Quite the World, Isn't It?
September 26, 2009
There are many anomalies in American life, but one that has always stymied me is the compulsion by some to try to ban books. Usually it's social conservatives fearing Little Johnny or Suzie might encounter some naughty bits in a novel. But sometimes it's progressives offended -- or fearing to offend -- by inappropriate depictions of minorities.
Neither is defensible. In fact, I can't envision any reason why any book should ever be banned by any entity. Culture thrives through the exchange of ideas, the good and the bad, and if a writer has penned objectionable material then attack the thinking behind it, don't just try to hide the idea away. We learn through discussion. We grow through peaceful resolution of conflict. We mature as a society by looking outside rather than walling off our minds -- and those of our children.
So celebrate Banned Books Week, which begins today, by buying and reading any of the books found in this rather chilling map of local fights over books. Then make sure your child reads it, and talk about why some might want that book banned. And, more importantly, why it shouldn't be.
September 14, 2009
Today's Los Angeles Times carried a piece I wrote on Dan Brown and the impact of his The Da Vinci Code tied to the release tomorrow of his new novel The Lost Symbol.
The story doesn't get into all the conspiracy stuff and fanciful embrace of occasionally indicted history, but looks more at the state of publishing, and what The Da Vinci Code did.
It really was a remarkable mass-market cultural phenomenon. There are some 81 million copies of the book in circulation worldwide. That's not Harry Potter numbers, but it's still one hell of a hit.
Prime evidence that Brown has touched the central nerve of Middle America: Last week NBC's "TODAY Show" did a "Where's Matt Lauer" knock off, sending the co-host to different sites from the book and setting them up as clues. That was followed by a Q&A and excerpt Sunday in Parade magazine, the newspaper insert. It was the fist tome the magazine had excerpted a novel in its 68-year history.
Obviously, I need to find a way to include the Knights Templar and the Masons in my books ...
September 3, 2009
Last Winter and into the Spring I worked under a contract with four advocates/academics* who had written and/or co-edited a book called The Gloves-Off Economy: Labor Standards at the Bottom of America's Labor Market. It's a collection of articles by labor economists and others looking at how the low-wage sector of the economy had eroded or stagnated, and the forces that brought it about.
My part of the project was to take the book and rewrite and condense it into a more accessible report, taking the highlights and hopefully putting it in a form that would find wider distribution among policy makers. Here it is, free for the downloading.
It was an intriguing project to help out on. I was familiar with many of the conditions detailed in the book, but learned a lot about how these conditions came to be, and the repercussions of the declining power of unions, the surge in cheap immigrant labor, the steps being taken to organize and improve the lives of the lowest-wage earners, and strategies for leading businesses to realize that paying the lowest wage possible isn't always the best way to run a business. Or, more broadly, to contribute to society.
Give it a read. And feel free to post comments about it below.
* They are:
September 1, 2009
One of my favorite spots on the web is the Mt. Wilson web cam, which usually shows beautiful frames of the mountain tops over LA, and the occasional glowing night lights in the basin. But for the past few days it's been showing the encroaching smoke and lurching flames (see my post and photo from the other day.
Today the cam went dark. The site loads a saved photo and runs this explainer underneath: "The Mount Wilson web server has gone down, most likely due to a backfire infiltration of a pull box containing telephone lines that bring us our T1 internet service. The will be no more updates from the Towercam, the last one being uploaded at 13:49:06."
Let's hope it's just some equipment with smoke in its eyes, and the facility itself -- which has been involved in scores of crucial astronomical discoveries -- has survived.
A third-generation journalist, I was born in Scarborough, Maine, and grew up there and in Wellsville, New York, about two hours south of Buffalo. My first newspaper job came at age 16, writing a high school sports column for the Wellsville Patriot, a weekly (defunct), then covering local news part-time for the Wellsville Daily Reporter.
After attending Fredonia State, where I was editor of The Leader newspaper and news director for WCVF campus radio, I worked in succession for the Jamestown Post-Journal, Rochester Times-Union (defunct), The Detroit News and the Los Angeles Times, where I covered presidential and other political campaigns, books, local news and features, including several Sunday magazine pieces.
An active freelancer, my work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Sierra Magazine, Los Angeles magazine, Orange Coast magazine, New York Times Book Review (books in brief), Buffalo News, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Teaching Tolerance (Southern Poverty Law Center), Solidarity (United Auto Workers) and elsewhere. I teach or have taught journalism courses at Chapman University and UC Irvine, and speak occasionally at school and college classes about journalism, politics and writing. I've appeared on panels at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and the Literary Orange festival, moderated panels at the Nieman Conference in Narrative Journalism and the North American Labor History Conference, among others, and been featured on C-SPAN's Book TV.
I'm also a co-founder of The Journalism Shop, a group of journalists (most fellow former Los Angeles Times staffers) available for freelance assignments.
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