Archive for July, 2009

So Which is the Asylum?

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

There is an affinity between the interiors of the mental asylum at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France, as painted by Van Gogh in 1889 (first photo), and an old office building housing a government bureaucracy in Washington, DC (second photo). 







Most will agree the first building is more attractive.  At least Van Gogh could make something of it.  What artist would choose as a subject  the second cold corridor?   The only person I can think of is Stanley Kubrick.   A still from The Shining





Separated . . . by time and space

Friday, July 24th, 2009

“Separated at Birth?” — that is the title of a game described by Wikipedia as the light-hearted activity of pointing out people who are unrelated but bear a notable facial resemblance. Most often the subjects compared are celebrities.

I was reminded of this when, having finished the first chapter of Jonah Lehrer’s “Proust was a Neuroscientist,” I set the book aside and in the process took notice of the author’s publicity photo on the book jacket. Something about the picture caused a buzz in my brain. What was it?


Intentionally or not, when composing and lighting the shot, the photographer, Guy Jarvis, captured a look similar to that of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.

Jonah Lehrer and the unknown young woman could be distant cousins, separated by an ocean and three and a half centuries.







Do Dogs See Colors?

Monday, July 20th, 2009


On our walk through the neighborhood this morning my dog Jesse began to strain on the lead when he got within 20 feet of a certain object of his desire.  It was a blue Toyota Prius. Not my blue Prius, mind you, but someone else’s, parked blocks away from where mine sits in front of the house.  When Jesse reached the car he put his muzzle right up against car’s hatchback door, as if to say “Open Sesame!”  Then he turned and gave me a look that said, “Let’s go to the beach!”

By that point in our walk we had already passed dozens of parked cars, and Jesse had shown no sign of interest in any of them, let alone any move to commandeer one for a day trip.  He’s always ignored other Priuses parked around the neighborhood, cars that were the exact same model as mine, although come to think of it, those others were of a different color (red, black, silver, etc.)  This blue car today was so close in appearance to mine that even I did a double-take.

So why did Jesse select it to be the “stuff [his] dreams are made on”? 

I think the answer is the color blue.

For a long time it was assumed dogs could not see colors.  A post on the website “WikiAnswer”, found here, echos that view.  But recent scientific studies have come to a different conclusion.  In an article entitled “How Dogs See Color” by Dana K. Vaughan, Ph.D., Dept. of Biology, University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh (available here), Dr. Vaughan reports that, yes, dogs can see colors, but somewhat differently than humans: 

“These experiments showed that dogs do see color, but in a more limited range than that seen by normal humans, who see the rainbow of colors described by “VIBGYOR”: Violet, Indigo, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, and Red (plus hundreds of variations on these shades).  Instead, dogs see “VIBYYYR”  (Violet, Indigo, Blue, Yellow, Yellow, Yellow, and Red).  The colors Green, Yellow, and Orange all look alike to dogs; but look different from Red and different from the various Blues and Purples.  Dogs are very good at telling different shades of VIB apart. Finally, Blue-Green looks White to dogs.”

Dr. Mark Plonsky, a Professor of Psychology, also at the University of Wisconsin, presents slightly difference results here.  His article includes an admittedly speculative color spectrum chart showing what your pooch likely sees:



One finding common to both studies is that dogs can readily discern the color blue.  So blue is the color to select next time you buy a car, if you want your dog to have a chance of spotting your vehicle in a crowd.

It’s reasonable, I believe, to assume Jesse can recognize a Prius by its size and shape, and through his sense of smell (as the car’s factory installed tires and its brake system probably emit distinctive odors).  But Jesse is able to find my Prius and his personal means of long-distance transport — or  get to the point where he believes he’s found his Prius — only when he comes across those elements plus the color blue.

Meanwhile, I haven’t settled on what to say to Jesse if today’s episode recurs.  This morning I simply said “No!”, yanked the lead, and walked on.  But I feel Jesse deserves a fuller explanation, something to indicate he is mistaken to think he has found my (his) car, yet he shouldn’t feel bad since it’s an understandable mistake.  So what voice command can contain than amount of  nuance? 

I’m thinking, maybe, “Close, but no cigar!”?

No, General, I won’t fund your culture war

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

Yesterday’s mail brought a fundraising letter from Lt. Gen. Josiah Bunting, III, a man of great distinction.  Bunting asks for money on behalf of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), a component of which, the Lehrman American Studies Center, he serves as President.  The letter bothers me for four reasons.

1.  Who’s there?

The unsolicited letter is written in a manner that’s sure to annoy more than a few recipients, and I wonder why ISI didn’t assign someone with the right skills to edit it, if only to sand down its grating style.  Given Bunting’s long career as a writer, scholar, and educator, it’s hard for me to believe that he drafted, edited and finalized the document.  Which is to say that when, in the paragraphs that follow, I indicate that “Bunting writes …” or “According to Bunting …”,  I sincerely hope I’m wrong and that the text I’m citing is not in fact conveying his voice, his temperament and his knowledge, but instead is content furnished by ISI and anonymous staffers. 

2.  The familiarity ploy

Before the letter launches into histrionic mode (more about that, below), Bunting warmly addresses me as “Dear Friend,” and soon thereafter as “My friend.”  Now, I swear I don’t know him from Adam, yet he says he knows me.   An ersatz friendly tone is often found in charity fundraising letters, of course, following a template pushed by consultants.  But Bunting says I (along with thousands of others who received the same letter) deserve a bear hug for good reason:

Your name has been given to me as a steadfast supporter of the preservation of America’s founding principles; a steward of freedom who cares deeply about the future of our nation.

Is he channelling Eddie Haskell or what?  And yet, unctuousness aside, who am I to quibble with this glowing description of me?  But, on the matter of familiarity, wouldn’t it be nicer, I’m thinking, to receive an unsolicited letter that displays honesty and humility?  And for a model I turn to an uneducated fourteen year old named Huckleberry Finn, who, in his own overture to readers, in his very first words, confesses:

You don’t know about me . . . 

So, anyway, I decided to dig deeper into the letter.  And that’s when I came upon a creepy come-on, as I’ll describe next. 

3.  Questionable command of English

Here is the third sentence of the letter:

As a true American patriot, I know you are concerned about the direction of America’s colleges and universities.

Well.  One thing I am a true believer in is English grammar and clear writing (while, Lord knows, I mess up all the time).  A rule students learn in high school and are expected to obey in college and beyond is that a modifier (“a true American patriot”) should be placed as close as possible to the word it modifies (“you”).  Although there are colloquial exceptions to the rule (in spoken English), the rule should be followed if there is a risk of confusion due to the presence of more than one noun/pronoun the modifier could be describing (here, both “you” and “I” are candidates).  Bunting himself is half a century removed from his undergraduate degree in English, but rules are rules, and clear writing is timeless.  If ISI truly intends to flatter the reader, or even if it’s just a ploy, the drafter should consider this formulation:

As a true American patriot, you are undoubtedly concerned about the direction of America’s colleges and universities.  

The thought I resist is that the Lt. General is trumpeting his honorable military service and combining it with a boast of uncanny power to discern like-mindedness in others:

I, as a true American patriot, know you too are concerned about the direction of America’s colleges and universities.

In its original state the letter gives the impression of being either a slap-dash effort or a crude stage for chauvinism — a terrible irony in a letter requesting money to support improving higher education. 

On to page two, where this plea pops up:

But, who’s going to climb a hill for others if their hearts are bitter towards their own culture?

Something is not right.  The word “who” can be singular or plural.  In this sentence it appears to be plural, referring to persons (plural) who possess hearts (plural).  But the word “who’s” is a contraction of “who is,” a misplaced singular.  The sentence needs not an “is” but the plural verb “are.”  Or, in the alternative, the simultaneously singular- and plural-fitting verb “will” will do the trick, as in the sentence, “But, who will climb a hill for others …”  Yet another possible reading of the sentence is that the author meant for the cited “hearts” to belong to the “others” for whom the single hill-climber is making a sacrifice.  But this makes no sense in the context of Bunting’s argument, which is that young persons must be inculcated with unquestioned love of country (we must “nurture the next generation of patriots”), for if we do not, we will fail to produce  citizens able to meet the demands of inevitable wars.  Then again, the letter’s expository prose is so muddy at times that the reader may be unavoidably flummoxed.  

In the first of his two post-scripts on page four, Bunting proudly informs us ISI’s charter says the organization’s headquarters “cannot be in the nation’s capitol.”  Well, of course not.  The word “capitol” (with an “O”) always refers to a building.  Watch the cute video, here, on this point.  The building housing our nation’s legislative branch is the U.S. Capitol.  It was Thomas Jefferson who insisted the legislative building be called “the Capitol.”  






It’s a large building, to be sure, but it would be the height of arrogance for ISI to think it had a chance of being located inside the nation’s capitol.  In contrast, “capital”  (with an “A” as the final vowel) refers to the District (see Article One, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution) within which the federal government, and many a non-governmental organization, reside.  The same capitol-versus-capital distinction applies at the state level.  With this error, ISI, which sponsors the National Civic Literacy Board, earns a bonus point for irony.

Let me stop there, and express the hope that an intern with serious skills is hired to scrub through the next ISI letter prior to its release.  

4.  The culture war is here for you to join

What galls me is this:  ISI’s presumption that I am on its side.  I’m not speaking of the “side” in favor of improving classical education while strengthening all Americans’ understanding of our country’s long history and our nation’s uniqueness.  On that ground I have my feet firmly planted, thanks to a superb liberal arts education.  As a student of political science and history, and as a current participant in government, my mind and heart are there too.  No, I’m referring to the  letter writer’s assumption that I stand on his “side” in a great cultural war the far right desires to foment. 

The letter is very clear on this point:  the reader will be judged to be either “upholding the principles of the Founders” (values to be defined by . . . the Lt. General?) or found unworthy of  “confidence.”  For now, at least, I’m in Bunting’s good graces; he reports I have been tested and, in his words, “You have proven your dedication to the values upon which this country was built.”  (Should I keep a copy of that certification in my wallet, in case I need it to pass through check-points, come the revolution?)

Presumptuous? Arrogant? Scary undertones of Big Brother?  You betcha!  The  four page letter is chock full of radical right code words, phrases, and bêtes noires.  An ideological slant is never far from the surface, and frequently bursts through.  ISI says the American university system is being poisoned by a toxic culture.  Students are paralyzed by revisionist liberals.  A cadre of apologists (a term the letter neither defines nor assigns to named individuals) have made it their life’s work to disconnect our young people from the values and institutions that sustain a free and humane society.  Moreover, if we do not act, the anti-freedom crowd will gain the upper hand in the fight for our future leaders’ hearts and minds.  The letter closes with a statement that would fit nicely into a ritual session of Two Minutes Hate:

It is our job to expose them and I am counting on Americans like you to help us educate for liberty. 

I am struck by what is absent from the text.  Nowhere in four full pages addressing  American principles does the word democracy (or any of its variants) appear.  It seems Bunting believes the “nation’s heritage” ended before 1800, and so nowhere is there an appreciation of two centuries of subsequent history — a history forged by American people of faith and courage and intelligence equal to (or in the case of religious faith, exceeding) that of the leaders who emerged during the period of armed Revolution.  The letter displays a fetishistic attachment to the Founding Fathers, to the exclusion of our grandly successful, ongoing American experiment.  When describing today’s youth, Bunting casually tosses off calumnies (“their hearts are bitter towards their own culture”).  These are the words of a curmudgeon blind to the actual lives and character of young Americans.  (Say it ain’t so, Joe!)

I believe the study of history, which Bunting says he supports, shows America to be an unfinished nation.  Our nation is still being created.  This idea scares many people, I know.  Many prefer the sclerotic over the dynamic.  But the rest of us — and I believe we are the democratic (small “d”) majority — must steadfastly guard against the baleful consequences that would flow if personal fears prevailed.  That is the true threat to our lives, our liberties, and our happiness.

Whenever I encounter someone arguing that the America they live in today is not the country of their youth, let alone the country as founded over two centuries ago, I’m reminded of W. S. Gilbert’s lines satirizing a particularly sorry fellow:  “The idiot who praises with enthusiastic tone, all centuries but this, and every country but his own.”   As with us all, time’s fell hand ultimately will sweep them from the scene. 

I am struck by the aging of persons prominantly embracing a Manichean world view.  I’m noticing, for example, how Pat Buchanan is becoming unsteady in his argumentation.  Just this week he asserted, erroneously, that no blacks fought and died in the Vicksburg campaign (video, here; historical facts, here and here).  Sadly, the reason Buchanan denies history is so he can argue white males have a superior claim of ownership of America, de facto (long exclusive possession) if not de jure.  Also this week, in a different forum, Buchanan misquoted the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution in support of a related wacky argument, to the effect that the progeny of the Founding Fathers (white males) are the legitimate inheritors of a nation “created” back in 1787. 

All of which goes to show, some folks way past their college years need remedial education in this nation’s history.

Walter Cronkite (1916-2009) – An Appreciation

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

Everyone watched the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. 

To read the name of that essential program, to recall the announcer’s voice that introduced it (“THIS IS the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite”), is to realize how fitting those few words were.  In the 1960’s and 70’s the news came to us with, and through, Walter Cronkite.  And because of who he was, an essential civic function was carried out in a manner at once graceful, authoritative, and mature.  Cronkite will never be duplicated by any other broadcaster. 

I remember him, in his early retirement years, serving as Master of Ceremonies for the initial Kennedy Center Honors programs celebrating outstanding achievement in the Performing Arts.  And, let’s be frank, who among us didn’t wish, every time we saw him in those years, for him to lead a Restoration, to return to the news anchor desk and restore class and professionalism to the field.  Who can deny that, post-Cronkite, TV journalism has been on a downhill slide that continues to this day.  

I remember the Kennedy assassination broadcast in 1963.  I remember the magnetic pull of our black and white TV, those three terrible dark days.  It was another twenty-five year before I next saw those minutes of Cronkite’s choked announcement, a man pulling off his glasses to look up at a clock so he could add reportorial precision, factness, to devastating emotion.  Twenty-five years later I was visiting the museum at the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas.  The exhibition space leads visitors in a meandering path until you hear Cronkite’s broadcasting voice, which draws you to turn a corner and see, on a monitor, him delivering the fatal news.  As I expected, this brought the adult me to tears (while on screen Cronkite regained his composure), and I felt embarrassed, surrounded as I was by a class of high school kids on a field trip, for whom this all meant next to nothing.

In 1967, as a faithful nightly viewer, I remember Cronkite announcing each week the casualty figures of the Vietnam War, and how those numbers climbed steadily into the hundreds, week after week, until the repetitive and cumulative effect of death’s ostinato wore all of us down.  Then one evening came the pricking of the boil:  Cronkite, out-of-character, pronounced the war simply not winnable.  In that extraordinary and necessary departure from routine, he shocked us awake, and changed history. 

Most of all I remember his hosting live daytime News Specials on the occasion of the launching of each Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo mission.  He played with model capsules along with his guest astronaut pals.  He demonstrated docking maneuvers.  He deftly took the role of the nation’s educator, called on Wernher von Braun to explain why a certain plan was being followed  rather than some other.  Then, after years in the making, this careful series of steps culminated in his ultimate joy, a joy sweetly child-like coming from a man with a serious senior body and beautiful Midwestern voice.  The triumph of the 1969 lunar landing.  At that moment, as at other moments, his was the breathing and his was the voice, of America.

Cronkite was the embodiment of the  principle that if you chart and follow a course that is steady, constant, and controlled, you are likely to achieve success.

For some reason I remember one other out-of-character event — the time he addressed us in the TV audience upon his return to the anchor desk after a summer vacation spent sailing.  If I recall this correctly, he actually was into his third or fourth broadcast of the week of his return to the air.  I’m talking about the time he revealed to us why his hair looked different; it had turned reddish from the sun, he explained.  Though my memory may be faulty, I don’t think I’m making this up.  The reason I remember this is, of course, because like millions of others, I had come to think of Cronkite as a member of the family, a substitute father, or as he was commonly known, Uncle Walter.  That was a rare moment when he thought he owed us something more than simply being, night after night, the epitome of professionalism. 

We now know it is all of us who owe him so much.

Better Thought Next Time, No. 3 (Joel Stein)

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

Joel Stein, humorist and frequent contributor to Time magazine, where his pieces are often the best thing between the covers, is a very funny fellow indeed.  True, his humor is mostly adolescent, and if you’ve been reading his stuff for years, like me, you may be wondering, when is this guy ever going to grow up already?  The answer, I suspect, is never, not ever.  Because on that day he’d have to find another line of work.

Joel Stein has a blog.  Let me correct that:  he had a blog.  Let me correct my correction:  he has a blog but it’s been defunct for nearly three years.  He stopped posting after a final entry dated September 6, 2006.  And from what I saw of his other posts, well, let’s just say abandonment was a mercy.  His heart wasn’t in it (translation: there was no money in it, and as Dr. Johnson said, no one but a fool ever wrote except for money).  Foolishly, I have a blog, and my most recent post is the one you’re enjoying this very moment.  Or it could be that my most recent post is an even newer one, and though hard to believe, the newer post might be even more of a joy to read than this!   

So the question I’m asking is, who is smarter, Joel or me?  And who has more endurance when it counts?  (This may come down to a split decision.)

Before my theme becomes completely stale, I wanted to mention an article by Stein that appeared in the April 16, 2009 edition of Time.  There Joel ruminates at great length on his and other guys’ penises.  He does so  under the guise of examining the great circumcision debate (“Joel Stein Contemplates Circumcision (For His Son),” here).  I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with Joel thinking and writing about his or other people’s genitals.  It’s a potentially humorous subject and Stein is a funny guy (or did I say that already?)  But the article contains one very odd thought, actually a strange thought accompanied by a strange image, that occurred to him in the course of comparing Americans and Europeans.  Stein writes:

“Our penises are clean and sleek and new like Frank Gehry skyscrapers, while theirs are crumbling, ancient edifices inhabited by fat old men in hats.”

Let’s pause for moment.  (You wanted to catch your breath anyway, right?)

OK, then.  Someone’s got to step up to the plate — and I volunteer to be that someone — and ask whether Mr. Stein has even the teensy-weensiest bit of familiarity with the architectural designs of Frank Gehry’s skyscrapers?  Not Gehry’s sprawling horizontal buildings, like the Experience Music Project, with their shiny smooth expanses of titanium and stainless steel, but his skyscrapers.  I’m asking the question rhetorically.  Non-judgmentally, too.

Consider Gehry’s proposed plans for a skyscraper in lower Manhattan:




Sleek?  In these photos do you see anything “sleek” (a word that requires smoothness)?   Hardly.  “Wrinkled-looking [with a] distinctly bumpy silhouette” is how the Gehry skyscraper was described by the NY Times.   Are there really a lot of folks out there who long to stroke this form? (Note to self:  Avoid eye-contact with J.S., lest his hand be raised.)

To read an author is to enter her mind.  Or in the case of Joel Stein, his mind, whenever he’s not stealing thoughts from her.  (I make a little joke, no?)  The consistently clever views that seize Stein’s mind, when put in English and down on paper, make me laugh.  But my message is this:  We can’t trust him with architecture.   He needs to bone up on it.

Now, food — food he knows about, as he’s shown here, here, and most squeemishly here.  I bet if Mr. Stein were to come across the items below (items introduced to my local Safeway some time ago) he would stop and stare and stare some more — and then come up with some funny way to mention this in a column.  Something I’ve been trying to do for weeks. 



They say Joel likes to Google his own name from time to time, something we all like to do.  But he adds this twist:  To protect his fragile ego he sets the search parameters to find only those articles in which the author of the piece writes that Stein is really “funny” and repeats that adjective at least five times within the article.

Hi Joel !

Better Thought Next Time, No. 2 (Chedd Airs)

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

Someone at Eat Smart Snacks thought it a good idea to concoct a comestible (or what purports to be a comestible) lovingly described as “corn and rice cheese puffs delicately seasoned with apple cinnamon and cheddar”:



Eat Smart Snacks assures us this is a “gourmet flavor.”  Effusive prose on the back of the bag extols the “exotic medley of flavors.” 

I should know by now that when food packaging pats itself on the back for the brilliant achievement of its contents, I’m being handed a clue to the questionable judgment of the thing’s begetter.  Someone at Eat Smart Snacks headquarters wasn’t thinking right to greenlight this exotic medley.  Someone’s tastebuds in the Eat Smart Kitchen weren’t functioning right since those buds failed to convey the distasteful flavor of these things.  They’re awful.  I know that’s a subjective opinion.  But they’re really awful.  And the cost of $3.99 for five ounces adds insult to injury. 

Avoid at all costs.

“We do not . . . .”

Monday, July 13th, 2009

Emergency evacuation chairs were recently installed in the stairwells of the building where I work.  Each device is encased in a storage cover, imprinted with a pictograph:



Is it just me, or does this picture remind you of a torture session straight from the dreams of Dick Cheney?

Better Thought Next Time, No. 1 (Steven Johnson)

Sunday, July 12th, 2009

Over at Time magazine, Steven Johnson wrote the June 15th cover story on how Twitter is affecting social communication (“How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live”).  Soon after the article appeared Twitter began to play an important role as a communications channel during post-election protests in Iran.  Johnson, the author of six books, has an engaging writing style on display throughout the Time piece.  But at one point the narrative hits the shoals, nearly wrecking his message. 

Early in the article Johnson describes how, at a day-long conference held in Manhattan on the subject of education reform, a large cohort of participants sereptitiously wrote and responded to tweets, creating a parallel stream of interactive commentary.  Johnson uses this example, which he describes in five paragraphs, to support as argument that Twitter significantly enlarged the conversation:

“And it gave the event an afterlife on the Web.  Yes, it was built entirely out of 140-character messages, but the sum total of these tweets added up to something truly substantive, like a suspension bridge made of pebbles.”


Johnson obviously wanted to end his lengthy anecdote with a memorable image.  He saw small bits coming together to form a large and useful construct.  How could he capture this phenomenon in a striking simile?  Something reality-based, not fanciful or fantastical, was needed.  Something to advance the purpose of the article, which was to lift readers’  skepticism about this silly Twitter fad.

I wonder if Johnson thought of the countless individual mud bricks that make up the Great Mosque of Djenne, a World Heritage Site in Mali?



Probably not.  All we know for sure is this:  Johnson was thinking of pebbles.  He was also remembering the dependable, albeit over-used, symbol of a bridge — a bridge that links society, that transports us to the future.  Could these ideas be conjoined?  Yes, literally, in the case of ancient Roman arch bridges built of stone and pebble-rich concrete, such as this one near Torino, Italy: 



But something else captured his thoughts:




Whoa, again!

The sina qua non of a suspension bridge is its cabling system: the sweep of cables suspended between towers and the vertical suspender cables that carry the weight of the deck below.  Pebbles might become a constituent of the towers, but how in hell tiny stones can transmogrify into cables (multiple strands of metal wire) is beyond my poor power of imagination — literary, metaphorical, religious, or otherwise.   

The simile Johnson chose, likening Twitter to “a suspension bridge made of pebbles,” is a diversion from literal truth.  But then so are many similes.  The suspension bridge image dies not from lack of literal truth, but from the absense of any intuitive appeal or poetic beauty.  The simile is nonsensical.  Worse still, it stirs up thoughts of failure and collapse every bit as disturbing as the Biblical vision of a “house built on sand” in Matthew 7:24-27.  In a perverse way it undermines the author’s positive view of Twitter’s potential.

OK, I concede this is a minor misstep in a long article.  But one wonders whether the vaunted editors at Time saw this or were asleep at the switch.

Better thought next Time.

Better Thought Next Time (on the launch pad)

Sunday, July 12th, 2009

Today I’m launching a new Category of periodic postings.  Each piece will feature my brief commentary responding to a piece of writing, a video, or other cultural artifact I’ve come across that, for some reason or other, doesn’t ring true, misses the mark, or strikes me as just plain dumb.  Virtually every generalist blogger goes into critical reaction mode from time to time, under the guise of  revealing pet peeves, or railing against offensive people and arguments, or pointing out errors in the work of the elect.  All I’m doing is putting my own activity of this sort under one roof.  I thought of calling the series, dyspeptically, “You Dumb Sh*t!,” but I am no longer of swearing age and besides, I saw a value in adopting a label with a hopeful tone.  Hence, “Better Thoughts Next Time.” 

Blogging can turn self-expression into narcissistic preening.  A know-it-all attitude can hijack one’s prose.  Maybe it’s the cheapness of the medium, its dryness, that prevents growth of a richness and grace in thought.  I don’t want “Better Thought Next Time” to become a ghetto of snarking.  So, under this tag I will place only cases in which an established author, or speaker of high reputation, or recognized creator, exhibits a momentary lapse of judgment.  I’m looking to shine a light on the rare hiccup of error (an example being a  superb writer who temporarily succumbs to the lure of a terrible mixed metaphor).  I will try to inject humor into my comments.  Cheap and easy targets will find no home here.  I seek out slips of the credible, not mistakes of the incorrigible. 

(Expect to see nothing related to Sarah Palin.)