Scribefire — the Only Way to Blog

Just discovered Scribefire, a plugin for Firefox. It’s a WYSIWIG editor, and it is very cool.

This is an example of a formatted note note.
Wow — this is very cool. I may have to do all my blogging this way.

Here’s a block quote. Some text or other to make it wrap. And some more text. And some strong text. And some emphasis text.

And I’ve got colors, and spell-checking, and videos, and images. Just very, very cool.


My Dad versus Liz Trotta

My dad was a journalist.

He was a number of other things as well: son of a preacher, high-school boxer, WWII volunteer, medic during the war, concentration camp liberator. Journalism student at U of Missouri. Reporter, columnist, editor.

But above all, he was a journalist — a “newspaperman,” as he liked to be called. An old-fashioned, get-it-right newspaperman.

And on this Memorial Day, as I watch the Liz Trotta clip, I’m thinking of him and what he would say.

I remember watching my dad pace the floor of our home one night. He had written a story that day about a local politician, and he was worried that he didn’t have enough sources. He already had three, but wanted another. Finally, he went to the phone and called still another source, checking his facts for twenty minutes or so. Satisfied he had lived up to the standards he held for himself, he went to bed.

Another time he told me a story about a young-buck reporter he worked with. The new reporter was assigned the church news — that page full of sermon titles and service times that used to run in many newspapers. Printed in agate type, it was read by almost no one, a point the reporter made long and loudly. Why worry about getting something right that no one would read? Never mind the readership, he was told. We’re the paper of record, so just get it done and get it right.

The young reporter, intent on making his point, began changing some of the sermon titles and service times, a few each week. No one ever complained. He did this for some months, then went into the editor’s office and showed him what he, the reporter, had done. The editor looked at the clippings for a moment, then exclaimed “You know what? You’re right!” As the reporter smiled triumphantly, the editor continued “And you know what else? You’re fired!”

My dad always told that story with a chuckle and a shake of his head, as if it was just beyond words that someone would do something like that, even on something so trivial as the church news. He commented to me more than once, “Reporting the news is a public trust. Without the free press, we will wind up like Nazi Germany.”

So what would my dad think of Liz Trotta and her ilk? I think it’s easy to surmise:

If he had ever said anything like what she said on the air, he would have been fired, and he would have expected to be. And when he was an editor, if any of his reporters had said or written anything that was so non-objective, so far below the standard of the “public trust,” they would have been fired as well.

Fired. On the spot. No excuses, no questions, and no second chance. Period.

My father spent the last eleven years of his career covering local government and the courts. When he retired, the local judges and trial lawyers held a reception for him. Along with the expected congratulations and best wishes, they presented him with a plaque.

The leading judge looked at my father and said, “We didn’t always like having you around — you asked a lot of questions and you sometimes made life uncomfortable.” My father asked him why, then, give him a plaque? The judge concluded, “Because we learned something about you, something we came to respect and appreciate. You were always fair, and you always got it right.

On this Memorial Day, I think of my dad: veteran, reporter, journalist, newspaperman. I think of the ideals he stood for, the pride he took in his work, the seriousness with which he approached the responsibility of being the Fourth Estate. And I look at someone like Liz Trotta, and I think,

Liz, you have no right to call yourself any of those names. The only name you deserve, now, is “former.”

Thanks, Dad, for showing me what it means to be a true journalist, and that it’s possible for the free press to work like it’s supposed to. May you rest in peace.


Two Sunday Morning Blessings

Some of my friends and readers know that one of my lives is that of a musician. It’s interesting how compartmentalized our lives are; many of my co-workers have no idea of this part of me, or of my long history in making and directing music. (And of course, I don’t very much about many of them, either — one difference between an acquaintance and a friend.)

Anyway — I was driving in to Panera Bread this morning, before going on to church, and I was listening to our local classical music station, WFPL. Two blessings immediately came to mind: the blessing of having a local radio station devoted completely to classical music, and the blessing of the show that was on as I drove in, “Pipe Dreams.”

What an amazing instrument, the pipe organ! Capable of being so very big, and so very small, lyric or technical, angry or beautiful. The program ended with a four-hand organ piece, a fantasy based on Sine Nomine (one of my favorite hymn tunes). It was a fine piece, played by a husband-and-wife duo as part of a dedicatory concert of a new pipe organ. What a great way to start the day!

Here’s the web site: Pipe Dreams site. And here’s a link to the program I was listening to: Concert Capers. Enjoy!


My Tribute to Molly Ivins

(Posted at the Texas Observer, her “home” paper)

I envy all you people in Texas. No, really, I do. You got to know Molly for many years, while I only discovered her when I read “Shrub” for the first time in 2000.

It’s funny — words were Molly’s stock in trade, and are supposedly mine as well, and yet at this moment words don’t seem adequate. We all know Molly was insightful, and incisive, and vibrant, and caring; that she was able to carve right to the core of an issue in just a few strokes of her pen, and still do it with a twinkle in her eye; that she was often angry, but never hateful. But we could go on and on, saying more and more, and it wouldn’t be enough. The force of Molly’s life was greater, even, than all her words.

So, instead of longer and longer collections of words, here are three short sentences to say how I feel:

  • But … I wasn’t done reading.
  • I miss you already.
  • Thank you for the light.

Bruce Maples, Louisville, KY

This Is Amazing!

My older son Griffin just showed me a video made by a guy who recorded himself playing single notes on the drums, then on the piano, then took the whole thing and edited it in such a way that he plays first a drum solo, then a piano and drum duet. The only thing he did was edit the clips to put them in order to make the music. It is absolutely amazing.

Here’s the link:

Jump to extended to view the video!


Journalism 101

I am the son of a journalist, and have always had a strong interest in both the product and the process. Both are becoming more and more suspect.
    Time after time, I read stories where it is obvious that the reporter did not ask any follow-ups. There has been no research beyond the press release facts. The writing is pedestrian, the structure mundane.
    The same goes for more and more editorials. It seems that someone on the editorial page staff sits down with 15 minutes left until deadline and proceeds to throw something on the page without thought or research. All vent and no verity (or verification).
    We’ve always had “press release journalism,” and the reporter as mere scribe is not new. What strikes me is how pervasive it is becoming. The formula seems to be: (1) Read the press release and decide to do the story. (2) Call the originating entity and get a statement. (3) Call the opposing entity, if any, and get an opposing statement. (4) Write it up.
    It’s “balanced” because both sides have statements. Never mind that what one side says is exaggerated, distorted, or an out-and-out lie; there’s no time or resources to track that down. Just throw it on the screen, slam it into the page, and rush to do the next one.
    The dramatic cuts in reporting staffs is the great untold story of our time. Corporate news organizations are demanding higher profits, and one way to do that is to cut staff. So, instead of a reporter working a “beat” (as my father did with city/county government and the courts for over ten years), we have “writers,” not “reporters.” They can write, but they can’t do the work of a reporter: do the research, ask the questions, dig out the truth.
    Ultimately, each of us is the victim in this tale. We have lost the protection of an energetic press, of reporters and editors not afraid to pursue truth, no matter where it takes them. With executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government under the control of one party, a press capable of standing apart is critical to democracy. Unfortunately, the fourth estate is looking less like an estate and more and more like tenant farmers.

Neuromancer Redux?

Just finished the latest novel by William Gibson (whom I didn’t know was even still alive, much less writing). I have long thought his Neuromancer was one of the most amazing novels I’ve ever read, especially when you compare his insights into the digital future (which continue to come true) with the date (1984) the book was written. I was hoping for the same reading experience with Pattern Recognition.

It’s close. The main character, as well as many of the others, is well-drawn, and the amazing eye for detail remains. There were many sentences I went back and reread, just to savor the turn of phrase. It is, for the most part, an excellent read, and definitely worth the price paid in money and time.
Yet, the deux machina near the end of the book bothered me. (I shan’t say what it is; you’ll have to read it yourself.) I was expecting the plotlines to be tied up, yes, but not quite as suddenly or artificially (or so it seemed to me). Still, Pattern Recognition is a fun and fine yarn, and should be on your “beach reading” list for the summer.

And, if you have never read Neuromancer, run, don’t walk, to your nearest independent bookseller and get the paperback. (Or the 20th anniversary edition.) It’s an amazing book. If he never writes another thing, Gibson has earned his place in writing history by penning it.

Courage to Write, Courage to Speak

I’ve been re-reading an important book in my life, The Courage to Write by Ralph Keyes. The basic premise, of course, is that fear in all its infinite variety is part and parcel of writing, and that the act of writing is itself an act of courage. The corollary to this is that most writers do not suffer from writer’s block (sitting to write and having no words come), but from writing avoidance: wanting to write, but avoiding it because, ultimately, of fear.

As I’ve been working through this again, I’ve come to realize that it is true not only of writing. The same fears — of rejection, of failure, of loneliness, of misunderstanding — apply to speaking, and especially to speaking out on things we care about. We’d rather tell jokes to friends than speak truth to power and risk losing the friends.

One of the joys of both middle age and recovery is finding your voice. You come to realize that the risk of losing friends is less deadly than the risk of being silent. And, if you’re fortunate, you’ve developed some friendships that are based on mutual respect for each other’s differences rather than on shared sameness.

Doing this blog, doing my web site, and trying to write something every day, are all exercises in fear control. In Keyes’s eyes, all acts of courage. Speaking out, writing letters, contacting officials — also acts of courage. Not big courage, not hero courage, not anything needing a medal, but small acts of courage, nonetheless.

If all of us with normal lives, normal checkbooks, and normal health — in other words, all of us with power — would face our internal fears and write and speak our truth, we could relieve the larger fears, the big fears, of the powerless. Here’s to a tsunami of small acts of courage.

BTW — The book is available through Amazon here