All posts by bhuerster

Book Chat: An Obscure Savior

This post is a bit of a departure for this blog, which is dedicated to audio podcasts, because it’s about a video podcast. Your humble editor of Bob’s Blogcast interviewed the author Robbie Paxton about his book entitled “An Obscure Savior.” Robbie is a friend of mine and we live in the same village, which has its own cable TV channel, PCTV, on which our interview aired on March 6, 2017.

The author was working in a building directly across from the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001 and a scene he witnessed in the mayhem that ensued inspired him to write the novel. Among the excerpts Robbie read during our interview is one where the novel’s narrator describes events during and immediately after the terror attack. Robbie said that this description mirrors his actual experience on that tragic day. He goes on to say that while his novel was inspired by 911, it really isn’t about it.

This interview may appeal to aspiring writers because I asked Robbie several questions about how he went about the process of writing the book, including character development and finding the time to write. In addition, both Robbie and I talk about other books we have enjoyed over the years.

Visit the URL below to watch my interview with Robbie Paxton:

http://www.pctv76.org/video/2251/

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Technology’s impact on journalism then and now.

Technology, particularly the mobile Internet, puts current events at our fingertips, from distant aviation disasters to the ongoing migration crisis resulting from the civil war in Syria. The ultimate in immediate press coverage was live TV reporting of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Currency of press coverage came up in a discussion of the book “Waterloo: the Aftermath” by Paul O’Keeffe on the 5/24/15 edition of “The History Show,” hosted by Myles Dungan on Radio Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1).

When a coalition of forces including British soldiers lead by the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo on Sunday, June 18, 1815 it took three days for official news to reach London. Unofficial reports of the battle had arrived somewhat earlier, and people were desperate for news about the outcome and the British casualties. There were fifty six newspapers in London at the time, and none of them sent a journalist to cover the battle. This wasn’t done in 1815. In those days, journalism involved waiting for the news to come in and commentating on it. Sources included letters received by members of London society or directly from front line observers, like soldiers. The telegraph hadn’t been developed yet, so even this information moved only as fast as the post. In some respects, contemporary journalism is moving toward a similar model, also due in part to the speed of technology, which has created a different dynamic. Immediate news is readily available to all via the Internet, so news publications are moving toward analysis of the flood of information. Journalists once focused on analysis due to a dearth of timely information, now they focus on it due to a plethora.

Guests on the show included Brian Cathcart, author of “The News from Waterloo: The Race to Tell Britain of Wellington’s Victory,” Hough Gough, author of “The Terror in the French Revolution,” and Dr Jennifer Wellington, Lecturer in late 19th History Continental, University College Dublin.

To access the show, visit the URL listed below, then scroll down to the title of the program. You can listen to this program, or download a podcast to listen to at your convenience.

http://www.rte.ie/radio1/the-history-show/programmes/2015/0524/702811-the-history-show-sunday-24-may-2015/?clipid=1888648#1888648

The Killer Angels

The current controversy over the Confederate battle flag and Confederate memorials was catalyzed by the tragic mass murder of worshippers in a black church in Charleston, South Carolina last June. Referring to the entanglement of Confederate tributes with current headlines, Yale historian David Blight stated “Memory is always about the present” (Economist, 7/25/15, page 24). The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara’s brilliant novel about the battle of Gettysburg was published in 1974 as the Vietnam War was winding down. This book is the subject of the 5/31/11 edition of Slate’s Audio Book Club. Two journalists, Emily Bazelon, a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine, and David Plotz, host of the Slate Political Gabfest, discuss the book with David Blight. They note that the book won a Pulitzer Prize but didn’t become a best seller until two decades later. They speculate that the public was so disillusioned by the Vietnam War that there was little appetite at the time for another book about war. The Ken Burns Civil War documentary of 1990 and Gettysburg, the film version the book released in 1993, spurred the later jump in sales.

The Killer Angels is one of my favorite novels and sparked a long running fascination with the Civil War. By focusing on compelling characters, especially Confederate generals Lee and Longstreet, and Union colonel Joshua Chamberlin, Shaara tells a fascinating, historically accurate story, but necessarily glosses over other parts of the battle, including heroic contributions by Union officers besides Chamberlain. The novel is told from the point of view of several key actors in the battle. One of the interesting issues brought out is the disagreement Generals Lee and Longstreet have over defensive versus offensive strategy. This difference in strategic thinking plays out tragically in Picket’s Charge, ordered by Lee on the third and final day of the battle. Shaara portrays Longstreet trying to talk Lee out of this charge in favor of a more defensive strategy. Professor Blight points out that Shaara based this argument in part on statements made by Longstreet after the war, when he openly criticized Lee for the decision to launch the fateful charge on the third day of the battle.

Thanks in part to historian Douglas Southall Freeman, Robert E. Lee became immortalized as a great general and icon of the Civil War, second only to Lincoln in the popular imagination. Some historians referred to him as the “Marble Man” due in no small part to his portrayal in a Pulitzer-prize winning multi-volume biography of Lee written by Freeman in the mid-thirties. That biography was followed by Lee’s Lieutenants, another multi-volume work written by Freeman in the early forties. Professor Blight points out that Shaara uses Longstreet’s character as a vehicle to knock Lee off of the pedestal he rested upon and portray him as a soldier who made tragic mistakes as well as winning dramatic victories. Author Thomas L. Connelly offered a more nuanced view of General Lee around this time in his book entitled The Marble Man, published in 1977, in which he describes the construction of the Lee myth.

Visit this URL to listen to this program, or download a podcast to listen to at your convenience:

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/the_audio_book_club/2011/05/the_audio_book_club_on_the_killer_angels.html

The Artistry of Van Morrison.

I love the music of Van Morrison, and some of my friends are particularly passionate about his compositions. Once I saw him in an outdoor stadium in New York City and I was struck by how much the crowd loved him, with many fans singing along with him. Van has a large repertoire, and I knew there was a lot of music that I hadn’t really listened to yet, but this gap in my exposure to his work was driven home by the April 6, 2010 edition of OnPoint hosted by Tom Ashbrook. The show is entitled “Van Morrison’s Mystic Music” and Tom’s guest is Greil Marcus, cultural critic and author of the book “When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison.” Marcus is eloquent in describing Morrison’s gift for writing and singing, and how his music touches people. Some of the songs Marcus talks about include “Madame George” from Van’s “Astral Weeks” album (which my daughter loves), “Rough God Goes Riding” from the album “The Healing Game,” “Into the Mystic” (one of my favorites) from the album “Moon Dance,” and “Why Must I Always Explain” (another favorite of mine) from “Hymns to the Silence.”

I love all of the songs on “Moon Dance.” I also love “Queen of the Slipstream,” “Alan Watts Blues,” and “Did Ye Get Healed” from “Poetic Champions Compose.” Van does a beautiful version of the traditional hymn “Be Thou My Vision” on “Hymns to the Silence” that I love. I wish he would do an album of cover tunes from the Motown Era. I would love to hear him sing “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye,” “Stop in the Name of Love” by the Supremes, and “Bernadette” by the Four Tops, among others.

Visit this URL to listen to this program, or download a podcast to listen to at your convenience:

http://onpoint.wbur.org/2010/04/06/listening-to-van-morrison

The Age of Disruption.

Adrian Wooldridge, Management Editor and Schumpeter columnist for The Economist, has written a book entitled “The great disruption: How business is coping with turbulent times.” He gave a fascinating talk on this subject at the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), Thursday 23rd April 2015, in London. Following are selected excerpts from his talk, some of which are paraphrased:

We live in a period of sustained disruption driven by technology. The pace of technological change has sped up, and it’s more pervasive than anything we’ve seen before. Television went from invention to common usage in about 70 years; electricity took about fifty years. The cell phone was used by relatively few people in the mid-nineties. Now most people on earth have a cell phone, including many poor people. The internet took less than ten years to gain wide usage, then began mutating at an extraordinary speed, evolving from something you look at for information to become social, mobile, and all pervasive.

Another disruption is the premium put on companies that are asset and people light. Companies driving the global economy today employ very few people. Contract based companies arrange transactions between someone who needs a service and someone who can provide it for a price. Uber exemplifies this trend, connecting people who need transportation with car owners. Companies are becoming intermediaries, facilitators of transactions. There is a spot market in talent, a spot market in opportunities, and no real organization, thus the virtualization of organizations. This trend goes beyond taxi services and includes professional services. In many ways this will become the employment model of the future.

Recorded highlights from Mr. Wooldridge’s talk are available in a program entitled “The Age of Disruption,” a segment on the program “Big Ideas” on RN, from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, broadcast on 5/21/15.

Visit this URL to listen to this program, or download a podcast to listen to at your convenience:
http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bigideas/the-age-of-disruption/6467732

The Reading Mind.

When I was a young boy I did not enjoy reading and I didn’t enjoy being taken to the library by my mother, who loved to read. On occasion my mother would insist that I sit at the kitchen table and read in her presence. Eventually I came to enjoy reading. I still remember the first book I picked out on my own and really enjoyed: “The Dillinger Days” by John Toland. I was probably around twelve or thirteen at this time. When I moved to New York City and started commuting on the subway regularly I stepped up my reading tremendously. Instead of waiting impatiently for a train to arrive, I pulled out a book and got lost in it until the train came. I felt a sense of community reading on the subway. There were always several people reading around me and I enjoyed the variety of books I saw on the train: everything from Jane Austen to Tom Clancy. It was also interesting to see how many people were reading a current best seller. I had a lot of company reading Tom Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities” on the train, no doubt due in part to the fact that the book is set in New York City and seemed to foreshadow events and personalities in the news.

As I was browsing through the archive of past editions of OnPoint, hosted by Tom Ashbrook, I was intrigued by a program entitled “The Reading Mind,” which aired on 9/7/07. His guests were Maryanne Wolf, professor of child development at Tufts University and author of “Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain”; Constance Steinkuehler, professor of educational communication and technology, University of Wisconsin at Madison; and Jack Beatty, senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly. Professor Wolf explained that the act of reading actually shapes the human brain by causing groups of neurons to create new connections and pathways among themselves. Learning to read has a profound impact on a child’s brain. As children learn to read and the neurons in their brains get connected, this process facilitates the acquisition of cognitive skills like inferential thinking. Tom asked professor Wolf if exposure to digital media will impact the brain negatively and she was cautious in her reply. She said she knew for certain that reading print material is highly beneficial for the brain but she couldn’t say the same thing about digital media. When I walk into a library and see people sitting at computers and all the shelf space devoted to DVDs, I am glad to see people checking books out, especially when they have children in tow.

Visit this URL to listen to this program, or download a podcast to listen to at your convenience: http://onpoint.wbur.org/2007/09/07/the-reading-mind-2

A portrait of Weimar Germany.

Back in the late seventies I saw an exhibit of photographs by the German photographer August Sander. I was visiting a friend attending graduate school at the University of Michigan at the time and I saw the exhibit at a University gallery. Sander was a portrait photographer and this exhibit showcased a project he undertook to capture a cross section of German society during the Weimar Republic (1919-1933). I was struck by the powerful beauty of the photographs and especially by the variety of people depicted. There were people of all classes, from laborers to executives, but there were also people dressed as if they were photographed in an avant-garde gallery in Soho in 1980s New York City.

I have never forgotten this exhibit, so my curiosity was piqued by the 10/30/07 edition of OnPoint, hosted by Tom Ashbrook, entitled: “Weimar Germany Revisited.” Tom’s guests in this show were Eric Weitz, then professor of history at the University of Minnesota and author of the book “Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy” and Jack Beatty, On Point news analyst and senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly. Professor Weitz argued that this period in Germany has been overshadowed by twelve years of the Third Reich that followed it. He took pains to point out that the Republic did not “just collapse.” Rather, he argued, it was undone by a coalition of the established Right (those occupying powerful positions in state bureaucracy, churches, the officer corps, and universities) and the newer, extreme Right, including the Nazis. In addition to highlighting the many political and artistic achievements in this period, he offered a few lessons for our times, one of which is to beware of efforts of extreme groups to target as enemies particular ethnic or religious groups. Like August Sander, Professor Weitz painted a vivid portrait of this period in German history.

Visit this URL to listen to this program, or download a podcast to listen to at your convenience:

http://onpoint.wbur.org/2007/10/30/weimar-germany