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Moving

After playing around with the free hosted blog (which is great, by the way), I have relocated to my own domain, joshloftin.com. I exported most of the posts from here to the new site. Cruise on over if you have stumbled here accidentally.

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A simple declaration: Utah State has the best student fan section in all of college basketball. That’s right, better than the Cameron Crazies. It’s a reputation that has not come over night, either. As long as The Spectrum has been the Aggies home, and probably longer, USU has been a daunting foe on their home floor.

I’ll admit it, I’m biased. I attended USU for most of the ’90s — yes, I said most of the ’90s, and that did not include either graduate school or the “mission” that many Aggies take — and was as rabid of a basketball fan as anyone. Somewhere, I have a recording from ESPN2 of me dressed up as Miss USU (wearing a dress — I somehow squeezed into a size 8). I had friends who shaved theirs heads and painted them blue, who shaved an “A” into their very hairy chests, and who generally raised hell for each and every home game.

We were not alone. At any given game, there were others who went as far, or further, than we did. The student section was routinely crammed with 10,000 wild and crazy fans.

But this year, Aggie fandom has been taken to new heights by one man: Wild Bill Sproat. In a way, I see him as a kindred spirit. He is a “redshirt junior student.” He seems to enjoy the non-educational aspects of college a lot more than the classroom experience (as did I). And he loves watching games in The Spectrum.

For the uninitiated, below is an interview he did with ESPN’s “First Take.” It includes video of many of his best costumes. However, Aggie student fans are 10,000-strong every game, and they deserve at least some of the credit for the Aggies success, so as an added bonus, watch the video of the “Winning side, losing side” chant. Go Aggies!

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Nixing Nicotine

The e-cigarette is touted as the healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes, at least if the marketing is to believed. For at least some current e-cig users, the marketing is not a lie.

Brian Anderson told the House Health and Human Services Committee Tuesday morning that the e-cigs, which are essentially inhaled shots of nicotine, have given him the best shot at escaping cigarettes and their harmful additives.

“I found a way to get away from cigarettes,” he said. “I feel healthier because I’m not getting the tar and carcinogens.”

Anderson and few other citizen activists went to the Legislature Tuesday to testify against HB71, which would ban new tobacco and nicotine products. That includes e-cigarettes and what the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, described as flavored tobacco candies.

Ray said those candies are intended to bring in a new generation of tobacco users, by appealing to kids and teenagers who find smoking distasteful.

At one point, Ray even compared the tobacco companies to terrorist organizations — an analogy that is probably appreciated by all of those legislators who accept political donations from said tobacco organizations, aka Al-Ciga — and said that “if terrorist organizations were killing as many people as tobacco companies in a year, there would be all-out war.”

Note: At this point, it’s probably fair to point out that, in fact, the U.S. is at war with terrorists, and has been for quite a few years. His confusion may understandably have stemmed from the fact that for most of that time, it has been called the “War on Terror.”

The bill eventually passed the committee, with the ban on selling e-cigarettes firmly in place (possession will still be legal). There is a caveat, however, that if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves the e-cigs, they automatically become legal to buy in Utah.

During public testimony, however, another citizen lobbyist told the committee that the dangers of cigarettes are the chemicals, which e-cigs eliminated. Joyce Mitchell urged them to consider how they could help smokers and others, since e-cigs don’t have nasty side effects like secondhand smoke.

“Nicotine is being horriblized (sic) here. It does reduce aggression and anxiety and improves mood and alertness,” she said during public testimony. “They’re a pharmaceutical that you can take for yourself.”

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J.D. Salinger’s friends recount tales of his life, proving that he was anything but a recluse.—

To some people, such as City Weekly’s own Stephen Dark, J.D. Salinger had a seemingly huge impact on their teenage lives, especially with Catcher in the Rye. The book did not have that same impact on me, but it was possibly because although I didn’t really enjoy high school, I survived my teenage years with only a normal amount of angst and minimal heartbreak. Also, even though I went to school with students that were eerily similar to the classmates Holden despised, I never felt violent towards any of them.

Probably the main reason it didn’t completely connect with me as a disenchanted teenager was that it’s heart is in New York City, and I lived in the polar opposite, Mt. Pleasant, Utah. Holden escaped as any city kid does (still) by finding dark corners in the thriving urbanity to hide. My escapes were wide-open country highways and mountain hiking trails, the places where not only could I hide from people, there were no people. Because of that, I found my literary guides to angst in On The Road and The Razor’s Edge.

Still, when I read Catcher in high school, I knew I was in the presence of genius. That opinion has not wavered in subsequent readings. It is a perfect work of fiction, and for me is only rivaled by only a few other books as the Great American Novel. One of the aspects that makes it classic is that it reflects very specific time and place, but it also can represent any time and place.

As is well-known by now, Salinger died Wednesday after decades essentially hiding from his public fame. With his death, however, his friends are willing to step forward and talk about how he actually lived, which had very little to do with recluse. He avoided publicity, not public. He also continued to write on, apparently, an almost daily basis, and he did it because he loved the written word, not the published word. It’s an interesting thought, really:To be successful at something you enjoy for your entire life, you almost have to keep it private.

Among the many stories out there, the three best I’ve read so far about Salinger popped up yesterday afternoon on The New Yorker’s website, in their “Talk of the Town” section. Lillian Ross writes about how deeply Salinger loved children. John Seabrook recounts his first encounter with “Jerry,” as his friends called him, at a movie night at Salinger’s house. And critic Adam Gopnik talks about Salinger the writer that few people knew.

So, read those on this snowy Sunday morning, and then go find some of your old Salinger.

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SMILEY.jpgNetroots Activism
Three groups pushing statewide ballot initiatives have launched online petitions where registered voters can sign digitally (only Utahns for Ethical Government lacks the online petition, but is planning to have one). Since electronic signatures are permitted for all sorts of other government activity, including filing taxes, the groups say that signing a petition with an e-signature should be permitted. However, Utah Elections Office administrator Mark Thomas says that the groups may fail to meet the excessively stringent requirement for ballot initiatives with their e-signatures, because current laws are for “paper-based” initiatives. In other words, the initiative laws are outdated in the same way that current ethics laws are designed for “paperbased” transactions between lawmakers and lobbyists.

SAD.jpgTalk to the Hand
In late January, Logan Mayor Randy Watts instituted an unwritten policy requiring that all media questions for city officials be submitted in writing, and all responses be given in writing. Watts says, in a news release, that the policy is to “ensure that the information provided to the media is accurate.” Unwritten speculation is that the policy was motivated by several “negative” articles written in the Logan Herald-Journal, but when asked, via e-mail, if that were the case, Logan spokeswoman Teresa Harris told City Weekly to listen to an interview on Logan-based radio station KVNU on Jan. 25 for more details. However, as long as Watts keeps his wrong-headed policy in place, City Weekly will only accept written responses to its questions.

SMILEY.jpgBurden of Wealth
Take from the rich and give to the students. Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, has introduced a bill in the 2010 legislative session that would skim a bit more tax revenue from the wealthy. Every dollar earned up to $250,000 would be taxed at 5 percent, which is the rate of the current so-called flat tax. Anything between $250,000 and $750,000 would be taxed at 6 percent, and anything over $750,000 would be taxed at 7 percent. King has estimated the tiered-tax system would bring in another $370 million to fund public and higher education. Those dollars could greatly help Utah schools, which perennially struggle for funding. Of course, as a Democrat sponsoring a tax hike, King has little shot of passing his bill, especially because it actually makes sense.

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Hug A Reporter

Media Matters: Biased Deseret News story on Dallin Oaks speech made it to print over the howls of many. Plus, a call to arms for readers.

There was apparently swearing, shouting, and multiple attempts from among the Deseret News staffers to work in some sort of balance into the story about the speech made by Dallin Oaks, a member of the LDS Church’s Quorom of the Twelve In that speech, Oaks compared the criticism of Mormons for their Prop. 8 support to the violent, and often deadly, acts taken against blacks in the South during the civil rights fight.

That story, which I blogged about Wednesday on cityweekly.net and reposted here, was essentially a one-source (Oaks himself) rehash of the speech. The Trib, on the other hand, focused on whether the analogy was appropriate (no) or offensive, especially to blacks (yes).

Following my blog, I have been contacted by about a half-dozen D-News staffers giving me behind-the-scenes details—some of them were observers, some of them actually work in other departments, and some of them were actually part of the fray. All of them say that there was a lot of noise made in the newsroom by both editors and reporters, and the language employed fell well outside the bounds people might expect from an LDS Church-owned business.

I’ve also been told, by multiple people, that there was a push to get comment from, at the very least, a group like the NAACP and a gay rights group because, after all, they are the people beating and firehosing the Mormons. That was not allowed by upper management. When the final product was “put to bed,” more than a few staffers went home a little less proud to be working for a prominent daily newspaper.

On the flipside, I also heard from a couple of staffers who told me that only a few reporters were openly angry about the censorship, which was disappointing to them. In truth, it did not surprise me, because this fight has been had so many times that drawing swords over a foregone conclusion only puts you on the wrong-side of your boss, something most people tend to try and avoid doing.

Additionally, in the last couple of days, I have been contacted in many different ways by staffers from almost every department at the newspaper, telling me how frustrated they are. Thus, I am reposting that post on this, my personal blog, to further update.

What to take out of this? Foremost, Deseret News staffers still care about the product they are putting out and are willing to fight for it. Secondly, it’s important to note that people actually do swear at the Deseret News, and not softly.

Finally, it reinforces the point I made in the previous post. This was a case of deliberate censorship on the part of the Deseret News leadership, and a direct violation of what should be the compact every media outlet makes with its readers: fairness and transparency. This was simply propoganda.

A newspaper is a vibrant part of any community, and in Salt Lake City we are extremely lucky to have two daily newspapers. Very few cities can boast that, including many cities much, much bigger than SLC. However, as part of that community, newspapers need support just like any other civic institution.

No, I’m not suggesting financial bailouts, but moral support for those fighting for objectivity in one of the primary local media outlets. There a few simple yet effective ways to do this:

    • Letters to the Editor: Flood the D-News at letters@desnews.com with commentary about the Oaks speech, positive or negative. If you want, specifically criticize or applaud the way they handled the story. Write what you genuinely feel, in your own words.• Comment on the story: There are hundreds of comments about this story online, which shows people care. Add your voice to the din.

    • Hug a reporter, editor, copy editor, whatever. In other words, let them know that you support them. This could be an e-mail to somebody you know at the paper, it could be a phone call, it could be a word of encouragement when you see them scribbling in their notebook on a story assignment. Because even if they aren’t vocal about their concerns, trust me—most people at the D-News, in every department (except Mormon Times or Church News), are very concerned.

    •Finally, let the two people actually making these decisions know what you think: Rick Hall, and Pulitzer Prize-winning reader Joe Cannon (also editor-in-chief).

Disclosure: I worked at the Deseret News for almost a decade as a reporter and editor, and my grandfather was the chairman of the board from 1996-2006. Although I was a vocal critic of Cannon’s “More Mormon” emphasis in the last couple of years, I was not fired or forced out, but left willingly to work for City Weekly a couple of months ago.

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Persecuted Mormons

Two front-page stories in Salt Lake City’s daily newspapers on a speech by LDS elder Dallin Oaks provides a stark example of the failures of the Deseret News as a news organization.

In the Trib’s story, they zero in (appropriately) on a comparison that Oaks made to the backlash against Mormons for the anti-gay rights positions to the bloody, and often deadly, abuse blacks suffered during the civil rights fight.

In the Deseret News advertorial, the speech is essentially reprinted with transitions added to give it the semblance of a news story. There is no balance, no response. Even more interestingly, the article does not even mention the comparison to the persecution of blacks in the South, nor does the sidebar reprinting of his summary where he made the comparison.

The article was written by Scott Taylor, a veteran reporter at the Deseret News who, until relocating to the newsroom and the religion beat a few months ago, was writing for Church News. A quick tip for readers, quite frankly, is to simply read anything written by Taylor with a skeptical eye.

While disappointing, this is what readers should now expect from the Deseret News on certain issues, most notably gay rights and the LDS Church. Their coverage will be slanted.

This is not to say the Deseret News will be slanted. On 95 percent of the issues, they will be balanced and, in my opinion, often a better newspaper (especially with lots of anecdotal leads!). But on 5 percent of the issues, they will not be balanced, which sullies the respect for the other 95 percent of the news.

Oh, and that 95/5 split mentioned above? Not my numbers, but the numbers told to me and others by Editor-in-Chief and Pulitzer Prize-winning READER of the Deseret News, Joe Cannon, and managing editor Rick Hall. It was an oft-repeated defense for their censorship of Prop 8 news when I was at the Deseret News as an editor.

A small irony in all of this is that the LDS Church’s Bureau of Righteous Thought, in their press release summary of the speech, highlights the comparison of criticism of the LDS Church to persecution of blacks in the South. Besides further proving the idiocy of the Deseret News advertorial, it emphasizes that the new Deseret News editorial mission is truly coming from within the newspaper, and not from their owners at the LDS Church.

Disclosure: I worked at the Deseret News for almost a decade as a reporter and editor, and my grandfather was the chairman of the board from 1996-2006. Although I was a vocal critic of Cannon’s “More Mormon” emphasis in the last couple of years, I was not fired or forced out, but left willingly to work for City Weekly a couple of months ago.

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