Tuesday, July 29, 2008

RIP Scrabulous

"Caught in the act, sinfully Scrabbling. Quick, eat those words."

I'm of the "tell it like it is and avoid puns at all costs" school of headline writers. Headlines should tell you what the story is about, not attempt to be clever and make you laugh. And bad puns -- read: all puns -- make me groan. When the reporters at my office had a pun-off, I wanted to cry.

But there are few events when headlines might almost warrant some fun. The death of Scrabulous, though tragic, could be one of those events. Or at least headline writers took liberties with it, like it or not.

I collected some of the heds below (though most are from blogs, not the "mainstream media," which will probably get around to doing a good job covering Facebook in a few years). You can decide if the -- wait for it -- word play [groan] was warranted.

A Boost for Office Productivity

'Expunged' worth 19 points; also Scrabble imitator's fate

Scrabulous Is Dead, Hasbro's Version Brain-Dead

Scrabulous Apocalypse

Scrabulous No Longer a Stratego Risk to Hasbro Monopoly

Scrabulous Spells S-U-E-D for Indian Developers

Scrabble owner sues Facebook play-a-like

Game Over: Scrabulous Shut Down on Facebook

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Living On, On Dreams and Spaghetti-O's

I don't intend to be a reporter or writer (or at least not a reporter--in some wild dreams, I do nothing but write books), but here are some words of encouragement for those who do from The Meaning of Everything (which I am still not done with, mostly because I've been distracted by other reading material).

The quote is about Henry Bradley, who played a key role in the creation of the OED.

"[S]uffice to say here that his nearly 40-year connection with the Dictionary began modestly enough, with Mr. Cotton's invitation in February 1884 to write an experimental book review for his small London literary magazine. The story of what then befell Henry Bradley should serve as encouragement for today's writers, one might think, and prompt them to consider the possibilities and opportunities that might yet come from the vagaries of the freelance life."

Monday, July 21, 2008

Bad News for the Jews

"[E]ven if the Satmars were famous for their chesed, or charity, KJ did not strike this traveler as a very haymishe place. On Lee Avenue in Williamsburg it was no big deal to get a smile and a hearty 'zeit gezunt' from a shtreimel-wearing Satmar. These were city people, Americans; they lived in the world. In the KJ boondocks, among these Hebrew hillbillies and their fundamentalist idea of chosen-peopleness, ask someone 'Which way to Route 17?' and they’d often just turn their backs on you. The message was clear: Here, you are Other."

I get queasy when I see a story about Orthodox Jews--or any religious group--in the media.

The Yearning for Zion brouhaha made me uncomfortable because much as the allegations were absolutely terrifying, I wonder what would happen if some of our religious practices were scrutinized from a secular standpoint. Fifty years from now, will brit milah be considered barbaric?

The cover story in this week's New York magazine (quote above) is about a 23-year-old woman who left the Satmar community, made more complicated by the fact that she also left her husband and is struggling to get custody of her daughter.

The magazine didn't have to do much to make the tale of a mother separated from her daughter into a tragedy. Especially considering the mother escaped the oppression of an ultra-religious community with strange practices.

And I'm not saying there is no truth in the article, no real-life sadness in the plight of a mother separated from her child. And certainly there are many things the Satmar community does that I am uncomfortable with.

But these articles inevitably end up twisting practices that can be beautiful. In simplifying a complicated religious code into sound bites and in only showing one side of things (and I cannot fault the magazine for not getting the whole story from a community that I am sure was reluctant to talk to reporters), the beauty in a community's practice of Judaism is lost.

And it's not just the beauty within the Satmar community specifically--some of the practices described in the article are practiced in much more "mainstream" circles as well (tznius, taharat hamishpacha, etc.). I don't want religious Judaism to be written off as oppressive.

And, really, can an article of a few thousand words explain the intricacies of Orthodox Judaism? Why we do the things we do? Or even how we do them?

I have struggled for a long time with the concept of communities that shelter themselves so much, and it is something I still do not agree with. But could this article really explain it? Explain that these people love their religion so much that they do not want to expose themselves to anything else? Explain that they don't want to endanger that practice in any way?

And, of course, this is coming from someone who in general has full faith in the media. But I wonder if anyone or any group who is the subject of a newspaper article feels that inherently there is bias because the whole picture is never seen.

Is this why people are wary of the media?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Caffeinated Ruminations

"[O]ne of the mixed blessings of being twenty and twenty-one and even twenty-three is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened to anyone before."

I was in a Starbucks not far from NYU this morning before work, which is what happens when you are so Type A that you have 15 minutes to kill before work, which is just the way you are if you are a copy editor.

After buying my latte (which I recently found out you can buy at Starbucks, but ask your local Orthodox rabbi) in my denim skirt and a matching shirt/flip-flop combo, I curled up in a chair to read.

My newspaper had an earlier accident with some coffee, so I was reading "Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers," essentially a book of essays about people my age trying to figure out who they are.

I thought I could be mistaken for an NYU student. And I sort of wanted to be. I still mostly identify myself as a student. A journalist, too. But then again, I was a journalist even when I was a student.

A full year out of school, I should perhaps not identify as a student, not refer to my college newspaper as "my" paper, not buy baby gifts in the Columbia bookstore (after all, a "Somebody at Columbia Loves You" T-shirt would be inaccurate as I am not at Columbia).

But there's a nostalgia for the student life. The life where you get up in order to go to Starbucks to read. Where the things you need to do are clearly defined by class syllabi. Where you produce a newspaper that you can call your own. Where so many of the people you care about live within a five- or ten-minute walk away.

For four years, these things defined me in some way, and I don't think they disappeared as soon as I was handed a fancy diploma in a language I do not understand (Latin).

And, yet, I think I'm getting there. After 15 minutes at Starbucks, I got up, put the book in my professional-looking bag, walked across the street to my office, to finish my coffee at my desk. Where I spilled the remnants of the latte on my keyboard.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

No Rabbi? The NYT Can Pasken

The Newspaper of Record tells you whether tattoos are prohibited by Jewish law.

Probably not, the newspaper says, or at least there's a lot of disagreement and confusion and the cemetery thing is probably a lie and besides teenagers do whatever they want especially if they're not religious anyway. So, that's what you need to know if you pasken like the New York Times.

And then there are those who get Jewish-themed tattoos. "'They're taking this prohibited act and using it to feel more Jewish,'" says someone the paper quoted. Um, and that makes sense how?

Also, what is a "nonpracticing Orthodox Jew"?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Deep Thoughts: The Dropping Out of Day Care Edition

  • I lost a few IQ points at Legally Blonde: The Musical. It included an entire song of "Omigod, omigod, you guys" on repeat. I kid you not.
  • I have really good friends who make time for me even when they have much more important things to do.
  • Putting on eyeliner while on the phone with one of those friends, however, is not the best idea I've ever had in my life.
  • You can be the chairman of a vastly influential and reputable media company and still not be very good at Scrabulous.
  • I think it's a great idea for The Wall Street Journal to essentially get rid of all their copy editors. That definitely won't affect the quality of the paper.
  • The Columbia bookstore is a great baby-gift store. Who wouldn't want a baby T-shirt that says "If I could get into Columbia, I'd drop out of day care"?

Friday, July 11, 2008

I Get My Humility From My Dad

Part of an e-mail conversation with my father:

My Father: I had actually typed that in my response but then backspaced over it before sending.
Me: Great minds...
My Father: Heredity.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Tall Enough to Rule the World -- Or Something

Just in case I was worried that my height (or lack thereof) would render me incapable of leading a world power, ABC News reports that the leaders of the G-8 nations are not particularly tall.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is only 5'2". I'm taller than that -- in four-inch heels.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

A Marvel of Style and Wit

My dorky journalism friends have already linked to this NY Times blog post about how important newspapers are and how we cannot afford to lose them. You should go read the article, which needs no commentary, but I will quote this from it:

"But on its best days, a newspaper is a marvel of style and wit, of small-type discoveries and large-type overstatements, a diary of our deeds."

And That's When He Knew His Patient Was a Dork

I just started reading "The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary," which is fantastic thus far. I was reading it while waiting for the dentist this morning. While he was holding something in my mouth, he asked me to turn over the book so he could read the back.

Dentist: You're reading that for school, right?
[I shake my head no, which is the best I can do because his hands are in my mouth.]
Dentist: You're reading that for fun?!
[I nod yes. His hands are still in my mouth.]
Dentist: What's so special about the Oxford English Dictionary?
Me: [Finally] I mean, it's a great dictionary.
Dentist: [Very skeptically] Um... OK.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Deep Thoughts: The Frappuproblem Edition

  • If you talk on the phone while cooking French toast, you are pretty much asking for the hot margarine to splatter and burn your arm. Oops.

  • Also, It is unclear to me why, according to AP style, the "French" in French toast must be capitalized, but the "French" in french fry is not capitalized.

  • A newspaper--at least a serious one--should never ever ever run a sentence that looks like this: "Starbucks has found itself with a venti frappuproblem."

  • My explanation of my shoes to a friend: "Falling into gutters is not fun, it's just a necessary outcome of beautiful shoes, which are fun. Call it a psik reishah." Yeah, I just used a halachic term to describe my shoes. Sacrilege?