Monday, August 30, 2010


For those of you not in the biz, I am borrowing my title from Nikki Finke who uses that expression whenever she really scoops a story on  (and apparently has applied for a trademark for the phrase)

My gloating comes from two stories that appear in MSM (aka mainstream media). The first article appeared a few days ago in Salon and concerns the topics about shield laws for internet postings and  "journalism for everyman" I covered in "Shield Me" May 2009 and Democratization of Journalism this month.

The second article, in the NYT, is about the proliferation of raccoon gangs in urban areas, a topic I covered in October 2009.  As a frustrated journalist, I am pleased that my little blog is covering the same topics as professional journalists before the articles appear in MSM.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

You Didn't Know Jack (But You Should Have)

 Jack Brehm (left) in 1983
I had the pleasure and privilege as a baby assistant professor of Social Psychology at the University of Kansas in 1980-81 to meet, work with and become the friend of Jack Brehm. Jack is known for his work on cognitive dissonance, originally working with Leon Festinger .  More importantly for me,  Jack was a wonderful intellect and a lovely person with whom to spend time.  We had many parties that year at rotating locations (although mostly at Jack's delightful house in the woods outside Lawrence) where Jack, other social psych professors and graduate students drank and talked in the small hours of the morning.  Kansas was a dry state then and I think I drank more that year than any other year of my life.

Jack  Brehm
This week I was looking at my old rolodex and saw Jack's number at KU.  I went on the internet to look for him and discovered to my sadness that he passed away a little over a year ago on August 9, 2009.  He was 81 when he died.

Tonight I was listening to Pandora which brought up a song by Henryk Gorecki.  When I was at KU, Jack went to Poland and brought me back an LP of choral music by Henryk Gorecki , who was not well known at the time among those in my classical music circles.  But Jack knew that I loved harmonies and he thought I would find Gorecki interesting.  He was right.  Gorecki's music can send chills through me.  Here's a video of Gorecki's Totus Tuus, which was not on the LP Jack gave me, but is nevertheless a breathtaking piece:

Friday, August 27, 2010


One of my business friends recently posted the following question on Facebook: "Where do jumbo eggs come from?"  Whimsically I replied,  "From jumbo egg cartons!"  Today, after many articles about the current half billion egg recall, I would probably say, "From a farm in Iowa."

The NYT, Washington Post and LA Times simply cannot write enough articles about the egg recall.  Here are some egg facts I have learned from these papers in the past week:
  • The eggs came from two farms in Iowa but (as of today) were distributed  under 35 different labels, giving consumers the impression that the eggs were from many different places.
  • Only "192 large egg companies own about 95 percent of laying hens in this country, down from 2,500 in 1987."  Wash. Post 8/24/10
  • The FDA regulates the eggs and the USDA regulates the chickens. Wash. Post 8/24/10
  • The two farms where the contaminated originated were never inspected WSJ 8/23/10
  • The farms had the same supplier and he was cited before for safety violations. NY Times 8/27/10
  • Scientists predicted a problem of this magnitude would happen. LA Times 8/24/10
  • The US rejected a plan implemented by the UK to vaccinate chickens which has dramatically decreased salmonella in the UK from eggs, even though the cost of the vaccination program added only fractions of a penny to the cost of an egg. NY Times 8/25/10
Eggs are a delightful, nutritious low cost food in our country. Yet thanks to former Sec'y of Agriculture Earl Butz eggs are part of the megaproduction of food in our country based on the extensive growth and use of corn as feed and for other products (like that lovely sugar substitute high fructose corn syrup). Egg prices are low because they are "manufactured" in chicken factories that organizations like Peta and the Humane Society have been criticizing for years.  Chickens in these factories have no room and eat a diet of corn which is not meant for chickens.  However, unlike cows who get obviously sick on the corn and must be given antibiotics in order to grow and produce, the chickens do not stop producing even if they are sick.

These conditions do not change because we love our cheaply produced food. Instead we blame our government (which we really wish were smaller) when our cheap food makes us sick.  I have seen three articles, one in the Wash. Post (see above),  one in the NY Times and one in the Atlantic that have focused on the failure of the government to coordinate the regulation of our cheap eggs, because different agencies have different responsibilities.  And yet, when there was an opportunity to do something that has been proven effective, the  Bush Administration FDA apparently acceded to the demands of Big "Farma" and nixed lost cost vaccination for the chickens.

Thinking that the problem can be fixed by putting a bandaid on administrative issues seems underwhelming.  The bigger problem is our ignorance as a nation of the sources of our food and our reliance on cheap food produced in any way possible to maximize profits and limit costs in the short term. The long term costs, as exemplified by this salmonella outbreak, and eventually by the illnesses deriving from obesity caused by our addictive processed food supply (see David Kessler's  book, The End of Overeating) will come back to roost!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sleeping on the Rails

Although I hate to admit, I have something in common with Martha Stewart. We found a B & B in Capitola (near where our daughter lives) that we and Martha just love.  It is called the Inn at Depot Hill and is built on the remains of the train depot for Capitola.

The website for the Inn says:

Inn at Depot Hill was home to the Southern Pacific Railroad Depot built in 1901 and has been a legend in Capitola history for generations. After a historical transformation in 1990, the inn offers 12 guest rooms and suites uniquely designed to recreate the refined luxury of the bygone era of train travel. Each guest room and suite is reminiscent of European destinations rich in train travel history such as St. Tropez, Paris, and Portofino. 

We have stayed there now two times--one this past Memorial Day Weekend and the second this past weekend in August.  And this time we saw a small train go by at breakfast one day, even though the rails are so rusted that we doubted any trains still ran on them.

Here are some pictures of the front of the building:

We stayed the first time in the Capitola Beach Suite which has a King size bed and a lovely built in window bench.  This time the only room available was the Library Suite which has a double bed and a twin bed.  Not ideal for us since we typically sleep in the same bed but since one of us is double size and one of us is twin size, we made due.

The Library Suite has a split level design with three levels- the bedroom with the double bed and desk at the bottom level, a library with two chairs at mid level overhanging the bedroom and an alcove with a twin bed at the upper level. Having two chairs that faced the front window was very nice; the Capitola Suite only had one chair which became a source of contention.

Here are pictures of the interior of the Library Suite:

<-----the bedroom from the stairs next to the library

        the library

<------my alcove with the twin bed.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tolerating Intolerance

In recent weeks, I have experienced a number of reminders of how difficult it is to overcome intolerance.  There is intolerance at the local level - exhibited by a "locals only" sign I saw in Santa Cruz which reflects a mentality embraced by surfers and high school students in my own beach community in southern California.  I remember when my children were in high school, and even into college, there was a running debate about whose city affiliation was better between students who lived in one upper middle class beach city and those who lived in an adjacent upper middle class beach city geographically indistinguishable from the first one.  The young residents of each city felt the need to exclude the others from social gatherings.  Locals only.

There is intolerance of religion.  Witness the heated and unsavory debate about the proposal to build a mosque two blocks from the WTC site.  Witness the Time poll that shows substantial prejudice in our society against Muslims:
Yet the survey also revealed that many Americans harbor lingering animosity toward Muslims. Twenty-eight percent of voters do not believe Muslims should be eligible to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. Nearly one-third of the country thinks adherents of Islam should be barred from running for President — a slightly higher percentage than the 24% who mistakenly believe the current occupant of the Oval Office is himself a Muslim.

(I am not sure where Time got the 24% figure about Obama given that a Pew Poll today said the figure was 18%, still a disturbingly high percentage of people who are wrong about the President's religion.)

My son told me last night that, when he returned his junior year in high school to our local, upper middle class, white, suburban school, people called him a "Jew" and a "Nigger", the former because of his surname and the latter because he had picked up some dialect from friends at his more diverse former school.  Dr. Laura has been guilty of hurling the racial epithet recently and Sarah Palin supports her right to do so.

On May 1,1992 Rodney King said "Can we all get along?" as a plea to stop the violence arising from racial tensions here after the acquittal three days before of the police who were videotaped beating him.  Almost 20 years later, we show that we still cannot get along.  We show that we still do not tolerate those who are different from us. Our tolerance of intolerance continues notwithstanding efforts to change.  The Southern Law Poverty Center runs a program called Teaching Tolerance in an effort to educate our children to be open to those who are different  from them.   City College of San Francisco, itself a huge melting pot of over 100,000 students of every race, religion, socio-economic class and other persuasions, also has a wonderful website on teaching tolerance.  Unfortunately, notwithstanding all these efforts, our children do not seem to learn the lesson as evidenced by my son's experiences.  When will we all get along, if no one is really learning tolerance in our current educational system?  We can no longer afford as a society to continue tolerating intolerance.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Food For Eating

On our way to Pismo Beach last Thursday we stopped in Santa Barbara for dinner.  We thought we would go to a nouveau sushi restaurant we found there last time we visited called Arigato Sushi and arrived at 6:40 pm--on the early side by LA standards.  However, Arigato was already hopping and required a half hour wait which we would have done if we didn't have to drive another 120 miles that evening. 

Instead, we took off on foot looking for another acceptable restaurant in the area.  First we found the Tupelo Junction Cafe where live music was playing.  I walked around the restaurant and decided that the smells (hay or maybe even manure), sights (fried chicken floating in gelatinous gravy on a mound of mashed potatoes) and sounds (a band of disheveled gents playing a bad mixture of country and bluegrass) were more than I could take so we went back out looking for another place.  Our next stop was a Danish restaurant which also did not appeal. We also looked at a Thai restaurant that was completely empty so thought the better of that.  Then we crossed the street to look at a "bar and grill" which was decorated like a glorified Denny's but with much higher prices.  At this point, two blocks  and 20 minutes later, my husband was quite frustrated with my nixing everything.  He huffed off toward the car, threatening to drive to Pismo Beach without any food.  I limped behind wimpering that I was hungry, just not hungry enough to compromise my standards that evening.

When we got back to the parking lot, we asked the attendant if there were any good restaurants around.  He told us that right next to the parking lot on the other side (the way we did not walk) was an Argentinian restaurant, Cafe Buenos Aires.  We checked it out and decided that it was more than satisfactory.  And it turned out to be BRAZIL NIGHT so we had two comely young women dressed in large head gear and barely nothing else do a dance show for us.  The food was great; I particularly enjoyed the empanadas.  I thought about having a Caipirinha but decided I did not want to be too intoxicated for the remainder of the drive.  The dancing was reminiscent for me of belly dancing I had seen in a Lebanese restaurant in Oxford, but with very high heals and huge head dress.  One of the young women was wearing a g-string costume that showed off her assets to their best extent.  The other young woman wore feathers and a boy brief, clearly not wanting to compete with her colleague.  Both, however, were quite skilled dancers and made the dinner a lot of fun.

All in all, the dinner was a great outcome after a dicey start.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Food for Thought

While I was recuperating from chemo, I read two different books that discussed the food eaten in yesteryears in the United States.  One, Appetite for America: How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvey Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire That Civilized the Wild West, addressed the food served by Fred Harvey (the company) from the late 1800s through the 1960s when the business faltered and for the most part died.  The other, The Food of a Younger Land: The WPA's Portrait of Food in Pre-World War II America, compiled the writings of a WPA project (America Eats) surveying the food of each region of the US from settlement through the 1930s.  Raccoon and entrails soup seemed to be in abundance in certain areas.  Reading this book reminded me that our national diet now is truly a melting pot of cuisines as well as horrible processed food derived from the abundant corn grown by agribusiness.  When I was in college in Massachusetts in the 1970s, most of us had never eaten a taco or a plate of sushi, nor were such foods available in our college town.  Not true now.  Frighteningly you can get sushi very far away from  the ocean. Mexican food is abundant everywhere.

This past weekend the NY Times Book Review also wrote about two new books that survey eating habits in America past.  Why all this interest in what our forebears ate?  Four books in one year on the subject?  Perhaps it has something to do with Michael Pollan's observation in In Defense of Food that we do not have a national identity in our food (our food is an amalgam of the immigrants who populated our shores and the product of extensive engineering by the food industry to satisfy our need for novelty).
The sheer novelty and glamor of the Western diet, with its seventeen thousand new food products every year and the marketing power - thirty-two billion dollars a year - used to sell us those products, has overwhelmed the force of tradition and left us where we now find ourselves: relying on science and journalism and government and marketing to help us decide what to eat. Michael Pollan (In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto)
Perhaps these books are a search for a national cuisine, a tradition to enshrine in the land of McNuggets and Cheese Doodles.  I don't know.  Having seen raccoon up close and personal (see my blog entry of October 27, 2009) I think I would rather eat the cheese doodle.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

À la Recherche de l'été Perdu (In Remembrance of Summers Past)

Summer has been slow to come to Southern California this year, particularly at the beach where I live. Typically we have a month of marine layer (overcast skies and temps in the 60s but no rain) in June, but this year what we call "June Gloom" has extended into August.  Unlike our friends and family on the east coast, we have not needed to turn on our air conditioning this summer.  I am still wearing wool pants even in August.

So I have started to fugue in my memory to summers of my childhood spent in upstate New York at a small spring fed lake.  Here are some scenes that have flashed through my memory:

  • When I was very young I had a stuffed bear named Joe (which was also my dad's name) who I believed was my only friend. I dragged him everywhere, smelling his sweet Teddy bear smell. One summer I vomited on Joe and my mother had to wash him.  I was beside myself until I got him back and then beside myself again because he did not smell the same. I have a specific memory of her returning Joe to me in the room I had in the house we had on the lake.
  • At age 9 or so, I ordered a kit from the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy group to put on a circus/fair to raise money for the cause.  I set up a fair with games at our lake house (aka the "camp")on a Sunday when family was visiting.  I think I raised about $5.
  • My maternal grandmother (aka Nanny) came to visit one summer and actually spent some time showing me how to cook.  She made wonderful pies but did not show me much about how to make them.  I guess the tutelage was not too extensive given that I still do not know how to cook all that well.
  • One summer when I was about 11, my dad set up an archery set for me and showed me how to shoot a bow and arrow.  I got pretty good at hitting the bullseye.
  • At age 10, I got a license from the state of NY to operate a motorboat so I learned to drive ours all over the lake and to take people waterskiing.  I repeated the mantra, "let the boat pull you up."
  • I tried for years to learn how to waterski myself.  I only got up once and fell fairly quickly out in the middle of the lake.  I was the only one in my family who was never able to waterski.  For some reason, it seemed like my arms were never strong enough to hold on, although my family found ways to insult my balance, athletic ability etc.
  • The summer I was 12, I decided to force myself to swim more so I set up a schedule for daily swims from our dock to another dock that I estimated was about 1/2 mile away.  I also spent that summer canoeing all over the lake. You would think I would have had strong arms but nope, still couldn't waterski.
  • When I was 13, I spent a good chunk of the summer sitting or lying on the enclosed porch of the camp reading War and Peace.  I remember loving the book and loving the setting.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Whither Wilderness

As I have gotten older, I have become much more interested in National Parks and spectacular scenes of nature.  I even sat through a chunk of Ken Burns' The National Parks: America's Best Idea and would have watched more if my DVR had not thought keeping episodes of Star Trek The Next Generation was more important. The Parks are full of aging hippies like me with overpriced digital cameras.  Perhaps it is because we have more time now that our children are grown.  However, I never chose to go to the Parks when my children were younger and if I had been a true hippie I would have reveled more in the outdoors. No, something has changed in me.  I want to know more about geology and history of these beautiful areas.  They provide more perspective for our place on this planet in this point in time.

For a number of years, I have been exploring the Southwest.  I am particularly enamored of red rock and arches.  This year, I decided to re-explore California, my adopted state of residence for the past 35 years.  We went up the coast as far as Mendocino and back down with a nice side trip to Yosemite.

Here are four pictures of scenery we saw, three from Yosemite and one from the coast near Big Sur.  Please discuss among yourselves which scenery is most beautiful and/or spectacular to you and why.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

525,600 Minutes

In reading Half the Sky recently, I was struck by the impact certain statistics have on me, and I suspect on others as well.  They are statistics that measure events relative to time and for me, that comparison makes the numbers seem more significant.

For example, here are two quotes from Half the Sky:

In India, a “bride burning” takes place approximately once every two hours, to punish a woman for an inadequate dowry or to eliminate her so a man can remarry ...
Another huge burden for women in poor countries is maternal mortality, with one woman dying in childbirth around the world every minute.
 And here is a quote from today's article by Bob Herbert in the NY Times:
These are gloomy times in the United States. A child drops out of high school every 26 seconds.
Let's translate these time references into numbers.  As we all know from the Rent song, there are 525,600 minutes in a year. The "bride burning"  numbers translate to 4,380 deaths a year-- a disturbing number in and of itself but nowhere near as disturbing as the "every two hours" reference.  However, there are about 1/2 Billion women in India and approximately 70%  are over the age of 15, so that would yield a death rate for marriageable age women of about 0.00000125.  See the difference?

The maternal mortality rate translates to approximately half a million women each year.  I suspect if you take into account the number of women of childbearing age in the world, you would get a less startling statistic. In like vein, based on the statistic Herbert cited, there are approximately 1.2 million high school dropouts a year.  According to US Census figures, in 2008 there were 16.7 million high school students. That would yield a dropout rate of 13.9 percent (I am rounding everything so these numbers may be off by a little).

 My point is not to diminish the size of any of  the problems but to point out the impact of communicating the problem in terms of time rather than whole numbers or rates.  Why is a time reference so much more compelling?  I think our perception of time, even though it is measured in numbers, is much more subjective and personal than our perception of numbers and ratios.  We live in time and a minute can be long (e.g.when you are waiting for something) or short (e.g.when you are enjoying something).  If you associate an event such as high school dropouts with time, you can personalize the event.  "While I was typing this sentence, some child dropped out of high school."  Half the Sky cites some psychology research that showed that personalizing the story of someone in need makes the person hearing the story more likely to give money to help than if the story is not personalized or if just statistics of the need are presented.  Therefore, aid providing charities will do better if they tell us stories of individuals rather than tell us in numbers how big the problem is.  Similarly, when we hear a time reference, the problem is placed in a personal reference for us and thus becomes more compelling.  Whatever the reason, I now am much more sensitive to my gut reaction when I hear a time reference for a problem because of the bias we seem to have for this method of processing information.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Democratization of Journalism

When Elena Kagan was nominated to the Supreme Court last spring, I thought amusingly that I should write a blog about how hard it is for mothers to become Supreme Court justices.  At the time I was probably busy being sick (which incidentally has not really deterred my hero, Justice Ginsberg, from serving), so I let that blog idea slide.  Within a week or so, there was an article, which I cannot find now, that addressed my thought with the appropriate stats about how competitive it is for younger women lawyers now and almost impossible to rise to the top in law if you are a mother.  Then came the articles calling for a mother on the Supreme Court, e.g the one in the Washington Post.  Today, with Kagan's confirmation imminent, the issue has been examined again in the NYTimes, again with stats showing the difficulty for mothers to make it in business.

All of this leads me to think more about the role of blogs and what appears to me to be the democratization of journalism.  More than once, I have blogged about an issue that later appears in MSM as an article.  I have seen it happen in other blogs.  And some times, blogs present information that MSM does not even cover. Witness the front page article in Time Magazine this week and the critiques of its message in blogs.

My point is that with the internet and so many smart and educated people blogging, some news stories in MSM are behind the times.  Of course, there are still stories for those news outlets that can afford them where the correspondent travels internationally and writes on topics not readily available to the masses on the internet.  But unfortunately those stories seem to be becoming rarer.  And to the extent that blogs rely on sources from the internet rather than investigative journalism, there is always the problem of accuracy of those sources.  So as in governance, democratization may lead to less excellent results.

And, as irony would have it, someone, perhaps Jay Rosen, has probably already written about this issue, in more depth and with more thoughtfulness. I do, after all, have a day job.  And children.  And grandchildren.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Half the Sky; Wholly Inspirational

This book is a must read for the 21st century.  I hope it has the impact of a Silent Spring or Uncle Tom's Cabin, i.e. to start a movement to end the horrors that women face in most of the world--sex trafficking, death of infant girls, death in childbirth, fistulas, rape, physical abuse by husbands, fathers and brothers as a matter of right.

The book inspired me to take action.  I am sponsoring a woman through Women for Women International and am looking at another organization that works against sex trafficking, which enslaves more women annually than Africans were enslaved during the mid 19th century.  The book is difficult to read at times because the stories and the statistics are so brutal but Kristof and WuDunn give us hope by showing that good outcomes are possible.  They recommend a number of ways to take action, which seems inevitable in the face of such horror for so many women.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

I'll Be Back

My hair is returning in an interesting salt and pepper shade.  It is still very very short but "punk chic" looking as one of my colleagues said.

My elbow is still injured--the result of repetitive movement and muscles weakened by chemo.  I am doing physical therapy and wearing a wrist brace.  I have been avoiding this blog because of the pain from typing.

I have been back to work for six weeks which I just realized means that I can start doing some ab exercises since my last surgery was also over 6 weeks ago.   I promise myself to exercise every day but I don't.  Mostly I sleep on the weekends.  That too will stop at some point.

Work has been interesting and challenging.  I am working on learning more about our business again and continuing to hone my skills and knowledge in the internet space.  I am also being brought into new areas which require me to stop coasting and start paddling.  After many years of indifference, I find myself excited about some aspects of work again.  I am building something, I believe, and that is exciting. (Sorry about the mixed metaphor!)

I have been reading a lot and want to return to the blogging I did before I became ill but I have been hesitant to type for long.  So I wanted to assure all you readers (all three of you!) that I will be back soon to  more frequent blogging and the subject will not be cancer or chemo.  I may still talk about grappling with one's mortality, but even that is mostly in "da Nile" (again with the bad metaphor!)