Sunday, April 25, 2010

Cussing in the press
( not a post for the readily offended)

Here is an intelligent discussion from the Guardian about the use of profanity in newspapers, or, more accurately, in their newspaper, which eschews asterisks in favor of a policy of either quoting a person or not quoting them.  Don't click if you don't want to see some naughty words. In fact, don't read any farther in this post if you don't want to see some naughty words.

The graphic above, tracing the rise of profanity in the Guardian, comes from a separate blog post and was referenced in the comments, which are far more interesting than comments at most news sites and are (thus) worth reading.

I agree with the Guardian writer, not only because I already felt that way but because he quotes Charlotte Bronte in his defense. Anyone who can quote Charlotte Bronte in defense of writing "fuck" has my vote right off the bat.

At the same time, I'd offer two observations:

1. As a reporter, it's unfair to use vulgarities yourself while conducting an interview, enticing your subject to also use vulgarities, and then quote him accurately without peppering a representative number of your own throughout the article to capture the tone of the discussion. It's entrapment, causing him to be depicted as someone who routinely goes blue in settings where others would not.

2. When I was in college, only a few years past the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley, my father sent me an article from either Harper's or the Atlantic Monthly about the rise of vulgarity, with the intriguing question, "If you say &*%$E##& in public, what do you say to a flat tire in the middle of the Golden Gate bridge at rush hour?" Alas, I am quoting from memory. Would love to read the piece again 40 years later and see how I feel about it now. But there is something to be said for reserving a few truly special expressions for those truly special moments.

Finally, just on the off-chance of confounding an assumption or two, I found this article referenced at Al Jazeera, in a posting about Malaysia's apparent loosening of language restrictions, specifically its non-censoring of the vulgarity-laden film "Kick-Ass."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Interview with an Earth Day organizer

I’m editing a weekly children’s publication for the Denver Post these days, and we did an Earth Day issue in which, on the front page, the young reporters talked about what they do (not “ought to do”) to help the environment, while I interviewed Morey Wolfson, who had been the organizer of the 1970 Earth Day observance in Denver. Morey is now the Transmission Program Manager at the Governor's Energy Office and has been (or still is, in some cases) Executive Assistant to the Commissioners at the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, a member of NREL's Federal Energy Management Program Team, member of the CRES Board of Directors, Solar Program Manager for the Colorado Energy Science Center, and sustainability consultant to David Owen Tryba Architects. I didn’t get to use much of this interview in the paper, so thought I’d share it here.

So how old were you when this happened, and how did it happen?

I was 24. I was involved in student government at Colorado University Denver, and student governments across the country were contacted by the national organizers. We looked at it and several of us saw that a lot of students at CU Denver were starting to think creatively about the environment. As it was, we had the third largest indoor event in the country at Currigan Hall. We had about 5,000 people there, and Senator Gaylord Nelson, who was the person who had started it all, came and spoke to us.

Nelson spoke there? That’s not bad!

It was a very good turnout. A lot of people bicycled in, and it was a young crowd. There were quite a few high school students whose teachers had looked at it and decided to let them leave school if they promised that they were going to go down to Currigan Hall. And there were a lot of college students, and a lot of just environmentally interested people.

This was more of a teach-in than a demonstration most places. Was that the case in Denver?

Yes, there were a bunch of speakers, and a lot of them were older people who were berating the younger people for not being more concerned with the environment. But it was a real mix of different kinds of concerns.

It’s hard to believe how little regulation there was in those days, until Nixon started the EPA.

They consolidated under the EPA a lot of very small and fractured governmental groups, and there were all these monumental laws being passed in '69, '70, '71, things that we now take for granted, 40 years later. It was a different period.

The Platte River was an open sewer. I'm a fourth generation Denverite, and I remember the big flood that wiped out the South Platte (in 1965), and, at that time, there were a lot of factories that used the river as a place to dump their effluents.Today you can go down on the riverwalk, and I'm not sure I'd put my kids in the water, but people do and you can do that today.

I kind of get the impression that, in subsequent years, there was more clean-up and fewer speeches on Earth Day.

I was involved in the activities over the following years for about five years, and, what we did in the following years was that we weren't holding teach-ins. It was more of the community clean up sorts of things. You'd see school children and community groups like Rotary organizing community clean up projects. I think it took the first Earth Day to get people to concentrate on the environment, and each year it grew from there.

It set forth a credibility, and I also think it was something that the older generation could relate to better. Parents could say to their kid, well, okay, you're only 14, but you can go get involved in this kind of counter-culture movement, because there was no element of “patriotism” involved. And I think people did start thinking more about the environment.

A lot of things stemmed from Earth Day and will for a long time. A lot of observers feel that it was a monumental part of American history because it helped set out the thought that allowed American people to show an example to the world.

One of the things I find, as we all get older, is that my friends who were in the Movement haven’t sold out, that the idea that the hippies all cut their hair and went to Wall Street is a lie. They’re teachers, social workers, they’re working with government agencies, they’re still trying to make things better.

I find that a lot of people I've come to know over time who are now involved in public service were inspired by not just Earth Day but by the women's movement, the Hispanic movement, the African-American movement. I think 1965 to 1975 was a period when a lot of these things were all coming together, and the people who were involved in those times were learning to find their voices and they continue now not in "protest" but because, as they grew older, they have gotten into positions of authority.

Was that first Earth Day a “protest” or a “demonstration”?

I think there was more "protest" later. I don't think we were as informed about the details at the time, and, you know, you protest after three or four years of trying, trying, trying, then you protest because you don't feel you're getting anywhere. But we weren't yet in that "we're sick and tired of this" place back then.

There were some powerful things that went on then. That picture of Spaceship Earth, which I think is one of the most viewed photographs ever, was on the front page of magazines, and then you have the man on the moon and Woodstock. I think the pump had been primed, and then you had the Santa Barbara oil spill and DDT issues, and the fact that Congress was moving to pass environmental laws, but it was all at the federal level and we needed legislation at the state level in order for it to work.

So, was it fun?

I had a lot of fun, yeah! It got a lot of people together, we had parties, and we had a lot of stuff to talk about after we pulled it off. Yeah, it was fun!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Fair, balanced, dishonest, incompetent

This would be funny if there weren't a lot of people for whom Fox News is their main source of information. The classic question arises: Is he a fool or a knave? Did Bill O'Reilly actually try to research examples and come up with nothing, in which case he is an idiot? Or is he simply lying because he knows his audience will believe anything he says, in which case, he is consciously undermining honest debate?

In the end, of course, it doesn't really matter. People believe him, and they vote accordingly.

He reports. They decide. And anyone sitting on their hands will simply have to live with the results.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Of religion, culture and productivity (updated)

I've been a little remiss in keeping up with Richard Henry Dana's blog over at "Two Years Before the Mast" and hope to do some formatting and scheduling so it will update more regularly.

Meanwhile, if you haven't visited or haven't done so lately, the current piece is well worth a look. Dana seems to vacillate between scorn for the unproductive crews of ships from Italy, Mexican California and the Sandwich Islands and envy of their more frequent holidays and liberties.

Here's a sample, but the rest is very much worth a read. The crew of the Pilgrim is aloft tarring the ship on the Monday after Easter:

After breakfast, we had the satisfaction of seeing the Italian ship's boat go ashore, filled with men, gayly dressed, as on the day before, and singing their barcarollas. The Easter holidays are kept up on shore for three days; and, being a Catholic vessel, her crew had the advantage of them. For two successive days, while perched up in the rigging, covered with tar and engaged in our disagreeable work, we saw these fellows going ashore in the morning, and coming off again at night, in high spirits.

So much for being Protestants. There's no danger of Catholicism's spreading in New England, unless the Church cuts down her holidays; Yankees can't afford the time. American shipmasters get nearly three weeks' more labor out of their crews, in the course of a year, than the masters of vessels from Catholic countries. As Yankees don't usually keep Christmas, and shipmasters at sea never know when Thanksgiving comes, Jack has no festival at all.

PS -- In other blog news, Weekly Storybook is now featuring oral histories from the WPA Writers Project. The current story is a droll recounting by his son of a preacher's inglorious attempt to eke out a second income as a Nebraska farmer in the 19th century.

Monday, April 05, 2010

The town they have loved so well

This report on the upcoming offensive against the Taliban in Kandahar is remarkable in that it does not show a background of mud huts and people with donkeys. Is it "bias" for Al Jazeera to show a modern city, or "bias" of other media to consistently depict Afghanistan as a 14th century nation?

I don't know and I don't much care. It's easier to wage war against a people who are nothing like you, but, then, the media for the most part couldn't conspire to order a pizza. Maybe it's a conspiracy, maybe it's incompetence, maybe it's a simple matter of showing what your in-country guides take you to see in the first place.

In any case, it's important to remember that, in whatever country at whatever time, a town in the middle of trouble is still someone's hometown. Here's a song written and sung by Phil Coulter about his hometown, Derry, that I'll bet plenty of people in Kandhahar and Kabul and Baghdad and Fallujah could identify with about now.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

And now, a better look at animals

If you've never been to a stock show, join Houston Texans' tight end Joel Dreessen and defensive end Tim Bulman at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

Dreessen grew up in Fort Morgan, on the eastern plains of Colorado, and he can play the wide-eyed novice here, but I'm guessing, to turn the saying to a literal truth, that this ain't his first rodeo.

Bulman, on the other hand, is from Massachusetts and maybe that's why he lets Dreessen do most of the talking.

I'm doing some freelance work for the Denver Post these days and this video just increases my determination to fly out there next January for the Stock Show. The nicest kids in the world exhibit at these things, and there's also an abundance of fried foods that you should never, ever eat. But, of course, out of sheer politeness ...