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Objective Journalism


This from my friend Richard Dalton:

You'll recall a number of discussions we had back in our more youthful days about whether journalism could be defined by its complete objectivity.  My fall back was always that it couldn't be considered objective because the journalist (and in turn, the copy and content editors) decided what would be included in or deleted from the story.

A recent (and faintly praised) biography of Ben Bradlee had a quote that made this point more elegantly than I ever did:  "You can't put everything you know into a book.  You have to decide what story you're telling, which parts of 'true' you want to stick with."

My case rests.

Bradlee's biographer, Jeff Himmelman, reportedly incurred the publisher's wrath for including sneaky tidbits that weren't authorized.  One that tickled me was Bradlee's acerbic comment to Sally Quinn (marked "unsent"):  "I guess I'm having trouble understanding what you want from me beyond total acquiescence and endless cash." 


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The Dictator

5 stars out of 5
OK, that rating is overboard, but Sacha Baron Cohen, who co-wrote and stars in this film, committed an act of self-restraint that I wish to publicly reward. Along with director Larry Charles, he has managed to create an 82 minute film. This is actual 9 minutes UNDER the perfect length for a comedy and not a minute too long. For that alone, I award my highest rating. I should mention in passing that the film is racist, sexist, anti-Semitic and full of pretty disgusting humor. It is also, alas, despite all its utter political correctness, hysterically funny more often than not. If you are among the habitually offended, it is best you not attend this film. If you loved, for example, Something About Mary, or the sensibility of (if not the drug use of) any Cheech and Chong film, or, for that matter, Cohen's previous films, this is a pleasant way to while away just part of an afternoon. I saw it after school and still had time for dinner before band practice.

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

4 stars out of 5
A film by adults for adults, with dialog and plot, during which nothing blows up. That right there earns four stars. Add in Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Maggie Smith and Ronald Pickup, and you are close to Nirvana. Of course, they wouldn't have known what to do without director John Madden, or what to say without the  Ol Parker screenplay based on a novel by Deborah Moggach. The Indian supporting case is impressive. This is the story of a group of English retirees who move to India to stretch their budgets, and it is fantastic and amazing. Funny and poignant. Breathtaking and stunning. Doesn't make me want to move to India, but it sure makes me feel as though I have visited.

Men in Black 3

4 stars out of 5
Once again, I made the mistake of reading the reviews before I saw the movie. I have learned lately that some reviewers make it a point never to read anyone else's reviews first. Plus, my daughter told me about all the Internet buzz. Well, forget the buzz. Forget the reviews. I laughed hysterically all the way through. Plot? Who cares? Script? Why bother? Will Smith, Josh Brolin, and what amounts to a cameo by Tommy Lee Jones has produced an hysterically funny movie. Too long? You bet. Overblown? As overblown as it is possible to be. I loved it.

Cat Column, Windows 8 Infographic, Dan Grobstein File

Cat Column, Windows 8 Infographic, Dan Grobstein File
America's finest purveyor of cat columns, Jon Carroll of the San Francisco Chronicle has purveyed another one.

I'll bite; a blogger pointed me at his own Windows 8 infographic. Interesting if true, but based on his description of the UI, I already loath it. I hate Windows 7, and I despise every Microsoft Office UI since 2003. If they keep changing things, I'll finally give in and move to the mac.

Dan Grobstein File

Mothers' Day

OK, when I said I didn't have anything to write about last week, I was lying, just a little I did have a wonderful Mothers' Day, but between that and the need to get ready for school, I didn't have time to write anything. In any case, the two highlights of the day were lunch with my nephew, who drove up from San Jose for the occasion. Both my daughters were there. We went out to China Moon, a lovely restaurant in Rheem. I had the duck. For dinner, my wife and my daughters joined me at Kokkari a lovely Greek/California restaurant near the financial district in downtown San Francisco. Since it is the spring, any self-respecting Greek restaurant is going to offer lamb everything; Kokkari was true to its ethnic roots. In fact, one of the dishes we all took a pass on was lamb innards in a lamb stomach. M and I were disappointed because the watermelon salad was not on the menu; it was a dish we enjoyed the first time we ate there. Instead of a main course, I turned it into a Tapas experience, having 2.5 appetizers for dinner. The decor is lovely, the food is terrific, and the location (10 minutes walking distance from Embarcadero BART) is a little out of the way, but not too bad. We gave V, my wife, several Mothers' Day cards, and some makeup she had asked M to find for her. Between that and the flowers/balloon the girls gave her on Saturday, it could not have been a better weekend. We actually don't ask for gifts on Mothers'/Fathers' Day, because the greatest gift we can get is the company of our daughters.

Parallel Universes

Every once in a while, I am reminded of my fascination with the multiple parallel universes that exist all around us, full of people who have a different world view and a different vocabulary, usually because of their profession (although, sometimes, because of their economic class or physical location). For example, I don't know if  people in Boston still refer to milkshakes as frappes and soft drinks as tonic, but they did in 1970 when I arrived at MIT as a freshman. And, apparently, those born to wealth have a different definition of  "struggling," as in, Ann Romney's statement that she and Mitt  were struggling in school and had to sell of part of their portfolios to pay  tuition.

The BBC Radio 4 panel show, Wordaholics (available on the BBC iPlayer when the show is in production), includes a segment every week during which several terms of art from a particular occupation are read out; then the panelists are invited to guess which field uses the terms. The panelists almost never guess the correct answer. The variety of trade jargon is nearly as infinite as the number of ways people make a living, or, for that matter, the number of people. I remember reading years ago that this stew of jargon was a way of excluding outsiders and of developing a sense of belonging. In education, for example, we have ELL, SST, and IEP, among about 1,000 other acronyms we are expected to now. I was put in mind of this because my daughter M has returned from the Peace Corps, as a result of which she is now an RPCV (returned Peace Corps Volunteer). A decade ago, when I was a trade reporter in the computer business, I knew all the acronyms (I still know what USB stands for: do you?), but, of course, as time goes by the vocabulary moves on while my knowledge of it grows stale. Thank goodness.

We the People

It is time, once more, for one of the hardy perennials of my annual calendar, the We The People presentations, during which my students, in groups of five, give speeches and answer questions about various aspects of the U.S. Constitution to panels of parent judges. We make the students dress up (coat and tie, dress or skirt). The calendar is a little weird this year, so we have to squeeze the preparation into fewer days the usual, which makes me nervous. I'm sure we'll manage; we always do. My daughter R has helped out the last few years, staking groups out in the hall to run them through their speeches while I am doing the same with another group in the classroom. As I write this, I recall the words of my older daughter, M, who recently had occasion to read through all the personal entries in my columns from 2009-2011. She pointed out that I tend to say the same thing every year about the same recurring annual topics. And that I do the same thing in real life, which makes me predictable (some people call it a rut; I call it a comfortable routine). I hope these remarks are a little different this year. I'll close by noting that it is important for students to really understand the Constitution, and that I think this annual project, instigated by my colleague Mrs. S, and part of a national program (started by Warren Burger as part of the bicentennial, no less) is a very worthwhile expenditure of student--and teacher and parent--time.