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As I was saying …

I took some time off from Weathering Heights beginning last spring to concentrate on fulfillment of a book contract with Sterling Epicure of New York City.

The project, which came to fruition in September, followed by a round of book signings and media interviews, now is at a stage that allows me to regain some time and resume Weathering Heights. That will happen on February 29, what I ope is an auspicious day.

Meanwhile, if you care to get the book online or from various book sellers, it’s titled “Barrels & Drams: The History of Whisk(e)y In Jiggers and Shots” (that’s it over there). I created, co-wrote and edited the collection from some of the best spirits writers from around the globe, from Tom Wolfe to David Wondrich.

• Flash: North Korea launches!

beerad

Flying in the face of world opinion strict communist philosophy, the mad regime government of North Korea has allowed the launch of a missile a TV advertising campaign for a locally-brewed beer.

The beer is billed as the “Pride of Pyongyang,” (for those of you who are geographically disadvantaged, that’s the capital city of North Korea). It tells viewers the brew will help ease stress.

The Taedonggang Beer Factory has been making the beer since buying a British brewery and shipping it in pieces from the UK to Pyongyang for reassembling. The beer has sometimes been available in South Korea, and gets good consumer reviews.

Go here to view the entire 150-minute commercial, which shows up after the bank commercial sponsoring it.

• Failure to communicate

dictionary

“The failure of voters to pass our school budget has significant meaning,” said the teachers union president.

That might seem like an innocuous statement, until one looks at the spin created by use of the word “failure.”

In truth, there was no failure involved. The voters in this particular school district achieved their desire by rejecting the budget proposal.

Of course, this is a common misuse of language. And it’s often common among those in the education industry just as it is with those in the communications field.

The current upheaval in the New York State Senate is a good example. Right from the start, the voting shift of two ne’er-do-well Democrat senators to wrest control from their party and hand it to the Republican side was immediately labeled by both print and electronic media a “coup.”

There was no armed insurrection, no physical misbehavior, no takeover of buildings and radio stations. None of that banana republic or third world activity we often hear about. It was nothing more than a bunch of petulant, greedy, self-serving politicians — redundant, I know — and a behind-the-scenes billionaire twisting procedures around for their own benefit.

Just two examples of mis-use and corruption of our language in a universe of such things.

• Russia’s saucer of crazy

saucer

Back in the Cold War days, when the United States was feverishly facing off all around the globe with the Soviet Union, we were always hearing whispers about flying saucers that actually were secret warplanes.

Our black ops researchers aren’t saying much about what actually went on then, not about the Soviet weaponry or our own. However, Pravda, the “official” government newspaper we never trusted then but might as well now because, as you may know, pravda is the Russian word for truth, has decided to tell the world what had been going on.

Photos of the aircraft shown above have been posted on the newspaper’s Web site. On the home page, the headline was blunt and forceful:

USAF designed flying disk
to bomb Soviet Union

Clicking on that verbiage took me to a series of photos and this news brief:

Secret documents, declassified since 1997, reveal development of a USAF “forty foot ‘flying saucer’ designed to rain nuclear destruction on the Soviet Union from 300 miles in space.”

The American saucer was called the Lenticular Reentry Vehicle (LRV).

According to the documents the bomber was designed by engineers at North American Aviation in Los Angeles under contract with the United States Air Force. The project was managed out of Wright-Patterson AFB, utilizing German engineers who had worked on WWII German rocket planes and flying disc technology.

The unique craft would have landed much like a space shuttle, re-entering the atmosphere and gliding to a landing on a dry lake, utilizing skids, instead of heavier wheeled landing gear.

I found this all very interesting and was beginning to think the journalists at Pravda had actually begun to produce a true newspaper. Until, that is, I took a look at the headlines on other stories. A sampler:

• Doctors do wonders with amputated penis
• Alien and human skulls found on Mars
• Doctors grow man’s micro-penis on his arm
• Large brothel for gay pedophiles found in St. Petersburg
• Bad girls are fun in sex, but boring in family life
• Healthy diet of Russian cosmonauts ruins NASA’s space toilets
• FBI proudly arrests Santa Claus and Easter Bunny
• Foul language leads to impotence
• Men become impotent because of women’s bare legs
• Invisible poisonous skyfish fly at 300 km/h all around us
• Women rape men when they have no one to have sex with
• Atlantis found under Antarctica
• Man marries Thai prostitute who turns out to be former man later
• Creatures living deep under Earth’s surface came from space

Those really are the Pravda headlines. You can’t make this stuff up.

Then again, maybe you can.

• Karma is a bitch

The headline:

‘Mom-to-be hit by car
while fleeing bear is OK’

The question:

What the hell did this woman do to run this far afoul of the gods?

• Seattle another broken link in the chain

pi1
As Queen sang it, “Another one bites the dust.”

In this instance, we’re speaking of newspapers. Another closing right on the heels of an obviously panic-stricken industry’s flurry of insane cuts, give-back demands, sell-offs, restructuring, space-cutting, content-slagging, wildly flailing attempts to return to those glory days of 20+ percent profit margins that other industries could only dream about.

Some newspapers are in the dumper, true. But many only are making less profit than they did before. Underline that: A profit, just not as big. Nevertheless, they’re using the same excuse as the failing ones to shred the fabric of a media form vital to societal awareness and public service. The form that is being nibbled to death by bloggers, Web news “aggregators,” radio and TV — all of whom take reported, analyzed, edited information from newspapers rather than expend the time, effort and money it takes to do original work.

The latest victim of the newspaper blood-letting is the Seattle community, with the long-awaited D-day announced as tomorrow for the 146-year-old Post-Intelligencer.

The Hearst Corp., which had owned the newspaper since 1921, says it lost $14 million last year on the paper that had been part of a joint operating agreement (i.e., profit sharing) with the Seattle Times. It is dumping nearly all its P-I staff — about 145 of the 165 employees — and converting to an online newspaper.

It probably will do the same thing shortly in San Francisco, where it has been losing money at an even more obscene pace ever since it purchased the market’s largest newspaper, the Chronicle, and gave away its Examiner and millions of dollars to support it so it could avoid anti-trust lawsuits.

Hearst, although a legendary name in American newspapering for generations, long avoided public scrutiny of its finance because it was a private company: i.e., no public stock offerings. But it has had a very troubled newspaper division for years.

In the past 25 years or so (full disclosure: I worked for Hearst as an editor for more than 30 years) it closed newspapers in Baltimore (News American), Albany (the daily Knickerbocker News and the weekly Sun group), Clearwater, FL (Sun), San Antonio (Light) and Los Angeles (Examiner), practically gave away the daily Boston Herald as well as dozens of weekly newspapers in the LA market, and made its remaining newspaper properties pay for the barrels of red ink hemorrhaged in San Francisco and Seattle.

In both markets there was absolutely no sign of ever turning the financial corner — or even locating a corner to turn. It was purely backward management, confused marketing strategy, and, in the case of San Francisco, a failure to devise a coherent battle plan in what many consider one of the nation’s most lucrative media markets.

Hearst recently picked up several small Connecticut dailies at fire sale prices from their troubled owners, but that isn’t exactly a vote of confidence in the newspaper industry. Those papers already had been gutted to save money and are pale imitations of what good newspapers should be. Don’t look for investments there that will improve their journalistic quality.

Meanwhile, next up is the usual plank-walking for dozens more people and much of the viability of the products and their quality. The Albany Times Union has announced it is ending its contract with the Newspaper Guild and shortly will lay off dozens. The Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News now are sharing copy-editing work, which is a joke considering the differences in the two Hearst markets and the lack of intimate knowledge one needs to truly be a good local paper.

People who have labored mightily for Hearst in many markets for many years now are paying the price for a lack of corporate foresight, an inability to navigate the treacherous waters of a new technological age, and the growing sense that Hearst, like other media companies, has given up the ghost of any idea of journalism as community service. The pledges are there. They’re just not being redeemed when it comes time.

A parting thought: The P-I is known for the 30-foot lighted globe that sits atop its Elliott Bay waterfront building. It has an eagle perched atop the globe with wings outstretched. Perhaps that could be converted, in the interest of truth in journalism, to a lesser bird laying an egg.

• What they meant to say

regretAs a former newspaper editor. I’m well aware of the problems that
can be encountered when trying to craft a correction. Sometimes it’s worse than the original error because of convoluted language. Sometimes you have to explain so much because the error was rooted in complex language and simplifying it would render the correction gibberish.

Great examples of such problems are published at the end of each year by a Web site called Regret the Error, which is a great read anytime of the year.

Here is 2008’s “correction of the year” and some contender for the title.

Humor columnist Dave Barry chose to correct a misspelling he made in a column published by the Miami Herald this way:

“In yesterday’s column about badminton, I misspelled the name of Guatemalan player Kevin Cordon. I apologize. In my defense, I want to note that in the same column I correctly spelled Prapawadee Jaroenrattanatarak, Poompat Sapkulchananart and Porntip Buranapraseatsuk. So by the time I got to Kevin Cordon, my fingers were exhausted.”

Some others:

• From The Age in Melbourne, Australia:

“An article in last week’s Sunday Age, ‘Born to be, um, mild — and possibly damp,’ contained views about biker groups that were inserted in the editing process. As well, the survey of motorcyclists who rode for about three hours every weekend found that many had problems emptying their bladders. The story stated that bike riders could be ‘bedwetters.’ The error was made during editing.

• From the Washington Times:

“Friday’s ‘Pruden on Politics’ column quoted a spokesman for the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv saying the newspaper had been encouraged by the Barack Obama campaign to publish a written prayer left by Mr. Obama in Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall and retrieved by an onlooker. A second Ma’ariv spokesman and the Obama campaign dispute the first Ma’ariv spokesman’s account, and the newspaper refuses to comment further. The column also said the Obama campaign posted a video about the candidate’s visit to Jerusalem on the Internet site YouTube. The video appears to have been posted by an independent blogger who inserted a counterfeit ‘Paid for by Obama for America’ sign-off.”

• From The New York Times:

“A film review on Sept. 5 about ‘Save Me’ confused some characters and actors. It is Mark, not Chad, who is sent to the Genesis House retreat for converting gay men to heterosexuality. (Mark is played by Chad Allen; there is no character named Chad). The hunky fellow resident is Scott (played by Robert Gant), not Ted (Stephen Lang). And it is Mark and Scott — not ‘Chad and Ted’ — who partake of cigarettes and ‘furtive man-on-man action’.”

• From The Guardian of London:

“We said that, in the American TV drama ’24,’ Jack Bauer, the counter-terrorism agent, resorted to electrocution to extract information. You cannot extract information from someone who has been electrocuted because they are dead.”

• From the Press and Journal (UK):

We have been asked to point out that Stuart Kennedy, of Flat E, 38 Don Street, Aberdeen, who appeared at Peterhead Sheriff Court on Monday, had 316 pink, frilly garters confiscated not 316 pink, frilly knickers.

• Best Headline Error:

“The American Family Association’s ‘OneNewsNow’ site has a standard practice of using the word ‘homosexual’ instead of ‘gay.’ They even set up a filter to automatically make the change. This didn’t serve ONN well when a sprinter named Tyson Gay made news at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials. He suddenly became Tyson Homosexual when the site’s filter got a hold of an AP story.”

There are many more examples from news outlets around the globe. Just go to Regret the Error‘s site.