Slow-Down In Blogging At Caffeinated Politics Until Publishing Project Completed

Starting May 3rd, and expected to continue for no more than three months, Caffeinated Politics will seem to have fewer opinions and musings on a daily basis. Most weeks there have been five or six articles, some of which were linked by local media sites in Madison or Milwaukee.

But starting tomorrow, I will post no more than once or twice a week as my attention will be focused on a book project aimed to be published this summer. It will be my second book.

Over the winter, and into the start of spring, I have juggled a writing project with everything else I feel committed to doing, which was not so bad as winter held sway outside. But with spring trying to land in Madison, and knowing at some point soon it truly will, means I really need to stay focused and make progress with the project.

As such, I will slow down on posting for a few months. I am excited about the future and love the project that is engaging my time.

And so it goes.

Two Spaces After A Period When Typing A Sentence?


Another quirky idea that amuses me.  Or another example of why we need warmer weather to allow for cabin fever to break.

At the outset let it be known and both James and I feel we (and the majority of other ‘right-minded people’) are most correct when using two spaces after a period when typing a sentence.  I would never dream of preparing something for a professional purpose and not leave two spaces.  I would never write a blog post and not allow for the spacing.

To be honest until today when someone posted this idea on Facebook I never even knew there were those out there who would disagree!

And that is what amuses me.  Perhaps my readers, too.

What galls me about two-spacers isn’t just their numbers. It’s their certainty that they’re right. Over Thanksgiving dinner last year, I asked people what they considered to be the “correct” number of spaces between sentences. The diners included doctors, computer programmers, and other highly accomplished professionals. Everyone—everyone!—said it was proper to use two spaces. Some people admitted to slipping sometimes and using a single space—but when writing something formal, they were always careful to use two. Others explained they mostly used a single space but felt guilty for violating the two-space “rule.” Still others said they used two spaces all the time, and they were thrilled to be so proper. When I pointed out that they were doing it wrong—that, in fact, the correct way to end a sentence is with a period followed by a single, proud, beautiful space—the table balked. “Who says two spaces is wrong?” they wanted to know.

Typographers, that’s who. The people who study and design the typewritten word decided long ago that we should use one space, not two, between sentences. That convention was not arrived at casually. James Felici, author of the The Complete Manual of Typography, points out that the early history of type is one of inconsistent spacing. Hundreds of years ago some typesetters would end sentences with a double space, others would use a single space, and a few renegades would use three or four spaces. Inconsistency reigned in all facets of written communication; there were few conventions regarding spelling, punctuation, character design, and ways to add emphasis to type. But as typesetting became more widespread, its practitioners began to adopt best practices. Felici writes that typesetters in Europe began to settle on a single space around the early 20th century. America followed soon after. 

Every modern typographer agrees on the one-space rule. It’s one of the canonical rules of the profession, in the same way that waiters know that the salad fork goes to the left of the dinner fork and fashion designers know to put men’s shirt buttons on the right and women’s on the left. Every major style guide—including the Modern Language Association Style Manual and the Chicago Manual of Style—prescribes a single space after a period. (The Publications Manual of the American Psychological Association, used widely in the social sciences, allows for two spaces in draft manuscripts but recommends one space in published work.) Most ordinary people would know the one-space rule, too, if it weren’t for a quirk of history. In the middle of the last century, a now-outmoded technology—the manual typewriter—invaded the American workplace. To accommodate that machine’s shortcomings, everyone began to type wrong. And even though we no longer use typewriters, we all still type like we do. (Also see the persistence of the dreaded Caps Lock key.)

What Happens When We Stop Writing Letters?

There is a debate among some educators over the merits of teaching cursive writing.  In an age of computers and gadgets is there still a place for something as ‘old-fashioned’ as knowing how to write legibly?  (I think there is.)

There might also be a debate about something equally important–the art of writing a letter.  This week The New Yorker had a column that is worthy of pondering.

As you read the paragraph below ponder the loss of the letters from John and Abigail Adams. 

If we stop writing letters, who will keep our history or dare venture upon a biography? George Washington, Oscar Wilde, T. E. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, E. B. White, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Vera Nabokov, J. P. Morgan—if any of these vivid predecessors still belong to us in some fragmented private way, it’s because of their letters or diaries (which are letters to ourselves) or thanks to some strong biography built on a ledge of letters. Twenty years ago, many of us got a whole new sense of the Civil War while watching and listening to Ken Burns’s nine-part television documentary, which took its poignant tone from the recital of Union and Confederate soldiers’ letters home. G.I.s in the Second World War wrote home on fold-over V-Mail sheets. Troops in Afghanistan and, until lately, Iraq keep up by Skype and Facebook, and in some sense are not away at all.

Writers can’t stop writing, and it’s cheering to think which of them would have switched over to electronics had it been around. The poets Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop conducted an enormous correspondence—four hundred and fifty-nine letters, between 1947 and 1977 (“What a block of life,” Lowell said), spanning three continents and, between them, six or eight different lovers or partners—but one need read only a few pages of these melancholic literary exchanges to know that the latest BlackBerry or iPhone never would have penetrated their consciousness.

A Writer Dies, Andy Rooney Was 92


Hours after I wrote my post I read this–Scott Pelley remarked on the news: “The Romans had Cicero. The English had Dickens. America had Andy. He hid a philosopher’s genius behind the honest prose of Everyman. Apparently, God needed a writer.”

There was no way not to watch the ending each week of “60 Minutes” and catch the musings of Andy Rooney.  No matter the topic his words were an essential ingredient to ending the program.

Though Rooney was no longer a fixture on the show this season he will always be remembered for his leaning on the desk and alerting us to the follies of too many ash trays that can be collected, or the silliness of having too many phone books.  There were those times too when he made a real impression when speaking about the horror of sending too many of our men and women to war.

He was first and foremost a writer, having started out with pen and paper in the Army working for a newspaper.  He was able to be successful on television because he knew how to form words into sentences, and thoughts into clear statements for others to ponder over.

There are too few in this world who can write anymore.  Many of the shows on television seem to be written by frustrated craftsmen of the English langauge who know they need to spit out something for that week’s production schedule.  Just enough to get by.

Andy Rooney was different as he cared about his thoughts and views, and how they should appear when printed.  He was from another generation where pride was placed in everything that was done.

Many will mourn the passing of Andy Rooney the man.

An equal number should ponder the loss of someone who made his life complete by writing, and let others into his world because he could complete well-written sentences that could move the reader to either smile or clench fists.

Peace to Andy Rooney.

Keta Steebs The Writer

One part of the Door County Advocate that never fails to bring a smile are the words penned by Keta Steebs.  From time to time she gets space here at Caffeinated Politics, as is the case with her latest column on her love of writing.  A portion of her column follows.

The only female who I ever heard of still writing for publication in her late 80s was Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Godey’s Ladies Book — the Vogue of the 19th century — and author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” I read that she died at her typewriter, after climbing 20 stairs to work, a fate that arthritic legs and fingers will stop me from emulating. I will probably “pass over” with a No. 2 pencil in my hand and a legal pad on my lap.

At times I wonder where my path would have led if I had done what my parents would not let me do — enlist in the Army and do something really brave like sneaking behind enemy lines and putting arsenic in Hitler’s wiener schnitzel — but no such luck. Instead of becoming another Mata Hari, I became a grinder in a defense plant. Instead of marrying a hard-working drill-press operator getting overtime pay and good health insurance, I spent 32 years happily married to a former Army sergeant turned butcher.

When people ask me how and why I got into the “writing game,” I tell them it’s a lot better than grinding hamburger and stocking shelves. The real reason, of course, is my love of words. During my factory years, I wrote themes for my college student friends. When the war ended and defense jobs evaporated, I turned to Webster and got a job copy writing for a radio station.

One thing led to another and before I knew it, I was beguiling Chan Harris, Advocate owner, with my stories of small-town life.

“What do we have here,” he had written after sending me a check for a story I had written on knitting, “another Erma Bombeck?”

I can still remember the joy I experienced reading those words and the fun I had cashing that check. Ten dollars went a long way in those days.

A Great Quote On Writing

This quote is just a most perfect one about the art of putting words on paper…..or a computer screen. 

“It is a delicious thing to write, to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating. Today, for instance, as man and woman, both lover and mistress, I rode in a forest on an autumn afternoon under the yellow leaves, and I was also the horse, the leaves, the wind, the words that my people uttered, even the red sun that made them almost close their love-drowned eyes.” 

-Gustave Flaubert

Must Read: William F. Buckley, Pat Buckley As Seen By Son Christopher Buckley

After making a high-carb, calorie-loaded health drink far too late last evening, I found myself wired and alert for far too long. It was then that I turned to my trusty ever-present pile of reading material, and pulled out one of the top selections.  If the drink had not put me into over-drive, the remarkable read would have.  I wish each of my readers to slow down long enough to enjoy the richness of the writing  in the article linked to below.  To craft words in the fashion Christopher Buckley does is remarkable.  In this case the leaf did not fall far from the tree, but as you will read the tree did not always think the leaf worthy of praise.  To read Christopher’s words is to be lifted up out of the ordinary hodge-podge of ordinary sentences, and tortured meanings, and feel the power of real writing.

Christopher, the son of William F. Buckley and Pat Buckley, shares a reflective, witty, and sometimes somber assessment of what it was like to be around his parents; two power-packed personalities.   I started enjoying the intellectual nature of William’s words as a teenager, but also loved his big infectious smile that radiated so many things all at once.  After reading this article it again confirms why my reading pile never moves until I have read the articles, and then am able to dispose of them.   Portions of the read are below, the full text can be found here.

My only consolation now was that I had finally stopped lobbing feckless, well-worded catapult-balls over Mum’s parapets. I didn’t even say anything to her about the Incident of July 2006. On that occasion, my daughter, Caitlin, Mum’s only granddaughter, went out to Stamford from New York for the night, taking with her her best friend, Kate Kennedy. I know, I know — but there is simply no way to tell this story without using real names.

Cat and Kate look like Irish twins. They have been soul mates since kindergarten. Kate is beautiful, vivacious, bright, witty and very naughty — a Kennedy through and through, nicknamed Kick after her great-aunt. The friendship between these two colleens is perhaps unusual given that their paternal grandfathers, Robert F. Kennedy and William F. Buckley Jr., were on opposite sides of the old political spectrum.

At any rate, here were two enchanting young ladies at a grandparental country manse on a summer night. An occasion for joy, affection, de­lighted conversation. You might . . . sigh . . . suppose. I was not — praise the gods — in attendance, inasmuch as Mum and I were not speaking at the time, owing to a previous disgrace of hers, a real beaut even by her standards. The general mood at the dinner table that night was not leavened by the continued — indeed, persistent — presence of a British aristocrat lady friend of Mum’s, who arrived for a visit 10 days before. Now, nearly a fortnight into her encampment, she showed no signs of leaving. Pup’s graciousness as a host was legendary, but it had limits. The poor man was reduced to japery. So, your ladyship, you must be getting jolly homesick for Merry Olde England by now, eh? Ho, ho, ho. . . . But her ladyship showed no sign of homesickness for Old Blighty. Indeed, she had fastened onto our house with the tenacity of a monomaniacal abalone.

Now, on Day 10 of Pup Held Hostage, his mood had congealed from sullenness to smoldering resentment. Meanwhile, Mum’s protracted, vinous afternoons of gin rummy with her ladyship had her by dinnertime in what might be called the spring-loaded position. In such moods, Mum was capable of wheeling on, say, Neil Armstrong to inform him that he knew nothing — nothing what-so-ever — about astrophysics or lunar landing. No hostess in history has ever set a better dinner table than my mother, but on such evenings, I would rather have supped with al Qaeda in a guano-strewn cave.

At some point, Mum turned to — on might be the more exact preposition — Kate, informing her that she (Mum) had been an alternate juror in the murder trial of Kate’s father’s first cousin Michael Skakel. Skakel, nephew of Ethel Kennedy, Kate’s grandmother, was (as you might be aware) the defendant in a sensational murder trial in Stamford several years before, for the 1975 murder of 15-year-old Martha Moxley. Having presented this astonishing and perfectly untrue credential, Mum then proceeded to launch into a protracted lecture on the villainy of Kate’s relative.

Leave aside the issue of Skakel’s culpability, for which he is, at any rate, currently serving a 20-years-to-life sentence. Over the years, I heard Mum utter whoppers that would make Pinocchio look button-nosed, but this one really took the prize, in several categories, the first being Manners. Why on earth would you inflict a jeremiad on an innocent 18-year-old girl, your own granddaughter’s best friend? The mind — as Mum herself used to put it — boggles.

This supper-table donnybrook I learned about over the phone, from breathless, reeling Cat and Kate once they reached the sanctuary of the pool after dinner, along with a much-needed bottle of wine. All I could say to poor Kate was a WASP variation on oy vey. By the time I put down the phone, my blood reached Fahrenheit 451, the temperature at which it starts spurting out your ears.

I breathed into a paper bag for a few days and then called Pup. “Well,” I said, “that sounded like a fun dinner. Sorry to miss it.” He feigned ignorance of the Skakel episode; perhaps he had excused himself early and gone upstairs to short-sheet her ladyship’s bed. He was, anyway, past caring at this, my 500th howl about Mum’s behavior. He tried to wave it away with a spuriously subjunctive, “But why would she say something like that if she weren’t a juror at the trial?” (Pup would have made a superb defense attorney) and changed the subject back to what kind of explosives work best for dislodging aristocratic British houseguests.

I remember the time I first caught Mum in some preposterous untruth, as she called it. It, too, featured British aristos. She grew up a debutante in a grand house in Vancouver, British Columbia, the kind of house that even has a name: Shannon. Grand, but Vancouver-grand, which is to say, provincial.

So one night, when I was 6 or so, sitting with the grown-ups at the dinner table, I heard Mum announce that “the king and queen always stayed with us when they were in Vancouver.” By “king and queen” she meant the parents of the current queen of England. My little antennae went twing? I’d never heard my grandparents refer to a royal visit, which is a pretty big deal. I looked at Mum and realized — twang! —that she was telling an untruth. A big untruth. And I remember thinking in that instant how thrilling and grown-up it must be to say something so completely untrue — as opposed to the little amateur fibs I was already practiced at, horrid little apprentice sinner that I was, like the ones about how you’d already said your prayers or washed under the fingernails. Yes, I was impressed. This was my introduction to a lifetime of mendacity. I, too, must learn to say these gorgeous untruths. Imaginary kings and queens will be my houseguests when I am older!

When Mum was in full prevarication, Pup would assume an expression somewhere between a Jack Bennystare and the stoic grimace of a 13th-century saint being burned at the stake. He knew very well that King George VI and Queen Elizabeth did not routinely decamp at Shannon. The funny thing was that he rarely challenged her when she was in the midst of one of her glorious confections. For that matter, no one did. They wouldn’t have dared. Mum had a regal way about her that did not brook contradiction. The only time she ever threatened to spank me was when I told her, in front of others, following one of her more absurd claims, “Oh, come off it!” Her fluent mendacity, combined with adamantine confidence, made her really indomitable. As awful as it often was, thinking back on it now, I’m filled with a sort of perverse pride in her. She was really, really good at it. She would have made a fantastic spy. Really, she would have made a fantastic anything. She was beautiful, theatrical, bright as a diamond, the wittiest woman I have ever known. (Whatever talent I possess as a “humorist” — dreadful word — I owe to her.) She could have done anything; instead, she devoted herself, heart, soul and body, to being Mrs. William F. Buckley Jr. (A full-time job.)