Tuesday, March 31, 2009

New York Times reporter in da house

The journalism department at UMaine started a new program this spring. They invite seasoned reporters to come to school for two days and visit with writing classes. This is a nifty idea that I whole-heartedly support.

This year's guest was Abby Goodnough who heads up the New England (sans CT) bureau for The New York Times. I thought being such a chi-chi paper she'd have a pretty cushy job. Not so much. She is responsible for finding stories in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island that would appeal to the NYT reader. Believe it or not New England isn't a huge national news source!

Her day consists of scouring news sources to see if there is anything earth-shattering going on. She writes about 20 news stories a month for the NYT. While she prefers to write feature stories she also has to do such things as gather audio and blog if it's a timely news piece. She has had to deal with the issue of convergence and admits she and other reporters often complain about it. No doubt she has to do more these days when covering a story than she did in 1995 when she started at the NYT. Back then they had a neat-o program where you worked as a clerk for two years and then the head honchos at the paper decided if they wanted to hire you on as a full-time reporter. They don't have anything like that these days, kids.

And while she has a company car and they pay for her gas to travel for work, repairs, and insurance, Abby says that the paper is looking into discontinuing this program to save $$. Even little 'ol MPBN has company cars! Wowee!

In any case, my students were surprised that she spends sometimes up to FOUR WHOLE DAYS reporting and writing a regular feature story. She doesn't just sit down and write a story the night before it's due and uses her friends and mom as sources. They also realized they may be a bit more prepared for a job in the media these days then the decade before them. I harp to my students that they need to know more than just writing....but that knowing how to write is the most important factor. If you don't have a good story than the video, slide show, blog, and audio clip will seem silly.


In this month's issue of Bangor Metro magazine my sister wrote a story about my dad and I took the photographs. Is it unethical for a daughter to write a story about her father? Is it unethical that we weren't transparent about it? My sister is married so her last name is different. I took the photos because I can and because this way we didn't have to pay a freelancer to do it. Times are tough ya know!

Personally I think my sister did a stellar job on her first attempt at magazine writing. She's a very clever creative writer and had to stretch her mind for this article as she is not trained in the ways of journalism. Check out her writing chops!

Here's a slideshow from the shoot.

Office Workers: You're Screwed

A friend sent me this article from Associated Content this morning about the risks associated with fluorescent lighting. You know -- the lights in your office that make everything look ugly. According to this article they have been proven to cause cancer.

Take a deep breath.
A long term health consequence from being exposed to Fluorescent lighting is from short wave ultraviolet light that it emits. UV emissions from ceiling fixtures have been linked to a higher risks of melanoma skin cancer by the American Journal of Epidemiology.
And it's not even a new phenomenon...
In August 1982 an article was published in the well read British Medical Journal, "The Lancet," entitled "Malignant Melanoma and Exposure to Fluorescent Lighting at Work." The authors of this study examined and determined the possible connection between indoor fluorescent lights and the ever rising rate of melanoma. Taking into account such factors as hair color, skin type and the history of sun exposure it was found that working under fluorescent lights had doubled the risk of melanoma in the subjects of the research.
The next time you lose your cool at work or feel particularly stressed out, don't blame your boss or your period -- blame the lights!
Fluorescent lighting has also been known to cause headaches, eye problems such as night blindness, fatigue, concentration difficulties and irritability. It has also been observed that an increase in the brightness of fluorescent light leads to higher stress levels by raising cortisol hormone levels.
This is bad news for corporate America, colleges and universities, and anyone who shops at Wal-Mart, Target, or Costco. The good news? You have a new scapegoat for your bad moods. See? There's always a silver lining....

Monday, March 30, 2009

Book Blah

Have you ever read a book where you keep asking yourself...what's the point? If not consider yourself lucky. I'm almost at the end of In the Land of no Right Angles by Daphne Beal and I have literally found no point or climax to the story.


It looked good. My friend Jen left it for me after a visit this summer. She really liked the book. I didn't. No offense to her sense of selection. I had high hopes. It's just...just...nothing. It got 3.5 stars out of 5 on Amazon.com. Here are some of the accolades:
“An unpredictable journey of the spirit and the flesh. . . . [An] enchanting, at times perilous, tale of love, magic, and illusion.” –Elle
I can tell you that there is no magic in this book. An the only illusion is that it is a good read.
“Instantly suspenseful. . . . Beal’s intimate knowledge of Nepal . . . shines from these pages, making her a frank and humane tour guide into an underworld she makes fully her own.” –Jennifer Egan, author of The Keep
It's 'instantly suspenseful' because the reader keeps waiting for something to happen.
“Vivid. . . . Tantalizingly ambiguous. . . . Beal capably describes the outsider’s disorientation in a foreign land.” –Rebecca Donner, BookForum
The ambiguousness of the book is tantalizing in that all other books seem tantalizing to me right now.

Sigh again.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Too fat to work...

I found this post about an obese family in Britian on Master Your Card and couldn't NOT post it here.
This family has gone so far as to say that fruits and vegetables are expensive, and quite frankly, while they’d like to lose weight, they just don’t know how. Here’s a tip: Eat less of what you’re already eating, throw in a little FREE exercise (walk around the block for goodness sakes), and read a book on weight loss.
Is this acceptable? It would seem to me that if you are getting too fat to go to work you are also getting too fat to take a shower, wipe yourself after you poo, and even sit at a kitchen table to eat. If you are getting too big to do these things, and you didn't know what to do, wouldn't it make more sense to consult with a doctor and seek solutions instead of sitting around claiming you don't know how to lose weight? How is it ok to just give these people money so they can sit around their house and get worse? Isn't that hurting them more?

How would you handle this situation?

Books Etc.

What a sad day! One of my favorite bookstores, Books Etc., is closing it's doors on Exchange Street in Portland.

I've walked by their store numerous times and seen a book in their window that interested me.
Owner Allan Schmid said in a written statement today that "high rent and the poor economy" prompted him to decide to vacate the storefront at 38 Exchange St. when the lease expires at the end of June. The bookstore has been at that location since 1973.

Schmid said his other Books Etc. store, on Route 1 in Falmouth, will continue to operate. He also said that he hopes to find another Portland space for a store eventually. - From the Portland Press Herald
This is a big loss to the Old Port area. Hopefully it won't be a permanent one.

Interviewing in the age of technology

Incase you don't already know, I teach a writing and reporting class at a local university. I learn a lot from these "kids" and I genuinely love teaching. My students are about 10-12 years younger than me and I am constantly amazed at how journalism has changed since I started studying it in 1996 -- mostly due to technology.

While technology is great it can cause problems when it comes to things like interviews. My students see no problem at all emailing their subjects a list of questions for them to answer instead of a phone interview or, gasp, actually meeting face to face. This has caused some problems.

My students had a first draft of a profile piece due on Tuesday. They had to write a feature length story on a person or group. We have talked all about how to write a profile and it's been on their syllabus and a topic of discussion in class for weeks. I get at least 5 emails from students over the weekend that their subject hasn't answered the questions they sent them via email and they don't know what to do!

Lets pretend that you are a busy business person, police officer, stock car driver, whatever, and an undergraduate student wants to interview you for a story that for a class that probably won't be published anywhere. Even though you are extremely busy at work and have 5 children at home and your husband has a broken leg, or whatever, you agree -- because you are a good person. Then you get an email from said student with 20 questions that you need to sit down, think about, and answer. You need to spell check because you are an adult and don't want to look foolish. You also have 97 other emails in your inbox from other people. Is this student's paper really high on your priority list? My hunch is that it's not.

If you are writing a story on a deadline DO NOT depend on email to get you anywhere. Pick up the phone. Make an appointment. Interview the person face to face. You will get candid, colorful answers that can't be captured in an email. You'll get to see what the person looks like, how they dress, what their voice sounds like. You can see if they have a messy office, if they have photos of their family on their desk, if they wear a suit or steel-toed boots. All things you can't find out over email.

Sure, an email interview might be easier for YOU -- you don't even have to look presentable or brush your teeth! But it's not a good idea. Unless, of course, you have to interview someone who lives in Australia or a place you can't get to or call easily.

The moral: don't use technology to cut corners when it comes to interviews. Do the legwork and you'll get a much more compelling story -- and you won't miss your deadline.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Toothpaste Trauma

Never do I feel more American than when I go to WalMart. Today I was on a mission to buy toothpaste. A simple chore, really, until you actually enter the toothpaste aisle and see how many choices you have.

WHY are there so many choices in toothpaste? Not only between companies but within companies. Different flavors, different flavor crystals, tartar protection, whitening, ultra whitening, fresh mint, clean mint, peppermint, spearmint, cinnamint! It's dizzying. I spent a good 5 minutes just staring.

I'm a Crest girl. I've used Crest my entire life. So I zero in on the Crest choices. That narrows my vision down to half. Then I decide what size I want. I'm a single girl so I go for the medium to small tube. That way if I hate the flavor I'm not stuck with it for a year-and-a-half. Then I deduce what I'm worried about:
1. cavities?
2. tartar?
3. sensitive teeth?
4. whitening?
5. all-over health?

Then I think about texture:
1. classic toothpaste?
2. baking soda?
3. gel?
4. liquid gel?

I have decided I want all-over healthy teeth with a classic toothpaste texture in a medium size. I'm now in the realm of the Crest Pro-Health Toothpastes. But my choices aren't over:
1. Pro-Health Whitening?
2. Pro-Health Night?
3. Pro-Health Clean Mint?
4. Pro-Health Cinnamon Mint?

First off, is it necessary to have a different toothpaste for my morning and evening brush? That seems a bit unnecessary. In the mornings I use a Listerine brand whitening swish before I brush my teeth, so I don't really need the whitening toothpaste. So now it's down to Clean Mint and Cinnamon Mint. I like cinnamon on my toast and in my gum, so I go with that.

Two hours later I have completely missed my lunch break but I have toothpaste in hand. Triumphantly I head to the counter and pay. Should it really be this hard?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lessons in the Blogosphere

Have you read Miss Conduct from The Boston Globe? She's super! I read her online at Boston.com every few weeks. I stumbled upon this question that sent my internal red flags waving:
My daughter, a 20-year-old college junior, keeps a blog about her study-abroad travels and has invited her mom (my wife) and me to read it. She has a second blog for her friends, with more personal details. I found this blog, but according to my 15-year-old son, I shouldn't read it because it is not intended for my eyes. He says that reading it is equivalent to reading a diary accidentally left open. Should my wife and I ask for permission to read both blogs? Don't parents have the same right to information about their kids as a complete stranger does?
If I was Miss Conduct this is what I would have said.

Dear Poor Parents:
Go ahead and read your stupid daughters blog! She's put it out there for the entire world to read and that means you, too! If your daughter has things she is embarrassed for you to know (and what college kid doesn't) than she shouldn't put it on the web. Simple as that. Other people -- like professors, sexual predators, and future employers, are free to look at it so why not you? A blog IS like leaving your diary open...for all to see. She should exercise more restraint. If there is stuff she doesn't want you to know, than she should write her friends emails instead. Tell her to stop being such an idiot and censor herself.

This is actually what Miss Conduct said:
Oh, M.S., M.S., use your imagination, honey. When you were in your college years, were there not things you would have infinitely preferred to share with a complete stranger rather than with your own parents? Are there not, even today, things you would prefer to share with a complete stranger rather than with your parents, should they still be living? Much of the time, we don't need privacy from strangers nearly as much as we need it from our own family.

Your son is right. If your daughter does not want you to read her second blog, you shouldn't. The existence of a "family" blog and a separate "friends" blog pretty clearly conveys the message "Mom & Dad Keep Out," which is a reasonable message from a 20-year-old. It doesn't matter who else can or can't read it: If she doesn't want you to read it, then you shouldn't.

Your daughter is, however, expecting you to exercise heroic restraint, since a blog is the equivalent of a diary left open on the kitchen table not only once, but all the time. I don't think you should ask her for permission to read the second blog, but you can let her know that she might want to do more to protect her privacy. Why don't you write to her and tell her that you'd prefer that she secure her "friends" blog so that only the people whom she gives access to can read it. This will keep you safe from temptation and show your daughter that you respect her -- while also giving her a valuable heads-up that the Internet is not as private a place as she thinks it is.
Miss Conduct is WAY nicer than me -- that is why she has her job and I have mine. But seriously -- when are kids going to get it that a blog IS NOT private! You can't pick and choose who sees it unless you put some sort of firewall on it where you need a password to enter.

High school and college kids these days never cease to amaze me with their lack of common sense.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Introducing: Peter Bell

Pete is a buddy of mine from college. He's sweet, sassy, and an all around good egg. He lives in Raleigh, N.C. and makes a living with his camera. He is a very talented videographer and editor and I wanted to share one of his most beautiful short films with all you lucky people out there.
This is a 6 minute piece I produced from an end to end hike of the JMT this past summer. It features 5 high school students from Chapel Hill, NC and their experience along the trail. We took 16 days at about 15 miles of hiking per day to hike all 220 miles from Yosemite Valley south to Mt. Whitney. We had one resupply at Vermilion Resort where the group cleaned out the small store there trying to stock up with 9 days of food.

It was shot on a Sony A1U with stills taken using a Canon 40D. -- from Pete's Vimeo page (www.vimeo.com/petebell)

The video and still shots are so vibrant it's hard to imagine such beautiful colors exist out there past the traffic, smog, and strip malls. If this is as close as I get to the John Muir Trail than it's a spectacular peek into what I'm missing.

High Sierra HD - Backpacking the John Muir Trail from Pete Bell on Vimeo.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Jodi from "Knocked Up" aka: Charlyne Yi

I can't tell you how pleased as punch I was when I opened up the April/May '09 issue of Bust and saw funny-girl Charlyne Yi. She's my favorite part of the movie "Knocked Up" playing the crazy talking stoner girl.

I must have watched and re-watched every little scene she was in because she was such a riot. And she looks 17 but she's really 33! She tickles my fancy.

National Puppy Day

Did you know it was National Puppy Day? Me either!
National Puppy Day is not only a day to celebrate the puppies in our lives, for how much joy, unconditional love and friendship they offer us, but to acknowledge the great need that many homeless puppies have for a loving and forever home and to educate the public about animal cruelty! - from www.nationalpuppyday.com
If you like puppies...and c'mon, who doesn't? Check out this slide show on Boston.com.

This little guy is sleeping in a special little sleeping bag for small dogs! What will they come up with next? Below are some other ridiculous things for your pampered pooch...

Aromatherapy. For a dog. To calm them down when they get stressed out over work, the bills, and the responsibilities they have in the household.

A doggie pacifier. How in the hell are they supposed to wrap their lips around this and suck? Dogs don't have lips!

A canopy bed? Seriously? Do you think a dog cares about that sort of stuff?

Good God - a dog wig? Yes. There are companies out there that make wigs for animals. I don't know why. I don't even know if they make any money off of it. But they're out there.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A terrible way to spend millions of dollars...

On Friday night my mom and I went to see the National Acrobats of China at the Collins Center for the Arts at UMaine. I hadn't been inside the facility since it's make-over and I was excited to see the changes.

I was quickly unimpressed.

A friend had told me that if they had given millions to the university for the center and their names were on the building they would be embarrassed. After seeing it I have to agree with her.

What was once a cozy, welcoming lobby with warm reds, browns, and a eclectic golden hanging chandelier is now gray walls. Literally. Where there was once art and sculptures on the main floor leading you up to the second and third levels of the Hudson Museum there is nothing. Where there used to be the Hudson Museum Shop with all sorts of interesting stuff to buy is now a cold and strange cafeteria.

What gives!?

If I had been a first time visitor I would have never know the treasures that lay above my head in the museum! People need to be titillated to explore and there is nothing titillating about the new building. In fact, it feels more like a hospital than an arts center. And who loves to go to the hospital? No one!

The Hutchins Concert Hall is no better! What happened to the idea of putting in some AISLES so you didn't have to excuse yourself past 54 people to reach your seat in the middle of the theater? And why are the same sad looking red chairs still there? They are worse for wear -- some of them are actually chipped. And if you are going to paint the entire place gray, why keep the red chairs and the balcony section red? It looks unfinished...like they ran out of money.

And I don't know if it was the music the Chinese acrobats used or what but the acoustics were lousy. It's like the architects paid attention to all the wrong things in the re-design. It's horrible!

Even the people who work at the Collins Center don't like it. I won't name names but you can take my word for it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Teenagers Suck

We all know this...teenagers are out of touch with the real world. But this article in The New York Times about the Chris Brown/Rhianna Fiasco got me floored!
IN the hallway of Hostos-Lincoln Academy in the Bronx this week, two ninth-grade girls discussed the pop singer Chris Brown, 19, who faces two felony charges for allegedly beating his girlfriend, the pop singer Rihanna, 21. At first, neither girl had believed Mr. Brown, an endearing crooner, could have done such a thing.
Some of the quotes from the two 9th grade girls that were interviewed:
"She probably made him mad for him to react like that.""She probably feels bad that it was her fault, so she took him back."
"I don’t think he’ll hit her like that again."

In a recent survey of 200 teenagers by the Boston Public Health Commission, 46 percent said Rihanna was responsible for what happened; 52 percent said both bore responsibility, despite knowing that Rihanna’s injuries required hospital treatment. On a Facebook discussion, one girl wrote, “she probly ran into a door and was too embarrassed so blamed it on chris.”

These adoring Chris Brown fans are taking his side even though he was very very much in the wrong. These teen girls can't believe he'd beat his girlfriend up. The know him through his music, his interviews in magazines, and he's too sweet to do something like this.

One girl thought that just because they were celebrities the whole thing was getting blown out of proportion:
“My best friend got hit by her boyfriend, and I don’t see people making a big deal about it,” Ms. Shores said.

What is this world coming to?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

NBC Page vs. Disney College Program

I read this article in The New York Observer today and felt that I knew exactly what the NBC pages were feeling -- even though I never worked at NBC.

This is what the NBC Page Program is all about:
The Page Program offers college graduates the opportunity to take that first step into broadcasting. As a Page, you will be given the chance to learn about many aspects of network television from the ground up. As a member of our Guest Relations staff, your primary function will be to act as a liaison between NBC and the general public. You will conduct guided tours and perform various audience services for NBC shows. Along with these public relations responsibilities, you may have the opportunity to work in different departments within the company on either short or long term assignments. After a period of one year, you will be in a position to make an informed decision as to which area of the industry interests you most. - from NBC Universal
Basically an entry level position for recent college grads.

The Page Program sounded a lot like the College Program that Walt Disney World offers. Work too much and get paid too little. Wear a dumb uniform/costume, and dream about a higher-level position. The Disney College Program site lists the offerings that an internship with them includes:
  • Build transferable skills that include relationship building, problem solving, and written and verbal communication

  • Explore networking opportunities at the Walt Disney World Resort

  • Tap into educational opportunities that offer new courses coupling academic theory and Walt Disney World management expertise

  • Earn real-world experience with a leader in the industry

I was recruited by Disney from the University of Maine to take part in the program in 1998. It was fun. I was in college. Spending a semester in Florida seemed like a good idea. Don't get me wrong, it was a good idea! I made a lot of wonderful friends that I still keep in contact today. But I didn't go into the job thinking it was going to be my career.
For the luckiest pages, the first step is temporary assignment to real shows; of those assignments, arguably the most prestigious and competitive one is the assignment to Saturday Night Live. But luck is not favoring the pages these days.

In recent days, The Observer spoke with a number of former pages who are trying to come to grips with the diminished opportunities in their chosen field.

The jobs aren’t there anymore.

“I understood getting into TV that it was going to break my heart over and over—whether it was pitching ideas that don’t work or working on a show that fails,” said one former page. “I went into it with open eyes. But now, I don’t know that I’m glad that I did it.” - from The New York Observer
I teach an undergraduate news writing and reporting course at a local university. I had sent my students an article recently published in The New York Times about how newspapers were disappearing across the country...that jobs aren't as easy to come by as they once were. Half of the students shrugged and said "No biggie -- I don't want to go into newspapers. I'm a broadcasting major."

Yikes! I thought. The economy is touching every major industry out there. I hate to tell the bright eyed and bushy tailed the truth -- but I do. DON'T GO TO NEW YORK CITY I told my students yesterday. Go somewhere where your credentials are put to good use. Graduates these days need to be ready to go where the jobs are...whether it's Anchorage or Omaha. It's a tough world out there.

Customer Service Tangent

This post is going to go out on a limb a little bit in regards to reading and writing. I say a little bit but, in all honesty, it has nothing to do with reading and writing and everything to do with customer service.

Some of my friends have been getting terrible customer service lately...most notably Nicole. In this economy, businesses can't afford to give lousy customer service. But my story of customer service is a great one.

Last night I met my parents at the Bangor Olive Garden for dinner. Mom had a coupon she was prominently displaying for all to see. $4.00 two dinner entrees. Being the pig that I am I ordered my own dinner while my parents decided to split one. Our waitress, Amanda, asked my parents if they would like the kitchen to split the meal on two different plates for them. Wonderful!

My capellini came out superb but my parents meal wasn't what they had ordered. Oops.

Amanda was so nice. "I'm so sorry!" she apologized. "I just had it in my head you wanted the chicken and broccoli!" She had my parents start with their chicken and broccoli while she had the kitchen make them what they really ordered. Two meals for one! We all got to try the wrong meal while waiting for the right one.

My parents and I are pretty laid back people -- we don't get wound up about stuff like this. Regardless, Amanda had her manager take their meal off the check. Nice! What would have been a $24 dollar meal just turned into one for $11!

Not one to shy away from a deal, my mom asked about the $4 off coupon. Amanda went ahead and took the additional money off and our meal ended up being $6.96! Wow!

Due to patience, kindness, and a great waitress and manager, we ate three great meals for what it would cost for one meal at McDonalds. AND we got the left over chicken and broccoli dish and breadsticks to take home. Kudos to the Olive Garden!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Wally Lamb

I get positively giddy when a book I have read gets placed on Oprah's book list. It's like I'm racing Oprah to find great quality books out there and so far I've done a pretty good job.

One of the books I read before she did was Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone. I don't know many women who haven't read this book and loved it. I loved it so much I bought it and I am half way through reading it again for the third or fourth time.

What amazes me so much about this book is how Lamb, a male author, gets it so right when writing about Dolores Price. I don't know if he has daughters or not, but for a man to get a female character so exactly precise as he did with Dolores isn't an easy task. I admire him for it.

I admired him so much, in fact, that I read his second book, I Know This Much is True on summer break from college back in the day. I liked it up until the end where it seemed Lamb got sick of writing it and neatly tied up every loose end in the matter of 20 pages. If you've seen this book you know that it's almost 3 inches thick. I was disappointed.

But I'm getting over it.

I just reserved Lamb's newest book, The Hour I First Believed, at the bookstore. Here's the skinny:
When forty-seven-year-old high school teacher Caelum Quirk and his younger wife, Maureen, a school nurse, move to Littleton, Colorado, they both get jobs at Columbine High School. In April 1999, Caelum returns home to Three Rivers, Connecticut, to be with his aunt who has just had a stroke. But Maureen finds herself in the school library at Columbine, cowering in a cabinet and expecting to be killed, as two vengeful students go on a carefully premeditated, murderous rampage. Miraculously she survives, but at a cost: she is unable to recover from the trauma. Caelum and Maureen flee Colorado and return to an illusion of safety at the Quirk family farm in Three Rivers. But the effects of chaos are not so easily put right, and further tragedy ensues.

While Maureen fights to regain her sanity, Caelum discovers a cache of old diaries, letters, and newspaper clippings in an upstairs bedroom of his family's house. The colorful and intriguing story they recount spans five generations of Quirk family ancestors, from the Civil War era to Caelum's own troubled childhood. Piece by piece, Caelum reconstructs the lives of the women and men whose legacy he bears. Unimaginable secrets emerge; long-buried fear, anger, guilt, and grief rise to the surface.

As Caelum grapples with unexpected and confounding revelations from the past, he also struggles to fashion a future out of the ashes of tragedy. His personal quest for meaning and faith becomes a mythic journey that is at the same time quintessentially contemporary—and American. - from Harper Collins
Has anyone read this book? Is it any good? Suggestions? Comments? Anything?

Monday, March 16, 2009

How to be a good writer

There are a couple of writer blogs out there that I like to check in on daily: The Urban Muse and The Renegade Writer. Both of them had a post today on how to be a successful writer.

The Urban Muse has a list for 5 Daily Practices for Successful Writing:
1. Read Every Day
2. Write Strictly for Yourself
3. Get Out
4. Connect With Others
5. Keep Working on Large Projects
I can't even begin to tell you how many of my intro level journalism students do not read the newspaper. It amazes me. They complain that I don't bring enough news story examples into class and I complain that they should be finding their own examples in the newspaper themselves. You cannot be a good writer if you are not a good reader.

The Renegade Writer poses the question of is a good writer born with their talent or do they develop it over time? This is what she came up with:
You don’t need innate talent to succeed at writing, but you do need plenty of ass-in-chair. You need to hone your grammar, read constantly (when you’re not writing, that is), study great writers, and write, write, write. If your grammar stinks, you need to study grammar. If your first draft is no good, you need to write a second draft — and a third, and a fourth.
And I agree. You don't find many journalists and novelists out there who don't love to write. If you love something it's easier to continuously work on it. This logic is why I am not a concert pianist, in the WNBA, or a scientist. I have always loved to write and, therefore, am a writer.

What do you think? Can you learn to be a good writer?

A book that all writers must keep on their shelves is William Zinsser's On Writing Well. I don't require it for my class (because I know most of my students won't read it) but I was required to read it for grad school and I'm so glad that I was. It's a great book filled with tons of great advice. I like to read it every other year or so just to remind myself of my goals. Get yourself a used copy and enjoy.

In the Land of Invisible Women

I'm over half way through this book by Qanta Ahmed. It's fascinating! I'm learning all sorts of things about Saudi Arabia:

1. People call it the Kingdom.
2. Jews aren't allowed in the Kingdom.
3. Women must be covered in an abbaya at all times in public.
4. Women aren't allowed to drive or go anywhere un-escorted by a man.
5. There are police that walk around looking for women and men who aren't following
the law and humiliates them in public...sometimes arresting them.
6. The punishment for murder is execution.
7. Weddings are a segregated event.
8. Women only paint their fingernails and toenails when they have their period.
9. Women aren't allowed to pray when they have their period.
10. Dating is not allowed in the Kingdom.

I wouldn't last long...

Anyone have any suggestions for my next read?

Friday, March 13, 2009

My friend the Poet

I'd like to introduce to you my friend Jennifer Wlodarski. Isn't she cute? She is a medical student at the University of Vermont and has just won an award: an honorable mention in the 27th Annual William Carlos Williams Poetry Competition.
Open to medical students attending schools of medicine or osteopathy in the United States and Canada, the competition is named in memory of William Carlos Williams, a physician-poet born in 1883 who practiced medicine in his hometown of Rutherford, N.J., while writing and publishing poetry with peers including Ezra Pound. Poems in the competition, which were judged on the basis of craftsmanship, originality and content, must be original, unpublished (except for college publications) and have not won a contest at time of submission.
I am so proud of her! Jenn's poem, Slow Horse, is below for your reading pleasure.

Slow Horse

Comeback and outlast,

the slow horse.

All bets are in.

I've got all
my money
on myself,

someone should.

— Jennifer Wlodarski

Grade School Twittering

Remember when you were in grade school and you were set up with a pen pal from another school? When I was in 3rd grade I had a great pen pal from California who wrote me notes on really cool aqua paper! California was so far away and obviously 3rd graders there were cooler than the ones in Maine because they had wonderful colored paper!

I loved having pen pals. Getting letters in the mail was as exciting to me as a trip to the amusement park. Kinda nerdy but the truth. I thought having a pen pal was wicked fun, but I see now that the point of it from a teacher's standpoint was for us to practice our cursive and written communication skills.

But kids today don't need to learn cursive or how to write a page long letter to a friend in a far off place. No -- not when you've got TECHNOLOGY on your side? Why sit down to craft a nice letter on aqua paper when you've got email and facebook?

Heck! Second graders in Orono are learning how to use Twitter! Why write out a whole long letter, fix your spelling mistakes, address it, put a stamp on it, and walk it alllllll the way out to a mailbox when you can let someone else know what you're up to in just 140 little characters?

Debbie White of Asa Adams School in Orono thinks Twittering from one class to the next is cool. And so do her kids, apparently. I mean, why spend all that time forming multiple sentences when just one will do?
Debbie White said she decided to bring the micro-blogging site to her classroom to help her pupils learn writing skills by composing messages, known as Tweets. - from Boston.com
I mean really! Kids these days are learning writing skills via Twitter? What can you possibly learn from writing one sentence about what your class is doing? Is this really teaching our kids writing skills?

Bret Michaels Book

The Poison front man and reality tv show whore, Bret Michaels, is writing a book. The book titled "Roses and Thorns" isn't going to be a tell-all rock and roll book. It's more (cough) intimate than that.

"It gives you the sex, the drugs, the rock 'n' roll, but it also gives you the diabetes. It gives you every aspect of my life and what I'm going through. I think it's pretty frank. It's honest. It's at times self-deprecating. It's about what happens when you try to live out your dream and the reality of it all sets in and it's the hardest and the strangest thing you will ever do. I think when you read it you'll really get the understanding of what it's all about." -- from Reuters
Instead of "Roses and Thorns" perhaps the book should be called "Roses and Thorns and Diabetes."

My sister and I like to watch his reality show, Rock of Love, at the gym. It's got everything! Fights, fake boobs, strippers, and tears! Drama at it's best.
"I'm having a blast," Michaels says. "I think if you see the show, it's as real as can be. I'm not trying to play this holier-than-thou rock star. I'm just trying to play, and (am) having a good time dating. And it's allowed me to have that much TV exposure, which definitely hasn't hurt. I'm certainly not complaining."
And why would he complain? It's not even real dating. He's got 25 plastic-looking rocker chicks who want to sleep with him. After three seasons he hasn't found love yet. I hope all the action isn't interfering with his diabetes treatment.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Newspapers Crumble

The New York Times graphic department are doing an awesome job lately creating maps to illustrate their news stories. Here's another one! To see it in all of it's glory click here.

“In 2009 and 2010, all the two-newspaper markets will become one-newspaper markets, and you will start to see one-newspaper markets become no-newspaper markets,” said Mike Simonton, a senior director at Fitch Ratings, who analyzes the industry.

Many critics and competitors of newspapers — including online start-ups that have been hailed as the future of journalism — say that no one should welcome their demise.

“It would be a terrible thing for any city for the dominant paper to go under, because that’s who does the bulk of the serious reporting,” said Joel Kramer, former editor and publisher of The Star Tribune and now the editor and chief executive of MinnPost .com, an online news organization in Minneapolis. -- From the NYT
No matter where people get their news, most American's say they can't imagine life without a daily newspaper. Newspaper guilds and unions all over the country are making deals to try to stay in business.

A snapshot, if you will, of the future of America:

People will start wearing a connective device much like those ugly ear buds all the time. Scientists will be able to insert some sort of button on your hand so that when you touch your pinkie and thumb together you are connected to a phone line.

Everyone will wear glasses and companies will start creating glasses that project your stocks, photos of your kids, or favorite blogs on the lenses. No one will be able to make eye contact outside because the lenses will turn into sunglasses for protection. Soon there will be contacts that do the same thing to take over the glasses.

Billboards full of advertising will take over the landscape and driving on I-95 will feel like you're driving through a larger-than-life magazine.

As our eyesight gets worse we will actually have babies who need to wear glasses. Pretty soon everyone will be blind.

Typing and talking in text talk and acronyms will become standard practice and make its way into the dictionary.

All the books will be online so if you want to read to your child you have to get a super duper Kindle or some sort of laptop that looks like a book but is really just screens. Turning pages will be obsolete.


Hello Kitty Goodbye

Why does the land of Japan like Hello Kitty so much? What is it about this mouthless cartoon creature that has hordes of Japanese girls gaga?

She's on toys, on food (albeit not very good food), baby bottles, necklaces, rain boots, toasters, non-stick sauce pans, luggage, you name it, Hello Kitty has been there.

She's even gracing her own line of Louis Vuitton-like handbags.

Clearly the reason I do not understand is because I am an American.

Perhaps if I had a marathon Sailor Moon viewing, spritzed on some of Gwen Stefani's Harajuku girls perfume, wore knee socks with skirts, had ponytails, or ate sushi I would have a glimpse into the world that adores this simply drawn kitty cat.

Until then I am left to ponder...

Passive Aggression at it's Best

I found this interesting blog online today called Passive Aggressive Notes and I am chuckling my way through it this afternoon. Here are a couple of examples of toilet paper maintenance:

I wish this site had been in existence in 1998 when I was working and living in Disney World. My five other roommates and I left jerky notes for each other all the time. Great memories!

First Time Home Buyers

Looking to buy a house? Do it now.

Since my grandma has moved into assisted living I've been thinking about buying her little ranch house. My rent is currently $700 (includes heat) and if I can buy her house for less than that I'm all for it.

There is a new credit out there for first time home buyers that's gonna help me.
First-time home buyers who buy or bought a home between Jan. 1 and Dec. 1 of this year are eligible for a tax credit of 10 percent of the value of the home — up to $8,000 — and they don’t have to pay it back.

That’s right. The government is giving money to those who invest in a residence for themselves and live there for at least three years. - From the Bangor Daily News
Sweet! I love free money that I don't have to pay back! I've never actually ever been offered any, but I'll take it!

Last week I went to the credit union and was pre-approved for a loan. I was shocked. I mean, I have great credit but I also have $50k in student loans. Still -- they thought I was worthy.

I don't know about where you live, but where I live it seems that every other house on the street is for sale. To be honest, I wouldn't be in the market for a house if it wasn't grandma's house. I need a deal to make it work with my salary and my student loans. But all the press out there for first time home buyers is encouraging. Keep your fingers crossed!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Selective Reading

I have a reading problem. I call it "Selective Reading" and my father also suffers from it. An example:
NEW YORK, March 10 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Daily Beast founder and editor-in-chief Tina Brown and The New York Times media columnist David Carr discussed the current state of the publishing industry and its need to adapt...
When I read "The Daily Beast" above I read it as "The Daily Breast". The Daily BREAST? I thought it was a website advocating support for breast cancer. It's not. It doesn't exist. I wanted it to say breast so that's what I read.

When I moved to East Cambridge a jillion years ago my family was driving down Cambridge Street towards Inman Square. "Look!" I said. "Casual Bakery!"

"Yeah! Casual Bakery!" my father agreed. "It looks good!"

Um. Yeah. It wasn't Casual Bakery at all. It was Cafe Casal Bakery. Are we idiots? NO! Do we suffer from Selective Reading? YES!

What Mimi Saw: Sarah Haskins

I was hanging out with my friend Annie last night watching the news and making fun of the anchors, reporters, news stories, etc. Brian Williams always looks so tired! Of course they'd have a black reporter covering a story about black people! Why is it so hard to find good news?!

Anyway. Our attention turned to Ann Curry, who is not only on the Today show but also on the nightly news. Last night she did a piece on the Dalai Lama. It was lame. I mean, you get to talk to the Dalai Lama and it turns into a fluff piece? How about interviewing Mr. Lama on Dateline or 20/20 or 60 Minutes. That's where he deserves to be! An hour segment on the Lama and Tibet...not 3 lousy minutes on the nightly news. Mr. Lama is bigger than all that. He's been a living God for 70 years for Christ's sake!

I digress. I like Ann Curry. Though I would like her more if her name ended in an 'e'. I think she gets the short end of the stick on NBC. Annie brought me to an exciting website where comedienne Sarah Haskens stars in webisodes called Target Women. She even did one on my hero Ann Curry!
Ann Curry. Accomplished Journalist. Loving Mother. And victim of a far-reaching morning show conspiracy?!?! Sarah Haskins investigates in the latest episode of Target Women.
Is the Today Show really trying to kill Ann Curry?! According to Sarah Haskins the answer is yes.

I am now convinced.

For more funny Sarah Haskins webinars, click here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Flat Hair is SOOOOO Last Year!

My sister and I have been joking around about Bumpits recently. It's one of those As-Seen-On-TV things that you can't possibly live without.

Basically a Bumpit is a little banana shaped plastic thing that you put on your head and comb your hair over. It's supposed to give you a glamorous bump in your hair...see photo above. The Bumpit people obviously didn't try it on ladies with hair as thin as mine.

I read an extremely funny post about Bumpits on Pulsipher Predilections today that had me laughing out loud and annoying my officemate.
Thanks to the amazing revolutionary technology of the "Bumpit", you can turn your once normal, boring, Reese Witherspoon hair into hot, sexy, Polygamist hair! Polygamists always have the best hair. I always tell the girls I work with to emulate and model their lives after polygamists. I am an awesome social worker. There are so many awesome ways you can use the Bumpit to bring your hair closer to God, while also letting your sister wives know that you are the First Wife, and they better step off. Talk about Big Love! -- From Pulsipher Predilections
If you've never read Kristina's blog (and you have a sarcastic sense of humor) take a few minutes and check it out.

Public Relations Ethical Dilemma

Since when has it been ethically accepted to publish "news" stories from public relations personnel in the newspaper? Are we that hard up that we have to freelance stories out to the same people who write press releases to get them published?

The Bangor Daily News published a story by Rachel Rice on a female astronaut who visited Mars Hill. There's a disclaimer at the end of the story:
Rachel Rice is employed by the University of Maine at Presque Isle. She wrote this story exclusively for the Bangor Daily News.
Wow! Doesn't that sound like the BDN got a great deal! Here's the kicker...Rice doesn't only work at UMPI, she's the coordinator of media relations. It's her job to push these stories onto newspapers, the radio, and into magazines.

If it seems a little bias it's because it is. There is a reason there is a divide between journalism and public relations. Here is how the exchange is supposed to go.

PR girl:
Hey reporter! Here is a press release I wrote about this female astronaut that is coming to Northern Maine. She's from out of state.

Reporter guy:
Interesting. Why is she doing that?

PRG: She's friends with one of the teachers at UMPI.

Hm. That's fishy. I'm not sure it's a good fit for our small community newspaper. Lemme talk to my editor.

PRG: Ok. I'll wait on the line.....

(2 hours later)

RG: You're still there?

Yup! What did your editor say?

Well, our editor isn't really into it. Sorry.

Ok. I'll keep emailing and calling you about it until you guys change your mind.

Perhaps the BDN, with it's small staff, doesn't have someone to send up to Presque Isle to cover the story, but felt it was interesting enough for some press. WHY they decided to hire the Rice as a "freelancer" to write the story is beyond me. Even if they were desperate they should know better.

More info please!

Last night, as I did laundry at my parents house like the freeloader that I am, I picked up the paper and leafed through. One headline in particular caught my eye -- something about ghosts and dowsing written by Kathryn Skelton from the Lewiston Sun Journal. Here are the first few grafs:
Paul Knoll lay in bed knowing that something was making him sick, so he dowsed in the dark.

Was it something he ate? No. Drank? No. The new insulation? No.

It took five minutes to nail down the culprit through a kind of energy checkup, quizzing himself while using one of his hands to try to pry apart two fingers on his other hand. If the fingers stayed pinched together, that was a yes. If they came apart easily, that was a no.

Finally, through enough trial and error, he body-dowsed to the answer: Fabric softener had gotten mixed in with the sheets.

Seems dowsing isn't just looking for water underground anymore.
Ooooh I thought. What the heck is dowsing? I was anxious to find out. I read the entire article. Confused I went back and skimmed it again. WHAT THE HECK IS DOWSING!? I never found out.

How annoying! I complained to my father who was napping on the other couch. Of course HE knew what dowsing was -- because he's in his 50s. I, in my 30s, did not.

According to Dictionary.com "dowsing" means: –verb (used without object)
1. to search for underground supplies of water, metal, etc., by the use of a divining rod.

My sister and I used to pretend to look for water when we found a "Y" shaped stick. That was dowsing? Anyway -- the story was about body dowsing, not dowsing for water, so what does body dowsing mean?

If you've ever been to a baby shower and someone held a pencil attached to a string over the pregnant woman's belly to find out if it's a boy or girl (depending on the clockwise or counterclockwise way the pencil turns) you have witnessed a body dowse. The dude in the article did something funky with his fingers. No clue about that -- and I've run out of time and patience to look it up online.

Why do I pontificate about this? Because as journalists we need to take a step back from our articles and find out if we are adequately describing complicated issues to our readers. Sure Skelton might have known what body dowsing was, but her readers do not. Sometimes we get so close to our stories that we forget what the regular person knows and doesn't know -- and it's always better to explain than to leave questions. A reporter is supposed to answer questions ... not create more.

When I am dealing with a complicated topic I always let someone outside of the issue read my story -- usually my sister or my mother. If she doesn't understand something I know I need to include more information. Just because you are a writer/reporter/journalist doesn't mean you can't benefit from a little layman editing. I do it all the time!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Maine Bear Cubs via MPBN

My friend Annie covers a lot of interesting stories for the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, but her recent story on Maine bear cubs is my favorite so far. Annie went out into the wilderness of Maine with State Wildlife Biologist Randy Cross and his crew to check on mama bears and her cubs. The monitoring program helps determine the health of Maine's black bear population and determine how many bears can be hunted during bear hunting season.

I didn't even know Maine had a bear hunting season. You learn something new everyday!

Every winter, pilots fly over the woods of northern and eastern Maine to detect radio-collared female adult black bears. The bears' den locations are given to State Wildlife Biologist Randy Cross, who heads into the woods to find them. Today's trip involves driving, snowmobiling, and snoweshoeing into the woods of Edinburg, about 50 miles north of Bangor.
Annie took a short video of the process of weighing the cubs and their zonked-out-on-tranquilizers mom. There were three female cubs who screamed bloody murder as they were taken from their den, but calmed down when held close to the biologists warm bodies. So cute!

Annie has a fun job. And she's good at it! Check out the video and story here.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Down East Downsizes

Down East magazine is "reorganizing" which is a nice way of saying they are laying people off. Six people will lose their job while others will have reduced responsibilities, reduced hours, or changed to independent contractor status.
"Even though our magazine readership is at an all-time high, advertising pages are down, mostly due to real estate sales… and when sales are down to this degree, there’s really only so far you can go before you have to come face to face with that reality," said Bob Fernald, president of Down East Enterprises, Inc. -- From Village Soup
If you've leafed through an issue of Down East you probably noticed how much of their advertising comes from real estate -- homes only the wealthy can afford anyway.

When even luxury food magazines like Bon Apetite and Gourmet are trying to change their content to be more frugal, magazines that rely on advertising from cars, real estate, and retail have to come up with new ways to bring in ad dollars. My own parents, who used to subscribe to Down East, stopped reading it because they said there were too many ads. They got sick of looking at them.

So what is a magazine to do? A high ratio of ads to content in a magazine is a turn off for readers, but without ad revenue a magazine can't survive. And luxury magazines are in a tug of war between creating content that is tackling the current economic crisis and potentially losing readers and continuing to create the same kind of content they've been doing all along and losing advertisors.

What's the winning solution? If we knew that I guess the newspaper and magazine industries wouldn't be in such a pickle.

Will the economy hurt baseball?

God I hope so.

Don't get me wrong -- I love watching the game at Fenway Park. I spent three summers waitressing at bars and restaurants in Kenmore Square in college. A lot of my best memories have something to do with the Red Sox.

But hearing on the news last night that Manny Ramirez just signed a contract with the Dodgers for $45 million dollars made me a bit sick.

I don't like Manny. He's got an attitude problem and is a lousy role model. Yet he's the second highest player in the major leagues behind A-Rod. Coaches have to go out of their way to deal with him yet he makes the big bucks. It's like paying a great salesman a top salary even though he's rude to fellow employees and disrespects the boss.

Now I said that I love going to Fenway but how often can I afford to go? Hardly ever. It's too damn expensive! I wonder how the economy is going to affect ticket sales, if at all, this year. How much do ticket sales affect the salaries of the players? I'm assuming that the best teams have the best attendance and thus more money to loo the top players onto their roster...but if no one can afford to attend the games does it matter?

In any case, I think it's ridiculous that pro sports players make so much money -- especially when they get caught using performance enhancing drugs. How did the bar get set so low and the salaries set so high? Why don't more people seem to care? Why aren't these over-paid jocks held accountable?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Mapping out Unemployment

The New York Times has a nifty interactive map of unemployment rates in the country. A screen grab of the map is below but to get to the real one click here.

It really puts into perspective how hard hit some states are -- like Michigan, Alaska, Oregon, and California, for example. Mackinac County, located on the tip of that funny part of Michigan, seems to be the highest with a 24.2% unemployment rate. It looks like they should all move to the plains states like Kansas or to New Hampshire where the rates aren't nearly as bad.

How does your county fare?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Goodbye ShopGirl

Kristen Andresen, the former Bangor Daily News reporter has quit her shopping blog. Read her last post on the BDN site here.

Andresen is right -- times are tough for newspapers these days. But Andresen had a sweet deal as ShopGirl. Not only did she get money from the BDN to buy stuff, she also got paid to blog -- something thousands of would-be fashion bloggers out there in the world would die for.

These days, a blog about shopping does seem a little luxurious, no? Andresen pushed shopping local, which is great advertising for a state where most of the business is small businesses, but reading about her purchases week after week made me a bit jealous. I mean, she gets paid by her job to buy stuff, and gets paid (quite well) to write about it. For a local newspaper who is no doubt struggling to make a profit while not laying off every reporter, this seems a bit unfair. If I'm jealous and I don't even work there I can't imagine how the other reporters felt.

No doubt the BDN wanted to cut Andresen's pay. And they wanted her to write about ways to save money on stuff other than cashmere gloves and skin care products. Fair is fair. And I don't blame Andresen for leaving. I do find it kind of unethical for her to push her new site in her BDN column. It left a "screw you guys" taste in my mouth.

ShopGirl had a good run. She broke the blogging barrier at the BDN and catapulted them into the new millennium. She's got a great job at UMaine and a bunch of stuff from her 8 years as ShopGirl. She has made a name for herself. That's what it's all about anyway.

The 5:00 pm news is stupid

Maybe you live in the city and there is a lot of stuff going on: murder, protests, car accidents, etc. Not me. I live in a place where Old Granny Smith's 100th birthday makes the nightly news. I am not proud of this.

I have often compared the nightly news in Bangor, Maine to the nightly news in other places I have lived: Boston, Baltimore, New Jersey. It's quite hilarious. I have never understood why rural areas produce a 5:00 and 5:30 pm newscast. Frequently the exact same stories are shown on the 6:00 pm broadcast, so it's not like there is NEW News. In fact, I argue that the earlier news broadcasts are complete wastes of time.

My hypothesis was proven last night during the WABI 5:30 broadcast. During this half-hour, they actually attempt to make a meal with a local chef...who is all done up in a tall white hat and everything. Todd Simcox basically stands there while the chef does his thing. But here's the kicker: the segment isn't long enough to do anything interesting. Last night the chef showed us how to make caesar salad. CAESAR SALAD! Are you kidding me? No, they weren't. The chef literally dumped out a bag of already cut romaine hearts, put them in a bowl, added some asiago cheese and croutons, and tossed it all around in dressing that he didn't even tell us how to make.

Yes folks, in rural Maine the news will tell you how to make salad. Is this news? No. Is it teaching you something? Hardly. Is it even interesting? Not in the least. Todd Simcox stood there trying to get us to believe that the salad was amazing smelling. How often does a salad smell amazing? Does lettuce even smell?

In any case -- a colossal waste of time. I say leave the cooking segments to the cooking shows. Salad doesn't equal news.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Coffee and a side of boob

This story out of Vassalboro, Maine, is making the rounds on national news sites like MSNBC, CNN, the AP, Boston Globe, and US News & World Report. What's all the hype? A new coffee shop in town where the servers go topless.

As a retired professional waitress, I know the perils of not being adequately covered when dealing with hot liquids and baked goods. There is a reason wait staff is supposed to wear shirts -- how would you like it if a stray armpit hair ended up atop your muffin? Or in your hot cocoa?

Regardless of personal hygene, the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop had over 150 applicants and hired 10 women and men. Either people in Vassalboro are over exhibitionist or they really need a job.
Donald Crabtree faced initial opposition to his plan, but he won the right to go ahead in a planning board hearing last week. Many local residents were irate over the idea of combining coffee and nudity. Crabtree, however, saw a profitable business venture.

"I know what people want," he said. "People like nudity, and coffee is profitable. Sure, I'd start a coffee shop, but I'd be out of work in a week." - from CNN
Boy -- this man is an entrepreneurial genius. And classy! Check him out in the video below:

I'm all for creative ways to bring jobs into rural areas. And I'm not opposed to the topless coffee shop. I do wonder, however, what their heating bill is like during the winter with all these half-naked people running around....

What Mimi Saw: Religulous

After the debacle that was my journalism class' interview articles, I watched Religulous with glee. Bill Maher knows how to interview! He was prepared with background information, quotes from scripture, a sense of when to ask open ended and closed ended sentences, skepticism, and patience. It was glorious.

If you haven't seen the movie you should put on your snow boots (or flip flops if you are lucky enough to live in a southern climate) and head on out to your nearest RedBox. For $1.00 you will have laughs to last a lifetime, or a few hours at least.

Maher talks to Rabbis, ex-Jews for Jesus, gay Muslim activists, ex-Mormons, a Senator, Christian truckers, Evangelicals, and even a Hispanic man who believes he is the second coming of Christ. He leaves no religion unturned.

It's amazing how hard it is for people of faith to answer simple questions about their beliefs. For people who just believe, scientific fact and rational thought have nothing to do with their faith. They believe because they do -- and nothing Maher or you or I can say will sway true believers. No matter how much data, how many charts, how many ways you interpret scripture, they won't budge. And that's fine for them. But I wonder if that's the biggest problem we have in the world today. Blind faith.

There was one part in the documentary where a group of protesters were holding up signs and banners saying that God hates homosexuals. One woman said "oh I don't hate homosexuals, but God does." What a waste.

Religion pontificates that it brings people together. Maybe it does in small communities. But in the grand scheme of things -- it's tearing the world apart.