Still an Ink-Stained Wretch

Getting a new job has meant saying goodbye to that old standby of my life, the reporter's notebook. In case you aren't aware, this is a distinct style of notebook that holds 80 or so pages and is generally about eight inches high, four inches wide, and spiral-bound at the top. These are produced by paper companies just like legal pads or whatever, and also some larger news companies produce their own and give them to employees. I have stolen such notebooks from several corporate entities:

These notebooks are convenient for reporters because you can hold them in one hand while writing with the other. Doing this frequently with a larger notebook can strain your wrist; those notebooks are generally intended to lay flat on a desk or table. A reporter's notebook also fits nicely in your back pants pocket or your purse, so it's easier to take out into the field. (The field is a euphemism for the shitty outside world.)

While the paper is lined, I know that many reporters ignore these lines because when you are at a press conference or an interview, you often have to write as fast as humanly possible, and many of us have learned it is much easier to write quickly if your letters are big and swoopy as opposed to concise and bounded by a grid of baby blue horizons. For example:

Well, so what? Now that I'm back in school, the reporter's notebook means something completely different to me. In my grad program, I am encouraged to keep a journal. For this process, I chose a stenographer's notebook, which is like a reporter's notebook but twice as wide. I figured its size would lend itself to the more complete thoughts befitting a reflective scholar, as opposed to the half-remembered jottings of a caffeine-withdrawn reporter. Unfortunately, I have found the stenographer's pad comes with a side effect.

Egad! What is that purple mark on my right pinky finger? It's a smudge of ink, indelibly stained on my skin by the drying words I laid down on the page! Oh, the ignominy! Thank God my mother doesn't read this blog. It turns out that because the journal I use is wider, and because I hold my pen improperly, and because I write inside the lines in my journal, I am now besmirching myself just like we did back in the days of the in-class essay and the blue-book midterm. You rarely get ink smudges on your fingers with a reporter's notebook, because it's so narrow your hand only touches about a quarter of the page, and you never write on that portion, because you're writing too fast to think about the most efficient use of space.

Yet, I am not going to switch to a reporter's notebook for my journal. The steno pad is the right size, so that's it. I'll just have to be a little smudged from now own. Can I handle this? Will my delicate constitution survive this blow to my ego, previously buttressed by squeaky clean pinky fingers? I hope you'll pray for me.


┬┐El Guapo or Alcalde?

Anyone else think Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums looks like El Guapo from "The Three Amigos"?

El Guapo

El Alcalde

Does this mean Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short are going to stage a coup?

That would be awesome.


Work: A Critical Study

This urine sample proves that work does, in fact, suck.

Statement: No one is doing any work on Project A.

Situation: Team leaders are disappointed at lack of progress.

Position: I should not be blamed for this problem.

Hypothesis: Others can be revealed to be at fault.

Action: Describe pending assignment as "very important"; "crucial"; etc.

Effect: Pending assignment taken over by team leaders; responsibility transferred from me to them.

Corollary: Team leaders also do not do any work.

Result: Project A's stagnation no longer blamed on me.

Hypothesis confirmed. Suggest further study employing similar method on Project B, Project C, et al.

Time for lunch.


On Becoming Retroactively More Popularly Named

It's not really "new," but the "latest" data on baby names from the Social Security Administration is online at this link. From this link you can access the SSA's database of the top 1,000 baby names for each year going back to 1880. The database is searchable by name, by year, by top five per state, etc. Unfortunately, some of the info doesn't go back too far, but it's still fun. For example, in 1981, California was the only state in the country where "Michelle" cracked the top five baby girls' names. Yes, we are strident individualists out here in Cali -- where other state stuck with their boring Amandas and Kimberlys, we bucked the national trends, particularly in the form of our now 26-year-old Michelles.

You may recall from previous posts (here) that I am a data nut, so it should come as no surprise to learn that I find the information here fascinating. Did you know that the name "Hillary" was gradually increasing in popularity through the 1980s, only to turn around precipitously in 1992? I think we can all figure out the reasons behind that one. However, this example goes against the trend; I wasn't able to find very many other examples where the popularity of ordinary names was affected by someone in the public sphere. (By comparison, "William" stayed in the top 20 during the same time period with little fluctuation.)

The only place you really see the impact of pop culture is on obscure names. Not surprisingly, the name "Shaquille" first appeared in the top 1,000 in 1991; "Kobe" joined the list in 1997. A few hundred girls named "Leia" kicked it into the top 1,000 in 1978 and 1980, right after "Star Wars" was released, and inexplicably again in 2006. I should note this does not indicate any sort of huge popularity, as it only takes about 200 babies with the same name to crack the top 1,000. Still, in 1993, more baby boys were named Shaquille than ostensibly more common names like Ross, Todd, Lawrence, and several hundred more.

The data also show us how things were different in past decades than they are now. To wit: 1907, one hundred years ago, the list of top 25 female baby names includes specimens such as Mildred, Florence, Ethel, Edna, and Gertrude. I submit to you that this proves the old days were more old-fashioned than the present, which is more modern.

Of course, this is my blog, which means this post is really all about me. In a couple previous posts, back when I tried obstreperously to avoid revealing my real name, I had lamented the fact that Mason was growing ever more popular among the young parents of the United States. This is a problem for me, because I have long been the only Mason I have ever known, and I like it that way. But now, in a world where pregnant teens and in-vitro-ized fiftysomethings feel compelled to give their undeserving brats my name, this specialness I have long taken for granted is threatened.

Lo, the 2006 list of popular baby names, updated since my previous blog post on this subject, puts Mason at number 39, the highest it has ever reached since this data was collected. When I was born, it was no. 512, safely in the realm of obscurities like Quinton and Jarvis, and amid apparent misspellings such as Aric and Jeromy. (I'm not making these names up.) Sadly, in 2006, some 10,000 baby boys were christened Mason. That's more than were named any of the following: Luke, Justin, Robert, Thomas, Jason, Aaron, Owen, Charles, Adam, Eric, Alex, Sean, Timothy ... the list goes on and on. This does not please me.

I am particularly put out at those damn B-level celebrities who named their babies Mason: Oscar-winning burnout Cuba Gooding, Jr.; former Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson; Melissa Joan Hart, a.k.a. Sabrina the Teenage Witch; and Kelsey Grammer, who earned a special spot in my personal hell by giving his daughter what is obviously a boy's name.

Yet there is a silver lining. According to the Social Security Administration, almost twice as many boys born in 2006 were named Mason as were named Jesus.

Stand aside, Beatles. You're not the only ones who are bigger than Jesus.


I bet class was a lot more fun last year

This e-mail came from the head of the English department last week. I reprint it here with no comment.

>Dear Grad Students and Faculty:
>As we start the semester, I'd like to remind
>you that there is to be NO alcohol in any
>classes. I certainly hope you will all find
>satisfying ways to socialize and relax outside
>of class periods, but please refrain from
>having any alcohol in any class, workshop etc.
>I realize that this may be a change from your
>previous practice, so please do note the
>Thanks so much--