Category Archives: Journalism

Patriotic gore: Dr. Johnson on the political brouhaha in the Colonies

Here at Art Scatter we’ve been keeping a keen eye on this year’s political races and the concurrent pommeling and puffing-up of patriotism that’s been accompanying them. In ordinary times we don’t pay a whole lot of attention to the sloganeering of the love-it-or-leave-it crowd. People wave their flags and spout their platitudes, and life pretty much goes on, unimpeded. But it seems such a hot topic as November 8 approaches that we decided to consult an expert on the subject, Dr. Samuel Johnson, the noted English poet, essayist, and lexicographer. Dr. Johnson is a devout Tory but possesses a sharp wit and a keen mind, and will rail against foolishness and chicanery wherever he believes he has found it. Even in the midst of a vicious election season, he is no blind slave to party loyalty.

Joshua Reynolds, 1772, Portraot of Samuel Johnson, commissioned for Henry Thrale's Streatham Park gallery; Tate Gallery, London / Wikimedia Commons
Joshua Reynolds, 1772, Portrait of Samuel Johnson, commissioned for Henry Thrale’s Streatham Park gallery; Tate Gallery, London / Wikimedia Commons

The good doctor, as it turns out, has been busy checking proofs for his essay “The Patriot,” in which he expounds upon this very topic, and so could not meet with us in the flesh. But he agreed to answer questions through his publicist, Mr. James Boswell. The arrangement seemed congenial, and so we submitted our queries. In due course the good Mr. Boswell returned Dr. Johnson’s replies, a few from the very pages of the essay he’s been preparing. Here is the result of our long-distance discourse.


Everybody’s talking about it, from presidential candidates to professional quarterbacks. And everybody seems to have a different idea about it. What exactly IS patriotism, anyway?

A patriot is he whose publick conduct is regulated by one single motive, the love of his country; who, as an agent in parliament, has, for himself, neither hope nor fear, neither kindness nor resentment, but refers every thing to the common interest. Continue reading Patriotic gore: Dr. Johnson on the political brouhaha in the Colonies

The first thing let’s do, let’s kill the critics

By Bob Hicks

Bless me, reader, for I have sinned.

For 40 years Moses wandered in the wilderness. And for roughly the same amount of time I have stumbled through the landmines of contemporary culture, wearing the sackcloth of the most extreme form of penitent journalist.

Honore Daumier, "The Critic"I have been a critic.

Well, apparently I have. That’s what everyone tells me. Lord knows I’ve denied it over the years. For a long time, when people called me a critic, I’d correct them. “I’m a writer,” I’d gently explain, “and these days I happen to be writing about theater.”

It did no good. No one believed me. And “Writer Who Writes About Theater” doesn’t fit in a byline, anyway.

A few years ago I was chatting with Libby Appel, who at the time was artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. “You know, I’ve never really thought of myself as a critic,” I told her.

Libby’s eyebrow arched. (Sometimes eyebrows actually do that.) “Oh, you’re a critic,” she said emphatically.

I like to think she was delivering a description, not an accusation. I like her and respect her, even though I’ve sometimes argued in print with shows she’s directed, and I think the feeling’s been mutual. Still. There was no question in her mind. I was, without doubt, One of Those People. And Those People occupy a curious position in the artistic firmament. “Critics never worry me unless they are right,” Noel Coward once commented. “But that does not often occur.”

Then again, what exactly is right?

Continue reading The first thing let’s do, let’s kill the critics

Oregon history: just a thing of the past?

By Bob Hicks

You can order popular images online at the OHS web site.It’s not often we call attention to a front-page newspaper story — after all, it’s right there on the front page; how could you miss it? — but today we’re doing just that. If you haven’t looked at it yet, please read Still Stuck in the Past, D.K. Row’s front-page story in today’s Oregonian about the continuing woes at the Oregon Historical Society in spite of the five-year levy that Multnomah County voters recently passed to help bail the place out.

This is no hatchet job. D.K.’s story is well-balanced and gives a good insight into the complex issues that have been hurting the society and its museum for years. In a way, OHS offers a disconcerting peek into the future of all sorts of public institutions, from schools to police and street departments, if the tax-revolt and “privatization” bandwagons continue unchecked. If you starve an institution long enough, it starts to make blunders and lose track of what it is and what it’s supposed to be doing.

Certainly the state’s now-you-see-it-but-mostly-you-don’t approach to funding has been a huge contributor to the historical society’s troubles. But the place has also had structural, managerial problems for years, to a certain extent since its glory days under its legendary leader Tom Vaughan.

Continue reading Oregon history: just a thing of the past?

Tuesday Scatter: arts world in brief

  • Hot licks and good times with Andy Stein, Padam Padam
  • Closing the books: Powell’s layoffs, Looking Glass R.I.P.
  • Patrick Page plucks praise from “Spider-Man” carnage
  • In the room with Egypt’s fierce cultural protector
  • Alexis Rockman and good news at the Smithsonian


By Bob Hicks

Hot licks and good times with Andy Stein, Padam Padam: My old friend and neighbor Jaime Leopold dropped me a note about his friend, Andy Stein, a fiddler who can often be heard on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion. “Andy has been compared to jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli and he’ll be performing in a duo with Conal Fowkes, a Wynton Marsalis alum and wonderful pianist from New York,” Jaime said.

Jaime wanted me to know this because Stein will be performing Feb. 19 at Tabor Space. And as it happens, Jaime’s own band, Padam Padam, will be opening. If that sounds self-serving, I suppose it is a little bit, but mostly it’s not, because Jaime simply loves music, and when he knows good music’s coming ’round the bend, he likes to spread the word. If he says Andy Stein is worth going to see, I’m taking him at his word.

Continue reading Tuesday Scatter: arts world in brief

First Amendment: hey, we can buy that!

Penalty, Mr. Snyder: Roughing the press. © BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons

By Bob Hicks

Every reporter at one time or another has felt the heavy hand. The veiled or not so veiled threat. The “You know, I have lunch with your publisher every week, and he listens to me” routine. Sometimes it’s soft and condescending: “I know a smart guy like you is gonna help me out here.” Sometimes it’s hard and condescending: “I’m a major advertiser!”

But rarely does it come down as raw and naked as it did recently from Daniel M. Snyder, owner of the National Football League’s Washington Redskins, who had his lawyer send a letter that included this paragraph to the owners of the Washington City Paper, which had published an unflattering story about Snyder:

“Mr. Snyder has more than sufficient means to protect his reputation and defend himself and his wife against your paper’s concerted attempt at character assassination. We presume that defending such litigation would not be a rational strategy for an investment fund such as yours. Indeed, the cost of the litigation would presumably quickly outstrip the asset value of the Washington City Paper.”

Kapow. The hand smacks down. We can spend you into oblivion.

David Carr, the canny media columnist for the New York Times, unravels the story here, and if Snyder thought he was being ridiculed before … well, let’s just say a little local issue has blown up big.

This threatened takedown strikes Mr. Scatter as the posturing of a bully, and a bully who smells blood: Newspapers are weak, and they can be roughed up. Maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise at a time when the Supreme Court has declared that corporations are people — or at least have all the rights of individual people, which in fact means they have many more rights, because they are much bigger and more powerful. We are living in a time when big money isn’t content to simply pile up and multiply in a few fat wallets. It wants to run every part of the show.

This shakedown won’t work. But it’s both telling and appalling that it’s been attempted. Has Mr. Snyder taken a look at what’s happening in the streets of Cairo?

Probably not. After all, he still insists, in the face of a culture that has shifted under his feet, on calling his football team the Redskins. Now, there’s an insult.


Penalty, Mr. Snyder: Roughing the press. © BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons.

Portland collects: nailing down the story

Pablo Picasso, "Blind Minotaur, Guided through a Starry Night by Marie-Therese with a Pigeon)," 1934-35 from the Suite Vollard, 1930-37. Aquatint, drypoint, and engraving with scraping, edition of 250, Anonymous loan.

By Bob Hicks

Riches of the City: Portland Collects, the 237-work exhibition of art loaned by 83 of the city’s collectors from their private collections, opens Saturday at the Portland Art Museum, and I reviewed it in this morning’s Oregonian. You can read the review online here, but if you pick up a copy of the morning paper, this is one instance where you’re better off seeing it in print. It’s the cover story of the A&E section, and it includes a lot more pictures than the online edition, including photographer Thomas Boyd’s fine portraits of collectors Jordan Schnitzer, Bonnie Serkin and Chris Rauschenberg with some of their art.

Roy DeForest, "Forest Hermit," 1990, Acrylic on canvas with artist-carved frame, Collection of Arlene and Harold Schnitzer.The review stands pretty much on its own, as an overview of what is an overview exhibition. Each of the exhibit’s six areas of concentration makes up its own statement, and each could have been reviewed rigorously on its own, but for most viewers — and for the museum itself — the larger picture is more important.

So instead of listening to me go into more detail about specific works, I thought you might be interested in reading about how the whole package (the newspaper package, not the museum’s, which took a whole lot longer to negotiate and assemble) came together. The process is both complex and routine, and is a good example of what an amazing structure the modern newspaper is, for all its historical failings and current flailings. Keep in mind, this is an ordinary story that could be planned, not the unexpected emergency that sends journalists into deep scramble mode. Someday someone will write the story of how news of today’s Egyptian crisis reached the world. It’ll read like an unusually fascinating operating manual to a great big complex machine that’s constantly being retooled and reinvented while it’s operating full steam ahead.

Continue reading Portland collects: nailing down the story

Don’t call us, Ishmael. We’ll call you.

By Bob Hicks

In his time Mr. Scatter has done a lot of editing, sometimes with the lightest of fingers and sometimes with a bloodied ax.

He has ruthlessly rewritten. Many years ago he was put in charge of “fixing” a writer so bad that he recomposed, and even re-reported, every inch of every story she turned in, begging all the while with his own boss that he please god please do the right thing and fire her so she could become an outstanding tax preparer or short-order cook or anything other than a newspaper reporter, which despite her byline and weekly paycheck she decidedly was not.

Mr. Scatter preparing to edit an unruly submission. OK, OK. Actually, it's "Destruction of Leviathan," an 1865 engraving by Gustave Doré. Wikimedia CommonsThen she took a batch of her rewritten stories, entered them into a prestigious professional competition, and strutted off with a passel of awards. That experience has made Mr. Scatter deeply suspicious of awards ever since. It also played a crucial role in the briefness of his own tenure at that particular less-than-august journal of news and opinion, a place that greeted him on his first day of work with a single rule, banning in-house sexual fraternization: Don’t dip your pen in the company ink. That the prize-winning “writer” was regularly inking and dipping with the publication’s owner did not help Mr. Scatter’s position, although it seemed to do wonders for her own.

Continue reading Don’t call us, Ishmael. We’ll call you.

Lost books: ‘Out of the Deeps’

By Bob Hicks

About the time the icebergs started breaking off I realized that Out of the Deeps, John Wyndham‘s 1953 speculative-fiction thriller, was heading into some pretty interesting territory. The suspicion had been rising for some time that this was no ordinary, dated genre toss-off. But when I picked it up I’d had no idea it anticipated the global warming controversy by a full 50 years.

out-of-the-deepsI did have an idea it’d be an interesting read, at the least from a historical and sociological perspective. Wyndham (full name John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris, born 1903, died 1969) was also the author of a novel called The Day of the Triffids, which I had never read but recalled vaguely as a pleasingly scary movie about an invasion of malevolent creatures from outer space. I happened upon Triffids on a shelf at Powell’s in a recent “rediscovered” edition, all tricked out in fresh literary wrap suggesting that someone at a publishing house somewhere thought it was worth a more serious look. It was selling for 16 bucks, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to put that much down for a gamble on an author I’d never read from a dubious pulp-genre background. But next to it was a used copy of Out of the Deeps for $2.50, and that, I decided, was worth the risk.

Continue reading Lost books: ‘Out of the Deeps’

That ad insert? It’s a Brainstorm

UPDATE: Prompted by reader comments on this story from the Corvallis Gazette-Times, Mr. Scatter checked the Web site of the Federal Elections Commission for expenditures by Jim Huffman, Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate running against Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon. Huffman’s campaign has paid Third Century Solutions, the listed publishers of Economic Times of Oregon, $75,036 in five payments listed variously as “campaign management services,” “strategic consulting,” “media buy” and “printing.” That doesn’t mean that Huffman financed the ad insert Economic Times of Oregon — that money could well have been for other services rendered. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting money trail.

By Bob Hicks

Mr. Scatter was a trifle curious about a four-page newspaper-looking advertising insert that plonked on his porch this morning inside his copy of The Oregonian.

Feeling blue? The folks from the old Brainstorm mag hope you are.Economic Times of Oregon, it’s called, and the banner story on what may or may not be a continuing publication — it’s referred to as “Volume One, Issue 1” — is alarming, indeed: Oregon takes second in Hopelessness Index. Are things that bad? Well, Mr. Scatter just gives up.

Alongside this tale of cultural woe (and let’s face it: like most states, Oregon’s in an economic pickle) is a chart that measures both traditional and “total” unemployment rates — or what the publication refers to as the “Hopelessness Index.” The chart lists only 12 of the 50 states, and of those 12, the figure for Oregon is the fourth-highest, behind California, Michigan and Nevada. (North Dakota’s looking pretty good.)

So, Oregon ranks fourth out of 12 but second out of 50? Mr. Scatter is puzzled. A teaser on the cover asks the provocative question, “Are we getting the most out of school spending?” If the mathematicians at Economic Times of Oregon are products of the Oregon school system, we’d have to say no.

Which brings up the obvious, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid question: Who are these guys, anyway?

Continue reading That ad insert? It’s a Brainstorm

The emperor with no clothes hangs it up

By Bob Hicks

A while back, in this post, we groused about the shocking unprofessionalism of the team of bozos that had taken over management of The Tribune Company, publisher of such flailing giants as the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and the Baltimore Sun.

Illustration from Hand Chriastian Andersen's "The Emperor's New Clothes." Vilhelm Pedersen (1820 - 1859)/Wikimedia CommonsWe were responding to David Carr’s report in the New York Times, laying bare the boorish behavior of the new guys on the block, whose obvious disdain for journalism and lack of respect for people in general seemed indicative of the moral morass that way too much of corporate life seems to be stuck in these days.

So, how about a modest celebration? CEO Randy Michaels, the overgrown frat boy at the center of the debacle, has resigned. Who knows what comes next, but it’s a beginning. You can read the Trib’s own report on the resignation here. And just imagine the celebrating in the newsroom.


Illustration from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Vilhelm Pedersen (1820 – 1859)/Wikimedia Commons