Archive for June, 2011

Connections

June 30, 2011

Two seemingly unrelated pieces of information that are connected. These are my headlines, BTW:

AOL to Invest $120M in Patch

As Jack Shafer points out, the model needs some work because people go “hyperlocal” through Facebook and Twitter and Yelp. I look at several Patches every day, but the last article I read came from Hingham, Massachusetts, and concerned reaction to Whitey Bulger’s arrest. The hyperlocal that folks around here always wanted were who died, who got arrested, and who won the high school football/basketball/soccer/baseball game. Oh, and in season, whether taxes are going up. Since the answer to the latter is that taxes around here are always growing up, the question now is “How much are taxes going up?” I do disagree with Shafer that the kind of stories true news consumers prefer are the disasters. I think they want a mix of the scandalous and the thoughtful, the frivolous and the profound, sort of like what Slate does.

Murdoch Takes $545M Hit on Sale of MySpace

The culprit, it is generally agreed, is Facebook, which grabbed the advertising and eyeballs that drive the advertising. Analysts think MySpace may create a niche space for music. I must be a case in point. I have a MySpace page and can’t remember the last time I looked at it. I went on Facebook today. Actually I just went on looking for information for the next part of this post. My first question was why do advertisers think I’m overweight?

Just as I was putting this together I found what may be a third link.

Google Supersizes

Google today set up a social network site called Google + . All reports say that it is challenging Facebook after the latter started a search engine.

The lesson? Everyone is struggling to create interactions that advertisers will pay for because users really want them. At this point things stand at one degree of separation from Facebook, times three.

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Sunday Review

June 29, 2011

The NYTimes has revamped editorials/letters/opinions/essays. It has morphed from the News of the Week in Review to Week in Review and is now Sunday Review. Next it will be SR, to model it after “T.” I like the changes, with a couple of reservations.

First, it gives the impression of more substance and longer articles. Huge graphics and illustrations add to the illusion. Case in point: Joe Nocera’s lead article about driving an electric car. “Is This Our Future?” features a six-column by thirteen inch graphic on the cover and an even bigger one spread across a double truck inside, along with a short explainer comparing makes of electric cars. Thomas Friedman’s “It Has to Start With Them,” about Afghanistan, has a three-column by eight-inch illustration in putrid green and russet.

The section resembles the ones published ten or fifteen years ago, but livelier. There’s a photo on the editorial page of the Gray Lady!

The Times scores high marks with the variety and liveliness of the articles. “Got Twitter? You’ve Been Scored” is a frightening description of “grading” on social media sites to let advertisers know who hefts the greatest influence. I went on Klout, which the author says is the biggest of the rating agencies but stopped short of letting it access my Facebook account for basic information, data at any time, posts in my news feed (as far as I know I don’t have one) and email that it sends me. Big Brother can come and go as far as I’m concerned.

Also excellent is the companion article to Nocera’s, “Oil Oozes Through Your Life.” With just eight paragraphs of text by Stephanie Clifford and an excellent graphic, “Oil” shows it is everywhere: in ice cream, golf balls, makeup, detergent, face cream and on and on.

I do like that the section has omitted the labels “pop culture,” “national,” “international.” I think most readers could figure out that a story with Afghanistan in the headline was an international story. The editors have subbed the annoying labels “news analysis” and “opinion.” If something doesn’t have a label, like “Is This Our Future?” does that mean it’s just news?

It’s too bad the editors axed the cartoons from other newspapers – I always loved seeing the work of Mike Luckovich from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Tony Auth from the Philadelphia Inquirer. I’m reserving judgment on “The Strip,” though I must say that it was a shock to see a color cartoon on the back page of the Sunday Review. Color and comics in the Gray Lady! Using the “Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” quiz was genius, though I’m not sure many NYTimes readers will appreciate questions about people who urinate into reservoirs.

Finally, “To Know Us Is to Let Us Love” by Frank Bruni should be required reading for anyone who opposes gay marriage. He is eloquent and cogent with his arguments. And he made me cry, which I know is a first for reading SR, under any name.

In Whose Name?

June 28, 2011

RIP, Peter Falk. I had a two-degrees of separation from you. My teacher, Professor Norris Houghton, discovered you. Loved that rumpled look!

My friend Harvey today sent me a frightening letter to the editor of the Leaf Chronicle. It took some digging, but I located Leaf in Clarksville, Tennessee, the back of beyond northwest of Nashville, almost in Kentucky.

What prompted the letter was a column by Charles C. Haynes who criticized Texas Governor Rick Perry for declaring a Christian day of fasting and prayer, including a revival meeting sponsored by a conservative anti-gay organization. The intent is “national unity,” except that Perry seems to be seeking unity only for conservative Christians: He says in his press release that the gathering will be a “non-denominational, apolitical, Christian prayer meeting.” Haynes found that Perry was acting outside the norm of days of prayer that fall under the aegis of a governmental organization.

Phillip Chambers took exception to Haynes’s column, saying that to practice any other religion besides Christianity is “going through the motions” and that Jesus represents the only “way to true blessing.” Chambers then defeats his argument by quoting the end of President Kennedy’s inaugural address: “Let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing, and His help, but knowing that here on earth, God’s work must truly be our own.” No mention of Jesus. In fact, if one includes the sentence and a half that immediately precedes the quote, it is clear that Kennedy meant exactly the opposite: “Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth …” In other words, don’t ask others (that would include Jesus) to intercede for you; the way to true grace is through personal action.

Chambers’ second example is even more egregiously illogical and inconsistent. He quotes the thirty-third Psalm: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” Those words were written centuries before Jesus was born! Also the context defeats P.C.’s argument: “and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.” That, Mr. Chambers, would be the Jews because the original text was part of the Torah, specifically the Kethuvim, which came into being long before Christianity appeared on the horizon. N.B., Mr. Chambers, much that is in the Psalms is also incorporated into the Koran, the holy book of our Muslim sisters and brothers.

Based on those examples, I would say that the conclusions I draw from your quotes are that 1) action represents the highest calling, especially when it is done asking God’s blessing; 2) any people who acknowledge God  will be blessed.

As Harvey said, “Pardon me while I go through the motions.”

Sushi Friday XII

June 25, 2011

Sake Cafe

1105 Silas Deane Highway

Wethersfield, CT

860-721-1618

Again I’m posting Sushi Friday on Saturday. One of these months I’ll get back on track. I stumbled upon this place by accident because it’s in the same shopping plaza as Bed Bath & Beyond, a place that I explored for the purposes of finding a new shower curtain.

What I like: Plenty of free parking. The sushi bar is one of the few where I’ve not been the only customer. Of course one of my visits was on Good Friday and a fellow diner joked that it was probably a really busy day for Japanese restaurants, just like Christmas is for Chinese restaurants. The sushi chef is an artist and creates a gorgeous display of absolutely fresh fish, daikon and shiso. The portions are generous with an odd thirteen pieces of fish including excellent salmon, yellowtail, and tuna. On my most recent visit in mid-June, I saw another dish that I’d really like to sample, yellowtail topped with jalapeño peppers and a dot of hot/garlic sauce, rolled over daikon instead of rice.

What I don’t like: The parking lot presents a challenge with a city bus occupying part of the travel lane and drivers who make others guess at their intentions. The noise level and the hustle/bustle don’t make for relaxing dining. Waitresses yak and flirt with the sushi chefs. Patrons of the sushi bar are forced to watch ESPN. On one visit I got to listen to Tiger Woods apologize over and over and over. The sushi sou-chef (say that fast) used a slicer for the daikon, right in from of the patrons. At least if they aren’t going to do it by hand, keep the mystery alive! The miso soup is anemic, lacking flavor and skimpy on wakame and tofu. The salad lacks even more character with a pale slice of tomato and only a few pieces of mesclun to redeem it. The sashimi includes pollack and escolar, though only two pieces of each.

Grade B+, only because of the presentation and quality of the fish.

Too Much To Do

June 25, 2011

I knew this day was going to be a bit hectic by about 10:30 a.m. I am now three hours beyond when I normally start this blog and so will post a makeup over the weekend.

Bye-Bye, Whitey

June 24, 2011

Maybe I should call this entry “From Santa Monica to the Hoosegow.”

My father was never much interested in the New England mob, except for the Patriarcas, who occupied our area of Connecticut. His focus was always Philadelphia and New York. “What’s in a Name?

I know, though, that Daddy is smiling over the capture of James “Whitey” Bulger, more than fifteen years after he went on the lam, having been tipped off by his former FBI handler. Whitey isn’t the best mob name, and his Boston mob was not colorful, just brutal. His FBI involvement produced arrests for Cosa Nostra members so his Irish Winter Hill Gang could occupy the turf. He’s being charged with nineteen murders and attendant crimes.

I know Daddy would also appreciate the way the former leader of Boston’s Irish mob came to grief: Someone, who stands to collect $2 million, spotted girlfriend Catherine Greig on a PSA. It was probably a woman watching The View or another woman-friendly TV show.

The only down side to this whole business is that the arrest took so long and Whitey may no longer be in his right mind. His mental capacity may be somewhat diminished. Or it could be an act.

The mystery of his whereabouts has been solved. Now someone or some ones will have to explain how he managed to live in the same place for about fifteen years while the FBI chased him to Canada and Europe. The cynic in me says they didn’t start a real search until Osama bin Laden got knocked off the top of the Ten Most Wanted list.

Renaissance Man

June 23, 2011

Quick update: Righthaven loses another one.

My parents’ friend and neighbor, Frank Burton, died in 2007. I wrote this tribute based on notes that Ann Petry left in her journals and read it at his memorial service, which was held in his beautiful garden as the roses bloomed. He christened his extensive acreage Pennywise Farm, for the lane around the corner.

 Our whole family adored the produce from Pennywise Farm. When Mother was expecting company she made special dishes. Her homemade applesauce came from “gorgeous” apples from Pennywise Farm.

Every winter we looked forward to a delivery of containers of frozen fruit. The bounty of fall in the midst of winter! Before Christmas one year she made a peach torte from the large containers he brought us. She incorporated the juice into a Christmas Day fruit compote. The following week my parents celebrated New Years Day with a torte of peaches and pears from Pennywise Farm.

Mother and Mr. Burton shared a passion for antiques. As my Mother’s sister and cousin became disabled or died, Mr. Burton helped Mother so much by buying items, moving furniture and trunks and china and lots and lots of other stuff from my grandparents’ house and from the house next door that belonged to my great aunt and uncle.

Mr. Burton also kept track of my mother’s doings. When The New York Times published an interview with her, she called Kim Meadows at James’ Pharmacy to reserve extra copies of the paper. Kim said she was out – Mr. Burton had bought every copy she had!

Mother spent several years trying to convince the local papers to run an article about Mr. Burton and made extensive notes.

Here is some of what she wrote:  Renaissance man: peaches – apples – cucumbers – onions – green peppers – in season;  expert gardener – practically a farmer; photographer – was the official photographer for the National African Violet Association; antiques dealer – specializes in old glass; a great cook – freezes quantities of fruit and vegetables makes jams + jellies.

Later, she wrote: carpenter + builder – appraiser of real estate – antiques dealer – and a gardener – grower of vegetables + flowers – retail seller of them – a buyer for the drugstore. She added, “Lover of cats.”

She approached The New York Times, Northeast (former Hartford Courant Sunday magazine). I asked a friend who worked at the Middletown Press and The Day of New London. We thought we had everything set up and Mr. Burton said, “No!” I think he was far too modest and preferred to devote his energies to gardening and antiquing and photographing, rather than answering questions from a nosy reporter.

Some of Mother’s most enjoyable times were visiting Pennywise Farm to look at the roses and later in the year the fruit ripening on the trees. We always went in for a visit to view the latest antiques and the resident cats that draped themselves in around the people and the furniture.

Prevention Magazine

June 22, 2011

My parents subscribed to Prevention  back in the early years and later gave me a subscription. Mother found it useful for such things as combating migraines (July 1980); “A Case of Calcium Imbalance” January 1981; “I’m Winning My Fight Against Arthritis,” (February 1983); “Simple Ways to Keep Back Pain Out of Your Life” (June 1983).

I stopped reading when I found the contents more like Glamour than a serious health and nutrition magazine. There was also a sense of deja vu (can’t find the accents) as articles began to recycle. I recently took a look at the July 2011 issue. It certainly looks like a mini Glamour — that is TV-Guide sized pages, with a pretty woman in tight sweaters and tighter jeans on the cover. Turns out it was “Marie Osmond: How She’s Kept Off 40 lbs For 4 Years!” Other articles seemed more glam-mag, too. “Get Thin by Friday!” “10-Minute Cellulite Cure.”

After reading a selection of articles, my opinion has not changed. Small notes on beauty included a “frizz fixer” to keep hair from “escaping” from buns and ponytails; instructions for applying eyeliner. What exactly are these preventing? Also unchanging is the weak demarcation between ads and content – in many cases ads for things that don’t quite fit, e.g. Ellen DeGeneres hyping Cover Girl. Or an article with photos of frozen desserts that looked like ads for Breyers, Stonyfield, etc. Those meldings would be preventing the unwary from figuring out what they are reading.

On the plus side, “Don’t Get Surgery in July …” should be required reading for all doctors, nurses, etc. I knew the answer before I started the piece: It’s because new interns and residents arrive on 7/1 or thereabouts. By August, they’ve stopped making the worst mistakes. The rest of the article is equally informative, suggesting that patients bring their own meds to the hospital and ask for the second or third slot for surgery on any day but Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. Prevention here is obvious: death or disfigurement.

Elsewhere, Prevention offered useful information on, and a condemnation of, the Dukan diet, which limits intake to oat bran, water, and at least 48 ounces (?!) of lean protein a day; contained a frightening statistic that 48 percent of doctors’ neckties are contaminated by bacteria. The recipes are a whole lot more interesting, and have veered away from the strictly veggie themes that I remember. My repertoire will soon include Basque-style shrimp with dried orange rind, bay leaf, various forms of chili and chiles, basil, oregano, etc. Prevention of boredom!

Some of the useful info was stuff I already knew. For example, I’d figured out that drinking water when pollen is high can help clear airways. A tip to that effect confirmed my experience. Prevention of suffering is always a good thing.

This and That

June 21, 2011

RIP, Clarence Clemons. Bruce would never have sounded as good without you and your horn, Big Man. The news is dated, but check out the solo on “Born to Run” that starts at 1:50.

Larry and I celebrated our anniversary early on Saturday by spending the night at a hotel and eating at our favorite restaurant, Max Fish. A few observations:

  • How did we miss it? The Hilton Garden Inn is practically across the street from the restaurant. We’ve driven by it any number of times and never knew it was there. We figured out that the signs are almost invisible in daylight. The nice part: It’s just a few yards from the highway but no traffic noise penetrates into the building.
  • Four weddings and a bar mitzvah. When we arrived, the reservation clerk said there were four weddings going on at once. As we got on the elevator, Larry said, “That’s five too many.” On Sunday morning when I went to get the NYTimes I discovered one of the rooms was set up for a bar mitzvah. What’s worse than a room full of seventh-graders? An even bigger room full of seventh-graders with no teacher keeping them under control. The noise reverberated throughout the back half of the hotel but did not reach the upper floors. Otherwise, the hotel was perfectly fine, but we realized that we’d been spoiled by our stay in Newport. This room was so small one couldn’t get into the closet when the bathroom door was open.
  • Max Fish lived up to its usual standards, though I was disappointed in the Rosepoint oysters from Prince Edward Island. They were good but not as good as the Noanks, IMHO. Not as big, much saltier. Pieces of shell didn’t add to the experience, either. They did fit the description of rosy, though.
  • NYTimes: Why is it $1 cheaper in Glastonbury, which is farther away from New York, than it is anywhere on this side of the Connecticut River? On the subject of NYTimes, I am pleased to report that I answered correctly eight out of nine of history questions posed to high school students.

Piracy or Greediness?

June 18, 2011

Another day of woes, but at least I had a chance to think.

Here’s the next chapter in the ebooks saga. Newscorps’ HarperCollins (which publishes my mom’s Harriet Tubman and Tituba) has decided that libraries will only be able to “loan” an ebook twenty-six times.

I realize that ebooks are different from dead trees and ink versions, but I can’t envision how publishers will be able to restrict access short of refusing to allow access at all, as PW says Macmillan and S&S are doing. Public libraries are supposed to be places where people can browse at will and borrow liberally, all for free. The libraries obviously incur costs and do have to replace worn-out print editions, but it is up to the library, not the publisher, to decide when to buy again. I would prefer that publishers hike their prices and allow library patrons to read at will than to have the $0.99 model that has to be purchased once every three or four weeks or months, or more often at a higher price for e.g. the Harry Potter series.

I also don’t see how limits on library access are going to cut down on piracy. In fact, the rest of the article seems to indicate that authors benefit from a certain amount of “piracy,” just as musicians discovered that when they gave stuff away sales improved.

This is another stay tuned item, except I suspect the copyright dilemmas will be resolved long before the loaning or licensing of ebooks. Actually, I bet a whole new format will be catching on when the publishing industry finally decides that libraries aren’t ripping off their products.