More on Discounts for Cash

Recently, I published this letter in my local newspaper:

"The other day when I paid a restaurant tab with cash, I was rewarded for relying on paper instead of plastic.

"The bill came to something and 50 cents and so I added two quarters to the bills to avoid getting any coins. The hostess returned with my change, which included a nickel. I checked the bill to make sure she had not erred and discovered that I had received a $3.04 discount for cash. Not only was I rewarded for using cash, the hostess rounded up.

"I’d like to see more businesses offer a discount to people using cash."

Read more here: http://www.centredaily.com/2015/08/24/4889776/letter-to-the-editor-reward-customers.html#storylink=cpy

I figured that was the end of it. But then the owners of two restaurants asked me about the restaurant giving the discount and one of the owners revealed that there had been a court decision that allowed discounts for cash. I had no idea.

More recently, I was pumping gas in the Rochester, New York, area and noticed that the station had a discount offer (see photo). Unfortunately, I noticed it too late.

I’m beginning to think we’ll see more discount offers in the months ahead.



A story in this morning’s Times got my linguistic juices flowing. It’s about a female Marine Corps colonel who’s being drummed out of the Corps for, among other things, not following the chain of command.

The colonel, Kate Germano (which I misread as Geronimo), improved shooting abilities and physical outcomes for female recuits. Who doesn’t want a Marine who can hit a target and carry 60 or more pounds?

Late in the story, one of Germano’s fellow officers says she was “firm but fair.” It’s the “but” that caught my eye.

As everyone should know, “but” is a conjunction that joins contrary ideas. It’s not like “and.” “I’m happy and glad,” he said. You’d never say: “I’m happy, but glad.”

What I don’t see is how being firm is the opposite of being fair. This reminds me of my teaching days when students would refer to a professor (usually me) as “tough but fair.” In my mind, they are co-equal, to be joined by “and,” not “but.”

I often wondered why students would talk like that and what they were going to do in the real world, but I’ll leave that for another day.


Comparative Countries

Jewish museum in Amsterdam

In 2004 my wife and I toured Spain, and when I returned, I wrote an op-ed piece about the subtle signs of anti-Semitism that I detected. A newspaper published my op-ed (which I can e-mail a copy but can no longer link to).

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I toured Holland and Belgium and I found the attitude toward Jews a lot different. Amsterdam, in particular, has memorialized the Jews who were shipped off to German death camps. There is, of course, the Anne Frank house, a Jewish historical museum, art by Jews, even a sign in a park that says, in Dutch, Auschwitz No More.

Unlike in Spain where I encountered doubletalk about the country’s history with Jews, Dutch tour guides do not talk in coded language about what happened in Holland. Of course, the Dutch were not willing collaborators with the Nazis and even assumed that the country would be respected as a neutral during World War II. Instead, the Nazis overran the country.

One tour guide did speak about how the Jews and Protestants got along well but then noted that the Jews did not trust the Catholics. The tour guide cited the Spanish Inquisition as the reason that Jews were never comfortable with Catholics in Holland. Catholic Spain did everything it could to drive out Jews. Thus, all Catholics were suspect.

As I reflected on the way the two countries talk about their history with Jews, I realized that while there were memorials to Jews in Holland, there was no such thing in Spain. Eleven years ago I urged the Spaniards to make sure they were not guided by subtle historical events that kept them trapped in an anti-Semitic attitude. I hope they’ve made some progress in reversing that.


Creative Writing?

When I was an undergraduate English major in the late 1960s, one of my instructors, in fact, my favorite when it came to writing instruction, scoffed at the phrase “creative writing.” All writing is creative, he used to say. By that he meant (I think) that the process of writing is one of creation whether you’re writing a news story or the Great American Novel. (I succeeded at the first and failed at the second.)

Remember Janet Cooke?

She won a Pulitzer Prize in 1981 while a reporter for the Washington Post. It turned out, the story was fiction promoted as fact. The Post returned the Pulitzer and fired Cooke, who later, according to Wikipedia, sold the movie rights for $1.6 million.

In today’s headlines we have a report on the creation of a sensational story about a gang rape at the University of Virginia. The report tells us that the writer, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, and her editors failed Journalism 101 by, among other things, not checking multiple sources or confirming events that were easily confirmable. It wasn't a matter of not letting the facts get in the way of a good story; it was a matter of not getting the facts to begin with.

I wanted to know more about Erdely and so I went to the Wikipedia entry about her. It said she had been a pre-med major at the University of Pennsylvania (not to be confused with the Pennsylvania State University) who ultimately graduated with a degree in journalism. Knowing that the Ivies look down their noses at journalism degrees, I checked the source for this information—Erdely’s own website. As I suspected, she does not have a degree in journalism. Like Cooke (and me), she has a degree in English, and that’s according to her website.

We English majors like to turn a phrase and tell good stories. Facts are something to be manipulated—like digital photographs in Photoshop.

Consider John Berendt. He revealed that he altered the timeline in his “nonfiction” Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil in order to create a better story. According to Wikipedia, Berendt has a degree in English from Harvard. What is it with English majors?

Ever since Cooke, who perpetrated her crime against the facts when I was just starting my career as a journalism professor, I’ve thought that the one strength journalism curricula had over English was a course in ethics. If nothing else, an ethics course for English majors could emphasize that if you manipulate the facts—move the Pyramids closer together, for example, which a photographer did for a National Geographic cover—don’t sell your work as nonfiction. Here’s a great yarn based on fact, but it ain’t the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. 

In the meantime, I edited Erdely’s Wikipedia entry, and she now has a degree in English, not journalism, which is only fitting. After all, somebody’s gotta check the facts. 


We Walked Right Into It: Pennsbury High and the Vietnam War, by Terry L. Nau. 242 pp.

This is Terry Nau’s second book about Vietnam, the first being a personal memoir of not just his service in Vietnam, but his life before and after. He titled that one Reluctant Soldier...Proud Veteran: How a cynical Vietnam vet learned to take pride in his service to the USA.

In his second book, which was inspired by his oncoming 50th high school reunion, Nau tells the story of 15 classmates who served—and died—in the Vietnam War. For good measure, he’s also tracked down 25 survivors, and their stories appear here, too.

You probably don’t know anyone in the book (I’ve known the author since the mid-1970s when he was cynical), but if you’re between the ages of, say, 60 and 80, you know their stories. There are the enlistees and the draftees, the parents who lost their only son, the young wives who became widows, children who never knew their father, the subsequent medical problems (remember Agent Orange?), the survivors, some of whom were reluctant to talk in detail and others who ignored Nau’s request for information.

Nau gets the book’s title from one of the survivors who, surprised by the high number of deaths from Pennsbury High, says: “We walked right into it, I guess.” Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, many in the United States, veteran and civilian alike, would probably say that today. I served in the Navy from 1963-67 and the closest I got to Vietnam was working with some Marines who were about to be shipped there.

As he did with his first book, this one is also self-published. As a shameless self-publisher myself, I’m only too glad to promote the act—and the art. A lot of good stories would never get told if we had to rely on profit-making publishers (who do fill a niche).

The only zinger from me is the book’s lack of an index. I wanted to review some stories and I could recall names, but without an index, I couldn’t locate the people. So for all you self-publishers out there, there are people who can help you format your manuscript, including an index. Use them.


On Deadline

I’m not sure how old I was when I calculated the year of my death. Let’s just say I was between 35 and 40 (I’m now 70), and I figured, based on the age my grandfathers were when they died, that I would die at 75 in 2020. You have to admit that the year has a nice balance to it.

But then my father lived until he was 84 and my mother died a month short of her 98th birthday so it would appear I have longevity genes on my side. Unfortunately, I also inherited a condition that killed my father and my eldest sister. Fortunately, I found out in time and was able to have corrective surgery done on my heart.

But the surgery not only gave me a new lease on life, it also gave me a new deadline because the new aortic valve came with a 15-year life of its. So that puts my due date at 2026 when I will be in my early 80s. And that’s only if the aneurysm they discovered during surgery doesn’t require an intervention. (My cardiologist checks it annually.)

The good news is that I can always get a new valve, and there’s a decent chance that the surgery won’t be as traumatic as the original in which I was opened up, attached to a machine to keep me alive, and then dealt with recovery and several complications that kept me hospitalized longer than normal.

But there are other factors that may come in to play. I realized this when a friend in his early 80s died after declining surgery. He had a couple of medical issues beyond the one the surgeon might—might—have fixed and his quality of life was not the best. It was possible he would come out of surgery alive but not by much. And so he chose to die.

I write this not to be morbid, but to be clear-headed about what lies ahead for me. When my valve’s due date arrives, what kind of shape will I be in? If I am not able to get out and photograph, produce books, write pithy letters to the editor, enjoy wine and scotch, share a decent life with my wife, I just might opt out.

And that’s why at this point I see myself as on deadline. I used to think that anything after 2020 was a bonus. If I’m lucky, I’ll get six bonus years.

Gotta go. I have things to do and only so many years left to do them.


The Shortcomings of Memory

When I taught in China in 1994, I had a dust-up with an associate dean in the China School of Journalism. I decided later, maybe even a year or two later, to write something about it, although for the life of me I don’t remember why I waited so long.

I took pen in hand and began what was a very damning piece about this dean. I painted him in the most negative of terms and showed myself to be one fine fellow.

Then I found the notes I had made right after the dust-up. Turns out, it wasn’t quite the dramatic situation I had penned and the dean didn’t look all that bad. I think I was still the heroic figure, but more subdued. (Every man’s a hero in his own story, I like to say.)

I write about this in the context of what’s going on with Brian Williams, the anchor of NBC News. Various sources have come forth to undermine Williams’ telling of a helicopter attack in Iraq in 2003. When he first told the story, he was not in the helicopter that was under attack, but as the years moved on and he repeated the story, the story got more dramatic and less credible.

Let’s face it: Stories, cheese and wine get better with age. But in the case of stories, you should always check your original notes. I bet Williams wishes he had.