ArtSunday: LIterature

Writing more than ever despite not being able to write…

Americans are writing and publishing more than ever; meanwhile, arguments rage about the inability of Americans to write and what educators should do to address this perceived inability. 

Ursula Le Guin (image courtesy Wikimedia)

In a recent interview with Salon, author Ursula Le Guin bemoans the lack of skill she sees in aspiring writers. Le Guin blames the problems she sees in writers – serious, well educated people – on a lack of two sets of skills. First, she notes that she sees many people trying to write who don’t have solid language management skills: they lack solid backgrounds in syntax (sentence structure) knowledge and they have weak vocabularies so that they do not easily see possibilities in sentence construction or word choice that would give their writing imagination and vigor. The other problem Le Guin observes is that the way in which many people attempt to become writers – through creative writing programs – does many nascent writers harm by forcing them to submit to a form of group think.

In a recent Washington Post op-ed, writer Natalie Wexler attempts to explain “Why Americans can’t write.” Wexler’s thesis, that Americans do not get adequate writing instruction, meshes nicely with Le Guin’s observation. One can easily conclude that, if Wexler is correct in her claim that Americans get too little writing instruction, it is only natural that their creative writing efforts would suffer from the sort of grammar and syntax deficiencies that Le Guin mentions.

As with most easy explanations, this one leaves some questions unanswered. Continue reading


How a man dies, part 1

Life is crazy. Death is weird.

My father-in-law passed away a year ago tomorrow, August 8th. The photograph just below of him and my mother-in-law is from the week before he died. I miss him, and one year on I’m not dealing well with his passing. But my mother-in-law is remarkable, and I rarely express my deepest feelings to people very well. But still having her around makes things more beautiful, and bearable.


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Homeland Security Precrime

Security vs privacy: RadioLab and the case for the surveillance state

Homeland Security PrecrimeWe all love freedom and the Constitution. But is it really that simple?

I’m a huge fan of a good debate. And by “debate” I don’t mean the sort of ginned-up scream-lie-and-spinfests we have come to associate with the term in the past few decades. No, I mean spirited, intelligent, thoughtful exchanges between parties with honest, good-faith disagreements. Lucky me, I tripped across one today.

My new friend – the lovely Christine – recently turned me onto RadioLab, and I’ve been streaming some of their podcasts while I work out. Today I listened to one that’s as fascinating as it is disturbing. It’s called “Eye in the Sky,” and if you’re plotting any crimes I suggest you give it a few minutes of your time before you pull the trigger, so to speak. Continue reading


Tension on display between public officials and the press

Hillary Clinton is not the only public figure trying to put journalists in their place.

Earlier this month, the former Secretary of State angered reporters when staffers from her presidential campaign kept the media at bay – with a rope – while she marched in a Fourth of July parade in Gorham, New Hampshire.

This week, two highly visible exchanges illustrated the less-than-affable nature of the relationship between today’s public figures and the men and women who cover them. Continue reading


Do we have a ‘Big Foot’ problem with the news?

When I worked in public relations, we called the process “big footing.”

If we knew some damaging or negative news was likely to break on a given day, we would plan our own announcement and hope it would big enough to divert attention from – or “big foot” – whatever announcement was likely to -play poorly with the press and the public.

Given the convenience of the Internet and social networks, the process of “big footing” is even stronger today, and sometimes it takes place without a push from a PR or communications pro.

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CNN’s ‘Courageous’ — recycling an idea that was bad decades ago

Move along, now. There’s nothing new here. Really.

From the Wall Street Journal’s Steven Perlberg:

CNN is creating an in-house studio that will produce news-like content on behalf of advertisers, a move that reflects marketers’ growing desire for articles and videos that feel like editorial work.

CNN calls its foray into “news-like content on behalf of advertisers” by the name “Courageous.” But it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.

Marketers know their ads generally compete with other content. Continue reading

Politics: Don't Tread on Me

A poll says we’re fed up with big money in politics, but will it end?

From a New York Times story this week:

Americans of both parties fundamentally reject the regime of untrammeled money in elections made possible by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and other court decisions and now favor a sweeping overhaul of how political campaigns are financed, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll.

A ray of hope? A touch of sunshine? Can our long national nightmare of billionaire-bought elections be ending?

Yeah. Right.

And by a significant margin, they reject the argument that underpins close to four decades of Supreme Court jurisprudence on campaign finance: that political money is a form of speech protected by the First Amendment. Even self-identified Republicans are evenly split on the question. [See the poll questions.]

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Politics: Democrats vs Republicans

To your favorite politician, you are merely marketable data

I have given my last dollar to a politician. I will never again “like” a politician. I will never again click the “donate” button. Hell, I won’t even click a link to a politician’s website. I will stop following and friending politicians.

I’m just data to politicians, and they can and do sell me.

Headline from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Political fundraising campaigns manage debts by selling data
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ArtSunday: LIterature

Book Review: Derail this Train Wreck by Daniel Forbes

What Forbes is after is not easily achieved: he seeks to portray both a society in crisis and the life of a person who, in crisis himself, still strives to draw public attention to the social crisis in hopes of saving, if not himself, at least that society. Derail This Train Wreck is a ray of light in a world going dark.

Derail This Train Wreck by Daniel Forbes (image courtesy

Derail This Train Wreck is a book of our times. It has elements of the near future dystopian tale so popular in our times. Its political satire veers between the somberly apocalyptic vision of a Truthout piece and the tongue in cheek irony dripping humor of an article from The Onion. And its domestic/romantic plot line (a failed relationship and the struggle of the parties to reorient their lives) is the stuff of which our lives and those of many we know is made. That Daniel Forbes has been able to weave these disparate elements into a narrative that is not simply cohesive but compelling is to his great credit – and the reader’s delight. Continue reading

Internet and Social Media

Eight seconds — why the NYT caves, and Facebook wins

An impatient audience wielding smartphones says, ‘We want it NOW.’

Eight seconds.

Count with me, please: one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, one thousand four, one thousand five, one thousand six, one thousand seven, one thousand eight.

Eight seconds. That snippet of time, about 1/300,000,000 of an actuarial life, has driven The New York Times (among others) into the inviting arms of a Facebook lusting for revenue. Eight seconds. That’s the time Facebook says a user endures after she clicks on a Facebook link to a third-party site like

About 15 percent of The Times’ digital traffic arrives via Facebook. Continue reading


Revolving door spits out a Koch lobbyist for McConnell’s ‘policy chief’

The road to personal riches and political influence in Washington, D.C., is well trod. From Congress to K Street and back. From the White House to K Street and back. From numerous executive branch appointments to K Street and back. It’s called “the revolving door.” (If you’d like a close look at how many former government employees and members of Congress have been seduced by the fat purses at K Street, the good folks at the Center for Responsive Politics will provide you details.)

Yes, I know: This isn’t news. It’s historical; it has happened for generations. It rarely draws the attention it ought to. (Hear that, CNN? New York Times? Washington Post? Network news? Get off the dinner party circuit, risk losing your access to the powerful, and dig into these people.)

But every now and then, a door revolves and disgorges something so egregious that any hope, any last shred of hope, that decent, fair, legislatively productive government is possible fades to black.

Meet Hazen Marshall (here and here). You can see in his LinkedIn profile that he’s “revolved” before.

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You, too, can be a journalist (or a corporate message control specialist)

I asked my students as the semester ended: “How many of you do not want to be journalists?”

Most raised a hand, albeit timidly. (I am, after all, a professor of journalism.)

“How many of you wish to work in PR or advertising?”

Several raised their hands. I smiled – in the evil way they say I do when I’m setting them up for the kill.

“If you plan to work in PR and advertising, then I’ll bet you’re going to be working as a journalist,” I said.

Confused looks ensued.

Suppose they take jobs with a mattress company, thinking they’ll be pushing sleep products — writing ads, doing media buys, all the sorts of things PR and advertising flacks do.

But at Casper, a start-up company, they’ll likely be working as journalists. Continue reading


Pulitzer-winning Colorado Springs Gazette ignores calls to correct their falsehood-filled global warming editorial

The Pulitzer-winning Colorado Springs Gazette has been informed twice about blatant falsehoods in their April 23, 2015 global warming editorial. The editorial board has failed to even acknowledge their error, never mind correct or retract the editorial, calling into question their journalistic integrity.

August ice extent trend by NSIDC

August ice extent trend by NSIDC

On April 23, the Colorado Springs Gazette wrote an editorial on the subject of global warming that contained four factual errors and several distortions, failed to credit sources, and appeared to be largely based on an 2014 infomercial for a free market group that denies the reality of global warming (aka climate change or industrial climate disruption1). S&R documented the many problems with the editorial in a post published on April 27, and I emailed the Gazette’s editorial page editor Wayne Laugesen with one example error and asked for comment. S&R received no response.

On April 29, I submitted a letter to the editor via email that documented the four factual errors and called for a retraction. It has now been 10 days since I submitted the letter and I have received no response to my call for a correction or retraction of the editorial, nor has my letter been published by the Gazette. At this point I have to conclude that the Gazette’s editorial board has no intention of correcting or retracting their error-filled editorial, and so I have published my letter to the editor below. Continue reading

Democrats embrace Citizens United in defense of Clinton

As reported from the actual left

Democrats Embrace Citizens United in Defense of Clinton

Hill just loves her some big money in politics. And the party machinery that spent years on end crying foul about it before? Suddenly they just loves ’em some big money in politics.

I think Hill should just stick with a snappy one-liner that’s served her well so far.

“What difference – at this point, what difference does it make?”


Pulitzer-winning Colorado Springs Gazette publishes error-filled global warming editorial

Four errors of fact, two innuendos, one serious distortion, and one uncredited image, any one of which should render an editorial unpublishable. Yet the Gazette’s editorial contained all of them.

On April 23, the Colorado Springs Gazette published an editorial titled “Stop ‘global warming’ hysteria.” In a 560 word editorial, the Gazette made four serious errors of fact, failed to credit the source of an image, repeated a distortion, and made two innuendos about global warming data, science, and scientists. To say that this is disappointing is an understatement. Readers expect their newspapers to provide factually accurate information, and the fact that the Gazette won the 2014 Pulitzer for National Reporting just makes this editorial failure that much worse.

What follows is S&R’s detailed review of the many failings of the Gazette’s editorial. Continue reading


Dr. Oz: New York Times and bogus “equal time” coverage of predator quack

Once again, the New York Times gives journalism a black eye with Oz coverage

Looking at this chronology of the NYT’s coverage of the Oz story really makes me wonder why they’re giving him a reach-around.

Here’s my summary of the coverage as extracted from the above linked search results:

  • April 16, 2015: Real doctors criticize quack (AP)
  • April 17, 2015: Mention of quack criticism in: Friday Briefing and New York Today: Stuffed
  • April 17, 2015: Oz defends (AP via ABC as I’ve reached my NYT limit before everything is paywalled)

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Rolling Stone brass to undergrads: ‘Feel free to fuck up badly; you won’t get fired’

Rolling Stone’s flawed story and its reaction to a critical report make teaching journalism to the ‘instant gratification’ generation even more difficult

When Rolling Stone’s editorial apparatus published Sabrina Erdely’s story alleging a gang rape at the University of Virginia, it sent this message to journalism students everywhere:

• It’s okay to write 9,000 words and base the principal thrust of the story on only one source.
• It’s okay to take instructions from your one source to not speak to those who might undermine the source’s claims.
• It’s okay to shop for the best circumstances to write a story based on your own biased, preconceived narrative.
• It’s okay, because when the story blows up as dead wrong and leads to national and international condemnation, don’t worry: You won’t get fired, and your publication will feel no need to address the gaping holes in its “editorial apparatus.”
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Arnold Gingrich: a well tempered angler

“Actually, though being well read must be a part of the process, an angler is tempered chiefly by practice and experience, by learning and attempting to reach the successively higher goals of his sport, and thus acquiring, through any amount of disappointment and frustration, the satisfaction of knowing that he is doing the simplest thing in the hardest way possible.” – Arnold Gingrich

The Well-Tempered Angler by Arnold Gingrich. image courtesy

A slight detour from my pursuit of world literature classics via the 2015 reading list. I’ve had a couple of gifts this past week, both from my son Josh. The first gift is a new granddaughter, Susanna Quinn, our first grandchild and a wondrous new addition to the life of this old writer/professor/musician. Of course, in that endeavor he had notable assistance from his lovely wife Sandra, so credit where credit is due.  The second gift Josh bestowed upon me was a book – you may let your shock and awe begin. We were on our way  to pick up some dinner the evening that the amazing and lovely Susanna was allowed to come home from the hospital and when I got into Josh’s car, there was a book in the floorboard. “Take that, Dad,” he said. “I’ve been meaning to give it to you.” It was a copy of The Well-Tempered Angler by Arnold Gingrich. Having just muddled my way through Andre Gide’s Corydon and just become a grandfather, I was feeling the need for something – shall we say, self-indulgent? The Well-Tempered Angler fit the bill perfectly.

The book is on fly fishing, my favorite sport.  I’ve written about fly fishing, on a number of occasions now. You can read this and this and this if you feel so inclined. I shall probably write about fly fishing again.

I think we have established that I have a certain fondness for fly fishing. So did Arnold Gingrich. For anyone who finds the literature of angling of any interest at all, or for those with a curiosity about how those of the New York literary scene lived back in the heady days of White, Thurber, and Parker at The New Yorker, and Hemingway and Fitzgerald at Esquire, the various sections of this book will be delightful.  Continue reading