporate Extortion 101”. I wait breathlessly for an announcement regarding the settlement amount.

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  11. brian stouder said on December 6, 2006 at 11:06 pm

    Sure, they were acting suspicious, at least as we consider suspicious behavior in a post-9/11 world. But they were acting ridiculously suspicious, at which point it comes around the circle and becomes non-suspicious again.

    Well, I am a middle-aged white guy – and if I laughingly joked about the weather, and joked about my wife, and joked about politics, and then jokingly told the TSA inspector that I had a bomb, I have no doubt that I would NOT make it onto the plane – no matter how ridiculously suspicious and therefore non-suspicious that appeared.

    Or to take the thing another way, if a bunch of charismatic-Christian-types began loudly speaking in tongues, I’d bet THEY wouldn’t be on the plane when it lifted off, either.

    I would say that an outward display that is strictly ‘secular humanist’ is the order of the day, as we strap ourselves into what will be a hurtling piece of machinery!

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  12. Mary O said on December 6, 2006 at 11:41 pm


    This is the same Maryo as before, just from my home instead of work!!!

    You too–I often think of how I could sit them down and talk to them over a drink or a dinner. I almost was able to, kind of: I met Delaney Williams (Sgt. Landsman) at my twins’ soccer game a couple of times last spring–his child was on my kids’ team. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Of course, I gushed all over him and felt like a fool, but that’s what happens when you meet someone from a show that you watch religiously at the strangest place: a soccer field where a bunch of 4 and 5 year olds are playing bunchball (they just follow the ball around on the field). He was very gracious and good-natured about it. I just wish I could have made more of a connection…

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  13. Kim said on December 7, 2006 at 9:03 am

    I’ve always thought the acting on The Wire has this organic quality to it that makes it so easy to forget it’s acting, hence my I’m-so-taking-this-personally reactions. Even so, the storyline is so real — and I’ve only been to Baltimore a coupla times.

    About Simon’s interview: I can’t wait to see the portrayal of the media (oh, wait! I’ve lived it!) and its collective culpability in what Simon (correctly, I think) calls the triumph of capitalism over human value.

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  14. nancy said on December 7, 2006 at 10:02 am

    I don’t think it’s the acting. While excellent, this cast isn’t the A-team. (I saw Levy the Lawyer in a commercial the other day, playing the comic version of what he plays on the show — the bald nebbish.) I would give more credit to the casting director, and the HBO suits who gave them a shoestring to make it with, because what that required is a cast of virtual unknowns. Because you don’t see these people everywhere else, you aren’t always thinking, “Oh, that’s the guy from that other show,” or “I liked him better in that Sopranos walk-on.” You can forget you’re watching actors, and that makes it seem more natural.

    I don’t know if this is intentional or a function of casting so many parts regionally rather than in Los Angeles, but I also give them credit for the women’s casting — no one is too pretty for the part. I spend the first few minutes of every “Law & Order” episode getting over my disbelief than Carey Lowell or Angie Harmon or whoever is actually working as a district attorney and not as a supermodel. Dierdre Lovejoy, who plays Rhonda the district attorney, is plenty attractive, but they style her and costume her and make her up against it — her hair is frequently messy, her clothes are nothing special, and her foundation could almost always use a powdering down, not to mention those circles under her eyes. I appreciate that. And the black female roles are the same — they’re not afraid to cast heavier women, or women who can’t hold a mascara brush to Halle Berry.

    (The only thing that gives it away are the smiles. Kimmy, Omar’s partner in the heist last week, gets a closeup in the finale, and she smiles. [Hope that’s not a spoiler.] You’d never see pearly whites like that on the streets, but hey — it’s forgiveable.)

    But ultimately, it comes down to the writing. One of the reasons I rewatch every episode is to pick up the lines I missed, because they were tossed off in the background or contained incomprehensible slang, or needed to be thought about for a minute. The show challenges viewers to not only keep all the zillion story threads straight, but also to glean a lot from context, which isn’t always easy on a Sunday night after you’ve had wine with dinner.

    And it all adds up, doesn’t it? I know, in my logical brain, that those kids are actors and probably come from good homes and are going to be fine. But in my heart I know that some didn’t make it, and so I keep thinking about them.

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  15. Dorothy said on December 7, 2006 at 10:48 am

    I agree, Nance. The casting is just so great, and the preparation for the roles, and the directing, is also evident and top of the line. I hope all of the young actors getting their start in this show get a chance to do some other work that introduces them to a bigger audience, perhaps in feature films.

    Talking about all this stuff has made me remember that I haven’t dropped it into conversation yet that I auditioned here in Greenville for a play, and I got chosen for a role! I’m very excited, even though I only have two lines. The show is Romeo and Juliet, and I’m playing Romeo’s mother, Lady Montague. It will be fun to meet some new people and be in a show again. I haven’t been involved in a show since I left Cincinnati.

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