Apr 28

Let’s Talk Books

Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media ManipulatorTrust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday

Ryan Holiday is pretty well known in the Marketing and Media communities. He dropped out of college at nineteen to apprentice with Robert Green, the author of The 48 Laws of Power, he was previously the Director of Marketing for American Apparel, and he’s helped with marketing for authors and musicians (probably most notably he played a pretty important role in promoting the book I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell for his good friend Tucker Max). This guy knows his stuff.

I mention all of this because I want to talk about a book he wrote. This book talks about a very important problem that exists in media today. A problem he admits to being a big part of.

In the book Trust Me, I’m Lying Ryan talks about how being a media manipulator works. There are stories of him creating fake email accounts and using those accounts to be quoted in blog posts and news stories as an “expert”. There are also stories of how he promoted a book by vandalizing billboards in the middle of the night and stirred up conflict at a Planned Parenthood clinic.

In fact, the billboard he vandalized to manipulate the media/public was one he bought to promote his friends movie. When he was helping his friend Tucker Max promote the movie I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell Ryan paid for several billboards to go up. Nothing unusual about that. What was unusual was that later on, in the middle of the night, he vandalized one of the very billboards he paid for, took photos of it, then emailed it to a blogger using a fake email address in order to make people believe that there was an uproar about the movie when there wasn’t. And it worked. People started talking about it. They argued with each other on social media about it. It got a lot of attention and sales for the book that the movie was based on went way up. Which was the plan all along.

So what does this have to do with the media and the problem the media currently has? Probably the fact that none of the writers and “reporters” who quoted the fake personas he created bothered to do even a cursory background check. Probably the fact that writers and “reporters” are publishing stories without fact checking and don’t even talk to the subjects of their stories until after they publish. Probably the fact that most blog, newspaper, and TV news reporters care more about getting clicks on their websites than telling the truth.  When Ryan sent those photos on the vandalized billboard to a blogger he used a fake name and the blogger who wrote about didn’t bother to find out if he was who he said he was…which he wasn’t.

These are problems within the media that have actually existed for longer than the Internet has even been around.  They have existed since the first newspaper was created. And these problems make it very easy for people like Ryan Holiday – media manipulators – to twist the narrative to suit their needs.

In Trust Me, I’m Lying Ryan pulls back the curtain and shows just how bad it really is. Because it’s one thing to manipulate for something as small as selling books, but it’s another when people start manipulating the media in ways that ruin people’s careers and risks their lives.

For example, Ryan talks about the time in 2011 when a Pastor named Terry Jones manipulated the media into covering his staged burning of the Koran, which lead to protests in the Middle East that killed almost thirty people. And the media let it happen.

If you’ve ever wondered just how much of what you read on the Internet, in newspapers, or see on TV is true and how much is probably definitely completely made up then you should really pick up this book from a guy who knows first hand how easy it is to get the media to say what you want them to say.

The only real criticism I have of this book is that he has a tendency to repeat stories and some of the concepts he talks about to go on a little longer than they probably should. He also tends to complain about the same few blog sites repeatedly (Gawker and Huffington Post) which can feel like he has some kind of personal vendetta sometimes and can make it a slow read in some places.

All in all, I’d give Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator a solid 4 out 5 stars.

 

 

Apr 23

Leave It

What a beautiful spring morning. The sun shines brightly through my home-office windows as it burns off the morning dew from the deck, the lawn and the trees. A dozen or more birds are taking turns at the birdfeeder just off the deck. The weather report says Detroit might hit seventy-degrees for the first time this year, so I open the office windows and let in some long overdue fresh air.

The smell of spring invites me outdoors, but I must get this work done. I turn my attention back to the computer with a new resolve; finish, then get outside and enjoy this day. Both dogs, Gracie and Joker, are resting upstairs, as is their custom after we get back from the park in the morning. The television and radio are silent and the only sound is the morning rush hour chirping at the birdfeeder, until even that seems to go quiet.

Fully engrossed in my work, I lose all track of time.

‘Leave it.’

Startled, I look up. What?

I look out the window, convinced I just heard an unfamiliar, high-pitched voice, say leave it. It is dead quiet. There is no one in my yard or either of the neighbors’ yards, that I can see, but the birdfeeder has been commandeered by one of largest crows I’ve ever seen. Easily twice the size of a normal crow, its shimmering, azure-blue on midnight-black wings envelop its unusually rotund body. It stands on the peak of the little roof that covers the birdfeeder and just stares at me, first with one big, brown eye and then the other. It does not eat the feed, just bobs its head up and down as it switches its focus from one eye to the other. I’ve never seen such a fat crow. I turn to get my cellphone to take a picture.

‘Leave it.’

I get a chill in my spine, and slowly turn back to the window. The voice sounds like it is coming from my deck. I stand, put my nose on the screen and look along the house half expecting to see someone. There is no one there. I look down under the windowsill, then question if it wasn’t all in my head.

The crow is staring at me. It hasn’t moved in over a minute.

I’m home alone. No one is going to hear me talking to a crow, so I say half-jokingly, ‘Leave what?’

The crow spreads its wings and bobs its head, then caws three times. And then flies off.

I watch it circle over my neighbor’s house before it lands on the peak of that roof. It caws again, three more shrills. Though more distant, these caws sound even louder. It sits there and stares at my window. Feeling a little creeped out, I go back to what I was working on and try to forget that I just asked a crow a question. And that it seemed to almost respond. I wonder what three shrills means in crow-talk?

I finish my work in time to make lunch for me and the dogs, who by now are awake and hungry. They anxiously watch me prepare their bowls with a mixture of last night’s leftovers with dry and canned dog food. Gracie stands by the deck door and starts one of her deep-throated growls, and I know there’s a squirrel in the yard. But I also know food-in-a-bowl takes precedence.

Squirrels are endless entertainment for my dogs, both here at home and at the park. At ages eight and nine, both dogs are now too old and too slow to catch the squirrels over a short distance. My mutts never were smart enough to hunt in a coordinated attack. The critters always hightail it as fast as they can for the trees then climb to an unreachable branch and wait out the dogs. Sometimes, they chastise the dogs with their squeaky, little chatter, and rattle their tails like sabers.

I take my lunch to the deck table, but the dogs’ bowls remain inside. I leave the screen door open so they can join me when they finish. There are squirrels in the yard, as usual, but they don’t pay me any mind, so long as the dogs don’t come out. They go back to foraging for their lunch and I go about forking mine.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see that fat crow perched on top of my neighbor’s roof. It looks again to be staring right at me. I point my fork at it and say in an admonishing tone, ‘Have you been up there all this time?’  My dogs think I’m calling them and come running.

As soon as the dogs’ paws hit the porch, the two squirrels under the birdfeeder bolt. They take their usual escape route and beeline-it for the nearest tree, about forty feet away. Suddenly, the crow swoops off the roof and heads straight for the base of that same tree. It arrives before the squirrels with its wings spread as big as an umbrella. Shocked, the squirrels turn back, right into Joker’s and Gracie’s charge. The crow flies off, but the squirrels are left with only one alternative and that is to try and jump, springboard-style, over the dogs. The squirrels jump, Gracie jumps, too, and head-butts one of them out of midair. Before that squirrel can find its feet, Gracie has her teeth around its neck and starts shaking her head from side to side.

‘Gracie, no!’ I yelled from the deck. ‘Stop it!’

Gracie tosses it, and the now-limp critter thuds back to earth twenty feet away. Joker chases it down and bites into its belly, and gets blood all over her white snout.

My appetite is spoiled.

I get the dogs back in the house and scold them, not for killing a squirrel; they don’t understand my words, just my infliction — they thought they were killing it for me. I’m mad because now I must clean off Joker! And now I gotta pick up a dead critter! Yesterday was trash day, so that means I’ll have to bag it and drive out to the park to trash it. Otherwise, it’ll be growing maggots before my next trash day.

I aggressively wash off Joker with Dove soap and get myself sloppy wet in the process. Even more pissed off now, I fill a brown shopping bag half way with crumbled newspaper to absorb the dead critter’s blood, then get a plastic garbage bag to put it all in. I grab my garden gloves, a shovel and a bucket and step around the garage to the back yard.

I stop cold.

That big, fat crow is tearing apart the squirrel and has half of its innards already on the ground.

It looks up at me, first with one eye, then the other, back and forth. I don’t move. It goes back to ripping out entrails. It isn’t taking time to eat, just tearing it apart with its beak and claws.

Another crow flies in, but instead of attacking Fatso, it lands a few feet away and walks up, picks up one of the pieces that’s already been removed and flies off. Soon, another crow lands, takes a piece of squirrel and flies off. I back-step into the garage. When I get back in my office, Gracie and Joker are watching out the window as the crows descend in their yard. My dogs don’t growl or bark or even perk their ears. They just watch, and so do I. Sortie after sortie, this repeats for nearly an hour.

All the other crows look just like crows, not bulbous like this first one. They all seem to come and go in the same direction and I wonder if there is a colony of them, or a flock, or whatever a bunch of crows are called, living in the patch of woods behind my neighbor’s house. I want to go exploring. I suddenly want to know everything I can find out about crows. Fatso flies off last with the remains of the squirrel clutched in its talons. It caws three times.

I never did take a picture. Caught up in watching that brilliant bird, it was easy to forget. What I cannot forget is how it cut off the squirrels’ only escape, how it got my dogs to kill its dinner, how Fatso played chef for an entire family of crows, and how it got me to leave it.

End, Part One.

 

Apr 21

Our New Meeting Place

Wednesday, April 5th, was our meeting in Ann Arbor. We met at the Barnes & Noble Bookstore on the corner of Washtenaw and Huron Parkway (3235 Washtenaw). It was so-o-o nice to be back in a bookstore again, especially one that was so welcoming!

 

The minute I walked in the first set of doors, there were various books vying for my attention. Once through the next door, the magazines and the café were to my right, the Information Desk in front, and stationary, cards, etc. to the left.

 

This bookstore also has a second floor filled to overflowing with books in many different genres. Fiction, history, psychology and more are all on the second floor. There are also chairs throughout so you can sit and peruse the books you’re interested in.

 

Everything was ready for us when we arrived for the pre-meeting. Once we took the escalator to the second floor and turned right twice, there was a long brown table waiting with chairs on both sides and a “Reserved” sign on top. We all felt so welcome!

The pre-meeting went very well. Barbara led us in a writing activity about “Our Crazy Family”. And, we had new member, Michelle, join us for the evening.

 

John led the main meeting. We had three pieces and there was plenty of time for feedback on each. In fact, the discussions were so lively and extensive that we barely finished by 9:00 p.m.

 

Our next meeting here at the Barnes & Noble in Ann Arbor will be Wednesday, May 3. The weather should be better by then and all of us hope that more people will be able to make it!

 

If you want driving advice, coming from Livonia on M-14, make a left onto #23 South. After the Geddes Exit, the traffic slows down that time of night. So, take the Geddes Exit on right and continue on Geddes to Huron Parkway. Turn left onto Huron Parkway. In a few minutes you’ll see a shopping center with a Walgreens Store on your right. Turn in and go past a few stores. You’re here! Barnes & Noble is on your right.

 

If you come to the light on Washtenaw, turn right and then right again into the shopping center. Barnes & Noble will be straight ahead.

 

Looking forward to seeing you on May 3!

Apr 16

Rodeo: Where USDA Prime Meets America’s Pride

Photo of cowboys kneeling during prayer is provided by BQGAUCK Photography and used with permission.

Humbleness is just one strength of our American cowboys.*

I’ve fallen in love with cowboys. Not Louis L’Amore’s country-drawling, quick-on-the-draw, old-time Wild West fictional characters. Not the iconic John Wayne hero-types who were popular with past generations. I’m enamored with real-live, adrenaline junkie, God-fearing, patriotic, chaps-wearing, bucking-bull-riding men. In ten-gallon hats or protective helmets, these guys—who individually race the clock astride a two-thousand-pound-angry bull that could quickly maim and easily kill—are themselves a bona fide US prime cut of the finest. National treasure.

Displaced from Michigan, I embraced Western culture by attending “The 5th Annual Castle Rock Bull Riding Show” at Douglas County Fairgrounds in Colorado. Forty-seven courageous men and four equally bold youth came prepared to test their strength and endurance against the unleashed roller-coaster-like forces of agitated and intimidating four-legged opponents.

One by one, the cowboys enter the competition ring and are introduced. The audience applauds continually, and the line of bull-riders grows. Seeking support from family and friends, the brave contestants search for familiar faces among the crowd and wave. There’s hootin’ and hollerin’ all the while, until the four mini-bull riders make their way to the end of the line.

The announcer invites active military and veterans to stand. Respectfully, cowboys remove their hats and place them over their hearts. The men and boys on the field join the applauding audience in cheering. I feel thankful for the men and women who are being acknowledged for their service. I think of the young men from church—twins who graduated from West Point and are now stationed in Afghanistan. Alec and Anthony are about the same age as my eldest son, whom I get to hug and kiss hello when he comes home from work each day. I miss my own twin boys who are away at school, and they’re only an hour’s drive away from our suburban neighborhood. I’m not sure I could manage my worry if any of my children followed a calling to serve, like Alec and Anthony have.

Instilling additional honor and respect, four members of the Fort Carson Mounted Color Guard enter the ring. Their horses increase the number to eight. The soldiers wear replicate uniforms from the 1800’s, although in my inexperience I think they look like they could be from the American Civil War period. The front and rear army representatives each carry a saber over their right shoulder. The US Flag is on the second mount; the Colorado state flag is with the third. A recording of “Proud to be an American” by Lee Greenwood blasts throughout the arena. I’m overwhelmed when I consider the number of men and women who have fought for our liberties and freedom. Throughout our long history, generations have pledged their allegiance to and risked their lives for the USA. The army soldiers stop behind the center of the cowboy line and face us spectators.

We sit and the announcer leads us in honoring “the most beautiful flag ever flown, our Stars and Stripes, our American flag.” A bugle plays in the background. I’m impressed by this introduction of our flag. “Think about the blood that has been shed for Old Glory. The Americans who have lost their lives and those who put it on the line every day for us so we can have this amazing thing called freedom.” The announcer’s booming voice gets louder and stronger as he dedicates the rodeo to “the greatest fighting force the world has ever known, the United States armed forces: the army, navy, air force, marine corp, the coast guard and the national guard!”

For several years, I’ve been disheartened by the lack of respect shown to our country’s flag. It seems to me that when you disrespect it, you’re disrespecting all the people who have sacrificed for our country: People like my nephew who serves in the army and my great uncle who served in the navy. Veterans I never knew, like the Tuskegee Airmen. Fallen marines, like my friend’s son who was honored with a twenty-one-gun salute at his funeral. People I dearly love, like my dad who was in the air national guard and jokes that he won’t ever fly again because airlines don’t give out parachutes.

I’ve seen overwhelming indifference to the flag first-hand, most often during the singing of our national anthem at public events as big as Major League Baseball games and as common as high school soccer matches. Why do some not care to honor the very symbol that represents our country and should be a source of pride? I naively like to assume that people just don’t know or remember how to honor our Stars and Stripes. Is the protocol even taught in schools anymore? Or has it become taboo, like professing faith in Jesus? Cowboys won’t tolerate neglecting God nor Country.

A pastor is introduced. He instructs us to bow our heads in prayer. I sneak a peek at those darn cowboys. The sight of them on bended knees surprises me. It’s rare to see such unity of spirit outside church or other Christian gathering, but cowboys get it. They know a successful bull-ride and walking away uninjured is in God’s hands. Many wear a symbolic cross on their chaps to remind themselves that He is with them. These men of faith understand their very lives are dependent upon God’s will, and so they show reverence for Him. Seeing that is alone worth the price of admission.

The sound of bagpipes fills the stadium as the pastor leads us in prayer for the military who fight for “freedom in every country where their boots hit the ground as they stand against tyrants and terrorists.” We pray that the cowboys will “keep their weight in the middle and their spurs moving fast” and that the bulls will “jump high and hard.” We pray for the safety of the bull fighters, the bulls, and the workers in the pens and chutes.

Cowboys go beyond the basics of knowing what to do during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” They hear the music of our national anthem, they stand, they turn to face the flag. They remove their hats from atop their heads and—placing their hats over their left shoulders—cover their hearts with their right hands. But that’s just the beginning to their outward expression of respect. Properly honoring God and expressing love for the USA are two ideals that are so important they are made a priority in rodeo and in everyday life. The real men of Colorado have their priorities straight.

____________________________________________________________

*As a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Photographer, Brian Gauck captures bull-riding stories by preserving the calm, quiet, reflective moments as well as the heart-stopping action of competitions. He covers many other events too. View more of Brian’s work by following this link: https://bqgauckphotography.smugmug.com/. You may also visit his Facebook page, BQGAUCK Photography. Note that Brian’s photos are copyright protected and I’m thankful he granted me use of this one! 

More about Brian: He’s retired from the U.S. Navy and has been living in Colorado since 2002. Besides being a PRCA Photographer, he’s a volunteer coach for the United States Air Force Academy Rodeo Team. He’s also a Pikes Peak Range Rider and has been married for nearly thirty-three years to Kelly Gauck.   

Apr 15

Rocket Oldsmobile

 By Jon Reed 

Back in High School, my best friend Denny’s father had a relatively new 1956 “Rocket” Oldsmobile with a high horsepower engine for its time. I couldn’t figure out why his father bought it, knowing his son’s wayward inclinations. Do people put dogs next to a hundred dollars-worth of steak and tell them not to eat? The Oldsmobile was a great looking car with a stunning two-tone coral and silver paint job. But all my friend knew about cars was taking off an air cleaner without dropping it. Late night, when he was allowed to drive it, with myself and our other friend, Kenny, in the front seat, he would put it in reverse and floor the accelerator until we hit 30 mph. Then he would shift into drive, spinning the tires in a haze of burning rubber as we screeched forward a half-block. Only years later, after graduating with an engineering degree, did I realize how durable that Oldsmobile was. Amazingly, nothing ever broke, but his father always complained about his lousy GM rear tires wearing out so quickly. 

Michigan’s first National Hot Rod Association drag racing facility, the Detroit Dragway, opened downriver near Dix and Sibley that spring. It was a big event in the Detroit area and any licensed driver who wanted to run a car in a drag race was encouraged to participate. The news flashed around Fordson High School, and even families were talking about drag-racing, likening it to an adventurous outing. At the time, the drag strip portrayed itself in a family carnival fair atmosphere, but Oldsmobile friend was being kept on a short leash, allowed to use the car for only a few hours on weekends. Oddly, its lousy GM rear tires didn’t wear out so fast when he was kept away from it. 

One Saturday night, he was granted the privilege of going out for hamburgers, but he had a surprise. After picking up Kenny and me, instead of burgers and milkshakes at a local drive-in where our parents thought we were headed, Denny drove us down to Dix and Sibley to race the Olds. Of course, this was all happening without his father even suspecting. I couldn’t believe I was involved in an adventure so obviously wrong. His father was stricter than mine, and this was as dangerous as drinking Mogen David wine with girls in the back seat at a drive-in movie. If the car was damaged in any way or anybody discovered us, we were dead meat, grounded forever. 

Nearing Detroit Dragway, night sky was lit with searchlights, deafening loud speakers, bellowing cars, and screaming race fans. The scene along the spectator fence was pandemonium, howling cars streaking away into the distance every few minutes. We went back to the parking lot to remove the Oldsmobile’s air cleaner, wheel covers, and spare tire to reduce weight. After Denny registered to race, Kenny and I ran to the starting line to watch. Sure enough, there it was, a two-tone Oldsmobile in the line moving up to begin its race into the night. I shuddered, still wondering how I had contributed to Denny abusing his family’s Oldsmobile without his father knowing. What if he blew up the engine, finally destroying the car’s rear axle after all its abuse, or went off the track and crashed the thing somewhere in the process? I was both excited and horrified, but we cheered mightily as the car’s tires spun with a burnout perfected late at night on neighborhood streets. 

As the starting lights blinked down yellow to green, Denny gunned the engine and stood on the brakes to keep the car from moving forward. The poor sedan never meant for anything like this, howled, wanting to lunge forward. Lights flashing, spectators screaming, raw fuel and burning rubber in the air, we were focused on the green starting light about to flash. 

That’s when I felt a nudge from Kenny and a gesture to the rear. Glancing back, I froze. Both my parents and Denny’s were sitting two rows back, probably the first and last time they would attend such a “family adventure” together. It turned out later our totally respectable, middle-American parents had decided to visit the drag strip on this particular night, on a whim, to see what all their friends and kids were talking about. My father had driven them down because we boys were supposed to have gone out for local hamburgers. 

At that singular moment, the Oldsmobile began howling and snorting at the starting line, smoke bellowing from rear tires. Kenny and I turned to watch, while two sets of stunned parents and thousands of spectators saw the starting green light finally blink. Without any idea his parents were there, Denny timed it perfectly. The Oldsmobile gathered its flanks and sprang forward, gaining speed, screaming down the quarter-mile track. The loud speakers announced a great run, his speed displayed a respectable 84 mph on a large sign at the end of the quarter-mile. We ran to meet him on the return road and, after excited laughter and congratulations, we told him about our parents and his grin faded into wide-eyed grimace. 

We somehow avoided a confrontation and, without waiting around, climbed in and drove back to the parking lot to reassemble the car. As one might guess, there wasn’t much conversation on the way home. My parents never thought much of the incident, assuming Denny had his father’s permission but, a few days later, the three of us met at a local soda fountain to find out what happened. Denny said when his father returned that night, he thought he would be maimed for life by a belt-whipping. But his transgression was so great, apparently, his father simply asked what his elapsed time was before telling him he should go to bed since it had been quite a night. And he should begin saving money for a new set of tires. 

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