Archive for November, 2010

Migration — Freyed Again: Forgeries, Fakes, and Other Fabrications

November 30, 2010

Friday, July 25, 2008
The most recent iteration of literary hoaxes began with James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, and they don’t seem to want to go away. I was teaching when that book came out, and one of my students insisted that Frey did no wrong. Fiction? Nonfiction? Who cares? My student managed to convert several of her classmates to her view, despite the collective outrage of the rest of the class. Even Oprah couldn’t prevail. And the continued popularity of Pieces indicates my cynical student has plenty of company. As I write this, it is No. 1,728 in nonfiction on Amazon. Frey, of course, wasn’t the first to fabricate large swaths of his life, and he certainly hasn’t been the last.
Next came the boy/girl JT Leroy, a West Virginia drug-addicted prostitute, who was actually a middle-class, middle-aged woman from San Francisco by way of Brooklyn named Laura Albert.

A flurry of fabrications came to light earlier this year: Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years by Misha Defonseca as a Jewish holocaust survivor hung around for more than 10 years before the author revealed that her tale of killing a German soldier, searching for her parents, and being Jewish was not true, as revealed in the Boston Globe .
Then came a sordid account of a young half Native American woman who grew up as a drug-running foster child in gang-ridden South Central Los Angeles. The book was Love and Consequences by Margaret B. Jones. The New York Times called the book “deeply affecting”  and followed the review with a feature about the author in the Home & Garden section, the idea being that this woman who grew up without a home had succeeded in creating one for herself. The book’s publisher and the world learned of the fraud when the author’s sister called to say that the supposed foster child was Margaret Seltzer, who grew up in an intact family in the suburbs.
Compounding the felony in this case was the appearance of impropriety on the part of the Times. Once the fakery became known, bloggers suggested that the book and author had received extra play because the editor was the daughter of a Times reporter and former Book Review editor. The Times denied any complicity but only after others had raised the issue.
In my view the Times violated another rule of journalism by publishing the Home feature with a single source. That technique fails on several counts: stylistically it gives the story a monochromatic feel. And it risks exactly what happened, a profile built on fabrications. You don’t need “he said/she said” contradictions, just at least one other source to add another dimension. Most of my editors refused to publish one-source stories. Those types of stories leave a big unanswered question. What do other people think about this person?
In any event, the fabrication train got so good that Slate published guidelines on how to fake your next memoir.
Now we’ve got a convicted forger insisting that her memoir is true. Can You Ever Forgive Me? details the life of Lee Israel who faked more than 400 letters by Fanny Brice, Noel Coward, Dorothy Parker, and Lillian Hellman, who herself was accused of fabrication for, among other works, her memoir Pentimento: An Unfinished Woman.
Instead of sex, lies, and videotape, we’ve got lies, fraud, and forgery.

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Choice of English

November 30, 2010

A virus attacked my computer just as I was about to finish this post. It took the Computer Guy on the Fly about an hour and a half to repair everything because the wireless router also caught something. So here is what I intended to post Monday evening. Tuesday’s entry will follow later.

A quick update: I finished 44 Scotland Street (“What I’m Reading Now,”) and found it a major disappointment. It has no real ending except for a conclusion of sorts about the painting, as the book is a series of short stories about the people who reside at the Scotland Street address. I was amused that the map of the country omitted Glasgow. It reminded of a weather map I saw once when I was on business in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It included Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Atlantic City, with nary a sign of Philadelphia. AMS also confirmed my view that Edinburgh was indeed stuffy. Based on the characters in 44 Scotland Street, much stuffiness remains.

Despite the drawbacks of his recent novels, AMS has a terrific facility with English, which leads me into today’s topic. I’ve encountered two commentaries on the evolving nature of the language.

The first was an article in the Courant some months ago that explained the derivations for town names so common to Connecticut and other parts of New England. We have a great number of towns that end in ’bury (fort), ’wich (trading place or port), ’sex (place where Saxons lived), and ’chester/’cester (camp). Their origins form a salad bowl, as ’bury came from Anglo-Saxon (Old English), ditto ’sex, while the castra locations arrived with the Romans. Rob Kyff doesn’t mention it, but ’wich may have come from Old English, or from Latin.

Globish for Beginners” also discusses the word castra, and demonstrates how the British conquerors imported words from the places it occupied: jungle and bungalow being two of the most common. Isaac Chotiner, reviewing Globish by Robert McCrum, doesn’t mention it but on this side of the pond the Native Americans gave us squash, canoe, succotash (yuk!), and so forth.

Globish is the word created to describe the language spoken by, for example, “European officials calming financial markets by uttering stock phrases on television.” God help them if they’re trying to speak Alan Greenspanish. McCrum’s argument is that Globish has primarily an economic function resembles the patois or pidgin English (“pidgin” being a corruption of the word “business.”)

Chotiner faults McCrum and Jean-Paul Nerrière, inventor of the word Globish, for believing that people will not want to learn formal English if they can rely on Globish. I’m not sure whether it matters at this point. If Globish is primarily a language of trade, then in another twenty years, Globish will have died down and we’ll all be learning speaking Mandarish and deciding whether to learn formal Mandarin (which is a Portuguese word).

Sushi Friday VII

November 27, 2010

Min Ghung Asian Bistro

39 New London Turnpike

Glastonbury, CT 06033

(860) 659-0568

Yes, I know it’s the Friday after Thanksgiving. But my visits to this place ended last month.

What I like

The setting in the rear of a small, mostly empty shopping plaza that’s surrounded by trees gives the impression of dining in the woods.

Because the rest of the stores lack tenants, there’s always plenty of parking.

The place lets in natural light and is sealed away from blasts of cold air or hot air, unlike many of the other places that put their sushi bars near the outside door.

There is no television.

The chef recognized me after my second visit and is always cordial.

The sashimi includes octopus.

The presentation is always elegant, with lemon slices carved into fanciful shapes and elegant arrangement of the daikon and other adornments.

The music comes from a satellite station that plays a little bit of everything.

A good touch includes the rose colored plastic chopsticks that resemble the classic ivory.

A hot towel arrives at the end of the meal.

The rice is served in a lidded metal container, which retains its heat.

The price for quality and presentation is about right.

What I don’t like:

The roof leaked on one visit and my sleeve got wet.

The service is uneven. When I eat at the sushi bar, it’s OK, but on my most recent visit, 10 or so people were eating in the tatami room. Besides my luncheon companion and me, there was only one other person in the place. The young American waiter called in a reinforcement. On another occasion he brought my check at the same time as he brought my food and seemed to want to rush me out. Last year the waitress had pink hair and lots of piercings, which I find to be a real turnoff.

The miso soup is indifferent as it lacks flavor and is generally luke warm. The tuna is a bit watery and lacked the signature “bite.” This seems to be a problem everywhere in the past six months or so.

Tea arrived as a bag sitting on a top of a small saucer. The cup of hot water was underneath. Packets of sugar and Splenda arrived also but there was nothing to stir with.

Overall: B

Thanksgiving

November 25, 2010

May everyone truly give thanks for what they have received. Love, Liz

Migration — Singing and Dancing with Frida and Diego

November 25, 2010

Thursday, July 24, 2008

We’ve got another day of major T-storms. Four inches of rain between last night and today, so this entry may be a bit choppy.
Before I get to the show-stopper I saw last night, I have to add the biggest casino fashion “don’t” of all: A v. large young woman with equally large tattoo on one shoulder, spaghetti strap top (red I think) with a clear plastic bra strap on display next to said tattoo. I was glad we had finished eating before the big don’t appeared.
Viva Mexico! Through the Eyes of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo deserved wider play and a longer run. The series of vignettes, presented through song and dance by a troupe of children and their teachers, was produced as a collaboration between St. Joseph College and the National Dance Institute. The St. Joe’s part of the project calls itself the Arts Integration and Multiple Intelligences Project – an unwieldy name for spectacular results, especially considering the troupe had less than three weeks to rehearse.
All the performers obviously enjoyed themselves and the professional, high-energy production had top-notch values all around – costumes, music, singing, especially the dancing. The Mexican theme presented an abbreviated history of the country as depicted in the paintings of its two most famous artists, played by fifth graders whose talent seems boundless. They were nearly upstaged, however, by the skeleton-clad zombie types celebrating the Day of the Dead.
The only drawback? There were only two shows, and each lasted less than an hour. The limits were understandable since some of the performers were barely out of diapers and had undoubtedly stayed up past their bedtime for the 7 p.m. show. And the non-stop, high-speed routines had to leave everyone exhausted.
Themes in previous years featured the life of Eugene O’Neill and West Africa stories. Next year will serve up the Fab Four – can’t wait to see their interpretation of John, Paul, George and Ringo as those happy little feet move to “Can’t Buy Me Love” or maybe “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

Puzzled by Ralph and Co.

November 25, 2010

Just as I started to write this entry, my computer decided to go a long strange trip. So I’ll make it quick.

Touré wrote this provocative essay “Do Not Pass” some time back. He catalogs a number of books about black folk (mostly men) who pass for white.

He assumes that once the person has crossed the line, he never returns. That certainly wasn’t true for my great-uncle Charley Hudson, who passed himself off as a white farmer from New Haven and enlisted in the Lincoln Cavalry in 1864. He also lied about his age, but that’s a whole other issue.

Uncle Charley and Aunt Tillie Hudson

Uncle Charley walked back and forth across the color line for the rest of his life. He worked as a barber and identified himself as black after he recovered from being shot outside Winchester, Virginia, days before Lee surrendered. My great-grandmother,  who never tried to pass as far as I know, lived with him and his wife for a time in New Jersey in the early 1890s.

Later, he worked as the manager of a factory in Massachusetts, again passing himself off as white. I’m sure that there are others who have done the same based solely on expediency.

The people that Touré writes about seem filled with self-loathing, and I’m sure that motivated many such conversions, but I suspect the greater motive was simple practicality. Especially in the days of Jim Crow, it was easier to be white than to be black. Which is also the answer to the question Touré raises at the end of his essay about why white people don’t want to be black these days. Jim Crow isn’t stalking the streets in an overt fashion any more but he still shows up in the form of nooses at work places and racist humor spread by the likes of the GOP candidate for governor of New York.

Migration — Beyond the LBD

November 24, 2010

July 23, 2008
We’re in the midst of all day, on-and-off thunderstorms so I’m going on batteries and wireless. In the meantime I made zucchini bread from this gimongous squash that someone gave us. Couldn’t locate my mom’s recipe but found the same one online at epicurious Ignore the reviews.
I have to return to our casino visit to talk about fashion, or lack of it. Lewis Black wore his trademark jeans, black T-shirt and a jacket that looked perfectly normal except for the sleeves, which flapped every time he moved his arms, which was constantly. I finally decided that he had slit open the sleeves about halfway to the elbow to allow for freedom of movement, but it did add to the mania of the performance.
We saw every fashion “don’t,”  but not too many “dos” in our 7 hours at the Sun. I much prefer the casinos of Europe where evening attire is mandatory. In that respect the James Bond flicks were accurate. Of course there aren’t any penny slots there, either.
Besides the Little Black Dresses, we saw shorts (v. short on the women, knee length on the men), T-shirts on both (tight for women, three sizes too large for men). Women’s skirts started at the barely cover the butt of the LBD and fell to ankle-length peasant garb. There were plenty of those flared dirndl looking things that would make even Kate Moss and Mary-Kate Olsen look like baby whales.
Most everyone wore pants, some capris for women with sleeveless blouses that worked great until one entered the frozen confines of a shop or a restaurant. Why do they do that? I understand the cold in the Arena when we arrived. It got progressively warmer as the place filled with bodies. But why have indoor temps of 68 when we’ve got all sorts of energy crisis going on?
A few older women are still sporting fanny packs, but mostly women were carrying small clutches (to go with the LBD) or summer pocketbooks of modest size. I did not see too many large enough to hold the contents of one’s house. The fashion hit of the evening, though, was the red spike heels – Nancy and I had to explain to the men the significance. Neither of them seemed to know the signal but both seemed eager to spot more examples.

The ‘Joys’ of Copy Editing

November 24, 2010

Somehow I managed to omit Lori Franklin’s eloquent and depressing post when I wrote “The Death of English.”

The first thing I noticed about her piece was the choice of artwork. That’s Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood as Mr. and Mrs. Macbeth in the production that Larry and I saw at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2008. I didn’t realize until I read Ms. Franklin’s post that the photograph had engendered a new phrase.

I spend an inordinate amount of time and type in this blog on newspaper gaffes, but they do upset me, and I always appreciate someone else who has labored in the trenches and finds some glaring and awful screwup (is “screwup” one word or two or hyphenated?)

Ms. Franklin is absolutely right that once you’ve been trained to catch mistakes, you can’t be untrained. The only mistakes we miss are our own. I instantly lose respect for any printed matter that contains an obvious typo. I can’t tell you how many Chinese restaurants announce “We delivery.” They have an excuse because English is not their first language, but it still grates on my nerves. That was not the case with the  “nursury school” up the street. It took years before someone corrected the sign out front.

Ms. Franklin is right that about having no personal interest in whether words are run together, hyphenated or separated by a space, or for any other grammatical nicety. The words I care about are my own name: Elisabeth with an “s” and not a “z,” which is why I use Liz most of the time, and Petry, which has at last count twenty-six spelling variations, which is why I use Riley most of the time. But then I get Reilly, O’Riley, etc. Oh, well.

I, too, had a childhood revelation, though it wasn’t quite as risqué as Ms. Franklin’s. When the new copies of Mother’s book Tituba of Salem Village arrived, the first thing I noticed was that the dedication contained an error. My great-uncle was Frank P. Chisholm, for Pierce. Crowell had rendered it with a “B.” Mother seemed upset, but there was nothing to be done at that point. It’s ever been corrected. And no, I don’t know what black person would name their kid after an alcoholic president who was responsible for “bleeding Kansas” and betrayed his New Hampshire roots by supporting the secessionists.

Ms. Franklin said that she disliked copy conversations. Even sadder than grammar and punctuation discussions with non-copy editors are the talks with colleagues. Besides the serial comma, there’s adviser vs. advisor, president vs. President. How sad. One can always turn to FakeAPStylebook on Twitter. Favorites: “When writing about Senators, use ‘D’ for Democrats, ‘R’ for Republicans, ‘I’ for independents, and choose one at random for Joe Lieberman.” “Due to reader complaints, articles about newly discovered animals should no longer comment on how they taste as burgers.” And one totally appropriate for this week: “Make sure you include ‘TURN OVEN ON’ in turkey recipes. We got complaints last year.” Oy.

Well, it’s time for me to get a life, which includes shopping for all the items I couldn’t buy yesterday because the store had run out, finding a birthday present for my mother-in-law who turns 86 on Sunday, buying gas before the lines stretch from one end of town to the other.

Migration — Liz’s Addiction, Part I

November 23, 2010

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

As we were playing the slots last weekend, I commented to Nancy, “I’d rather be doing Sudoku.” And it’s true. I managed to get myself addicted in a few short weeks. Started last summer after my sister-in-law showed my how to do them. Graduated from easy to moderate quickly. It took a bit longer to master the hard ones, but now I’m working on the “evil” level. Those take a bit longer, but I love the challenge.
Often I do them when I should be writing, cleaning my office (again) or the house, doing the last two months of accounting, exercising, whatever. But the puzzles truly are addictive – I finish one and start another without a break.
This batch is great Web Sudoku. Each time you click off the page and click back on, a new puzzle appears. The hard ones took a while to work out, and I had to go to Solving Sudoku for help. I don’t follow Angus‘s method exactly, though.
Coming next: Liz’s helpful Sudoku hints.

Memories Are Made of This

November 23, 2010

I addressed a variation on this theme a while back “Fun With Synapses.” Revisiting the topic because I’ve been encountering more and more people complaining about their inability to remember names, dates, and the location of their keys, the names of their kids – well, that last is a bit of an exaggeration but I’ve heard mothers run through the litany of names before arriving at the right one.

And I’ve been doing it myself lately: I’m upstairs and decide I need to retrieve my coffee cup, which is downstairs. I get downstairs and stand in the middle of the kitchen, sometimes staring right at the cup without having the vaguest notion why I’m there. Or I put the cup in the microwave, push 30 seconds, wander away, come back an hour or so later and spend fifteen minutes searching upstairs and downstairs for the cup. These events almost always occur when I’ve got a million other things on my mind, which is most of the time.

Of course Isis does humans one better. She will often walk into a room, the kitchen, for example, and look around as though she’s never seen it before. I’m not sure of the brain operation that eventually leads her to conclude, “Ah, place where my humans serve me food and water.”

Here’s the NYTimes’s  fancy and complicated explanation for lapses.

Yahoo!has a simpler approach. The post offers some good suggestions for improving memory. I especially recommend relaxation, sleep, and diet. The biggest memory problem for people lacking an actual cognitive impairment is that they fill their brains with clutter and don’t have room for the important stuff. Empty out the file drawers before you try to stuff in more stuff. (This works well for actual physical file cabinets, too.)

Oxygen is the best memory booster. If I want to really focus, I take a few deep breaths, then follow the instruction in the Yahoo! article about paying close attention. Even better, go for a brisk walk and then sit down to focus.

On a related score, the article recommends yoga. I recommend meditation, with or without the exercise. It was more than ten years ago when I started attending group meditation. After about six months, I noticed that I could read longer, write longer, focus longer, and remember better. I’m not sure why meditation works that way. It may have to do with the parts of the brain that wake up in alpha state, or deeper. This article isn’t written all that well, but it gets the point across.

I don’t think the type of meditation matters, just the regularity of practice, but integrative body-mind training offers some intriguing potential. If it can help regulate emotions and impulses, the collateral benefit of improved memory will likely follow. I’m not going to China to find out but once it arrives here I may well sign on.

Remembering people’s names seems to be a challenge for many. I skip all that business about associating the person with an animal. This practice just adds another piece of information that needs to be stored. When I meet someone, I shake hands and repeat the name out loud. If I want to lock it in, I might repeat it to myself a couple of times. Of course I’ve had a lifetime of practice through work in journalism, but I’m still not as good as most politicians, who really do seem to be born with the ability to recall names and faces years after a single encounter.

Stretching one’s memory helps, too. If I have just a few items to buy at the grocery store, I skip the list. Here I will use a mnemonic: cat food, carrots, cranberries, chips, etc. If I’ve got more than five or six items, I’ll make a list but leave it home (not always on purpose). Even when I haven’t intended to perform my brain-stretching exercise, I find I remember 95 percent of the items. What I forget is usually what I don’t need, like those chips.

Post-Its are my friend around the office, but I do find that the most important stuff stays in my brain, though I don’t always get to it on time.

Here’s another fancy article from a couple of years ago, which reinforces the idea that movement may help retain information, though I’m not sure about waving one’s arms.

And for improving concentration I’m still doing Sudoku. See the next entry, “Liz’s Addiction.”

Moral of the story: Follow your own advice!