Just Jake

Jake Highton is a journalism professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada, Reno. He teaches media law, history of journalism and advanced reporting. Highton is the author of numerous books, including "Nevada Newspaper Days." He writes a weekly column for the Daily Sparks Tribune.

Location: United States

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Nevada bird book proves scholarly

Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Nevada
By Ted Floyd, Chris Elphick, Graham Chisholm, Kevin Mack, Robert Elston, Elisabeth Ammon and John Boone.
University of Nevada Press. $60

This may be the ultimate coffee table book for dedicated Nevada birders, an encyclopedic volume describing the 275 species that breed in the state.
But it doesn’t read like an encyclopedia. Indeed, it is the most enjoyable scholarly work I have read since H.L. Mencken’s “The American Language.”
The “Atlas,” a project of the Great Basin Bird Observatory (GBBO), runs to 581 pages with appendix, bibliography and index. It is well illustrated by Ray Nelson.
The introductory paragraph to each species alone is worth the hefty price. Here is the intro to a bird known to all, the American robin: “its loud caroling is a sure sign of spring…nearly everyone with a lawn is acquainted with its entertaining routine of hunting and capturing earthworms.”
The “Atlas” cites distribution, habitats and sighting records. Locator maps pinpoints where the species have been found. Introductions to some of my favorite birds:
American avocet: “With its black and white body, orange head and neck, blue legs and oddly recurved bill, the avocet is one of our most stunning breeding shorebirds…its delicate beauty seems strangely out of place in the sinks, sewage ponds and stinking seeps that it calls home.”
Greater roadrunner: “Perhaps the most beloved bird in the American Southwest. This large, comical bird has an undeniable mystique…In the scrublands of southern Nevada the sighting of a roadrunner always elicits a smile.”
Common raven: “In many cultures the common raven is considered a trickster and now there is scientific evidence to prove it!...ravens have been observed peeling identification labels off toxic waste drums, pecking holes in airplane wings and stealing golf balls…ravens reflect in many ways the human spirit in Nevada: bold, quirky, resourceful, desert-loving and rugged.”
(Bird lovers are urged to read “Ravens in Winter” [1989] by biologist Bernd Heinrich. He describes ravens as “the most intelligent bird in the world” and suggests that ravens are “socialists” for their food- sharing. Birders might also reread Poe’s alliterative immortalization of “The Raven.” Oh, and the Latin name, Corvus corax, comes from the Greek word, korax, croaker.)
Northern mockingbird: “The repertoire of an individual mockingbird easily may exceed a hundred song elements, each a near-perfect transcription of the song or call of another species…it is (also) interesting for…its vigorous defense against all comers.”
American dipper: “Dippers are among the most popular birds in the Western United States. Their unique use of rocky streams and dare-devilish underwater foraging antics can be observed all year long and they are not shy about displaying their considerable vocal talents.”
Black-billed magpie: “strikingly plumaged and improbably proportioned, talkative and highly sociable.”
Mountain bluebird: “Nevada’s state bird is a thing of beauty--washed all over in azure as if a bit of sky had fallen to earth.”
Cedar waxwing: “Equal parts garish and exquisite, striking and delicate…destined to capture the attention of artists and creators of porcelain figures. Waxwings are known to most Nevadans as flocking itinerants at…junipers and Russian olives.”
One ominous note. Richard Tracy, University of Nevada, Reno biologist, writes in a foreward: “When Walker Lake no longer has fish (a likely outcome within the next decade), there will be no loon festival in…Hawthorne…(and) American white pelicans will not travel there from Anaho Island to feed.” (In an email, Tracy wrote that the lake water level “continues to drop at an alarming rate…It is enough to bring tears to think this jewel is dying.”)
“Atlas” authors: Floyd was project coordinator for the “Atlas” from 1999 to 2002; Elphick is a conservation biologist at the University of Connecticut; Chisholm co-founded the GBBO and was its first director; Mack of Reno worked on community conservation projects; Elston is cartographer for the Biological Resources Research Center at UNR; Ammon is bird monitoring coordinator and science director at GBBO; and Boone is an assistant research professor at UNR.
Of the 398 field workers listed, some star birders of northern Nevada: the late Jack Walters, David Worley (raptors), Alan Gubanich, Bob Goodman, Rose Strickland and Dennis Ghiglieri.
Other outstanding Nevada birders can be found on the bird alert Internet site with their sightings and queries: nvbirds@list.audubon.org. (No offense to southern Nevada birders and other good birdwatchers in northern Nevada. I just do not know them.)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Media books show reality behind myths

The five media books that have crossed my desk in recent months will not be reviewed in the haughty New York Times. But they are worth reading because they show media reality behind the First Amendment façade.

• “Cable News Confidential” by Jeff Cohen. Cohen, founder of the important newsletter Fairness and Accuracy in the Media, went into cable news expecting to find “timidity, censorship, tabloid lust and corporate skulduggery.” He was not disappointed.
Cohen also learned that he could not tell the truth on MSNBC, a cable channel owned by General Electric. He was fired. So was Phil Donahue. Both were too liberal for a right-wing media empire run by the “suits.”
“It’s no accident that corporate news is so often empty and denatured,” Cohen writes. “News is rendered nutritionless when it’s a processed product brought to market by distant and soulless corporations.”
Corporate radio is just as bad. Lowry Mays, CEO of radio colossus Clear Channel, is clear: “We’re not in the business of providing news and information…We’re simply in the business of selling our customers products.”
Another truth: you cannot sell many products with liberal broadcasters and leftist pundits.

• “Static” by the sister-brother team of Amy and David Goodman denounces government control of the media with lies, manipulation, fabrication, deception and spin. But the media, instead of seeing through the charade, serve as megaphones for government.
“The media can’t seem to shake their instinct to defer to power,” the Goodmans write. For example, in December 2005 the New York Times revealed that the Bush administration broke the law by ordering wiretaps without a warrant. But: the Times held the story until after the presidential election of 2004 at the request of the White House.
A story dealing with an unconstitutional undermining of American liberties should never be suppressed. A truly adversarial media wouldn’t think of it. It was another blatant case of press betrayal of the glorious First Amendment.
Other unassailable points made by the Goodmans: 1) journalists trade truth for access. 2) “The United States is an outlaw nation.” 3) The problem is not just that governments lie but that the “embedded” press abets the deception.

• “Digital Destiny” by Jeff Chester rightly deplores the ever-increasing consolidation and commercialization of the media.
Chester, head of the Center for Digital Democracy, is optimistic that the explosive growth of the Internet and telecommunications provides the potential for a truly democratic media, a media of the many rather than the few, a media offering a wide variety of independent news, information and culture.
But reality again intrudes. The purpose of TV news, Chester writes, is primarily “to keep viewers engaged so they will watch the next commercial.” Ratings-driven decisions create news programmings “light on information, analysis and criticism.” Contrarian views are verboten.
True. But, as with all apostles of New Media, Chester is far too optimistic. All the Internet blogs and podcasts will not make this conservative nation the progressive one it should be.

• “The Sound Bite Society” by Jeffrey Scheuer points out that TV, rewarding simplistic and emotional messages, does not serve democracy.
Scheuer rightly deplores “mindless and manipulative political advertising, shallow political dialogue and equally shallow TV news programs…Our popular and political cultures are dominated by money and profit, imagery and spin, hype and personality.”
Scheuer notes two other facts: 1) “It has long been a commonplace for local news departments to focus on violence and sensationalism” (“if it bleeds it leads”) while ignoring white-collar crime. 2) The shouting heads of TV punditry.

• “Kill the Messenger” by Nick Schou tells the sad tale of a courageous investigative reporter driven to suicide because of betrayal by his own editors and destruction by leading newspapers.
The reporter, Gary Webb of the San Jose Mercury News, wrote a three-part series, “Dark Alliance,” in 1996 detailing the link among the CIA, the crack cocaine explosion and black communities.
“Webb spent more than a year uncovering the shady connection between the CIA and drug trafficking through the agency’s relationship with the Nicaraguan contras, a right-wing army that aimed to overthrow the leftist Sandinistas governments during the l980s,” Schou writes.
The CIA knew that the contras were dealing cocaine but did nothing to stop them. “He (Webb) was right,” Schou concludes. The CIA admitted later that it had lied about the scandal.
Despite the powerful indictments in these books, too many American cretins insist the media are liberal, that the earth is flat, that evolution is a myth and that Saddam had WMD.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Manipulative Rogers disgrace to higher ed

Oh wad some power the giftie gie us / To see oursels as ithers see us!

Robert Burns “To a Louse”

The printed criticism of Chancellor Jim Rogers is damning. The anonymous criticism is worse.

The printed criticism includes: mercurial, bombastic, thin-skinned, manipulative, polarizing, volatile, crybaby, fiery temper, loose cannon, incendiary nature and conflict of interest.

The unprinted criticism of Rogers includes: megalomania, bully, petulant, tyrant, a guy not to be crossed, treats everything adversarial, chastises the Board of Regents, takes everything personally, says things to distract and confuse, demands that he be flattered and wants to be remembered as the genius of Nevada higher ed.

The truth is Rogers was a jerk even before he became a wealthy TV tycoon. Or, to use a vulgarism sanctioned by the Merriam-Webster collegiate dictionary, a prick, a spiteful, contemptible man.

Printed comments alone are enough to make it clear that Rogers should be fired as chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education. They make it obvious he is the CEO, usurping power over the Regents.

Dennis Myers wrote an excellent takeout on Rogers in the Reno News & Review Aug. 30 (Myers is the best interpretive reporter in Nevada, the deepest, most perceptive, knowledgeable and fairest. He does his homework, which far too few journalists do. He interviews extensively. And, he provides context, the important framework for a full understanding of news.)

Myers wrote that Rogers, with “a well-documented record of being difficult to work with,” is a major source of tension among the Regents. “Time after time he has done things that embarrassed them.”

He wrote that Rogers yelled at Regent James Leavitt of Las Vegas on the phone and “then publically threatened to resign if Leavitt became Regents chair.”

“Rogers astounded the political world by getting involved in Regent election campaigns while serving as chancellor,” Myers writes. “He gave one candidate 20 thousand dollars. That would be a huge amount in a governor’s race. In a Regent race it was extraordinary.”

In a column for the Pahrump Valley Times, Myers wrote that many Regents “are unwilling to level with the public about what they really think, particularly where Rogers and his agenda are concerned.”

Howard Rosenberg of Reno is the wisest of the 13 Regents on this issue. He was the only one who voted against the hiring of Rogers in 2004. Today he is scalding in his criticism. Rosenberg wrote that the board should have known that Rogers had a well-known reputation as a man of “mercurial temperament, a my-way-or-the-highway management style.” To lead the board, Rosenberg added, “requires leadership and coordination, two skills…totally at odds with Chancellor Rogers’ style of absolute autocracy.”

Unfortunately, too many Regents genuflect to Rogers.

Then there is childishness. Rogers withdrew a $3 million donation to the University of Nevada, Reno, because of a Regent’s critical evaluation. (As if UNR President Milton Glick had something to do with the criticism.)

Typical too is the petty way J.R.--the initials are suitable for a big shot--browbeats his TV underlings. He harasses them for eating dinner in their office rather than going out. He arbitrarily fires reporters for having untidy desks. (What reporter ever has a tidy desk?)

Rogers forced Carol Harter out as president of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He did so, not because she suddenly became incompetent after 11 years, but because she refused to put up with his bullying, his tantrums and his absurd micromanaging. And, as hard as it is to believe in these days of academic enlightenment, Rogers would not have visited his nastiness on Harter had she had been a man.

The Regents should never have given Rogers the power to hire and fire presidents. They made another terrible mistake: allowing Rogers to resume his charades when he announced tersely in January: “I quit.”

Finally, Rogers claims to be a big donor. While he does donate, he pledges big money then uses the promise as a hammer. He dangles the money then withdraws it if his will is crossed.

Rogers wouldn’t be chancellor if he didn’t have scads of money. He is the boll weevil of Nevada higher education.

Rogers right on 2 issues

Rogers is right about two important Nevada public affairs issues. He urges an appointed Board of Regents rather than elected one and a state income tax. Education is too important to be the subject of politicking. An income tax is essential if Nevada is ever to enter the 21st century by financing the enormous state needs rather than constant nickel-and-diming.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Gonzales races to bottom

It had been a tossup between Mitchell Palmer and John Ashcroft as the worst attorney general in U.S. history. Now former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is making it a three-way race.
Palmer directed two notorious raids and deportations of radicals in the Wilson administration. His assaults on civil liberties included arrests without warrants, unreasonable searches and seizures, police brutality, solitary confinement, denial of counsel and prolonged detention.
Ashcroft did violence to the Constitution in the Bush II administration, tearing up the Fourth and Sixth amendments. He violated the sacred wall between church and state, hounded people using medical marijuana legally in California, sought to undermine Oregon’s death with dignity law and was so prudish he spent $8,000 of taxpayer money covering the breasts of a statue.
Gonzales also tore up the Constitution. He approved torture. He pooh-poohed Geneva Conventions. He contradicted U.S. military and international law. He supported unconstitutional provisions of the Patriot Act. He was responsible for prisoner abuse at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. And he drapped imperial robes on Bush by expansive interpretation of presidential power.
Gonzales resigned recently under furious fusilades from leading Democrats and many Republicans, including Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, ranking GOP member on the judiciary committee.
An editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle aptly put it: Gonzales leaves an “ethical miasma. He was the legal enabler for the White House’s worst legal thinking: invasions of personal rights and politicization of government service.”
Gonzales signed off on CIA waterboarding and other torture techniques that had long been contemptible for America. Sleep deprivation of prisoners? OK. Assailing their eardrums with blaring music? OK. Stress positions? OK. Beating prisoners with chains? OK.
A year ago he helped stampede Congress into passing the Military Commissions Act endorsing illegal CIA prisons in “extraordinary rendition” for torture abroad and establishing kangaroo courts at Guantánano detaining foreigners for life.
He earned the appellations of torturer in chief and enabler general of the imperial Bush presidency.
Like President Nixon, who said that if the president does it, it isn’t breaking the law, Gonzales advised Bush on how to evade the law. War Crimes Act? Bush was not bound to observe it.
When Bush’s secret eavesdropping program was revealed in 2005, Gonzales asserted that “the president has the inherent authority under the Constitution, as commander in chief, to engage in this kind of activity.” Gonzales interpreted the Constitution to place President Bush above the law.
Gonzales directed the firing of nine U.S. attorneys who followed the law instead of Bush zealotry. He shattered the morale of the Justice Department, high-ranking members resigning in disgust. He clamped the reign of secrecy on the Bush administration.
As White House counsel in 2001, he drafted an executive order giving an incumbent or a former president the right to withhold the former president’s papers from the public. If the president’s business isn’t public business than nothing government does is public business.
Gonzales trashed habeas corpus, the Great Writ established by Magna Carta in 1215. He told an incredulous Senator Specter: “There is no expressed grant of habeas in the Constitution.” Article 1, Section 9 makes it plain that habeas “shall not be suspended” except in cases of rebellion or invasion.
Habeas corpus establishes the sacred U.S. legal right of due process. The Sixth Amendment demands a fair trial, right to counsel and confrontation by witnesses.
As presidential counsel, Gonzales’ nighttime visit to a groggy Ashcroft in a hospital was shameful, a shabby effort to authorize an extension of domestic spying without a warrant. Even Ashcroft had scruples about breaking the law.
Among other terrible Gonzales misdeeds were violations of the Hatch Act barring the injection of politics into government and defiance of congressional subpoenas. With another fugitive from the Bush camp and justice, Karl Rove, Gonzales foisted on America a reactionary Supreme Court with justices who can rule à la Bush ideology long after Bush leaves office.
When Gonzales testified before Congress his statements were intentionally false, misleading and evasive. His “memory lapses” were extraordinary about recent events, not something that happened decades ago.
Gonzales betrayed the ideals of America. He served Bush rather than the Constitution and justice.

2nd look at classics

One of the wonderful things about Great Basin Chautauqua (GBC) each summer is that it forces you to reread classics or to take another look at literary figures. This year’s Chautauqua made me take a second look at “The Decameron” by Boccaccio and Eugene O’Neill, America’s greatest playwright.
When “The Decameron” came under papal ban in 1559 it was not for its bawdy tales but for its mocking thrusts at the Catholic church. A perfect example is story No. 10 told on the sixth day. The target of the comedic satire: relics.
It’s a tale of Cipolla, “short, redheaded” friar, the “nicest scoundrel in the world.” He promises to show village parishioners “a most beautiful relic” he had brought home from the Holy Land, “one of the feathers of the Angel Gabriel.”
But two tricksters substitute charcoal for the feather. Unflustered when he discovered the trick during a sermon he was giving, Cipolla proclaims that he has “some of the charcoal on which the most holy martyr St. Lorenzo was roasted alive.”
Cipolla told of other “holy relics”: “the finger of the Holy Spirit,” “the forelock of the seraphim which appeared to St. Francis,” “one of the nails from the cherubim,” “some of the beams from the star which appeared to the three wise men in the East” and “a phial of the sweat of St. Michael when he fought the devil.”
Boccaccio (1313-1375) was taking a droll jibe at the silly business of relics. To this day far too many Catholics indulge in gullible relic reverence.
Fred Krebs, a history teacher in Kansas, portrayed Boccaccio under the Reno tent, bringing out Boccaccio’s humanism. Boccaccio believed in learning and reason while attacking fear and superstition.
“Dante wrote ‘The Divine Comedy’ about religious matters,” Krebs/Boccaccio said. “I wrote the human comedy.”
O’Neill’s dark vision
Brian Kral, playwright and theater director, was fine playing Eugene O’Neill. Kral/O’Neill had an acerbic temperament to go along with his passion, anger and realism.
He relates the pipe dreams of the derelicts in “The Iceman Cometh” but confesses fondness for them. Justifiably so. “Iceman” is an O’Neill masterpiece along with his “Long Day’s Journey into Night.”
The pipe dream theme tied back nicely to that of Lennie and George in Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” But the frequent piano accompaniment to the O’Neill portrayal was distracting. The director probably thought it was brilliant. It was not.
O’Neill idolized Nietzsche. His first wife recalled that O’Neill kept copies of Nietzsche’s books close at hand, the pages tattered and filled with marginalia. But O’Neill discovered that immediately after World War II the American public wanted entertainment, not pessimism.
Long after the war the public still craved entertainment rather than reality. When the great Arthur Miller play, “The Death of a Salesman,” appeared on network TV in 1985 with Dustin Hoffman in the Willy Loman role, viewership was low. Why? The public did want to hear about failure, about an empty life.
O’Neill assailed Americans for their pursuit of materialism. He told Time in 1946: “America is the greatest failure in history…we squandered our soul…the Bible said it much better: for what would it profit a man ‘if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?’ ”
[The sainted Dorothy Day caroused at Greenwich Village pubs with O’Neill circa 1918. She tells of a drunken O’Neill one night reciting all 182 lines of Francis Thompson’s poem, “The Hound of Heaven.” (“Naked I wait thy love’s uplifted stroke!” ) ]

Riveting Steinbeck--but
Clay Jenkinson, director of the GBC, was riveting in the role of John Steinbeck (1902-1968). Indeed, to pay the ultimate compliment, he was Steinbeck. Jenkinson/Steinbeck made it clear that a writer is married to his books, not to any woman.
But Jenkinson did not quit after mesmerizing the audience. He spoke on and on. This listener finally walked out after he began reading lengthy excerpts from the Steinbeck classic, “The Grapes of Wrath.” All writers need editors. Speakers must edit themselves. Knowing when to stop is an art.
Jenkinson is an extremely bright guy but an air of pretentiousness permeates the theme of his GBC reader article, “Exploring the Nature of Creativity.” It is noticeable too in proclaiming that the GBC kickoff dinner promised conversation “with Nevada’s greatest minds.” Some on the list of “great minds” are an embarrassment.
Jenkinson also writes a lot of nonsense in his GBC essay. He declares: “Virtually everyone is creative.” Or: “Everyone who writes a poem is in a sense standing on the shoulders of giants.” Newton rightly said: “If I have seen farther it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Much poetry, past and present, is hardly written by giants.
Post-mortems: Disgusted by appearance of Krebs at my favorite independent book store the morning after he played Boccaccio. He gave 10-minute answers to simple questions then asked hopefully: “Does that make sense?” Windy, windy guy.