27 June 2009

This is Number 499

Welcome to the 499th entry on my web log. I was going to wait and write a little something about my 500th entry, but everyone writes about their 500th entry. Who ever stops to celebrate the 499th entry? Well, me, for one.

When people observe some milestone with their blogs, they usually say something like "When I started my blog a year ago, I didn't think I would have enough to say to keep it going." Oddly, that seems to be true. I started "Just Ask Christopher" in December 2005 -- a little more than 3 1/2 years ago. I am a writer by profession, and have been writing in one form or another since 1976 so I knew I would have plenty to say to keep it going at least a year -- maybe two; but I must admit that even I am surprised it is nearing four years.

I like writing. Writing is what I do. I am good at it. It is, in fact, the only talent I have. No, really. I would trade half of the awards I have won for my writing to be able to paint or sculpt or draw. (Okeh, who am I kidding? I would trade away ALL those awards.) But it seems that we always want what we do not or can not have.

Writing has served me well these many years, allowing me entree to meet people and go places I would not otherwise have had the opportunity to meet or go. I like knowing that the words I have strung together have become a part of history (if only a little part) and that people many years from now will read something I wrote. They might not know my name or even care, but they will read my words. I think that's neat. Not as neat, perhaps, as someone walking through a museum and marveling at some painting Helen Frankenthaler did in the 1960s, but there you are.

Not only has my writing appeared in one form or another on radio and television and in magazines and newspapers, it is also in repository in a few locations around the country. Here in Arizona, you can walk into the Arizona Historical Society (Papago Park / Tempe branch) and ask to hear audio tapes of shows I did when I hosted my own radio program in the 1990s. So, 100 years from now, anyone who is so inclined can hear my voice. I think that is pretty neat, too.

And, of course, in 100 years or so, someone might stumble upon an archived version of this web log -- and scroll through and read this, my 499th entry, and think "What a weirdo! Who ever celebrates the 499th of anything?" Well, I guess that would be me.

25 June 2009

Here You Go!

I hope this will help clear up any confusion:

Entomology - the branch of zoology that studies insects
Etymology - the history of a word
Etiology - the cause of a disease

You're welcome.

19 June 2009

Birds Do It, Bees Do It....

No, not "fall in love"; rather, engage in same-sex sexual behavior. It's long been known that many animals (among them, humans) engage in same-sex sexual behavior. In fact, more than 450 species have been documented. But, what has not yet been satisfactorily explained is how this benefits the animal in an evolutionary sense.

It is a given that the only traits that evolve are those that somehow benefit the animal. This benefit can come from providing a different sized beak for seeds (like the finches on the Galapagos Islands studied by Darwin), providing feathers for warmth (dinosaurs that evolved into birds) and camouflage (various examples). However, if an animal evolves a trait to engage in same-sex sexual behavior, what benefit does that provide? Scientists cannot yet answer this.

A new report reviews a large number of studies that have examined this behavior and discusses what kinds of benefits such behavior might provide. You can hear an NPR report about this research here.

You can read more about Darwin's groundbreaking research with finches here

16 June 2009

It's Alive!

In today's New York Times is a fascinating article about new research into the origins of life on earth. It's all about fatty acids and sugar molecules; but indicates that scientists may be on the right track to figuring it out. You can read the article here.

14 June 2009

A Little Tragic

When I was starting out in journalism in the late 1970s, I remember people complaining that journalists were devoid of emotion. That's like criticizing a desert for being devoid of water. Journalism is the craft of compiling and reporting facts, and is supposed to be objective (undistorted by emotion or personal bias) not subjective (modified by individual bias). Emotion is subjective and should be saved for the commentaries.

Over these many years, I have noticed something very disturbing in journalism -- the creeping in of emotion. This does not include, by way of example, Walter Cronkite getting choked up when announcing the death of President Kennedy; no, it is showing itself in very subtle ways. I give you two examples: the uses of the words "little" and "tragic."

Whenever something bad happens to a child, you will notice now that the adjective "little" appears before the noun -- such as "the little boy was hit by a car" or "little Johnny was shot." The article makes it clear that Johnny is only four years old, but the writer feels compelled (either knowingly or not) to emphasize the state of the child by adding the word "little." The use of the word is completely unneeded. (Obviously, a four year old is little. Why emphasize that if not for the emotional pull?)

The next example is "tragic," as in "tragic death." I suppose you could argue this, but on very few occasions is any death not tragic. The writer will say something like "Amy died a tragic death." Well, unless Amy fought debilitating illness for decades after which her death could be argued to be a release, how is any death not a tragedy? And in the recent Air France crash, how many times have you read or heard about the "tragic plane crash"? When is a plane crash not a tragedy? Again, the writer adds an adjective like "tragic" for the emotional pull.

[Speaking of emotional pull, don't get me started on a case like this: "More than 200 people died, including two children." Why emphasize two children? It is trying to say that the loss of a child's life is worse than the loss of any of the other lives? No, it is adding emotional pull.]

Here's a way to find out if you are accidentally letting emotion color your writing: try changing the adjective. Would you say "there was a happy plane crash today" or "the big boy was shot"? If not, then you should not use "little" or "tragic," either. Stick with "there was a plane crash today" or "the boy was shot."

There are likely those who might argue that a little dose of emotion is good, as it softens the journalist in the eyes of the reader and makes him or her seem more human. Journalists are human; but it is not their job to be your best friend -- it is to relate facts.

11 June 2009

Don't Call it "Swine"

I don't know about you, but I am utterly fascinated by how this influenza outbreak continues to play itself out -- especially because I am smack dab in the middle of reading a book about the search for a polio vaccine AND just last year I read a book all about the Spanish influenza outbreak in 1918. Can you say "parallels"?

The path being taken by H1N1 is almost identical to the 1918 virus in that it started small, took a breather, and then came back big time (that part is coming), and that it mostly affected the young and healthy -- rather then the elderly or sick, which are the usual victims of influenza.

What's next? Well, the World Health Organization today officially raised the alert level to six (the highest) -- the first time it has done that since the Hong Kong flu of 1968. Combined there are more than 29,000 cases (144 deaths) in 74 countries. Of course, that is a far cry from the estimated 50,000,000 who died (deaths, not just cases) from the 1918 outbreak.

You can read more about the rise in the alert level here.

08 June 2009

The Last Typist

Read an interesting article today about a woman who was typist for F. Scott Fitzgerald during his last years of life when he was working on "The Last Tycoon." Experts feel it would have been his best novel -- had he not died of a heart attack before it was finished. The woman has kept a low profile about it all these years, but it is a fascinating read.

You will find the article here.

06 June 2009

Conservation for Dollars

While I firmly believe that conservation (of animals, wild areas, etc.) should be done because it is the right thing to do, I guess I am okeh with it being done just to make a buck.

04 June 2009

Hey, Robert Osborne!

So, you all know that Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is, like, the best television network in existence today -- maybe not the best ever (that would be CBS, the Tiffany network, which has -- let's face it -- lost a lot of its original luster), but certainly the best today.

You also know they USED to (emphasis on USED to) do this really great competition called the young film composer competition in which people under a certain age (or whatever) competed to see who would win and be awarded the opportunity to score a silent movie that would make its world premiere on TCM.

Well, they stopped doing that. Why? Who knows.

Okeh, so I was sitting here typing away and it suddenly dawned on me that what TCM should do now (since they stopped the young composer thing) is get some grant money and hire some of the best up-and-coming professional film composers to score some silent movies -- not a competition, just let them have a go at it. I am thinking of some of the young greats like Michael Giacchino, Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell.

Wouldn't that be super? I'm not talking a lot of money, but a token. They could say they are donating to the cause of great cinema art by taking a cut in their salary and doing this. Then, TCM could premiere them, like, once a month for a year or something. Not only would great silent films get great new scores (which I cannot imagine being worse than some of the new scores they've been getting -- you know who I mean) PLUS it would be a great marketing coup for TCM, for the composers and for cinema, itself.

Are you listening, Robert Osborne?

01 June 2009

April Fool's in June?

WTF? No, seriously, doesn't he know that April Fool's Day is the first of APRIL --- not the first of June? (Click image to enlarge.)