New in Writing, My Notes

  • If you haven’t been following it, you should: in WRITING, we’re hosting a serial essay “Mutual I” by guest author Fred Leeds. These chapters aren’t long. If you’ve been following along, you should see why by now. I just posted Fred’s Chapter Five last night, and I’m really looking forward to more installments.
  • That’s What I’m Talking About: in Writing Notes,  I go back to Summitlake’s founding metaphor of The Lake, a place for reflection, but also a thing of beauty in its own right. “This short essay is just to remind us: have fun, but revere the lake. We are part of the local history of the lake, but it is also a part of us, more than most of us take the time to realize.”
  • Letter to Stereophile Magazine: in My Notes, we finally get our licks in on all that political editorialzing on the subject of  … music.

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Place Names

In OUTDOORS we are pleased to add a new short article on Western Place Names. We briefly discuss Wallace Stegner’s biography of Major John Wesley Powell, explorer of the Colorado, Grand Canyon and the West. We link this to the naming of places in the area, and discover that at least some of the place names in those early Colorado Plateau expeditions managed to migrate to the Sierras of southern California.

And this, in turn, partially answers questions and musings about the colorful names in the area that I formed when hiking the Kings Canyon area in 1972.

Note, 10/11/2007: At post time we hadn’t yet read Names On The Land, by George R. Stewart. Look for a review in Writing Notes later this year.

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Book Review: “Liberace: An American Boy”

“Liberace: An American Boy”, by Darden Asbury Pyron (University of Chicago Press, copyright 2000, 427 pages plus footnotes and a generous index). Reviewed in WRITING.

Liberace bio, by Darden A. PyronThis major new book review marks a number of firsts for I don’t believe I’ve formally reviewed a book before in these pages. Least of all would I have predicted that book would be a biography of Liberace, the “Mr. Showmanship” of America’s mid twentieth century. To quote from my Introduction:

Until August 2005, I had never considered myself a real Liberace fan. It wasn’t so much that I had strong feelings one way or the other. I had never seen Liberace, I had always associated him with Lawrence Welk musical bubble gum for the ears, and I knew he had something to do with Las Vegas. I like country western and classical, I feel distinctly uncomfortable with anything that smells like schmaltz, and I sniff in disapproval of groupies.

Liberace had always been considered somewhat of a campy gay icon during his lifetime, though he in fact never “came out” as a gay man. Understanding his colorful public life requires an understanding of his private life, a topic of frequent interest to the scandal sheets of the era. For the most part, Liberace fans simply didn’t care. Biographer Darden Pyron does an excellent job of balancing the two sides of this complicated public figure with sensitivity, and with an understanding of the politics and public expectations which dominated the era. I chose to present my review for all audiences in?the forum, because both the biography and the issues go far deeper than the partisan?political issues that so regularly visit?our news media of today.

I must say that writing this review was a challenge. The writing part of the project took two months. It was also a lot of fun. I spent extra time finishing up the review with a positive spin on fun things you can do today in Las Vegas that recapture some of that old Liberace glitz and glamor. Liberace was much more than a likeable popular pianist, which was a secret in his success. Although my review (like the book) can be tough sledding, I confined the review to three or four major themes, trying to make each entertaining and thought-provoking. I hope you enjoy it.

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Rhetoric 101

True or False? “Only a fool would say that religious freedom, gay rights, gun rights and civil rights all have something in common.”

Put down your pencils : There’s more going on in that one statement than meets the eye. First of all, it contains a factual error. All four concepts contain a common element: rights. Second, the speaker is no friend of yours. He (or she) is asserting that you shouldn’t want to inquire further into “rights”, the common term here, because you don’t want to be taken for a fool, do you?

Gosh, rights of all kinds are being debated at a fever pitch not seen in years. Passions are high. The freedoms with which the sample statement is concerned have been debated for 200, 20 , 50 and 50 years respectively.

Argument of Intimidation: Happily, the notion that you can be intimidated out of pursuing a discussion by the label “fool” was identified as a logical fallacy by the ancient Greeks over 2,000 years ago. That’s where today’s topic of “Rhetoric” comes in. The quality of debate is slipping this year.

People who need to stay on top of the issues, identify who’s telling the truth and who’s cheating, and persuade others to look at their point of view — these are most likely the people who understand that “it ain’t over” when the debate ends and everybody goes home.

Bambi Meets Godzilla: The person who wins the debate isn’t necessarily the one who gets all the polite applause and wins most of the good guy points. From your local sewing club, to the halls of the House and Senate, it all really happens – the “fat lady sings” – in the bars and back rooms. This is where the votes really count. Your best chance of “winning” is to curb the direction of “acceptable” debate by learning how to stop illogical, falsified, unjust debate cold in its tracks.

We discuss the “argument of intimidation”, arguments Ad Hominem, and a lot more. Recommended reading, with some neat hyperlinked references. We’ve prepared two versions for your reading pleasure:

  • Rhetoric 001 – in Commentary. We discuss four types of argumentative fallacy in about 10 examples. Links to Nizkor, a site which lists and discusses 42 types of argumentative fallacy, with examples and discussion.
  • Rhetoric 101 – in La Parola. All of the above, discussed in a context of the current hot button, “gay marriage”. If you are active in the boardroom, meetings, politics or community service, you need to understand how critical it can be to restrain illogical emotional argument before it gets to the jury. This version discusses how high the stakes can get.
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