Friday, April 30, 2010

Whew > Size really doesn't matter

[snip] bigger brains by themselves don't necessarily mean greater intelligence or more complex behavior — for instance, cats show more smarts than cows despite having a feline brain 10 times smaller than a bovine brain. What might really matter is that humans and some other species have bigger brains for their body size. [/snip]  Read the entire scary article here.

Friday's Flower

Reflecting on a spring day

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

News about television news

Either this will make your mouth water or you are a garden gnome.

Yesterday, starting at noon, I had a delicious lunch: a selection of soft cheeses, prosciutto, olivatta, olive oil soaked baby artichokes, grated parmigiana, a fresh baguette & bottle of cold white wine (I drank the WHOLE thing), rounded out by hot coffee & chocolate covered biscotti (pronounced bishcot).

Is your mouth watering? Mine is.

But the most delicious ingredient of all was that I had this lunch in a spotless, sun filled room in a homey triplex on the lower west side, with two sweethearts whom I hadn't seen in much too long. Our hostess: Mary Ellen Silver - nay Schaefer & my date, Ms. Shirley Weiss. Just the three of us (and a King Charles Spaniel named Toby).

I was lucky to have both these ladies (and I use that word advisdely) in my professional & personal life at a time when working in a network news department was fun, honorable, rewarding & extremely satisfying. We were part of a larger team who labored together at ABC News, on a variety of programs, over a number of years. 

It was patient work. It took many hours. It was detail oriented. And never in my career while working with them did I ever doubt that these women weren't doing their absolute best at all times, no matter the circumstances, to complete whatever task was before them. And they knew they could count on me for the same. Because of that faith in each other we were a very close knit group. Yes, there were a few others in the group but, honestly, there were really only a very few. 

Together we worked on hundreds of hours of television, programs like Good Morning America, 20/20, a host of pilots & specials & probably our least favorite project, the ill conceived 'The Last Word'. 

Like many teams in life, this one broke up for selfish reasons. One of the members just had to move on -- me.  And afraid to face the 'music', I did it suddenly & surgically: I just didn't show up, didn't communicate, didn't attend a group party. 

I hid out, an emotional thief in the night. And it has been that way for the better part of 30 years.

Oh yes, I would run into someone from the 'old days' every once in a while but not in the same context as this lunch where we could sit and talk exhaustively.

Rather than focus on how our form of work had changed for the worse over the years, we focused on the good times, discussing what was important then & now & how you can never go back. And we were a bit saddened that newcomers in the business couldn't enjoy what we had enjoyed because the news business model had changed. No longer was it a public responsibility; it became a profit center. 

I'm sure some of our collective memories were romanticized, as all such memories are, but I can say with absolutely certainty that those were very special days, a magical time, a rarified atmosphere of excellence & mutual respect. And I was able to share that with these two ladies. 

About four o'clock we hugged & kissed so long. 

I was and am one lucky guy.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ted Koppel > News Entitlement

"I think we're living through the — I hope — the final stages of what I like to call the age of entitlement...We now feel entitled not to have the news that we need but the news that we want. We want to listen to news that comes from those who already sympathize with our particular point of view. We don't want the facts any more."

And for some interesting comments on this subject click here

Maybe We'll Leave Ridgefield

Eleven years ago Carol & I moved to Ridgefield CT after seventeen years in beautiful Pound Ridge to live in a quaint New England town. This was going to be our last stop. While Ridgefield remains a wonderful town, it's beginning to remind me of what happened to us in New York City.

Many, many years ago we bought into an historic brownstone on an historic street on NYC's upper west side. It was in the 70's between Central Park West & Columbus Avenue. We had a neighborhood watch. People cleaned up after their dogs (before there was a law). Mr. Tiffany had once owned the brownstone across the street & you could see his study, complete with a back lit Tiffany glass ceiling; it was that kind of neighborhood. And it had a mix of all kinds: from folks who had moved there 30-40 years prior to newcomers, renters as well as owners. The Rolling Stones' Keith Richards was a neighbor. So was a well known heart surgeon.

Columbus Avenue was replete with tiny mom & pop shops: dry cleaning, fruit & veggie stands, cheese & hardware stores & the corner newspaper shop where Morris (who owned it) was the only person who cashed personal checks, knew everyone and had everyone's preferred paper ready for them in the morning. There were old styled soda shops with stools and counters, ordinary coffee and lots of mirrors, chrome & vinyl. Richard Ruskay of Ruskay's served reasonably priced, delicious meals to couples in old fashioned booths.

Then the neighborhood got gentrified. Fancy coffee houses, those kitschy little shops sprung up like so many weeds, Morris had to move out to make way for Putamayo and the rest is history. The sidewalks became so crowded with strangers that stepping into the gutter was sometimes necessary just to get by.

The neighborhood had been devoured and so we moved away, having lost the very quality we had bought into, worked hard to preserve and loved so much.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Death and Taxes > Wallstats by Jess Bachman

Anyone interested in information, typography or graphics should look in on this effort. At the bottom of the graphic, click to take it full screen. Mouse over to the left & click on any area of interest. It's a fascinating piece of work.  Tell me what you think. 

Viacom Muzzles Freedom of Speech > 'South Park' creators respond to censors

Trey Parker and Matt Stone have issued a statement about Comedy Central censoring Wednesday night's "South Park" that suggested that this the first time in the history of the show that the duo haven't been able to "stand behind" an episode. "In the 14 years we've been doing South Park we have never done a show that we couldn't stand behind. We delivered our version of the show to Comedy Central and they made a determination to alter the episode. It wasn't some meta-joke on our part. Comedy Central added the bleeps. In fact, Kyle's customary final speech was about intimidation and fear. It didn't mention Muhammad at all but it got bleeped too. We'll be back next week with a whole new show about something completely different and we'll see what happens to it."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Someone Stole His Picnic Basket

Click on the title for a seriously funny series of photos of Joe Biden courtesy of the Huffington Post

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Comment > MSNBC pulls plug on 'anger show'

We may not be the 'angriest' country in the world but we emit our share, frequently influenced by our national leaders. Media carries the message aloft; think multi-viral. 

Anger is one of many legitimate emotional responses that one can have.  But contrived or un-controlled anger taken to an extreme -- a word that needs definition -- can be dangerous for a simple reason. 

Like love & other emotions, anger works on a different plane from logic like two parallel roads that never intersect. This makes for imbalance. 

So to have a rational discussion about anger is a good thing in my book.
Exploration & discussion can dissipate anger. Operating just below the boiling point is a lot better than boiling over. 

I never saw the show but it makes no difference. I'm only sorry that what is perceived as our current 'national' anger couldn't be discussed publicly. It would have been a good exercise.  

I applaud DD & MSNBC for trying. It was a good idea. I hope someone else picks up on the idea & runs with it. 

Ridgefield Press > Outlook for CT bats bleak

Bats with White Nose Syndrome.
A syndrome that attacks hibernating bats continues to kill them at alarming rates both in Connecticut and in expanding areas range-wide, which will lead to a dramatic reduction in the size of the state’s bat population this summer, according to wildlife experts at the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

DEP Commissioner Amey Marrella said today, “On the eve of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, the outbreak of White Nose Syndrome (WNS) that we are seeing serves as a reminder of the fragility of our planet and the interconnectedness of all living things. The massive die-off of the bat population that it is causing is also likely to have serious impacts on agriculture, forestry and other sectors of our economy.”

Jenny Dickson, DEP Supervising wildlife biologist, said, “White Nose Syndrome continues to have a catastrophic effect on bats. Just three short years ago, one of Connecticut’s largest hibernacula had over 3,300 wintering bats. This year fewer than a dozen remain — all but one showed active signs of WNS. The outlook for their survival is grim.”

The DEP says visits to other winter hibernacula — caves and mines where bats hibernate — revealed similar mortality rates. Another large site showed a 95% decline in bat numbers since a winter count in 2007. The only positive note from the 2010 surveys was that only three of the remaining bats at that site showed visible signs of the fungus.
Ms. Dickson also noted that WNS continues to take a devastating toll in the nearby states of New York, Massachusetts, and Vermont, where a significant percentage of the state’s bat population hibernates for the winter.
Ms. Dickson said, “WNS continues to kill some of our most common, backyard bats including the little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus), the northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis), and the tricolored bat (pipistrelle; Perimyotis subflavus), but has spread to other species, too.”
“When you put together the massive die-offs in our hibernacula and the continued spread of WNS in the northern hemisphere, the news is not good,” said Ms. Dickson. “Bats live long lives and reproduce in small numbers — so there is no doubt that WNS will have a major impact on our bat population and on the biodiversity and ecosystems throughout the US and Canada for decades to come.”
Ms. Dickson also noted that the presence of WNS in bats has spread geographically at an alarming rate. After first being discovered in caves in New York in the winter of 2006-2007, it is now in two Canadian Provinces and 11 states from New Hampshire south to Tennessee.
Last week, the Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune (MRNF) in Quebec announced that WNS has been formally identified in the Outaouais region of Canada. Reports of abnormal behavior by suspect bats have also been made in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region in recent weeks. The MRNF is monitoring the situation with assistance from the Centre québécois sur la santé des animaux sauvages and the United States Geological Survey’s (U.S.G.S.) National Wildlife Health Center.
Bats with WNS have a white fungus on their noses and occasionally other parts of their bodies that is only visible during hibernation. The identity of the fungus responsible for this white bloom, Geomyces destructans, was confirmed late last year. The fungus has been genetically linked to a European fungus. There are strong indications that this fungus is a non-native, invasive species has had a deadly impact on native populations of bats. The exact role of the fungus in bat deaths is still unclear, but it is well-documented to alter normal sleeping patterns of hibernating bats causing them to use all of their stored fat reserves before winter ends. There is no indication that people are susceptible to the fungus.
Ms. Dickson said the DEP is asking the public to report any known summer bat colonies by calling (860) 675-8130 or via email to Wildlife Technician, Christina Kocer at . As bats continue to return to maternity sites and summer roosts, the agency would like to hear from people about changes in the number of bats they are seeing or even about bat colonies that once existed and do not return to their previous homes.
Ms. Dickson said DEP is working with other affected states and provinces, federal agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S.G.S. and several research universities to learn more about WNS, possible control methods, and to develop conservation strategies to protect remaining bat populations and hopefully prevent the continued spread of this fatal fungus.
Additional information about WNS — and its impact in various states — can be found at

For all you silent film buffs

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Movie Review > The Ghost Writer

"The Ghost Writer", the most recent Roman Polanski effort is a good old fashioned thriller in the style of "Chinatown" or, better yet, a political thriller like "The Parallax View"

This two hour film didn't seem too long or at all contrived. The characters & situations flow easily as we follow the Ewan McGregor character -- the writer hired to 'ghost' a former U.K. Prime Minister's memoirs -- as he painstakenly unravels an elegant mystery that revolves around the fine art of modern espionage. 

The prime minister character, fashioned after Tony Blair, is played ably by Pierce Brosnan. His accomplished political wife, played by Olivia Williams, floats in and out of the thriller, while putting up with her husband's personal assistant (wink, wink) played by a buttoned up Kim Cattrall. The dialog is snappy most of the way through and there are few legitimate laughs to be had as a bonus. 

In England, a political advesary accuses the P.M. of a war crime while he is visiting America which sets off a media frenzy (and the mystery) that everyone here in the U.S. should already be familiar with: remote trucks, shouting reporters, microphones, angry mobs of protesters, helicopters & the rest. You know.... it could easily have been coverage of Paris Hilton going to jail or Lindsay Lohan coming out of jail or tracking Michael Jackson on his way to and from court, only more serious, presumably. Here, at least, there is some real suspense.

Anyway, I walked out of the theatre feeling like I hadn't wasted a minute of my time except on the ads & trailers preceeding the film. If I were a critic I'd be tempted to give "The Ghost Writer" five stars but would probably back off a bit & give it 4 or 4.5. I had a great date. Even the popcorn was tasty. 

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Classic of Magnificent Proportion


12:35pm 4/19 Large plume indicates second Icelandic volcano, Hekla, has begun erupting.

01:53pm 4/19 Update: Iceland weather service confirms it was looking at wrong volcano; Hekla is not erupting.

Living With An Old Dog

Truman @ 14.... Well the old boy is still a bit unsteady on his feet & his head is still slightly tilted after his bout with old age vestibular syndrome but he runs, goes up & down stairs, etc. at an age appropriate speed. Truman was extremely agile, athletic & afraid of nothing & he still exhibits those traits however it's obvious it would be easy to knock him off his feet. 

And he still remembers some of his duties, i.e. closing the door behind himself when he comes in & other such things. He still follows commands when I talk quietly into his right ear & follow up w hand signals but he frequently has senior moments which might be mini episodes of some kind where he stops where ever -- could be facing a wall or in the middle of the yard -- & sometimes has to be distracted from his reverie by hand clapping or a slight touch. Given enough time he seems to come out of these 'episodes' by himself so I'm not too worried.

OTOH, his sense of timing remains impeccable. He still wakes me to go out when needed, gets me up @ 5:30 every morning no matter what, reminds me when it's treat time or dinner time. And he still shows some sexual interest in Stella. Of course she just brushes him off like an errant fly.

I must say that I love living with this old gentleman. It's such a privilege for me to be able to give back to him. It's not that he's very demanding but, whatever his needs, I'm prepared to help him as best as I can for the remainder of his life. It's payback time & that sense of obligation is over powering in me. How could it not be so?

At last report, all his organs & vitals are in great shape so, except for the natural aging process, there doesn't seem to be anything special on the horizon.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Did I have my first out-of-body-experience?

I was attending a town meeting relating to this year's budget & taking notes for a possible article later in the week. As I looked up from my Samsung Netbook I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. That may not be the most accurate phrase to use but I don't know what else to call it. (I'm open to suggestions)

Across from me, a woman was scanning the local newspaper & this was the page she was on.

All I could see is what I've highlighted. There was nothing else on the page except my father's obit.  I wondered if she was reading it. Was she merely scanning it  or had she completely ignored it? How could she do that? 

She seemed focused so possibly she was reading the obit and, if so, what would she think?  Was she impressed with his accomplishments?  Did she wonder about him?

I wondered if she going to look in my direction.  Silently: "I hope she doesn't say anything to me." It's so awkward to thank people who offer their  pro forma condolences without an ounce of sincerity or care.  OTOH, I guess they don't have to say anything. This woman did not say anything. And I wondered, if indeed she hadn't read any of the obits on that page ,how whole lives could be so casually & completely ignored.

On Sundays I generally watch all the public affairs shows, i.e. ABC's 'This Week', 'Fox News Sunday', NBC's 'Meet The Press', Fareed Zakaria's 'GPS', CNN's 'State of the Union' & 'The Chris Matthews Show'.

I will only refer to one show for reasons that will become obvious in a moment.

Besides interviewing the current news makers, The ABC show also offers political humor, generally from Comedy Central or the late night shows & an 'In Memoriam' section where they offer mini-biographies of interesting people who have died during the week. Then they list the names of all the service people --  along with their ages & home towns -- who were killed in our two current theaters of war.

No matter what I'm doing, bored, multi-tasking, day dreaming...... when the 'In Memoriam' section begins I focus entirely on the television set, listening intently to every mini-biography while staring at the pictures of these people & I silently read every name, age & hometown of those who have lost their lives in war.

The vast majority of the prior group are older, the latter group younger.  When I see a name followed by a II or a III, I think how sad that the line was ended this way.  Of the older group, I consider how much they have contributed to this world that I live in.

I want to pay my respect to all these people -- in both groups -- as best as I can at the moment, under the circumstances.  I feel better having tried.

Did that woman do that for my father. I'll have to wonder.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Three in the afternoon.

I went to Starbuck's for a cup of coffee (no, no, no...'a tall latte, no fat' in SB parlance) & a mallorca but they were out of mallorcas. So I had my latte with a chocolate chip cookie outside, facing the sun, perched on a metal Starbuck's chair.

There I sat, sipped, crumbled & tried to immerse myself in my current paperback mystery. The place was bustling with business so I was frequently distracted by what walked by.

After about 30 minutes, I got into my little, black car, its top down & started driving through the connecting 'mallettes' to avoid the afternoon traffic so I could get home to my Bouvs.

Instead something came over me. And rather than tamp it down, I let it go.

I turned into a big, empty parking lot, maneuvered my car to face the sun which was perpendicular to the parking lanes, turned the engine off, moved my seat waaay back & took out my book to read some more.

The sun was warm, a gentle breeze blew by. Soon I placed the open book on my chest & took a delicious nap right there in the parking lot.

Then I drove home.