All rise! The ol’ Paragraph Stacker gets his hearing

I finally got a hearing set with an administrative law judge to arbitrate my eligibility for an extended unemployment benefits program. This is something I’ve fought for since August.

The hearing is set for the Thursday of my first week of student teaching — because of course it is.

When you finally have a breakthrough with the bureaucracy, don’t expect that to be convenient. I’ll make my best case that I’m meeting the standards the program requires. I know I’m getting the kind of training the state approves.

They said so by approving the training and removing the requirement that I apply for jobs while I’m in school. Arbitration means the judge will decide in my favor or not. That’s the end of it.

If the judge decides in my favor, I’ll receive back pay to a specific date and be eligible for weekly benefits until school ends. If the judge rules against me, that’s I am out of options.

Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

Until then, I’ve got to float two more weeks without income until student loans deposit to make rent, insurance, and so on. I put in some expensive-but-necessary car maintenance.

I have to drive about half an hour for my student teaching placement, so I want my car to be in as good as shape as we can get it.

I know things are tight for people after the holidays, but anything and everything helps. I always hope this will be the last time I have to write and ask.

I believe the day is fast approaching when I write the exciting news of a new teaching position and a new career launched by hundreds of hands holding me up in my most desperate hours.

Every one of you has shown me this unconditional love that is so beautiful it feels as if each of you are close, intimate friends or family. A lot of people live their whole lives without that feeling. I am grateful to all of you for reminding me what grace truly is.

The last lap starts soon. I start student teaching a week from Monday. We start a week earlier than Drake’s semester begins. My nerves are high. This is the time when I find out if I can do this job or if I’ve made a blunder. I don’t think I’m going to fail, but anticipation is the worst part of everything.

We just keep moving forward.

If you’re inclined to donate to the cause, the details are at: https://www.mealtrain.com/trains/5ek08z/updates/.

With love and hope,

Daniel P. Finney

Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: 515-371-9453.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

In Marion County, the revolution will be printed

Photo by Anastasia Shuraeva on Pexels.com

Steve Woodhouse sent me a message on Twitter a few days before Christmas.

His message revealed he was crazy.

I’ll elaborate.

He bought a relatively new newspaper called the Marion County Express — a real paper printed on newsprint that can be spread out on the breakfast table or taken to the bathroom to be read on the throne.

Being a journalist in the 21st century is like being an endangered species that is actively hunted. Newspapers aren’t dead yet; they’re more like a hospice patient denied their fentanyl drip.

Greedy Wall Street hustlers gobble up the remains of newspapers large and small. Their finance vampires suck the last of the blood out of papers and let the bodies hit the floor.

Institutions that served their community for 150 years or more die so some billionaires can become fractionally richer.

I don’t blame the corporations or the hedge funds entirely.

I worked for the local newspaper in Des Moines for most of my career.

The digital tools available to editors of newspapers and websites tell people exactly what kinds of stories people want to read.

Here they are:

1. Sports — just the two big universities, not even high schools.

2. Politics, national not local, but the meaner the better.

3. Food and beer, the snobbier the better.

4. Pets, which are the children of the generation that refuses to have children.

5. Salacious crime, especially the kind that can ignite a good race argument or involves a young white woman.

That’s it. Some other stuff will occasionally light up the spreadsheet, but not often.

I tried to do it for four years as a columnist and had so little success that it ripped my guts out.

I took leave several times to sort out my mental health because I truly wondered if I was worth anything at all if I couldn’t be a successful newspaper writer.

The bosses took the column away at the end of 2019. The took my job away in early 2020.

I grieved. I felt like a failure. Then I got some therapy and squared up my head.

I enrolled in graduate school; I start student teaching in a few weeks on my way to becoming a language arts teacher for the second half of my working life.

This brings us to Steve’s message.

I stand by my assessment: He’s whacko.

Newspapers are heartbreakers; this is a heartbreaking time to get into the game.

Half of all journalism jobs disappeared between 1990 and 2020.

Newsrooms cut a quarter of their jobs since the pandemic began.

And Steve wants to dive into the headfirst? Bonkers.

I’ve come to believe newspapers were never as good as I thought they were — and certainly never as good as they led everyone to believe.

I believe in an informed citizenry. I just don’t know how to cope with a citizenry that doesn’t want to be informed.

I remember watching MTV in 1989 when the network was doing a bunch of year-end specials.

Steven Tyler, the lead singer of the band Aerosmith, told an interviewer: “If we had a button on our chest that gave us an orgasm, we’d all press the thing until we passed out.”

That seems to be the republic we want.

News is fine if it confirms what we already believe or makes us angry or keeps us afraid. Put your local TV news on mute sometime and watch the contortions of the anchors’ faces. They look maniacal.

Listen to a weather report about snow. The talk is apocalyptic. It’s all a show designed to keep you watching and clicking.

News should be telling us about our school districts, city councils, and county governments.

Local officials control your schools, police, fire department, paramedics, roads, sewers, libraries, hospitals, and scores of other things that have direct impact on our daily lives.

Presidential politics are important, but it’s not Joe Biden who is going to press the defibrillator paddles on your chest after a heart attack and zap your heart back into rhythm.

One might assume people would care about how well local government is maintaining that equipment and offering training to its departments.

The assumption is wrong.

Instead, we follow presidential politics, where the reporting on the candidates is little more than celebrity gossip mongering.

The idea of issues guiding a campaign is antiquated to the point of absurdity and has been since at least 1960.

Go on YouTube and look up the classic Bob Newhart stand-up comedy routine “Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Avenue.”

After you stop convulsing with laughter, think about presidential elections and you’ll realize his fanciful jokes from more than 60 years ago are our reality.

And yet again Steve wants to buy and run a newspaper in the middle of this nation of hedonists? Looney.

But God bless him, he’s my kind of crazy.

He’s trying to right a wrong. Marion County lost the Pella Chronical and the Knoxville Journal-Express to corporate cutbacks.

He wants to roll up his sleeves and get ink under his fingernails.

So why did he reach out to me?

He wondered if I’d be willing to write a column for the paper.

I said no.

I’ve put that part of my working life to rest.

However, I am a writer. And I have this blog at paragraphstacker.com.

If Steve wanted to pick up posts from my blog, he’s welcomed to publish it.

Maybe you folks in Marion County will like it. I hope so. It’s nice to be liked.

Consider this column just another feature of a great experiment: the Express.

Subscribe and see how it goes.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

Circling back to Lake Superior State University’s ‘banished words’ list, at the end of the day, it makes the new normal tolerable

Lake Superior State University publishes an annual list of “Banished Words.”

The Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, school doesn’t really want to ban words. It wants to curb cliché.

Clutter is the greatest enemy to clarity in language use.

I support any effort to stamp out cliché. Having people saying all the same phrases all the time makes conversation exceptionally dull.

Clichés also give people who are decidedly not clever the impression they are.

Lake Superior State’s 2022 list of words banished “for misuse, overuse, and uselessness” include the phrases “Circle back,” “Asking for a friend,” No worries,” “You’re on Mute,” “New normal,” “Supply chain,” “Deep dive,” “That being said,” and “At the end of the day.”

My favorite banishment on this list is “new normal.”

New normal reminds me of the world “morale.”

Nobody asks people what the morale is of the youth baseball team at the ice cream store.

They ask about morale during war, when people are breaking things and killing people — and being killed — to enforce the political will of their government.

Morale, like new normal, should be governed by the lyrics to a terrific Bruce Cockburn song: “The trouble with normal is it always gets worse.”

Lake Superior State started banishing words in 1976 when a public relations person put out a satirical press release that caught the attention of bored newspaper reporters desperately trying to avoid another story about tax increment financing districts.

The university’s website includes an archive of previously banned words. I poked around for important dates in my life.

I looked at their first edition, 1976, when I was 1.

Banned by Lake Superior State included a “Call for resignation of all sports writers who fail to state clearly in the lead: The winner and the score.”

This was the advice I got as a young reporter in the early 1990s.

Today’s sports writers are writing for an audience who’ve known the score for hours and hunger for analysis that will help them make better fantasy football roster choices.

The university tossed “at this point in time,” which warms my heart.

Winterset had a biology teacher with a habit of repeating this phrase. Some of us kept score on our notebooks how often he said this. He was not amused.

Lake Superior State derided “macho” as “seldom pronounced properly and therefore lacks meaningfulness.”

I always associated the word positively with Burt Reynolds.

Today, “macho” is closely associated with “toxic masculinity,” which is one in a long series of social justice words I hope to see on future lists.

Lake Superior State wanted to trash “Star Wars” in 1985. The school referred to a proposed nuclear defense system that was as much science fiction as the films that preceded it.

In retrospect, I wish they had applied it to “Star Wars” itself, given the low-grade return on most of the movies that followed.

Someone borrowed from George Carlin’s material for a quip about “near miss,” arguing that it should be a “’near hit’ because it didn’t nearly miss, it actually did miss.’”

I was 10 years old in 1985. Ages 9 to 12 are the years, at least in terms of entertainment and friendships, that I look back on as the most halcyon of my youth.

I was too distracted by Nintendo and “G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero” to get caught up in pedantic arguments about banning the use of “read” as a noun or the esoteric “In diesem unseren lande.”

The school says the phrase means “in this, our country,” and was used by German Chancellor Helmet Kohl too often.

Most Americans today couldn’t tell you who the German chancellor was without a Google search.

Even then, I’d wager a dime that they get distracted by texts or the latest outrage video.

Maybe I’m right to romanticize the age. These banished words were more thoughtful than when I graduated high school in 1993.

I cringe at how many of the banished words I used in my life, such as “went ballistic,” “victimless crime,” “win-win” and “bonding.”

Some words refused to their banishment. Political animals still use phrases such as “grass roots” and “gridlock” to describe political movements or lack of political movement.

Some banished words just took on a different spelling. “Downsizing,” for example, became “right-sizing” briefly, and currently lurks through greedy hustler corporations as “separation.”

Sneaky your-out-of-job talk continued in 1997, the year I graduated college.

The university banished “out-sourcing,” which really means firing the people who were doing work for you and hiring another company to do it cheaper, thus unburdening the shareholders with the responsibility to pay people a decent wage with benefits.

“Get a life,” “phone tag,” and “down time” all made the 1997 list, but perhaps I am of this generation, I still use them.

I don’t know how banned “You go, girl” would play in the age of intersectionality. My personal policy is to tread carefully when it comes to race, politics, and gender issues lest I unleash the wrath of bloodthirsty extremists.

I hope we can all agree that banished list from 1997 got one thing right: “La Macarena” should never be heard or seen again unless at a 1990s theme party for children who did not have to live through that novelty song.

Scroll through the lists and find the phrase that seem like you just said or heard them five minutes ago.

“Metrosexual?” Banned in 2004.

“Blue states/red states” and “… and I approve this message” unsuccessfully ejected in 2005.

“GITMO,” a military shorthand for the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison where suspected terrorists are being held. President Barack Obama’s first executive order closed GITMO in 2009. It remains open.

Neither “tweet” nor Twitter came to an end in 2010, but one could make a case the microblogging website continues to contribute to the downfall of our democracy.

The list knocked out a couple of my least favorite cliches with “baby bump” and “pet parent” getting tossed in 2012 and “bucket list” and “trending” (as in social media trends) from 2013.

By 2017, I was too old for trendy words. Lake Superior State stayed on top of things, banning “831,” which apparently means 8 letters, 3 words, 1 one meaning: I love you.

I am not a dad but have a “dadbod,” which the school clipped in 2017 as well.

The pandemic dominated 2020 and 2021’s word bans. “Unprecedented,” “In an abundance of caution,” “social distancing,” “In these uncertain times,” and “we’re all in this together” got the hook last year.

I won’t guess on what words get the Lake Superior State ban in 2023, but here’s a few I hope never to make the list:

  1. Read a book offline.
  2. Gather with friends and family and without devices.
  3. Embrace silence.
  4. Observe nature.
  5. Tell people you love them often.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.