Tag Archives: Current Events

R.I.P. Tom Clancy

What to say about the passing of Tom Clancy?

Well, first, he was no Elmore Leonard, whose passing a few weeks ago was a huge loss. Leonard was a great stylist, a keen observer, and a master plotter. His stories were lean and mean until the end, and he had a knack for throwing unexpected events into his novels that you never saw coming, but made perfect sense when you looked at it in context of the story.

(I’m saying this now because I was in the throes of blogging apathy when Leonard died, and never gave him a proper sendoff in this forum.)

One of Clancy's two best novels, IMHO.  The other is Executive Orders.

One of Clancy’s two best novels, IMHO. The other is Executive Orders.

Clancy’s work probably outsold Leonard’s, but then he practically invented the genre of the technothriller. And if he didn’t, one of my Facebook friends commented earlier, then he certainly made it a popular genre and refined it to the n-th degree.

Unlike Leonard, Clancy got a little lazy in his later years. His success enabled him to purchase part ownership of the Baltimore Orioles, and I’m sure that took up much of his time. At one point he went seven years between releasing a novel, and when he did, astute readers noticed that it had been written as a collaboration with another author. All of the novels he has released since then have been in collaboration with one of three other writers. One of those, a title called Search and Destroy, was cancelled by Clancy’s publisher prior to release. I always meant to put on what’s left of my Journalist’s Hat and try to find out why, but never did.

(I picked up on this before the book’s release, and my original post about it, along with the ensuing series on Ghostwriting it inspired, has proven to be one of the top draws to this site.)

Chock the ghostwriters up to “old author’s syndrome”, wherein an aging author reaches the point that ideas are more plentiful than the time to write them, and so they get farmed out to a competent lesser-known writer who can match the spirit and style. This isn’t a new thing – Arthur C. Clarke, Anne McCafferey, and Clive Cussler count among those who have done this, and if you look carefully at the new releases, you’ll see others – even younger successful authors – doing this now.

Like all popular authors, Clancy also succumbed to King’s Bloat – a publisher-inflicted disorder in which editors are too busy and/or scared to edit the work of an author who has become an 800 pound gorilla, and subsequent manuscripts suffer in quality as a result. I loved Executive Orders, but it could have lost some wordage and been even better. The last Clancy novel I tried to read was The Bear and the Dragon, and I felt it was such a mess that I never finished reading it (I can’t say if Clancy’s three ghostwriting collaborators put him into a Word Watchers program to take off some of that weight – I might have to pick up one of the newer ones to see). For me, the best of the pre-bloat Clancy came in The Cardinal of the Kremlin, in which Clancy proved that he could shuck aside a lot of the tech stuff and write what was basically a darn good spy novel.

So the industry that was Tom Clancy has left us, and there’s nobody that I can see on the horizon that could take his place. Perhaps that’s a good thing. And no, I’m not even going to try. I’m still struggling to become the first Joe Clifford Faust.

Handwriting is on the Wall

I have just heard the news that cursive writing will no longer be taught in Ohio schools, making it the third state to abandon the skill (behind Indiana and Hawaii). The keyboard is king now, the thinking goes, making unnecessary a discipline that teaches manual dexterity at the fine motor level. In these modern times we live in, cursive is slowly being traded as a youth-learned skill in favor of manipulation of a joystick.

That’s pretty sad. We’re slowly losing something useful, something that was a rite of passage in our schooling, and something that serves as a unique identifier and perhaps even a mirror of our personality.

I say this in spite of my never having really gotten the hang of cursive. My penmanship was wobbly and inconsistent, and I always had to labor at it. Printing worked better for me, probably since I did an unusual amount of writing as a kid before the cursive lessons started. I was actually faster at printing, and over the years, my printing evolved into it’s own kind of cursive, though it doesn’t look anything like when I try to write in cursive. It’s neither writing nor printing, but it is distinctive.

Quality cursive is a subjective thing anyway. Two of my oldest friends vary widely in the quality of their penmanship. One has a tight, elegant, kind of writing that resembles a city skyline. It’s amazing looking and could be a font. The other writes in broad, palsied, wavy lines that look like Charles Schulz’s lettering in the last few years of his life. Even his printing is sad looking. But both are enormously successful in their respective fields.

What always amazed me was how cursive seemed to cookie cutter the handwriting of girls. Our cursive system turned out millions of girls who wrote with broad, loopy writing, the kind that seemed to encourage the dotting of “i’s” with tiny hearts or flowers. Being a callow youth, I immediately judged girls on this kind of penmanship, and I never dated anyone whose writing looked like that.

In fact, my wife has the most amazing handwriting I’ve ever seen. It took me a couple of years to be able to read it on the first pass. Her letters are long and thin and slant off to the right like a field of wheat bending in a breeze. The loops she pens are gracefully thin and tight, with just enough space inside to distinguish one letter from another. It’s graceful and compact and is as unique as she is.

My children, on the other hand, were educated during the ascendancy of the keyboard, and interestingly enough, they both lean more toward printing than any brand of cursive. Further, what training they did get in cursive managed to generify their penmanship, and their styles of printwriting are remarkably similar. Both have a practiced signature, but it consists mostly of straight lines occasionally interrupted by a loop. But as their father, I can tell them apart.

Perhaps it’s time for cursive to go, given how keyboards now dominate our lives. But that’s not a good thing. It was a good discipline to learn. It gave you a unique marker beyond the fingerprint. From personal experience, I can say that writing by hand gives you a more intimate connection with the words in your head. For most of the novels I’m working on or have planned, I already have opening scenes written by hand (including the soon-to-be-released The Mushroom Shift, which was the first time I wrote a first chapter by hand).

Time and progress leave things behind, and for better or worse cursive is looking more and more like a dinosaur. However, being modern has its price. I can’t imagine Sullivan Ballou’s letter or the train station scene in Casablanca being improved by a laser printed missive in perfect 12-point Times New Roman.

Harry Potter to Enter 21st Century?

I don’t know how long she’s been saying “No”, but J.K. Rowling has gotten a reputation for being something of a luddite when it comes to her novels about a certain boy with a scar on his forehead. Words like “never” were batted about when it came to asking when her Harry Potter series would be released in an eBook format. I’m not sure of her reasoning, unless it was that “the book as a tactile experience you can’t get on an eReader” thing.

Well, that was her decision.

But now, according to this article on thebookseller.com, all of that may be changing.

I’m not sure of the reason for this. The cynic in me tends to think that perhaps the publishers pointed out how much money Ms. Rowling was missing out on (read: how much money they were missing out on – since Rowling is poised to or has already become the first billionaire author, I’m sure money has lost some of its lure).

But another part of me thinks that she looked at the fact that, in light of the Harry Potter theme park to be opening in Florida next month, holding out on eBooks suddenly looked rather silly.

Anyway, if this is true, congrats to J.K. on her change of heart.

WORD WATCH: Distraction Explosives

Commuting in to work this morning, I heard an interesting term.

The announcer said that a hostage situation had been resolved when a SWAT team used “distraction explosives”.

I smiled and “flashbang” spilled out of my lips.

In other words, they used an M84 grenade on the hostage holder. Also known as a Flashbang.

Relax. It’s permanently set to stun (and is also called a “stun grenade), and is considered a nonlethal weapon.

Distraction explosive. Heh.

Battle of the Super Bowl Ads, 2010 Edition

Tiger Woods and the Hugh Grant Maneuver

Here’s a little something I wrote for the blog where I work. I was so pleased with the result that I decided to share it with all of you lucky folks, too. H/T to Dan Sonnier for most of the jokes and the link to the CG.

Just in time for Christmas, America is enjoying a steaming bowl of Schadenfreude — and the unfortunate person getting stuck with the bill is Tiger Woods. I’m going to assume you haven’t been living in a cave or been in a coma and will spare you the details. But you know things are getting bad when the jokes start. And start they have:

  • What’s the difference between a car and a golf ball? Tiger can drive a ball 400 yards.
  • Tiger Woods wasn’t seriously injured in the crash, but he’s still below par.
  • Tiger crashed into a fire hydrant and a tree. He couldn’t decide between a wood and an iron.
  • I don’t know how Elin putts, but it’s clear she can’t seem to hit the driver.
  • Actually, her short game is bad – she can only hit woods.
  • And don’t miss this little bit of Internet spoofery on the subject.

The whole situation has even brought this interesting use for CG graphics to light.

So while Tiger talks of transgressions and generally tries to avoid the subject, you know that someone in the Woods camp, be it a handler or manager, has uttered the three words nobody wants to hear: Public Relations Nightmare.

How does one handle such a situation? Commentator and columnist Larry Kudlow, who has seen his share of bad times, gives the best suggestion I’ve seen, but to me it’s merely a good start. It doesn’t go far enough to staunch the flow of tabloid headlines and begin to rebuild the good will that has fled the Tiger Woods brand.

What would I do if Tiger (or, let’s face it, his proxy) were sitting on the other side of my desk asking for my advice?

I would say, “Tiger needs to perform the Hugh Grant maneuver.”

The what?

It works like this. In 1995, the career of actor Hugh Grant was in full swing and he was dating one of the world’s most desirable women (Elizabeth Hurley) when the LAPD literally caught him with his pants down in the company of a common street prostitute. On the eve of the release of his latest film, his wholesome image was instantly tarnished.

What did Grant do? As part of the promotional tour for the film, he had scheduled an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. He kept the appointment and made his appearance before a doubtlessly skeptical audience that wasn’t sure what to expect.

Leno’s first question? “What the hell were you thinking?”

Then Grant, in a clearly embarrassed and contrite manner, dismissed advice he had been given to spin what happened, took his lumps from Leno, and said, “I did a bad thing.”

Just like that he was forgiven because, hey, we’ve all been there in one way or another. While the film Grant was promoting didn’t do well (it may have had something to do with the fact that it was a clunker from the start), his career survived, with performances that often draw comparisons to Cary Grant. And his relationship with Hurley? It lasted another five years before they parted.

So Mr. Publicist? Tell Tiger to stop hiding behind smoke and mirror statements on his web site and behind polysyllabic words like “transgressions.” Call a sin a sin. Book him on Jay Leno and let Jay ask him The Question. And tell him to answer with candor and honesty.

Hugh Grant was just a British actor. Tiger Woods is an American legend. As we showed with Grant, we’re willing to forgive a lot. That goes double for our heroes. But first he needs to come clean.

More on The Hugh Grant Maneuver:

Watch Jay Leno grill Hugh Grant

Read about Grant’s arrest and image rehabilitation

Was That The Way He Was?

The Drudge Report is now linking to a news story about a former employee of post-retirement Walter Cronkite who is currently shopping around a posthumous “nasty tell-all book” about America’s most beloved newsman. Supposedly, the tome paints a picture of a Cronkite much different than the one we had come see as “the most trusted person in America.”

But is the book accurate? Or is it a rough fabrication? Through my professional contacts, I have come up with a copy of the first draft, and even though it could get me in trouble, I am releasing it here, now, so you can judge for yourself. Is this just an attempt at character assassination by a disgruntled former employee? Or was Walter Cronkite really not the person we thought he was?

Election night 1968 hit Cronkite hard. Eleven months before, at the end of the Tet Offensive, he had taken it upon himself to declare that the war in VietNam was now “unwinnable” following this “disaster for the United States.” But the declaration had not ended the war as he had hoped. Worse, his preferred Presidential candidate, Robert F. Kennedy, was now in his grave, Lyndon Johnson had declined to run for a second term of office, and the Democratic party had fielded Vice President Hubert Humphrey against Republican Richard Nixon, with disastrous effect. Nixon was elected in an electoral landslide by a public weary of the war that Cronkite had helped to demonize.

Facing at least four years of Republican rule, Cronkite immediately took to the bottle. “As soon as the election was called,” said Dan Rather, “he reached for the bottom drawer of his desk. We all knew what was coming after that.”

Rather says that he helped his mentor finish off the bottle of “newsman’s courage” (really Wild Turkey) but it wasn’t enough. Cronkite borrowed the keys to his assistant’s souped up Ford Mustang, and they went tearing down the streets of New York City, looking for open bars.

The first place they hit was trying to close for the night, but Cronkite had entrenched himself on a stool next to a trio of Pan Am flight attendants. He wouldn’t move until he was served, and the bartender greased the wheels of his departure by offering him a couple of unopened bottles of vodka.

Cronkite and Rather left the bar, each with a bottle in one hand and a stewardess in the other. “Walt kept trying to get his to chug from the bottle,” Rather said. “He kept telling her he wanted show her ‘how that’s the way it is.'”

The third stewardess drove while Cronkite killed the rest of his bottle in the back seat with his evening’s companion. Rather’s stewardess produced a series of Thai sticks, and the quintet was soon passing those around, too. They hit a couple of after-hours clubs on their rounds, adding a large bottle of Jack Daniels to their cache, using it to wash down the Benzedrine supplied by Cronkite’s escort.

The real trouble didn’t start until one stewardess started having trouble keeping down the meal of eggs and corned beef hash she had eaten when they stopped at an all-night greasy spoon. She leaned out the window of the Mustang and sprayed the Manhattan streets with undigested food while Cronkite, now at the wheel, hit speeds of up to 90 miles an hour.

Looking for something to wipe off her mouth, the stew opened the glove compartment to find the Smith and Wesson .38 Police Special that Cronkite’s assistant, a former NYC cop, kept there. Cronkite immediately had an idea, and sometime around 4:30 a.m., slammed the Ford to a stop near the low-rent end of the theater district and led the others into an alleyway, where he kicked over garbage cans looking for “rats and other Republicans.”

The third stewardess tried to talk Cronkite out of this, but he insisted he was a crack shot with a handgun, claiming that he had learned to shoot from Edward R. Murrow himself. When a suitable target could not be found, he talked his stewardess friend into standing up against a brick wall with the mostly-empty whiskey bottle on her head. A few bleary attempts to aim later, he finally heeded the cries of the third stewardess. “You’re right,” he slurred. “that Jack in there is making the bottle wiggle.” He then gulped the last of the Jack Daniels down before placing the bottle on the head of his volunteer.

From this point on, details of the story get fuzzy. Police reports indicate that three rounds were fired from the revolver. One shot is known to have grazed the length of Cronkite’s outer right leg, and fragments from the bullet’s ricochet on the concrete embedded themselves in the newscaster’s right foot, giving him the limp he would work to conceal for the rest of his life. Another of the shots is alleged to have been fired when Cronkite spotted a “Nixon’s The One!” sign on a passing bus.

The third shot, of course, was the infamous one, wherein Cronkite took boozy aim, squinted hard as the transparent bottle blended in with the brick wall, pulled back the hammer, and gave a sloppy jerk to the trigger.

Fact or fabrication? The decision is yours!