Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Zimmerman...Guilty until Proven Innocent?

I wasn't going to wade into this particular debate, because so many others are covering the issues so thoroughly--from traditional news to the blogosphere.  What more can my small voice hope to add?  ...Of course, when has that stopped me?  

I thought I'd just offer a few quick observations regarding this.  Based on the initial reports out of Florida, I was as infuriated as anyone at the situation.  What possible justification could there be to shooting an unarmed youngster?  I, more or less, accepted the media's presentation without question until other issues came to light recently.  Don't you hate it when our preconceived notions are shown to be--just maybe--not the whole story?

From how the incident was initially described, George Zimmerman  appeared to be "shaking" Trayvon Martin.  This refers to police field contact of a suspicious person.  While private security is within its authority to make contact with individuals on private property, it's a little different when a Neighborhood Watch volunteer makes such a contact in a public place.  If that is what occurred, it certainly would suggest poor judgement at the very least.  When this is combined with some of the language on the 911 recording, it's hard to feel a lot of pity for Mr. Zimmerman.  He went against the instructions of the dispatcher, after all.   

Still, the fact of the matter remains...are we innocent until proven guilty?  New information suggests that it's at least possible that Trayvon was striking Mr. Zimmerman's head repeatedly into the concrete.  Yes, it may have been foolish for him to approach this situation the way he did in the first place, but I suggest everyone give some thought to how you will feel and act if the evidence ultimately finds the shooter innocent of wrongdoing.  Are you going to apologize to Mr. Zimmerman?

My mind goes back to one of my early jobs.  I was working security in northwest Washington State one night when I happened upon a scene where a man's head was being slammed repeatedly into the concrete by assailants.  It was early morning in this downtown coastal town, and there were no helpful policeman ready to come and assist me.  I knew that I had to take some personal risk to stop the attackers, or this man would probably be killed in front of me.  Fortunately, I was able to stop the attack with a non-lethal device, but I can sympathize with someone being brutally attacked in that manner.  If it's indeed true, perhaps his final action is more understandable in this light--if not the actions preceeding it.

Whether, or not, that's the case, however, I think it's even more important that we bear in mind that Mr. Zimmerman has not yet been charged with a crime--so far as I know.  Furthermore, even if he had been, he remains innocent until proven guilty.  Don't let the media be the judge and jury.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Sharing Recent Interview for Catholic Writers' Guild

Recently, I did a short interview with Maria M. Rivera of the Catholic Writers' Guild.  As one of the founders of the guild some years back, I was excited for this opportunity.  Since you may not otherwise catch it, I thought I'd share the interview here, so folks could find it more easily.  (Once the interview is officially released from CWG, I'll publicize this a bit more widely.)  

Maria, Karl, it’s so nice to meet you! How long have you been a member of CWG, seems to me like it’s been a long time.

Thank you for this opportunity!  I was actually one of the founders of Catholic Writers' Guild, so I have been around from the beginning.  :)

Maria,  First, congratulations on your publications “Tristan Travels” and “Toupee Mice” which will be published in 2012. That is so awesome! They are both for sale in Amazon, right? Are they both children stories? What inspired each book?

Thanks!  It's been a fun journey.  Well, Tristan's Travels is currently available on Amazon.  I think our next book, Toupee Mice, will initially be limited in availability to independent booksellers and the publisher, Rafka Press.  My guess is that it might be released to Amazon towards the end of the year, but that timing depends on the publisher.  
Actually, I wrote Toupee Mice first.  When I had no success finding a publisher, I ended-up shelving it and starting another, Tristan's Travels.  Once TT sold, I went back and revised my first tale, and it was then accepted by Rafka Press.  
It's easier for me to talk about what inspired TT than TM, since it's been about a decade now since the Toupee Mice ideas began to come together.  I knew that I wanted to be a writer, but I didn't know exactly where to begin.  Since I enjoy writing silly stuff (you can check out my "Restless Auditor" blog), I decided to try my hand at children's books first.  I love making kids giggle.  Hearing children laugh I think is one of the most beautiful sounds there is, and I think these days it's getting harder and harder to find quality books for children.  So many times authors write "down" to their young readers, and I set out to avoid that pitfall.  
I guess I'd have to say that TM was inspired by just a desire to write a lighthearted children's book featuring talking animals.  Tristan's Travels' origin is a little easier to recount.  It had its start with in silly stories I would tell the kids aloud.  TT features some of their favorite characters from those early sessions.  Into that mix, I'd say that I was also moved to write something about the north coast of Oregon.  Astoria, in particular, is a fascinating area to me.  The landscape has a striking beauty about it, and the light has a way of constantly changing at times.  I love everything about the ocean, and I thought a book about a seagull who is afraid to fly would be fun for kids--and the author, too!  

Maria,  How has “Tristan Travels” sold? Is it what you expected?

Not really, but I never was doing this for the money.  It's more along the lines of a labor of love.  Rafka Press is a brand new publisher, and I'm a new author.  I figure we're both learning here, and that we need to give it some time.  I can say, though, that TM might be last book for children if sales don't increase for both books.  I'm finding that I really enjoy writing for older readers, so that may be where I focus in the future.   

Maria,  You also write articles. You’ve been published in America, The National Catholic Weekly, This Rock, and, even Musica Sacra.  Are you a musician too? What do you prefer to write fiction or non fiction, why?
Good question!  No, I am definitely not a musician, but I do have strong opinions about music.  Having come from a Protestant background, I really don't like hearing the awful music creeping into the Mass.  In fact the title of my article for This Rock was "Thirst for Reverence," and our conversion story really had its beginning in our efforts to find a church home where we felt the music was drawing attention to God and not, instead, pointing back at ourselves.  Not to digress too much, but I think the problematic hymn "Sing a New Church" is a great example of this problem.  Anthony Esolen's articles on music and the Church are 100% on the mark in my book.   
I began writing non-fiction articles, but I am really more interested now in expressing those kinds of thoughts within my blogs.  It's a lot easier that way to concentrate on my fiction.  I seem to have more natural talent for fiction-writing, so that's where I'm concentrating for the time being.  I'll probably get back into the non-fiction again, but right now the priority is my novel. 
To be honest, poorly organized editors are a pet peeve, too.  Last year, for example, I had a couple articles accepted by a top Catholic publication, then they changed their mind after I made the requested editorial revisions.  That kind of stuff makes me cranky...  I don't like the term "customer service," but I do think some editors need to learn to be a little more professional in their dealings with their prospective writers.  Little things can make it a lot easier--e.g. automatic replies for e-mailed submissions verifying receipt and conveying general timelines for review.  Okay...I'm stepping away from the soapbox now.  :)

Maria,  I know the interview is about you, but I have to mention your wife Kimberly because she’s a children’s book illustrator and so many of our writers are constantly in search of an illustrator! She’s also the daughter of John Carroll Collier the sculptor of the Catholic Memorial at Ground Zero in NYC. I know this isn’t necessarily writing related(not yet), but how did you two meet?

We met in a New Testament course taught by Dr. Robert Wall at Seattle Pacific University.  We ended-up studying together, and I guess you could say the rest is history!  I always think it's cool that we met in a religion class, because faith is so important and critical to both of us.  I love being married to my illustrator!

Maria,  Your website has some beautiful photography, congratulations on that too. Are these photos available for sale? The landscape pictures are breathtaking.

Thank you.  Photography is a little side hobby of mine.  Eventually, I'd like to do more with it.  I'd be happy to sell any of the pieces on that page.  If someone's interested in a particular photograph, the best thing to do is to contact me directly.  I do also have a calendar available for purchase.  It features photography from the Wallowas (far northeastern corner of Oregon).  Eventually, I'd like to create calendars also featuring photographs of the Oregon and Washington coasts and perhaps Washington State's beautiful San Juan Island.  

Maria,  In the day time you are a ‘number cruncher’ How do you balance a full time job and a writing career/call? 

While I, of course, strive to be the best employee I can be, I'm careful to avoid letting my job define who I am.  I think, for instance, author , father, or husband are much better descriptions of who I am than "State Tax Auditor."  I also am careful to keep writing at every opportunity--from the serious blog ("Singing in the Wood") to the silly blog ("The Restless Auditor"), and the book projects.  I think of the blogs as my writing exercises.  Sometimes, for example, I'll write a couple blogs on Saturday than a book chapter on Sunday.  It seems to help the "writing muscles" that way.  

Maria,  What advice would you give new writers to CWG?

Develop your own voice.  Don't try to sound like others.  Find an authentic voice, tone, and perspective and stick to it for your particular genre(s).  Writing what you know is important, too.  In-person visits and research are an important part of the novel-writing process.  Strive for originality and truth above all.  Don't neglect reading the masters, too.  My writing seems best after I come to it following the writing of something altogether different or even after reading a good book.  If I feel like I am having writer's block, sometimes I'll read J.R.R. Tolkien.  (Some additional reflections on the creative process are available here.)
I would also quickly add to beware of distractions.  From social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, I think there's a danger for new writers to begin to concentrate more on promoting their work than actually writing new content.  That road will lead to trouble quickly--not only superficial work, but annoyed readers and friends, too.  I, for instance, have tried to back off on the promotion a bit and leave that more to others when I can.
It also is critically important to the Christian writer that he never forget that the source of creativity lies in Him and not himself.

Maria,  Thank you so much for your time!

Adaptive Communication Strategies for State Government

The short article below was written primarily for an Oregon state employee audience.  As I understand, it will be appearing within newsletter sometime in the near future.  I thought I'd offer a sneak peek, since most of my readers won't catch the internal newsletter.  Here is an additional academic resource.

When I started work at the Oregon Department of Revenue, the Internet was largely an unknown territory.  A lot has changed since the late 1990s.  Today, more than perhaps ever before, we need to adapt our communication to the audience at hand.  Sometimes, we do this without thinking, but other times a conscious effort is necessary.  What is adaptive communication, and how can we utilize it with greater efficiency?  

The first thing to keep in mind is that adaptive communication actually is a fairly broad term. This umbrella covers everything from sign language to simplified letters or online chats.  In the context of the work we do on a daily basis within state government, I’d like to offer a few suggestions for improving our communication strategy from internal to external customers, but with particular focus on individuals between 17 and 24 years-old.  For our purposes, adaptive communications covers the multitude of ways we communicate with colleagues and the public.

Different communication approaches are needed to reach diverse audiences, and this especially holds true for young adults.  Since Generation Y (or “Millennials”) relies so much upon the Internet for its news and information, efforts to reach this group as a whole will only be successful if the Internet is an integral part of the strategy--and if it is used correctly. The 2005 Pew Internet & American Life Project Teens and Technology demonstrates this with a vivid statistical snapshot of young peoples’ reliance upon technology.  Nearly 90% of 12-17 year-olds, for example, report daily use of the Internet.  Instant messaging is also beginning to replace e-mail within this group.  Due to income and educational disparities, however, more than ten percent of 12-17 year-olds do not have regular access to the Internet--highlighting the importance of public availability of Internet access sites for educational and employment-seeking purposes.

What are some real-world techniques that may help us better connect with our audience—no matter the age?  When it comes to external communications, it’s particularly helpful if our written and verbal content is clear and concise.  What does this mean?  It means the communicated message should avoid unnecessary acronyms, jargon, or unclear or inconsistently-applied abbreviations.  This also holds true for internal communication—for example, between different divisions of the same agency.  

It’s easy to forget that what we’re saying may be as clear as mud because of reliance upon acronyms or office jargon.  Keeping it simple, clear, and concise will help keep the audience happy.  As food for thought, perhaps more state agencies should abandon the old letter templates of years past and embrace more user-friendly formats?  After all, one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to conveying our message to the public.  Are we informing, or are we telling?  Word processors may have replaced typewriters in our offices, but sometimes we seem to be having a more difficult time when it comes to tailoring our content for the modern audience while keeping it clear and courteous.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Book Review that Could Have Been... ("The American Way of Eating")

Tracie McMillan's recent book, The American Way of Eating, Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table really piqued my interest.  A number of our friends are of the Vegan persuasion, and I was hoping this book might enlighten me on issues along those lines.  Unfortunately, I found myself unable to advance very far before the author's integrity came into question.  Since her book rests so much on this particular trait, it distracted from her message to the point that I had to put the book down unfinished.  

It's a small passage that raised the red flags for me.  It's found on the third page of the Kindle version.  She writes that "in college, I shoplifted spices from an A&P to experiment with Indian curries."  It's mentioned so lightly and casually that the reader takes away the impression that the author does not believe this represents a character flaw at all.  While we may only be talking a misdemeanor here, the author's integrity must be above reproach for the kind of work she's undertaking.  She is trying to persuade by her own account, but how much credence should we give her account if she's an admitted shoplifter?  

Some will say I'm taking this way too seriously, and perhaps they're right.  Before finally settling on my current government career combined with my writing on the side (sometimes I would reverse the order of that little description), I spent years out of college working in security and loss prevention.  One of my last "gigs" was arresting shoplifters at a Nordstrom store located in the Pacific Northwest.  I have to be honest...I don't have any great respect for shoplifters. That's why the author's subsequent arguments were lost on me.  

Admittedly, then, I did not come anywhere close to finishing this book.  Perhaps she addressed it later?  I don't know.  I do know in the limited reading that I did of her book, I was frequently skeptical of a number of her broad assertions as well as the politicization of the highlighted issues.  Why, for example, should food distribution be the responsibility of the government, as she suggests?

All in all, what little I read of the book left me unconvinced and unchanged in my opinions.  It seems that she has taken her tiny bit of direct experience relating to the food industry and made sweeping assertions.  It also appears that she's failed to take into account even regional idiosyncrasies with regards to the food industry.  By her own words, she was not the best at avoiding "preferential treatment," and her admission of shoplifting further tarnishes her honesty and objectivity--in my mind, at least.

This book could have been a lot better at keeping me as a reader, if there had been a bit more objectivity and third party analysis--or some application of science.  It all seems very subjective, and it's hard to avoid the conclusion that this is an author with an agenda to push.  The biggest challenge for me, though, remains the shoplifting admission.  Anyone who would so casually mention theft...well, it suggests that it was perhaps not an isolated incident, further impugning her credibility.

As an aside, readers might find the recent news concerning this author and Rush Limbaugh of interest.  It seems that Rush has stepped in it...again.


Applebees sent me the response below concerning Tracie McMillan's account.  

Thank you for contacting us.  In response to the article in question we would like to say that our meals are not pre-made; they are made to order by the kitchen staff at each Applebee's location.  Our vegetables are fresh, our steaks, burgers, and other meats are fresh and cooked to order, and our mashed pico de gallo is made daily, just to give a few examples of the many fresh dishes available at Applebee's...

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Taking a Stand Against the Bystander Mentality

We're all too familiar with those terrible cases of people turning a blind eye to desperate emergencies, not wanting to "get involved."  One particularly infamous example of this involved the murder of Kitty Genovese in New York on March 13, 1964.  Supposedly, as many as 38 people watched from their windows at this woman was raped and murdered.  (The murderer actually left and returned later to finish her off where she was lying by a locked door.)  Tragically, there are many other examples of this same sort of apathy to evil and pain.

Things only seem to be getting worse.  There's a tendency these days to live in isolation from others.  Like I pointed out in The Connection Illusion, electronic communication may indeed bring us closer to those who are physically removed from us, but it also moves us further away from those in our daily circle--family, friends, and co-workers.  It helps to create a bubble around us, separating us from those beside us on the journey, distracting us from those we love.

Don't let this false sense of separation move you to become a bystander when you're called upon to help.  While I don't always succeed at this, if someone needs my assistance, I try to do what's necessary.  If I witness something wrong, I am going to get involved.  If this places friendships or livelihood in jeopardy, so be it.

Recently, something particularly tragic happened to a relative which really brought this issue to my heart.  If you encounter someone in a seriously bad place, take a moment to get involved and put yourself out there to help the person.  If you fail to act, you may live to deeply regret your unwillingness to get involved.  I urge you not to care about what people may say or think.  Instead, do what's right.  

After all, you should do unto others as you would have them do to you.  The parable of the Good Samaritan is a strong reminder of what is expected of us as followers of Christ.  Are we doing all we can for those suffering around us, or are we living within that bubble of isolation?  Of course there are many ways to get more involved.  

Updated May 2017: A recent piece on church safety also touches upon the issue of fighting the bystander mentality and getting involved.  I invite you to read "Keeping Our Parishes Safe."  

Note that the section of this article that discussed Sean Astin's #Run3rd has been deleted; it's no longer relevant.