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From an op-ed column by David Epstein, author of Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, in the Washington Post—a newspaper in which most of its many columnists (and almost all commentators on television) are hedgehogs.

Tetlock gave the forecasters nicknames, borrowed from a well-known philosophy essay: the narrow-view hedgehogs, who “know one big thing” (and are terrible forecasters), and the broad-minded foxes, who “know many little things” (and make better predictions). The latter group’s hunt for information was a bit like a real fox’s hunt for prey: They roam freely, listen carefully and consume omnivorously.

Eventually, Tetlock and his collaborator, Barbara Mellers, assembled a team of foxy volunteers, drawn from the general public, to compete in a forecasting tournament. Their volunteers trounced a group of intelligence analysts who had access to classified information. As Tetlock observed of the best forecasters, it is not what they think but how they think. They argue differently; foxes frequently used the word “however” in assessing ideas, while hedgehogs tended toward “moreover.” Foxes also looked far beyond the bounds of the problem at hand for clues from other, similar situations.

A reasonable conclusion is that curiosity — and a broad range of knowledge — might be a kind of superpower. Hedgehog experts have more than enough knowledge about the minutiae of an issue in their specialty to cherry-pick details to fit preconceived notions. Their deep knowledge works against them. More skillful forecasters depart from a problem to consider completely unrelated events with structural commonalities — the “outside view.” It is their breadth, not their depth, that scaffolds their skill.

The post Hedgehogs and Foxes in the Washington Post appeared first on About Editing and Writing.

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By Paul Dickson

The writer, 29, at the time of the lunar landing.

Thoughts for the Apollo weekend:

I covered the Apollo program from the time of the tragic 1967 Apollo 1 fire through the 1969 lunar landing. I was a reporter for Electronics magazine covering NASA headquarters.

There was a great mix of reporters working the story including Bill Hines of the Chicago Sun-Times, whose dispatches appeared in the Washington Evening Star. Hines drove Director James Webb and other top NASA officials to distraction with his critical pieces on the agency.

Writing about the Apollo program for an electronics audience sounds limiting but it was anything but because electronics was critical to its success. The Germans taught us the rockets would work but it was the Americans who brought in the circuits boards and quality control that made it a success.  For a young reporter it was a dream assignment.

All the retrospective reporting we are hearing now is interesting but I’m also hearing some false chords played as people who were not there try to explain what it was like back then. My biggest criticism is the assertion that the American people were fully behind the program and mesmerized by the adventure playing out in space, something not borne out by the public opinion polls conducted at the time. Fact was, the time of Apollo was also a time of war, social unrest, and a general growing concern with the fate of the earth itself.

The Apollo 11 headlines that July weekend in 1969 were co-opted by the tragedy on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts. Many Americans did not hear of this Kennedy tragedy until they got their Sunday morning newspapers with the two events appearing in stunning juxtaposition. The first and second headlines in the Washington Post read: APOLLO IN ORBIT, PLAN FOR LANDING:  KENNEDY PASSENGER DIES IN CAR PLUNGE.

On Monday, July 21, when the actual moon landing was reported, the news about Senator Kennedy was worse. Page one of the Baltimore Sun said, “KENNEDY WILL FACE CHARGE IN LEAVING ACCIDENT SCENE”, while the Philadelphia Inquirer carried a front page story, “POLICE TO FILE A COMPLAINT ON KENNEDY”.

Then the impact of later Apollo missions were overshadowed by their proximity to events such as Kent State and U.S. incursions into Laos and Cambodia. The Apollo programed was staged in front of a divided nation.

My personal take on the whole thing was that the moon race was an important surrogate for war itself—a concept embraced by a few politicians, including House Speaker John McCormick of Massachusetts. The idea was that instead of waging a war with one another, the U.S. and U.S.S.R would stage a race which would produce true national heroes and moments of great pride. There would be deaths but they’d be heroic deaths and a far cry from the millions who would die in a nuclear war. Both sides would spend a lot of money on the contest but it would be spent on jobs and hardware and would foster technological advances.

It was fascinating work and brought me great pleasure as a writer.

 

The post On a Monday in July: Apollo in Orbit! Kennedy Passenger Dies! appeared first on About Editing and Writing.

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We live in a world without inhibition. The distance between President Eisenhower and his life experience and President Trump and his is vast. And it isn’t only American leadership that has deteriorated as we have traveled from the nuclear to the cyber age. So too have global institutions and leadership elsewhere among major Western countries. . . .

As digital technology accelerates, politics and memory degenerate. News cycles are more intense, even as they are more quickly forgotten. Consequently, the new generation of Western politicians is fundamentally without character.

The answer lies behind us. Nuclear apocalypse didn’t happen mainly because of the hard wisdom of our Cold War presidents, both Republican and Democrat. Throughout history, instilling virtue and character in leaders has been the only effective means of arresting decline, writes James Hankins in a new book, “Virtue Politics: Soulcraft and Statecraft in Renaissance Italy.” Mr. Hankins, a Harvard historian, painstakingly demonstrates that the greatest virtue in civic life—and the ultimate factor determining political stability—has always been principled moderation, whatever the epoch.

It’s that simple, that mundane and that difficult. In a digital age favoring extremists—the purveyors of rage and passion—the rarest and bravest of leaders will have to be moderates. Only they can tame the forces of technology. Only in their hands will humanity and markets be safe.

From “Why We Need Someone Like Ike,” by Robert D. Kaplan, in the Wall Street Journal. Kaplan is a managing director for global macro at Eurasia Group and author of “The Return of Marco Polo’s World: War, Strategy, and American Interests in the Twenty-First Century.”

The post “The Bravest of Leaders Will Have to be Moderates” appeared first on About Editing and Writing.

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The Style Invitational is a weekly humor/wordplay contest in the Washington Post; it runs in the newspaper’s Sunday Style section and the July 14 contest winners played with “double-meant fun.” The column’s empress, Pat Myers, “gave you a list of various situations, including the ever-popular “in bed”—and asked you to suggest something one might say in any of those two situations.”

The winning entries:

Something you could say both at a restaurant and when Trump visits your country: “Can we get it to go?” (Ron Cohen, Potomac)

Something you could say both at a restaurant and in bed: “You gonna finish that?” (Kevin Dopart, Washington)

Something you could say both at Ikea and when Trump visits your country: “My God, that orange rug is hideous.” (Frank Olsen, Pasadena, Calif.)

Something you could say both at a restaurant and in bed: “So, we’re a bit short-staffed tonight, are we?” (Lawrence McGuire, Waldorf)

Other good ones:

At Ikea and in bed: “Huh, it looked much bigger on the website.” (Steve Smith, Potomac)

At a job interview and in bed: “What types of entry-level positions are you open to?” (Kevin Dopart)

At a doctor’s office and when Trump visits your country: “Don’t worry, the headache and irritation are common but temporary.” (John Hutchins, Silver Spring)

During a haircut and in bed: “Could we try that gel again? It worked pretty well last time.” (Diane Lucitt, Ellicott City, Md.)

Among Style Invitational Losers and when Trump visits your country: “I can’t believe that stupid thing won.” (Neal Starkman, Seattle)

The post The Washington Post Has “Double-Meant Fun,” Mostly In Bed or With President Trump appeared first on About Editing and Writing.

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From a column, “Media Should Pay Trump to Tweet,” by Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. in the Wall Street Journal:

“Bloggers, columnists and TV pundits who have nothing to say must still say it to remain employed. All in our business should stay mindful of Jack Germond’s axiom about opinion writers and men in blue serge suits.”

The Germond axiom?

“Why is writing an editorial like urinating in a blue serge suit? Because it gives you a warm feeling and nobody knows what you’ve done.”
—–
For more Washington wisdom from Jack Germond, see “Remembering Famed Political Reporter Jack Germond: A look back at his career, including some of his best pieces for the Washingtonian.”

The post When a Newspaper Is Too Polite to Say It appeared first on About Editing and Writing.

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Jared Diamond, in the Wall Street Journal, writing about “The World Series Hangover.” The Red Sox asked former manager Tony La Russa, whose teams won three World Series, to unlock the secret of doing it again. La Russa talked with former manager Jim Leyland, among other. From the WSJ story:

“There isn’t a team championship in whatever sport where the next season the frame of mind is not an issue that you have to overcome,” La Russa said. “That’s the major reason why repeating is so tough.”

La Russa’s offseason conversations only reinforced that point. He initially considered whether a physical component factored into the equation. He wondered whether an extra month of action—and a couple dozen extra innings on pitchers’ arms—affected players when they returned the next season.

Certain evidence swayed La Russa off that idea somewhat. Three recent World Series losers—the 2010 Texas Rangers, 2014 Kansas City Royals and 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers—all won the pennant again the next year, despite playing just as long as the winners. More important, a few of the people La Russa consulted downplayed that aspect, some more colorfully than others.

“You mean to tell me that you got done f—ing playing November f—ing first and by f—ing April 1 you’re not f—ing rested?” Leyland, a longtime friend of La Russa’s, said before last week’s All-Star Game in Cleveland. “I’m sorry, I don’t buy that.”

The post An Extra Month of Baseball Makes the Players Tired? You F—ing Kidding Me? appeared first on About Editing and Writing.

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“Mental health professionals are talking a lot about a new disorder that has been showing up in their practices. It’s called Headline Stress Disorder, or HSD, and is defined as ‘an increase in general anxiety, worry, intolerance and lowered frustration activation.’ The 24/7 news cycle constantly bombarding our senses with negative news seems to be the chief culprit. A 2017 study by the American Psychological Association found that two-thirds of Americans report they’re stressed out over the future of the country, and constant news consumption was tapped as a likely trigger.”

—Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary.

The post “Mental Health Professionals Are Talking a Lot About Headline Stress Disorder” appeared first on About Editing and Writing.

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First posted December 31, 2014.

By Jack Limpert

One of my favorite books read this year was Schulz and Peanuts, by David Michaelis; it’s the life story of Charles Schulz, a shy kid from Minneapolis who created the nation’s most popular comic strip.

Here’s Schulz talking about how to attract readers:  “You must give the audience moments. You must give them laughter, you must give them a little poignancy…”

How does a writer create moments?

Getting laughter is hard. But any writer who does great reporting can create moments of poignancy, moments that get the reader to say wow.

It can be the kind of emotional wow that brings tears to your eyes. Or the kind of cerebral wow that makes the reader think, “Now, I understand.”

It can be a quiet wow. Here’s Michaelis writing about the last strip that Schulz drew before he died 15 years ago:

“The cold of a January day. Peppermint Patty and Marcie, behind the rampart of one snow fort, exchange volleys of snowballs with Charlie Brown and Linus. Snoopy sits behind the lines in Charlie Brown’s camp, pondering a snowball.” The caption: “Suddenly the dog realized that his dad had never taught him how to throw snowballs.”

Michaelis on the meaning of that: “The last strip is not about a father who hasn’t taught his son to play but a father who hadn’t known how to help his son become the artist he yearned to be—a father who couldn’t teach him how to play because he himself could not free himself to play. Carl Schulz always had to be doing something useful. He could not just go out and throw baseballs or snowballs with his son. Drawing, even on a fogged trolley car window, had been the one area in which the son was free to play, to be a child, and to be creative; Peanuts had preserved that sacred grove for fifty years.”

The post Creating Moments: The Peanuts Way of Attracting Readers appeared first on About Editing and Writing.

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From an essay, “Snoopy taught me how to be a writer,” by Ann Patchett; it was adapted by the Washington Post Outlook section from an essay that will appear in “The Peanut Papers,” to be published in October by the Library of America.

Having ventured fearlessly into the world, he [Snoopy] could come back to the roof of his doghouse and sit straight-backed in front of his typewriter, to tap out the words that began so many of his stories: “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Wait, am I seriously discussing Snoopy, a cartoon dog, as a writer?

Am I believing in him as he was drawn to believe in himself? Did I want to be a novelist because he was a novelist?

I am. I do. I did.

Snoopy worked hard up there on the roof of the doghouse. He saw his own flaws. He typed: “Those years in Paris were to be among the finest of her life. Looking back, she once remarked, ‘Those years in Paris were among the finest of my life.’ That was what she said when she looked back upon those years in Paris . . . where she spent some of the finest years of her life.” Which was followed by the thought bubble, “I think this is going to need a little editing . . .”

Snoopy didn’t just write novels, he sent them out. In those dark days before electronic submissions, he taught me what it would mean to stand in front of a mailbox, waiting to hear from an editor. Snoopy got far more rejection letters than he ever got acceptances, and the rejections ranged (as they will) from impersonal to flippant to cruel.

Later, I could see we’d been building up to this. It wasn’t as if he’d won all those tennis matches he played in. The Sopwith Camel was regularly riddled with bullet holes. But he kept on going. He was willing to lose, even in the stories he imagined for himself. He lost, and he continued to be cool, which is to say, he was still himself in the face of both failure and success.

The post Writing Advice From Snoopy: Be Yourself in the Face of Both Failure and Success appeared first on About Editing and Writing.

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“The Chain,” a kidnapping thriller being marketed as “Jaws for parents,” is emerging as one of publishing’s biggest bets of the summer beach-read season. . . .

It’s a remarkable turn of fortune for 51-year-old author Adrian McKinty. Early in 2017, the Northern Ireland native had given up writing after years of trying to make it as a crime novelist. He was working in a bar and driving an Uber in Melbourne, Australia, to help support his wife and two kids after they had been evicted from their home there.

The author had wrestled with his own demons since 2013. After writing more than a dozen books, he had enthusiastic fans, but not enough of them. His books didn’t sell—often just a few thousand copies, even in the British Isles. . . .

In early 2017, Mr. McKinty and his wife Leah Garrett, then a professor at Monash University, were raising two young daughters outside Melbourne, but money was tight. The eviction jolted him. Mr. McKinty told people he was going to stop writing books. “When the sales are so low that you can’t keep a roof over your head, it’s probably time to rethink your career plan,” he says. He began working in a bar, writing free-lance book reviews for the local paper, driving for Uber and planning to go back to teaching.

He was just settling into his new life when he got a call from author Don Winslow in California. The two had never met, but they’d liked each other’s books and Mr. McKinty one night impulsively sent him a bummed-out note about his decision. Mr. Winslow, who had struggled himself with good reviews and low sales, offered to send Mr. McKinty’s books to his L.A.-based agent Shane Salerno. Mr. McKinty was flattered but unenthused. He’d moved on. He didn’t bother googling Mr. Salerno.

One late night, after an Uber passenger had vomited on his car, Mr. McKinty got home and Mr. Salerno was calling, telling him he could jump-start his career, but not just with books about Belfast. Did he have an idea for an American story? He half-heartedly outlined two of them, which left Mr. Salerno unmoved. Anything else? Well, yes, he did have another one, a short story he’d written in 2012 stashed in a drawer, “The Chain.”

He described the idea, and was just getting to Aristotle when Mr. Salerno said, “Stop right there. I want to read this book.” Would he write a couple of chapters? Okay, I guess. “No, like right now.”. . .

“The Chain” was finished in the summer of 2018 and sold to Little, Brown a few months later, along with another thriller in the same vein.

—From a Wall Street Journal article, “The Phone Call That Changed a Writer’s Fate,” by Richard Turner.

The post The Phone Call That Changed a Writer’s Fate appeared first on About Editing and Writing.

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