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Most of South Jersey is semi-literate - or so it seems on Facebook

SEATTLE, Washington - I now have several people from the Old Country linked up to me in Facebook. I get to see how they write. I also see how the people linked to them write. I also see the writing of people who, like me, have left the area.

This seems to be a fair summary:

  • From South Jersey, still living there: semi-literate at best
  • From South Jersey, moved to Florida: semi-literate at best
  • From South Jersey, moved to [anywhere but Florida]: often literate

I've been bashing anyone younger than John Wooden who moves to Florida for a long time. The people just staying in Jersey.... what can I say. It's probably not fair for me to make these judgments based on brief online writings, but it's just brutal stuff.

There are many possible theories. Could be that the ones who stay where they're born are by definition the dopes. Or maybe there's some environmental factor sapping writing competence out of the people. Or, these people can all form a written sentence perfectly well but choose not to do so on Facebook (but the refugees typically DO write well there).

There could be another angle, the when-I-was-your-age angle. Maybe the schooling just sucks lately. Case in point: my mother, who finished her schooling by graduating high school circa 1960 and has never had a job that involved writing at all.

Six or eight years ago, she briefly got email access at a job she had. So I sent her an email to see her response. I had never seen a written paragraph from her in my life. Many times in the last 15 years, I've seen the emails of people not used to writing, seen the creaky language, brutal capitalization, etc. I was expecting the worst from her.

Well, her email was flawless. Full lush sentences, everything capitalized correctly, none of the common bumblings (its vs. it's, etc.) I could barely believe it. If you had told me it was written by Lionel Trilling, I might have believed you.

I don't have the email any more, it was sent to a work account at an old job. But that writing simply would not fly on today's South Jersey internet.


Who writes the copy for Trilogy's in-cart GPS?

SEATTLE, Washington - This morning I played a round at Trilogy aka Redmond Ridge and the in-cart GPS had a bit of an abuse of the English language in its "Pro Tip" for the par-5 6th hole. Does anyone review the copy for these things? I know English is not easy, synonyms, homonyms, etc. but come on.

Anyway this must have inspired me because I did get the "illusive" birdie on the hole, only my second or third birdie of the whole season.


Michael Kinsley delivers a beatdown to Newsweek

SEATTLE, Washington - I recently made some tepid sarcastic comments about the newly redesigned Newsweek, admittedly without even picking up a copy.

When it comes to snarky beatdowns, there are amateurs and there are professionals, and Michael Kinsley is a professional. Mr Kinsley was recently canned by Time and seems to have vented his anger on poor Newsweek by trashing their makeover.

Amidst all the snark were many good points about the nature and evolution of newsmagazines. Some snippets:

In his editor's letter... Jon Meacham says, "We are not pretending to be your guide through the chaos of the Information Age," which concedes a lot of ground from the get-go. Why not at least pretend? Why else would people pick it up, let alone subscribe?
That said, Meacham's vision of a magazine full of exciting narrative and provocative arguments isn't terrible, if he could pull it off every week. Sadly, though, he has been defeated by what Mikhail Gorbachev used to call "the approaches of the stagnation period." He says he wants "provocative (but not partisan) arguments." Which would be what? "Let's paint the Capitol dome dark brown"? Or, "Try cooked carrots--they're not too bad"? It's not easy to be provocative if you're looking over your shoulder for the partisanship police.
Why, for that matter, is there still a letters page? It's the first page of content you come to. Five one-paragraph comments on the issue published two weeks ago--room for little more than a thumbs up or down. On the Internet, thousands of people have their say immediately and at length. And then a self-parody: "Your thoughts on swine flu" -the cover story two weeks ago--"in six words." Hali McGrath of Berkeley, California, submitted, "Blah, blah, swine flu, blah blah." And Newsweek published it.
It's been said that the test of a newsmagazine is whether you would grab it if you'd been trapped in a coal mine for a week and had one hour to catch up. And after a week trapped in a coal mine, perhaps an hour with a picture of Miss California in a bikini will be more useful than any explanation of why she's in the news. But the new Newsweek maintains the same irritating practice as the old one of half-explaining, which is no use either to those who already know the story or to those who don't.
My favorite feature in the Scope section, and possibly in this entire issue of Newsweek, is called (for no special reason that I can determine except for a failed attempt at a pun) "The Reign of Spain." And it consists of a handsome chart comparing the unemployment rate in Spain in December 2007 and in March 2009 with the unemployment rates in other countries on those same dates. Why Spain? Why those dates? Why these other countries? Newsweek's entire explanation: "Unemployment in Spain is soaring as the country sheds thousands of low-skilled jobs."


First test of Yellow Leaf Cupcake Co - FAIL

SEATTLE, Washington - When I noted the opening of the Yellow Leaf Cupcake Company in Belltown, I pointed out that they're offering 30+ flavors and it may be tough to master them all.

Here's their first Flavor Fail... the first exotic flavor that isn't quite right: Vanilla Cupcake with Vanilla Frosting. They put chocolate sprinkles on it.

I guess you can offer an unlimited number of flavors if you're going to simplify by putting chocolate sprinkles on everything.


Ideology, fecundity, and mobility

SEATTLE, Washington - In case you didn't hear in the aftermath of the 2004 election, white fertility rates had an incredibly high correlation with voting patterns - Bush carried 25 of the top 26 white-fertility-rate states, while Kerry carried the bottom 16 states in this category.

This was pointed out today in a post by Bryan Caplan that was a response to Arnold Kling's grim assessment that demographic trends were going to result in stagnant, single-party Democratic rule in the coming years.

Caplan (who's very much into nature-vs-nurture stuff) countered Kling's grimness with the idea that the higher birthrates combined with an intergenerational correlation in ideological preferences spells trouble for Democrats in the long term.

I'm not buying it. Even if there is some small genetic component to ideology, it can't possibly be enough to counter the fact that a certain percentage of young people currently flee and will continue to flee their stagnant red-state origins.

Many years ago, I was on a feverish, catch-all conspiracy email list (remember those?) One member would often post stories about "infiltration" of homosexuals in the school system etc. and then note that "homosexuals can't reproduce, so they have to recruit to replenish their ranks". That's an asinine observation about homosexuality, but I think I can twist that quote around on this issue: "Heartland religious conservatives can't recruit, so they have to reproduce to replenish their ranks."

Problem is, a certain percentage of these "reproduced" folks leave the Heartland and move to coastal urban centers and turn into leftist Democratic voters. This migration strikes me as largely unidirectional. If you live in a big city, like Seattle, you probably have some friends who moved there from [insert dumpy red state here] as young adults, often leaving their religious upbringing behind. How many people go in the opposite direction? How many Boston Brahmins or young Seattle urchins leave home to become religious conservatives in Nebraska?

There's a reason the migration is unidirectional - people (especially young, curious folks) are going to head for the more dynamic, less restrictive lifestyle. Cultural homogeneity and an alleged 6,000 year old Earth are not great bases for recruitment - you have to "birth" people into that world-view and hope they stick around. Dynamic culture, sex, drugs, and a government that allegedly will tend to your more costly worldly needs? As Drucker said in Heat, "I don't have to sell this and you know it, 'cause this kind of shit here sells itself."

I had to use all sorts of labels and terms here I usually avoid - Red State, Heartland, blah blah... oh well. Only way to make my point.


A new cupcake player in Seattle - unless it's Sunday

SEATTLE, Washington - There's a new cupcake player in town - the Yellow Leaf Cupcake Company in Belltown.

I'd like to say I've been there, but they just opened on Friday and they're closed Sundays. The hours listed on their website are 7:30 to 5 Monday to Friday, and 9 to 5 Saturday. Geez... come on. This isn't as bad as the four-and-a-half-day schedule at Shoofly Pie, but it looks like I have to take a day off from work to try the cupcakes at this joint.

They list 30+ flavors on their website (plus seasonals!), serving nine varieties every day. That sounds to me like too many flavors to master, especially for a new joint, but they must know more about this than me; they're the ones opening a cupcake shop and I'm the one sitting around with my thumb up my ass, complaining about my humdrum life.


Bold innovations at Newsweek: raising price, renaming sections

SEATTLE, Washington - Among the innovations being pondered by dead-tree publishers is the idea of cultivating a higher-quality, more passionate readership base (that will be more appealing to advertisers) by raising your price and your perceived level of quality. The Newsosaur discussed this in the context of newspapers.

Relatively expensive niche products like The Economist are cited as a validation of this (risky) strategy.

Newsweek is pushing ahead with this strategy. They're raising the newsstand price by $1 to $5.95, and raising the rates paid by subscribers.

As far as swanking up the content? Well, they're renaming the "Periscope" section... it will now be called "Scope". And the back page will be named "The Back Page".

I hope you have more than that up your sleeve, Newsweek

Laptops for the ladies?

SEATTLE, Washington - Wow... Dell launched a female-targeted site called Della that tried to pitch laptops to women by mentioning its use in calorie counting, watching cooking videos, etc....

And there was a backlash! I'm shocked!


A little-known victim of the Islamic Revolution

SEATTLE, Washington - As if there weren't enough negative consequences to having a country fall into the control of fundamentalist Muslims - turns out one of the victims of Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979 was an almost-completed Orson Welles film that might be a classic.

By the early 1970s Welles was developing The Other Side of the Wind, a film about an aging film director returning from years of exile in Europe to direct a final, avant-garde Hollywood feature. Welles's reputation for profligacy forced him to hunt high and low for new suckers to fund his ventures, and one of the investors in Wind was an Iranian production firm run by Medhi Mouscheri, brother-in-law of the Shah of Iran.

By early 1979 shooting was finished and Welles was editing the film when the Shah was overthrown, marking the beginning of a 20+ year battle over the ownership of the film (which sat in a humidity-controlled vault in Paris the whole time). The newly-installed theocratic regime presumably had better things to do than work through film investments. Welles died in 1985 and his heirs, like all heirs, were in the thick of much of the legal tangle-work.

The Other Side of the Wind's fate is now in the hands of Peter Bogdanovich, who was one of the actors in the film. In 2004, Mr B (whose career bogged-down-ovich after the success of The Last Picture Show in 1971) announced that he would edit the remainder of the film and release it. We're still waiting - Mr B seems to be pulling a Duke Nukem Forever with this, dripping news out every so often without ever producing any results.

A clip or two of the movie can be seen in documentaries, and some who have seen a good hunk of the footage claim that it's top-notch work, with an Academy Award-level acting performance by John Huston as the aging director. Can Bogdanovich possibly craft the film into something resembling Welles's original vision, or will it bear the stamp of Bogdanovich? Here's one clue - if The Other Side of the Wind finally gets released and you see Cybill Shepherd in it... that was Bogdanovich's doing.

UPDATE 2018/10/29: The long wait is almost over, The Other Side of the Wind drops on Netflix on 2018/11/02


Garbage report on "savings" from ditching car and using transit

SEATTLE, Washington - Economict Thomas Sowell made the oft-quoted observation that economics is not about solutions, it's about trade-offs. Keep this in mind as you read the America Public Transportation Associations's drivel on how much you can "save" every year by getting rid of your car and using public transit instead.

APTA pegged the "savings" at $8,600 per year across the top 20 transit-ridership cities, and $10,483 in Seattle.

Yes, it looks like riding transit will "save" you money - but what about the trade-offs? What are the costs? If you ditch your car, you're probably severely damaging your quality of life. People don't have cars for the joy of burning money - they have them because the benefits of the car equal or exceed the costs. A car gives you sweet, beautiful mobility, it immensely enhances your work possibilities, your recreational opportunities, your potential for community involvement, on and on. Unless you have tons of time to burn making circuitous trips on transit to do what you have to do, or you're just thrilled with everything within walking distance of your house, you're probably making your life worse.

We don't need the American Public Transit Association to tell us what car ownership costs, or for that matter if the costs are worth it - people have clearly voted with their choices. In fact, in recent polling about luxuries vs. necessities in life, the automobile checked in as a necessity with 88 percent of the respondents, blowing away items like landline phones, televisions, microwave ovens, you name it - even though car ownership was by far the priciest item in the poll.

Each of us can make our own decisions on these matters, without propaganda outfits like the American Public Transit Association telling us about the "savings". I'll keep my car, thanks. I don't have a microwave oven, even though I can afford to line my walls with the things if I want, because I've decided the benefits are too modest.

You can make a really shit life for yourself if you want to by eliminating all "costs" regardless of benefit. As a commenter on the story on the APTA report noted:

Living in a tent would save about $42,000 per year. Giving up table wine would yeild $240 per year. Using old newsprint and forgoing commercial TP would save a whopping $48 per year. Movies? Nix your montly movie night habit with the wife and you would save nearly $1,200 annually. Coffee at Starbucks? Drinking tepid water each morning would net about $600 per year in savings. Want to save big? For go kids. The cute little buggers cost you more than $13K a year...throw in childcare so you can have a fulfilling career...another $8K minium. Everything in life is not always about saving money
which I reproduced here for its sentiment, in spite of the massive spelling, grammar, and usage errors.


A brief tour of Brooklyn espresso joints

NEW YORK, New York - I decided to spend my Sunday morning having a few espressos in Brooklyn. I avoided the places I have visited repeatedly in the past (Gimme Coffee! and Gorilla) in favor of some first-time visits.

My first visit was to a month-old spot featuring Stumptown beans in Cobble Hill. The place may be called Cafe Pedlar or Coffee Pedlar - as you can see in the photo, there's no identification on the outside of the building, no sandwich board, nothing. Some sources say "Peddlar" but I did see it spelled with one "D" inside.

Judging from internet postings this charming-turned-hip-turned-gentrified 'hood needed good espresso, so good for them. They need a couple more tables so I could not photograph the espresso, but it was better than adequate. They use a La Marzocco machine - come on, that's a 2nd string machine nowadays.

I then decided to lose my virginity on a few matters - making my first visit to the Greenpoint neighborhood and riding the G train. The G is the one line that does not enter Manhattan, and when I've spotted it in the past it had like 4 cars instead of 10, and nobody was on it, so I was worried. I figured that G might stand for "gangsta" and that my life might be on the line.

Similarly, I had barely heard of Greenpoint and didn't know if it was a decent 'hood or a shooting gallery. Turns out, it's just another bland Brooklyn far outpost - similar to Red Hook but without an Ikea to create buzz. It's also a Polish enclave - they had Polish bakeries, Polish restaurants, even a Polish credit union!

My espresso hit in Greenpoint was Café Grumpy. They offer products from a variety of roasters and use a Synesso machine. They offered the regular espresso and a "guest" espresso (pile on a few more and they'll be up to the four different espressos offered at Caffé del Doge in Palo Alto).

I went with a regular espresso and it was the best one of the day. Nice and short, dark crema, no bitterness, no aftertaste. Grumpy has a Chelsea location so perhaps I'll incorporate it into my Manhattan trips going forward.

Also of note at Grumpy is the bathroom - they have dozens of Polaroids of people on the walls, a few of which have captions and a few of which have cryptic numbers. There may be some sort of logic to it but I wasn't in the mood to decipher anything.

From Grumpy I strolled in the rain towards Williamsburg. (I seem to be the only person in New York with rain hat and slicker). I stopped for breakfast at Mugs Alehouse on the way, eggs Benedict and an Anchor Steam beer (which the waitress kept referring to as "Anchor Steamer" beer). The bar, of course, had a television with a distorted picture.

I made my way down Bedford Avenue, the hip heart of Williamsburg, passing a Japanese-Malay fusion restaurant and similar atrocities, before arriving at Oslo Coffee Company on Roebling St. I didn't recognize their coffee beans but they did have a Synesso machine.

The demitasse was from Caffé Vita, and it was not the only sign of Seattle in the room; the sink had a bunch of stickers from Seattle affixed. Vita, Bauhaus, Top Pot, a few Ballard stickers, even some less-prominent joints like Herkimer and Tougo were represented.

Seattle beans, Seattle stickers, rain, Seattle espresso machines - I decided to call it a day.


On watching stretched 4:3 images on 16:9 screens

NEW YORK, New York - I don't watch television much, but nowadays the first thing I have to do when I check into a hotel with a wide-screen HDTV is fiddle with it to get the picture down to 4:3 ratio. Genuine widescreen pictures (16:9) are only available if the hotel is shelling out for high-def service (none seem to do this) or grabbing the over-the-air HD signals but they all seem to configure the TV in "stretch" mode so that the 4:3 image gets stretched over the whole screen.

I consider it essentially nuts that people would want to watch the distortion produced by stretching the image. Yet, not only do I see this in hotels and bars, sometimes I go over someone's house and when they're watching a channel being delivered in 4:3 they have it set up to stretch the image. It looks broken to me, crazy, unwatchable, but even this HDTV guide notes that some people prefer to watch the distortion instead of having some of the screen go unused.