Friday, May 26, 2023

Bit Parts


In the first three episodes of Gilmore Girls, note the harpest.  Alex Borstein. 

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Just Take the Trolley


The City of Omaha has approved a $440 Million project to build a trolley system.  Its’ boosters and planners say the system, which will be tied to a new Mutual of Omaha skyscraper in the city center, will be a substantial catalyst for development.  The city’s consultants say it will pay for itself through tax increment financing.  Warren Buffett says it’s a “mistake set in concrete.”  According to The Oracle of Omaha you are better off to invest in bus system improvements than put all your money in hard-wired rails.   To be honest, I am not certain who is right. 

But here is a story for you.  Me and my friend P.M. were recently driving home from Florida and at the last minute changed our route (to avoid the usual I-95 mess), so that we would overnight in Charlotte.  Standard procedure is to scan the internets about an hour out from our destination to find lodging and food.  Our goal is always a clean, moderately-priced motel, not too far off the route, and near dinner.  For dinner we had our eyes on a place called the Aria Tuscan Grill, but conceded in advance that the Grill was too far off the route and concluded we would have to find an alternative.   So we arrive at the motel (actually a conference center affiliated with UNC) and discovered it is in easy walking distance of a trolley line that connects the UNC with downtown.  So down town we went.

It was a cold and rainy night but the walk to the station was only three of four city blocks.  We ended waiting out in the bus shelter for about 15 minutes and boarded a modern, clean train.  One of our fellow passengers, a student, suggested we get off at the arena station, as that would provide a good chance of finding a good place to eat.  The Hornets were playing that night so the city center was crowded.  (Who knew they had an NBA team?)   So we strolled around the arena in one direction, and then reversed and strolled a few blocks in the opposite direction and there, just two blocks from the trolley, was Aria Tuscan. 

The restaurant was packed but there were seats at the bar.  The menu looked excellent and was definitely more than what we might normally spend.  But there is a prime rule about vacation… enjoy.  Might have been the best meal ever that was not just barbeque. A good time was had by all. 

On the subject of trolleys, I am still agnostic. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Is This AI at Work?


Or does USA Toady need smarter writers?  I know the corporate publishing world no longer sees a need for editors (because they can't afford them), so let me suggest that they just hire smarter writers?  The Toady publishes a book section in which they provide a picture of covers of five newly published books along with a two-paragraph summary of the work.  This week, the headline says: “Novels by Minka Kelly, Sunny Hostin: What to Read this week.”  Problem is Ms. Kelly’s book is not a novel, it’s a memoir.  You would think someone who edits a book section in a major national publication would know the difference.

A related note for the writer from a Friday Night Lights fan.   Lyla Garrity was anything but a “spoiled teenager.”  Her father was an overbearing drunk and philanderer, the love of her life suddenly became a paraplegic in a football game, and his best friend was available.  With a little help from Jesus and the Coach’s wife, Lila held it together just fine.  Nothing spoiled about Lyla.  

Sunday, April 30, 2023

The Arc of History Bends Towards Justice.


B. Traven comes to mind today because of an article in today’s NYT that documents the seizing of unused land from rich Brazilians by the Landless Workers’ Movement (LWM).  Active for about 50 years, LWM settles whole villages on fallow land, creating an opportunity for poor people to grow functional farming communities from scratch. 

Best known for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Traven was a revolutionary whose radical works included a series of six books in what is known as The Jungle Books, which track the lives of indigenous Mexican wage slaves in the years leading to the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920)  The fifth book of the series, Revolution of the Hanged Men describes a rebellion in a debtors labor camp where mahogany was harvested. In a nutshell, the rebellion succeeded, the workers freed themselves, and the people marched away in search of Land and Liberty. 

The LWM has been operating in Brazil for some 40 years and has been surprisingly successful, given the long history of inequality and political suppression. As LWM's  leaders point out, "Occupation is a process of struggle and confrontation."  LWM’s leaders, who call themselves “militants,” have organized hundreds of thousands of Brazil’s poor to take unused land from the rich, settle it and farm it, often as large collectives.  (Imagine this happening in the USA.)

Even under Brazil’s former fascist president, Jair Bolsonaro, there were about 15 successful land occupations undertaken per year.  In the first four months of leftist leader Luiz InĂ¡cio Lula de Silva's presidency, which started January 1 of this year, there have been 33 occupations.  This poses a dilemma for Lula de Silva, a longtime movement supporter, who still has to deal with wealthy landowners and corporations, while maintaining the confidence of his unlanded base.

The LWM can demonstrate some significant achievements.  Communities it has built support some 2,000 schools educating children who would never otherwise have an opportunity to get an education.  And the Times highlights one community that has been legally recognized since 2016, where 227 families, each owning from 20 to 35 acres, share tractors and plows, and grow organic fruits and vegetables for themselves and for market. 



I’m still a fan of American Idol, but I often fast-forward through many performances.  Usually, if the choice is some modern pop operatic hit from Adele or Sea or Pink or Ed Sheeran and nearly anything modern country I can’t tell one song from another.  They all sound alike to me.  Gimme that old time Rock n Roll, or Motown, or Rhythm and Blues or outlaw country or Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline.  I am seldom entertained by whatever passes for music to today’s boppers. 

Now comes Ed Sheeran’s lawsuit over Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On to confirm my observations.  Sheeran told the court that the songs at issue have “almost identical” chord progressions and added "Most pop songs can fit over most pop songs."       

Tuesday, March 21, 2023


Don't Let It Get Your Goat!

You can't pick up the sports page these days without reading about the GOAT.  Tom Brady or Michael Jordan or some other person deemed to be the Greatest Of All Time.  That usage does not square at all with my recollection of the word goat, which historically has meant: 

"person who is blamed for causing a failure or defeatesp. in a team sports competition." 

This definition comes from the Cambridge English Dictionary, which seems to be one of the last places where that use is still recognized.

Any internet search will tell you ... frantically but emphatically... the term means greatest of all time,  and it has always meant GREATEST OF ALL TIME.  It is  almost as though there has been a concerted effort to wipe the original offending word (which by the way, is only a short step away from the widely used scapegoat) from the language.  Are the publicity flacks who were responsible for throwing the term all over Tom Brady suddenly afraid that the THE GOAT will read a dictionary?  Or have the sports writers awakened from a bad dream in which they actually had editors who demanded to know why they were calling Brady on his game?  

Saturday, March 18, 2023


Reporting by Press Release

Just to prove that statistics are good liars, the Democrat and Chronicle (hereinafter known as the DnC) had a big front page article about how New York leads the nation in death by house fire.  This seems true enough. We have 45 dead to date this year, followed by Indiana with 29, Pennsylvania and Georgia with 25 each.  Impressed?  Well, that is one statistic. 

They make you study statistics in journalism school... not that I ever went to journalism school... but after working it out with my calculator, I can tell you these headline grabbing numbers are comparing big potatoes to small potatoes, if not apples and oranges. The better statistic, deaths per 100,000 population, tells us Indiana should lead the list, with .426 house fire deaths per 100,000; Georgia is next with .231.  and New York third with .227.  Pennsylvania is fourth with .194. So, when you get the numbers right, you are deprived of  their headline grabbing quality.

The truth is that the entire story is a gift from the Firefighters Association of the State of New York (FASNY, AKA the firefighters union or the union), and required little more journalism than rewriting the FASNY press release.  The union was announcing a lobbying campaign to get more state money for hiring and training fire code inspectors and promoting code enforcement.  Not that there is anything wrong with that. I support more money for code enforcement and better pay for all public employees. I also pray daily for better journalism.  

There is a much bigger story here that would take a lot more work than  Steve Lieberman, the reporter, who works for the Rockland/Westchester News Journal, part of  the USA Network (which includes the DnC, has had time to invest.  That is possibly because Rockland/Westchester is something like the DnC which once had an editorial  staff of hundreds, and how counts its' reporters in the lower two digits, and  ost of them are sports or food writers.  

There is a bigger story here.  That lack of code enforcement and training? Local budgets squeezed to the point where government is practically useless.  Is there a housing shortage? Why, because owner-occupied housing is being rapidly replaced by houses converted into single room occupancy rentals, forcing more and more  people into fewer and fewer spaces?  And how does that relate to increased rents?  (Hint: a four bedroom house rented as an SRO can generate at least $2,400/month.)  Does the code enforcement force the closure of what little housing is available?  Is it possible to build new housing that can be rented to meet the needs of people who have no money?