No More Silence in Dover

In a vaguely related story, photos of caskets of U.S. troops killed in Iraq have been released. It took a court action to get the Pentagon to release the photos, and after 350 such photos appeared online (though I haven’t been able to load the site), the Pentagon has had an “information crackdown.”

In a related story, a cargo worker was fired after her photos of U.S coffins appeared in the Seattle Times.

Apparently there’s been a long standing policy of not giving the press access to Dover Air Force base where the bodies of slain soldiers return. Part of it is out of respect for the dead, but the many protesters claim it’s a way to keep the casualty reports out of the news and out of the public mind. Caskets on the 6 o’clock news is not the best way to gain support for a war. At the same time, those caskets remind us of the cost of such an action. Right now the U.S. is at war, but we pay no personal cost, save for billions in debt and those in military service. The rest of us are detached and uninvolved in a war that’s claimed 700 U.S. lives (not to mention the thousands of Iraqis killed).

While I can see the difficulties on both sides of this debate, it’s another issue of press censorship by the government. And it’s incredibly eerie to see this story right next to North Korea’s media blackout.

Silence in Korea

Yesterday something happened in North Korea and “hundreds, possibly thousands of people were killed or injured.” had the breaking news, but details were slim. The Command Post had a few more details, but not much. I didn’t catch another report until just before bed when I checked CNN again, and they still didn’t know anything.

This morning there’s a report of 100 dead and 1,200 injured (or 54 confirmed dead and 1,200 injured, BBC). The current theory is that a live electrical wire came in contact with a train car carrying explosives for a construction project, but the whole event is shrouded in mystery.

It’s amazing to me that we have so little news about what’s happening. I haven’t seen a single current picture. Most of that can probably be chalked up to North Korea’s intense secrecy, where the state-controlled media hasn’t even reported on the accident yet. How bizarrre is that? It’s even freakier that many news outlets haven’t given the story full coverage simply because the details are sketchy, essentially self-imposing North Korea’s virtual media blackout.

With initial reports claiming 3,000 dead or injured and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il at the crash site “only hours” before (now reported to be 9 hours before), this incident could have been strikingly similar to 9/11. But compare the media response. One event has total, complete, round-the-clock coverage, complete with footage of planes crashing into buildings, people falling from the sky, and firefighters rushing to their death. Another event has scant details and a map with an arrow. Granted the events are turning out to be on a completely different scale, but the implications of such a media blackout are frightening.

Blogs & Privacy

Interesting BBC article, “Do baby blogs violate children’s privacy?” I don’t have any kids (yet), but the issue of privacy has come up. And I have a blog for my dog, so it only seems fair to have one for the kids.

It all raises odd privacy issues that I don’t know how to answer. When people can scour your blog for personal information and use it against you, what can you do? There’s a certain risk you run in making some information known, and I don’t know any way around that.

It’s especially difficult for me, running a business out of my home where I can’t exactly hide personal information like my address. I also don’t want to separate my blog and my business, since as odd as this blog is, it does display some knowledge and expertise. Basically my writing, my livlihood, my interests, and my personal life are too closely intertwined to keep ’em separated.

Odd dilemmas the digital world brings.

Wise Guru Kevin

My alma mater is doing one of those alumni bulletin board things for the English Department, so I had to answer a few questions. Partly because it seems helpful and partly to justify the time spent on it, I thought I’d post it here. It’s probably most helpful to aspiring writers in college.

1.) What do you do?

I stay home, sit at my computer all day, and pretend my typing, e-mailing, and web surfing is a real job. I actually just launched my own freelance writing and editing business, Monkey Outta Nowhere. I write articles for magazines and web sites, copy for brochures and postcards, e-lists and blogs for businesses, and edit magazines and books.

2.) Why did you choose to be an English Major?

All I ever wanted to do since writing a book about my cat in my first grade class was write. I’ve never wanted to do anything else, so a Writing Major seemed to make sense. I’ve strayed into more editing than writing in my career, and that’s where other interests have helped, including a minor in Art.

3.) Do you feel your English Major has contributed to the skills needed in your current occupation? If so, how?

Absolutely. I write every day, which was a skill fine-tuned in the writing program. Without the confidence to know I can write something, I wouldn’t be able to tackle anything I do. Of course a program alone isn’t going to make you succeed. There’s plenty of practical, real world experience you need, as well as a healthy curiosity about the world. While Bethel didn’t necessarily provide those, I did find them while I was there.

4.) What was the process you went through to get the job you have now (i.e.- how did you make the move from Literature to what you are doing now)?

In high school I edited my youth group’s newsletter, I edited the Table Tent for two years, wrote a handful of free articles, and landed an unpaid internship with a national publisher after my sophomore year. I edited their web site for the next three years, wrote a trail guide for the National Park Service, and racked up a few more free articles. Two weeks after graduation and five days after getting married I went to work as an assistant editor in the Internet Department of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA). My prior experience got me in the door, and the two and a half years I worked there gave me much of the experience that’s helped me today. In July 2003 the BGEA relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina and I became unemployed. I looked for a job for four months without finding anything. Then the freelance work started coming in and I stopped looking for a job. Two months later the freelance jobs slowed down and I realized I needed some help. I took some small business classes and learned how to do this for real. As of today, I’m still at it.

5.) How has your English Major had an impact on your personal life (outside of work experience)?

I think I’m more inquisitive. I love to read (usually average 40 books per year — it’s easier when you’re out of college, trust me). Being a writer is often about telling stories, whether it’s fiction or a news blurb, and that requires a certain amount of curiosity. I’ve also been writing a blog for over five years, which I started simply to keep me in the habit of writing. That’s a big part of my personal life now, as dorky as that sounds.

This is the kind of advice I always feel like sharing, but I’m never sure where it fits. So here goes…

Top 5 Suggestions for English Majors (in no particular order):

1) Just because you’re a writer doesn’t mean other subjects aren’t important. I’m kicking myself for my appalling lack of business knowledge, something one or two general business classes would have helped immensely.

2) Network, network, network. 95 percent of the jobs I get come through contacts I’ve cultivated throughout the years. This is how most people find their full-time job.

3) Get published. It can be the Clarion, the Coeval, the Table Tent, or your own web site — just get published. As you get into the writing world you need to have examples of your work, and the piece you wrote for class or the story hidden in your drawer don’t count. You might not get paid, but that’s how it works. Editors want to see published clips not because they question your skill (that’s easy to judge) but because they question your experience.

4) Learn it now. You’re paying (or someone is) a whole lot of cash to get a good education — make sure you’re getting it. You may hate grammar, but it’s a lot easier to ask the prof to explain effect and affect than to have to figure it out on the job. If you stink at interviewing, take the time to learn now. It’s better to blow the interview with the Market Square chef for the Clarion than to blow the interview with Mel Gibson about The Passion.

5) Know yourself. It sounds cheesy, but it really helps to know your strengths and weaknesses — both professionally and personally. Despite my messy desk, I crave organization, which explains why I’m good at setting up a publication schedule. I’m also an introvert, which means an all day convention is going to wear me out and I’ll want to be alone in the evening (knowledge that has helped my marriage tremendously).

Jesus Sound Explosion review

I finished reading Jesus Sound Explosion on my trip to L.A., and I just posted the review. It’s definitely worth checking out, especially if you’ve ever pondered the lunacy of the evangelical Christian bubble (and if you question that remark, you’ve never seen my Gospel glove or evangi-cube). The review is in my review blog (if you can call it a blog), but I wanted to make the mention here since it’s a more personal review.

Back in Black

The Standard48 hours after departure I touched down at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, business trip complete.

Of course the trip home always sucks. Turbulence struck twice, agitating the three hours in one seat and growing car-sick feeling, so it took hours before I felt at home at home. Not having breakfast time didn’t help. Travel days are outside of reality in a sense. Everything is blown off, you’re out of your element, out of your time zone, out of space. It’s a good excuse to order out anyway.

The trip was good. I saw my cousin and his family of four, which was a family of three when I last saw them 10 years ago. And I saw a good business friend I haven’t seen since 1999. And I saw L.A. When the plane touched down at LAX, I looked at the window to see palm trees lining the runway, which is really the most striking feature about California. And seeing the mountains in the distance was great. I love that.

I slept on a different couch both nights, just in case you get the idea that I’m a jet-set hipster. Though on the plus side I never spent a dime the whole trip. Partly thanks to mooching, partly thanks to a lack of time. The downside is no souvenirs for the wife, save for the nifty book of matches swiped from The Standard in downtown L.A.

A word about The Standard: This is the hotel where we had our all day meeting. It’s a funky, hip, 60s retro place. Our room had this trippy circle pattern wall paper that was textured with velvet. The signs for every door were “Hello My Name Is…” badges. Across the hall from our meeting room was a normal hotel room we had access to for the bathroom. The shower was separated from the rest of the room with a glass wall, frosted from shoulder height down, letting sunlight stream in from the windows, across the room and into the shower so you actually see what you were doing. The beds were single mattresses sitting on raised platforms. We ate lunch on the roof, checking out the rising skyscrapers of Los Angeles, sitting on astroturf. The matches I swiped are just an example of all the ephemeral products they had. The sticker on the toilet paper was the same stylized stick figure, only bending over pooping. The trashcan had a piece of paper in the bottom with a stick figure throwing up. Weird? Yes. Funky? Yes. It’s not Holiday Inn. I hate to think what it would cost to stay at the Standard, but it’s worth dropping by. Next time you’re in L.A.

Next time. That’s what I kept thinking the whole trip. The ocean was 45 minutes away. Never saw it. (I’m still kicking myself for the time—hey, it was 10 years ago as well—my family went to the beach in San Diego and I was too cool to be impressed by the ocean. I don’t remember if I even touched the water. Stupid 15-year-old.) The foothills were just crying to me on the not-so-distant horizon. The palm trees begged me to pose in front of them, but I didn’t even bring a camera. 48 hours isn’t enough time.

I contemplated the idea of staying the weekend and bringing the wife, but it just didn’t pan out. I couldn’t have afforded it and I really don’t have the time. This isn’t a good month to take a vacation, let alone a business trip. Hence the 48 hours. But I’m coming back. I don’t know when, but I am.

The weather wasn’t too shabby either. 60s and 70s, sunny, beautiful. What would you expect? I told lovely stories of the snow flurries we had in St. Paul last week and the negative 20 Januaries. When my cousin recommended visiting in the spring or the fall, I asked about the winter and he said it’s cold. I told him we could swap.

Of course it’s still L.A. Concrete as far as the eye can see. Freeway as far as the eye can see. They like their highways so much they refer to them as “the” highway. It’s “The 110,” “The 605,” “The 5,” as opposed to “I-94” or just plain “94.” Try saying “take the 94” in Minneapolis and see how stupid you look. No, L.A. is a place to visit, but not a place I’d want to stay.

I also made the right decision when it came to packing reading material. I finished two of the three books and am halfway through the third. I don’t think I’ve ever actually needed all the reading material I’ve brought on a trip.

The business side of things went well. I think non-disclosure agreements would be needed if I were to explain anything, so we just won’t go there. Yet. We’ll just say it’s a new business venture that I’m helping to launch. It should mean a steady paycheck this year, a nice chunk of freelance change, though definitely not a full or even half time job. It will also mean some time and commitment, but I’m cool with that. It’s a cause I believe in, not just another businessey thing. And it could mean some financial pay off in the future. I’m not holding my breath on this one because it will be years away, if it’s successful. Even though I try to live simply, I’m still susceptible to greed and piles of cash, the latest gizmo, delivery pizza over frozen. So I try not to fixate on the potential reward. If it comes it comes, if it doesn’t it doesn’t. I just don’t want to be consumed by it.

Another funky thing about the trip, Direct TV on the plane. You had to pay $5 to watch, so I passed, but I could still see static ads and a little map showing the plane’s progress across the country. It also showed our speed and altitude. Nothing like cruising at 600 mph and 40,000 ft.

But now I’m back, wishing I had an iPod and developing PowerBook envy (I was one of two out of seven at the meeting not to have the shiny, metal laptop). See, I told you I’m susceptible.

All in all, it’s good to be home.

On a Jet Plane

I’m off to L.A. in a few hours. It’s kind of strange to go on a business trip again. I like it. I’m taking part in some brainstorming meetings to launch a new business. I’ll also be hanging out with a friend I haven’t seen since 1999. I’ll also be hanging out with my cousin, who I’ve only seen twice in my life (that I remember). When I called him earlier this week to let him know I was coming my wife heard his reaction from upstairs. Should be fun.

Business trips have an odd effect on me. I tend to kick my work into high gear, I become increasingly anal about making lists, and I try to tick every to do item off I can. In the end I usually end up cutting the list short, but I also keep thinking of things I should finish. Right now I’m frantically typing one last blog entry before I go, I just wrote a review and added some monkey news. I’m also thinking I should call my parents, grab something to eat, and maybe play some Mario Cart. My ride comes in 45 minutes.

I also bring way too much to do with me. I have three books in my bag (admittedly one is short and I’m one-third through another, but still) and notes of things to think about for my business. From takeoff to landing I’ll be gone for 48 hours.

I also go on a spending spree. Monday night we grabbed take out and rented School of Rock. Last night we grabbed fast food and went to Coldstone.

I also think of lots of things that would be fun to do, like a web site compiling the best Coldstone mix-in combinations (last night I had vanilla ice cream with Twix, brownies, and chocolate syrup). How dumb is that? Yet the idea bounces around in my head anyway.

I also keep thinking about an iPod. Right now it’s a business expense I can almost justify (an overpriced voice recorder for interviews). Even though I’d rather read a book at the airport, the idea of strolling around with an iPod in my pocket and my Best U2 Ever list playing makes me smile. Or maybe that’s just my rock star haircut taking over.

Anyway, business trips do weird things to me. I haven’t even talked about missing my wife, sleeping in a strange bed (or couch, as the case will be), or missing The Apprentice. Maybe I’m just weird in general. My dreams of late have been especially odd (I had another odd one last night, though the memories are too varied and incoherent).

Act Like a Monkey

Act like a monkeyThe Zoological Society of London is looking for volunteers to act like chimps. It’s part of a study comparing human and chimpanzee behaviors. The basic idea is that chimpanzee are most closely related to humans, so the study hopes to discover how their expressions and behaviors might be helpful to humans. Apparently grunting noises and dominence displays can bring harmony to the workplace. Understandably, not everyone is impressed.

Thoughts on Gay Marriage

Pink on the cover of the AdvocatePink has a rather provocative quote in the latest issue of the gay and lesbian magazine, The Advocate, about gay marriage:

“If you’re a celebrity and you want to marry your sweetheart for 55 hours, go right ahead. If you’re J. Lo and you want to marry 18 people for six days each, go right on ahead! But if you want to marry your soul mate and make a life of it — and you just so happen to be the same sex — then no, how dare you! We’d rather you just buy gasoline and support our war and continue to consume and fear in our country so we can make money off you. But do us a favor: Don’t hold hands in public.”

I doubt anyone wants to revisit the gay marriage debate, but I found Pink’s comment intriguing. Regardless of your feelings on gay marriage, she makes a point about how as a society we trash marriage.

Celebrities and people in general have been abusing marriage for years, and no one puts up much of a fuss until homosexuals want to get married — and most of them are more committed than J-Lo or Britney. Maybe instead of (or in addition to) a gay marriage ammendment we should be considering a ‘respect marriage’ ammendment (or simply legislation), something that encourages, supports, and protects committed, loving marriages.

The Respect Marriage law could make pre-marital counseling a requirement for every marriage, make public dollars available for marriage counseling, and make divorce a harder proposition — possibly a fine for breaking marriage vows, or something less draconian like intense support and counseling for those considering divorce. A law like that could go a lot of strange ways, but I think if there were enough well-thought out and well-executed “carrot on a stick” measures (as opposed to just plain stick measures) to encourage marital faithfulness, maybe it would help make a dent in the 50% divorce rate.

While I certainly value marriage, I have to wonder what some people are fighting so hard to protect. Marriage is a broken institution in this country, and if you’re concerned about marriage it seems like gay marriage is the least of your worries. You have to draw the line somewhere, but how about the people trashing marriage, not the people eager to get married?