Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Strike the Tents ...

In my own humble opinion, America lost a historian, writer, storyteller and gentleman of the highest order last night.

Civil War historian Shelby Foote dead at 88

MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE (AP) - Novelist and historian Shelby Foote has died. He's best-known for his three-volume history of the Civil War, and his appearance on the PBS series about that war. Foote worked on the book for 20 years. He used a flowing, narrative style that let readers enjoy it like a historical novel. He once said, "Narrative history is the kind that comes closest to telling the truth." His widow says Foote died last night. The long-time resident of Memphis, Tennessee, was 88 years old.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

An Evolving Discussion of Evolution ...

I find myself wondering ... is there a way to discuss a divisive issue in a manner that brings us closer rather than drives us further apart?

In a previous post on this blog (regarding Dr. Richard Leakey's visit to the Tall City, and the polite reception his views on evolution received) I suggested that maybe, just maybe, we - the people, in general - erred by leaving the debate over such issues as evolution to the extremists on both sides.

What do we get in such an extremist debate? Viewpoints that border on fanaticism, belief systems that border on dogma, pat presentations of trite and well-worn phrases delivered more in the tone of a mindless mantra rather than a rational discussion, an iron-bound refusal to grant an inch or a breath to the other side, and a commitment to the confrontation that borders on bloodlust - where the only acceptable outcome to a debate is the total destruction of, not just the viewpoint, but the holder of that viewpoint ... ON BOTH SIDES ...

If you feel strongly about the scientific principals of evolutionary theory, and how they apply to the incredible diversity and form of life on this planet, please read the following at
http://oracknows.blogspot.com, and tell me what you think ...

This particular example deals with evolution, but there are other topics of interest out there. Is it possible to have a reasonable discussion of opposing views over a divisive topic such as this and, if so, can we not also discuss other, similarly-divisive topics in a similarly-reasonable manner?

If the answer to the above is "Yes," then there might be some hope for us all.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Blogs and the Realm of Public Service ...

Eric Siegmund over at
Fire Ant Gazette is planning on burning a little midnight oil in August, and not just at midnight ... he's getting ready to pull an all-nighter for his part in Blogathon 2005.

Like many ventures in the media, the concept of Blogathon began with the initiative of a single person, at a single outlet. The 'History' page of the Blogathon website tells, "On July 29th of 2000, Cat Connor of
Frytopia posted an entry in her blog every fifteen minutes for twenty-four hours. At the end of her adventure she had posted a whopping 96 entries and had what was truly a unique experience in the blogging world. The following year when she decided to stage the 24-hour blogging event again, she decided that her event would do more than just gain attention - it would make a difference in the world. So Blogathon was born."

Blogathon has enjoyed growth in the ensuing years. Granted, the growth has been erratic (with the event going on hiatus last year), but it has been growth nonetheless ... would that all media could say the same.

This year's event begins Saturday, August 6, at 9:00 a.m. (Eastern Time). Participating bloggers are expected to follow Connor's original example of posting near-constantly for the next 24 hours ... one of the FAQ's on the Blogathon website is, "How can I stay awake?" The rest of us are encouraged to register as sponsors for a participating blogger, encouraging them and helping them raise funds for the charity of their choice.

And this is where bloggers have a chance to put their money where their mouth is ... uh ... fingertips are. You see, for all their whining about mainstream media (whatever that might be) and how awful it is, citizens of the blogosphere would be hard-pressed to match the example set by local, traditional media outlets in raising awareness and raising funds for charities in West Texas and southeast New Mexico. And DON'T go telling me we're required to do it by law ... because we're not ... guidelines enforced by regulatory agencies for public service programming were suspended years ago.

"Hard pressed," I said ... for now. The role of the blogosphere IN/AS mainstream media is already established, and is growing almost daily. Bloggers have a tremendous opportunity to promote/complement existing public service efforts, and to develop efforts of their own ... which can, in turn, be promoted/complemented by traditional media outlets.

In the meantime, I intend to register at Blogathon this year, and to sponsor Eric in his round-the-clock efforts to raise awareness/funds for charity ... I had recommended he raise funds for the National Association to Send Bloggers to Disneyland ... I'm sure that suggestion will get all the consideration it deserves.

ADDED NOTE: At least I WAS going to sponsor Eric ... now I'm not so sure. You see, I've heard from Princess Erin the Mighty over at mightywench.com, who makes a 'mighty' pursuasive appeal. :-)

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

A Battle Over a Book ...

The inspiration for this post comes from Burr, over at
El Llanero, who was discussing what he called, 'The best two novels of the Llano Estacado' ... Elmer Kelton's "The Time It Never Rained" and Rudolfo Anaya's "Bless Me, Ultima"

There is much, in both books, that brings West Texas and Eastern New Mexico to life ... the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the passionate and the indifferent, the sensitive and the brutal ... all delivered in well-crafted prose, with colorful characters and compelling imagery.

Both writers are now recognized as masters of their craft, and that recognition is well-deserved.

But there is one difference between the two ... while Mr. Kelton's works have found, pretty much, universal acceptance, the same can't be said for Anaya in general, and "Bless Me, Ultima" in particular.

It brings to mind a ruckus we had in Fort Stockton a few years back, when a small-but-vocal group came forward and pressed the school board there to place some restrictions on "Ultima" ... though there were also calls for complete removal of the book from local shelves. There were concerns about the profanity some characters used when they got drunk, and got violent. Critics also believed the book glorified witchcraft, and was nothing less than a 'how-to' manual for impressionable young minds. These were the 'official' reasons, offered openly for publication, and we reported them in the local newspaper. There were also other reasons, of an uglier nature, that were offered by one segment of the critics ... but not for publication, and they were not reported.

To the credit of the Fort Stockton community, opposition to the book never reached the point it did in smaller, socially-conservative communities in New Mexico and Colorado, where the books were removed, and destroyed. Instead, the Fort Stockton ISD Board of Trustees instructed a panel of educators to review the book and make recommendations. Meanwhile, an assistant superintendent of the school district was given an added duty, a temp job, of making sure copies of the book remained on the shelves until the panel reached its decision.

In the meantime, the local newspaper gave plenty of coverage to the debate, and to arguments for and against the book's removal ... not surprising, really, for a small town weekly to give space to something that had people talking. But what did surprise readers were the sidebars that appeared with those reports ... excerpts from the books, discussions of what a curandera really is, and exclusive interviews with the author himself, Rudy Anaya, who was following the story from his home in Albuquerque. There was even an editorial from the paper's managing editor, a nasty liberal-media-type of the worst order, calling upon the school district to keep some place for the book on the shelves.

You see, everybody in Fort Stockton knew I was a dang Yankee from back-east ... but they didn't know that, on the way from Pennsylvania to West Texas, I stopped in Albuquerque, and studied English literature and creative writing with Rudolfo Anaya, a professor at the University of New Mexico.

In the end, the panel recommended keeping the book on the shelves ... though not unconditionally. It could not be assigned as required reading, for example, but as one of a list of books from which students could choose in completing their assignment. It was also recommended that the book be kept at the high school, only, where students of that age might be able to better cope with the instances of profanity.

That same rascal at the newspaper wrote another editorial, praising the panel's recommendations as a means of balancing educators' missions with parents' concerns.

Praise was also heard from Anaya, who said he understood why parents might be concerned, sharing his own concerns as a grandfather teaching his grandchildren to read. Later, at a conference in New Mexico, he had a chance to meet personally with a number of educators from Fort Stockton.

All in all, the incident reaffirmed my decision to make my home in West Texas, and to ply my craft as a journalist here. West Texas is a special place, and those who make their home here are, for the most part, special as well.

"Bless Me Ultima" was #75 on the American Library Associations list of
100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000. Those books in Fort Stockton could have ended up on a bonfire, as they had elsewhere ... but they didn't ...

Sometimes, you take a stand ...

Saturday, June 11, 2005

... and El Llanero on Line ...

Not long after I had published the previous post, noting that
Jessica's Well was going on hiatus, a new site, El Llanero, made its debut. In many ways, I think this will be a cut above the average weblog, and I'm genuinely excited to see it online.

The proprietor of El Llanero is Midland's Burr Williams. Already an accomplished presenter in person and in print, Burr is now bringing his presentation to the web, and we're all the better for it. While Odessa-Midland sites have brought some local color to the blogosphere, and observations from our experiences of the region ... none of us can match the depth and breadth of knowledge and experience Burr has in observing, recording and sharing its natural history.

In less than a week, Burr has already published posts placing some recent phenomena - like the rain we've been having, and the rodent die-offs from plague, and Africanized bees - in the context of the region and its history. He has also posted about legends of the Llano like Charlie Goodnight and Jesus Tafoya, and about the storytelling tradition.

These are topics of interest, and I hope they'll speak to us, the newest generations of Llaneros out there.

And besides, Burr has a magnificent beard ... and THAT is something in which many may dabble, and a few may seriously practice ... but, oh, us fortunate few who have mastered the hirsute art!

Also, I don't know the details, but it seems that Wallace, over at
Streams, deserves some credit for getting Burr online. Thanks, Wallace!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Jessica's Well on Hiatus ...

This morning's stroll through local addresses in the blogosphere pulled up the following message ...

Jessica's Well is now officially on hiatus until Labor Day, 2005."

What lies ahead for one of the pioneers of weblogging in West Texas? I have no idea. Their note goes on to say, "What happens on Labor Day, 2005? Maybe nothing! We may be back. We may not."

The site remains active, however, and you can still peruse their archives, or check out the day's edition of Dave Muir's "Day by Day" comic strip.

ADDED NOTE: Actually, "Day by Day" is by CHRIS Muir. Thanks for a heads-up from Eric over at Fire Ant Gazette (who also knows where the "Dave" came from).

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Nattering Na-blogs of Negativism ...

Almost as interesting as the
revelation that a former FBI deputy director, W. Mark Felt, was the legendary "Deep Throat" are the responses to that revelation posted on weblogs

Breaking a silence of 30 years, the revelation came from the source, himself, when Felt stepped forward Tuesday, claiming he was Deep Throat, the secret Washington Post source that helped bring down President Nixon during the Watergate scandal. That claim was later verified by the Post, itself.

Now, we've been assured ... both here, in the Tall City, and elsewhere in the blogosphere ... that this is a non-story, a yawner that no one (except us debauched harlots of the evil MSM empire) are interested in. The blogs poke fun - sometimes in a humorous tone, sometimes in a tone that's downright nasty - at how the mainstream media is blowing the whole thing out of proportion in a pathetic attempt to pat ourselves on the back.

Yet, less that 36 hours after Felt's announcement went out over the newswires, the public seems to be interested. As of Wednesday afternoon, amazon.com reported,
All The President's Men, the 1974 book by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein about the Watergate scandal, ranked as the 43th best-selling title. That's quite a jump up from its rank - #400 - the night before. That book formed the basis for the 1976 Oscar-winning movie of the same title. According to netflix.com (an online movie rental outlet), requests for that movie have increased twelve-fold ... again, in less than 36 hours from Felt's announcement.

How big was Watergate? How big IS Watergate? Have you noticed that, to this day, more than thirty years later, just about every scandal - big or little, real or imagined, Republican or Democrat - that blows through our nation's capital has 'gate' attached to the end of it ... especially by opportunists out for someone's blood, seeking the political advantage that could be gained from getting the public to identify their issue with Watergate.

For those interested in the media's perspective on those days, especially from the vantage point of the Washington Post's news desk, I strongly recommend msnbc.com's
interview with Ben Bradlee, who was Editor in Chief of the Post when Woodward and Bernstein reported the story. Among other things, Bradlee talks about how the information from Deep Throat was just a starting point ... there was still plenty of slogging around, back-checking and corroborating to do with that information. It was good investigative work, solid writing, and a story - a truly significant story - that galvanized the nation.

For journalists, it was one of the high points of our craft in the 20th-century, and no amount of spewing from the nattering na-blogs of negativism can take that away.

ADDED NOTE: Among the many sites I visited while getting some feel for the blogosphere's take on the "Deep Throat" story is West Texas' own Jessica's Well, a longtime practitioner of the art of nattering.