Indy Classics


The universe has converged in such a way that I will be working this weekend to complete a project by the end of the month.

Here’s a link to Salon, retracing Stephen Colbert’s Amazon evolution. I didn’t realize the war started long before the Hachette skirmish. Some episodes load slower than molasses in Buffalo, and “scorched earth” never did. If you only choose one segment, watch author and bookstore owner Ann Patchett shut him down, not once but twice.

All hail independent bookstores and their patrons!

Uber More Stupid


This post is a quick hit because I had a presentation tonight. Here’s a link to Poynter‘s update: “Uber’s plan to completely alienate the news media is going well.” The only comment I object to is the one about the Germans. Stupidity/evil knows no limits.

Uber Stupid?

The threats to journalists continue, this time from the world of tech. The incident started on Friday when an Uber exec said he thought the company ought to do “oppo” research on journalists “and specifically to spread details of the personal life of a female journalist who has criticized the company, per Buzzfeed.

According to Poynter exec Emil Michael tried to apologize but then hung up when she refused to speak off the record. He did post a seemingly unqualified apology on Twitter, except that he called her Sarah Cuda. But as  Sarah Lacy points out, this assault is merely the latest salvo. CEO Travis Kalanick had previously said he intended to use political researchers to “throw mud.” Is Uber so insecure that it can’t rest on the strength of its business model? Doesn’t it have enough money to hire people who can keep the execs on a leash?

Kalanick’s response to the controversy was met with derision because it was four days in coming and because with each subsequent tweet, he kept trying to deflect the conversation away from Michael.

The leadership of a popular and growing company exhibiting this type of bunker mentality shows that they don’t “get it.” Refusing to return calls, emails, etc., and hanging up on reporters is not the way to proceed. This follows the head-blind ads in France with nearly naked female “drivers,” among other tone-deaf adventures.

As to the journalists’ perspective, Poytner’s Andrew Beaujon raises a good point about what sort of dirt one could find on most journalists. He mentions Cayman Island bank account. I’m thinking more on the order of a raft of unpaid bills and parking tickets for anyone who functions in a metro area.

I tried to book an Uber ride when I was in NYC. So glad it didn’t work. Next time, I’ll choose Lyft, which has a much better reputation.


Cardinal Rules


Thank you to my Facebook friend Richard Baldi for the following quote from “The Recycled Catholic”:

A cardinal is a representative of a loved one who has passed. When you see one, it means they are visiting you. They usually show up when you most need them or miss them. They also make an appearance during times of celebration as well as despair to let you know they will always be with you. Look for them, they’ll appear.

My father put up bird feeders every winter and mostly succeeded in keeping away marauding squirrels and cats on safari. His favorite visitors were always the cardinals, which appeared in late fall and stood out against the grays and browns of the trees – and later against the white of the snow. I think he had some particular seeds that they liked and that suited their little curved beaks.

Some time later I was driving an elderly lady to church. I sent her a Christmas card one year that had a cardinal perched on an evergreen branch, something like the one above but with longer needles and no cones. I think I wrote, “When this bird you see/I hope that you will think of me” or words to that effect. My handwriting looked a bit odd, but I attributed it to fatigue. The lady called a few days after Christmas, all excited. She said she loved “the red bird” because it meant that her friend who had made the transition (she never said “died”) was nearby and thinking of her. She was convinced that I had channeled the friend.

Now when I see cardinals in this yard and on my walks, I think of my father and then I think of Vera. It’s comforting to know that they have a way to say, “Hello.”

Redux, Redux, Part III

afwp1 copyPicking up from my review of the last six months:

  • Legendary Locals (“My Brag”) has caused a stir.
  • The assault on journalists (“Frozen, Not Chilled“) continues and expands. The latest outrage is perpetrated by American law enforcement. See “CPJ condemns FBI agent posing as AP journalist in criminal investigation.”
  • Louie Zamperini remains a central focus of my life. I talk about Unbroken and Louie’s life on radio, to various organizations. The veterans’ writing group  is eagerly anticipating the arrival of the movie next month.
  • I am still basking in the glow of being a part of Marcia and Susan’s magical wedding. (“Denver Day 1” and subsequent entries.)
  • And a backtrack, which gives me another chance to promote my friend Wendy Black Nasta’s fabulous work. I went to her semi-annual jewelry sale tonight and met the woman who had asked permission to use words from “Meeting the Ancestors.” And I met one of the eye doctors who went on the trip last summer. She did exams on EIGHT HUNDRED people and was so modest about her role. I came home inspired to spend way more time doing Reiki at the hospital. So thrilled for the success of the venture — and for the beauty of her jewelry.

Hachette vs. Amazon, Finis?


Word arrived this afternoon that Hachette and Amazon have settled their differences. Amazon will restore the normal buttons to Hachette books over the next few weeks  and will resume normal shipping. Most important, Hachette will decide the price of its authors’ ebooks. The company “will benefit from better terms when it delivers lower prices for readers,” according to the Guardian.

It is a relief that this dispute is winding down. It won’t be over until the beginning of 2015 when the new agreement takes effect.

The larger concern remains, however. As I mentioned in “Hachette vs. Amazon, Encore,” Amazon has created a climate of distaste, if not aversion. It has given me great pleasure to buy books from the local retailers and to order items from other etailers. I’ll probably return to the ebehemoth at some point but will always look elsewhere first.

The great benefit is that authors who operate autonomously found a cooperative voice, outside of a union setting (which I also heartily endorse). To use an analogy that arises in connection with independent operators, organizing writers is like herding cats.  Amazon succeed in creating a pride of lions, which included  cheetahs, tigers, leopards, and a few mild-mannered house cats. Don’t know if the pride will continue to prowl in defense of writers, but just the knowledge that it happened is empowering.


No Copy, No Paste

A quick note to start: I heard weather ’casters in New York and Connecticut say with glee that the temp here was sixty degrees higher than it was in Denver. That would be sixty-four vs. four. If it’s any solace, the temp dropped ten degrees in the hour of my walk this afternoon, sixty-seven when I headed out, fifty-seven when I returned to the car. Plus the wind shifted from the balm of southwest to the knife of northwest.

Fareed Zakaria

Fareed Zakaria

Now to the main topic. Fareed Zakaria has come under the plagiarism microscope again. This time the WaPo has issued the pronouncement that five of his editorial contributions “strike [the editor] as problematic in their absence of full attribution.” I obtained that quote from Poynter, which obtained it from “Post finds ‘problematic’ sourcing in some Zakaria columns.

The charges are actually old news, since the most recent transgression appears to have occurred two years ago after Zakaria had been disciplined for similar “problems” in Newsweek and on Slate.

The source for all this latest round is “Our Bad Media.” The weird sidebar to the piece is that HuffPo czar Arianna Huffington, no friend of working journalists, has muzzled her pack because Zakaria complained.

The columnist in question produces a huge volume of material under tight deadlines. So do many other more august writers who’ve been accused of plagiarism, c.f., Doris Kearns Goodwin. (According to the Daily Beast , Slate has disavowed a Zakaria column.)

So here are two very small suggestions to reduce  this incestuous journalistic version of La Ronde: Eliminate the copy/paste function from all word processing programs and disable it on existing machines. Ditto automatic placing and numbering of footnotes.

Plagiarism (“using or stealing the words or ideas of others” according to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language) occurs all the time – see Romeo and Juliet / West Side Story. But it is made so much easier with the e-functions. Note that Lenny B. didn’t steal Willie S.’s words, merely the story, which he turned into a modern classic. If we all have to create our own narrative, the chances of plagiarism are reduced. Of course, per Oscar Wilde, if you’re a genius you are allowed to steal. Zakaria remains a talent, and even that status is under challenge, again.

Redux, Redux Part II

A Rose for Isis

A Rose for Isis

Here’s another section in the six-month review.

  • I’ve passed along “Why I Volunteer” to a number of people. Those hours at the hospital are even more important now than they were when I wrote it because the place just seems more welcoming. It’ll be seven years in February, and I’m thrilled to still be contributing.
  • Still doing that 7-minute workout (“Seven Minutes“), though not as often because the weather’s been great for walking. Still can’t do the push-ups and rotation, or the side plank. Since I just returned to my weight-lifting class after a month’s hiatus, I won’t be able to lift anything heavier than a tissue over the next few days. That bottle of ibuprofen has replaced coffee as my best friend for now.
  • The state of my office  remains hopeless. You were expecting otherwise?
  • Isis’s rose (“A Rose for Isis”) bloomed until just a few days ago. It cheers me to look at the picture.
  • Sushi California (“Better Than Sushi Friday“) remains spectacular, though a bit distracted now as it has expanded into the space next door and is adding a hibachi bar and more seating. PLEASE vent the hibachi with super fans.
  • Upset that Amazon is still bludgeoning the publishing industry. (“Authors Lose” and other entries.)
  • To end on a more frivolous note, I actually saw a gentleman, older and otherwise well groomed, walking around in a shorts suit this summer. (“Fashion Faux, Faux Pas” ) It wasn’t as scary as I expected but still a bit jarring.

What I’m Reading Now

halfAnother in an occasional series. There is a growing body of work connecting the growth of America to the institution of slavery. Ties between Ivy League schools and slave trading and owning cast the rise of those universities in a new light. Several years ago, I contributed to a project for the Hartford Courant entitled “Complicity: How Connecticut Chained Itself to Slavery.” A number of writers have acknowledged their families’ roles in perpetrating and perpetuating the cruelties and horrors of human bondage.

Now comes Edward E. Baptist with The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. Taking his title from a statement made by Lorenzo Ivy to a WPA interviewer, (“Truly, son the half has never been told”), Baptist creates a mosaic. He aims to tell the story of slavery chronologically using the various parts human body that the drivers, overseers, owners, and  other bottom-feeders exploited. The metaphor comes from Ralph Ellison: “On the moral level I propose we view the whole of American life as a drama enacted on the body of a Negro giant who, lying trussed up like Gulliver, forms the stage and the scene upon which and within which the action unfolds.”

The metaphor holds. The introduction, titled “Heart,” which includes Ivy’s statement, is dated 1937. Baptist then turns back to “Feet,” “Heads,” “Right Hand,” and so forth. I’m about to start on “Left Hand,” covering the period from 1805 to the start of the Civil War. He has managed to excavate from all manner of documents the painful and tragic lives of men and women dragged from homes and family in the “Old South” of Virginia and Maryland to the raw wilderness and malarial swamps of parts of the continent that had belonged to Spain and France.

The narrative illuminates the pain and horror. It also indicts every part of life in America – banks, insurance companies, the military, churches, and of course the government .

The Half is not easy to read. Emotionally wrenching is probably the best description. It also contains detailed charts and graphs and statistics to compile this serious indictment of the outrageous American way of life.