Saturday, August 30, 2014

Satire is in the eye of the beholder

I love good satire. Problem is, readers don't often get it. Good satire is usually presented as a straightforward news article or opinion piece that can often be mistaken for your run-of-the-mill newspaper story. In satire, the subject is taken to an extreme, an exaggeration for what the writer hopes is a comic effect. Since there is so much craziness on the Internet already, it's hard to pick out satire unless it's labeled as such. This is why it is so helpful for Andy Borowitz to label his "The Borowitz Report" pieces in The New Yorker as "news satire." Here's a recent brilliant example:
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Across the United States on Wednesday, a heated national debate began on the extremely complex issue of children firing military weapons. 
“Every now and then, the nation debates an issue that is so complicated and tricky it defies easy answers,” says pollster Davis Logsdon. “Letting small children fire automatic weapons is such an issue.”
Logsdon says that the thorny controversy is reminiscent of another ongoing national debate, about whether it is a good idea to load a car with dynamite and drive it into a tree. 
“Many Americans think it’s a terrible idea, but others believe that with the correct supervision, it’s perfectly fine,” he says. “Who’s to say who’s right?” 
Similar, he says, is the national debate about using a flamethrower indoors. “There has been a long and contentious national conversation about this,” he says. “It’s another tough one.” 
Much like the long-running national debates about jumping off a roof, licking electrical sockets, and gargling with thumbtacks, the vexing question of whether children should fire military weapons does not appear headed for a swift resolution. 
“Like the issue of whether you should sneak up behind a bear and jab it with a hot poker, this won’t be settled any time soon,” he says. 
Get news satire from The Borowitz Report delivered to your inbox.
If this appeared as a standard news article in the local paper, I can easily see my neighbor, Tea Party Slim, reading it over his morning java and nodding his head in agreement. "Yes, children shooting automatic weapons is an extremely complex issue." Slim also reads loads of stuff on the Internet, as do I, where it is possible to mistake satire for another example of human weirdness -- or vice versa. Each of us carries baggage from our political POVs. I see Borowitz's piece as a terrific satire on our gun nut culture. Slim sees gun ownership and the firing of automatic weapons as a God-given right via the Constitution. He can't laugh at this because he'll be laughing at some of his own deeply-head beliefs.

Are there conservative satirists? P.J. O'Rourke comes to mind. He pokes fun at me and my fellow Liberals and I admit it gets under my skin sometimes but it is funny. Tom Wolfe made hay satirizing the hippie culture, the Black Panthers and the New Left back in the 60s and 70s. Ann Coulter is too heavy-handed to be an effective satirist, but sometimes I've found humor in her Liberal-baiting columns.

There must be some contemporary conservative satirists I haven't read because, frankly, I'd rather poke fun at the other guy. That's my God-given right under the Constitution. However, if a person can't laugh at himself, well.... that's really absurd.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Maybe Gov's new science panel may negate some of the damage done by the legislature

Democratic Party Gubernatorial candidate Pete Gosar was bemused by Gov. Mead's announcement of the selection of a panel to improve science education at our only four-year public university. This from Gosar's Facebook post:
The current administration appoints a panel to upgrade science at the University of Wyoming, but just a few months ago censored science for Wyoming students in K-12. Let's hope this panel puts in a full complement of remedial science courses at UW to ensure that our students can learn after graduation what they were denied before graduation.
It's difficult to live down the embarrassment of the legislation from last legislative session that banned schools from adopting national science standards. Gov. Mead signed off on the legislation offered by Rep. Matt Teeters (R-Lingle) who, thankfully, lost his primary challenge and will no longer darken the halls of the legislature with his Dark Ages approach to book larnin'. 

How many science panels and commissions does it take to negate one piece of boneheaded legislation?

Difficult to know. Word travels fast in this cyber-age. I read the bios of those appointed to the panel and was impressed. They are supposed to make some recommendations to the Gov by Nov. 1, just four days before the election. One of those recommendations should be: "Repeal the legislature's anti-science footnote and keep Republican legislators as far away from education legislation as humanly possible."

Then maybe we can get back to the business of being a player in the 21st century instead of a bystander.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

2014 Equality State Book Festival showcases the art of the book

The Equality State Book Festival marks its fifth anniversary Sept. 11-13 in Casper. It offers a great line-up of authors, as always. Nina McConigley of Casper (now Laramie) will deliver the keynote on Saturday. Nina's book of short stories, Cowboys and East Indians, is getting rave reviews and earned her the 2014 PEN Open Book Award. Other presenters: include best-selling author Joshilyn Jackson (gods in Alabama, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty), flash-fiction writer and social media guru Meg Pokrass, writer and founder/curator of the Handmade/Homemade book exhibit Deborah Poe, Jackson poet Matt Daly and many others. One of the themes of this year's bookfest is book arts. Poe's book arts exhibit will be on display at the Casper College Visual Arts Building and the University of Utah Book Arts group will be conducting a workshop on Saturday. Make your own book! You still have to write the innards, though. Can't get away from that.

This is the fifth statewide book festival (held during even years) and it gets better with age. I'm a bit biased as I serve on the planning committee, the only non-Casperite in the bunch. Kudos to the committee's co-directors: Laurie Lye and Joseph Campbell. Laurie came out of retirement to help out this year when former co-director Holly Wendt decamped to a new teaching job in her home state of Pennsylvania. Thanks to Laurie. Have you ever organized a three-day arts event? It takes time and effort and attention to a dazzling array of details. Think about all of the fairs and festivals held throughout Wyoming each year. Your friends and neighbors do that work, often for no pay but for the joy of putting on a show.

Get more info at

Saturday, August 16, 2014

As I begin my tenth year of blogging liberally and locally and snarkily...

Not sure why, but old friends are finding me via my blog. Maybe my analytics are peaking after nine years on Blogger. My first couple years in the blogosphere were spent trying to figure out what to write about 3-4 times per week. I called it "hummingbirdminds" after a quote in Wired magazine from hypertext pioneer Ted Nelson. Nelson was asked about his severe case of Attention Deficit  Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). He said that people with ADHD have "hummingbird minds." That seemed to fit. My wife and I raised a son with ADHD and we got to see a hummingbird mind up close and personal. His attention could flit to more places in five minutes than mine did in a day.

At first, I thought I would blog about ADHD. I was working on a book based on our experiences with our son. I figured that I would put excerpts up on the blog, editors and publishers would discover me, and soon I would be dreaming of ways to spend my five-figure book advance. That didn't happen, mainly because  my own short attention span wandered off-topic and I began writing about writing, politics, life in Wyoming and other fascinating topics. Much to my chagrin, I was not a one-topic blogger like some of my more successful friends on the blogosphere. A romance novelist. A knitter. A diehard St. Louis Cardinals fan. A high-altitude gardener. All were making hay online, especially the gardener. Their blogs engendered readers and comments and numbers. My posts earned a smattering of visits and an occasional comment. 

Leading up to the 2008 elections, I began focusing on politics. As my blog's subhead says: "Blogging Liberally and Locally in Wyoming." The "blogging liberally" term I borrowed from Drinking Liberally, a great idea and a great site. "Locally," of course, I got from the local movement that has been sweeping the country and making a big difference in our politics and in business. I try to act locally and shop locally. 

My political blogging earned me a trip to the 2008 Democratic National Convention, a scholarship to Netroots Nation 2011 in Minneapolis and a mention as Wyoming's top state liberal blog by Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post's "The Fix" blog. Good experiences. Good times. 

What's next? More politics. More wise-ass comments. I plan to self-publish another book of short stories by the end of the year -- beware of marketing posts about my book as self-publishing means self-promotion and lots of it. When I first began to blog, I heard that shameless self-promotion on your blog was gauche. It just wasn't done. Then along came social media and self-promotion became the rule rather than the exception. It's as American as apple pie. So I will post snippets of my work and even stage a book giveaway or two. 

But I won't totally leave off of politics. I'd be afraid that my old conservative friends wouldn't find me online. There is nothing like old friends....

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Who out-crazied who -- or whom -- in last night's Wyoming gubernatorial debate?

I was pleased to see 40-some people last night at Music & Poetry at Metro Coffee Company in downtown Casper. They had so many other choices: Sharknado II reruns, bicycling, drinking, canoodlling, riding the rapids on the North Platte, napping, The Internet, etc. Perhaps the biggest conflict took place last night in Riverton, where the three Republican gubernatorial candidates were duking it out. The debate was aired on Wyoming Public Radio.
I listened to none of the debate.  I was preparing my work to be read aloud in public. And we had a fine time right there at Metro, with Chad Lore performing his own humorous songs and then cutting loose with with some Dylan and a rollicking version of "St. James Infirmary Blues."
According to WyPols, two of the three Repub Gub candidates did their best to out-crazy one another. Who won?  
So who out-crazied who in this debate? It’s tough to call a winner, because both Haynes and Hill both worked so hard for the title. But our money is on the superintendent, if only for this nonsensical answer she gave about whether she would ever support same-sex marriage: 
“Marriage is between a man and a woman, period. We have sisters and brothers, moms and dads, and aunts and uncles, and sons and daughters, and we all have to work together and live together, and it’s critical. Marriage is between a man and a woman.”

Sunday, August 10, 2014

See you at the Music & Poetry Series in Casper Monday night

Each summer, ARTCORE in Casper sponsors the Music & Poetry Series. It features a performance by a musician or music group and a reading/performance by a poet or prose writer. On Monday, Aug. 11, at 7:30 p.m., at Metro Coffee Company, 241 S. David, the series features Chad Lore on guitar and vocals and me as the prose writer. Usually, the musician takes turns with the writer -- 20 minutes of deathless prose followed by 20 minutes of fine music. Intermission for caffeinated beverages. Then 20 more minutes or prose and the warm summer night wraps up with music, as it should.

Get a preview of Chad's music by going here and here. You can preview my writing by reading many years worth of blogging on this site. That consists mainly of snatches of memoir and humor interspersed with liberal political musings. I rarely include fiction on my blog because I still am skittish about publishing my work online before it is published in book form. I published my first book of short stories with a small publisher and, for the past two years, I have been pitching my second book to small and medium-sized publishers with no success. Short stories are not always welcome fare at the offices of publishers. I sit down to chat with industry professionals at writing conferences to discuss my work. The conversation usually goes something like this:

Me: "I write short stories."

Publisher gives me a look usually reserved for poets, English majors and plague victims -- a combination of pity and boredom. Their response usually is this: "We don't do short stories" or "Short short collections don't sell."

Me: "Oh."

Publisher: "Do you have a novel?"

Me (lying): "Yes."

Publisher smiles: "Send me a synopsis and a couple of chapters."

I don't. I could, I suppose, as I have several novel manuscripts propping open doors and serving as foot rests. But they are ancient history, written when I was learning how to write and then abandoned for other projects. I don't even have electronic versions, as they were written on ancient mechanical devices, such as the Smith-Corona portable typewriter and the first of many electronic typewriter/word processors. I could scan them and then proof them with my eagle-eyed editing. But I'd rather write.

What will I bee reading Monday night? Come to Metro Coffee and find out. It will be short, as in short story. If you see me carrying in a huge manuscript, don't worry -- I like to put my feet up while listening to music.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Sunday round-up: Retirements, departures and Sturgis season

Rita Basom, my colleague for the past 23 years, retired on Friday. We enjoyed a gala week of farewell lunches, a smashing retirement party and an art gallery reception. I will miss her. Funny how well you get to know someone when you work and travel with them 40 hours a week over the course of two-plus decades. Enjoy your retirement, Rita. See you at the theatre.

Javier Gamboa, communications guy for the Wyoming Democratic Party, is leaving Cheyenne for Austin, Texas. He's the new social media guru for the Texas Democrats. Javier's been a dynamo for the WyoDems and we wish him well in at his new job. A farewell party for Javier is being held on Friday, Aug. 8. Go here for more details.

As I write this evening, I hear Harleys roaring north to Sturgis. The sounds if Harleys remind me of my late brother Dan, who had a lifetime love of motorcycles. My only trip to Sturgis was six years ago when I drove up to meet Dan and our old friend Blake. They drove from Florida to South Dakota in a camper hauling their bikes. Dan invited me to ride as his bitch on the back of his bike, which I readily accepted, knowing that I may not be a bitch but I was pretty bitchin', even in my advancing state of aging. We rode around Sturgis, gawked at motorcycles and motorcyclists. I came out of a vendor's tent to find myself walking behind a young woman whose very tanned behind was visible out of a pair of backless leather chaps. It was hot out, so I'm sure she was thankful for the breeze. We drank a bit of beer that day. Dan paced himself as the designated driver. I witnessed my first belly shot at One-Eyed Jacks Saloon. It gave new meaning to "belly up to the bar." I miss you, Dan! You can read my posts from Sturgis 2008 here and here.