Posts by: "Bill Steigerwald"

Twenty-nine seconds in, Geert Mak starts talking about “Bill Steigerwald” during an interview in Holland last spring.

Mak’s book, “Travels Without John in Search of America” is being translated into English. Mak kindly mentions me about a dozen times, favorably. Someday we plan to meet — over there.

If you read/understand Dutch, enjoy:

Geert Mak was in Leeuwarden. Hij vertelt over het boek Reizen zonder John. Maar zijn roadtrip was niet helemaal uniek vertelt hij de aanwezigen. Er waren meer mensen die in de voetsporen van John Steinbeck treden.

For English readers:

If you can read Dutch, you can order Geert Mak’s new book “Traveling Without John in Search of America.” Mak, a well-known and high-quality journalist and author in the Netherlands, did what I did and carefully repeated Steinbeck’s trip in the fall of 2010.

Mak did a lot of the same Steinbeck research I did and his nearly 600-page book about the current state of America includes much of what I discovered about Steinbeck’s real trip.

Here, translated by Google’s clever but imperfect computers, is how the book is described on Mak’s web site:

Travelling without John

Looking for America

On September 23, 1960 left the legendary writer John Steinbeck and his poodle Charley for an expedition across the American continent. He wanted his country and his countrymen again know. Exactly fifty years later, on the hour, was Geert Mak again for the old house of Steinbeck. It was the beginning of a renewed inspection tour in the footsteps of Charley and John, but now with the eyes of 2010. What is the past half century in American cities and towns changed? Where is Main Street USA go?

Which dreams chased the Americans over the centuries their ideals? What is it ended? What remains of that “city on the hill”, the Promised Land which was once the world looked? And above all, what we have together, America and Europe in the 21st century?

Geert Mak avoided, like John Steinbeck, the beaten path. He drove thousands of miles through the potato fields of Maine and the infinity of the Midwest, sat day after day at the table with farmers, laborers, fishermen and schoolmasters, met with shiny suburbs and boarded-up village shops, searched, again and again, to the stories of this country which nobody ever gets finished.

 

 

ProPublica-LogoDaily Beast has a long, quasi-useful but flawed piece on an alleged victim of gas company greed/evilness/fracking.

It’s from Pro Publica, the journalism outfit that passes off its imbalanced agit-journalism as the work of “an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.”

Read it if you care — the headline, of course, contains the f-word to attract attention.

How Chesapeake Energy, the Kings of Fracking, Double-Crossed Their Way to Riches

And here is the comment I put up on the Daily Beast site, asking a few questions and pointing out a few of the holes in Pro Publica’s piece that might, you know, help to put landowner Joe Drake’s troubles in perspective, and, you know, provide some basic facts to help readers judge whether he’s really a victim, a dummy or a tool of tilted journalism:


Joe Drake sounds like a victim.

But how about a little more detail from Pro Publica on what Drake got — total — for his gas.

What did he get per acre from Chesapeake when he signed with them?

How many months did he get his royalty checks and what were they per month? (He got about $60k for a few months; that sounds good — what did he get the first year?) What was the gas volume of his wells? How many actual wells does he have?

Drake must have neighbors — are they getting screwed too? (There are more than 1100 active gas wells in Bradford County.)

Or is he the only unlucky one? How many landowners like him are there? How about some details about their experiences — good and bad. A lot of them are happy to be rich on gas money, I bet.

Generally, if you own 100 acres and the wells have been drilled and are producing gas from the Marcellus, you will be a millionaire: If you have 100 acres in western pa, you get (depending on the market) 2 or 3 or 5 thousand per acre to sign, and then at least 12.5 percent in royalties; in southwestern pa gas companies are now offering $6k an acre to sign — for 10 acres or more — and 18 percent royalties.)

Marcellus wells (which I assume Drake’s well(s) are), don’t last forever like old fashioned vertical fracked wells in shallow reservoirs  — the production levels fall quickly.

Is that what’s going on with Drake’s drop in royalty revenue. I bet it accounts for a lot more than the jacked up transportation costs — but you can’t tell from this article, can you?

“But then, in January 2013, without warning or explanation, the expenses withheld from Chesapeake’s royalty checks for use of the gathering pipelines tripled. Drake’s income dwindled.”

How about a detail here? — like from what price to what price?

Yeah, Chesapeake and its boss seem uniquely sleazy/devious; yeah, the energy companies are evil and greedy; yeah, yeah, capitalism sucks and fracking will create earthquakes or set the planet on fire.

But a lot of basic journalism has been left out in this “investigation.”

It shouldn’t be that tough for newspapers to figure out this newfangled Digital Age-thing before it’s too late — except that it’s journalists doing the figuring.

Here, for free, from a ex-newspaper guy who did everything he could for 35 years to make papers livelier, more interesting and more ideologically diverse, is how to turn your average daily newspaper around and turn it back into a relevant news-making, news-breaking force for the public good:

Take 20 young reporters, give them iPhones, a laptop, a decent camera, a geographic beat — and tell them to get out of the office and never come back unless there’s a going-away party they have to attend.

All day long the reporters are supposed to cruise their territories, looking for real news but also blogging about whatever they see that’s interesting, funny, important, etc. They should interview people on the street or wherever. They should take photos or video of car wrecks or drug dealers or other photo-ops.

The reporters’ content should go straight to the newspaper’s digital news desk where it is put up on the (geographically organized) web site as fast and as lightly edited as possible. Mistakes will be made; big deal; mistakes will be fixed in three seconds.

If a plane crashes in her territory, the reporter is right there with instant photos and quick tweets and blogs and content sent to the digital news desk — which can now break the video and news faster and better than TV or radio can; no longer is the newspaper last with the news, but first (again). Other reporters and their iPhones flock to the plane crash scene ASAP, blogging, tweeting, reporting their butts off.

The web site editors build the story on the fly (sorry, plane crash victims) from reporters’ reports/photos/video, plus citizen/crowd input. The web site eventually hands off everything it has to the print people, who use the web content and other content (perspective, analysis, whatever) to put the big (or little) story together for the next day’s newspaper.

Web site first, paper second. Every day. All scoops appear on the web first.

On Day 2, the paper’s deeper content is stashed/archived on the web site ASAP for the rest of eternity, where it can — unlike the last 100 years of newspapers’ content — be found easily by all.

Monetize this process; tout the news-breaking, bottoms-up, in-your-community coverage of the digital side and take full advantage of the digital age. Make a real news partnership with a TV station.

Put the deep, smart, ideologically diverse analysis and commentary in the paper first, then move it to the web; do investigative stuff in the paper first, then to the web.

Use the web to promote and feed the paper and the paper to promote and feed the web.

Trust the reporters.

Trust the readers.

Make apps about movies, clubs, restaurants, sports, etc., that a kid might want to be caught dead downloading.

Change.

It’s already too late.

An El Niño is one of Mother Nature’s ways of reminding us who’s in charge.

The complexities of just this gigantic process alone — which basically drives the planet’s climate — is proof of the idiocy and willful ignorance of those who think man’s puny effluents has anything serious to do with global warming/climate change.

It takes some reading, but this is clear and enlightening stuff from WattsUpWithThat.com, where GW BS gets debunked.

7-enso-neutral-a

In my never-ending quest to get a legacy publisher to publish “Dogging Steinbeck” so it can get into libraries and bookstores where it deserves to be, I left a phone message and sent a token pitch to the University of Nevada Press.

The folks there were nice and responded, which itself was a rare treat.

Here’s the response I got:

Thank you for telling us about your book Dogging Steinbeck.  I regret that we cannot take on this project because it has already been published and is available on Amazon.  I do agree that there will be new attention to Steinbeck this year, given the anniversary celebration of The Grapes of Wrath. You might find that the best use of your time is to try again to promote the book you have already released.

 

It was a typical response. And so, in response to their response, I wrote this gripe, which applies to every publishing company big and small in America:

It’s a pretty annoying and strange publishing system we non-famous, non-tenured authors are up against.

I couldn’t get a book advance from a major New York publisher in 2010 — despite my fine proposal — because I was not famous, because road books don’t sell and/or because no one cared about Steinbeck anymore (these were the top reasons I was 0-35, despite my readable, crazy style, according to my Madison Avenue agent).

I went ahead anyway, did my trip and wrote my book. On my own time, on my own dime.

I got lucky, I met many memorable Americans along the Steinbeck Highway, I made real literary news by exposing the deceptions of a major American writer. And I forced a major publisher, Penguin Group, to confess that, after 50 years of masquerading as a work of nonfiction, “Travels With Charley” was really a bunch of fiction and dishonest BS.

You’d think that in the declining world of publishing, all this would be worthy of a book. But after I took my road trip I still had no interest from legacy publishers.

I did everything right and got really lucky, thanks to the Steinbeck scholars who were asleep at their desks for half a century.

I wrote a road  book that tells, in an entertaining and authoritative way, how I made major literary news, how I changed the way “Travels With Charley” will be read forevermore, and how I — by my self-promoting self — got media attention and editorial-page praise from the New York Times, got praise and plugs from the world’s most celebrated travel writer (Paul Theroux), got on NPR and CBC radio in Canada, got written up in the pages of the Washington Post and, best of all, got an hour of airtime with Brian Lamb on CSPAN.

I also got grief, not praise or thanks, from the Steinbeck scholars.

Then, after I self-publish my book and have some success, I hear from some small and medium publishers that they can’t publish my book because I did too good of a job promoting it and my “scoop.”

Then I hear from other publishers that it’s too late for them to publish my book in print (so it can get into its natural market of libraries and bookstores) because I already published it as an ebook on Amazon. (I’m sure you know I can take it off Amazon in 30 seconds.)

Then, when it turns out I was ahead of the curve on the 2014 Resurrection of John Steinbeck and my book is timely and topical, it still doesn’t matter.

What earthly difference does it make to librarians and independent bookstore owners, and their clientele, whether my book already exists as an ebook somewhere?

It doesn’t exist yet in print, in stores. How can a small publisher looking to sell 10,000 copies of a book with a long commercial tail that has already proved its value and credibility not want to take advantage of the work I’ve already done?

It has nothing to do with an advance or royalty terms. It’s just a “rule.” I bet if my book started selling 100 ebooks a day a publisher would break the rule — I know it’s happened with other books.

So far I’ve sold 1,000 copies without any help from a publisher or its marketing department.

I’ve heard a dozen newspaper book editors say they don’t review self-published books.

I’ve heard two dozen very short-sighted bookstore owners tell me they won’t carry my self-published book because they can’t return it.

Other, even more clueless, bookstore owners have told me I can’t even appear in their stores to talk about my book and sell POD copies of it because I was hooked up with the Devil — Amazon.

I know Amazon is the bad guy who’s mean to bookstores (most of whom are stuck in 1850 and can’t handle the competition).

So I guess it makes the soon-to-be-gone bookstore owners feel good to do unto nobody authors like me what Amazon does unto them. Can you understand why I might not shed a single tear when I hear a bookstore had died?

Thank God for Amazon.

I wouldn’t have a book without it. I would never have gotten emails of praise from Holland, where the book “Travels Without John in Search of America” by super-star Geert Mak is a best-seller, has been translated into several languages and is headed to America soon. (Mak retraced Steinbeck’s 1960 trip the same time I did in the fall of 2010 and he credits me and my dogged journalism a dozen times in his book — in Dutch.)

Amazon made it possible for me to get around the braindead publishing industry and get a book distributed around the world without costing me a quarter. Now Amazon is keeping me from getting a “real” publisher?

I’ve proven in the marketplace and in the conflicting worlds of journalism and academia that my book “Dogging Steinbeck” is a valuable piece of literary and travel journalism.

I caught Steinbeck and his publisher with their literary ethics down. I got praise from some of the smartest travel writers and journalists on the planet.

And all I get — still — from publishers is the same Catch 22s.

It’s no wonder the publishing industry is collapsing. It deserves to.

In what’s left of Newsweek my good pal David Cay Johnston does a fine job of pointing out what Cato and all libertarians and free-market gurus like Milton Friedman have been pointing out for half a century — we don’t have a free market in health care (The Myth of Health Care’s Free Market).

It’s rigged in many many ways. Let’s do some more ‘splaining about why it’s rigged — and why eye care and dentistry don’t have the same crazy price differences and have seen real prices go down over the last 30 years, not up.

Only governments can kill free markets. The current mess we have is largely a result of government intervention, subsidies, excessive regulations, things like the prohibition of midwifery and transplant markets and protections granted to cartels like the doctors, who, unlike the average widget maker or investment counselor, can keep their numbers down and prices up because they are given the power and cover to do so by state licensing boards.

Price competition exists in health care — across national boarders, which is why medical tourism flourishes in India (or in the USA, when Canadians come to get their new knees and hips at the Cleveland Clinic instead of having to wait 14 months for the “free” Canadian system to get around to providing them).

Price competition doesn’t exist within the USA borders because there is no price information shared with consumers (it’s essentially “illegal”), as David pointed out, and because doctors and hospitals collude and pass along the costs (often arbitrary and bloated).

You don’t need to know how to make a car to pick a good one to own; you don’t need to know how to take out your appendix to hire a doctor who can.

But you wouldn’t go into a BMW dealer, order a car without looking at the price tag and tell them to send the bill to your employer or favorite government health care bureaucracy.

Free markets work wonderfully for everything from cars to shoes. Consumers of each have virtually infinite choices in price and quality of both goods.

There is nothing preventing the health care sector from achieving the same efficiencies except the heavy hands and feet of government and the politicians who pretend everyone can get free health care for nothing.

In dishonor of the Federal Reserve’s 100th birthday, which, we’re all sorry to say is today, Plum Borough/Pittsburgh libertarian and ace letter-writer Mark Crowley has penned  “Yes, Virginia, We need the Fed.”

In the spirit of the season, we at Steigerwald Post want to share Mr. Crowley’s work. We sincerely hope it offends the proper authorities.

And if Virginia O’Hanlon and Francis Church don’t like their work being abused for ideological purposes, they can write us a letter.

200px-Virginia_Santa_Claus

Yes, Virginia, We Need the Fed

 

Dear Chairman Bernanke,

I am 8 years old.  My parents say the Federal Reserve is bad and we don’t
need it.  Teacher says, “Email Fed Chair Bernanke and ask him.”  Please
tell me the truth; do we need the Fed?

Virginia

Virginia, your parents are wrong. They have been affected by the
skepticism of liberty and individualism. They do not believe what
important central bankers like me tell them. They think their opinions and
beliefs are equal to those of the leaders and bureaucrats ruling them.
Mere common citizens have little minds.  In this great universe of ours a
citizen is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the
boundless intelligence of central bankers who grasp the whole of truth and
knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, we need the Fed.  The need exists as certainly as debt and
taxes and the IRS exist, and you know that they abound and impose on your
life necessary controls and limits. Alas! how dreary would be the world if
there were no Fed! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias.
There would be no childlike faith in authority then, no bailouts, no QE to
perpetuate this monetary existence. We would have no income tax, no
inflation. The eternal creation of currency which fills the world would be
extinguished.

Not need the Fed!  You might as well not need the Department of Education.
Your ancestors might have bought and sold goods and services with gold and
silver, but what does that prove?  Just because they did not have the Fed
is no proof that they did not need the Fed to protect them and provide
monetary order.  The most dangerous things in the world are those that
neither children nor parents can see, but central bankers and governments
do.   Did you ever see your parents earn too much income?  Of course not,
but that’s no proof that they do not.  Nobody can conceive or imagine all
the unseen dangers and inequities without intervention by the Fed.

You may tear apart a Federal Reserve Note and look for the truth inside,
but there is a veil of secrecy covering the unseen world which not your
parents, nor even all the united working people that ever lived could see.
Only the primary dealers, a few government officials and the Fed can push
aside that curtain to view and manage the supernal secrets and glory on
your behalf. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is
nothing else real and abiding.

No Fed! Thank God! it exists and it exists forever. A thousand trillion
dollars of debt from now, Virginia, nay ten times ten thousand trillion
dollars of debt from now, it will continue to make glad the hearts of
central planners.

 

Dave Eggers says in the Guardian that US writers must take a stand on NSA surveillance.

In my rant on the Guardian web site, in which I let my inner-libertarian rail unfetteredly, I say that Dave Eggers is right about what he says about government spying — but I also say he’s too old and too smart to think like such an infant:

We love Dave Eggers because he’s smart and good, but he needs to grow up and smell the evils of unlimited government: he asks “would President Obama, himself a constitutional scholar, actually endorse – much less expand – a domestic spying programme unless it were morally acceptable and constitutional?” Pathetically, Eggers still thinks Obama was/is any different from his predecessors.
Eggers doesn’t know yet that it doesn’t matter who is in charge of Big Nanny government’s power and purse. The notion that Saint Obama was going to be squeamish about protecting and growing and using the warfare/welfare/security state is touchingly naive. The only way the NSA — or FBI or DEA or CIA or XXX — will stop snooping on us and the rest of the world will be if their funding is taken away. Otherwise, they’ll do whatever they can get away with with their technology and computers, no matter what the courts say. The history of every government — even so-called good governments run by your own favorite politician-saint — is the history of government abusing its power and doing evil things to minorities, the weak or politically unfavored factions. Forget amending the Patriot Act. Forget telling the TSA to stop cavity searches of grandmas. Forget telling the NSA to stop listening to the pope’s phone calls. The only way to ensure that these federal agencies stop their unconstitutional or immoral practices at home or abroad is to starve the government of money, thereby severely limiting what it can do for (and to) people. That means liberals have to grow up and realize that big government is not a morally acceptable or useful social engineering tool, even when it’s employed to “help” poor people in inner Detroit or to shake down rich people or businesses with high taxes. The same powers that liberals/Dems happily and selfishly entrust to Saint Obama’s administration today will be used/misused by conservatives/Republicans tomorrow. This is nothing new. It’s been going on forever. If Eggers wants writers to be able to write without fear, he needs to start having a grownup conversation with himself about the nature of government and try to understand why its so important to free individuals that government be given as little power and as little to do to us or for us as possible.