Archive for July, 2010

Sushi Friday IV

July 31, 2010

Japanica II

852 Washington Street

Middletown, CT 06457


I’ve broken my promise to review one sushi place a month over and over. The last review was in March. I’ll try to do better from now on.

The original Japanica is in Farmington, and I’ve never been there. The Middletown version is among my favorite sushi restaurants.

What I like: It’s in the same plaza with Staples with lots of easy parking.

It’s quiet.

It’s traditional looking with booths that have curtains one can close for privacy.

It lacks the hibachi tables that seem to occasion noise and smell in other places.

The very tall young chef is extremely polite and quiet. If he knows his patrons, he offers a small dish to start the meal. This is usually an improvement on kani salad with little pieces of tuna and salmon, accompanied by julienned cucumber in a sauce of vinegar. He dyed his hair blond a while back and spent most of my lunch hour on his cell when he wasn’t cutting fish. I wondered if a girlfriend was involved …

The place offers impeccable, unobtrusive service mostly from a shy young woman. The one time she forgot to bring soy sauce she seemed absolutely humiliated.

The waitress and the sushi chef share their tips so there’s none of the hassle about splitting things up that happens at other places.

The sashimi lunch. Good miso with a healthy amount of seaweed and tofu; the usual salad with slightly more julienned red cabbage and carrots than other places; four pieces of Cali roll; rice and eight pieces of sashimi, usually two each of escolar, yellowfin, tuna and salmon. All the fish is absolutely fresh. The usual condiment of pickled ginger gets a lift from takuan, little chunks of pickled daikon, which I adore.

The price is lower than other places and offers somewhat more food.

Music is Asian inspired and unobtrusive.

A couple of weeks ago as I recovered from a gastric upset, I was craving vegetable maki, and I ordered Japanica vegetable maki (mushroom, two types of pickles, two types of seaweed asparagus and rice) and a green river roll (asparagus, cucumber, avocado, rice and seaweed.) With a bowl of their miso, it was a perfect meal.

What I don’t like: It’s in the same plaza with Staples, which is too much of a temptation.

It can be too, too quiet when Wesleyan isn’t in session.

The TV, which is always tuned to ESPN. The one time I went in and it was off, the sushi chef turned it on as soon as I sat down.

When I ordered a different luncheon special from a different chef, if I remember, I was disappointed. The spicy yellowtail maki was OK, but the Boston roll (fake crab, shrimp, avocado, Boston lettuce, caviar, and mayo, rice and seaweed on the outside) was lacking most of the fish.

Overall score: B+

In Style I

July 30, 2010

The August issue of In Style fell into my hands at a recent trip to the manicurist. (I forgot my rule – reading material, never leave home without it.) I was actually reading about extending the manicure when I had to put down the magazine. But I had read enough to find good advice, fun stuff and some truly wacky ideas that I decided to spend the $5 and buy one for my very own. So while I’m beating my brains out on various projects I’ll blog my experiments with hair, nails, etc. I’ve got to buy a few things – a very few things. This is an experiment-free installment.

Usually I flip through magazines from back to front. For some reason I started this one from the front, and the first thing that caught my eye was the reader poll. The question: “Do you play by the rules?” The topics involved makeup, clothing, jewelry and etiquette.

Here’s my take on the rules and the readers’ answers:

  • Never wear white to a wedding. More than three-quarters of the readers said they follow the rule. I agree with the majority unless you are the flower girl, in which case you’re too young to be reading In Style.
  • Attend “a cocktail party or formal affair” in flats. More than two-thirds break the rule. I didn’t know it was a rule, but if it is, I concur. The dissenters seem to think that all heels are uncomfortable and that one can’t “dress up” without them. Wrong.
  • Apply lipstick in public. A whopping eight-four percent break the rule. I don’t wear lipstick (or as they call it lip “color”) except at Halloween. I thought that touching up was the only “grooming” permitted a lady in public and she only did it at the dinner table following a meal.
  • Matching accessories. An even greater eighty-nine percent “freestyle.” Again, I didn’t know it was a rule, and I don’t own enough accessories to match shoes, handbags, belt and jewelry. Even some of the outfits in the magazine broke this rule, for goodness sake.
  • That eighty-nine percent tied with the eighty-nine on whether women over thirty should wear miniskirts. Again, this is a rule?! Did they take a look at Angelina Jolie? Or even on their own pages, Courteney Cox? The line used to be “the legs are the last thing to go,” which means you flaunt them as long as possible. I seem to remember some designer (Isaac Mizrahi?) saying women should shorten, not lengthen, their skirts.
  • I was disappointed in the ratings to what I regard as the most important poll item: “A proper thank-you not is handwritten, never e-mailed.” Sixty-six percent of respondents said they follow it: “Taking the time to write, seal, stamp and mail is the ultimate expression of true gratitude.” The thirty-four percent who e-mail said it’s “the new norm.” I beg to differ. Good manners are always the norm, and if someone has gone to the trouble to purchase a gift, prepare a meal, play hostess, or whatever, she deserves a handwritten note at the very least. The only time I would say an email is acceptable is if the gift or whatever is also electronic – i.e. an e-birthday card, or an e-book. In then end suppose, though, some acknowledgment is better than none. My mother, who was my arbiter in all things etiquette, would concur.

Unrealistic Expectations

July 29, 2010

Having read the stories in CT Mirror and the Courant I don’t understand how the state’s leaders could possibly have expected Connecticut to be a finalist for the Race to the Top.

When we lost out in the first round of funding last year, state officials engaged in a race to the mediocre by passing a bunch of legislation aimed specifically at getting money from the feds even as they paid lip service to actually improving education.

Now everyone seems to be racing to blame everyone else. Congressional leaders are complaining about the program itself; state legislators in the Democratic party are threatening to delay implementation of the reforms they voted through in the spring; Republican legislators are saying the Dems didn’t go far enough; the state education commissioner is “disappointed.”

The one thing that would probably gain Connecticut the money is the one thing that no one in this state will ever have the guts to do: Take all the money from all the municipalities and school districts, put it in one big pool, and divide the state into regions of equal size and give everyone the same amount. If anyone proposed this, towns like Darien and New Canaan would secede. Even under the gun of Sheff vs. O’Neill, the lawsuit over racial disparities in public education, no one dared to proffer that solution. (My newspaper colleagues and I predicted when the suit started that Milo Sheff, who was in grade school at the time, would be in a nursing home by the time the case was resolved. My prediction holds. He’s now in his thirties.)

Even after the Wall Street implosion of 2008, Connecticut is still the wealthiest state in the country. We have fabulous public schools that send students to top colleges year after year. We also have Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven, etc., etc., where children struggle in physical plants that should have been torn down long ago, read from ancient textbooks, and suffer from a general lack of resources. The lack of local taxes to support education and stinginess on the part of the rest of the state sends the message: “We don’t really care whether you learn or not.” These cities graduate students who are unable to read or to do basic arithmetic. The proposals don’t get at the root of the problem, which is children who begin school without adequate nutrition, health care, or family structure that will enable them to learn. Increasing requirements for high school graduation will accomplish nothing if fewer students are able to achieve the goals.

Did our state officials really believe that slapping together a plan between January and the end of May would gain them a share of the $3.4 billion in federal money?

Mezzo Grille

July 28, 2010

Quick update to be filed under category of half a loaf is better … : Mississippi Public Broadcasting has partially seen the error of its ways and is reinstating Fresh Air but at 9 p.m. rather than 3 p.m. And it will have an adult content warning, which I’m sure will thrill everyone who tunes in to listen to, for example, today’s show on the process surrounding Wikileaks and the publication of the war documents. Love this take on the adult-content warnings. The Car Talk guys probably do need such a warning, not because of anything dirty but because of the egregiously bad jokes that are likely to contaminate young minds.

Now to the main topic: Larry and I were disappointed when we learned that Fishbone Café on Court Street in Middletown had closed. We knew it had problems. Many of our friends refused to eat there because they thought the food was dreadful. We had great experiences on every one of the dozen or so occasions that we ate there, except for one incident of poor service from a waitress. Looking back, I wonder if we received better treatment because the owners grew up with Larry and know his entire family.

Anyway, the place has a new name and new owners. I stopped in a couple of weeks ago with Deb when Mezzo Grille was having “soft” opening, serving customers but without any splashy announcements. While we were there we learned that the place now has seven owners, which we are predicting does not bode well for smooth management.

Mezzo Grille offers a gorgeous mise en scène with black and chrome on the walls and on the menus. A scattering of flowers and a large painting that seems to have been left over from Fishbone add color, as do the translucent, multicolored squares of light high on the rear wall. The plates, many of which are square or rectangular, in black and beige and white, offset the food in a spectacular fashion. The only drawback is the world’s biggest television screen, which can actually become nine screens. If you happen to be sitting within range and don’t have ADD when you arrive, you will by the time you leave.

Deb and I and a couple of friends sampled a plate of calamari, which I use as a measure of excellence. It was OK. The rings fell over into chewiness, which indicates overcooking, but the tentacles survived. The manager told us that the breading came from graham crackers and that the sauce was already added. The combination made for a rather slippery presentation. The lack of sauce on the side meant that those of us who like it spicy had to settle for bland.

The new young bartender was utterly daunted by an unopened wine bottle. She stared at it for a while and then demonstrated that she didn’t really know how to use a corkscrew. No one seemed to know how operate the cash register, which was a touch-screen computer. The company rep (or another owner?) stayed behind the bar the entire time we were there.

I reported all this to Larry and we decided to wait a couple of weeks before going for dinner. Things looked promising when we arrived on Saturday: The place was busy and filled with noise, mostly because there is nothing on the walls, floor or ceiling to absorb sound. The volume inside even drowned out the live band outside. Our waitress was excellent, though something was still wrong behind the bar because we waited for our drinks. Our appetizer arrived almost as soon as we ordered, followed by the entrées before I was half finished with the app. That kind of thing should sort itself out with time.

Said appetizer was a house salad: mixed greens with mandarin oranges, red onion, and goat cheese with a vinaigrette dressing. An excellent blend of sweet, sour, bitter, and bland. The Italian bread, served warm, had a delicious coating of herbs on the crust but also enough olive oil to leave my hands a greasy mess.

The preliminaries raised our expectations, which were not fulfilled, alas. I ordered Lobster Bolognaise, a terrific looking pile of ribbons of  fresh pasta, a sufficiency of lobster and carmelized fennel and carrots, and a dollop of ricotta cheese. The dish unfortunately lacked flavor and the carmelization had in many areas leaped over into burnt. The heavy use of olive oil and the winter vegetables made it a dish that should be served in the cold of winter, not the heat of a summer’s evening. A few dashes of tarragon or other seasoning would have improved it immeasurably.

Larry ordered pork tenderloin. The six pieces of meat arrived over a bed of sweet potatoes. The menu said it included blackberry mole, but I didn’t see any sign of it. He said it was “OK,” ate four pieces of the meat and brought the rest home. Last I checked it was still sitting in the refrigerator, which does not say much about its appeal. I ate as much of mine as I could and declined to take the rest, something I would never dream of doing at most of the other area restaurants.

In spite of the disappointment we will give it another try in a month or so.

What I’m Reading Now

July 27, 2010

Before I launch into the review of a book that I should have finished months ago, here is a link to an excellent web site that contains terrific information about my mother.

And thanks to Consciousness and Spirituality for the trackback on my music for Reiki entry. The July 22 post is enlightening in more ways than one.

I was supposed to complete Reading Lolita in Tehran while I was in California last fall. That my deadline extended into the third week in July is either a testament to my very slow reading (not the case) or my easy distractability (very much the case). However, having finished it I do want to do justice to a magnificent literary work. I’ve already commented briefly (See “What I’m Reading Now” ).

Azar Nafisi gave her book the subtitle A Memoir in Books, but it is far more than that. It is a meditation on life at the end of the twentieth century for a people with a long heritage of literature and refinement whose leaders are driving them slowly back into the Dark Ages. She frames her experience of the Iranian revolution with discussions of the fiction by three giants of Western literature: Vladimir Nabokov, Henry James, and Jane Austen. With Nabokov as her opening, Nafisi communicates the hopefulness of the early days of the revolution when leftists felt they could rid themselves of the shah and institute a more equitable society. By the end, when she adds Austen’s heroines to the mix, Nafisi and her students have been forced to meet in secret, and she is preparing to flee her beloved homeland because she can no longer tolerate the brutal laws that are being  enforced by beatings, imprisonment, and death.

Even though she uses the revolution as a backdrop, Nafisi makes clear within the first fifty pages that she is drawing no direct parallels between the creepy rapist Humbert Humbert and the ayatollah. Rather the exploration of Lolita allows these women who trapped by a totalitarian regime to uncover their own feelings. The study of Nabokov, of Daisy Miller et al. and of Pride and Prejudice frees them in a great many ways and allows at least some of them to escape, either figuratively or literally.

Nafisi uses texts by other authors besides the three principals – and in each case brings an exquisite insight. She stirs in some Fitzgerald, Bellow, and a bit of Flaubert along the way. The discussion of these authors waxes among the half-dozen young women (and sometimes one young man) who had been her students at the university that she was forced to leave. They meet at her house and begin their discussion with A Thousand and One Nights. Here is what Nafisi says of the intent of her classes: “I formulated certain general questions … the most central of which was how these great works of imagination could help us in our present trapped situation as women. We were not looking for blueprints, for an easy solution, but we did hope to find a link between the open spaces the novels provided and the closed ones we were confined to.”

The key to the book appears on page 224, where she discusses the inability of Catherine Sloper’s father to understand her. Henry James has created in this Washington Square character a man whom Nafisi says commits the “most unforgivable crime in fiction – blindness. … This respect for others, empathy, lies at the heart of the novel. It is the quality that links Austen to Flaubert to James to Nabokov and Bellow.” Their villains, she says, all share the lack of ability to understand their fellow creatures. I would add that several of Austen’s heroines also lack the quality but develop it as the narratives progress. And of course blindness defines the rulers that came to replace the shah. How much irony can one find in the fact that the chief censor lacked his eyesight?

From Nafisi’s discussions of empathy and detailed analysis of the novels, I gained affirmation of my own feelings as well: “The highest form of morality is not to feel at home in one’s own home.” Theodor Adorno was writing of country as home (he left Germany in the 1930s and did not return until after the end of the war. I have felt the same about the United States since my teens and see no possibility that my views will change any time soon.

As Reading Lolita proceeds, the Iranian revolution expands its assault on personal freedoms. Women are forced to wear the veil and are increasingly excluded from jobs outside the home, Nafisi says she feels “light and fictional, as if I were walking on air, as If I had been written into being and then erased in one quick swipe.” I understand how she feels, though the erasure usually feels slow and painful, not quick.

One of her students asks why tragedies such as Lolita and Madame Bovary make us happy. Nafisi essays an answer but finds it unsatisfactory. Honey, you women from Iran ain’t never heard the blues, the real gut-bucket, down on your luck, down home blues, backed up by an acoustic guitar and maybe a harmonica. The music from the Delta always leaves the listener with a smile in her heart.

As I began to appreciate once more the brilliance of Nabokov and learn or re-learn Henry James (I’m a little weak on that score except for Washington Square and The Portrait of a Lady), I was most looking forward to the section on Jane Austen because of my adoration of her novels (see “Austen vs. Gaskell,”   “Glorious Day II,” “Killer Jane,” and because I know her works far better than those of James or Nabokov. I was disappointed that she spent so little time on Lizzie and Darcy and Emma and Mr. Knightley. On the one hand I understood that circumstances her life had taken on larger and larger significance and that she was moving toward that inevitable decision to leave; on the other I truly wanted more of “What would Jane have thought?” There was one brief discussion of the benefits of arranged marriages, even arranged “temporary” marriages. But they never did answer the most outrageous. I really don’t think an Islamic version of P&P would have opened, as one of the students claimed: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Muslim man, regardless of his fortune, must be in want of a nine-year-old virgin wife.” However, Nafisi never answers the question of what Austen would have thought of the idea of child brides.

But Nafisi redeems herself with a brilliant analysis of P&P as a “dance and digression.” I could picture the minuets and the less formal country dances as Lizzie and Jane and Darcy and Bingley moved through their turns. I am glad, however, that I had read the novel before I encountered Nafisi’s insights. The pages following, too, contain some of the most passionate writing on the subject of the freedom to make choices.

Something I don’t understand: She says that novels have a democratic structure. Does she mean that only democratic societies can produce such works? I doubt it because otherwise we would not have War and Peace or the works of Victor Hugo, to give two obvious examples. She means, I think, that long-form fiction allows for a multiplicity of voices and points of view. Add to the many characters marching across the pages, the potential for a wide range of time and place within the pages of a single work and the reader can truly experience democracy even in the confines of a dark hallway with the percussion of bombs and scream of rescue vehicles roaring through the night.

I love little things about the book as much as the big ones: The playfulness with which Nafisi and her students use language – “upsilamba,” and “poshlust” – delighted the writer in me.

I also have a few minor quibbles, too: Henry James was born in 1843 so he was not “still very young” when he witnessed the Civil War. And while I concur that Charlotte Brontë is a “perfectly good novelist” [p. 304], Austen is far more than that. She is a genius.

Mississippi Doesn’t Deserve Fresh Air

July 24, 2010

First, RIP, Dan Schorr. CBS was the poorer for your departure, but NPR gained immeasurably. Anyone who was an enemy of Richard Nixon is a friend of mine. Your thoughtful perspective on the news and your long view of history, much of which you lived, have enlightened many of my days. We will never see your like again.

Given the circumstances under which Mr. Schorr left CBS, it is ironically appropriate that today’s topic has to do with suppression.

Mississippi Public Broadcasting has banned the award-winning and insightful radio program Fresh Air. As nearly as I can reconstruct it events happened this way:

July 7: The raunchy and outrageous Louis CK appears as a guest on Fresh Air. He tells host Terry Gross that he always has sex with his shirt on and goes into a few more not very graphic details. Here is the text of the interview. courtesy of Gawker. I especially like the comment that MPB had to ban the show because no one has sex in Mississippi and there are no unattractive or overweight people there, either.

Same day: A caller to the station, who had heard the comments while on phone hold, reportedly complains.

July 8: The radio director emails a listener saying that the show was cancelled “due to recurring inappropriate content” without further elaboration.

July 12: The MPB executive director issues a statement saying that the decision was reached “after careful consideration” because Fresh Air’s interviews include gratuitous discussions on issue of “an explicitly sexual nature.”

Speculation rises that it was the July 8 interview with Lisa Cholodenko about “The Kids Are Alright,”  which concerns a happy family of two lesbians and two children and the return of the sperm donor who fathered them. (Yes, that’s the way the CD and the movie spell “all right.” Apparently Microsoft Word doesn’t know the difference, either.)

July 15: An MPB reporter leaks a copy of the memo to the Jackson Free Press

July 16: MPB fires the reporter.

From then till now: Listeners in Mississippi express outrage. Many pull their contributions to the station and say they plan to listen to stations in other states.

Earlier: MPB dropped Fresh Air before but reinstated in December 2009 with the following announcement: “Fresh Air” discusses a variety of topics dealing with contemporary arts and issues. It is hosted by Terry Gross, who takes time conducting in-depth interviews with guests ranging from authors, artists, TV writers, historians, musicians, scientists, filmmakers, politicians, actors, and other individuals. Gross is also joined by panels of experts who complement each unique interview. “Fresh Air” boasts more than four million listeners weekly.”

For the record, for every Louis CK who appears on Fresh Air, there are four, five or six insightful interviews with authors, economists, physicians, scientists and so forth. Here’s a sampling over the past two weeks: Wikileaks, a psychiatrist prescribes more talk therapy and fewer drugs, former Poet Laureate Billy Collins discussing Emily Dickinson, preceded by Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin, an analysis of the financial reform bill, the endurance of malaria.

Mississippi listeners need more Fresh Air, not less. But with the closed minds that run MPB have sucked the oxygen out of the atmosphere.

Quick P.S.: We’re having one of those weather inversions that cause truly amazing things to happen to radio waves. I was trying to get a news update. My normal AM stations (weather and traffic every 10 minutes) are 1080 in Hartford and 880 in New York, They both have baseball games and so are lying about their updates. But I was able to hear 900 AM from Hamilton, Ontario. where it’s 27 degrees; 1210 out of Philadelphia, where it’s 90. Still looking for the mega-watt WWVA in Wheeling, W. Va. As a little kid I used to be able to hear “Plastic Jesus” almost every night during the summer. But we don’t have metal dashboards anymore, so maybe the station went out of business.

A World of Stories

July 23, 2010

Following yesterday’s weather terror, Larry and I forged ahead into West Hartford for our annual collaboration of AIMI/NDI/St. Jos. The celebration in song and dance is forcing me into the thesaurus for superlatives. It seems that each production improves on those that came before. “Storytelling Around the World” not only featured the best in performance and of course stories; it also allowed the various organizations to expand their multi-cultural horizons.

My sister-in-law Deb Petruzzello narrated most of the stories with verve and great style. She had assists from Shamala Raman and guests from the China Welfare Institute in Shanghai. The stories came from Mexico, Japan, Mali, India, and China and promoted the idea of storytelling as a way to heal anger and fill one’s life with joy and love.

The best of the stories involved Malian teen William Kamkwamba, who created a windmill from leftover parts, including a pair of flip-flops. His creation helped save the country during a period of severe drought and now supplies reliable power for people to recharge their cell phones.

The guest stars from China are part of a cultural exchange program and provided the most visually arresting performances of the evening. “The Red Thread” is based on the belief that everyone who is intended to meet is joined at birth by an invisible red thread. The dance involved long pieces of red silk launched by a dancer in white. They flowed and circled around the others and united them at the end in a cats-cradle of interwoven beauty. The dance reminded me of the graceful and gorgeous House of Flying Daggers. (See the last paragraph of “Napa’s Open Studios.”)

On its ever expanding cultural tour, NDI takes its great work next into Juarez. I wish them safe passage.

Runner up in visual display was the Lord Krishna in his fuchsia and gold outfit, who stood out against the many dancers representing the blue-green water serpent Kaliya.

Interstitial pieces featured the Tiny Tots (the youngest, age three, who only removed his thumb from his mouth once in his several appearances) and Finbar the pug, whose costumes transformed him into a rabbit and a zebra. I personally felt he looked embarrassed in his rabbit outfit. After all, what self-respecting dog would willingly pass himself off as a bunny? Deb should be given a special award for actually handling the pooch, since this woman who is otherwise a model of female self-reliance and toughness, will not normally go within ten feet of any sort of four-legged creature and has been known to run screaming at the sight of a deer.

The only regret, as I believe I’ve mentioned before, is that the performers and teachers work so hard and intensively for only two brief performances. Wish they could stick around and spread the joy for several more days.

Music for Reiki

July 22, 2010

Filing very late tonight because a thunderstorm with a threatened tornado hit just as I was preparing this entry. Then another hit as we were preparing to see the Arts Integration & Multiple Intelligences and the National Dance Institute’s annual performance. (See “I’m a Believer”  and “Singing and Dancing with Frida and Diego”)The theme this year is storytelling. Review to follow.

The hospital where I volunteer provides CDs for us to play during Reiki. The selection is limited so I was thrilled to find new music. It was Zen by Daniel May. (I thought the author was Daniel Way because of the handwriting.) I’m not providing a link because I’m not sure the CD I found online is the same as the version at the hospital. The music has a light, airy tone. Each time I hear it I feel myself walking in a cool, misty green pine forest, listening to a few distant birds and maybe an occasional small waterfall. A great many of the patients enjoy it, and some ask for the name of the CD. One woman asked if she could take it with her.

I hadn’t realized the major importance of music to the experience until I was once instructed to play perform Reiki on a patient without music. I found the entire session disorienting and not particularly relaxing.  On a surface level, nothing covered the noises in the hall and the racket of ambulances roaring up to the emergency room. On a more subliminal level, I never entered the meditative state as deeply as I normally do. Since there are a limited number of CDs, I use various musical cues to guide what I’m doing. They were utterly lacking for the “silent” patient.

I was playing Zen during a therapy session a few weeks ago when it began to stutter and skip. I reached over and tried to advance to another track, but it happened again. After I finished  and apologized to the patient’s family I tried the CD on a different player – and tried a different CD on the boom box. Sadly, it was the CD.

During each following week, I tried one CD after another. Reiki (no other name) was either played too much or recorded at the wrong speed. Heart of Reiki: Merlin’s Magic works well,  but I’ve grown tired of it after a couple of years, even skipping among tracks.

I used to play Randeane Tetu’s Sacred Healing Symbols but that seems to have developed a screech. I’m now looking around for other music to play at the hospital and for my own private sessions for friends and relatives. At this point my personal favorite remains Angel Harp by my friend the Reverend John Sansone. Each note seems to guide additional healing through me to the person receiving the Reiki. But I’d like to branch out.

Found Shirley Cason’s music browsing around. Like Relaxing Piano Music. Back to the Island and Spa Music are less satisfying and I’m still ambivalent about Inner Peace, the CD, not the personal state.

Just for Today Do not worry, Accept

Just for today, do not anger.

Honour your parents, teachers and elders

Earn your living honestly

Show gratitude to all living things.

– Dr. Mikao Usui

Fun With I Write Like

July 21, 2010

The new program I Write Like is causing a mini-firestorm among writers and would-be writers. It surfaced a few days back and has garnered publicity on various web sites and elsewhere. As nearly as I can tell it mostly offers a great new way to waste time. In fact the thread on the booklist serve at the National Writers Union described the site as a new way to procrastinate.

Just to check it out, I pasted in a very rough draft of the first paragraph of my current project:

“What can one say about a person whose date and place of birth are lost to history? We know the man probably born somewhere in the Cape Verde Islands. At least it is more likely than not. His place of birth appears most often as Cape Verd or Cape de Verd, the nineteenth century way of referring to the islands almost four hundred miles off the coast of the coast of Senegal in western Africa. He could have been from the Western Islands, the old-style version of the Azores, which were also Portuguese holdings in the early decades of the nineteenth century. Or he may have been born in Portugal, or on the island of St. Vincent (now St. Vincent and the Grenadines) in the Caribbean, or somewhere in South America – all of these appear in some form on official records.”

I Write Like told me a wrote like James Joyce and then tried to sell me writing courses (from Stephen King, which I suspect is more about selling than writing), promotional stuff, and other goodies.

Then I submitted the paragraph of my mother’s novel The Narrows and was informed that she writes like Ursula K. LeGuin. Since Mom came first, shouldn’t IWL say LeGuin writes like Mom?

And just for a control, I pasted in this from the King James version of the New Testament: (Please excuse the color changes).

I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty. I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send [it] unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea. And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; And in the midst of the seven candlesticks [one] like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and [his] hairs [were] white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes [were] as a flame of fire; And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp two edged sword: and his countenance [was] as the sun shineth in his strength. And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I [am] he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.

The funny rip-off I Write, not the original, said the author wrote like Chuck Norris, which might not be a bad thing. IWL said the author wrote like William Shakespeare. Again, since John came before Bill, shouldn’t the reference be reversed?

I also sense a limited imagination here: It told many of my fellow union members that they wrote like David Foster Wallace.

At this point I realized that IWL would tell no one that she needed to find another career, preferably in the area of science or math, because that would defeat the sales purpose. But the selection of authors seems limited to hip, contemporary folk and Old Bill.

The following @chendo writing on Twitter fed IWL the lyrics to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” and received the happy news that he wrote like William Gibson. OK …  .

Of course it doesn’t take more than a glance at the site to realize that the originators are simply trying to sell coaching, editing and so forth. At this point I think my fellow union members have it right – it’s all about wasting time. And I’m done with that.

Learning Bankese

July 19, 2010

Along with English and a smattering of French, I’m adding bankese to my vocabulary. The following arrived in my mail box late last week. I’ve used Piggy Bank [PB] in place of the actual name of the bank: “We’re writing to let you know about a  new federal regulation that will impact the Standard Overdraft Practices that apply to your account … With current Standard Overdraft Practices PB, at our discretion, may authorize and pay transactions that cause overdrafts including ATM and everyday debit card transactions. Effective August 15th, any checking and recurring bill payment overdrafts will continue to be covered, but ATM and everyday debit card overdrafts will be declined unless you ask us to include them in Standard Overdraft Practices. …”

English translation courtesy of Visual Economics: “Effective July 1, the Federal Reserve is requiring that banks have an opt-in program in place for overdrafts. The policy requires bank customers to sign an overdraft agreement that gives the bank permission to charge an overdraft fee. If the customer does not opt-in to participate in an overdraft protection program, then any debit card purchases made from the checking or savings account would be declined if there is not enough money in the account to cover the purchase.”

PB made the change clear as mud to disguise the fact that it can no longer hide the fees that it charges. PB is engaging in a complicated procedure to recoup the money if there is an overdraft. It also had to reveal that it won’t necessarily pay an overdraft even if the account holder signs the authorization. The criteria it uses aren’t clear, but I bet the price of an overdraft that those criteria have to do with whatever is going to get them the most money.

The form that has to be returned to the bank is on the bottom of the sheet explaining the “opt-in” notice – the part that has the fees, which are $22 per item for one “overdraft day” and $37 per item for two or more “overdraft days.” This little printing SNAFU reminds me of the fact that the new trash hauler we have acquired through no choice of our own sent the list of holidays that produce a delayed pickup on the back of the receipt that one sends along with the check. Who designs these things?!

Here’s another take on the overdraft protection scenario. This bank really made it sound like it was doing a major favor to its depositors. I like the point that if the transaction is declined there’s a hint that the account might not have enough money. (Why else would a debit transaction be rejected unless the person using the card didn’t know the pin number?) I do have a problem with the example of someone savvy enough to maintain a checking account who doesn’t know the account lacks $2 for a cup of coffee.

So, dear PB, here’s my reply: Thanks, but no thanks for the overdraft protection. And next time, be honest about it.