Why The Crowd?

Just a quick follow up after my regular, daily post. I’m doing this because for some reason my stats are telling me I’m seeing lots more of you than usual today. By that I mean a horde.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a woman clicking with a mouse attached to a house.
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a woman clicking with a mouse attached to a house.

Obviously the polite thing to do is introduce myself: “Hello.” :-)

[Now – he wonders to himself, and taps his desk repeatedly – where are you all coming from? And why are so many of you suddenly so interested in “Béatrice”?]

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[He shrugs.] Ah, the internet. ;-)

Slurring Language

Black British screenwriter and director Amma Asante jumped in on CNN yesterday in defense of actor Benedict Cumberbatch. He’d used the word “colo(u)red” on a U.S. TV talk show. She feels the anger directed at him for saying it is missing the point:

Opinion: Cumberbatch misspoke — now let’s get over it and fight real prejudice

Two countries separated by a common language. To understand Cumberbatch’s employing it requires first remembering that he’s not an American. It is now a decidedly “old-fashioned” word here in Britain, yes; but it is not unheard of coming very occasionally from younger whites (like Cumberbatch), although it’s far more likely to be uttered by one born before “1945.”

An older person I know had straight-faced congratulated me this way upon Obama’s election in 2008: “You have a coloured president now. America’s so much more open-minded. It’s wonderful.” Based on the contexts, as I’ve heard it, it is used as synonymous with “black.” Although it could certainly be tossed out as a slur or a put down, that’s not how I’ve (mostly) heard it said.

But how we internalize others’ descriptions of our race or ethnic background is intensely personal of course. I am not black and I would not presume to speak for anyone else as to how they interpret any description leveled at themselves. That said, the language issue raised there led me to recall a vivid, personal experience.

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Bluntly Tweeting

Singer James Blunt has been in the “non-musical” news here in Britain in recent days. He got into a dust up with a Labour MP over that politician’s assertion that artists from elite educational backgrounds disproportionately dominate the U.K. entertainment scene. Many onlookers have sided with Blunt.

One of Blunt’s statements in his very public reply published in The Guardian:

….I got signed in America, where they don’t give a stuff about, or even understand what you mean by me and “my ilk”, you prejudiced wazzock, and I worked my arse off. What you teach is the politics of jealousy. Rather than celebrating success and figuring out how we can all exploit it further as the Americans do, you instead talk about how we can hobble that success and “level the playing field”….

The politician came back at him immediately and condescendingly….

Stop being so blooming precious….

Thus perhaps another difference been the U.S. and U.K. In America, I believe a politician would have instead at that point sought to “tone it down” and “make nice.” Advisors would have been nervously at him, warning, “Don’t alienate his fans! They’re potential voters!”

Anyway, never mind. And debating which of them is more right is not the point here. What’s intriguing is how it all kicked off because in making his remarks that MP had made the huge mistake of mentioning Blunt by name. The singer apparently read on Twitter of the MP’s having done so when a third party pointed out the MP’s comment….

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Some time ago Blunt had found another “voice” through his social media presence. During last week’s “confrontation,” I read one conservative political tweeter who had joked, “Who weaponised James Blunt?” He’s razor sharp, unafraid to poke fun at himself and his image, and can be very humo(u)rously dry in his interactions.

So be forewarned: if you so much as mention him on Twitter you could well find him replying directly @ you in your timeline. And his outreach won’t necessarily be along the lines of, “Great to hear you’re a fan!” Although, then again, he might observe something like that…. sarcastically:

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And he has a sense of humo(u)r about his persona and impact:

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He will outwardly challenge a major newspaper’s negative reviewer with a zinger:

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Or he’ll tease:

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He also manages to perhaps look edgier by not posturing that he’s some musical god:

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And he mocks musical “snobs” mercilessly:

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Have a good Wednesday. :-)

Strolling By The Royal Crescent

I know, I know. [Hangs head contritely.] Sorry. I went all “academic” yesterday.

You may know I used to teach “Politics of Western Europe.” That guy on Fox just reminded me of a few students I’d known. Aside from the “French and perfect” finish, ;-) I realize now it was rather too heavy a post.

So today it’s back down off my soapbox. Hey, how about some Bath photos? Georgian English splendo(u)r.

First, a close up of a portion of one of those big, fold out walking maps:

Map of Royal Crescent corner area, Bath. [Photo of map by me, 2015.]
Map of Royal Crescent corner area, Bath. [Photo of map by me, 2015.]
I took these yesterday afternoon. We’re probably moving (yet again) in a few months, and were out apartment [flat] hunting:

Upper Church Street, next to the Royal Crescent. [Photo by me, 2015.]
Upper Church Street, next to the Royal Crescent. [Photo by me, 2015.]
Royal Crescent. [Photo by me, 2015.]
Royal Crescent. [Photo by me, 2015.]
View of part of the Royal Crescent, looking over a corner of Royal Victoria Park. [Photo by me, 2015.]
View of part of the Royal Crescent, looking over a corner of Royal Victoria Park. [Photo by me, 2015.]
The Royal Crescent homes were built starting in 1767. They are probably the quintessential “symbol” of Bath. So I decided to go all “tourist” myself and grab a few photographs.

It’s a shame it wasn’t sunnier. It had been. But by the time I took those it was approaching 4 pm, and the sun was fading for the day.

Have a good Tuesday, wherever you are in the world. :-)

What Qualifies Someone To Be A Cable News “Expert”?

In the past, I know I’ve taken good-natured jabs at U.S. morning television, especially ABC’s Good Morning America:

Good grief, have you seen it? I mean really watched it? No wonder half of Americans think Beirut is in Northern Ireland.

One minute of frenzied “news” every half hour. Darting from Story A to Story B to Story C in seconds. Bells and whistles. Flashing graphics. Hurrying to get to the latest cat video.

We understand why. The more we have at our wifi’ed, iPad’ed fingertips, the tougher it’s assumed to be to hold all of our attention. That belief’s no doubt now impacting even how novels are written.

U.S. 24 hour cable news is in its way worse in that regard than even network morning TV. For it purports to be able to provide grounding and more in-depth “analysis.” Yet in the immediate aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo murders this came out of the mouth [starting at about 1 min 15 sec] of a Fox News “expert”:

“I’ve been to Afghanistan and Iraq, Kashmir, India. At times it [Paris] felt like that.”

L.A. resident Parisian cook and food writer, Cécile Delarue, ridicules his take. (I had never heard of him before reading her tweet.) And reasonably so: image

In a full response to that “expert,” Muslim Parisian Sened DHAB composed an actually serious and thoughtful analysis. If you’re interested, have a click over.

Fox may have apologized for that “expert’s” comments by now. They seem to be apologizing all over themselves during the last couple of weeks. But it’s unlikely to be the last time we’ll be confronted with a mile wide and a quarter inch deep being passed off by cable news as “expertise.”

* * *

His “expertise” is apparently amply demonstrated to us viewers by his offering the most basic of factual errors. An egregious example: he states France is “10-12 percent” Muslim. Almost no one reputable believes the percentage goes that high. Okay, perhaps that’s debatable. Yet he himself also notes it having “5 million Muslims.” Presumably, he also knows its total population is about 66 million, so simple arithmetic therefore tells us that’s nowhere near “10-12 percent.”

If an “expert” gets something so elementary so wrong right in front of us, frankly I’m going to be very suspicious of just about everything else he has to say. We all should be. And that’s even leaving aside his opening by ridiculously stumbling over a vital – in the realm in which he is sharing his “expertise” – French word, which as an “expert” surely he should have been able to pronounce without having to apologize for possibly mispronouncing it.

Watching the video, I wanted to turn down the volume and look away. He’s like an undergrad doing a weakly prepared presentation in a Politics of Western Europe class. I found myself almost feeling sorry for him, and wishing someone would please get the hook and pull him off the global stage because he’s embarrassing himself.

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Moreover he’s also greatly embarrassing that news channel; but evidently that channel isn’t easily embarrassed. It is also exceedingly fond recently of citing a July 2014 ICM survey that claimed some “16 percent” of French citizens supported the terror group Islamic State (also known as IS, ISIS, and ISIL in English-speaking lands; in France, it’s referred to mostly by its derogatory shorthand in Arabic: Daesh). That poll is, unsurprisingly, dutifully once again referred to during his segment.

However, the accuracy of that poll has also been reasonably questioned elsewhere. Fox News here, perhaps unsurprisingly also, says nothing about that. Neither does its “expert.”

* * *

Sadly ignorance, exaggeration and errors do not make that “expert” unique on U.S. cable TV news. There’s just too much airtime to fill and all channels (even my preferred CNN) seem to rely heavily on way too many “talking heads” whom harried producers know are readily available to rush before cameras within the next hour. (Full disclosure: a relation of mine is a producer on a well-known U.S. news program.) Yet what truly forms the underpinning for their expertise is often anyone’s guess. Sometimes you suspect you would learn more from a well-sourced Wikipedia entry or two.

It’s no laughing matter either. Disinformation and ignorance enters routine discourse all too easily. Suddenly someone has a new “fact” which gets shared and shared and re-shared: “Darling, my father was watching Fox yesterday. He said they had an expert on who explained how Paris is now almost run by ISIS. The girls want to go there on vacation?”

A rule I try to live by in our media-saturated world: if it sounds outlandish, count to ten. As viewers, we don’t have to have an opinion immediately. Seek a “second” or “third” unrelated source before quoting it to anyone else, because what you just heard may well have been sloppy half-truths at best, and quite possibly outright garbage.

* * *

To end on a lighthearted note, Cécile is “French and perfect” …. you understand. She is also self-deprecating, witty and entertaining. This is one of her YouTube videos, in which she demonstrates how to make mousse au chocolat:

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Hope you are having a good Monday, wherever you are in the world. :-)

“And where are you from?”

On our way out of church this morning, the priest asked me, “And where are you from?”

He may merely have been asking where I was from in the U.K. It wasn’t our “regular” church. Nonetheless, I was startled.

I thought: Gee, do I look like I’m not from here? I’m sure, to some extent, I don’t.

As we shook hands, I replied, “I’m from New York originally.”

The look on his face indicated that answer was a surprise. I suppose he had indeed figured I was going to say Bristol or something.

But I often don’t know how to answer that question. I was born in New York City, and when asked where I’m from that’s my initial answer. I grew up on Long Island, in Suffolk County; but most Europeans haven’t a clue where Suffolk County is, and they usually associate “Long Island” either with the Hamptons or The Great Gatsby. And, here in England, there is a Suffolk county too – the “original” Suffolk, of course.

US Embassy London on Google. It's closed today, Sunday.
US Embassy London on Google. It’s closed today, Sunday.

I’ve also spent much more of my adult life outside of the U.S. than inside of it. But I always feel American, and like a New Yorker. And I even still feel like a Long Islander – even though I have for years had no ties to Long Island whatsoever.

I don’t think I’ll ever not feel that way. We can move wherever in the world, but is where we are born and reared imprinted on us for life? Seems so.

Just a little “quiet reflection.” Hope you’re having a good Sunday. :-)

A World Of Distractions

Enough of this and this is how you DON’T finish a manuscript. My wife had to be in central London early Friday. So we drove from Wiltshire to Enfield (the M4 again, but no Sara Bareilles this time) on Thursday night to sleep over at my in-laws.

London, Thursday evening. Temperature in centigrade. It's not Buffalo.
London, Thursday evening. Temperature in centigrade. It’s not Buffalo.

I was to spend the day at their house. I had brought along my Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (as well as all other required electronics). I thought I’d have a few hours to do some writing quietly.

What on earth was I thinking?

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I Write Novels, But – Shush – They’re Meant To Be A Secret

The other day, Bookshelf Battle raised an issue I think is worth addressing here:

Sometimes with all of the blogging, twittering, and social media-ing, I just wonder if all writers are doing are talking to other writers. It’s like we’re all door-to-door salesmen, knocking on a door, “Wanna buy my book?” And the person answers, “No, but do YOU wanna buy MY book?”

I gave that comment (and the post where it appeared) some thought, and figured I’d drop in my two cents/ pence.

Writing is a largely solitary endeavor. (Even those closest to you cannot fully understand.) Most of my days are taken up researching, organizing, proofing, and tapping, tapping, tapping out the draft for my latest book. (They don’t get written unless you write them.) So I like now and then to lean across the “office partition” and have a “glance” at what other authors at nearby desks are doing, or to take a break near the “water cooler” and have a “gab.” This site and other social media, like Twitter and About.me, are the ways I do that.

I’m on Twitter intermittently during the day – usually yammering (as you may know) about international happenings, travel, and expat stuff, and only very occasionally about my novels. I post here most days as well (as you also may know), and I do that early in the mornings – before I start the day’s novel writing.

Yes, this site is a “shop front” of sorts. Anyone is free to come by and browse. And to walk out empty handed too. As I do elsewhere. As we all do. Everywhere. I don’t buy something every time I click on Amazon.

Or should I not mention my books? Are visitors supposed to read my mind down their broadband lines? No one will ever know what you do unless you, uh, happen to bring it up.

Free Stock Photo: Home sale signs along a street.
Free Stock Photo: Home sale signs along a street.

The old-fashioned Yellow Pages are FULL of businesses, large and small, trying to let you know what THEY can DO for YOU if you PAY them. No one says they shouldn’t share what they do? How will any of us hope to find that (real) estate agent, that plumber, or a store that sells live Christmas tree stands, if they don’t advertise their existences?

I don’t target this at other writers. Others might like to produce something so narrowly focused. But my site is for anyone who clicks in from the big, wide internet.

That said, I’m not one – and never have been one – to stride into a room, wave around one of my books, and proclaim, “Look what I do! Tah! Dah!”:

Mingling, my wife mentioned my novel to one man. Trust her always to know how to work a room. (She’s much better at it than I am.) Moments later, he sought me out.

And he was keenly interested in the smallest of details. How do you write? What time do you start? Do you do it every day?

Others jumped in as we stood around the kitchen island, drinking and eating. Later, general conversation in the dining room drifted briefly to my novel, including the plot and my inspiration. “Why do you think I come to get togethers like this?” I joked. “I need new material!”

Grinning, our Danish girlfriend observed, “I was reading it on the Kindle, wondering, ‘Hmm, am I in here? Am I one of those French girls?’”

“Don’t worry. You’re not in this one,” I smiled. “Would you like to be in the next one?”

And let’s recall also, there should be fun in this as well!

If you blog – as an author, or because you travel, or because you live in a country different from the one where you were born, or for whatever reason you do – I enjoy reading what YOU have to say. We live in an insane world. Every individual’s experiences matter and illuminate it better. I have learned quite a lot courtesy of many of you.

If you like what you see here, great. If you are interested in my novels, I’m flattered, and I hope you enjoy them. In the end, it’s entirely up to you.

It’s very simple, really.

Have a good day, wherever you are in the world. It’s almost the weekend! :-)

“Oh, God, not my mother?”

I’ve you’ve ever written about romance and relationships, you know it’s a minefield. We are all full of foibles. For those of us who pen fiction, trying to capture humans in print in order to bring characters of both sexes realistically to life is never simple.

Then there’s caricature. And humo(u)r. Recently, courtesy of Twitter, I came across this:

DameMag

Those questions come from a woman. Therefore, as a man, I tread here lightly. I will say this, though: they are mostly hilarious. A few choice examples:

13. Tell me in which ways I remind you of your mother.

Yep, that’ll frighten off most guys for sure. That’s a keeper. If in need, try that on any man.

14. If you had to murder one of your closest friends in cold blood, which one would you choose?

On the surface, that also seems a winner. But be careful. Before trying to answer, quite a few men might also be thinking, ‘Wow, that clearly deranged mind of hers makes me fancy her even more.’ (Not me, of course. I wouldn’t have thought that.)

15. Who on Earth wears Crocs to a dinner date? In the winter, no less?

This couldn’t be directed at me. I’ve never owned a pair. I thought they were for five year olds?

30. Imagine you slept with my best friend. How was it?

Now, for a man, here’s where marital status matters greatly. Coming at you from a girlfriend, well, that question’s one thing. But if comes at you from your wife…. it has now become MUCH scarier.

32. Share the last time you faked a British accent to sound smarter.

This has to be from an American web site. For has the author actually been to certain, uh, intellectual locales here in the United Kingdom? Or ever even watched EastEnders?

Have a good day, wherever you are in the world. That’s enough now. Everyone off the internet. Back to work! :-)

Calming The Storm

It was 1998. I remember it happening like this.

A woman friend and I weren’t sure about having lunch at what was a non-descript, although decent looking, roadside diner/restaurant we happened to be driving by. It sat just outside of Swellendam, near Cape Town, South Africa.

It was a sunny, warm day. We pulled in, parked and started to amble to the restaurant door. Even as we walked towards the building we were still unsure if it was where we wanted to eat; but the parking lot was pretty full, and the place seemed to be buzzing. We shrugged, it would probably do.

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