Sunday, September 25, 2005

Writing style and word choices: following in the footsteps of George Carlin

There is a scene in the film A River Runs Through It that reminds me of my own childhood. Norman talks about going to school under the instruction of his father. Norman learned to write Presbyterian style, which meant with the principle of thrift. As I have noted in an earlier post, The (original) Madhouse Gazette was my first foray into journalism back in the late 1970's. My other grandfather (Not Elihu) would sit with my published newspaper and critique its content for layout and use of language. Because I was more concerned with ideas than details, my grandfather's instruction has gently eroded. I became more deeply concerned with getting the idea out in a timely manner than the construction details.

The stakes have never been as high for me as they are now.

As a senior pastor and a (hopefully) a future doctoral student, I wish I had my grandfather around to discuss the importance of words and the construction of language. My preaching professor would have been glad to know that I was raised in environment where words matter.

When I used to write for the The Olympian newspaper, I occasionally received memos regarding language we should no longer use because they have lost their meaning, or violated the principle of thrift.

Reading the letters in the Argus Leader has reminded me that the time has come in my life when I create my own list of words to avoid in both writing and speech. I have a long way to go before I become a writer of worth, but my grandfather reminded me on a regular basis that clarity of thought through diction is a worthy endeavor.

Thanks, Granddad.

The List--Installment (Like George Carlin, I will add to the list when I feel like it)

1. Whether or not--my grandfather used to scream at the radio or television when he heard this one. Though Granddad has been dead for a few years now, I have taken up his cause. He said the statement is redundant, which is against the thrift principle. Whether or not may be appropriate in limited circumstances when it can be replaced by the word "regardless." Regardless seems better.

2. In terms of--Granddad never made a statement against this phrase, but I imagine he might these days. I hear it frequently, and occasionally it comes out my own mouth in torrents. This can't be good.

3. Clearly--I have seen this word attached in many letters to the editor to create emphasis on a particular point in a debate. A well crafted point does not need a word like "clearly."

Enjoy your sabbath. I hope you are practicing one.

Rev. Elihu

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

On Generosity

I should not be reading these letters to the editor at 2 in the morning.

Excuse me while I acquire some knitting needles. My undies are in a bundle, and it will take some work to get them detangled.

Today's feature letter writer is not unique to South Dakota. This letter could be written to any newspaper at any locale in the country. This letter is about human nature.

The fear of being screwed (human nature) impedes generosity. At least my understanding of the Christian faith and the teaching of Jesus says to me that being wrong about the integrity of someone receiving God's charity through me should not be a roadblock to generosity at all. If you want to theologically convince me that I am wrong, I encourage you to do so. Honestly, I will listen. Any amateur political philosophers from the school of Fox News Channel or the National Review can save their energy. I don't want to hear it.

Basically, if someone wastes the opportunity that I share through generosity, I don't give a f***. This doesn't mean that I won't be discerning about where my resources are allocated, it means that my fear cannot guide my generosity. I hope and pray that I can still be generous. Who is to say that the next person's generosity will not transform that person who seems to be repeatedly taking a "free ride"? I am really glad that God hasn't given up on me for all the bad decisions I make every day. I am blessed enough that today I don't have to worry about the things that many of the working and non working poor worry about. I am thankful that I am not living on the mercy of today's featured author. I'm not called to be the judge. I'm called to be generous.

If I happen to dispise taxes from the Federal Government, I can bypass them quite a bit by being extra generous. Then the organizations that I feel are doing the best job will receive that money. In my imagination, my taxes go toward great, efficient arms of the government. Like FEMA. Check that. MY taxes go towards important things, like good roads (I like road trips).

The acts of generosity and mercy transform lives. When I look at my life, the generosity and mercy of God have truly changed my life.

I feel better now. Not because I vented--but because I have been chewing over this concept of generosity and how it plays out in this political culture for a few years now. Today's feature letter writer gave me a reason to articulate my prayer and thought.

Praying that I can live in God's generosity...

Just plain ol' Elihu

Monday, September 19, 2005

entertainment in mankato and other jokes

Here's a slice of Minnesota culture...

In my last post I talked about the MSU Reporter. My favorite column in that fine publication was the entertainment column that appeared every Friday.

If you can decipher it, you will have the pleasure of knowing a little bit of Minnesota culture.

"Watts Gohn Ahn"

Let me know if you figured out what it means.

Have a swell day.

Pastor Smales

scars left in mankato reopened by the new york times

The regular readers of my blog (I think this might total 1--me) may recognize that I take on an abnormal fascination with letters to the editor. I don't engage in the practice of writing letters to the editor myself...

This lack of letter writing has a lot to do with a letter I wrote to the student newspaper of Mankato State University (a.k.a. Minnesota State University-Mankato) known as the MSU Reporter. Regardless of the topic, I was ticked off that my letter was copied with typos and mis-dicatations. If I am going to appear to be a moron to the public, I want to do it based on my own writing. Not the misdictation of others. I have not written a letter to the editor since. That was 1993. The scar is SOOOOOOO deep...

Though I have not written a letter of complaint/concern/affirmation to a publication since 1993, my reading of the New York Times has brought me to writing about a complaint once again. Parts of the daily (non-archived) NY Times are no longer free on the web. They are charging money for reading op-ed columns online...maybe I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed. I am quite peeved about this. They call it "TimesSelect." In the realm of the Web, I call it a travesty.

So here is my note to the NY Times. If I am to be judged a moron for my thoughts, it will be because I copied and pasted, not because of poor dictation.

Here it is:

To whom it may concern:

This new TimesSelect feature is a disappointment. I know that any company will look for opportunities to raise revenue, and the Times has selected a method that will choke circulation of the Times on the web. Your article about the McClatchy newspapers facing "clouds" on their horizon shows that newspapers need to be creative about finance. Are you seeing those clouds on the Times?

I have been frequently forwarding your articles on the web for years--articles that include your advertisements. I felt like I was participating in the genius of the web. Even though the cost is minimal to participate in TimesSelect, I believe the new service goes against where web presence should be going.

The few extra dollars in the Times coffers will not make up for the choking of the free flow of information.

Rev. Elihu Smales
Sioux Falls, SD

I'm sure there will be no takers if I call for a boycott of the New York Times, so I won't even bother.

Pastor Elihu

Saturday, September 17, 2005

south dakota vs. san antonio

i recently returned from a few days in san antonio with the congregational staff.

even though i have been back for a few days, i think it is only today that my sweat glands have stopped working overtime.

san antonio kicks south dakota's butt in humidity--between 90-100 percent every day we were there. that kind of humidity only occurs about 7 days in a summer in sodak. however, san antonio is a beautiful and proud city that has done some remarkable city planning and maintained some sense of architectural integrity in the midst of a budding tourism industry.

but what about the letters to the editor in the san antonio express-news? granted, my sample was a little small, but i seemed to find similar issues being covered by the letter writing populace in san antonio and south dakota (by the way, if you think comparing a city and a state is a stretch, san antonio has the bigger population by about 400,000 people). anecdotally, the ratio of ignorance seemed to be about the same as sodak--only the ignorance in san antonio held a significant cosmetic upgrade. if you're a dork like me and don't have anything else better to do, compare letters to the editor in the argus leader and the news express. i would enjoy your observations.

but i won't hold my breath.

have a happy.

rev. smales

Sunday, September 11, 2005

untapped resource for sodak cultural study

i am a newspaper guy.

though i have virtually abandoned picking up inked newsprint and moved over to bringing my computer to various reading stations throughout my home and work, i will always remain a newspaper guy. everyday i read and look through the new york times, the seattle times, the seattle post-intelligencer, and the sioux falls argus leader--with occasional trips to the university daily kansan, edmonton journal and a variety of other dailies and weeklies.

this is in my blood. thank you to my other grandfather (not elihu) for being a hobbyist related to the newspaper. i think about the art and science that is building community through journalism. i once thought this would be my vocation, but i found that building community through the church would be my primary calling. as a peon writing for the olympian back in younger days was a clue that the daily newspaper life was not for me. i did not come out being a hater...only with a better idea that i needed to look in a different direction to fulfill my calling.

letters to the editor, contrary to the opinion of some, are not a representative sample of opinion or culture in any given locality. the letters to the editor section of the sioux falls argus leader is something i would not miss on a morning where my time is short. reading this section has replaced my reading of the comics section. they download faster, and they are often more humorous. i can almost count on average one letter per day that makes me laugh/smirk/smile/shake my head. after all these letters, one might anecdotally conclude that the circulation reach of the argus leader is full of people who struggle to put together an intelligent thought. there are many intelligent people in this region of the country.

not many of these intelligent people write letters to the editor to the argus leader. if they are intelligent, they have let their wacky thoughts get the best of them.

this guy has something against preachers. because he has something against preachers, he has a great idea about social welfare.

there are going to be more of these. they are too amusing not to share.

have a groovy day.

preacher smales

Thursday, September 08, 2005

geographical wonders of sodak: confessions of a map dork

My brothers (Bingo and Beaker) and I have a hobby of keeping track of where we have been--though Bingo and I are more intentional about it. Open up one of our special atlases and take note of highlighted highways of a beloved road trip. After years of studying the atlas, I just knew that when the opportunity arose, I had to get to Lake Winnepegosis. You may have taken note in a previous post that I sometimes keep track of the job market in Flin Flon--and I may still get there--but for the time frame I had, Lake Winnepegosis was a reasonable goal. 1300 miles in 36 hours is really no big deal...

On my first trip to South Dakota, I was not impressed. My friend Kevin and I loaded up a beat up Honda Accord that he refused to address maintenance issues. The jalopy made funny sounds. We stuffed this vehicle to the gills, so much so that even the slightest of bumps would cause the tires to scrape the wheel wells. Kevin was unfazed--I went along with it for the sake of adventure. From Olympia, Washington, we headed to Lawrence, Kansas. Maybe I refused to be impressed because by the time we arrived in South Dakota, we were ripe from lack of showers after 3 days. We certainly weren't going to spend money on a hotel. After a brief stop in Rapid City, we trudged along Interstate 90. South Dakota is more of a chore at 55 miles an hour, though that Honda couldn't even really go that speed, unless going downhill. Central South Dakota is an acquired taste: miles and miles of ranch land with no visual break at all, minus the Mighty Mo. Wyoming and Montana hold much of the same terrain, but there are other visuals to change the scenery.

I had almost given up on South Dakota geographically. I found Mount Rushmore overrated--and still 5 hours away from my recent home in Sioux Falls. Hardly in my backyard. Eastern South Dakota is essentially farmland, interstate, with a few small rivers and prairie lakes. In this land of Lewis and Clark, it takes an explorer's eye and a willingness to take the blue highways at a different pace to find geographical joy. A few recent trips have plugged me into this.

Big Bend Dam is a fisherfolk's nook a bit south of the State Capital in Pierre (pronounced "Peer"--don't mess that up--just like you don't say "Ore-eh-gone" to a Pacific Northwesterner). Dams themselves are not beautiful, I am just interested by the attempt to tame something that God created. A juxaposition of perceived power, power and beauty.

Howes, South Dakota. I can say that I will probably never go there again. This blip on the map at the junction of State Highways 73 and 34 is the kind of junction that is special in South Dakota--you have to want to go there to get there. I caused my mother pause on a recent trip to the Black Hills when preparing to drive through Howes, I stocked up on water--just in case. There are very few stops on the road from Sturgis to Pierre. It takes a love of geography and blue highways to take that trip. What is the difference from one rolling hill of ranchland to another? I enjoy being an afficianado of God's craft. One rolling hill is different from another. From the prairies I have become a student of the gallery with God's palet/brush/easel/potter's wheel/clay/glaze/kiln.

Aspiring to this next South Dakota stop: Ladner, South Dakota.

If you are a map dork, or even if you love geography, I have two recommendations:

1. See the film "Motorcycle Diaries"
2. If you like trivia about world capitals, take this geography quiz

My grandfather's golf nemesis, Ty Webb, had many problems with geography...might even be the anti-map dork. At Bushwood Country Club, Webb would often ask..."this isn't this Russia?"

Map dorks unite!

Rev. Elihu