America’s Uncivil Phone Manners

Wednesday, I called the newsrooms of Pennsylvania’s two largest newspapers. All I got were disembodied voices telling me no one was available and to leave a message. It was 11 a.m., and I thought someone—anyone!—should have answered their phones. But, with publishers doing their best to “maximize profits” by cutting news coverage and reporters, I figured they either didn’t have anyone capable of answering a phone or figured no one would be calling with any news that day. So I left a message. It was a routine question, specific for each newspaper and related to verifying information from their papers for a book I was completing. I left another message the next day. I would have called individual assignment reporters, … Continue reading

Fewer Words; Less Filling

The Reduced Shakespeare Co. cleverly and humorously abridges all of Shakespeare’s 37 plays to 97 minutes. Short of having a set of Cliff’s Notes or a collection of Classic Comics, sources of innumerable student essays for more than a half-century, it may be the least painful way to “learn” Shakespeare. The critically-acclaimed show, in addition to being a delightful way to spend part of an evening, is a satiric slap upside the head of the mass media. The condensation of the media may have begun in 1922 with the founding of Reader’s Digest, the pocket-sized magazine which keeps its 17 million world-wide subscribers happy by a combination of original reporting and mulching articles from other magazines. Books also aren’t safe. … Continue reading

Labor Pains: A Fable for Our Times

Once, many years ago, in a land far away between two oceans, with fruited plains, amber waves of grain, and potholes on its highways, there lived a young man named Sam. Now, Sam was a bright young man who wanted to work and save money so he could go to school and become an electrician. But the only job open in his small community was at the gas station. So, for two years, Sam pumped gas, washed windshields, checked dipsticks and tire pressure, smiled and chatted with all the customers, gave them free drinking glasses when they ordered a fill-up, and was soon known as the best service station attendant in town. But then the Grand Caliphs of Oil said … Continue reading

Outsourcing America’s Health Care

“Ola, Amigo! Pack your bags, we’re going to Mexico!” bubbled Dr. Franklin Peterson Comstock III, faux physician and money-maker. “Yeah, I could use a decent vacation,” I replied, figuring he’d pay for both of us since he had just set the world record for the most nose jobs in a 24-hour period. “What vacation?” he said. “I’m setting up practice.” “And give up catering to rich people with inflated bank accounts and deflated ethics?” “Don’t have a choice. I’m getting laid off.” Comstock had been a rainmaker for the Megabucks Happy Health Care Medical Center for the past decade. There was only one reason I could think of why he’d be laid off. “Megabucks tired of paying your malpractice insurance?” … Continue reading

Capitol Idea: The Political Issue Uniquely Suited to the Occupy Movement

The Occupy movement so far has steered clear of articulating any clear policy goals, or engaging at all in the political process. That’s been smart, because the movement’s been able to grow as quickly, and effectively, as it has precisely for this reason. If Occupy had become about this bill, or that legislation, or whatever, the movement easily could have become too narrowly defined and been diminished as a result. But now a political issue has come along that is as big as Occupy itself; one that is at the core of what animates the movement, and itself would rely on the kind of geographically dispersed support that Occupy represents. It’s been said often that the Occupy movement is diverse, … Continue reading