Aug. 25th, 2012 06:45 pm
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The greatest article of retraction that I ever read ran on December 17, 2003, on the front page of the first section of the Virginian-Pilot newspaper. It was part of my job to go through this paper each day. (On Sunday they had crossword puzzles from both the NY Times and the LA Times, and I'd save these pages for trips. I miss that!) On this particular day, my eyes were greeted by a follow-up article to an original article I hadn't seen — I'd only been in the area since 1985:
A story and headline in the Dec. 18, 1903, Virginian-Pilot contained errors.

Orville Wright was the pilot for the first flight of the Wright Flyer. It was not Wilbur, whose name is not spelled Wilber.

The plane's wing span was 40 feet, 4 inches. The wings were 6 feet 2 inches apart vertically and 6 feet, 6 inches from front to rear. They were covered in muslin, not canvas.

The engine rested on top of the lower wing. It did not hang below it.

The propellers had two blades each, not six. They both were mounted on the rear side of the wings. There was no propeller providing upward force.

Rudders in the front and rear and warping of the wings controlled the plane. There was not a single, huge fan-shaped rudder that could be moved side to side and raised and lowered.

The pilot lay prone on the lower wing. There was no pilot's car.

The Wrights have always said they were equal inventors of the machine. Wilbur never took credit as the chief inventor. The brothers had no plans to build a much larger machine and never did.

Their success came after four years of work, not three.

They took one trip to the Outer Banks in the summer and two trips in the fall prior to 1903. They did not spend almost the entire winter, fall and early spring on the Outer Banks for three years.

They arrived on Sept. 26 in 1903, not on Sept. 1.

The plane took off under its own power after traveling 40 feet down a rail on flat land. It was not sent down a slope after Orville Wright released a catch. The engine was started before takeoff. It was not started after the plane had rolled halfway down a 100-foot hill.

The plane flew 120 feet, 8 to 10 feet off the ground in a straight line on the first of four flights. It did not soar 60 feet in the air. It did not circle and fly 3 miles over breakers and dunes. It did not tack to port, then to starboard.

The plane's ground speed was 8 to 10 mph. Its air speed was 30 to 35 mph. It did not fly at 8 mph.

The plane hit the ground nose-first after its fourth flight, damaging the front rudder mechanism, and was later destroyed by a gust of wind. It did not descend gracefully and rest lightly at a spot chosen by the aviator after one attempt.

Five onlookers helped the brothers and watched the flights. A small crowd did not run after the plane and give up after it outpaced them.

The flight took place at the foot of Kill Devil Hill. Orville Wright did not declare the flight a success before a crowd on the beach after the first mile. The flights were not on the beach.

Wilbur Wright was 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighed 140 pounds. His eyes were blue-gray and his hair dark brown. He was not 5 feet 6 inches tall and did not weigh 150 pounds. He did not have raven-hued hair. His eyes were not deep blue.

Orville Wright was 5 feet 8 inches tall and had blue-gray eyes and dark brown hair. He did not have black eyes. He did not have sandy blond hair.
The article referred to can be seen here, thanks to the Smithsonian.

It's possible I have the article among my boxes. I found it today with a search at the Pilot Online, then I bought the article for $1.95, then I searched on a phrase in it and found that the article was carried by many other newspapers, so I copied the text from the Floridian of St. Petersburg.

I find it entirely commendable that a news organization can clear up the record this way, without fear of looking foolish. Indeed, I suspect they were saving the article for the anniversary of the original occasion. The Virginian-Pilot account of the flight was pretty much the first, and can be found at the Smithsonian's web site as part of a lesson plan for the historic event.

Footnote: Driving through Dayton, I saw (and photographed) the present-day incarnation of the Wright Brothers' firm, which (if I understand correctly) was sold quite a few years ago, but which continues to be a going concern. I'm sorry that we have lost Neil Armstrong today, but at least some names are still with us whose bearers have helped us in the ongoing quest to (in whatever degree and for whatever duration) get off the Earth.
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"A CALMING INFLUENCE. Nykia Crawford, who had a cyst removed in Newark, N.J., was nervous until she got a Game Boy, said her mother, Shani Willis. [story above]"

As I saw this random paragraph in the paper today, I could just about hear a late-night comic commenting on it. The tune was there, but not the words. And yet, there's so much potential! Newark! A cyst! Game Boy! Why, there must be three or four real chuckles in there. If only we could find them! What wonderful things would those jokes tell us? And why aren't we looking for them? Why are we still importing yoks from abroad, and relying on untried Canadian stand-ups for our most vital humor positions?

You can say it's hopeless, but I refuse to give up. We must work together, and restore America to its rightful place as the Funniest Nation On Earth. We can do it! I don't have all the answers, but I have some suggestions for people funnier than myself to work on.

We can't do ethnic humor any more, but what about humor based on previously unexploited physical differences? What's the last time you heard -- or made -- a good joke about double-jointed people, or the pigeon-toed? A good starting point is for them to make the jokes themselves, and then you can repeat them. If anybody gets mad, you get defensive and say that you heard it yourself from a repeat knuckle-cracker, so WHERE'S THE HARM?

Numbers are underappreciated sources of humor. I blame innumeracy, but I think if we start simple, with witty bon mots on funny digits (and don't forget the smutty ones!) and simple operations, and once the populace is 'hep' to us, we can pull out the real knee-slappers. Like, N! (N factorial) is the product of the series A times B times C times D... and so on up to N. I made that one up myself!

Literalism is good, too. Okay, I can't go on right now. I have to go to work, where I use much of my brain for the task of not being funny. But I'd like to leave you with something. Ah. Here's something. I went into this night club, because I heard they had a great piano player. I was somewhat disappointed, though, when he started. His hands were clumsy, and mostly stayed put on a single position and played a boring "oom-pah" accompaniment. That only went on a few seconds, though, and to my amazement, he put his face down on the keys and started playing a solo! His lips were incredibly strong. He could play smooth scales, and by holding his jaw at different angles, he was able to perform glissandos in thirds and fifths. The most amazing thing was how he did a trill. He held his hands away from the keys so we could see it was just done with his mouth. I was so impressed, I went up to him during a break and told him he had fantastic chops.
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I saw in the paper today that there's a woman in California who basically takes responsibility for babies born and abandoned. The coroner calls her, and she comes into that room and prays and talks to the baby and gives him or her a name and wraps them in a homemade quilt and gives them a burial. She's very religious and gets by on a relative shoestring. In her other free time, she talks to people, trying to make them aware of the laws that say they can bring the child to a hospital and not face charges, feeling that if they only knew, they wouldn't leave these infants to their death. She just wants them to know.

Anyway, she won the lottery. Of course, she'll use most of the money to keep doing her work for her "angels." She feels that maybe they did this for her, and she's happy to think of them playing in Heaven. You know, usually I don't care who wins the lottery. She says this is only the third time she and her husband bought a ticket.

Nice world sometimes. Good things can even happen to good people.
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Norfolk lost another zoo animal this past week when a white rhino drowned in its moat. I cleaned up a week's worth of southside papers at work yesterday, and learned what happened -- the rhino was chasing around with a zebra and fell in. Apparently, they engaged in horseplay from time to time in the enclosure they shared. Witnesses say the zebra was chasing and nipping at the rhino when it ran into the moat.

Dang. It was the zebra. No doubt a funny remark is called for, but I seem to have no motivation. The zebra.
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In the September 20 Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk), there's an story by Denise Batts on a T-shirt/airbrush shop that has taken on some of the aspects of a shrine. I'd like to link to it, but I can't find the article online, so I will quote from it here a little.

Owner and artist Shaukat Malik started the business seven years ago at the Military Circle mall in Norfolk, then four years ago, "a group of friends came into Malik's shop and asked him to create a shirt with the letters R.I.P. and a scanned photo on the front... But the friends didn't want the shirt. They asked him to hang it high in the corner... Then another customer came in and asked for the same thing. Then another. And another..." The story pauses to examine several of the shirts, which occupy a wall in the store; about a fourth of the space. "Malik remembers when Larry and a friend rushed in one night, just before closing time. He carried photos of his mother and pleaded with Malik to make a shirt for her. It was her birthday. Malik gave in. 'He was so happy,' Malik said, grinning at the memory." The next day, Larry's friend came back for an R.I.P. shirt with Larry's picture. "'No, what do you mean? I just saw him last night.'" Malik said. "'And he was killed last night,'" said the friend.

"Lines and lines of males go by, 19, 21, 25, grinning, trying to look tough, laughing, lying in a coffin. Malik waves his hand across the screen. All dead, he mumbles. 'Most have at least one child. They all have little babies.' Then he stops on one photo, double-clicks and a young man sitting on a red brick porch jumps into focus. It's Troy Jordan, Malik's foster child. Malik and his wife took him in when he was 14 or so." Ten years later, Troy was shot and killed, leaving a wife and children. Malik can't bear to put his picture on the wall. "'I just don't want to remember.' But others do."

The story describes people who come in every day to gaze at the wall of shirts. "'Grandma, why do they have these pictures?' 'They're people who're resting in peace, baby.'" People like Pat, Marie, Tank, Tony, Tam, Glesean, C.J., Easy, Lil' Doc, and I don't know how many more.

"Lately," the article concludes, "he's finding that he can't add shirts to the wall. Customers can still place orders and take them. The photos can stay in the computer, where friends can come by and look at their loved ones. But the faces won't go up behind the counter. The wall is full."

Night, all.

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