Archive for publishing

“Where the Sagebrush Grows”

Brittany Bronson’s review of my friend John Glionna‘s book, “Outback Nevada: Real Stories from the Silver State,” really captures Glionna’s gifts and the heart of his charming, striking feature writing.

Most of Nevada’s land — almost 86 percent — is uninhabited by people, covered in sagebrush, and managed by the federal government. That leaves plenty of room for the imagination. Green corporations envision wind farms. Red politicians see a dumping grounds for the nation’s nuclear waste. Even for those who have driven one of those two-lane highways stretching across high desert, it is still easy to assume that there is nothing, and no one, out there.

John M. Glionna sets out to prove the opposite in Outback Nevada: Real Stories from the Silver State, a collection of reported essays profiling the inhabitants of “the real Nevada.” Written between 2013 and 2021, the essays span the rise and fall of President Donald Trump, a worsening drought, and a global pandemic. Glionna lets his subjects serve as the narrators, comedians, and political commentators, and his cast of characters is well curated. They disrupt any assumptions of Nevada as a culturally homogeneous place.

The book’s 45 subjects include a Catholic priest who conducts mass in casinos; elderly best friends who have outlived their cowboy husbands; a Shoshone activist who uses art to comment on the environmental impacts of mining; the Thunder Mountain Indian Monument; and the daily police blotters of the state’s smallest towns, full of “scandal, buzz or scuttlebutt.”

Linda Tirado reflects

This is an excellent interview by WCCO Channel 4 in Minneapolis with author / reporter / photographer Linda Tirado, who was blinded in one eye after being shot by a police offer during a 2020 demonstration in that city. Tirado is both purposeful and poignant here – and instructive; she always wants to teach … and *to show people how*. You will be surprised by some of what she says. (Click on the image to see the video.)

20 years of basil.CA

This week basil.CA celebrates its twentieth anniversary. With some variations, I’ve kept the four-column format used from the beginning (thank you for the inspiration, Arts & Letters Daily!). The main change over the years: Once I shuttered Basil Communications Inc., I wrote about business and the market (and political controversy) a good deal less.

Between 2002 and 2022 I’ve used basil.CA not only as a blog but as a hub connecting to a range of projects: No Contest Communications, my iPhone Blog, photography (general and “straight up“), andvariousotherthingamabobs.

I’m grateful to my readers for swinging by. I’ve tried to keep the place tidy but filled with whatnots to look at and think about, as if you were visiting my apartment as a guest.

Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn died this morning. He was one of my authors back when I edited Free Inquiry magazine, and we worked on various projects together as he joined the Secular Humanist team we had there in Buffalo, NY thirty or so years ago. I liked him very much – always charming, always honest. A super can-do colleague.

We had a few back-and-forths after I moved on, and we followed each other on Facebook. Whenever Tom popped up in my timeline, my thought was always the same: “Well, Basil, now THERE is a man who really has the courage of his convictions. Pay attention.”

From my colleagues’ announcement:

The world has lost a towering figure of American freethought, a man who was both on the cutting edge of secular humanist thought, as well as the foremost caretaker of its rich history. The entire Center for Inquiry family is anguished by the sudden and unexpected death of our colleague, teacher, and friend Tom Flynn at age 66.

Tom held numerous leadership roles during his more than thirty years with the Center for Inquiry, most recently as editor of Free Inquiry magazine, director of the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum and the Freethought Trail, and former executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism.

But this collection of titles does not nearly convey the plainer truth, which is that Tom Flynn was the beating heart of the Center for Inquiry and indeed the wider freethought movement.

A stark rationalist and staunch atheist if ever there was one, Tom was nonetheless brimming with enthusiasm, curiosity, bold ideas, and perhaps most of all, humor. He had a deep love and encyclopedic knowledge of freethought history and devoted himself to the preservation and rediscovery of American freethought’s great untold stories.

At the same time, he was a true visionary whose future-focused ideas about religion, atheism, equality, and the existential crises we face as a global civilization were once considered radical but now seem prescient. He was a virtuoso of the written word, penning not only countless articles and essays but also science fiction novels and the defiantly revelatory book The Trouble with Christmas.

Tom revelled in his various public personas, whether as a pugnacious stoker of controversy, a stubborn atheist curmudgeon (as with his infamous “Anti-Claus” alter-ego), or a wisecracking, avuncular coworker. But at his core, Tom was a man excited about big ideas, regardless of their popularity or public acceptance, and he was eager to share those ideas, bringing to them his unmatched combination of scholarship, eloquence, and humor.

“Tom didn’t believe in magic, but he was magical,” said Robyn E. Blumner, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry. “How else to describe this unlikely combination of brilliance, charm, vision, and roll-up-your-sleeves accomplishment?”

“He saved the legacy of the Great Agnostic, Robert Green Ingersoll, from obscurity. He carried the torch for atheism, secular humanism, and clear-eyed rationality for decades with his powerful and copious writings and speeches—undoubtedly helping to cause the Rise of the Nones. All while cracking jokes and delighting everyone in his orbit,” said Blumner. “And how lucky we were to be part of it.”

“The death of Tom Flynn is a tragedy of epic proportions for everyone who cares about the equality of atheists anywhere in the world,” said Edward Tabash, veteran freethought activist and chair of the Center for Inquiry. “He was our conscience against religious bigotry. He was our conscience against irrational action and thought.”

“His razor sharp humor and wit were simply unmatched,” said Tabash. “The best way that we can honor Tom’s memory and all the magnificent work that he did is to continue to devote ourselves to ending religious bigotry anywhere and everywhere.”

To Tom’s wife, Sue, and to his family and friends, all of us at the Center for Inquiry join you in your grief. He was our family, too.

Tom’s hero, Robert Green Ingersoll, once wrote, “A great man does not seek applause or place; he seeks for truth; he seeks the road to happiness, and what he ascertains, he gives to others.” It will be a long time before there can ever be a full accounting of what Tom Flynn gave to all of us. Now Tom joins Ingersoll in what the Great Agnostic called “the perfect rest,” no longer as a mere admirer but as an equal.

I still can hardly believe the news. Sending condolences to his family and to all of the friends and colleagues we shared.

Larry King

Back in 1988 I appeared on CNN’s Larry King Live! to debate the topic of Near Death Experiences (NDE’s). I was given the role of the skeptic. To me that meant I was there to offer explanations for this very real-feeling sensation that were neither paranormal nor religious. My goal was to “save” the experience rather than “debunk” it, offering a more scientifically sound way of describing the NDE.

The woman sharing the split-screen with me here is Barbara Harris-Whitfield. Considering how pointed my remarks were on that show, she was very forbearing and generous with me. Indeed, after our appearance on Larry King she asked producers of other shows to ask me on to be her debating foil. (We even travelled to Cincinnati to be on an early version of The Jerry Springer Show, which was not the gong-show it would become but which nonetheless sure did encourage ill manners.) Barbara showed me how to be somewhat kinder to others when I argued with them, and she taught me that lesson without embarrassing me. I think of her often, with gratitude.

A word about Larry King. Back in the eighties, the discussion on Larry King’s show could be a good deal more elevated than what people saw in his later years at CNN; there were fewer commercial interruptions as well. To me, though, King’s finest years as an interviewer came when he was on the radio at night in the seventies. He knew everything and everyone and the conversations could really spread out. His curiosity was unquenchable, and he alleviated the isolations of insomnia among his listeners. It seemed he never failed at that. RIP, Mr. King.