12 June 2015


0300 by Jeff Hess

I know the sentiment of Jim Chase is just the expressions of one person’s emotions at one moment, but Jesus wept, I really wish I hadn’t read the news this morning.

Outside the basketball arena Jim Chase, a marketing executive, said he was pleased with the ruling but added: “I don’t think people in Cleveland care about anything more than basketball tonight. We’ve been losing for a long time and we have a chance to win a championship. The real news can wait right now.”

The Cleveland Cavaliers can win the championship but we will all still be losers.

11 June 2015


0300 by Jeff Hess

150611 bush and king abdullah

We are guilty by association of imprisoning blogger Raif Badawi.

We bear responsibility for each of the 50 lashes he received on 9 January of this year.

We will take on further shame if Badawi’s beatings continue tomorrow.

To do nothing is to agree to the barbarism of the House of Saud.

A Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes may be flogged for a second time on Friday, campaigners fear.

This week Saudi Arabia’s supreme court upheld a sentence of 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes on Raif Badawi for insulting Islam. The judgment came despite criticism from the United Nations, United States, European Union, Canada and others.

In January Badawi received the first of 20 sets of 50 lashes. The punishment was ordered to be spread over 20 weeks and carried out on Fridays outside a mosque in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, but subsequent rounds of lashes were postponed on medical grounds.

Human Rights Watch said it believed that a second round of flogging would take place on Friday, following the new court decision.

Badawi co-founded the Saudi Liberal Network internet discussion group, which encouraged online debate about religious and political issues, in 2008. He was arrested in June 2012 under cybercrime provisions and sentenced last May.

A spokesperson for the Foreign Office in London said this week: “We are extremely concerned that Raif Badawi’s sentence has been upheld … We have raised his case at the most senior levels in the government of Saudi Arabia and will continue to do so.”

Saudi Arabia has dismissed criticism of its flogging of Badawi and “strongly denounced the media campaign around the case”.

On 29 May the Saudi embassy in Brussels sent an official statement about the case on behalf of the Saudi foreign affairs ministry to members of the European parliament. The statement condemned any “interference in its internal affairs”, saying that “some international parties and media … drifted into an attempt to infringe and attack on the sovereign right of states”.

Then we have an editorial from The New York Times this morning:

The decision on Sunday by Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court to uphold the depraved sentence imposed on the blogger Raif Badawi last May by the criminal court in Jidda is tantamount to a death sentence for the “crime” of free expression. The criminal court sentenced Mr. Badawi, whose case has invited worldwide condemnation, to 1,000 lashes, 50 to be administered “very harshly,” in public, once a week for 20 weeks. In addition, he is to serve 10 years in prison and pay a fine of 1 million riyals, about $267,000.

There is no further appeal possible in the Saudi courts. At this point, Mr. Badawi’s only hope lies in a pardon from King Salman bin Abdulaziz.

In 2008, Mr. Badawi, now 31 years old, helped found a website, Free Saudi Liberals, that hosted discussion critical of Saudi Arabia’s religious establishment. He was arrested in 2012, charged with cybercrime. His initial sentence of 600 blows and seven years of imprisonment was increased last May after prosecutors deemed his sentence too lenient.

Social media has exploded among Saudi Arabia’s youth, providing a rare outlet for free expression in a society that severely restricts it. It seems clear that the Saudi judiciary intends to make an example of Mr. Badawi.

Mr. Badawi received the first 50 lashes in January. His wounds were so severe that a team of doctors determined he was unfit to receive a second round of lashes the following week. Mr. Badawi has not been flogged since, but there is real fear following the Supreme Court’s decision that the punishment may resume as early as this Friday, putting his life at risk.

His death, or his crippling for life, another real possibility, would be a blot that even Saudi Arabia — known for administering brutal punishments that include amputations and beheadings — would find difficult to live down.

The United States has called Mr. Badawi’s punishment inhumane. The European Union has vowed to make “every effort to engage the Saudi authorities in a dialogue on the need to recognize and respect freedom of speech for all.”

Mr. Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, and the couple’s three children have been granted asylum in Canada. The Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins June 18. This is a good time for King Salman, crowned four months ago, to demonstrate his magnanimity, grant Mr. Badawi clemency and allow him to join his family.

King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is infuriated by the international pressure to marginalize and isolate his royal house.

He should be as shamed as we are.

10 June 2015


1600 by Jeff Hess

150611 the counted

Yes, I know that most of these shootings were justified, but what happened to the days when police officers could go their entire lives without pulling their weapon?

The number of people killed by police in the United States during 2015 reached 500 on Wednesday, according to a Guardian investigation, after two young black men were shot dead in New York City and Cincinnati.

Isiah Hampton, 19, was fatally shot by New York police department officers at an apartment building in the Bronx on Wednesday morning, according to police chiefs. His death followed that of Quandavier Hicks, 22, during a confrontation with Cincinnati officers at a house on Tuesday night.

Soldiers weren’t dying this fast in Iraq.

10 June 2015


1300 by Jeff Hess

bernie and diane
Transcript here…

10 June 2015


1200 by Jeff Hess

It’s been a busy week in Wally World: the Universe’s source of cheap plastic crap from China. On The Writing On The Wal—the blog USA Today says should be on its readers’ radar—I continue my singular work dedicated to drawing back the curtain on the Bentonvile Behemoth’s corporate disinformation and other flackery.

SECOND WALMART PAY-RAISE SHOE DROPS… Here’s what I think. Since 2008 and the beginning of the Republican-generated Great Recession, Walmart got a taste of how good educated employees could be when people lost jobs and were forced to… Keep reading…

WALMART CRANKS UP THE HEAT, FOR WORKERS… Henry Ford was an evil, anti-Semitic feck, but he was an evil, anti-Semitic feck who knew on which side his bread was buttered. CEO Doug McMillon may also be an evil feck—the jury remains in… Keep reading…

WALMART BOOTS DION AND BIEBER… The few times I have shopped at a Walmart—I think the last time may have been in July of 2010—I have never noticed the music playing in the background. This may be a result of learning to tune out hideous… Keep reading…

JUSTIN BIEBER IS NOT WALMART’S PROBLEM… Yesterday I wrote about Walmart’s intention to raise thermostats (controlled from Bentonville) a single degree to take the chill off workers. The company also magnanimously pronounced that the music… Keep reading…

DARTH CEO MCMILLON IS ON THE WRONG SIDE… Even a man as apparently savvy as Doug McMillon can reach too far. Assuming the Jedi mantle and encouraging Walmart workers to think of themselves as members of the Rebel Alliance was one such… Keep reading…

WALMART PASSES SCEPTER TO GREG PENNER… Traditionally, third generations are where business dynasties fail, unless the family is smart enough to pass control to new blood, an in-law. Walmart’s third Chief Executive Officer is the husband of… Keep reading…

WALMART WAGE THEFT ISN’T AN PRIORITY…? If Walmart were interested in reducing shrinkage, the retail term for merchandise paid for but not sold, in order to increase wages of workers I might be interested. That is, of course, not the case. Any… Keep reading…

WALMART NEEDS PLUMBING AND A NEW ROOF…? Back in the middle of April, Walmart gave employees five-hours notice that stores in Pico Rivera, California; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Brandon, Florida; and Midland and Livingston, Texas would close for six… Keep reading…

Previously on Walmart Wednesday

10 June 2015


0300 by Jeff Hess

150510 chris riddell

9 June 2015


0600 by Jeff Hess

Back in April I noted the courage of Margot Wallström, Sweden’s foreign minister who told the House of Saud to take 37 million Euros in money-for-arms and, well, you know. Two months later, she still thinks (as do I) that she acted appropriately.

Sweden’s foreign minister has said she stands by her denunciation of a Saudi blogger’s flogging as medieval, three months after her criticism of the Gulf kingdom’s human rights record ignited a diplomatic crisis and infuriated business leaders fearful for trade losses.

Margot Wallström, who vowed to pursue a feminist foreign policy when taking office last year, first hit out at the treatment of Raif Badawi earlier this year after the first 50 of 1,000 lashes was inflicted on him in January for allegedly insulting Islam.

Saudi Arabia reacted furiously to her comments, blocking a speech she was due to give on women’s rights to Arab leaders and temporarily breaking off relations with Sweden.

But speaking on Monday, a day after it emerged that Saudi Arabia’s highest court had upheld Badawi’s punishment, Wallström said she was unrepentant and said again that the flogging amounted to medieval methods.

“I would not have done things differently,” Wallström told the Guardian when asked about her handling of the crisis in March, which also saw Stockholm tear up an arms trade agreement with the Saudis. “No, I do not regret the medieval remark; we have not excused ourselves. But we have explained that this was not an attack on Islam.”

The world needs more Swedens.

8 June 2015


0900 by Jeff Hess

[Update on 9 June from The Guardian:

“Unlike Ferguson, North Charleston or Baltimore, no one was killed or injured here. This is an affluent, mostly white area without a history of serious racial tension.

But the expressions of anger and the demands for change on Monday night in McKinney, Texas, recalled scenes from elsewhere in the US: hundreds of demonstrators protested then marched to the spot where three days earlier a police officer shoved a teenage girl in a bathing suit to the ground, swore and pointed a gun at two unarmed boys.

The officer’s response to a minor fracas at a pool party was so intense that a bystander’s video of Eric Casebolt’s actions turned the weekend event into the latest episode of the broiling controversy over police aggression in their encounters with black people.

This is an affluent, mostly white area without a history of serious racial tension. Feck

Of course, Larry Wilmore led with the story.

The whole fuckin’ country needs a time out.]

8 June 2015


0400 by Jeff Hess

I am in total agreement with the editorial writer for The Guardian who declared that Mr. Badawi’s sentence is a brutal exercise in public intimidation. We are focused on Badawi, however, because of the publicness of his punishment for speaking out about human rights. We do not need to go back too far in our histories to find sanctioned and non-sanctioned public hangings. Our own veneer of civilization is gossamer thin. That in no way excuses the actions of the House of Saud—and make no mistake, this is not about Saudi Arabia’s supreme court, this is about King Salman—but we have our own house to get in order as well.

We live in a nation where the passing of summary judgments, and executions, upon Black men whose only crime is asserting their Constitutional rights, happens and those responsible rarely punished. Yes, free Raif Badawi, but free the rest of the oppressed as well.

The cruel and unjust sentence passed on the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes, has been upheld by the supreme court in Riyadh. Hopes that the court might reduce or even commute the sentence, particularly as the holy fast of Ramadan begins next week, have been dashed. The only remaining appeal now is to the Saudi monarch, King Salman. From Quebec, where she has been granted asylum with their children, Mr Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar has said that she fears the public flogging—50 lashes at a time every Friday after prayers—might resume as soon as this Friday. Mr Badawi had been whipped only once after his sentence was passed, and prison doctors deemed that he was too ill to be flogged again before his appeal was heard. Britain and its allies, conveniently meeting together at the G7 in Germany, must unite and condemn what is almost certainly a life-threatening sentence. They should stand together in defence of their shared values and demand his release.

Mr Badawi’s sentence is a brutal exercise in public intimidation. He has challenged Saudi Arabia’s autocratic and religious state, and even though his arguments could not be more carefully and modestly expressed, to hold them at all is incompatible with the regime under which he lives. His offence was to start a website, the Saudi Free Liberals forum, that argued for secularism and free speech. He carefully avoided direct criticism of the Saudi royal family, but—like many Arab thinkers before him—he is convinced that a separation of faith and state is the best course if his country is to have a future of what he calls “modernisation and hope”. In an expression of his convictions posted five years ago, he wrote: “States which are based on religion confine their people in the circle of faith and fear.” For this belief he faces a punishment from a state that was one of the handful never to endorse the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the grounds that that document violates the precepts of Islam.

As this newspaper has argued before, Saudi Arabia ought to be treated as a global pariah. It is a source of a particular strain of jihadist poison, of fanatical preachers, and of young men, like the 9/11 hijackers, who threaten both the west and the whole Middle East by their readiness to fight, often in the cause of Wahhabist Islam. For the past month, a Saudi blockade has been imperilling thousands of innocent Yemenis, and aerial bombardment by Saudi jets is killing scores more. Yet the kingdom continues to be treated with honour by western powers. Britain buys Saudi oil and courts Saudi trade. Even free speech in the UK has been curtailed in order to avoid giving offence to so rich and powerful an ally. Of all the European powers, only Sweden has been prepared to jeopardise relations and its arms trade by taking a stand.

Mr Badawi will never have doubted what a challenge he posed to the kingdom. He will have understood the retribution that it was likely to bring down on his head. It is the kind of courage that demands to be recognised and honoured by everyone who respects human rights. We are and we remain Raif Badawi.

If we do not fight for the freedom of all, we place our own freedom in peril.


3 June 2015


1600 by Jeff Hess

roldo norm krumholz 120602

Cleveland’s Norman Krumholz was ahead of President Barack Obama. He was ahead of Sen. Elizabeth Warren. He was earlier, too, than economist Paul Krugman.

Inequality was in his and his city planning staff’s sights in Cleveland in the mid-1970s.

He was thinking how you curb inequality as Cleveland’s city planner 40 years ago.

In 1975, he and his staff likely wrote an annual city planning report like no other before or since. The first page sets the tone:

  • Individuals are better off with more choices in any decision.
  • Institutions serve individuals goal most effectively when they provide a wider range of choices to individuals. And most important,
  • In a context of limited resources, institutions should give priority attention to the task of promoting more choices for those individuals who have few, if any, choices.
  • Politically speaking, this is heresy. (Especially for a Republican administration. Ralph Perk was mayor). Serve the poor first? Too many other powerful forces in the city have public desires. And they have power and votes. They usually come first.

    In 1975 Cleveland wasn’t anyone’s idea of paradise and for low income people it might have been a contestant for Dante’s Inferno.

    So Krumholz and his gang came up with the idea that seems so simple but not so easily done:

    “Equity requires that locally-responsible government institutions give priority attention to the goal of promoting a wider range of choice.”

    It goes on to say that the goal calls “for a more equitable society.”

    Krumholz, now 88 and still teaching planning at Cleveland State University’s Maxine Goodman-Levin College of Urban Affairs, was a child of the Great Depression. He remembers having to move from tenement to tenement. His dad Continue Reading »

    3 June 2015


    0600 by Jeff Hess

    So, a few odious provisions of the Orwellian named Patriot Act, particularly section 215 used to illegally justify the bulk collection of the phone records of law-abiding U.S. citizens, was forced to sunset only to be replaced by a slightly less odious, and just as Orwellian named USA Freedom Act.

    I expected to find a scathing analysis of the events of the past few weeks on The//Intercept but I had to read through nearly a quarter of the more than 1,276 words in the article before I came to the buried lede.

    [W]hile the Freedom Act contains a few other modest reform provisions‚ such as more disclosure and a public advocate for the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, it does absolutely nothing to restrain the vast majority of the intrusive surveillance revealed by [Edward] Snowden. [Emphasis mine, JH]

    It leaves untouched formerly secret programs the NSA says are authorized under section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, and that while ostensibly targeted at foreigners nonetheless collect vast amounts of American communications. It won’t in any way limit the agency’s mass surveillance of non-American communications.

    As I wrote after Sunday night’s legislative action, which paved the way for Tuesday’s vote, this marks the end of a vast expansion in surveillance authorities that began almost immediately after the 9/11 terror attacks. Indeed, the Freedom Act represents the single greatest surveillance reform package since the 1970s.

    But that’s a low bar.

    A very low bar indeed. So, how did certain senators vote? I’m still looking for the roll call, but, not surprisingly, Senator Bernie Sanders, (I-Vermont) voted no.

    3 June 2015


    0300 by Jeff Hess

    I left the following comment on the story in reply to Rhodan 1970 who made the repugnant You run from the law, you end up with a good chance of having an entry wound on the back side lame excuse: We do not allow summary executions here and fleeing from the police is not a capital crime in the United States.

    Oliver Laughland, writing for The Guardian in ‘Shot from behind': man’s death reveals hidden horror of Latino police killings begins:

    Outside the Red Poppy Art House in San Francisco’s Mission district, a newly painted mural glows in the afternoon sun. Two of the men etched on the wall are instantly recognisable: to the right stands Eric Garner, the unarmed black man killed by police in New York City; Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, stands to the left. But framed in the middle is a face hardly anyone from beyond the streets of this historically working class area would have ever noticed.

    Amilcar Perez-Lopez was 20 years old when he was shot dead by two plain-clothed San Francisco police officers in February. An undocumented migrant and Guatemalan national, he is pictured at the bottom of the mural, his hands up, clutching a copy of Huey P Newton’s Revolutionary Suicide.

    He was killed two blocks away from the mural. The gallery’s owners heard the gunshots go off.

    If you have a suspect running away from an attempted, or actual homicide, with a weapon in their hand and you fear for the safety of other citizens and you have a clear shot, then police can make the case for opening fire. Short of that, a chase is not an excuse for a hail of bullets, because bullets take bad hops and innocent people can get hurt or be killed.

    As of this morning, The Counted include 470 people killed by police, so far, in 2015.

    2 June 2015


    1300 by Jeff Hess

    150602 crowd in iowa

    We are 18 months away from our next presidential election in November 2016 and journalists are talking about momentum?

    Trip Gabriel and Patrick Healy, writing in Challenging Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders Gains Momentum in Iowa for The New York Times write:

    A mere 240 people live in the rural northeast Iowa town of Kensett, so when more than 300 crowded into the community center to hear Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, many driving 50 miles, the cellphones of Democratic leaders statewide began to buzz.

    Kurt Meyer, the county party chairman who organized the Saturday event, texted Troy Price, the Iowa political director for Hillary Rodham Clinton. Price called back immediately.

    “Objects in your rearview mirror are closer than they appear,” Meyer said he had told Price about Sanders. “Mrs. Clinton had better get out here.”

    The first evidence that Clinton could face a credible challenge in the Iowa presidential caucuses appeared late last week in the form of overflow crowds at Sanders’s first swing through that state since declaring his candidacy for the Democratic nomination.

    He drew 700 people to an event Thursday night in Davenport, for instance — the largest rally in the state for any single candidate this campaign season, and far more than the 50 people who attended a rally there Saturday with former governor Martin O’Malley of Maryland.

    People in Iowa take their presidential politics very seriously and there is no more serious candidate than Bernie Sanders.

    2 June 2015


    0700 by Jeff Hess

    Tom Wolfe famously nailed the essence of the ’60s in The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test (page 83) when in 1968 he quoted Ken Keasey’s dictum: There are going to be times when we can’t wait for somebody. Now, you’re either on the bus or off the bus. If you’re on the bus, and you get left behind, then you’ll find it again. If you’re off the bus in the first place—then it won’t make a damn.

    Fast forward 40-plus years to Helsinki, Finland and the city’s bus station.

    There are two dozen platforms, Minkkinen explains, from each of which several different bus lines depart. Thereafter, for a kilometre or more, all the lines leaving from any one platform take the same route out of the city, making identical stops. “Each bus stop represents one year in the life of a photographer,” Minkkinen says. You pick a career direction – maybe you focus on making platinum prints of nudes – and set off. Three stops later, you’ve got a nascent body of work. “You take those three years of work on the nude to [a gallery], and the curator asks if you are familiar with the nudes of Irving Penn.” Penn’s bus, it turns out, was on the same route. Annoyed to have been following someone else’s path, “you hop off the bus, grab a cab… and head straight back to the bus station, looking for another platform”. Three years later, something similar happens. “This goes on all your creative life: always showing new work, always being compared to others.” What’s the answer? “It’s simple. Stay on the bus. Stay on the fucking bus.”

    A little way farther on, the way Minkkinen tells it, Helsinki’s bus routes diverge, plunging off on idiosyncratic journeys to very different destinations. That’s when the photographer finds a unique “vision”, or–if you’d rather skip the mystificatory art talk – the satisfying sense that he or she is doing their own thing

    Just as Kesey told Wolfe, getting off the bus may be ill advised.

    1 June 2015


    1900 by Jeff Hess

    Ma and Pa have already built nest number two and are waiting for this brood to mature.

    1 June 2015


    1600 by Jeff Hess

    Exposing corporate hypocrisy surrounding self-reliance and the value of bootstraps while sucking at the pubic teat—like yanking the blanket off of yet another child molester hiding behind Christ or a Republican homophobe trolling for a hookup in an airport bathroom—is shooting the fish in a proverbial barrel. Yet, we need to keep pulling the trigger for our own sanity.

    Damian Carrington, writing in Fossil fuels subsidised by $10m a minute, says IMF for The Guardian, writes:

    Fossil fuel companies are benefitting from global subsidies of $5.3tn (£3.4tn) a year, equivalent to $10m a minute every day, according to a startling new estimate by the International Monetary Fund.

    The IMF calls the revelation “shocking” and says the figure is an “extremely robust” estimate of the true cost of fossil fuels. The $5.3tn subsidy estimated for 2015 is greater than the total health spending of all the world’s governments.

    The vast sum is largely due to polluters not paying the costs imposed on governments by the burning of coal, oil and gas. These include the harm caused to local populations by air pollution as well as to people across the globe affected by the floods, droughts and storms being driven by climate change.

    Nicholas Stern, an eminent climate economist at the London School of Economics, said: “This very important analysis shatters the myth that fossil fuels are cheap by showing just how huge their real costs are. There is no justification for these enormous subsidies for fossil fuels, which distort markets and damages economies, particularly in poorer countries.”

    Lord Stern said that even the IMF’s vast subsidy figure was a significant underestimate: “A more complete estimate of the costs due to climate change would show the implicit subsidies for fossil fuels are much bigger even than this report suggests.”

    So, what are we doing about this travesty? Not much.

    Barack Obama and the G20 nations called for an end to fossil fuel subsidies in 2009, but little progress had been made until oil prices fell in 2014. In April, the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, told the Guardian that it was crazy that governments were still driving the use of coal, oil and gas by providing subsidies. “We need to get rid of fossil fuel subsidies now,” he said.

    Reform of the subsidies would increase energy costs but Kim and the IMF both noted that existing fossil fuel subsidies overwhelmingly go to the rich, with the wealthiest 20% of people getting six times as much as the poorest 20% in low and middle-income countries. Gaspar said that with oil and coal prices currently low, there was a “golden opportunity” to phase out subsidies and use the increased tax revenues to reduce poverty through investment and to provide better targeted support.

    Subsidy reforms are beginning in dozens of countries including Egypt, Indonesia, Mexico, Morocco and Thailand. In India, subsidies for diesel ended in October 2014. “People said it would not be possible to do that,” noted Coady. Coal use has also begun to fall in China for the first time this century.

    The problem we face is that ending the subsidies will affect the poorest of us the most in the day-to-day costs of heating our homes and driving to and from work. Rising energy prices will not bother the 1 percent one iota and shifting their investment dollars might be conceivably inconvenient, but not onerously so.

    Now if we could shift those subsidies to offset the cost, there would be more hope.

    Keep Carbon In The Ground…

    1 June 2015


    1500 by Jeff Hess

    the counted

    *That is 464 killed so far this year, most recently Richard Davis, 50, killed by Taser on Sunday, 31 May and reaching back to New Years day when police ran over Garrett Gagne, 22.

    We all know about Michael Brown and Tamir Rice and Eric Garner and Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell and…, but what about the rest of the citizens killed by police, what The Guardian calls The Counted who have died at the hands of the police so far in the first five months of 2015?

    The Counted is a project by the Guardian—and you—working to count the number of people killed by police and other law enforcement agencies in the United States throughout 2015, to monitor their demographics and to tell the stories of how they died.

    The database will combine Guardian reporting with verified crowdsourced information to build a more comprehensive record of such fatalities. The Counted is the most thorough public accounting for deadly use of force in the US, but it will operate as an imperfect work in progress – and will be updated by Guardian reporters and interactive journalists as frequently and as promptly as possible.

    this is a living document. Track the death toll yourself. Be enraged.

    1 June 2015


    1300 by Jeff Hess

    My current project is a novel set a century ago in Charleston, South Carolina. I’ve only been to Charleston once, and that for only a single afternoon more than a dozen years ago. I remember the high bridge driving south into the city. I remember lunch and a bookstore. I remember park and battery at the end of the peninsula. What makes me think I could write a convincing novel about a character in a city I cannot claim to know in a period I haven’t experienced?

    Knowledge that I am writing a work of fiction, not a historical biography and confidence that I can do sufficient research with texts and the Internet to weave the telling details and plead my shortcomings for the rest.

    David Nicholls, writing in Google v old-fashioned legwork—how to research a novel for The Guardian shares some of his insights on the topic.

    While there’s clearly no agreed method for an author to acquire a sense of place, I’ve always wanted to know a location at first hand, and have always been able not only to place a pin in the map but also to specify a date and time, so that the flat on Rankeillor Street in Edinburgh where Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew wake on 15 July 1988 is the same sublet flat that I shared with 15 other students during that summer’s fringe festival. This is not to say that the events are autobiographical – that’s rarely the case – but experience provides a sort of sense-memory, an authenticity that hopefully finds its way on to the page, because if the background is tangible and real, then hopefully events in the foreground will seem more plausible, too. Mapping and timing the journeys also seems important, and while writing One Day I stomped from Rankeillor Street up Arthur’s Seat then down to the New Town and on to the point on Hanover Street where the final conversation takes place. I can’t claim that the re?enactment had a huge effect on the text; the only detail I remember lifting from life was the cock-and-balls graffiti that someone had scrawled in green Sharpie on the trig point on Arthur’s Seat. Did they bring the pen with them with this in mind? I wondered, and had Emma wonder this, too.

    My first, unpublished, novel relied heavily on such reality checks. I drove to the places in and around Cleveland where the action took place. I used my own home as a model for the home where my protagonist lived. Only when I went somewhat far afield for the final chapters of the story, did I create a fictitious estate on a semi-fictitious western Lake Erie island.

    One of the advantages of walking and driving the places in your story is that you gather the unexpected experience: a chance encounter or discovery of a shop you had never seen before. These are telling details that make a difference. Nicholls continues.

    The most obvious inadequacy of such an approach is that if the author doesn’t leave their desk, then nothing happens to the author. Some writers have fun with this mingling of personal and fictional experience, and I enjoyed both Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station and Geoff Dyer’s Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, books where a blurring of author and narrator invites the reader to think, my God, did this stuff really happen? Even when the work is unequivocally fictional, the author wants to bring something home from the journey, a useful souvenir. Visiting a book fair in Moscow I found myself sharing a table in the hotel’s breakfast room with some noisy and self-confident armament manufacturers and this encounter, heavily fictionalised, found its way into Us, as did the smallest hotel room in Venice, a heavy, salty meal in Munich and the sleepless night that followed, an awkward encounter with the bikers outside a bar in Amsterdam. There’s that familiar feeling: this is an awful experience, maybe I can use it.

    One of my favorite writers, and mentor-at-a-distance, Lawrence Block, went to some pains to describe the angst of getting the bus route right or knowing on which side of East 62nd street the pizza shop is located on. Block’s main reason for checking such trivia is that if the writer gets their facts wrong, a few—most likely, very few—readers will spot the mistake and be jolted out of the story by the incongruous factoid.

    We strike a balance. I know how easily I can be sucked into research heaven as an excuse for procrastination. Years ago, when I was learning to paint with watercolors, my father told me of his experience as a Fine Arts major. He preferred watercolors because “you can’t fiddle with them.” Oils, on the other hand could be endlessly painted, scraped, repainted and since no artist can ever really be done, there could be no final product. (I am reminded that Leonardo da Vinci carried La Gioconda–The Mona Lisa–with him for more than 20 years, working on and off on the project as he willed.)

    Writing, if we allow ourselves the luxury, can be like that. We may never finish, unless and editor (or agent) is there ripping pages from the typewriter before we have a chance to make just one more change.

    1 June 2015


    0600 by Jeff Hess

    Behind my grandparents’ home on Front Street in Marietta, Ohio, between the garden and and the Marietta Boat Club on the bank of the Muskingum River, was a concrete boat. Not a boat for hauling concrete, but a boat made from concrete. I’m not sure how the relic from WW II came to be there, but I imagine that the boat had something to do with Marietta Concrete, where my dad worked his way through college drawing plans for grain silos.

    Before there was plastic, there was cement, plaster and concrete.

    This technology is flat out cool.

    1 June 2015


    0500 by Jeff Hess

    black and white

    When art becomes a death defying act, then there is much more at stake than art. Bravery is doing that which terrifies you because you realize that what you do is more important than your self. Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi fully understands the concept.

    In January this year, Trivedi announced he planned to launch a magazine of cartoons in tribute to Charlie Hebdo. His first campaign is in support of Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years’ imprisonment in September last year. The first 50 lashes were administered in public outside Jeddah’s Al-Jafali Mosque on 9 January. According to his wife Ensaf Haidar, his case had been referred to the Supreme Court, which could sentence him to death for apostasy.

    Trivedi is waging his fight for freedom of expression and information in a country where it is highly dangerous to criticise Islam. The subject of religion remains sensitive for journalists and bloggers. Some religious groups come out with threats and aggressive condemnations, which their members then attempt to carry out arbitrarily while the authorities turn a blind eye.

    The number of journalists killed has declined considerably, but self-censorship and the prevailing climate of insecurity and impunity are a cause for concern. The launch of Black & White is a breath of hope and a message to all enemies of freedom, which must be passed on.

    Blogging is not a crime.

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