Lightening Up

On my most recent big trip, I was struck by lightening. Right, not lightning.

I walked hours through a city I did not know with my trusty laptop carrier. It was after a daylong conference. Compared to most briefcases, day packs or messenger bags, the canvas Domke Reporter’s Satchel is lightweight. After years of refining, I pack only the most essential elements. Heck, I carried an iPad instead of a MacBook.

As I slipped the strap off my shoulder onto the hotel room bed, I finally realized it was time to unload. There’s any number of writers, reporters and desk-jockey editors who carry what they need in their pockets. What did I need for this seminar anyway?

I have toted some kind of bag to work for quite some time. In fall 2010, I have to admit the most I take out of it daily is the work ID card. Once or twice a week, the Tums, some other first aid or a magazine. Maybe the calculator. Stuff like that. In a satchel or daypack (what I used before the Domke) that stayed half full.

I will not empty their contents on this page, but it seemed that essentials were what would be quite the nuisance if I had to go back home for them. That does not make these bits essential.

I began searching the Internet for ideas, and there was a fresh article in The Wall Street Journal. It was a Q-and-A for something to hold an iPad and just a little more. The author found two answers in history: the military’s map or document case and the musette.

The musette caught my eye. The army-navy type is too big, but a century ago the musette was appropriated by long-distance bicycle racers as a cloth lunch sack. Continue reading

Thank You for Your Coverage

The defenders of our country — Thank you for your service — must be made of tough stuff. That’s what military service means. Yet elements of the media worry, presume service personnel and veterans have thin skins.

“Garfield” on Veterans Day ran a routine cat comic strip. Many comics just did their daily gag, though there’s a number that are mindful of holidays. “Garfield’s” involved spiders and an invention of National Stupid Day and nervous publishers thought veterans would be offended. The articles on this indicate no veterans complained and some wondered why the nervousness.

A few days ago my Brick discussed about how hard it was to stop reading a comic strip one was hooked on. Reading about “Garfield” made me remember I have not read it in years. “Cathy” either.

Two months ago, the Portland newspaper — Maine’s Portland — ran a front-page feature on the Muslim holiday Ramadan on Sept. 11. Uh-oh. The paper ran an apology prominently.

Though the United States can be vulnerable — that’s what 9/11 is about, after all — we Americans pride ourselves on being rugged, free and having the best system of government. Yet when we obsess over “how things look” in the media, it is not things but we who appear insecure.

Newspapers cover things after they happen. 9/11 is written up for 9/12, outside of perhaps announcements of vigils and commemorations. So the Sept. 11 front page or TV lead story is mostly news, including a 9/11 preview. Veterans Day gets its reportage on Nov. 12, though newspapers run pictures of flags and bunting being set up a day or two beforehand as well as event announcements. On Nov. 11, a Thursday this year, news fans read the paper to see what happened on Wednesday with the local schools and President Obama, and a sports team. They might have recognize a picture of someone they know getting ready for a Armistice Day parade, too. And seen “Beetle Bailey” leading the comics page in honoring those who died or survived while fighting for this country or its allies.

In TV, newspaper and magazine planning of Veterans Day coverage, or that of Memorial Day, Flag Day, Fourth of July, the common byword for decades, particularly in small markets, is “you can’t run too much on veterans.” Interestingly, Veterans Day coverage in the local newspapers, at least one TV station, and an independent community news blog reported on the vets parade in Fayetteville yet failed to note the astounding lack of spectators.  The parade was well-promoted beforehand. So then there is a limit on news coverage of veterans?

An imaginary, ageless orange tabby probably is harmless to the wellbeing of the country. America is bigger than that. America is dogs and cats and possums, Snoopy and Garfield and Pogo.

Taking a Constitutional

What happens when a blogger, columnist or occasional writer dawdles is the the topic either gets away, gets old or gets stolen. Hats off to colleague John Brummett.

As of Nov. 2, Arkansas has three fresh amendments to the Arkansas Constitution. That will make the 88th Amendment, 89th Amendment and 90th Amendment.

I am bound by company rules not to make political endorsements, but since these have been voted on, it’s too late for endorsements. But it’s never too late to whine.

What will be the 90th Amendment widens the size of companies the state can woo with financial and other incentives. Arkansas needs new businesses for the jobs and stability they provide. Many states also attempt to bribe corporations with cheap loans or flexibility in zoning. Bribe? Well, yes. It’s wrong, but Arkansas can’t afford not to play the game. This is the only new amendment I supported.

The 89th Amendment will give the state Legislature authority to adjust loan rates, which until now had been tightly bound by the ol’ state constitution. I’m no authority but recall my (Republican) dad saying Arkansas’ rigid rate control may have toned down boom years, to where speculators and developers made less profit, but it also controlled inflation and recession problems for regular people, compared to other states. As such, banks and investors have tried to demolish the usury provision for decades, and in 2010 they finally made it. My problem is that this amendment gives the Legislature the authority, and the economists among them (if any) perhaps may not be as persuasive as lobbyists.

The 88th Amendment gives Arkansans the right to hunt and fish. You may recall the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution provides for a militia and rights to arms, may cover the same ground, and stream, and is under no threat. And the U.S. Constitution supersedes any state’s. This is the one ripe for mocking. Continue reading

Over and Under

Columnist Stu Bykofsky of the Philadelphia Daily News, despite being quite the extrovert, rarely finds himself a news subject. It’s because he’s first a journalist, although with his in-your-face style, that might seem surprising. This week, however, Bykofsky has landed in the cable yaks war, “yaks” being those chat-show hosts on the 24/7 news/comment channels, with articles in major publications and blogs elsewhere.

A quick sum-up. Bykofsky in his Nov. 4, 2010, column gave the results of a content analysis he did on whether the right’s Bill O’Reilly on Fox News or the left’s Keith Olbermann on MSNBC showed more opposing views on their programs. “Byko’s” piece can be seen as an analysis following the general elections of Nov. 2. Olbermann he found had less dissent on his show. Olbermann was suspended Nov. 5-8 (crossing a weekend) for violating NBC News policy by making political campaign contributions.

Bykofsky wanted to write a follow-up and tried to contact Olbermann by e-mail. They had a testy written dialogue, which somehow came to be published at the blog Phawker.com. Those who know Bykofsky can just hear his sarcasm. The trouble is, Olbermann sounded to the columnist like he would sound, too, but he wasn’t.

Olbermann denied writing the e-mails. Conservative cable yak Tucker Carlson has confirmed he pretended to be Olbermann and wrote the e-mails to Bykofsky. Carlson bought the website keitholbermann.com, including the address keith@keitholbermann.com. Carlson told Yahoo News: “Could you resist? It was just too funny.”

I’m not sure who’s the worse off for this, except Bykofsky, maybe. Olbermann is innocent here. Carlson had a gotcha. Byko? Well, he did not print Olbermann/Carlson’s e-mails so he did not misquote. If somehow this didn’t get out, it would’ve just been a routine day for Bykofsky: calls, messages, deadlines.

The Philly Daily News reports what happened here, and The New York Times version is here.

Bykofsky wrote me the following:

I got punk’d, as part of my quest to reach Olbermann for comment. I made an honest effort, and the whole story wouldn’t have been had not someone leaked it out. I also did a Monday piece on the Olbermann escapade. As far as I can tell, he didn’t respond to ANY reporter seeking his side. Today, I answered EVERY media’s request, from the NYTimes to Forbes.”

There’s a lesson here Continue reading

Third Quarter II, Into the Fourth

The Brick book list with sketchy reviews, continued.

Book List through October 2010

September 2010

Solar by Ian McEwan. Book on CD. The novel by the polished McEwan got mixed reviews but I liked it. It’s a successful comic novel whose hero is brilliant but a buffoon, who wages a cynical war against global warming. The audiobook concludes with a brief author’s interview, which indicated the ending pointed to a bright, comic future, and not sad and short-lived as I took it to be.

October 2010

Who Owns the Sky?: Our Common Assets and the Future of Capitalism by Peter Barnes. Didn’t finish. I might agree with most of it but it’s a book-length polemic, and I lost patience.

Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart. In paper, after trying an audio version a few months ago, I found I still didn’t like it. Hollow, sniveling characters.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson. Book on CD. Last of the trilogy. A newspaper story more than ever, as Blomqvist’s lover Erica now is editor-in-chief of a venerable, sleepy daily. Due to its popularity I had to return it to the library, after reserving it again; it’ll be winter before I get it back. Sure the trilogy’s conclusion wraps up loose ends, but it maintains the cleverness, the heart, and at its root the outrage against crimes against women.

Nox by Anne Carson. An elegy for a brother whom the longtime poet barely knew. In a box is one continuous card-stock page, folded accordion style, with nearly all pages appearing to be a scrapbook, printed/photographed realistically from the original collage. Clever and heartbreaking. Like any book of poetry — though this is more memoir than verse — it can be read in an hour or slowly pondered for a week.

Invisible by Paul Auster. Didn’t finish. Auster is quaint and subtly fun but I’m on strike against non-purposeful passive protagonists. Here is another one.

Thomas Paine by Craig Nelson. Book on CD. To date, I’m halfway through. A solid biography, no fluff. There’s almost more history than biography, but perhaps that’s necessary. I certainly need a refresher on the American and French revolutions.

The Principles of Uncertainty, by Maira Kalman. Kalman was on the Colbert Report promoting her newest, And the Pursuit of Happiness, but the library only had this (and a lot of her children’s books). The two adult titles look to be similar. They comprise illustrated ruminations, heavy on the ruminations though there’s paintings and a few photos on nearly every page. Very quick to read and you don’t want a week with it.

Our Tragic Universe, by Scarlett Thomas. I checked this out based on a mini-review in  The New Yorker. I’m a quarter of the way through. She’s good. As the magazine notes, Thomas’s asides about writing and storytelling are about as vital as her parody of a chick-lit plot.

It Takes Villages

Copyright 2010 Ben S. Pollock

Something that’s amazed me my entire adult life is how lousy a predictor childhood is of adult success.

Children reared with all the advantages, the latest psychology and/or consistent discipline — turn out as anything from national leaders to routinely stable mid-levels to layabouts. Children born in abusive families or to poverty — can repeat the previous generation or become presidents.

The second amazing thing is to hear adults blame childhood for everything, but that comes from something that once had been whispered, courtesy of the mass media, especially afternoon talk shows: Psychological counseling. The roots of failure or misbehavior are interesting, but current research indicates doubts: Focusing on a malady’s beginning may not hasten its cure. Sure the psycho with a machine gun was beaten up as a kid but … duck!

Every once in a while you come across someone who credits his or her sound childhood with being well-adjusted and successful. (See: Bill Gates)

I’d blame my own mom and dad, but they sure tried hard. My reticence, shyness, eagerness to please and reluctance to offend is due to childhood. Those are drawbacks to ambition. However, those traits can be adapted into qualities, which is up to me.

In the early 1990s, I wanted to free-lance a column to a Little Rock alternative weekly, initially called Spectrum. At that point, the late Tony Moser was editor; I knew him from when he worked at the Arkansas Democrat. Tony was brilliant and a character and in not a good way, an alcoholic. Praise from colleagues and superiors was split oddly: Half called him a great reporter and a lousy writer and the other half said the opposite. [I believe a journalist cannot be one without the other.]

Spectrum’s office was above Juanita’s restaurant. I recall everything but the exact quote, but as I sat across from his desk Tony rejected my samples, saying something like:

You hold back, Ben. If you let it out, your column might be interesting, and we might use it.”

Tony might have made a sincere assessment, or he might have been being a jerk. That’s something you learn after a while: People don’t always say what they mean, or they mean what they say at the time but may not have thought it through, or their memory of their opinion is faulty. In any case they might be right.

Darn straight I “hold back” deliberately, for clarity, for polish and to avoid offense unless I intend to offend. That should make the writing better, right?

OK, I almost never want to offend, so Tony Continue reading