A crash course in citizenship

While browsing my blogroll this morning, I saw that “birthers” are planning a protest in Washington to challenge President Barack Obama’s legitimacy as a natural-born American. As I read the article, it amazed me just how uninformed people are when it comes to American citizenship requirements. Before I continue, let me clarify that I believe Obama was born in Hawaii and that this is for argument’s sake only.

We’re all taught early on that a person must be a “natural-born” U.S. citizen in order to become president. This can obviously mean being born on U.S. soil. What many people (including “birthers”) don’t know is that there are two paths to American citizenship at birth — jus soli and jus sanguinis.

Jus soli (of the soil) refers to the physical location of a person’s birth. Jus sanguinis (by blood) refers to a person’s ancestry. A person born of non-citizen parents in the U.S. would be a natural-born American citizen by virtue of jus soli. A person born in the U.S. of American-citizen parents would be a natural-born American citizen by virtue of both jus soli and jus sanguinis. And a person born abroad of two American-citizen parents or an American-citizen mother would also be a natural-born American citizen by virtue of jus sanguinis, even if they don’t meet the jus soli requirement. The U.S. uses both, and both can be met exclusively.

Yes, kids. This means that even if Barack Obama had been born in Kenya, he would still be a natural-born U.S. citizen because his mother was a U.S. citizen, by virtue of jus sanguinis.

(Lest I be accused of playing favorites, this principle also applies to John McCain, who was born in the Panama Canal Zone to two American parents, while the Zone was a U.S. territory but before Congress had formally hashed out the citizenship of those born in the Zone.)

Now can the “birther” movement die already?


Have book, will travel

I spent the weekend visiting a friend in Lawrence, and after lunch, we headed to Border’s to look at the travel section. Sitting on a bench directly in front of the European section, I couldn’t believe just how many travel guides there were. I don’t know how anyone could pick out a travel guide, short of throwing a dart randomly at the shelf.

There were maybe 20 different travel guides just for London, and I can bet that probably 90 percent of them tell readers to see Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Do you really need a travel guide to tell you that? You also don’t need a Paris travel guide to tell you to see the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.

I prefer travel guides and travel writers who give me credit for already knowing about the big tourist sites. I know that if I’m in Rome, I need to see the Vatican. But at night, after the museums close, where should I go for a drink? Where’s a good place to eat? Are there any tips and tricks on how to avoid lines, where to catch the train and when to hit the town’s flea market?

That was a major consideration when I was planning my travel magazine for the journalism elective credit. I wanted something that would give students studying abroad a taste of authenticity, telling them that they were living in these places and actively participating in day-to-day events. I wanted the magazine to take the snippets in travel guides and expand on them.

Which brings me to my personal favorite travel guide: Let’s Go. My friend and I used the European guide on our backpacking trip. It helped us find an incredible variety of non-touristy restaurants, including a beer house in Munich, a wienerschnitzel restaurant in Salzburg, a tapas bar in Barcelona and the best Italian food I’ve ever had in Florence. We learned what days to avoid hitting the museums, were warned of sites that were tourist traps and also found some great bars. While the major attractions were all covered, most of the book discussed practical considerations.

My goal when traveling is to never (or rarely) be tagged as a tourist. To me, a tourist is gaudy, rude, loud, uninformed and gawking. I had a terrible experience with a pushing, shoving and rude group of American tourists (all in their 40s and 50s) at the Vatican and swore I’d never be like that. I’ve had Britons ask me for travel advice on the Tube, and in Madrid, German hostelers asked me about places to eat, auf deutsch. I’m flattered when people assume, based on my attitude, carriage and actions, that I know what I’m doing. And a lot of that is down to knowing what travel guides cater to travelers, and which ones cater to tourists.

A typical night-editing shift at the Kansan

True story: I have recurring dreams (nightmares?) where I still work at the Kansan. Sometimes I’m stuck behind a computer writing HTML for the site. Other times I’m in the reporting class, and still others I’ve had people actually come to my house and tell me that I have to “be editor next semester, because there isn’t anyone else to do it.”

Mostly, though, I have dreams about night editing. From August 2007 to May 2009, I lived in the newsroom Wednesday nights, either night editing, designing or copy editing. It’s a blur of nearly missed deadlines, late basketball games, hyphens where there should be em dashes and that “” bastard who somehow always had something open.

It can be difficult to describe night editing to a layperson. Can’t be that bad, right? For educational purposes, I present “Night Editing At The University Daily Kansan.” (Yes, reading Cracked has caught up with me and I’m now fascinated with flow charts.)

The digital copy desk

When I saw the new Ask the Recruiter post this morning, about making yourself more valuable as a copy editor, I had a hunch that the skills in question didn’t necessarily have anything to do with editing.

I was right, more or less.

The three main skills mentioned all have to do with Web content: search-engine optimization (SEO), tagging and analytics.

SEO is a skill that most copy editors possess even if they might not know it. Whenever you write a Web headline and are thinking of words that will make the story pop up in a search engine, you’re practicing SEO. Tagging is similar, although it’s more of a behind-the-curtain thing. And analytics basically breaks down your site traffic to determine what days, posts, pages and so on drew the most traffic.

The post reminded me of the shift in copy-editor education and workload during my last semester at the Kansan. For several semesters before, uploading Web content had been the domain of a nightly Web producer. Having done it myself, I can say that it was a pretty thankless job. Also, I kind of had to sit in the corner of the newsroom when I did it, something that kind of stung…

During my second semester as managing editor, we took a new tack and upgraded the Web producers’ jobs to more multimedia-based work, “hiring” students in the online reporting class. The job of uploading nightly Web content fell to the copy desk, which I’d worked on the previous semester.

Before the semester began, I typed up a (ridiculously minute) step-by-step guide for every copy editor. It was basically a crash course in Ellington, our CMS. I tried to think of every pop-up error and red flag that had ever plagued me, and gave troubleshooting instructions on how to fix it. How to set the time stamp? In there. Correcting a rogue ampersand? Done. Priority levels? Check.

The biggest issue was selling the idea to the copy editors. Why should they have to do this when someone else had always done it before? Cue my spiel about online priorities, well-written Web heads, the need to be flexible, the need to think beyond the print medium and, most importantly, the fact that they were going to do it as part of their grade.

After almost three straight weeks in the newsroom every night training the copy desk, I finally trusted them to help each other and fly solo. By the end of the semester, most of them had it down cold, several of them told me they preferred Web uploading to their actual editing duties and the midnight, panicky phone calls had stopped.

While I’m sure most of them saw the work as tedious (occasionally), difficult (when the system was pissy), beneath them (not really) or boring (guilty), they all left their editing class with something to add to their CVs: They had experience using a CMS, knew basic HTML and could write a Web head that would land on the top of a Google search. And I daresay those things will come in handy during their job searches, more so than even their (gasp!) print-based editing.

What senators say about health care

As a copy editor, I’ve learned that a lot of writing comes down to simple word choice. Same holds true in politics. One word in place of another, or one word repeated over and over, holds immense power. In the ongoing debate over health-care reform and its implementation, senators’ manifestos hold keys to their stances, priorities and plans.

Below are two Wordle creations, using the text of 10 U.S. senators’ health-care manifestos on their Web sites. Each Wordle represents the top 50 words found in the manifestos, compiled together. One Wordle is from the text of five Democratic senators, and the other is from the text of five Republican senators. The words “health” and “care” were removed beforehand from both composites. Without scrolling below (read: cheating), can you guess which Wordle belongs with which party?

The top Wordle belongs to the Republican senators, and the bottom Wordle belongs to the Democratic senators. (Republicans: Tom Coburn, Sam Brownback, Jon Kyl, Richard Shelby and Olympia Snowe. Democrats: Claire McCaskill, Harry Reid, Debbie Stabenow, John Kerry and Mark Udall.)

Were you right? If not, why do you think you missed it? And if you were right, what words clued you in?

Wordle only tells part of the story. It measures frequency, not context. And you’ll notice a substantial amount of overlap in the words — insurance is the most-used word of both parties, and Americans is a word both also use liberally.

I have to say that the word that jumped out at me most was Medicare. It’s one of the “medium” words in the Republican word cloud, but is the second- or third-most used word in the Democratic cloud, more used even than Americans. Further combing suggests that Republicans are likelier to discuss the process and risks of the legislation — bill, senate, congress, increase, legislation — while Democrats are likelier to tout their legislative success and specific actions — Medicare, coverage, seniors, businesses, ensure. I thought it was interesting that words like coverage, seniors and affordable had about the same amount of usage by both parties.

What do you think each Wordle says about the parties and their health-care stances?

Into “The Pacific”

If you have HBO and aren’t yet watching “The Pacific,” I highly recommend it.

I watched “Band of Brothers” on HBO when it aired eight and a half years ago, right before the Sept. 11 attacks. I remember it feeling larger than life, sprawling and “important.” On the other hand, I also remember losing track of the characters and having a difficult time forging connections with many of them, just because of how many of them there were.

“The Pacific” succeeds in that area where “Brothers” faltered. Rather than following an entire company, “The Pacific” focuses on three specific men: Robert Leckie, John Basilone and Eugene Sledge. That makes it feel much more intimate and personal. It’s easier to become engaged in and committed to the three men, who are all interesting and unique in their own ways.

It also helps that the three leads (James Badge Dale, Jon Seda and Joe Mazzello, respectively) have all so far been pretty outstanding. You’ll probably find yourself favoring one guy above the others, and for me it’s Badge Dale, whose Leckie is smart, cynical, ornery, just a shade less than insane and deeply poetic. (For my film geek friends, Badge Dale played a significant role in the elevator scene at the end of “The Departed;” yes, that elevator scene. He’s also quite cute and may follow me on Twitter at any time.)

Speaking of film geekery, if Joe Mazzello looks vaguely familiar, it’s because he played little Timmy in “Jurassic Park” back in 1993. And for my fellow “Eurotrip” lovers (it’s one of my favorite guilty pleasures), try to spot Jacob Pitts, aka Cooper, among the Marines in Leckie’s company.

The series is about halfway done. Guadalcanal, Melbourne, Cape Gloucester and Pavuvu are behind, while Peleliu, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and the endgame are ahead. Even knowing what happens, who lives and who dies, I’m eager to see how it unfolds.

I make no secret of being a military history enthusiast, and WWII in particular. It’s something I can share with my dad — we’re watching the show together — and I believe it’s something people my age know appallingly little about. In the end, though, I don’t read and watch WWII material out of patriotism or duty or anything like that. At its heart, it’s a series of great stories that need to and deserve to be told. And I’m a sucker for good stories.

“The Pacific” airs new episodes at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT Sundays on HBO. Older episodes are available on demand, and repeats air throughout the week. April 11 will be the show’s fifth episode of 10. Here’s the official trailer from HBO.

If you’re interested in reading more about the individual men, you can pick up “Helmet For My Pillow,” written by Leckie, and “With The Old Breed,” written by Sledge. Right now I’m reading “Guadalcanal Diary,” by embedded journalist Richard Tregaskis. There’s plenty of good reading material out there.

Semper fi.