What was I thinking?

As I go through my day and have ideas or find links I might want to write about, I throw them in a draft post here. I’ve only accidentally published it once. Most days, there are at least a few ticklers by the time I sit down to write. Today, it’s this:

Brooks column

And that’s it. I assume it’s David Brooks, but I have no idea which one, or what would have moved me about it — scanning his recent archive, all I thought was, nope, not that one. Perhaps this suggests my opinions about this and that are fleeting things. They are. One of my most shameful moments as a monger of opinions was the day a reader approached me at an event to tell me he’d really liked that thing I wrote about something, two years ago.

“I wrote about that?” I said. “I can’t remember.”

He was crushed. “You seemed very emotional about it, too,” he said. Honestly, I couldn’t remember one detail from it. And you know what else? I didn’t care enough to go spelunking into the archive to discover what I was so het up about, either. It’s times like that when you remember what happens to old newspapers, shrug and maybe add, “I am large, I contain multitudes.”

An so, with that in mind, I read this column in the Detroit News, editorial-page editor Nolan Finley misting up over the coming loss of his office space:

For me, The News building is furnished with memories. I’ve spent my entire adult life here. I know it the way a farmer knows his fields. I’ve been in its newsroom for every historical moment of the past four decades, and most of the mundane ones as well. It’s where I’ve met the people who shaped my career and where I bid many of them farewell. I’ve seen it gutted and restored. I’ve known it when it was too small to hold all of the people we needed to put out a newspaper and when it became so big for the staff on hand you could hear echoes.

It is what we used to call in the south The Home Place.

Excuse me, I feel the need for a little musical accompaniment here. Beyond that, not much more.

But that’s just me. I may feel differently tomorrow.

A far tougher read was in the NYT — Sunday’s magazine cover story, on a developing strategy in prosecuting child pornography offenders — making those found in possession of illegal images pay financial restitution to victims who can be identified — whether they had anything to do with taking them. The story focuses on two women who were abused by relatives, men who photographed the acts, which became among the most-downloaded illegal images in the child-porn portfolio. Both women have received substantial sums over the years, and a recent higher-court decision affirms the strategy is legal and so it will likely continue. But just to read about what these women went through in the first place, and how long it’s taken them to even partially recover (they are, as Marcellus Wallace said after a similar assault, pretty effin’ far from OK), all one can think of is: It’s not enough, it’ll never be enough. I also noted that one of the pedophiles charged with paying was a former vice president with a major pharmaceutical company. Having spent five years or so clipping stories about the lavish compensation packages in that industry, all I could think was: She should have asked for more.

And because we seem to be crepe-hanging today, let’s take a moment to consider the staggering death toll in a Brazil nightclub fire over the weekend. We have nothing to brag about on this score, except maybe comparatively; American public facilities have had and likely will continue to have tragedies like this. But it reminded me of something I noticed in Argentina few years back — how so many of the safety measures we take for granted here are virtually non-existent elsewhere in the world. Sidewalk repairs would appear out of nowhere without so much as an orange cone of warning, that sort of thing. Maybe this is just yet another reminder of the terrifying speed at which fire can move, and why it’s always wise to note the exits before you step into a crowded room.

But that’s a journalist talking, a long way from the old home place. Have a good Monday.

Posted at 12:40 am in Current events, Media |

40 responses to “What was I thinking?”

  1. Brandon said on January 28, 2013 at 12:55 am

    Perhaps this suggests my opinions about this and that are fleeting things. They are.

    So you change your opinions on matters if new facts emerge. As with Manti Te`o, a couple of weeks ago, when he was equated with Lance Armstrong. But who turned out just to be overly trusting.

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  2. Deborah said on January 28, 2013 at 5:19 am

    That reminded me of Bangkok, I was there in the late 90s. I was astounded while walking down the street how many obstacles occurred on the sidewalks. All of a sudden there would be a post or something right in the middle of the walkway that you’d nearly trip over and when using a pedestrian overpass you could just reach over and touch electrical wires if you wanted to. Sometimes I’m aggravated by our over safe engineering, but it really is life and injury saving compared to some other places.

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  3. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on January 28, 2013 at 6:41 am

    Ashokan is a nice all-purpose nod to sentiment, but I wondered before I clicked if you were linking to this:


    First heard it live just outside of Zion National Park in Springdale, UT, having just flown there from West Virginia and about to fly back in a few days, with my wife and I trying to figure out where we belonged and where our marriage was going next. I guess my takeaway was realizing that now West Virginia was a home place, but Zion was too, even as we wanted to get back to central Ohio, which is not even where we’re from (so Indy and Battleground and Valpo are all homeplaces, too).

    Anyhow, it’s a marvelous song. And as we say in my ministry profession, “the church is not the building.” When you learn to say that to each other standing across the street as your sanctuary roof finally collapses in the flames, you realize you can mean it and still feel that strong sense of identification, and let it go. I’d think the same has to be true of newsrooms.

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  4. Linda said on January 28, 2013 at 7:19 am

    Re: the Brazilian nightclub fire. Yes, you should notice the exits in a crowded room, but it’s not enough. We rag on how many warnings and precautions are loaded up onto our lives, but ones that we don’t even think about serve a purpose. For instance, which ways the exterior doors open–out, not in. That’s a standard building code item for public buildings. You may be terribly aware of the exits in your room, but if it’s on fire, and full of panicked people, and the doors open in, not out? Their crush will shut the doors, and you will die like a dog.

    When the Rhode Island nightclub fire happened, the Detroit News wrote a libertarian editorial that didn’t call for better fire code enforcement, but for more personal awareness. It’s good, but not enough for the individual to take their own responsibility. A lot of public safety involves stuff that the public can’t see, like the flamability of materials, how doors open, etc.

    JTMMO, I know what you mean about valuing your communal ties over a building. I “lost” my desk when the workplace was severely remodeled and we were moved into the new adddition. I saw my old workspace awhile back, and felt nothing. But when I retire in the next several years, I will miss my workmates.

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  5. Tom M said on January 28, 2013 at 7:28 am

    Honestly, I couldn’t remember one detail from it. And you know what else? I didn’t care enough to go spelunking into the archive to discover what I was so het up about, either.
    As Vonnegut said “there are always newer and fresher tragedies to contend with”.

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  6. alex said on January 28, 2013 at 7:55 am

    The same yayhoos who moan about personal responsibility are the first to pursue litigation when they trip over their own shoelaces. And then they call it government tyranny when Social Security won’t grant them disability and let them spend the rest of their days lounging around popping Vicodins.

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  7. coozledad said on January 28, 2013 at 8:45 am

    “Home place” always struck me as an oddly sentimentitious way to refer to a spot where family got together to fight like dogs over side meat. It was a place you wanted to avoid if you were high-there were several times I excused myself to walk out in the woods because I was convinced the knives were coming out. My uncles had no problem negotiating it drunk, on the other hand. It was nothing for them to drink a pint or so of brown liquor each while cooking a pig just enough to kill that trichinella, and bitch slapping each other over how best to do that.

    They always said my mama was crazy because she couldn’t maintain her composure while she rebutted a put-down, or was too maudlin and half-assed when it came to eviscerating family that hadn’t shown up, or THEIR sorry ass drugged up young’uns. I thought she gave as good as she got, and if she went a little Yellow Wallpaper on their asses sometimes, it was appropriate to the situation, and helped lift the fog of war a little.

    These days, home only means a place where I don’t have to worry about pissing down my leg because of this country’s failure to provide clearly marked, well lit and ventilated pissoirs. Having to ask some smug sadistic shopmonkey if you can please, please piss in his shit-smeared medieval watercloset is about as American as it gets. Yay Freedom.

    This would be the soundtrack to my folks’ “Home place”:

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  8. Kirk said on January 28, 2013 at 10:02 am

    MarkH from previous thread:
    At that time, my wife worked for the Ohio branch of the American Medical Association, helping to put out its publication and tend to its website.

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  9. velvet goldmine said on January 28, 2013 at 10:08 am

    Is Ricky Gervais an NNC reader? Apropos of nothing, yesterday he tweeted:


    BTW, sorry, I don’t know how to do those mini-screen shots from Twitter.

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  10. Lex said on January 28, 2013 at 10:09 am

    Doors can’t just open outward, they’ve also got to be UNLOCKED. We found that out the hard way during a chicken-plant fire in Hamlet, N.C., years ago, and I see from some reports that the club’s emergency exits were locked.

    Also, having performed in dozens of club shows and attended hundreds more, I now have a few rules: 1) Know where the exits are. 2) Ensure they open outward. 3) At the first sign of pyrotechnics — by which I mean I inspect the stage preshow for flashpots, etc. — leave, no matter how much your ticket cost. Too much can go wrong too fast, and with HD big screens as an acceptable substitute for indoors, there’s just no reason anymore.

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  11. velvet goldmine said on January 28, 2013 at 10:10 am

    Ugh, retry — Gervais tweet:

    Dear Americans, We don’t use the word “cunt” with any misogyny in the UK. “Smoking a fag” is nowhere near as scary here either. 🙂

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  12. Lorne Marr said on January 28, 2013 at 10:17 am

    “Honestly, I couldn’t remember one detail from it. And you know what else? I didn’t care enough to go spelunking into the archive to discover what I was so het up about, either.”

    I seem to be feeling a bit of sadness particularly from this sentence. It’s understandable – disappointing a reader always feels bad, mainly when it’s presented to you directly and combined with the realisation that one just doesn’t care anymore (even when it’s not the case)…well, I get you.

    Don’t worry though, it’s situation like these that help us moving.

    Keep up the good work!

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  13. brian stouder said on January 28, 2013 at 10:24 am

    “Smoking a fag” is nowhere near as scary here either

    Pam and I played two games of Scrabble last night – the REAL Scrabble, with wooden letters and a plastic turntable gameboard, and not that electronic one she plays on her Nook – and she gave me grief for scoring some good points with the word “fag”.

    I got the “f” onto a triple letter score, and the G made another word (I forget what) going down…and I pointed out – with mock-surprise – that it was a cigarette.

    Anyway, she killed me that game (she has a knack for getting 7-letter words, and scoring the big 50 point bonus), although I squeaked past her in the second game.

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    • nancy said on January 28, 2013 at 10:27 am

      I remember running across the word “fag” as a youngster, reading the short story that “The Birds” was based on. The writer mentioned “throwing another fag on the fire,” and I took it to mean a piece of kindling or other firewood.

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  14. Peter said on January 28, 2013 at 10:32 am

    Well, a couple of things about liability in fires and everyday life:

    1. When I was working on a project in France, there was a spill on the job site, and I had mentioned to the supervisor that it should be cleaned up before someone (like me) got hurt. I was told that in the US and a few other countries, the burden is on the company to maintain a safe workplace, but in most countries the burden is on the employee to watch what they’re doing or where they’re walking. That’s why you don’t see cones or warning signs on sidewalks – it’s your job to watch where you’re going.

    2. There’s a value to fire code enforcement in general and sprinkler systems in particular: Many countries (even Brazil) have very stringent fire codes, but enforcement is another matter. And although it’s been drilled into my head that sprinkler systems are designed to protect the building, not necessarily anything inside the building, spraying water, even dirty oily water, over a flame can’t help but bring a fire down to manageable levels.

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  15. Prospero said on January 28, 2013 at 10:39 am

    Lawrence O’Donnell takes issue with the reaction of GOPers like O’Reiley andSenator Yertle reacted to President Obama’s second inaugural address. Probably David Brooks, too, though I don’t subject myself to his tepid gruel very often. Read one, you’ve read ’em all.

    Loved the musical link, and Jeff’s as well, but the first thing that came to mind for me was Ry Cooder’s Long Riders soundtrack:


    Pretty close to a perfect movie soundtrack and a superb movie.

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  16. Heather said on January 28, 2013 at 10:47 am

    Tread with caution in Rio–Apparently exploding manhole covers are a thing there.

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  17. BigHank53 said on January 28, 2013 at 11:15 am

    Peter, sprinkler systems use a heat-activated trigger. Some use a bismuth alloy that melts at a low temperature. Others use a glass capsule with a bit of liquid inside that will boil and shatter the capsule when they’re exposed to enough heat. The point here is that they need to be exposed to a fair amount of heat for a minimum amount of time–like 300 degrees for three minutes. By the time a sprinker goes off, your goose will be cooked. Very rare, admittedly, but it’s a moot point to you.

    Sprinklers are designed to save (a) the building they’re in, and (b) more importantly, the buildings on either side. The history of fire safety is pretty interesting, and makes for entertaining ammunition when debating a libertarian.

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  18. MarkH said on January 28, 2013 at 11:20 am

    Kirk — I thought perhaps she worked for Columbus Monthly or maybe Ohio Magazine.

    By the way, when did the Dispatch shed itself of Ohio Magazine? I see it’s published out of Cleveland now.

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  19. Kirk said on January 28, 2013 at 11:30 am

    She did work at The Dispatch for a while (something else for which I am hugely indebted to the Big D), but never for any of the other publications.

    Can’t recall off the top of my head when Ohio Mag was jettisoned, but it must have been 15 or 20 years ago, seems like.

    In other Columbus news, Sky Lucey, a k a Casper the Camel, died over the weekend. I noticed his paid obit in Sunday’s paper and called the office to strongly suggest a news obit for today, which was done.

    Casper was a puppet on a kids’ show in the ’50s and ’60s who had a human sidekick, Chuck Nuzum. Can’t recall whether they showed cartoons or what, but it was on for about 10 years, I think.

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  20. velvet goldmine said on January 28, 2013 at 11:32 am

    I recall seeing “faggots” as kindling in Victorian books, and the shortened form to mean the same a few decades on. But modern slang seems to center on cigarettes.

    Interesting to ponder why people say “I’m fagged” when tired — energy burnt down to nothing, maybe?

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  21. Prospero said on January 28, 2013 at 11:34 am

    I was sure cooze was linking to this.

    Of course, this Jay Farrar songis about the homeplace of real Americans. Jeff Tweedy’s better musical half, although Tweedy won’t admit it.

    When Great White set the club on fire in Rhodie, the club owners were largely at fault. They had installed soundproofing material to head off neighbors’ complaints about loud music. Problem was, the acoustic material was highly flammable, pretty much empty egg cartons adhered to the walls. Tragically stupid.

    As for litigious Americans, people that are suing Lance Armstrong because they bought his books really should get lives.

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  22. Bitter Scribe said on January 28, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    I have a “Livestrong” coffee mug. Now I can’t decide whether to sell it on eBay or sue Armstrong for disappointing me.

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  23. Prospero said on January 28, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    This song by Hey Mama has that homeplace feeling in spades. I know them from Boston, but I think they were transplanted from Vermont. This song is as beautiful a use of cellos as I can think of.

    Brit rhyming slang gives Harry Rag, for fag, for cigarette.

    FAy Weldon has written two books of a trilogy that sound like a real treat for Downton fans: Habits of the House, and Long Live the King. Weldon is a terrific stylist with a savage sense of humor, comparable to Evelyn Waugh in my opinion. Darcy’s Utopia and The Shrapnel Academy are two of Weldon’s books I enjoyed a great deal. Very funny writer. I wassn’t aware of this, but Weldon wrote the first ever epidsode of Upstairs, Downstairs.

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  24. Jeff Borden said on January 28, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    The reason why doors in public buildings are by law required to open outward is a direct result of the horrific Iroquois Theatre fire in Chicago in 1903. An estimated 605 people died –not all deaths were reported, apparently– as panicked patrons who’d come to see Eddie Foy piled up at doors which opened inward. It remains the deadliest single structure fire in American history.

    I’m pretty sure Chicago also claims the largest domestic maritime disaster with the capsizing of the Eastland in the Chicago River in the early 1900s. That mishap claimed more than 800 lives. An old warehouse that later became part of Oprah Winfrey’s sprawling studio complex on the West Side was used as a morgue. There are stories that the building is haunted.

    We may be the Second City, but when it comes to horrendous loss of life disasters, we’re No. 1.

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  25. brian stouder said on January 28, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    Well, and even there, NYC has you beaten…

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  26. BigHank53 said on January 28, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    The last time I was in Austin I stopped by Mellow Johnny’s, which is the bike shop that Lance owns. I was charmed enough to buy one of their promotional shirts. I suppose I could take it to a custom embroidery place and have them add a big hypodermic syringe to the logo.

    On the other hand, I sort of doubt the shop is going to be around in a year, and the shirt will just be an amusing bit of ephemera.

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  27. Deborah said on January 28, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    Jeff B, the Eastland disaster is what started the Chicago chapter of the Red Cross. I know this from research I did for a project for the Red Cross here.

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  28. Charlotte said on January 28, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    Jeff B — my namesake great-grandmother survived the Iroquois Theater Fire. She was pressed up against a column, and some man came up, put both his arms around to create a space through which she ducked out and escaped. She never found out who he was.

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  29. Basset said on January 28, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    This is what I thought Cooze was gonna link to… the definitive version by the classic lineup of JD Crowe and the New South:


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  30. Linda said on January 28, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    More disaster-created regulation, nearly 40 years later. From Wikipedia:

    “As is common in panic situations, many patrons attempted to exit through the main entrance, the same way they had entered. The building’s main entrance was a single revolving door, rendered useless as the panicked crowd scrambled for safety. Bodies piled up behind both sides of the revolving door, jamming it to the extent that firefighters had to dismantle it to enter. Later, after fire laws had tightened, it would become illegal to have only one revolving door as a main entrance without being flanked by outward opening doors with panic bar openers attached, or have the revolving doors set up so that the doors could fold against themselves in emergency situations.”

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  31. Linda said on January 28, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    Sorry, no reference above. That was from the Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire in 1942:


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  32. Prospero said on January 28, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    Michael McKean is a funny guy.

    Ann Telnaes makes a mockery of GOPer chairman Rancid Priebus. This guy makes Michael Steele seem fairly bright and a bit eloquent, neither of which the poor sod is.

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  33. Brandon said on January 28, 2013 at 5:21 pm

    7.coozledad said on January 28, 2013 at 8:45 am

    …Having to ask some smug sadistic shopmonkey if you can please, please piss in his shit-smeared medieval watercloset is about as American as it gets. Yay Freedom.

    Or having to ask one’s boss. See this book:


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  34. Brandon said on January 28, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    And this website:


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  35. Kirk said on January 28, 2013 at 6:57 pm

    MarkH @18:
    The Wolfes sold Ohio Magazine 13 years ago to Great Lakes Publishing, which also produces Cleveland Magazine.

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  36. Deborah said on January 28, 2013 at 7:36 pm

    It was 50 degrees today and tomorrow it’s supposed to get up to 60. I walked 11 miles today, 5 in the morning and 6 this afternoon, it was so nice. It’s supposed to rain all day tomorrow and even though it will be 60 I hate to walk in the rain. Then it starts to get cold again on Weds, so back to January. We had lightning and thunder last night too.

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  37. brian stouder said on January 28, 2013 at 8:21 pm

    Deborah, isn’t it weird? I just don’t recall our weather being quite this way, when I was a kiddo.

    Here in Fort Wayne, I just got back from the school board meeting (it was a hum-dinger…In the good sense!) and it’s gotta be 50 degrees, and very foggy, and misty/rainy.

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  38. alex said on January 28, 2013 at 9:21 pm

    The first time I heard of WYSIWYG, during a Windows tutorial in 1992 or so, this immediately became my mnemonic.

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  39. Deborah said on January 28, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    In both of those scenes those dames looked so much better without the wigs.

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