Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Holding Honderich’s Hypocrisy.

Saturday, October 13th, 2018

It is this writer’s observation that John Honderich of the Toronto Star can be among the most puffed up of self-important Canadians. In an opinion piece on page two of his own publication the other day, Honderich bemoaned the lack of financial support for journalism by the federal government. He appears to resent that federal government advertising goes to the media that provides the lowest cost per thousand impressions.

What really galled in this self-serving whining was the list following the story of the 137 newspapers in Canada that have been closed over the past decade. It was interesting going through the list and marking the newspapers where Honderich and TorStar sent out the pink slips. Hypocrisy makes it hard to tell what Honderich is really complaining about!

There is no doubt that the world of journalism is continuing to change. We can be impressed with some of the digital conversions of great papers such as the New York Times and the Guardian in England but Canadian journals trying to convert to digital existence have not been particularly successful to-date. In fact, TorStar did a better job on its first digital iteration than it has done on the latest confusion.

But my problem is that the wife has taken to adding up what we are spending on news media. Reading the Toronto Star in print form over breakfast every day costs a heck of a lot more than I spend on this web site each year. Babel-on-the-Bay.com is a fun hobby. Reading the Toronto Star has always been a habit.

What worries me is that the Trudeau government and his cabinet ministers in training might start to throw money at traditional media. All they would accomplish would be to create more delays in bringing Canadian journalism into the 21st century. Newspapers, radio and television have to find their own path to the future.

We could get better results for Canadians though by putting the money into teaching our kids how to spell and use reasonably understandable grammar. No doubt language can change and improve over time. We should never have to grow old and have to listen to and read absolutely appalling English and French. Better language skills enable all of us to be more easily understood in an increasingly complex world.

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Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

It looks good on the NDP.

Friday, April 15th, 2016

It is the way an Aussie friend says, “It looks good on them.” It is not said in a mean way but it implies that they deserve their quandary. And the current condition of the New Democrats is not only well deserved but about time. There are no more political virgins for them to sacrifice.

Tom Mulcair is still with them but as a lame duck. How long he will suffer the indignity is for him to decide.

Premier Rachel Notley of Alberta was emasculated by her own federal party. Her opposition is rattling sabres but that is ever thus in that province.

Robin Sears pontificated in the Toronto Star recently that the New Democrats have a penchant for lofty thoughts on environmental issues and socialist values. If that were the case, the only party that would worry about them is the Green Party.

But Sears tells us that it was all about power. Sears believes Mulcair was the natural successor to Saint Jack. Sears believed that Mulcair just had to be there to win the Prime Minister’s job. He does not seem aware that all Layton did while leading the NDP nowhere was luck into the collapse of the Bloc Québécois. The Orange Wave was nothing more than the Quebec one-finger salute to Ottawa and Mr. Harper. The truth be known, Mulcair did rather well in the last election given the circumstances he faced.

But the party, very rudely, dumped him. It was hardly a planned event. His frosty treatment of delegates and a bad speech on Sunday did not help. Muclair was out for the count. The figures were irrelevant.

Sears goes on to insult the Birkenstock Left of the NDP whose faith in the NDP has never waivered. He had this wet dream of Layton-Mulcair in the Prime Minister’s Office and believed it. And then he goes on to complain about the way the convention treated Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.

Actually, Rachel Notley was doing nothing but whining on behalf of the tar sands interests. The convention treated her very politely, rationalized that she had to say what she did, and then ignored her.

And then this so-called NDP pundit, Sears, has the nerve to suggest that the Leap Manifesto is a loony leap. It sounds like he has never read the document. As an ideal, the manifesto would be mild to a Green, a worthy objective to a left-wing Liberal and anathema to the right-wing Conservative. Read it for yourself, before you condemn it.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Building an audience on Harper’s hair.

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

This is embarrassing. For four years, Babel-on-the-Bay has been building an audience. It is not in the thousands yet but it has moved up in the respectable hundreds. The puzzle has been that despite the steadily increasing figures, it is a surprisingly consistent third of our readers who have been on the site before. That seems to mean that about half the people who check something on our site consider it worthy of a second visit in a month.

But Google Analytics tells you much more than that about your site. It tells you what people have asked a search engine that leads them to your site. It is this information that told us to stick to political subjects. You also note with chagrin that it is not the most serious political subjects that suddenly bring people in droves to your site. Three years ago we told some stories about our old friend Gene Whelan and his green Stetson. That story has drawn readers every month since.

What was originally written in 2007 as The Democracy Papers has a long-standing readership in Babel-on-the-Bay when people research alternative forms of electing governments. Researchers particularly like the paper that includes ten reasons for using first-past-the-post voting in single-member constituencies.

And now we have Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s hairpiece. The spike in readership almost goes beyond the top of the computer screen since we first told that story. You will notice that the main stream media in Canada still refuse to touch a hair on Stephen’s head. Yet that is the type of story that attracts readers. We have the statistics to prove it.

But we also have other things in our life. Writing stories for Babel is a fun part of the day but there are also days when you really have nothing to write about. So you do not. It makes for a strange pattern. There are days when you have two or three ideas that could be used but you select one and save the other thoughts for another day. Occasionally we have written ahead when we are going to be out of town for a while but there are few stories that you trust to that approach. Politics is too volatile a subject.

Babel used to have more balance to the federal, foreign, provincial and municipal stories but the idea is to stick to stories where we can bring a fresh approach. If it is possible to add humour, political insight or political information to a story, that is the objective. At the same time, we spike some of our stories because we are not insensitive to the laws related to slander and defamation in this country. In Canadian politics there is an understanding of fair comment but it does not pay to push too hard on the boundaries of the concept.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Babel media spar during summer’s dog days.

Friday, August 5th, 2011

The dog days of summer are actually rooted in the past but today it an excuse for the media to produce some really cornball material.  It is as bad on television as it is in newspapers.  They all act as though they have nothing to write or talk about.  It is getting so bad that one of the two chain newspapers that ill-serve Babel wrote an extensive editorial about its print competition.

Talk about the skillet calling the frying pan black!  This is the blunderer complaining about the incompetent.  The Torstar publication, a free distribution grocery and furniture store wrap, the one we call Babel Backward, ran an editorial by Torstar Chairman John Honderich.  Entitled Accountable to no one, the editorial complains bitterly about Sun Media, owner of the Barrie Examiner, quitting the Ontario Press Council.

The Ontario Press Council is near and dear to the Toronto Star which helped create the Council.  It has made Torstar look good over the years while other people get to arbitrate when someone claims to have been wronged by the publication.  It cuts down on cost of lawyers to handle the law suits and usually resolves any incorrect utterance with a deep and moving apology.  And who cares?

Sun Media, the print media accumulation of Pierre-Karl Péladeau’s integrated media empire, has dumped all links to other media through such cooperatives as Canadian Press and the Canadian Newspaper Association.  It was very amusing to hear that one of Péladeau’s executive’s accused the Ontario Press Council of being ‘Politically Correct.’  It is hard to imagine Péladeau understanding what that term means.  It certainly does not apply to his flagship newspapers Le Journal de Montréal and Le Journal de Québec—publications that could make Rupert Murdoch blush!

What Péladeau is creating across his media empire is best described as editorial anarchy.  Conrad Black, no matter how much we hated him, at least brought a level of discipline to the newsrooms when he owned newspapers.  Talking to one of the few real reporters at the Sun Media outlet in Babel, we once remarked that the Canadian Press Style Book had stopped spelling a farmer’s plow or a snowplow as ‘plough’ more than 50 years ago.  He laughed and told us that the publisher did not care and the reporter liked spelling it the old way. ‘So there!’

John Honderich should try to read some of the sorry excuses for newspapers that Torstar produces across Ontario.  The newspaper industry is not dying because of the evolution of electronic media but because of the greed and uncaring attitude of the Canadian newspaper industry’s corporate ownership.

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All material in this blog is copyright © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

The speech and how to tame it.

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Why are people afraid of addressing an audience?  The most common answer to that is that they lack confidence.  In teaching courses in public speaking, we have seen the most timid person become a tiger on the platform.  All it requires is the time to show the individual what they can accomplish.

Mind you, the basics can be learned but it is application and practice that creates the really great speakers.  We learned how far practice can take a person from our late friend Charles Templeton.  Chuck got his early start from listening to the evangelists who came to Toronto when he was young.  He used to practice their styles in front of a mirror.  He had learned how they used words and how they used their bodies for emphasis   He would admit with a laugh that he really started out to be a cartoonist but found that it was much easier just to talk.  That confidence in speaking never left him, even after he quit the church, tried politics and found his niche in the media.

But confidence can be deceiving.  In making a brief presentation to city council a couple weeks ago, we were overconfident and did not do well.  People who watched on television said that it was fine but we knew we lost our place in our notes a couple times and we could have done better if we had practiced it a few times.

But we really prefer to write speeches than deliver them.  We learned very early in our career that we had a knack for being able to hear the person say the words in our mind as we wrote them.  It is also the way good dialogue is created when writing for radio and television or producing fiction.

The key to speech writing is to build on audience agreement.  You layer agreements through the speech, building acceptance of what the person is telling the audience. You structure the sentences to allow the audience to react to the speech at planned intervals.  You create applause points for example to enable the audience to react.

A person for whom we wrote a speech recently tried to change some of the sentence structure.  He was correct in his grammar but it was wrong for the speech.  We convinced him to use our wording.  He was impressed when the audience proved the point by feeling free to applaud at what he thought was the wrong way to end some sentences.

Good writing is not always a good speech.  Speech writers research the audience and then research the topic.  They know how the words are understood.  There are many examples of that.

Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream and he used heavy repetition to drive home his point in a brilliant speech that was heard around the world.  Abraham Lincoln told the audience at Gettysburg that few would remember his words that day.  Millions of American school children know he was wrong.  Marc Anthony told the Roman mob that he came to bury Caesar, not to praise him.  He lied.  He turned the mob.

A good speech is communication at its most basic.  It identifies with the audience.  It uses words that are easy for the audience to understand.  It employs emotion.  It challenges.  It motivates.  It informs.  It paints pictures.  It asks for commitment.  It is memorable.  It is visceral.  It shows leadership.  And you thought it was just another speech.

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Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Building blogging boundaries.

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

There are two things that a blogger needs.  Bloggers need ideas and audiences. As a blogger, you always strive for that million-dollar idea that will send your readership soaring.  A recent example of this was putting the idea of hookers in hard hats in a title. It was not that novel an idea, but it increased our audience.  The line on the graph went north.  Our readership has yet to move into the thousands but we have been pleased with the loyalty of hundreds of readers every month.

While we always put something fresh in the blog every day, we explain to readers that dropping by this site two or three times per month is more than enough to provide you would with fresh insights and something interesting to read.  We can hardly be all things, to all people, all the time.

Nobody has given us an answer to our ongoing question as to whether we should run the occasional picture.  Would it give the site a little more class?  It might be fear that we will run our own picture.  We can assure you, there is no danger of that.

To our chagrin, a reader has yet to suggest a topic for us.  That is the writer’s struggle.

Mind you there is the occasional suggestion by a non-reader.  We have some of those, believe it or not.  One non-reader, whom we consider a friend, told us that he had absolutely no time to waste on reading useless things like blogs.  And yet the same person, handed a printed copy of some 30,000 words we had written, called the other day to say he had read the piece and considered it most interesting.  Go figure?

By the way, we have copies of The Babel Manifesto from the printer and a review copy is yours by mail if you promise to give the manifesto some thought and share those thoughts with us.  How we are going to put the manifesto into broader circulation, has yet to be determined.  We will, of course, promote it at times this summer when the news media are gushing about the silly royals being in Canada.  The monarchy is just one of the many reasons why we must have an elected constitutional conference.

We know very well that there are people who yawn at the suggestion.  W.A.C. Bennett, when he was Premier of British Columbia, was said to have made the comment that of the most important 100 things he could think of that needed doing in Canada, rewriting the constitution was item number 101.

One of the reasons, we are so polite about this is that there is a bit of a family tradition of tilting at windmills.  Brother Edward and our father are and were ardent crusaders.  Our late father was an expert on—of all things—trajectories.  As an expert marksman, he knew how a bullet travelled in flight and the twists and turns that it might take.  He applied this knowledge to the curved ball of baseball fame and felt that he was hard done by in trying to explain by the owners of organized baseball.  What really annoyed him, we all knew, was that they did not care.

If the sports writers and broadcasters wanted to call a dropping fast ball, a ‘curved ball,’ that was their problem.   Father knew damn well that the ball did not curve.  That was an impossible feat.

Brother Edward tilts at more modern windmills.  We should first explain that brother Edward is the smartest person we know.  He is certified as a genius.  He is a guy who had a career creating software languages.  He does not write code.  He writes the language for the code.  Despite decades that both of us spent working with computers, he often talks of computer intricacies in terms that we have a hard time understanding.

Brother Edward knows that computer software that is produced today is just not up to snuff.   He knows that it is based on concepts developed more than 30 years ago and is easily corrupted.  He is most concerned that we let this corrupted software fly airplanes, control automobiles, produce cheques, run governments and do all sorts of things that might stop working because the software just collapses of its inadequacies.  He worries about that and feels we should also worry about it.

Who can compete with that?

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Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

You can have communication or speculation.

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

There is a line in the Paul Newman movie Cool Hand Luke when first the villain explains that the problem is a failure in communication and then, towards the end, it is repeated by the film’s star.  In the first case, the line is used as a replacement for an apology.  In the second use, it expresses hopelessness.  And a failure to communicate is both.

What some people do not understand is that a lack of communication from a person or organization says a great deal about that person or organization.  It allows others to speculate on their intent, motivation, capabilities, manners and fortitude.  The truth is replaced with rumours.

Some time ago, Babel-on-the-bay received a complaint that something we had written annoyed this individual.  The person told us that they did not have time to read what we write but someone had told him what we had written.  Since he failed to communicate what specific item was not to his liking (or his informant’s), we were left very much in the dark.  All we could do was thank him for his communication.  He had failed to communicate.

This is not to suggest that communicators will always win kudos for what they communicate.  There is still a tendency to shoot the messenger.

While we do not always listen to our own good advice, we do have some tips for the neophyte communicator.

First and foremost, you must always know your audience.  Woe onto him or her who takes the wrong approach with the wrong audience.  If you do not know the audience are you going to speak down to them or accidentally use words they might not understand?   A writers’ tool such as the Gunning fog index can help a writer by ensuring that you are communicating to as broad an audience as possible.

And if the audience does not know you, it is strongly recommended that you refrain from telling jokes.  Joking can get you in trouble.

If you have not been introduced in a way that emphasizes your authority with the subject, try to work in your qualifications (as modestly as possible).

Keep your communications brief.  Keep your sentences short.  Keep your paragraphs short.  Keep your items short.  Keep your speeches, newsletters and letters short. One, two-sided sheet of paper makes a reasonable length, general information newsletter.  Lengthier material will be set aside to be read later and never read.

In addition, stick to the subject.  There always seems to be that urge to stretch a newsletter with material that has nothing to do with why you are communicating.  And when you are done, stop.

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Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

That great speech.

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

Some people think of a speech as being an end result.  How often have you said, that this or that person ‘gave a great speech.’  What that really says is that the speech was not successful.  If the speech did not motivate you to do something, it fails.

We were thinking of this when writing recently about political stump speeches.  These speeches have changed over the years as they have moved from the ‘vote for me’ talks delivered from a stump, the back of a train, a stage in a park or in a local arena.  Today these speeches are beating the drum to refresh the effort by already committed workers.

To understand great speeches, you need to analyze speeches such as Shakespeare’s recreation of Marc Anthony’s funeral oration for Julius Caesar, Abraham Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg, Winston Churchill’s classic Some chicken; some neck! speech to the Canadian parliament and Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s momentous I have a dream. They were not just rich in their use of the English language, nor just adept at alliterative rhetoric.  They were built on what writers refer to as power phrases and are brought to repeated and all-consuming climaxes with an unerring sense of timing.

A great speech is structured.  It is not something that is done off the cuff.  Words have to be carefully placed within the sentence to reach the listeners’ ears in the right sequence.  Words that are weak or weaseled are wasted words.

A great speech is an epic journey that travels from mountain top to mountain top.  It is interrupted repeatedly by planned, anticipated audience reaction.  It is structured for the audience to voice and indicate approval.  The speaker’s pauses are part of the planning.  Each round of applause builds on the previous.  It rises to a crescendo of approval.

And that is all in the timing.  Timing is a critical factor, not in the length of a speech, but in its delivery.  Like the great comedians, great speakers know that the crucial pause is what can make the difference between polite agreement and an ovation.

The hardest thing to teach a person who aspires to be a good, if not great, public speaker is to read the audience.  It can be as simple as; are they looking at their watches?  Are they nodding in agreement?  Are they looking bored?  Are they looking around to see how others are reacting?  Can you see puzzlement and segue in an ad-libbed clarification?  You have to think of a speech as a conversation and always be ready to adjust your remarks to fit the needs of your audience.

There are some darn good speakers today.  President Obama of the U.S. comes immediately to mind.  What is probably missing is great speech writers.

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Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

We get the funniest e-mails.

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

No, they are not jokes or funny videos of kids.  We get e-mails that people write in response to our blogs.  Some make us smile and a few can really make you scratch your head in puzzlement.

Our biggest smile recently was from a Canadian who happens to speak one of the major Chinese dialects and understands the Chinese culture. He explained something that had been puzzling us for some time.  We use Google Analytics to keep track of readership and whether this story or that story is of more interest to readers.  It is very useful.

There were two major upswings in readership recently.  One of the upswings was people reading the eulogy for the late Senator Keith Davey.  I was delighted with this interest and I was glad to add a few words in honour of an old friend.

But there was another surprising upswing in readership that had been going on since last October.  On October 9, we posted a blog about our old friend Eugene Whelan.  Gene, I am pleased to say, is still with us.  We entitled the story Eugene Whelan and his stupid stetson. That could have got us a strong note from the Stetson Company because Stetson is a registered trademark.  Mind you, the reason for calling it stupid was not because it was a big felt Stetson but because it was green.

For the past five months, babel-on-the-bay has been getting constant search engine queries for Eugene Whelan and his Stetson.   It has not let up since last October.  And these are new readers.  One of those new readers familiar with Chinese culture explained it for us.

It seems that, unbeknownst to those who could have prevented the gaffe, Gene wore the hat to China on an official visit as Canada’s Minster of Agriculture.  The Chinese expert was horrified.  “Didn’t anyone tell him,” the expert asked, “that the expression ‘to wear a green hat’ in China means to be cuckolded.”

Having been in the position for most of our career of providing protocol information to clients, we know that the advice is not always followed.  Gene might have had the advice and laughed it off.

But not all e-mails we get amuse us.  We got one the other day that rudely suggested that our blog was of material that people flush down toilets.  That was annoying. Then we came to the part of the e-mail where the gentleman said that he had better things to do than read our blog.  It seems a friend had told him about the awful things we wrote.

Rather than suggest that he needs new friends, we thanked him for taking the time to e-mail us.  You can hardly win them all.

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Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

The new language of the Information Era.

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

It used to just be smiley faces.  Next were abbreviations for the lazy and two-finger keyboarders.  This became a torrent as texting deteriorated to meet the two-thumbnail requirements of texting from tiny cell-phone keyboards.

It is not that we are complaining that it is destroying the English language.  There are many aspects of our English that are archaic and need to be changed.  The Americans have almost reached a point in this of separating into having a language completely of their own making.  And it is not that the English are all that hidebound.  The things Brits do the language can make you wonder.

This comes up because of an abbreviation on a text message the other day that said, ‘btw.’  The message was not from Botswana nor was it about ‘bad-tasting water.’  The translation to ‘by the way’ had to be explained.

This is similar to the more common abbreviation such as ‘lol.’  You see it all the time.  We were under the impression that it meant ‘lots of luck.’  From some people, it was also assumed to mean ‘lots of love.’  Now we find out that it means ‘laughing out loud.’ Who would have guessed?

Thankfully, a kind person sent me a handy primer of the most common abbreviations and further help with reference to a web site called urbandictionary.com.  While this is most helpful, we do not expect to be ‘lmao’ or saying ‘wtf’ too often in print.  There just might be some readers over 21 in the crowd and we want them to be able to understand what is being said.  (And not be offended by unnecessary vulgarity.)

The reason that English language has over a million words today is because we need them.  We use them to help people understand what we are saying.  In our day-to-day language, we use maybe 4000 words that our friends and family understand.  Hundreds of thousands of English words are technical terms that people in different professions use to be clear and communicate effectively with their colleagues.

And that is what using language is all about.  We use it to communicate clearly and concisely what we want to say.  We capitalize words to say we are starting a new sentence or to say these words are a proper name for someone, a place or institution.  We punctuate properly to help ensure clarity.  We eschew bold face in text because we prefer not to shout.  We use long words only when necessary.  Short sentences are easy to read.

Our English language helps us communicate with millions of people around the world.  We should show it the respect it deserves.  And when we have said what we want, stop.

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Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me