Facts Submitted to a Candid World

By J.F. McKenna

Every American knows that July Fourth marks the nation’s birthday. Yet every citizen, even 240 years after the event, remains vague about the details of the birth announcement.

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Drafted by the eloquent Thomas Jefferson the month before its appearance in July 1776 is a birth announcement that traces it inspiration to other, older thinkers but is, and remains, America’s initial commitment to personal freedom. To quote the singular historian-journalist Richard Brookhiser in his 2006 book What Would the Founders Do? the Declaration of Independence, followed by the Constitution and The Federalist Papers, is the first among the nation’s “user manuals.”

 

“Our founders are close by,” writes Brookhiser, “and they cast long shadows.” In fact, to read the Declaration today is to remind ourselves that the founders’ shadow is one of and for liberty against tyrants who are often not merely petty but petulant toward fellow human beings. Consider just a handful of the indictments against the King of Great Britain in 1776 (and consider if the same charges do not address some leaders in 2016).

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

Before 56 names found their way to the bottom of this document, the Declaration offers this charged summary: In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Before the first hot dog gets mustarded out and before the first cry of “Play Ball!” is heard next week, maybe a bit of recharging of our Americanism is in order. The same year my birth announcement was issued, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis declared the value of doing so.

“There is in most Americans some spark of idealism, which can be fanned into a flame,” Justice Brandeis wrote. “It takes some time a divining rod to find what it is; but when found, and that means often, when disclosed to the owners, the results are often extraordinary.”

CBR contributor J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a business journalist, former magazine editor, and marketing-communications consultant. McKenna and his wife, Carol, now live in Steeler Country with their dog, Lord Max. Reach him at jfmckwriter23@yahoo.com

Complexity-Through-Joy

By J.F. McKenna
That phrase above remains one of the most poignant expressions of one man’s life and work, written by essayist and storyteller E.B. White in 1957 and later shared in Hal Hager’s brief biographical notes at the end of Essays of E.B. White (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 1992). To quote Hager, Elwyn Brooks White debuted in the final year of the 19th Century and “found joy in nearly everything he saw,” from brown eggs to Thoreau’s Walden to, as White wrote, “the nature and beauty of brevity.” More important, White shed his singular light on such parts of our world and coaxed a new appreciation for them, insisting that “writing of the small things of the day, the inconsequential but the near things of this living, was the only kind of creative work which I could accomplish with any sanctity or grace.”
In a world in which instant communications try but fail to demonstrate more pull than gravity itself, White’s principles and style endure—even though originally batted out on a standard manual typewriter. To quote William Shawn of The New Yorker, “His literary style…was singular, colloquial, clear, unforced, thoroughly American and utterly beautiful.” Shawn offered that praise as a White eulogy in 1985, but a modest White himself may have rendered the best appraisal of his work in 1977: “Only a person who is congenitally self-centered has the effrontery and the stamina to write essays.”
Though I have no notion of ever sharing work space with E.B. White, Lady Carol took pity on me recently and purchased a copy of Essays for her congenitally self-centered husband. As she knows, I have been a reader of White’s work since my earliest newspapering days. And before that, as a Boomer high schooler, I regularly carried around my paperback copy of The Elements of Style, written by William Strunk Jr. in the early 20th Century, and revised by former student White in 1957.
Today, according to one source, the book remains the most frequently assigned text in U.S. academic syllabi. Writer White, no surprise, deserves the lion’s share of the credit for sales. “Professor Strunk, although one of the most inflexible and choosy of men, was quick to acknowledge the fallacy of inflexibility and the danger of doctrine,” White explains in his late-Fifties’ essay on Professor Strunk. “It is encouraging to see how perfectly a book, even a dusty rulebook, perpetuates and extends the spirit of a man. Will Strunk loved the clear, the brief, the bold, and his book is clear, brief, bold. Boldness is perhaps its chief distinguishing mark.”
Then, too, White’s contributions to children’s literature are nothing less than monumental—fromStuart Little to The Trumpet of the Swan to the publishing blockbuster Charlotte’s Web, whom one librarian recently declared to be found nowhere else but at the peak of children’s books today. Without question, White’s long work as an essayist for his adult audience prepared the stage for his young-reader classics. In his 1947 essay on the death of a pig, The New Yorker and Harper’s Magazine writer displays an enviable eloquence about an expected occurrence among Maine farmers:
“I have written this account in penitence and in grief, as a man who failed to raise his pig, and to explain my deviation from the classic course of so many raised pigs. The grave in the woods is unmarked, but [White’s dog] Fred can direct the mourner to it unerringly and with immense good will, and I know he and I shall often revisit it, singly and together, in seasons of reflection and despair, on flagless memorial days of our own choosing.”
What has made, and has kept, E.B. White a brilliant essayist all these decades? One can find it in his praise of Henry David Thoreau: “Thoreau said he required of every writer, first and last, a simple and sincere account of his own life.” Then White added, “Having delivered himself of this chesty dictum, he proceeded to ignore it.”
In the introduction to his own essays, White called this form of exercise that of the role of second-class citizen to other writers, and he told the reader to “leave the essayist to ramble about, content with living a living a free life and enjoying the satisfactions of a somewhat undisciplined existence.” But, added White, he “cannot indulge himself in deceit or in concealment, for he will be found out in no time.”
CBR contributor J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a business journalist, former magazine editor, and marketing-communications consultant. McKenna and his wife, Carol, now live in Steeler Country with their dog, Lord Max. Reach him at jfmckwriter23@yahoo.com

‘Can You Spare That Twenty?’

By J.F. McKenna

“Men will pursue their interest. It is as easy to change human nature, as to oppose the strong current of the selfish passions. A wise legislator will gently divert the channel, and direct it, if possible, to the public good.” – Alexander Hamilton, 1788

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has announced that former slave and Underground Railroad hero Harriet Tubman will be the new face on the $20 bill by 2020, taking the space now occupied by the face of President Andrew Jackson, the nation’s seventh president, a crack-shot duelist of his day, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans, and the trigger for many late-night “beer and bull sessions” at Kent State dormitories in years past. Secretary Lew also has remodeling plans for the back of the $5 bill to highlight various 20th century folks and events at The Lincoln Memorial.

Whether all this planned money-changing will generate additional public good is a topic for another day, although some public figures are quickly weighing in with comments. The Donald has dismissed this $20 image-transfer as “pure political correctness,” and Dr. Benjamin Carson has joined Mr. Trump in that criticism. After suggesting that Tubman appear on “another denomination,” such as the $2 bill, the retired neurosurgeon gave Secretary Lew’s move a thumbs-down: “Andrew Jackson was the last president who actually balanced the federal budget, where we had no national debt. In honor of that, we kick him off of the money.”

But let’s give the Treasury Secretary some credit for a channel diversion of sorts: he originally planned to displace the image of Alexander Hamilton himself from the $10 bill and then changed course, only to declare a fuss with the back of the bill as a way to honor well-known American women.

To refit a quote from an old KSU history prof of mine: “Partial credit, Mr. Lew—you didn’t completely disrupt this everyday glimpse at historiography. But keep in mind—Hamilton was the first boss of the Treasury.”

Were Hamilton still in charge of the Treasury, interestingly enough, he’d likely not be trying to score political points with the citizenry by retooling the look of its paper money; instead, as historians and economists have long noted, he’d be trying to retool the national economy toward being the world’s leading one again. Probably no finer summary of the Hamiltonian effect on the early Republic is that of Gordon S. Wood’s 2006 book, Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different (The Penguin Press).

Often in a figurative second row when pictured with Jefferson, Washington, Madison, and Adams, Alexander Hamilton left a bastard childhood in the British West Indies to become, as Wood writes, “celebrated for his nationalism, for his administrative genius, for his financial expertise, and for his hardheaded realism in foreign affairs.”

In 1789 President Washington—anyone can readily find GW on the $1 bill today—appointed Hamilton secretary of the treasury. Wood calls that pick “almost a preordained choice” that brought Washington’s “surrogate son’s brilliance” into the first national administration. “He treated Hamilton very differently [than other department heads],” Wood relates, “partly because he knew little about public finance but also because he believed the Treasury Department was constitutionally different from the other departments.” Ergo, Hamilton aimed to “strengthen central authority and the Union ‘by increasing the number of ligaments between the Government and the interests of Individuals.’”

“The severe criticism of Jefferson’s slaveholding and racial attitudes over the past several decades,” continues Wood, “has offered an opportunity for some positive reappraisals of Hamilton. He was after all opposed to slavery and worked to end it in his home state of New York. Also, in a land of immigrants he was the only one of the leading founders not born in what became the United States. In a major exhibition…at the New York Historical Society, Hamilton was once again celebrated as ‘the man who made modern America.’”

Admittedly, writes Wood, “Hamilton’s plans for an imperial America were out of touch with the realities of his world in 1800. Two centuries later, however, these plans do not seem so bizarre. Hamilton would be right at home in the present-day United States and present-day world.”

As will his image continue to be on the new $10 bill.

CBR contributor J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a business journalist, former magazine editor, and marketing-communications consultant. McKenna and his wife, Carol, now live in Steeler Country with their dog, Lord Max. Reach him at jfmckwriter23@yahoo.com

At the Core of Apple

By Doug Magill

I find that principles have no real force except when one is well fed.  Mark Twain

The FBI has reported that it has found a way to access the data on the iPhone used by the San Bernardino shooter, Syed Farook.   While not releasing details of how it was able to accomplish this, Apple’s internal technology team is probably overloading cell towers with calls to known commercial encryption technology companies trying to discern who may have been working with the government.  With the long term intent of hounding them out of business.

The NSA probably had the means to break in to the iPhone but, interestingly enough, that secretive organization has not been mentioned in regard to this controversy.  Because it reports to the Defense Department and the FBI to the Justice Department, there were probably statutory concerns that prevented the NSA from being involved.  Regardless, the FBI undoubtedly was able to solicit the assistance of a foreign company to help them – to avoid dealing with the political issues associated with using any government or foreign intelligence resources.

In an interview a few weeks ago John McAfee – of McAfee antivirus fame – claimed he could put a team together in a matter of weeks that could crack Apple’s security.  If the FBI was interested he said he would be glad to help them as he knew who to contact.  The implication being that there were a number of individuals in the security world that had the expertise and the tools to crack an iPhone.

The controversy got quite heated, with Apple CEO Tim Cook issuing a blistering 1100-word letter to Apple customers criticizing the government and trying to position himself, and Apple, as champions of privacy.

The controversy centered on the 10-attempt safeguard Apple uses.  It anyone attempts more than 10 times to access a locked iPhone it automatically wipes itself clean (no cloths involved).  The FBI had a court order from a judge to force Apple to find a way to disable that security feature, and then they would use their own technology experts to discern the password and access the contents of the phone.

Apple has cooperated with the government before in accessing contents of its devices, but the head of the company decided that this would be a great opportunity to market the iPhone’s enhanced encryption and security features and show disdain for parochial American concerns.  After all, it is a multinational company worried about Chinese and European customers that wanted to feel that whatever business they transacted with their phones would be secure from government intrusion.  Any government’s intrusion.

The FBI did not appear to overreach in this case, only desiring a way to disable the phone-wiping protection on this single phone.  Contrary to Cook’s claims, they were not looking to create a permanent backdoor into Apple’s encryption methodology.  But, why waste a good marketing opportunity?

Lost in the press releases and angry letters and vitriolic statements is the fact that 14 people were killed by the owner of that iPhone.  And he, along with his wife, may be connected to others that have similar designs on their coworkers and neighbors.  Should another incident occur and be connected to Farook, the condemnation of Apple and the government would reach volcanic proportions.

But Apple’s worldwide marketing concern seems to be the core of its reaction to this event.  Which is sad, because at best marketing can be informative, while at worst it can lead to portraying an image that is misleading and possibly downright dishonest.  Apple was joined by Facebook and Google – a rare triumvirate in the viciously competitive high-tech world – in claiming moral superiority in the concern for privacy over security.

All three companies profess the standard liberal bromides about caring for people and international self-righteousness over the narrow parochialism of national sovereignty.  Unfortunately, by focusing on Apple’s concerns and not the country’s security, they have exposed themselves as greedy and self-interested.  They are not worried about the effects of their policies on individuals, and not interested in cooperating to help alleviate legitimate fears about a phenomenon that is causing consternation world-wide.  And ultimately, they really aren’t interested in the well-being of the people who use their products.

One supposes that the decision makers at these companies feel they are above nationalism, and have a vision that transcends narrow individualism.  Not unlike our uninvolved and pathologically dishonest president.  With a compliant and partisan media, they will continue to comfort themselves in the shroud of smug superiority.  Right up until the moment a bomb goes off in one of their buildings and they run screaming into the streets and find the only means to deal with the now worldwide threat of terrorism lies in the expertise of the government they disdain.

 

Doug Magill is a former Chief Technology Officer for a major corporation and is now a freelance writer, voice-over talent and communications consultant.  He can be reached at doug@magillmedia.net.

 

 

 

 

If You’re Going to Accept a ‘Final Mission,’ Make it a Great One

By J.F. McKenna

On the bus home at day’s end, Patty Corcoran, a St. Ignatius School classmate, chatted frequently about TV’s Star Trek. She could talk incessantly about the sci-fi series, about Captain James Kirk, about intergalactic travel, and about Kirk’s second-in-command, an annoyingly precise spaceman who was half-human and half-Vulcan.

“Spock is very cool,” I recall Patty saying on the No. 22 bus, whose own journey ended daily at the West Park transit station. “He’s got this Vulcan Salute—Live long and prosper! Really cool!” I myself couldn’t mimic the salute separating the two middle fingers; nor did I care that much about it. My grandest 13-year-old accomplishment was not getting caught executing the one-finger salute known throughout America. Such was the convergence of two different worlds in 1966 Cleveland.

As generations of TV and movie viewers now know, Spock and Company didn’t stay moored in the ‘60s. The Star Trek phenomenon, as fiction and as the inspiration of actual new-world seekers, has continued unto this day. And all along the journey has been Spock himself—the actor and artistic polymath Leonard Nimoy.

The end of February marks the one-year anniversary since the death of the legendary actor who surrendered to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a type of obstructive lung disease characterized by chronically poor airflow that typically worsens over time. The main symptoms include shortness of breath, coughing, and sputum production. Most people with chronic bronchitis, it is said, have COPD.

COPD affects more than 30 million Americans, making it the third leading cause of death. Surprisingly, more than a third of these Americans suffer the symptoms of the disease – coughing, wheezing, tightness in the chest, and breathlessness – without ever being diagnosed.

As Spock would say, this is “highly illogical”—since early detection and treatment can reduce suffering and extend lives.

Nimoy’s daughter, Julie, and her husband, David Knight, are determined to continue the actor’s “final mission” to raise awareness about COPD, currently producing a new documentary titled COPD: Highly Illogical: A Special Tribute to Leonard Nimoy. Here is a mission that will conclude only with the last patient.

“The film is going to be an intimate look at my father’s life, legacy, and his final years advocating for greater awareness around COPD,” Ms. Nimoy said. “My Dad felt an urgent responsibility to educate people about it, frequently tweeting and speaking about the disease and its causes.”

The couple launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo last month to raise the additional $150,000 required to produce the documentary. They are hopeful of securing the funding by mid-March so that the film can be released near Star Trek‘s 50th anniversary later this summer.

To view the documentary film trailer and to link to the Indiegogo funding page, go to www.copdllap.com. For a direct link to the funding page, go to https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/copd-highly-illogical-a-tribute-to-leonard-nimoy#/.

If you’re going to accept a “final mission,” make it a great one: this the Nimoy-Knight Clan has done. Nimoy and Knight’s mission is as iconic as the decades-long role Leonard Nimoy played as executive officer of the Starship Enterprise. The only difference is that it’s not playacting.

Which prompts the age-old Latin expression—Ad Astra Per Aspera. “Through hardship through the stars” is a perfect saying for the man best known as Spock.

CBR contributor J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a business journalist, former magazine editor, and marketing-communications consultant. McKenna and his wife, Carol, now live in Steeler Country with their dog, Lord Max. Reach him at jfmckwriter23@yahoo.com

A Man of Words, a Man of Law

By J.F. McKenna

By both his life and his death, Antonin Scalia reaffirmed the genius of the American culture, best exemplified by the generations-tested document securing “the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” The 79-year-old Associate Supreme Court Justice took his role as arbiter seriously, but understood that his role was but one part of the fabric of the Republic, whose solid basis was the consent of the people.

Justice Scalia, who died on a Texas hunting trip this weekend, was widely known as the model of conservative thought on the high court for 30 years. The first Italian-American to sit on the Supreme Court, Antonin Gregory Scalia embraced an originalist, or textualist, approach to his decision-making: “The Constitution,” he said, “is not an organism. It means today what it meant when it was adopted.”

From there, the Justice took this approach when he wrote the Heller v. District of Columbia decision, which declared the Second Amendment as upholding individual gun rights. In similar fashion, in a 1992 dissent, Justice Scalia charged his colleagues with “personal predilection” in reaffirming the constitutional right to abortion. “It is difficult to maintain the illusion,” he said, “that we are interpreting a Constitution, rather than inventing one, when we amend its provisions so breezily.”

And only last year, he injected expressions such as “pure applesauce” and “interpretive jiggery-pokery” into his dissent on Obamacare and tax subsidies.

Of course, what should one expect from the son of a professor of languages who had taught at Brooklyn College?

“The two most important things to remember about Scalia — apart from the fact that he was a family man and a faithful Catholic — are the following: He was a heck of a writer, and he was a defender of one of the most important institutions our civilization is based on,” Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry wrote online yesterday. “I think there’s a good chance Scalia might have wanted to be remembered as a writer first, and as a jurist second. Most non-lawyers don’t associate the law and legal documents with great reading, and I don’t blame them. But the legal profession really is all about words, and the best legal minds are by necessity minds that love words and, at least sometimes, know how to use them.”

The good Justice was just such a legal mind, as is detailed in a 2012 New Yorker piece titled “Writing With Antonin Scalia, Grammar Nerd.” Written By Alex Karp, the article follows the relationship between Scalia and lawyer-writer Bryan A. Garner. Here’s a bit of Karp’s account:

Justice Scalia had initially proposed the breakfast after declining to sit for a more formal interview on writing and legal advocacy. By the end of their meal, Scalia had changed his mind, and the two have gone on to form a productive and collegial, if unusual, working relationship. The interview, Garner’s first with a sitting Justice, took place the following October, and he has completed others with almost two hundred state and federal judges, and nine of the eleven Justices who have sat on the Court since. “You’re something of a SNOOT yourself,” Scalia told Garner as they ended their interview, invoking Wallace’s pet phrase for a grammar and usage fanatic, “and that makes me happy.” (Other SNOOTs, according to Scalia, include former Justices Harry Blackmun and David Souter. Ruth Bader Ginsburg shares their zealousness, but, Scalia said, she’s “too polite.”)

Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges,” the first book co-authored by the pair, appeared in 2008. Their second book, “Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts,” was published by Thomson/West last month. The nearly six-hundred-page tome details Scalia’s judicial philosophy, which they call “textualism.”

“My calculation is we spent about eighty-five to one hundred hours side by side for ‘Making Your Case,’” Garner said. “Probably sixty of those hours, once we had a draft, we actually went through sentence by sentence, together, reading it aloud. We ended up really co-authoring every single sentence of the first book.

Justice Scalia’s words, both his legal reasoning and his linguistic crochets, will be with us for some time, as shall (pray God) The Constitution. In fact, I think it’s fair to suggest that the Justice himself would probably agree that President Obama engage his lawful right to seek a successor for Justice Scalia.

At the same time, I can’t help but think that Justice Scalia—from his new vantage point in a much higher court—is whispering in the President’s ear to choose wisely, with the People in mind.

CBR contributor J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a business journalist, former magazine editor and marketing-communications consultant. McKenna and his wife, Carol, now live in Steeler Country with their dog, Lord Max. Reach him at jfmckwriter23@yahoo.com .

A Page Borrowed from Twain

By J.F. McKenna

Mike Pitts is a South Carolina legislator whose sense of constitutionally telling mischief reaches across the nation. Interestingly enough, he reminds me of an old mischief-maker named Sam Clemens, who made it a professional practice to gore oxen with reckless abandon.

The Republican Pitts, with prepared legislation reportedly in hand Tuesday, proposed a mandatory journalist registry and potential jail sentences for violators. The legislation itself even carried a fancy name for censorship—the “South Carolina Responsible Journalism Registry.”

As U.S. News and World Report explained this week—with complete freedom, I should add—“If it became law, people working as journalists without registering would face $25 fines. Second offenses would be misdemeanors punishable by a $100 fine and 15 days in jail, and repeat offenders would face $500 fines and 30 days in jail.

“Media outlets,” the magazine continued, “would have to conduct criminal record background checks on prospective hires and journalists would be ineligible for registry if they had ‘demonstrated a reckless disregard of the basic codes and canons of professional journalism associations, including a disregard of truth, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness, and public accountability.’”

No surprise to this long-unlicensed member of the press, the uproar was quick and certain. Many network television and print journos found their Brooks Brothers’ knickers in a bunch, and they rushed on camera to discuss the imminent fall of the Republic.

The hour’s top story: Woe to We the People. Right after this message.

Being a semi-reformed troublemaker myself, I suspect Mike Pitts of the S.C. legislature was having a good laugh. The day after unloading his constitutionally errant measure, he wrote this on Facebook:

“I filed this legislation as an experiment to make a point about the media and how they only care about the Constitution when it comes their portion of the 1st Amendment. In doing so, I put the media under the microscope, and they did not like it.

“They constantly attack people who follow their Christian beliefs and attempt to portray them as bigots, and they certainly do not like the fact that normal everyday Americans gather to petition the government and air grievances. Look no further than how they have demonized the Tea Party. Furthermore, they love to trample on our 2nd Amendment rights to ‘Keep and Bear Arms.’ If they had their way, there would be no 2nd Amendment.”

As various gored oxen wailed in the background, Pitt had made his point: The U.S. Constitution is not a legislative buffet for those who think they can simply opt for a figurative salad and cottage cheese and deny another patron his ground steak and french fries. Take it the way it has been served since 1787.

That sly Rep. Pitts would certainly win plaudits from old Sam Clemens, who said that “There are laws to protect the freedom of the press’s speech, but none that are worth anything to protect the people from the press.”

At his 1873 talk at the Hartford, Conn., Monday Evening Club, Clemens continued with this critique: “[The press] has scoffed at religion till it has made scoffing popular. It has defended official criminals, on party pretexts, until it has created a United States Senate whose members are incapable of determining what crime against law and the dignity of their own body is, they are so morally blind, and it has made light of dishonesty till we have as a result a Congress which contracts to work for a certain sum and then deliberately steals additional wages out of the public pocket and is pained and surprised that anybody should worry about a little thing like that.

“I am putting all this odious state of things upon the newspaper, and I believe it belongs there — chiefly, at any rate. It is a free press — a press that is more than free — a press which is licensed to say any infamous thing it chooses about a private or a public man, or advocate any outrageous doctrine it pleases. It is tied in no way. The public opinion which should hold it in bounds it has itself degraded to its own level.”

“Though his admonitions target the newspaper as the archetypal press, it’s remarkable to consider how prescient his remarks are in the context of today’s online media,” noted Maria Popova in her wonderful website, Brain Pickings—brainpickings.org .  Do check it out.

Applying so-called “fixes” to any part of the Bill of Rights is tampering with all constitutional security. To quote the Hudson Institute scholar Christopher DeMuth Sr., “Our Constitution is treated as a reliquary, worthy of reverence but no longer of much practical use. Yet the Constitution reflects, in many deep and subtle ways, the character of the people who established it and have lived and prospered under it for centuries.”

People like Mike Pitts and Sam Clemens, that cagey book author who observed that “in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either.”

CBR contributor J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a business journalist, former magazine editor and marketing-communications consultant. He also attends all meetings of the Mark Twain Society of Penn Hills, a small and informal literary gathering near Pittsburgh. McKenna and his wife, Carol, now live in Steeler Country with their dog, Lord Max. Reach him at jfmckwriter23@yahoo.com .

Deja Vu Jerry

By Doug Magill

Right now I’m having amnesia and déjà vu at the same timeSteven Wright

With apologies to Santayana, nothing is ever really new – except to liberals.  Since intellectual curiosity and an understanding of history seems to be foreign to them, the continuing fallacies of human nature always continue to surprise.

The latest example, of course, being the moral indignation directed toward those who realize the climate-change imbroglio is just the latest in a series of apocalyptic scientific scandals which – as soon as it subsides – will be superseded by an even scarier one.  What is fun about this one is that California Governor Jerry Brown seems to be a recurring figure in climate-related ones associated with droughts in a state that has a penchant for not managing its water resources well.

I confess to being embarrassed to admit this, but I remember the last doomsday scenario in which our ever-loony Jerry was notable.  During Gov. Brown’s first term in 1976, California was suffering from another significant drought, except the cause was trumpeted as global cooling.  Similar scenarios of distress were being played out – including fires, extreme dryness and water rationing.

The word consensus wasn’t being thrown around in those days to silence debate, but the prevailing attitude was that most scientists were considered to believe in a global cooling period.  And that would lead to – wait for it – erratic weather patterns that could have devastating effects on the world’s population.  The ultimate concern was that the earth was entering another ice age, and even our earnest Earth Day organizers predicted disaster due to global cooling.

Scientific forecasting told us that the world would be several degrees colder by the 1990s, and by the turn of the century we would be well beyond the stage in which another ice age was a certainty.

These days we get the usual wailing about human-caused changes to the climate, which now is warming and, by the way, must be causing the California drought today.  As noted, liberals hate to have history explained to them, but California is known to be subject to regular periods of drought; and even our let’s-hide-the changes-we’ve-made-to-the-climate-data-NOAA admits that California’s current difficulties are due to recurring weather patterns that have nothing to do with any supposed climate change, man-induced or otherwise.

Back in the 1970s, when faced with the same situation, Brown talked about difficult choices and sacrifices required of California’s long-suffering citizens.  He could have at least reused portions of those speeches in the last couple of years, but environmental politics preclude remembering the wasted rallying cries of yesteryear.

Another thing that liberals hate to admit to is the cronyism and mismanagement of California’s water infrastructure due to decades of one-party rule.  Money that should have been spent on needed improvements has gone to paying off the normal cast of characters locked in the monetary embrace of unions, special interests and rich donors that control California politics.   The drought is driven by nature, but the issues associated with it are exacerbated by weak policies.

The political exigencies of rich environmentalists override the needs of the majority of the population as over 50% of the state’s water is flushed to the ocean, since reservoirs are emptied to enable assisted river flows for small numbers of fish.  Desalinization plants, which have provided sufficient drinking water for the desert lands of Israel, are not being built for political reasons.

Extreme left-wing anti-humanity groups continue to work, funded by government grants, to destroy development while fighting viciously against new water storage capability which is necessary for a growing population.  And what of the future?  It has been known for decades that without new storage there will be no ability to manage through those times when nature doesn’t bless the Golden State.

Who knows – maybe in another 30 years Jerry Brown’s preserved brain will be giving speeches about drought conditions caused by excessive cosmic rays from Van Allen Belt depletion triggered by asteroid mining at the lunar LaGrange points?

Or maybe we can just recycle his speeches from the 1970s.

 

Doug Magill is a consultant and freelance writer.  He can be reached at doug@magillmedia.net

 

Holiday Slices of Days Gone By

By J.F. McKenna

Thanksgiving Day. Let all give humble, hearty, and sincere thanks now, but the turkeys.

 – “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar”

My first brush with entrepreneurship, once commonly known as small business, came complete with turkey, duck and chicken feathers as well as the gentle aromas of cow stalls.  My father’s bachelor brothers owned a 35-acre farm off Sprague Road in Columbia Station from the late 1940s until 1966; all the McKenna boys, their spouses (those that had such), and my cousins and my sister participated each in his or her own way to this business affair over time.  Being the youngest of the next generation, I typically contributed the least during my weekend trips to the farm family.

Were they still with us, Uncle Leo and Uncle Don would most certainly agree with that assessment.

By the time Ike was settling into the White House, I was settling into life on Cleveland’s West Side—a mere ten houses from the home in which my father was reared—along with settling into weekly visits to the farm. By then, all family adults stressed to me the importance of careful listening and strict observance to adult commands: “Do not…do not…touch the fence at the front of the barn, Joey.” No comprehensive explanation was ever included with this caution, or any other commands, for that matter: just stern tones laced with references to Michael the Archangel and the constant temperature of Hades.

As I reached age four, my curiosity went into an early stage of overdrive—I touched the fence in front of the barn, I wasn’t killed instantly, and I confidently, if erroneously, assessed that adults were often wrong in their warnings. I carried that notion as an iron chain around my neck for many decades.

But in youth I took time out from resentment at family to enjoy the pleasures that came from being part of a clan that owned a farm. Uncle Leo brought me a puppy to our West 100th Street home; it was back at the farm by the end of the weekend.

Never easily deterred, UL decided a pair of rabbits would be perfect companions for me; he should have checked with Mom. Back went the hoppers.

The uncles finally compromised with Mom: I could keep a duck at the farm. The duck was christened Joey Jr., and he proved to be the most disagreeable creature in Ohio, reestablishing his reputation every day by chasing customers around the front of the property and biting their legs.

Of course, even the youngest of our brood got a victory to savor every so often. One day while Mary Ann and was doing a chore or two, Uncle Leo came through the backdoor of the house and announced he would be “doing an egg run.”

“Can I go with you, Uncle Leo?” asked Mary Ann, applying a pleading voice that she would later hear come from the mouths of her own children.

“No,” said Uncle Leo. “Look you have cow crap on the front of your coat. I’ll take your brother, instead.”

That day I went on the egg delivery with Uncle Leo, who started our journey with a stop to the corner market for a box of Dutch Masters and a box of Tootsie-Rolls. Sometimes it pays to be five and quiet. And to be wearing a clean jacket.

The fact of the matter is that my older male cousins—Tom, Dick, Jerry, and Michael—were pulled out of school before Thanksgivings to help with dressing turkeys. As they related their tales at family gatherings much later, the hard work of the latter cancels out the pleasure of the former. And as a frequent ringside observer of fowl preparation myself, I can attest that Uncle Don was a master of the game but he never raised poultry prep to the level of a sweet science. Frankly, it’s just messy.

Of course, cousin Jerry told the tale best at one family gathering: “I hated helping prep turkeys—hated it. You know, I haven’t tasted turkey in years.”

When I got a little bigger, Uncle Don entrusted me with candling eggs for customers. I quickly proved so inept that my good uncle pulled me off that duty posthaste. Many an egg was saved because of that fine business decision.

Bachelors running a farm do not a particularly good business plan make, especially when strapping nephews show more interest in other working pursuits. But all of us McKenna kids learned how to present ourselves to customers and how to be as helpful as possible. Uncle Leo often headed up our customer-relations classes.

“Uncle Leo, babshi walked over from her farm to get some duck blood,” Mary Ann said. “Do we have some fresh?”

“No,” said our uncle. “But there is some chicken blood. Give that to her.”

 

 

In 2011 John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley was the inspiration for a magazine article about Lady Carol and my regular turnpike shuttles between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. The hook of this human-interest feature was our loud and loveable Beagle, Holly, aka The Duchess of Hollingsworth. As four-legged companions go, Holly was the best. (See: http://www.steinbecknow.com/2014/07/19/travels-with-charley-portable-steinbeck/ ) After more than two months suffering with an intestinal blockage, our sweetheart died on November 10. Carol, Max and I miss her terribly. Reach me at jfmckwriter23@yahoo.com .

 

Words Well Written, a Life Well Spent

By J.F. McKenna

Writing well is a pleasure in itself. The joining of the ideal subject to the perfect verb, the crafting of paragraphs that tell a story long on clarity and style, the fashioning of a clever lead promising an equally clever ending—all are delights of writing well.

No one knew that better than William Zinsser. And few preached the joy of writing well to others better than Zinsser.

“Don’t assume that bad English can still be good journalism, or good business writing, or good technical writing, or good travel writing, or good sports writing. It can’t,” declared the writer, editor and teacher in his 1998 introduction to On Writing Well, the best-known of his shelf of books. “Good English is your passport to wherever you need to go in your writing, your work and your life. All the writers I’ve quoted in this book are vastly different in personality and style. But all of them write good English. You can, too.”

William Knowlton Zinsser won’t be with his disciples to celebrate the 40th anniversary of his classic next year. The East Coast native and one-time drama critic of The New York Herald Tribune died this past May at 92. I’m sorry I never got to meet him in person, or to introduce him to the journalists who literally guided me in my apprenticeship in Cleveland—Russ Faist, Stan Modic, Joe Breig. Stan would have been fiercely devoted to Zinsser’s advice that “when you’re ready to stop, stop,” and Zinsser would have gladly endorsed Russ’ favorite newsroom doggerel: Get it right. Write it tight. Make it bright. And make it march.

Zinsser started creating On Writing Well in 1974, the year I talked my way into a Kent State-approved journalism internship at the weekly Universe Bulletin. “By then I had been teaching at Yale for four years,” Zinsser would later recall in his 2009 memoir, Writing Places, “and I liked the idea of trying to capture my course in a book.” Back in that Summer of Watergate, I would have considered myself lucky to have just a copy of Zinsser’s notes to go with my frontline education from such old pros as Joe and Russ at East 9th Street and Superior Avenue.

“Joe, with Randy on his vacation, you’re going to handle obituaries, ok?” Russ said. “It’s standard stuff, a chance to pick up house style. You’ll get it quick.”

“Got it, Russ.”

“One more thing, Joe. No one in this paper ever ‘passed away.’ Here one moment, gone the next. Everyone ‘died.’”

By the end of that summer I had moved from obits to news and feature stories—and to this day I still haven’t lost my appreciation for the basics of any craft, but especially journalism. A couple of years after that internship, I discovered William Zinsser and On Writing Well. The discovery has proved my continuing post-graduate education in the word trade.

Here’s how the author, in his 2009 book, Writing Places, recalled putting together the first edition of On Writing Well:

I began by writing brief chapters on fundamental principles such as clarity, simplicity, brevity, usage and the elimination of clutter. Then I settled into the heart of the book—longer chapters explaining how to write a lead, how to write an ending, how to conduct and construct an interview how to write about travel and science and technology and sports and the arts, and how to write topical humor. Throughout I provided examples of writing I admired in those fields. The authors I chose were very different in personality and style, but all of them wrote good English. That was the premise I wanted to establish: that nonfiction is hospitable to an infinite number of voices. Any style is acceptable if the writing is clear.

For many non-journalists, On Writing Well has been a trusted guide, too. “Countless careers,” Zinsser advises in the book, “rise or fall on the ability or the inability of employees to state a set of facts, summarize a meeting or present an idea coherently….But just because people work for an institution, they don’t have to write like one. Institutions can be warmed up. Administrators can be turned into human beings. Information can be imparted clearly and without pomposity….”

So sayeth still—from the eternity of book publishing, that is—William Zinsser, a man who spent 13 years at the Herald Tribune, 11 years as a freelance writer and other years as a writing teacher at Yale and to the larger world. Hard credentials to ignore. And, for extra measure, add in his other books, including Mitchell & Russ and Spring Training, a book about my beloved Pittsburgh Pirates.

Zinsser modestly called himself “a writer who taught”—until glaucoma brought an end to seventy years of writing in 2012. And even then he welcomed requests for help with writing problems. As he said, “No project too weird.”

So is there a suitable epitaph for William Zinsser, a fellow who said he was cursed with optimism, an acknowledged demon who chased word clutter, and a common man’s philosopher who was often wary about security in life as a goal? That epitaph is found in the last paragraph of Writing Places:

And yet, stuck with my traditional skills, I’m not feeling obsolete. Language is still king, writing still the supreme conveyor of thoughts and ideas and memories and emotions. Somebody will staff  and have to write those Web sites and blogs and video scripts and audio scripts….Whatever new technology may come along, writers will continue to write, going wherever their curiosities and affections beckon. That can make an interesting life.

CBR contributor J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a business journalist, former magazine editor and marketing-communications consultant. He is a former staff editor of such magazines as Industry Week and Northern Ohio Live. McKenna and his wife, Lady Carol, now live in neighboring Steeler Country with their dogs, Duchess Holly and Lord Max. Reach him at jfmckwriter23@yahoo.com .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CBR contributor J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a business journalist, former magazine editor and marketing-communications consultant. He also attends all meetings of the Mark Twain Society of Penn Hills, a small and informal literary gathering near Pittsburgh. McKenna and his wife, Carol, now live in Steeler Country with their dogs, Duchess Holly and Lord Max. Reach him at jfmckwriter23@yahoo.com .

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