Archive for April, 2010

Quick Hit

April 30, 2010

Spent the day working my way through an endless list of “Things To Do,” none of which would interest anyone on the planet, including me.

A few mini-mini observations.

  • We’ve lost two unsung heroes from the Civil Rights movement. I knew almost nothing about either of them because they worked behind the scenes but accomplished as much as the folks in front of the cameras. May you both rest in peace.
    • Robert Hicks defied the Klan and MLK’s non-violence. He stood up to the police, to racists, to power generally at a time when fear ruled the South. He died April 13 at 81, not of a racist or policeman’s bullet but of cancer. Throughout the early days of the struggle he gave courage and the will to fight to a great many of the disillusioned.
    • In some ways Dorothy Height, who died a week later, was Hicks’ antithesis. She headed two very middle-class black women’s organizations – the National Council of Negro Women (which never changed its name) and the National Women’s Political Caucus. Even though the first commentary on Ms. Height was always about her “crown,” her signature hat du jour, her real impact was in building bridges for women as much as for black generally.
  • First Church multiplies the love by having online readers submit their Mom-inspired .
  • About the oil spill in the Gulf: Save the oysters!
  • Isis has abandoned dry food, so I’ve got to do a major shop of wet food, my local Stop & Shop being out of two of her favorite flavors.
  • The shad are swimming in the Connecticut River. Stay tuned for the best stuff – Ma’s baked stuffed version, blackened from Cypress, and if I get it together, smoked – maybe for paté, though I’ll probably wait for blue fish season, which should be here next week if this $*(*%$A#%$# weather keeps up.
    • It was supposed to be beautiful and 60 today. Weather forecasters neglected to mention the 40-plus mph winds that closed roads knocked out power to 10,000 or more folks around the state and not mostly in Fairfield County where the hedge funders won’t let the power company trim the trees. Question: If the power is out and there’s no generator, the computer and phone will work for a while but what to do for a wireless connection?

Whiter Shade of Pale

April 29, 2010

(Thanks, Procol Harem)

Quick note the first: Loving the congressman from Nevada who took umbrage at the comparison between Wall Street and the casinos, saying it was an insult to the casinos.

Quick note the second: That cover on Laura Bush’s book looks like she’s part of the Twilight series.

Quick note the third: Many “real” journalists seem to agree that Jason Chen is a journalist. Bloggasm did its homework on this issue.

Now to the main topic. Until recently I thought “Stuff White People Like” was a joke (See “Black Blogs,” November 12, 2009). It’s written by a white guy, a Canadian no less, mocking stuff other white people like but the rest of us (and many white people) think is slightly nuts – like camping (sorry, Nancy). Some of the stuff was a bit outrageous. I mean, he put coffee first on his list. Where did coffee originate? Africa. Oh, well.

But things have gone from funny to scary. Glen Beck said President Obama hates “white culture” and refused to define “white culture” because he was sure he’d be accused of the same racism he sees in Obama. Paranoid, are we?

These observations came at the beginning of a terrific review of two books in the April 12 issue of The New Yorker. I had intended to blog about that column alone but was further inspired because of an essay by a history professor who urged white people to change the subject when the subject is race. Andrew M. Manis writes eloquently and well. But the ad hominem, racist comments that followed merely proved his point. People who disagree but can’t express themselves without resorting to name-calling should be banned from the Web. Yes, I know that’s contrary to my generally blanket support for free speech rights, but hate speech has always been an exception to the rule.

So to walk through the topic. Kelefa Sanneh’s review is more a commentary on the state of race relations in the country than a mere critique of the books. The report is that things are not so good and may be deteriorating. He observes that whiteness is a false construct that won’t go away. He builds his argument first around Searching for Whitopia, a black man’s experiences in some of the whitest places in the country. It seems the divide has worsened since Rich Benjamin completed his research in the late years of the Bush administration.

The thesis for the review is that whiteness is an artificial construct, a point that Nell Irvin Painter makes in her History of White People, the second book in Sanneh’s review. She takes the worldwide view – beginning in ancient Greece, traveling through the Caucasus, and so forth to present-day America, where she seems to think that whiteness has changed its spots (sorry for the pun) by becoming less of a marker than class or economic status. If that’s the case, people wouldn’t be so angry about Manis’s “When Are WE Going to Get Over It?” I’m not making any comment on the substance of his argument that white people in America need to truly change their attitudes about race. (I’m as qualified to comment on this subject as the pope is to comment on marriage. It may not stop him but it will stop me.) What I’m upset about is that the untutored told him to get plastic surgery and dye his skin, said he wasn’t a true white man, and so forth. They proved the overall point that less has changed in the 400 years since the first boatload of Africans arrived in Virginia than the rest of us optimists like to believe.

The comments reflect the ignorance and racism (read fear) of many of Manis’s readers. Telling him to get cosmetic surgery and calling him coward does nothing to advance the argument. I was pleased to see that his defenders were far more literate than his detractors. They wrote in complete sentences without howling grammatical errors, always an indicator of some credibility.

‘You Got Some ’Splainin’ To Do’

April 28, 2010

The case of the missing iPhone gets curiouser and curiouser. (Thanks to Desi Arnez and Lewis Carroll for the headline and lede.)

Let me see if I understand the scenario. The original story said that a drunken Apple employee left the phone in a bar. Someone brought it to Gizmodo, which paid $5,000 for it, photographed it, blogged about and then returned it to Apple after Steve Jobs demanded its return.

Today’s version of the story says that police in San Mateo County executed a search warrant Friday night and seized four computers and two servers from the home of blogger Jason Chen, who wrote about the iPhone.

I’m not the first to point out that what we have here is more than one big problem. (Partial nod to “Cool Hand Luke.”)

  • The search warrant said it had to be executed in the daytime. Chen was out to dinner with his wife and returned home at about quarter of ten while the police were still there.
  • The warrant said the computers and servers were “used as the means of committing a felony” and that they tended to show “that a felony has been committed or that a particular person has committed a felony.” Chen’s editor was on record saying that when the money changed hands the folks at Gizmodo didn’t know the phone was stolen. In fact there was nothing in the original story to hint that a theft had occurred. To the contrary, the person who sold it to Gizmodo seemed to be trying to return the phone, but Apple support gave him a ticket number. So it had to wait around until the thing surfaced. It took three weeks.
  • Sidebar: A commenter on NPR said that what Gizmodo did was comparable to stealing someone’s laptop and publishing all the photos and other information on line. Problems with this analogy abound. Two obvious ones: Gizmodo didn’t steal anything. It’s in the position of the innocent art broker who buys a painting that seems to have a legitimate provenance, then displays it (but doesn’t sell it) in a gallery. Gizmodo did not display the contents because Apple wiped it. What’s up on the web is the phone’s hardware, which in the example would be analogous to showing the case, the wall paper, and the keyboard. What’s the problem with that?
  • Sidebar the second: Apple is one of the companies that trains and supports the cops who executed the warrant. I’ve feeling the DA will have some ‘splainin’ to do.
  • Here’s my favorite part, Gizmodo’s parent company Gawker, declared Chen a journalist before the warrant issued. This incident is another skirmish in the battle over whether bloggers are “real” journalists. Bring on the lawyers. The California Shield Law, so-called, protects people “connected with or employed by a newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication.”  A later section added radio or television news reporters. The law of course was written before blogging existed, but these sorts of statutes are generally construed liberally because of the potential threat to First Amendment rights. In this case Chen was gathering, analyzing and publishing information even if it wasn’t in the form of dead trees and ink or analog images. My bet is that a judge will rule that Chen is protected, though I won’t put odds on how the U.S. Supreme Court will rule.

Coda: I second a commenter on Slate, next time I lose my cell phone, I’m callin’ the cops to bust into the house of someone they think might have had some connection to someone who might have stolen it. Got that?

Oprah Joins the Chorus

April 27, 2010

Quick observation: Noted with pleasure that Random House has decided not to steal electronic rights from the family of William Styron. Random still  has its claws in the rest of us.

“Dnt Txt N Drv” thrilled me. Oprah has lent her powerful voice to the chorus of officials, entertainers, and just plain folks who want to ban cell phone use while driving, especially texting.

The distracted driving statistics she cited include far more than cell phones. GPS, etc. I get, but video games?! Come on, people, what piece of one’s brain has to be missing to think that anyone can successfully drive and kill the bad guys in “World of Warcraft”?

It was amusing that NPR featured a segment on “Weekend Edition” about California’s proposal to ban texting while riding a bike. Come on, people, what piece of one’s brain has to be missing to think that anyone can successfully ride a bike (up hill in San Francisco) while focusing on a small device that one has to hold with both hands and punch with two thumbs?

I’ve written about distracted driving before (“Zombies and Tech Stuff,” November 3, 2009 and “Driving While Dialing,” February 4, 2009.) Nothing seems to have changed. Even Connecticut’s newest push for tougher enforcement of its law hasn’t decreased the crime. At least not yet, based on what Larry and I have seen in our travels around central Connecticut.

NPR Swims in Sludge

April 25, 2010

Meant to post this Thursday. It’s a great crunk but inexcusable. Sub-headline from the Los Angeles Times.

Meant to post the rest of this entry on Friday, but got so wound up in I don’t know what that it was 10:30 ??? and my eyes couldn’t focus enough to read it through. Not sure whose idea it was to pollute the airwaves at NPR with Tina Brown. She pontificates every few months on “what she’s reading – and what’s made an impression.” How insipid. Her recent theme was excess. I thought we might escape via the high road with her first selection, The Greatest Trade Ever by Gregory Zuckerman. The anti-hero, John Paulson, gives the lie to the honchos who said that no one could foresee the collapse of the housing market. Paulson did and laughed all the way to the now crashing bank with his share of the oversized profits. Those stories of Wall Street excess offend and sicken, but at least one can learn something from them.

The other two pieces forced me turn off the radio. I ditched the second one and thought I was clear but had the misfortune to catch the last segment an hour later. Tina brought on the first turn off with her discourse on “Rachel Uchitel Is Not A Madam,” a story in New York Magazine about the procuress, excuse me, hostess at a VIP club who finds girls for the likes of Tiger Woods. I have pretty well managed to avoid all that sordid nonsense, and I really didn’t want to hear any variation of it on NPR, especially before I’d finished my first cup of coffee.

Then an hour later, when I was on the road and thought I’d hear some other piece, Tina dredged up even dreck. This one is being told in a book Tina is publishing about Amanda Knox, the college convicted of murdering her roommate in Italy. The trial brought out all the worst in American jingoism with the tabloids hyping the sordid details of life on the dark side in Perugia, a town previously best known for its chocolate. Beast Books now feels it necessary to crawl in the sewer to dredge up gory, disgusting details, and no, I don’t know what they are. I’m relying on Tina’s characterization.

I missed the fourth segment on people with big egos who seek political office, thank the deities.

Wound Up

April 24, 2010

Got too wound up to finish. Will file tomorrow.

Thank You

April 23, 2010

As noted it’s Volunteer Week so Middlesex Hospital hosted its annual dinner. Larry and I went, knowing that we’d know almost no one. We didn’t, but it didn’t matter. With 500 people, almost no one knew anyone. The incoming CEO said this small (circa 300 beds) hospital had 700 volunteers. If the dinner is any indication, we show up.

The evening did have its total delights — seeing Sue, who trained me, win a pin for serving 1,000; running into Bobbi, whom I’ve known since we worked together at the Middletown Press who is starting as a volunteer on Monday; seeing the name of Peter, my former boss, on the 1,000 volunteer list; enjoying a conversation with a colleague of Larry’s sister (God bless the man who teaches seventh graders!). His wife works in the ER, and he was among the “lost” husbands who managed to bond.

The program was delightful in being much too short. I would love to have heard more from the in-coming CEO. But we suffered from lack of service. I had been to Riverhouse in Haddam once before for a fund-raiser. With a buffet, a speaker and overall relaxation, it felt right. This was wrong. There were 500 people and eight servers. A few puny hors d’oeuvres. Doors opened promptly at 6:30 for dinner. Kate welcomed everyone and food started arriving. It was soup that I couldn’t eat. Who makes minestrone with beef? A lo-o-ong wait and then an overly garlicky Caesar salad arrived. An even longer wait and the few servers began arriving with the food. We had finished our entrees by the time the table next to us was served. One of the servers bumped into Larry  three times, never said a word. Many of the guests left as soon as the speeches and acknowledgments were over, and by the time I got my tea after the coffee had been cleared we were the second to last table to leave.

But I will cherish Dennis McCann, the hospital chaplain, who delivered the most eloquent prayer. He acknowledged the volunteers and inspired us with the energy of love and praise. More important for me he prayed that our energy and healing would go out to the victims of the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile and to people suffering all over the world. Thank you, Dennis, for increasing our benefits with love.

I know the hospital benefits from our time, but I feel that I get back as more than I give.

Quick Hit

April 22, 2010

Today will be a quick hit with observations on a few items because I’ve got to plan for my trip to Hartford tomorrow.

  • It’s National Volunteer Week so Larry and I are going to the volunteer dinner at the hospital. We missed last year because I scratched my cornea. Have heard the food is terrific. Full report to follow.
  • Apple’s iPhone bruhaha is on the borderline of being free publicity. The only thing that keeps it from falling over the edge is that Apple demanded the phone back and then didn’t comment. To keep the publicity machine grinding it would have had to deny, deny, deny. Anyway, the phone doesn’t look much different from the current version and based on experience with friends and family who have them, ATT needs a vast improvement in its grid before these little wonder phones really function up to par. I’ve heard too many dropped calls to be interested in switching. For the moment I’m sticking to “Can you hear me now?”
  • Met a shih-tzu yesterday with such long hair that when he was lying down you couldn’t tell which end was which.
  • Isis’s food consumption has dropped precipitously since her vet trauma: no dry food, not even favorite crunchies and about a quarter of the amount of wet food.
  • Based on the lilacs that will be in full bloom this weekend, we are two and half weeks ahead of schedule. Our lawn has been littered with confederate violets (where did that name come from?) and dandelions. Larry mowing them down. Again, no one in central Connecticut can remember that laws needed mowing this early in the season. And my allergic reaction to trees, grass, etc. is about two and a half times worse than usual. Sneeze. Hack.

A Dangerous Fashion Mash

April 21, 2010

Polyvore could destroy my already shaky work habits. It’s one of those things that makes one wonder “What took so long?” And it also makes me realize that I could waste hours a day putting stuff together.

The idea is that netizennes can browse twenty sites and an equal number of trends, brands and celebrities (some dead and one or two male) to mix and match outfits before making a purchase – or just for fun. Polyvores share their outfit mashups or request suggestions and other ‘vores comment.

Of course many of the prices are beyond ridiculous ($1,200 for a pair of super high spike heels with Swarovski crystals ). Conversely I found a pair of cute, practical sandals for $9.99. Now that’s more my style.

The ’vores can be equally beyond ridiculous, saying that price doesn’t matter on a request for advice about what to wear with a pair of Nine West boots. The first suggestion was totally practical, though, saying that Ms. Vore should find stuff in her closet.

I’m tempted by some of those outrageous high heels, but I know I’d never wear them. So here’s my draft. Haven’t done the mashup yet. Total cost at this point: just shy of $1,000. (glasses $215, earrings $80, sandals $83, jeans $169, necklace $25, sweater $370, plaid blouse $53),  plus a ridiculous amount for shipping since some of the stuff comes from the UK. That’s more than four years’ worth of purchases in years when I’m feeling rich.

Shop on!

Great Egg

April 20, 2010

Two quick updates. Isis has almost recovered from her trip to the vet last Monday. It took her till Saturday to overcome her constipation. She’s still not used to the short nails and isn’t quite back on her regular eating schedule. She’s nibbling at dry food and eating small quantities of wet food. We hope she returns to her usual good health soon.

The following mistake has to be the crunk of the year (See “Regret the Error,” December 19, 2008). It comes courtesy of Publishers Lunch. “As for the strangest and most embarrassing international news story, Penguin Australia reprinted 7,000 copies of the “Pasta Bible due to a horrible typo. A recipe mistakenly called for “salt and freshly ground black people” instead of “pepper.” Ouch!

Now for the main topic. Larry brought home some local eggs recently. They came from chickens that belong to one of his Vietnam buddies. I hadn’t had an omelet in ages and so decided to try them. I knew I was in for something different when I had to smack the first one three times on the marble to break the shell. Those babies could withstand a fall from a three-story building!

Then I knew I’d be in for a treat when I saw the bright orange yoke standing like a little pillow – nothing like the flat, anemic yellow from the store-bought eggs. The whites on these clung to the eggs in the bowl, and I had to whip them pretty severely to achieve omelet consistency.

I figured they would have a terrific flavor all their own, so all I added was a little salt, a grind of fresh pepper (not people) and a pinch of herbes de Provence.

The result was fabulous. The only thing I can compare it to is the difference between a tomato picked fresh from the garden and those pinkish, thick-skinned things that have sat in warehouses and in long-haul trucks before they arrive at the grocery store. The eggs had the flavor of sunshine, and the scent of new-mown grass, and that indefinable something that screams these eggs were laid by healthy, happy chickens.

I think Larry thought I’d lost my mind (not for the first time). I told him that we should start buying all our eggs from Steve, though I don’t know if he has enough chickens to share regularly. I’d even wait for deliveries. Larry doubted my word until he tried the Great Egg for himself. He’s now a believer. We’ve placed the call and are waiting for a reply.