Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Follow up to Fiction V. Memoir

A link to David Hauslib's Jossip blog, specifically to an entry titled "A Brief History of Modern Lying Authors."

He covers the top four frauds of the last ten years--three phony memoirs, and one journalist faking his stories. But the field is sooooo rich! One could, were one so inclined, fill a blog with tales of bogus memoirs, fraudulent war stories that made it into print, faked quotes to bolster research--and don't even get me started on plagiarism!

Is there no honor among writers?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Fiction V. Memoir--It's not rocket science!

Once again, an author has been outed as fabricating his memoir just as it goes to press. Herman Rosenblat's ANGEL AT THE FENCE: The True Story of a Love That Survived, it turns out, ain't none of that--not true, no one at the fence, and it hasn't survived--at least, not as a book. Rosenblat even has to return his $50,000 advance!

Seems that the touching tale of a girl who through apples over the fence of a concentration camp, and years later met the grown man she had helped save from starvation, and married him, sigh, oh sigh, was a complete fabrication. Rosenblat is a concentration camp survivor--no one doubts that--and sadly, because he lied, all that he has to say that may be of value is now doubted.

The movie is still a go. Since when has Hollywood ever cared whether a story is historically accurate? Seriously, different rules do apply, and the producers say they were planning to fictionalize it anyway. (IOW, the fiction they paid for was not fiction enough for them.)

Here's the New Republic expose of Rosenblat's book, the Times UK shorter online story, the Snopes version (which quotes the book extensively), and some interesting comments on Deborah Lipstadt's website. I include Prof. Lipstadt because she is the author and historian who stood up to David Irving and other Holocaust deniers. She calls ANGEL AT THE FENCE "not exactly a shining example of verisimilitude." Hee hee.

Deborah Lipstadt's book (History on Trial) reminded me of a real-life QB-VII--the Leon Uris novel about a trial over the Holocaust.

  • Lipstadt=nonfiction.
  • Uris' QB-VII=fiction.
  • Rosenblat's story=fiction.

Fiction means it's a novelized, emotion-packed, well-paced drama that didn't really happen. Why do we all have such trouble with that concept? Has TV and movies spoiled us for finding drama in the mundane, real events of life?

One other point--the New Republic piece (by Gabriel Sherman) points out that Rosenblat's faux love story appeared in Chicken Soup for the Couple's Soul. Now that just sucks. If we can't trust the Chicken Soup books, what can we trust?

Mr. Rosenblat, you lived through the Holocaust. You have horrifying and--no doubt--amazing tales to share, if your wish was to be heard. Why on earth did you have to piss away your reputation and honor by lying?

The book's website has been erased, thank you for visiting.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Cool Job Alert

OK, my list of Cool Jobs includes:

Yup, that's it. Mediabistro is running an ad for a Director of Emmy Judging, a position that comes with a 401K, medical, and dental benefits. The website address (if you're not allowed in Mediabistro) is http://www.iemmys.tv/.

I assumed that the coordinator of Emmy judges (which includes approving all the nominations for categorical appropriateness) would not be advertised like other . . . well, mundane jobs. Careers, fortunes, and cultural iconography hang in the balance here! The qualifications in a nutshell are:

  • A college degree
  • 4 yrs + of professional experience
  • Extreme attention to details, deadlines
  • Organizational skills, upbeat attitude, ability to handle stress (yeah, yeah, yeah)
  • Culturally savvy and sensitive (ummm, what's the baseline?)
  • Willingness to travel for 3 months in summer to facilitate semi-final rounds...

Nothing about vetting character or honesty. Quite truthfully, I'd have a hard time finding someone who didn't fulfill those those qualifications, unless they'd become addicted to drugs before getting their AA. Here's the final word:

"An interest in the business side of television and international affairs are helpful. The ability to speak a second language is preferred, but not required."

So the candidate is expected to approve all entries in all categories for appropriateness, and an interest in the business side of television would be . . . helpful. Helpful? When I read that in a job ad, the implication is that it's not required. And why an interest in international affairs? Will the candidate be negotiating with Putin?

That might explain the preference for a second language.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Recommended Reading for an End-of-the-Year Scare

Just discovered TomDispatch.com, thanks to an editorial in the Los Angeles Times by Tom Engelhardt, the author of TomDispatch. The greatest gift I could give anyone (besides a link to Youtube's Sock Puppet carols) is that.

The Times article is about how publishers are struggling these days. Yeah, it's depressing so maybe wait till after Christmas to read it. Even though the layoffs are smaller--not in the thousands of employees let go, but in the dozens--they hit home for anyone who hopes to be published some day.

Engelhardt makes a really interesting point about how the book has not been turned into an ad, and how miraculous that is. What other industry or item--especially one that relies on filling up pages with print--remains impervious to carrying ads? Not by choice, perhaps, but because no one has really figured out how to make it work.

That same Op-Ed piece on on TomDispatch, btw, in an expanded version titled "The Axe, the Book, and the Ad," which sounds like a Grimm Brothers tale.

Many other topics are covered in the blog: political, corporate crime, investigative reporting. Laugh at me; I never knew this place existed and it's great!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Bad News for [Print] Newspapers

The Detroit Free Press and Detroit News announced Tuesday that they plan to reduce home delivery to just Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Arizona’s East Valley Tribune (out of Mesa) will switch from a daily to a four-day-a-week paper next month. All per CNN and many other sources.

And we all know the Christian Science Monitor will halt its daily print edition in spring, right? The alternative these papers faced was to cut more staff, which means less news.

The writing’s on the wall…rather, on the screen. Without ad revenue, and with drops in circulations, increasing printing and transport costs, with the old business model isn’t practical.

James Rainey wrote a column on this in the Los Angeles Times. He speaks of how many readers cannot start the day without their morning paper—a feeling I share. But I remember a time when working stiffs felt they couldn’t survive without their afternoon paper—that was when they had the time to read it, and the news was fresher. But does any daily come out in the afternoon anymore? We all adjusted.

Rainy quotes reporters in Detroit, who talk about their investigative journalism and how vital it is. If newspapers can’t make money, how can they practice their craft? He also gives the opinion of Alan Mutter, former reporter and UC Berkeley prof who teaches graduate journalism students “how news continues in an age of ‘disruptive technology’.”

That phrase is wonderful. Disruptive technology—not on a personal level (like a cell phone ringing during a conversation) but culturally. Our technology is not just evolving and improving, it’s disrupting patterns and traditions that have shaped our lives for generations.

Mutter says “The Internet will NEVER replace the newspaper.” Sic. Why? “I can easily take my newspaper with me and read it anyplace. Reading a printed newspaper will be around forever.”

He’s the expert, but IMHO that’s wishful thinking. I can envision an expanded Kindle that can be taken anywhere and a subscription that automatically downloads and updates a daily, printed newspaper—but printed onscreen. And I would enjoy that; I won’t miss the smudge marks on my fingertips. Really. I just hope they come up with an affordable version of that before my Los Angeles Times stops delivery.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Magazine Industry--About as stable as Chrysler, it seems

Meryl Streep Honored With More Alpha Woman Award

Myrna Blyth (seen here with Meryl Streep) blogs on WowOWow about her industry. Blyth has been Senior Editor of Family Circle, Editor in Chief at Ladies Home Journal, and founded More. Her words carry serious weight.

While Blyth quotes Anna Wintour of Vogue (picture Streep in Devil Wears Prada) saying, "I think we’ve been in difficult times before and we’ve come out of them and I’m sure that we will again,” the overall reading for mags is Not Good. It is Blyth's opinion that the industry "is in a meltdown. Ad pages have cratered...shut down...fired...laid off."

It's bad, but not terminal. Blyth points out that the lavish spending at high end publishers will be trimmed, and the survivors will emerge healthier.

My guess is, they won't be paying $2.00 a word to freelancers.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Amber Necklace 4,000 Years Old

Amber is not found in England, apparently. The nearest place amber could come from is the Baltic. Hence,the discovery of a 4,000-year-old amber necklace in NW England amazes the archaeologists. Read about in here in Science Daily, or right from the source at Manchester University, one of the sponsors of the dig.

That's where this picture comes from.

I wondered how the necklace was dated--was it from the cist, or grave, that they found it in? But according to this Naked Scientists discussion, amber can be radio-carbon dated. And according to the World of Amber, the tints may tell what type of trees the amber formed in. A reddish tint might indicate a deciduous tree (cherry or plum) while a pine tree makes lighter amber. However, the Dragonfly Amber site claims that the trees of the Baltic area that made amber were similar to pines and spruces.

All amber may darken to brown after long exposure to air. Since this necklace was found in a stone-lined grave, I'm not sure if that applies. Was it buried under dirt or exposed to air? And does the radio-carbon dating reveal when the necklace was crafted, or just when the amber formed (probably millions of years ago)?

Anyway, I learned that amber can be distinguished from glass by rubbing it--real amber grows warm when rubbed; glass does not. A plastic imitation of amber contains camphor, and when rubbed it will give off that odor. So next time I look at a collection of amber jewelry that looks too much like bakelite to be real (because some pieces do!) I know how to test it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Recommended Reading

Michael Ware is one of my favorite correspondents. Maybe it's the accent or the ruggedly broken nose; maybe it's the fact that you're never sure if he's going to reach across the camera from Iraq and slap the nice, cozy, anchorperson. Anyway, here's an excellent interview with him in the January 2009 Men's Journal. A quote:

"Ware’s detractors have painted him as a drunk, a rage-aholic, a partisan. They claim he heckled John McCain at a press conference and accuse him of being a terrorist stooge for airing enemy footage of U.S. troops being gunned down — anything to mark him as, at best, too rough to be trusted or, at worst, outright unhinged.

Who wouldn't want to read about that guy? He's got some war stories that I wouldn't want to know first-hand.

This picture is from the blog All Things CNN which is about the last time I'll check there--I've got nausea from the way that site scrolls. Oh, well, probably my bad.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Two extremes in Writing Today

Two things, at opposite ends of the technology continuum, occupy me today.

The first is this article in the New York times Magazine, about the state of media and the place of writers.

"...we have to change. We have to develop content that Metamorphoses in sync with new ways of experiencing it, disseminating it and monetizing it."


So much of what author Virginia Heffernan says goes over my head that I feel like an ostrich with my head in the sand. Hopefully, someone will call me when people are ready to switch from Twitter and Hulu to The Next Big Thing. That way, I'll be in on the ground floor and will understand where I fit.

The second item is Victorian in comparison. The new Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Resolution: 101 Stories...Great Ideas for Your Mind, Body, and ...Wallet has a story of mine in it. How drool: write a little essay, send it in, get included in a book and paid.

But I got paid! I have yet to figure out how to get paid for social networking my patootie off.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Using Digital Imaging to Help Archaeologists

A Goleta, California company named MegaVision--which was founded in 1983 and produced one of the first digital cameras in the 80s (the camera weighed 300 pounds!)--is now a mover in the archaeological world. They've developed a form of high-resolution photography with different light filters (it sounds so simple) that can bring out details in ancient artifacts and manuscripts.

That's not their real business, of course. They actually sell digital camera backs and imaging equipment, and their website says nothing about archaeology. BUT:

  • They've currently rigged up cameras to make 100s of images of a 3000-year-old pottery fragment found in the Valley of Elah--where David and Goliath fought. This shard has five lines of text, which is the oldest Hebrew text ever found.
  • MegaVision's CEO Ken Boydston designed an imaging system for Oxford University researchers to use when examining documents from ancient Egypt.
  • In Washington DC, Boydston used the company's expertise to create a copy of the Waldseemueller Map (pictured) for the Library of Congress. The 1507 map is the oldest known that shows North America--in fact, it's the first map that names "America." Only one copy still exists of the approx. 1000 that were printed.

This came from an article on MegaVision is from the Los Angeles Times, and I sincerely hope that someone keeps our only decent newspaper (way more than decent, quite frankly, in spite of all the cutbacks in recent years) publishing through the bankruptcy chaos.

A related story tells how another imaging system provider (Cambridge Research & Instrumentation) is helping to decipher the Dead Sea Scrolls with their filtering and enhancing equipment--in this case, finding hidden text on the scrolls. The relation? The same scientist (Dr. Gregory Bearman of JPL and Snapshot Spectra) went after these companies to develop special technologies for both the Dead Sea Scrolls and the pottery shard. Cool.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Decline of the French Cafe

Parisian Lovers

At the beginning of the 20th century, there were 600,000 bars and cafes in France. In 1960, there were 200,000 cafes in Paris alone. Today, there are less than 41,500 nationwide, and two more close every day.

Proprietors report business down by 20 to 30 percent. Daniel Perrey, the owner of a bar in Crimolois near Dijon, refers to the cafe as a "public living room," an image I really like and which other columnists have picked up

Bernard Picolet, the owner of the Paris cafe Aux Amis du Beaujolais, started by his family in 1921, says, “The way of life has changed . . . The French are no longer eating and drinking like the French. They are eating and drinking like the Anglo-Saxons . . . They eat less and spend less time at it.”

The reasons? Many. As the New York Times wrote: Not only are the French spending less, and drinking less . . .but on Jan. 1 of this year, . . . France extended its smoking ban to bars, cafes and restaurants. To this, add modern life. Cell phones, less downtime. The lure of trendier clubs. And, of course, "C'est l'economie, stupide!"

Is it overly romantic to lament this? I'll compare it to newspapers--an industry that also came into its own during the 19th century and reigned in its field through most of the 20th. Like the cafes, new technologies and lifestyles started to lure customers away over the last twenty years. During the last decade, young people especially view both cafes and printed newspapers as an old-fashioned product which will someday become downright anachronistic.

Viewed that way, I suppose all things run their course and are eventually replaced. Will a few historic and high-priced cafes survive for the tourists, so that we can sit and pretend that Hemingway or Picasso is scribbling at the next table?

For more info, check out this November 08 piece in the New York Times or the same piece in the International Herald Tribune, a 2001 story from CNN, or this 2007 Eursoc article about both the cafes of Paris and the pubs of London, also in decline.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Evil Advice: Kill Your Blog


"Kill Your Blog" is the advice from Paul Boutin in the November Wired Magazine, which is already old but I'm just getting around to reading it (I was busy in November, beginning the novel which will earn me a Pulitzer.)

Wired has not seen fit to put this 600-word piece online, but if you want some fun, google "Kill Your Blog" and Paul Boutin. 4,580 sites! This guy has seriously pissed off a buncha people--and, coup-de-grace--he is a blogger. Or he was. And here's what he says of writing for Wired: whatever they want. I’m just a churl who cain’t say no.

In the article, Boutin says that a blogger's time is better invested "expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter." He points out the the top blogs are professional: things like Huffington Post.

Flickr & Twitter, the trendy new hangouts, stress short to the point of silliness. Reminds me of flash fiction, where the point is tell a story in 50-200 words. This can be done and done well; it can even be intriguing, but it quickly degenerates into an exercise an awful lot like working a puzzle. It's amusement.

I'm not dumping my blog for Flickr. I went and got a history degree because I got sick of trying to keep up with technology's twists and turns a long time ago, learning a new operating system every 18 months from the ground up. I figured history would be stable (it's not, but it's a lot more fun than technology.)