Thursday 30 June 2011

Oxford Comma Dropped

Yes, that archaic, unnecessary quirk of punctuation has gone the way of the dodo in the institution that named it. Oxford University has dropped the Oxford comma (article by yours truly).

Wednesday 29 June 2011

Johann Hari's Non-Apology for Plagiarism

British journalist Johann Hari has apologized for making stuff up.

The gay, left-wing journo has enjoyed a reputation for incisive, hard-hitting interviews, chiefly at The Independent. Yesterday, Hari's reputation fell gracelessly apart under accusations of plagiarism and dishonesty.

Basically, he was cutting and pasting bits from other sources and passing them off as part of his own original interviews. He'd add extemporaneous details, such as "He lit a cigarette" and "She spoke faster," to make it sound authentic. I cited a few examples in my article about Hari yesterday. Writing in the New Statesman, Guy Walters provides some more examples from Johann Hari's 2006 interview with Hugo Chavez:
"I realized at that moment that I was saying goodbye to life," he says, looking away. "So it is possible that, after surviving, one has been a bit... imbued with that sense ever since, no?"
The problem is that these exact words come from a 2001 interview by Jon Lee Anderson at the New Yorker. So not only did Hari neglect to credit the source, but he also added "he says, looking away" to create the impression Chavez said this to him directly. And he does it again in the same "exclusive" interview:
Just as this is beginning to sound like sepia-tinted nostalgia, he adds, "I was in close contact with poverty, it's true. I cried a lot."
This time, the quote is lifted verbatim from Lally Weymouth's Chavez interview in Newsweek, published in 2000.

Before the revelations of Hari's practices broke, he first addressed the charge in a "clarification" on his personal blog. His justification was that he only occasionally uses already-published quotes from the same person when they don't express themselves as well in the interview. As long as they're making the same essential point, it's legitimate he says. Besides, everyone does it:
I called round a few other interviewers for British newspapers and they said what I did was normal practice and they had done it themselves from time to time.
Now Hari has made something of an apology in The Independent, under the headline "My journalism is at the centre of a storm. This is what I have learned."

His excuse now gets even odder:
[An] interview is not just an essayistic representation of what a person thinks; it is a report on an encounter between the interviewer and the interviewee. If (for example) a person doesn't speak very good English, or is simply unclear, it may be better to quote their slightly broken or garbled English than to quote their more precise written work, and let that speak for itself. It depends on whether you prefer the intellectual accuracy of describing their ideas in their most considered words, or the reportorial accuracy of describing their ideas in the words they used on that particular afternoon. Since my interviews are long intellectual profiles, not ones where I'm trying to ferret out a scoop or exclusive, I have, in the past, prioritised the former. That was, on reflection, a mistake, because it wasn't clear to the reader.
A non-apology. He doesn't think it's wrong, just (regrettably) unclear. Except Johann Hari doesn't write a simple, straightforward intellectual profile. He adds ephemeral details to give it a Gonzo-style edge. He doesn't want to just convey the intellectual ideas; he wants to draw us into the emotions of the interview and the personality by making us believe he was actually there, experiencing the story as it was told to him.

My remaining question, now Hari has kind of confessed in a roundabout sort of way -- ish -- is what of all the other journalists he claims to have spoken to? The British newspaper interviewers who, according to his initial explanation, do exactly the same thing as a matter of routine? Are they willing to come forward? Or was their presence, too, an embellishment to drive the point home?

Friday 24 June 2011

Columbo Actor Peter Falk Has Died

Peter Falk, the actor most famous as TV detective Columbo, in the long-running mystery series of the same name, has died at the age of 83.

We knew and loved him as Lieutenant Columbo for his crumpled beige trenchcoat, his shuffling demeanour and the way he'd hesitate on his way out of the door, only to turn back, hold up his cigarette and say, "Just one more thing," before asking the question that would unravel everything and expose the murderer.

Falk first played the part in a 1968 one-off special, and its success led to almost 70 feature-length episodes between 1971 and 2003. Over the years, the show saw him paired with dozens of high-profile guest villains, ranging from Faye Dunaway and Janet Leigh to William Shatner and Dick Van Dyke.

When he wasn't solving mysteries, Peter Falk had a successful screen career, with movie credits including It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963), The Great Race (1965), The Cheap Detective (1978) and The Princess Bride (1987).

The German director Wim Wenders, in a nod to Falk's iconic Hollywood status, cast him as a film actor-cum-angel, the actor himself in all but name, in the widely praised poetic fantasy Wings of Desire (Der Himmel ├╝ber Berlin, 1987).

But despite an impressive and varied career, audiences will remember Peter Falk chiefly as Columbo. Lee J Cobb had been offered the part first but was unavailable, although there are unmistakable traces of Falk's Columbo in Cobb's turn as Lieutenant William F Kinderman in the 1973 horror film The Exorcist. Bing Crosby was also sought but turned it down before Falk seized the role.

And even though two other actors, Bert Freed and Thomas Mitchell, had played the detective in unrelated stage and TV plays before him, and The A-Team's Dirk Benedict has since played the part in theatres, Peter Falk made the role utterly his own.

The actor had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease in recent years. He was born September 16, 1927, in New York City, and died on Thursday, June 23, 2011, at his Beverly Hills home.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Sunday 12 June 2011

The Daily is out! What Is -- and What's the Point?

I'm not sure the website does a great job of marketing itself. Few people seem to know what the point is.

Here's what typically happens: You're reading your Twitter feed when all of a sudden, up pops an @mention featuring your name, among one or two others. It reads something like this:
The David L Rattigan Daily is out! Top stories today by @avalard @mack_ramer @csareb
You're tremendously excited that I decided to include you in my top stories, and you click through and start reading through half a dozen or more pages of links to see where I mentioned you and why. Then you send me an @reply to thank me for including you in the David L Rattigan Daily.

Except, I didn't, really -- or not on purpose, at least. But I admit, I didn't get it for a long time, either.

What Does aggregates links automatically from people you choose. To create the most basic "Daily Paper," you log in with your Twitter username, and generates a daily or twice-daily list of every link posted by people you follow.

What's the Point?
For me, the point is that even if I don't keep my eye on my Twitter feed every second of the day, I can take a few minutes to scan the list and see, at a glance, all the stories people I follow are linking to and talking about. I don't have to click on each link to see what it's about, because automatically generates a title, a summary and an accompanying image, if it's available. So the David L Rattigan Daily is primarily for me. I don't choose every item that goes in; does that.

Other Things Can Do
You can create daily papers based on other criteria, including Twitter hashtags, keywords or user lists. So, if your interest is Canadian politics, for example, you can create a daily paper that automatically aggregates all the links tweeted with the hashtag #Cdnpoli. Or if you have a Twitter list of best friends and you can't bear the thought of missing a single viral video they link to, you can create a daily that summarizes links tweeted by anyone on that list. You can also combine streams, selecting several keywords as criteria, say.

The Point, Summarized
Basically, I use for myself, so I can catch up with what's been happening on my Twitter feed while I haven't been paying attention.

Problems Retweeting Links?
All that said, I haven't been using as much lately. It still aggregates the links and posts the results to my Twitter account, but I don't check it as regularly. used to have a feature where you could automatically retweet any link on the list from within the site. For some reason, this stopped working for me. I can't figure out why, but I doubt it's anything to do with the site deliberately removing it, since it's one of the handiest features. If anyone can illuminate me on that problem, please leave a comment below.