29 December 2008

Faint Praise

We often see the term fulsome praise used to indicate abundant approval or admiration. The problem is, fulsome doesn't mean that at all. Rather, the word means "flattering to an excessive degree," according to the Oxford American Dictionary. Thus, fulsome praise "isn't a lavish tribute," explains Bill Bryson in his excellent Bryson's Dictionary for Writers and Editors, "it is unctuous and insincere toadying."

Good Deed, a Short Story

We were half-way through our third drink when the old guy at the end of the bar toppled off his stool onto the floor. He lay there for several minutes, his face turning gray, and no one tried to help him. So we called 9-1-1. The ambulance arrived quickly, and two EMTs loaded the guy on a stretcher and carted him off. An hour and a half later, he walked back in and said something to the bartender, who pointed at us. He nodded and headed our way. “Probably wants to buy us a drink,” I said to my friend. But I was wrong. “Next time,” the old guy told us, “mind your own fucking business.”

15 July 2008

New Yorker Brouhaha

While the gathering media storm over The New Yorker's cover illustration of the Obamas might fog up Eustace Tilly's monocle, I'm betting Tina Brown, the magazine's gutsy former editor who published many controversial covers during her reign, is pleased. As Bill Maher put it in today's New York Times, "If you can't do irony on the cover of The New Yorker, where can you do it?"

"There's been this question about whether he's [Barack Obama] black enough," Maher continued in the same Times article. "I have this joke: What does he have to do? Dunk? He bowled a 37--to me, that's black enough." Case closed.

26 June 2008

Bursting BS Balloons

Just when the effusive outpouring of claptrap over the death of TV news celebrity Tim Russert threatened to choke us in a cloud of sentimental exhaust, a breath of fresh air arrived on June 23 in a column by Chris Hedges at truthdig.com titled "The Hedonists of Power."

"We were instructed by the high priests on television over the past few days to mourn a Sunday morning talk show host, who made $5 million a year and who gave a platform to the powerful and the famous so they could spin, equivocate and lie to the nation," Hedges writes. "We were repeatedly told by these television courtiers, people like Tom Brokaw and Wolf Blitzer, that this talk show host was one of our nation’s greatest journalists, as if sitting in a studio, putting on makeup and chatting with Dick Cheney or George W. Bush have much to do with journalism."

Quoting the great muckraker I.F. Stone, Hedges reminds us that all governments lie, and it is "the job of the journalist to do the hard, tedious reporting to shine a light on these lies." It is the job of TV courtiers, by contrast, to "feed off the scraps tossed to them by the powerful and never question the system."

These courtiers, Hedges continues, "including the late Tim Russert, never gave a voice to credible critics in the buildup to the war against Iraq. They were too busy playing their roles as red-blooded American patriots. They never fought back in their public forums against the steady erosion of our civil liberties and the trashing of our Constitution."

09 April 2008

Letting Go

Nick Gallo, one of the best friends I've ever had, died in October at the age of 57. He had fallen ill on a flight to Athens, Greece, where he was headed to write an article for a magazine. He died a few days later in an Athens public hospital. Pericarditis and pneumonia were given as the cause of death.

I'm having a hard time letting him go. It's only now that I can write this entry, which already seems hopelessly inadequate. In recent years, we talked several times a week and usually got together at least once a week. Before that, we had offices across the hall from each other for 10 years.

I keep coming across things that Nick would be interested in and I think, "Oh, I've got to tell Nick about ..." or "I'll get this book for Nick."

Time, they say, is the great healer. But I'm not so sure. My life's a little darker now.