Thursday, August 30, 2007

Spam vs. Bacon

I am very intrigued by a new term I heard about on NPR and want to alert my old friends in Cleveland, the editors of the definitive dictionary, Webster's New World (we will have to see if it catches on). We all get tons of email we don't want to read but it falls into different types of junk mail (just as my snail mail does). First there was spam. Now there is bacn (pronounced "bacon"), the latest buzzword to infiltrate the Internet.

Spam is junk email like those neverending messages about Viagra or from people in Africa seeking money but according to NPR, bacn is e-mail you want to read — just not now.

I used to think it was funny/annoying that whenever I asked B& to send a targeted email to their customers about a certain book, using buying history, they would argue that they didn't want to overload these people's email boxes. But they certainly don't hesitate to send me messages that rarely relate to my interests. What, I'm not special?

It may be holy but it's still a liquid!

I don't know whether to laugh or sympathize with the pilgrims who thought they could bring holy water onto the new Vatican airline! I can see that if you had stood in a long line at Lourdes waiting to fill up your bottle, you would be miffed at not being able to bring it home with you. But surely they could have packed it carefully in their checked luggage? Or are they proper old fashioned pilgrims, traveling light with split peas in their shoes as I first learned in the Wouldbegoods? I have not been to Lourdes but I bet there are local retailers selling special (empty) water bottles to the pilgrims (along with less innocuous souvenirs).

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Queen of Mean

I see that Leona Helmsley, subject of one of the first Bantam books I ever worked on, The Queen of Mean, who died recently, left $12 million to her dog, but cut out two of her four grandchildren altogether (she says they know why). Maybe I shouldn't have been so hasty persuading my grandmother to adopt Olive the Cat back in May...

Here is poor Leona with her husband Harry in happier days.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Michael Vick and hypocrisy

As my favorite professor Gary Francione wrote last week, "We're all Michael Vick," and he has a point. Despite three years under his tutelage, I have not become a vegetarian (I am selfish and like cheeseburgers too much) but I can't help agreeing with the substance of his argument which is that Americans are hypocritical about animals, artificially separating them into species which can be exploited and species which cannot. As he has reminded me, this results from the fact that dogs are cute and cows are not (admittedly, pit bulls are not cute but they are still dogs, hence the national outrage).

However, what really seemed ridiculous to me was that the Pittsburgh reporter who said that Michale Vick would have been "better off raping a woman" than being charged with dogfighting was forced to apologize and will no longer appear on the sports show where he made the remark. Surely no one can really believe the reporter was advocating rape. What Paul Zeise meant - and no one seems willing to admit it is true - is that celebrity athletes (and non-athletes) appear to be condemned less for violent crimes against humans than for violent crimes against dogs. Obviously both deserve our outrage and swift punishment. Zeise may well have been accurate when he said a rapist "might have been suspended for four games and he'd be back on the field" as opposed to Vick's being suspended from the NFL indefinitely.

While Zeise's comment was unfortunate and poorly phrased, he invoked (less articulately) the "moral schizophrenia" in our society Professor Francione laments. However, there is a silver lining - Vick said today that this situation has helped him find Jesus. I assume Jesus is running as fast as He can in the opposite direction...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Things that bothered me about the season finale of Grey’s Anatomy

I got a little behind but thanks to my DVR have finally watched the last two episodes of Grey's Anatomy and the Addison spin-off:
Why is Derek suddenly the good guy? Derek has been looking for an excuse to break up with Meredith ever since Richard said he wanted to protect Meredith’s relationship so wouldn’t support Derek’s candidacy for chief of surgery. Derek responded to that possible setback to his ambitions by distancing himself from Meredith, stopped staying over, etc. It was very noticeable and seemed obvious he didn’t want to be held back by her. So, while he may be hurt she didn’t tell him about the disastrous first intern exam (not that she told anyone at all but George realized because he observed her staring into space instead of scribbling; maybe he should have been worried for himself), for Derek to blame Meredith for relying on her friends rather than him is absurd. He seemed so insincere when he said she was the love of his life yet that was meant to be an emotional heart-jerking scene. Plus only someone really insensitive would pick practically the middle of a wedding to have a Relationship Talk with the maid of honor. Not to mention that she is still recovering from that dreadful scene where her father slapped her! But as a break up it was a little too abrupt. No one can break up that quickly after three seasons getting together. Meredith should have picked Finn. He wasn’t as needy as the rest of her friends and someone at Seattle Grace needs to date outside that hospital.

Addison is far too beautiful to be so self-pitying, and it is surprising that Callie doesn’t hate her (but they both need someone to confide in so had to maintain the relationship). I was waiting for the woman with the twins to give one to Joe the bartender and one to Richard and his wife! By the by, don't I recall that Joe was having severe financial difficulties with the bar? How can he afford to support twins?

Alex may have felt a sense of connection to Ava/Rebecca, but it seemed more as if he appreciated having someone who looked up to him than was actually in love. And why doesn’t anyone ever tell these interns not to get romantically involved with their patients? They should flunk their exams for that, rather than anything on the test!

It was brilliant of Callie to torment Izzie by saying she and George were working on having a baby. However, Izzie almost deserved it by first telling George she loved him as a friend (causing him to flunk his exams), then (after he gave up and decided to make the best of things with Callie, who is, after all, his wife) telling him that she really did love him and want to be with him. It was never really convincing that he married Callie anyway – there did not seem to be any chemistry between them, plus she is so much larger than he is. But now she is bound to be pregnant, making it harder (as we all know) for him to leave her. I wasn’t sure at first but now I think George and Izzie do belong together (anyone but that awful Seth Rogen!).

I can see why George failed the exam but the show needs George to survive. At first I thought that failing was to prevent him from going to the rival hospital, if he has to repeat his internship. But really having him more or less kicked out is too much like last season when Izzie was the one being potentially tossed. And if anyone deserved a promotion on this show it was Miranda! She is the only professional person in the hospital! To promote Callie, after she lived in the basement of the hospital, is ridiculous, and I don't think she ever displayed characteristics that made her seem like a leader. If anything, she never bonded with any of the interns (except George) and showed insecurity re their cliqueishness.

Derek was a creep to tell Meredith about the girl in the bar, whom I gather was also the new intern talking to George at the end. But how can she be Meredith’s half sister, Lexie? How could they be so close in age unless Thatcher walked out the day Meredith was born? Was he carrying on with Susan before he left Ellis? And why was Lexie in a bar instead of consoling her messed up father about her mother’s death? Would she really pick Meredith’s hospital to do her training, especially given that Thatcher believes the hospital is responsible for Susan’s death? How odd that Thatcher didn’t put his foot down about Lexie going to med school. This is far too clich├ęd a plot line.

The patient subplots are often very boring, and I especially lost interest in the axe victim.

I think Shonda made a mistake by allowing Meredith to become so whiney and damaged that viewers now seem to dislike her. You can’t treat your star character that way if you want your show to survive declining ratings. Cristina is far more interesting but not very likeable (and looked awful without eyebrows – that was too weird). Izzie needs to cut down on involvement with patients and sleeping with married men/coworkers. Aesthetically, it made sense to have all the characters become single again as a season finale, although it is hard on the viewers!

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Duke schedule is released!

Even I don't start worrying about basketball until the baseball season is over, but there is always a frisson of interest when Duke releases its schedule and I examine it carefully to figure out when I will be able to see my team play in person. Unfortunately, this year, the closest the team will get is New York (a neutral site game against Pitt on a weeknight) and at Temple (on another weeknight in January), and I will have less flexibility this year in terms of taking an afternoon off to get to my seat by tipoff. Admittedly, one often sees better on TV but of course it is not the same! However, until the new freshmen make their mark, there is no one incredibly exciting on this team (and hasn't been since JJ graduated), and while Gerald Henderson and DeMarcus Nelson show signs of brilliance they have not been able to sustain it for an entire game. I guess I will stick to the Red Sox for the time being although their August slump is worrying everyone in the Nation... although Red Sox fans on the road, seem to be having fun, so long as you don't ask Terry Francona!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Is Neil Diamond cool again?

Sweet Caroline is one of those songs everyone has known forever but when did it gain such a cult following at sporting events? Even NPR has investigated this phenomenon. The Red Sox play it in the middle of the 8th inning, with the fans loudly chiming in for the chorus with "so good, so good, so good." It is surprising that Neil himself hasn't been coaxed to Fenway to perform it live. Admittedly, I don't know if he was ever cool previously, although I know the song was a big hit in the late 60s.

My friend Scott's band Jobu often plays it as well. The Jobu groupies chime in with x-rated lyrics but at least they have stopped flashing the band and spectators. I called Scott from Fenway when I was there on Saturday while the crowd was singing and held up my cell phone so he could experience it. He came with me to a game at Fenway in 2002 (and protected me from angry Yankees fans while I was in law school, which was a full time job) but has stayed loyal to the Mets despite being exposed to the true faith...

Sunday, August 19, 2007

We all scream...

Last summer when I was in Tuscany (she wrote oh-so-casually, trying to sound like a world traveler), my sister and I joked that we wanted all our days to be two gelato days. It would not have been hard because we found amazing gelaterias in every town we visited (and did sometimes indulge at noon and again before heading back to our villa). We liked the fact that the servers always urged us to try two flavors at once in our cones, which we tried to keep in the same family, such as raspberry and lemon or chocolate and cream, although others were more daring and went for random combinations. On a hot day, gelato is indescribably delicious. Europeans do seem to take their gelato seriously, and in Vienna there is even a special flavor for dogs.

However, I really think ice cream is better, and I rejoice in the abundance of ice cream available in Massachusetts, after so many years in NY where ice cream is an afterthought. NPR had a piece recently on the anniversary of the banana split, but in my opinion a plain cone (preferably two scoops!) is preferable to a fancy sundae. My favorite flavor is peppermint stick, and is available commercially from Brigham's, at least in Massachusetts. In my childhood, Brigham's operated many little restaurants, including one in Newton Centre, where we sometimes persuaded my father to buy us cones on the way home from church in the summer. My sister says they were only 20 cents! There are still a few locations but the one in downtown Boston closes at 5 pm (twice I got there just as they shut down, which was most annoying - also foolish - why not stay open until after rush hour?). Luckily, many grocery stores sell the ice cream. People love the locally themed flavors such as Big Dig (our dreadful tunnel construction), Dice-Kream (in honor of our new pitcher), and Fluffernutter (invented in Lynn, MA).

Last week, in Cape Cod, we visited Four Seas, which had been recommended to us by our friend Elayna, and it definitely lived up to expectations. Although my favorite part of our excursion was not even the ice cream but when my not quite 2 1/2 nephew said firmly (and repeatedly) to the server, "Chocolate in a cone, NOT A CUP!" As an adult, you forget what a rite of passage it is to be finally considered old enough to cope with a cone. My nephews are really not that skilled at licking. James proudly said he was biting his cone, but there was not much point in instructing otherwise! Coping with a cone is simply a skill one acquires with age. Several trips were made to Four Seas but we also liked a place in Osterville called Gone Chocolate, right on Main Street.

When my family lived in Brighton, there was an ice cream truck called Arthur's, that served our street. The ice cream novelties were nothing special (although seemed very desirable at the time!) but it was fun to watch the neighborhood kids running to coax their mothers into buying. Now Boston seems to have far too many angry citizens complaining about the tunes from the trucks - what a bunch of scrooges!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Janet Lambert for grownups!

Tonight I went to a booksigning at Barnes & Noble for a local author I really enjoy, Suzanne Brockmann, and it was a fun event. When I first started reading her books, she was making a move from Bantam's Loveswept line but is now a very successful NYT bestselling author for Ballantine. She writes romantic suspense about a group of Navy Seals (which even she acknowledges is an unusual concept) and in several was able to mix historical and contemporary events by very skillful use of flashbacks (I thought those were some of her best books). There were lots of questions from the audience. I commented that her most interesting and unusual character Gina had been introduced in a relatively early book yet readers had to wait a long time for her to get her own story in Breaking Point. Her answer, which I liked, was that because Gina had gone through such trauma initially that it would have been unrealistic and simplistic to give her a happy ending right away so she let time pass (with her characters, not just forcing her readers to wait). What I didn't tell Suzanne was that I still haven't read that one - I was almost afraid it wouldn't live up to expectations so was waiting for the right moment! However, when I heard tonight that Force of Nature was her 44th book I realized I am missing quite a few. Perhaps I need to go back to the beginning and read chronologically. It was a pity not to be accompanied by Julie Naughton, who is an even bigger fan than I am.

I had not previously been to this particular B&N although it is only about 35 minutes from my house. It may be the largest in the Boston area, spacious, attractive and relatively new. There was a good crowd in attendance, all very friendly and enthusiastic, taking their cue from Suzanne who is just as nice as my friend Gilly, who used to be her publicist at Random House (and doubtless deserves much credit for her sales), had said, and signed several of my hardcovers from home as well as the new book. It felt a bit odd being a spectator instead of "working" the event as I did for so many years. The B&N event manager was extremely competent and pleasant (we discussed Bridget Moynahan's mysterious due date, among other things) and told me she is expecting a huge crowd on 9/11 for Stephenie Meyer's new vampire book. I did enjoy the first one (Twilight, which I read on a plane to Rome) but felt the last 25% of the book was too rushed. I didn't feel any urgency about reading the second one and my sister said it wasn't as good, anyway. Maybe sometime!

Suzanne Brockmann and I (not sure why we are leaning forward!)

Monday, August 13, 2007

TV doctors playing with life and death

As a big fan of Grey's Anatomy (despite its flaws), I was interested to read today that such medical shows and their cavalier attitudes towards organ donations (this means you, Izzie!) scare off potential donors! This may or may not be accurate but if true would be distressing. However, it is not the first time I have been startled by superstitious attitudes about organ donation. My former boss Helmus once told a group of co-workers that he would never be an organ donor because he is convinced that if he were in an accident and an EMT saw the donor card, he would be harvested instead of saved. And he a doctor's son! Sitting around a restaurant in San Francisco, we looked at him dubiously but he was quite serious. Perhaps fortunately, his theory has not been put to the test. I myself am duly registered with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts via the Department of Motor Vehicles.

What would James Bond do?

Although not a martini fan myself, I share the curiosity of the individual who wrote to the Boston Globe, "I know James Bond has a preference, but is there a big difference between a shaken martini and a stirred one?" and I feel sure my friend Terry Kawaja would want to know also.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Are you cheating?

People often ask me (I love how I am the arbiter of taste, sort of like a modern day Sir Philip Sidney - my friend Katie used to pose questions beginning, "Do you think it's appropriate...?") whether it's cheating if you listen to the audio book instead of physically reading the book, and today the New York Times addressed the issue. Does this also depend on whether you are reading the book as an assignment or for your book group vs. for yourself? It seems to be the other members of the book groups who are resentful that they are "grinding away" while others are lightheartedly listening. Yet if the reading is a chore (for them or you), why do it at all? While surely it is the exposure to the author's language and story that is essential, not whether you read or listen to it, I do admit I have a faint feeling that listening to an audio version is the easy way out.

What do you think?

The new big three??

Suddenly people are buying Celtics tickets again! I was initially so glad to see Paul Pierce looking happy that it took a few minutes to a) recognize him and b) appreciate that Kevin Garnett has a lot of charisma and charm. The euphoria around town yesterday was contagious and fun but quite premature. And while I was sorry to see Al Jefferson go as he has lots of potential, I think this trade has saved Danny Ainge's credibility as a GM/president of the Celtics. Assuming there are enough players left to field a team!

It appears that none of my Minnesota friends was caught in the appalling bridge collapse yesterday but my sympathy is with all those who were there or were affected. Unfortunately, no one is going to feel comfortable driving on bridges for a while. Anywhere.