Archive for the ‘Journalism’ Category

Al Goldstein dies with a whimper

December 28th, 2013

So, Big Al is dead. I was not a close friend of Al Goldstein, but I knew him for several years.

I liked  him.

[Somewhere around here, I have a pad of Screw/Milky Way Productions note paper. When I run across it, I’ll scan a page and add it here. The border has a daisy chain of cartoon folk doing various sex acts with and to each other. That is a parody of the Mad Magazine borders, which in turn is a parody of the classic Greek art of satyrs and such.]

I feel I am plainspoken enough that my three sons know or have at least been exposed to my life. My mother didn’t talk about herself, in contrast, and I recall after her memorial service, in which I held forth for 90 minutes or so that her many friends and even my sister and niece approached me to say, “I never knew all that about her.” Yet, even with my perceived openness, when Al’s obit appeared recently (do read the NYT version linked above), middle son was surprised when I said I knew Al and that I had worked for him.

It was slightly more sordid and deeper than having met the pron maestro. I did some free-lance writing and photography for the likes of his not-too-subtly named tabloids, Screw, Smut, Gay and Bitch. I was a bit player there on payroll. I covered some nudie plays, some gay nightclub strip shows, and some Continental Baths shows like with Bette Midler.

Instead, deepening the relationship, a woman I lived with, Maggie to Al, worked as his assistant. So I would stop by to chat with her or him or both. I’d see porn stars and hear about Linda Lovelace in-depth (pun intended) interviews and such. I’d see his multitudinous file cabinets, filled with porn pix, labeled by the players (3-men/1-woman and so forth), which he said they bought from poor photogs by the pound to illustrate plotless stories and articles. I chatted up absurdly named managing editor Heidi Handman, who became a successful pediatrician and author, dying four years ago. In light of her contextually risible name, Al said several times he’d like me to join the staff so he could have someone with the last name of Ball on the masthead.

In the late 60s, when Al started his tabs, his version of porn was shocking and innovative. It’s so-so today.

I remember Al more as a charming lunch and dinner companion. Sure he loved food and drink (sometimes ballooning in weight to prove that, but that was bolstered by ex-wives suing him and other stresses. He knew a lot and had highly developed social skills. He was not like Larry Flynt, whom I got to know casually when I edited a grocery mag that covered dirty mags, a big seller in convenience stores. Flynt was and likely still is scatological and vulgar, ever speaking of twin crappers in his house, crap itself and the delights of tasting women’s urine. Al, in contrast was fun and funny, as long as you accepted that over the course of an evening he’d rant a bit about a bad parent or wife or lawsuit.

A bond between us was mechanical and electronic gear, as well as the food we both enjoyed eating and preparing. More than vulvae, gadgets fascinate him. For a few years, he wrote and published his true love, the Gadget newsletter. He adored geek gear and had many examples in his office and home. I thought of him many times when I edited the Smart Machines newsletter, with publisher Ted Blank. That was a real link.

Al was out there. To the public, that meant showing public hair when it was a scandal, penises and labia when they were shocking, and being several decades ahead of even the boring mainstream men’s books like Playboy and Penthouse. Likewise, he was out there personally. He never shied from admitting he was often fat, that he had fucked up one marriage after another, that he squandered fortunes through arrogance and inattention.

In other words, he was deliciously human.

I liked the man. I am sure he made positive contributions to free speech and personal liberties, but that’s not what he was really about.

 

 

Young, youngish, still too young corpses

September 5th, 2013

Noticing the box with half my mother’s ashes, I thought again of three good folk I knew who died unnaturally young — or maybe naturally if you consider invidious, insidious disease to be our shared fate. Certainly going before 60 doesn’t seem right to me.

Today would have been my mother’s 89th birthday. She was outside the too-young range. She died 9 years ago.

nycchumsAt 33, Paula Delancey went first. We went to high school together, dated, and in our early 20s ended up becoming really close friends. She went to the CIA (as in chef’s school up the Hudson) and spent weekends in my West Village apartment. Hyde Park NY was not theater central nor where her friends lived and played.

“Her ambition is to be happy,” was beside her HS-yearbook pic.She was terrifically bright and well read. I couldn’t believe what a vapid, inane thing to write. Now of course, the older I get, the wiser that aim is.

She was a lot of fun, constantly laughing and joking, even ridiculing her own blunders and shortcomings.She looked forward to being a fabulous old lady.

The pic is, right to left, Paula, Isabel Wolfe (now Frischman) and I in Isabel’s NYC apartment.

She never got there. After being the first woman ever to graduate at the head of her class at the CIA, she worked in several NYC restaurants and then was head chef at a couple of others. She ended up making great money, taking her mother on an extended luxury trip to Paris and heading toward those two goals of being a grande dame and staying happy. Then she got cancer of the spine.

Apparently there’s little to do. She gave NYU Medical its best shot at chemo, radiation and surgery. She faded, continuing to sicken, go bald and suffer. She died in 1981. That was my first eulogy, delivered to a chapel in Brick Township NJ filled with a few of her friends and many of her aged parents’.

neil

At 40 , Neil Passariello was also far too young and far too vital to have died. This month he will have been dead 23 years.

He was the long-term partner of my friend from college, Jasper Lawson. He died of effects related to AIDS. He was finishing his doctorate in clinical psychology (Jasper already that one).  There is a regular colloquium in his honor.

I like to think I gave him a last bit of earthly pleasure. When he was in the bed where he died, I bought a bouquet of coriander I picked from my garden. He loved the herb and would say every meal needed a dish with cilantro and of course a pasta course. He no longer opened his eyes when we visited that last time, but he definitely smiled as I held the coriander close to him.

Surely all of his family and friends remember him as funny, dramatic, loud and passionate. An Italian-American, he referred to his heritage as he spoke intensely of food, of sex, of music. He could and did literally break out into song, generally an aria from an Italian opera.

His death did not seem right or timely or fair. He made others’ lives better and more fun, both personally and professionally.

Jasper and I have laughed more than once about how Neil made Jasper seem so WASPy, mannered and tame in contrast.

Jasper’s husband, Jay Landers, is remarkably patient when friends accidentally refer to him as Neil. On occasion, I make that faux pas. Supposedly that is expected with first “spouses,” although Neil died before same-sex marriage was legal. His intensity brings him to mind, quite understandably.

rehfieldAt 57.  John Rehfield still fits in the too-young category. He was remarkable in many ways. I can say for certain he was one of my two favorite managers (I married the other one).

John was a trade-magazine anomaly in being a civil engineer who was a good, no, a superb writer. He won every possible award in construction and trade journalism. He hired me to write for Construction Equipment knowing my only building experience was on carpentry crews during college summers. The day he hired me he said he could teach me anything I needed to know about construction but he couldn’t teach his engineers how to write.

He was very tall and light bulb shaped (his head at the screw end) and even laughed at his odd physique. He was an incessant punster. He came to work at dawn and completed his own before the rest of us arrived. He spent his day dealing with company matters and forever being there to help his writers, editors and art director. Oh, and he always wore a Mickey Mouse watch; he explained that he bought his children Disney stock when they were born, largely for the cartoon characters around the border of the certificates. They became surprisingly wealthy as the stock split repeatedly. He figured the watch was the least loyalty he could show.

He did wonderful motivational deeds too. Every so often and not related to the scheduled reviews, he’d come around to mention he was giving me a raise, just because I was doing a good job and writing good articles. I overheard him yelling at the publisher, telling him to keep his sales reps away from me; I ran the national directory of equipment and they all wanted favors for their customers.

Alas, Conover-Mast, across from the Daily News building in the literally heart of Manhattan, fell prey to Boston-based Cahners. The new parent sent the kids to Boston or Chicago. Moving to lower-tier towns was too much for those of us young and single. Most of us didn’t go.

Within 7 years, John died of cancer. Even though my sister and her kids were in Chicago, I would have felt stranded had I followed him there. I prefer to recall him as healthy and funny.

In fact, I remember each of these three for their virtue and joy they took in life.

Things I Learned from Space Salesmen

April 10th, 2013

I’m a notorious TV disdainer. That’s odd for a boomer who grew up, enjoyed and benefited mightily from the box. I’ve aged to much rather do a cryptic puzzle, read a book or use the net.

I’m the least TV-centric in the family. Yet, I do like a few series that the family watches — Treme, Downton Abbey, and Mad Men. It’s the latter that had me reminiscing and projecting.

I’m a child who followed the WWII generation, not one of them. I did work with and know those guys (almost all men) and their younger siblings/nephews in the 1970s New York City.

I worked trade and business magazines in the 3-martini-lunch era. In fact, one publisher always ordered the same drink, “A triple Bombay martini, hold the olives and hold the vermouth.” It was all three martinis in one, very engineering efficient and thus appropriate for a construction mag.

Drunken afternoons were less of a shock to me as the dissolute lives of those magic creatures the space salesmen. The very term space salesman seems mythological if not metaphysical. Selling space…ooooo. The mundanity of actually pitching ads for print media does not rise to the phrase.

I knew a lot of these guys, men whose work brought in my salary. They often shocked me with the likes of their casual comparisons of sexual conquests of women customers, sales reps, waitresses and even friends’ wives.

However, I also got a few life lessons that have rooted.

I certainly recall the best space salesman I knew at Construction Equipment magazine. I’m comfortable using his name, Larry Huckle. He was one of the wholesome guys. He was also the company’s best salesman year upon year. That was particularly odd as he had Texas and the Southwest, virtually devoid of equipment manufacturers. He skunked the other reps time after time.

He and I were at a bar at the mag’s sales meeting in Boca Raton one time. As a former newspaper reporter, I just had to ask him how he did it. I had grilled the other editors and they claimed not to know. Larry was candid and had no fear of giving up his secret. He said, “I know one thing the other guys don’t. When you’ve made your sale, shut up.”

Sure enough, later on sales calls with various ad guys, I’d see them goof up a sure deal again and again by talking about themselves, making inane talk about the customer or otherwise souring a deal in the bag.

I found as a single guy that Larry’s advice was as good for someone seeking companionship as well. That’s another sale.

Likewise, I came to appreciate a silly rejoinder from another space salesman. He’d inveritably come back to the rhetorical, “How ya doing?” with “Any day I’m not pushing up daisies is a good day.”

That certainly falls in the class of painfully obvious. Yet, the longer I live, the more emotional, intellectually and physical troubles that visit me, the more meaningful and sensible that seems. It’s certainly better than the meaningless, “Fine.” And it inspires introspection.

A third space salesman had another iterative response when anyone did the drama-queen whine about a birthday. To one who complained about marking another year older, he’d always say, “Consider the alternative.” Sure enough, death would remove any joy or even observance of a birthday.

Space salesmen, as well as engineers and other stereotypical literal sorts can pluck all the feathers from our social conventions. After all, they have jobs to do that yield to metrics. To those other of us who like to think that everything is fungible, malleable, such brutal realism can only be good.

Pols With Blinders

July 13th, 2012

Candidate Deval Patrick suddenly made blogging significant in Massachusetts six years ago. Sure, he treated us new-media sorts like press/broadcast, but it was two way. He estimated smartly and rightly that what came to be called netroots could swing elections as surely as any ethnic group. It worked for him.

Two years later, it worked for his good buddy, a certain Barack Obama. Each guy ended up with adoring, earned support from bloggers and other new media types. Of course, we grubby bloggers were not alone in our support. Yet, the rising internet-related folk, largely teens and 20 somethings did make the difference in Obama’s victory. While other candidates seemed to snort at Patrick and Obama courting the young and the idealists, hey, it worked for them.

Gone.

At yesterday’s annual Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s ascendancy-to-office street party, I mourned the demise of visionary pols, replaced by academicians and biz sorts. Simultaneously, my Left Ahead co-host Ryan Adams has likewise drawn attention to the dwindling number of political bloggers, particularly locally. This whimpering little trend dovetails precisely with politicians’ indifference. Finally and obviously, following the Citizens United rape of the campaign system, candidates understandably look to bucks, bucks and bucks, and away from the direct and online interpersonal reactions that determined the results in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

I have a double fret for the 2012 election. First, I fear that the young voters are not sufficiently engaged to vote and to get others to do so. Second and more pervasively, I fear that voters weary of woes, recession, and fears of the future would vote the fantasy, that is, they’d go for a Reagan or Bush the Lesser jive about guns-and- butter or roe insanely trick-down economics. Regardless of decades of continual winger failures in economics and public policy, the siren call of the myth lives in the simple minded.

On the positive side for us lefty sorts, the Republican Party in general and Mitt Romney in particular are doing their worst to alienate voter groups. Any woman, African American, Latino or poor person would be an absolute fool to vote for Romney. Yet even with the evidence, we know that 40% or more will vote the fantasy way.

With November only a season away, I wonder about the strategies of the big shots, like Presidential and Senatorial candidates. They aren’t going for the netroots. In fact, all the candidates are viewing blogs, podcast shows and such as tertiary or lower addenda to their campaigns. They aren’t seeking out the influential and/or smart bloggers and other analysts.

Does this mean that the four years of bloggy influence has come and gone? Alternately, does this mean that the current crop of would-be office holders are not savvy enough?

To Ryan’s musing, there are fewer local blogs. Many of my old chums no longer publish the electrons.

As one illustration, I had an amusing set of interactions with US Senate hopeful Elizabeth Warren and her handler yesterday on Chesterfield Street at Menino’s party. I wore my HICKS FOR ELIZABETH button. Warren saw it and said twice she love it, adding once again how great my yellow glasses frames are. In contrast, her handler did her best in the scrum to keep me away from the candidate.

Warren and I both worked the crowds from different angles. I chatted up political chums, such as Menino, MA Treasurer Steve Grossman and City Councilor Felix Arroyo, and other podcast guests. Relentlessly on her own, Warren worked the hamburger and ice-cream scoffing folk of voting age all around the booths.

As our loops intersected a few times, at one point, I handed Warren my HICKS button.

I tend to think of her as relatively straightforward and courageous. Yet, under the admonition of her handler, she got gutless. I asked the handler whether Warren still intended to go on a BlueMassGroup show; she said yes. I said that Left Ahead was still waiting for another visit, to which she said it wouldn’t happen. That kind of gun-shy behavior is nto suited to the valorous.

In fact, when I handed Warren my button, she said again that she loved it, but suggested I give it to her later and looked at the glowering eyes of her handler.

We can put it down to pragmatism or cowardice for the button and the Left Ahead re-visit. We must put down the cluelessness about new media to a simple lack of vision. The current candidates somehow missed Patrick and Obama’s lessons, relying instead on the dull and improbable ads and even newspapers.

I guess we can’t expect every election cycle to be filled with insight and wisdom.

Interminable Sports Dinners

May 15th, 2012

I was a jock. I ‘fess up.

Now, I was also a scholar, but I was also a wrestler, then a swimmer into college. Compounding that, I was my high school paper’s sports editor. I didn’t want that spot, but it was the one that was open. Once I got to college and in J-school, I became the the loudmouthed pinko for the world to recognize.

Regardless, in my time and then our sons’, I went to a lot of sports dinners. The boys were (#1 son) baseball, (#2 and #3) soccer. #1 did crew in high school, following my edict that he had to do three years of some team sport, any team sport. Then he blissfully announced that he’d done his time. A deal is a deal in our house. I didn’t bother with his siblings. If they didn’t get the love of team sports in years of youth soccer, they didn’t. They didn’t.

My sports-dinner evenings seems Sisyphian even then. They were seasonal, so all the fall sports together, then the winter, then the spring. My high school had 2000 students…a lot of jocks. How many damned plaques can you call out in an evening? Something a little short of infinite!

Bromances flowed. Those of us with sainted coaches (Victor Liske for me) could go on and on and on. We did. I even wrote a farewell column to my coach, as our swim team was his last after over two decades. He was so fabulous as a person and mentor, his boys still quote it.

After my first such dinner though, I knew the routine and was resigned to it. What I came to resent was the blazer.

After a couple of years of lettering, I was due a PHS letterman sweater. Then the athletic director unilaterally decided that the sophisticated, manly option should be a blue blazer instead. Pissed I was. I had the letters and the team pins to attach to them. One did not sew a big maroon P on a blazer, nor dangle it before a current or potential girlfriend.

The solution wasn’t bad — go to the sporting goods store and buy the navy-blue sweater with the proper number of maroon stripes on the right arm. Yet, we in my situation thought of getting the sweater at the dinner as a reward for the agony, bruises and many hours of practices. Somehow the heavy-handed decision rankled.

Moreover, when we got the blazers, they sucked. Turns out that the school went as cheap as possible, which meant they were constructed in New Jersey prisons…badly. I have a huge chest and shoulders. The big sizes in particular had absurd shoulder pads, giving them the effect of bad formal football uniforms.

Fortunately, my grandfather, the man of many jobs and an unbelievable skill set, was among other things a tailor. I showed up with the stupid, insulting, ill-fitting, ugly blazer and started to complain. He was on it and shut me up. He took it next door to his dry cleaning and tailoring shop immediately. He returned in less than half an hour, with an altered, customized jacket. He’d taken in the waist to suit my build as well. The shoulders were flat and beautifully contoured. Granddad was an artist. I could only say thanks and wonder why I’d been upset.

Oh, Yeah, Bloggers. Why Not?

March 2nd, 2012

Creeping bloggerism continues. Here in MA, the Grand Poobahs of justice, a.k.a. the Supreme Judicial Court, ruled on their rules today to bring citizen journalists into their news media fold.

To most, that is between small and nothing. To internet writers, it’s hot stuff.

Universal Hub’s Adam Gaffin was quietly, politely, as is his wont, in the scrum from the beginning. He was quick to note that he helped draft the update, upgrade to SJC rule 1:19. As innocuous as it might seem, the change by the whole SJC brought the body into this century. This likely will lead other sleepy atavistic judges in other MA courts to attention. Oh, they will think, the SJC says bloggers are journalists. How about that?

The salient point in the rule ruling is the new definition:

The “news media” shall include any authorized representative of a news organization that has registered with the Public Information Officer of the Supreme Judicial Court or any individual who is so registered. Registration shall be afforded to organizations that regularly gather, prepare, photograph, record, write, edit, report or publish news or information about maters of public interest for dissemination to the public in any medium, whether print or electronic, and to individuals who regularly perform a similar function upon certification by the organizations or individuals that they perform such a role and that they will familiarize themselves or their representatives, as the case may be with the provisions of this rule and will comply with them. 

Sure, blah, blah and sure, the Poobah proprietary continues — no stealth recording or photography, advance permission from the PIO and judge and so forth. Yet, it’s a welcome and overdue change.

I think of a certain MA Governor, a Deval Patrick, who five years ago to the month dubbed bloggers press. He held a town meeting at Boston Latin School, replete with the likes of Mayor Tom Menino speaking before him. Then he squirreled up in room 023 of the basement with a few dozen of us reportorial bloggy types. He held a full press conference, yes, press conference. He had use netroots and new media to get elected and had not forgotten.

He continued and keeps involving us in his media communication. He’s come on Left Ahead several times. In short, he acknowledged from the beginning of his first campaign that bloggers could be news media if they reported and analyzed.

Such is pragmatism and realism.

In contrast, I think of the treatment by more traditional media even recently. Many seem to resent bloggers in puerile and competitive ways. They should mature a bit.

Locally, the likes of the Boston Globe rarely mention a blog’s name, even as they quote them without attribution. (Video god Steve Garfield has been splendid in calling the Morrissey mob on that.) In my own petty concerns, I think lately of BUR’s Bianca Vasquez Toness using me, quoting me for a piece on Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley…without citing my blogs or podcast. She had been reading my stuff, but defined me as “a political blogger in Hyde Park.” Try to imagine how BUR or NPR would react to their material being quoted with the only reference being to “a  college radio station in Boston.”

Likewise and worse, during the prolonged frenzy about US Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren and me bantering about right wingers calling her a hick for being from OK and an elitist for teaching at Harvard Law, most newsy types avoided attribution. Some cited Left Ahead, but not by URL. There was nationwide (and beyond) coverage but none of the major media provided the professional courtesy of linking to the source. Even in multiple Youtube excepts of Warren and me, they treated the clips like their own material.

As an amusing aside, my wife laughed at ABC News’ typo in its coverage, where “Host Mike Ball” was rendered at “Hot Mike Ball.” She may be one of the few in the world who agrees with the error, but many other outlets repeated the typo though cutting and pasting. So for a couple of days, I was hot.

I feel newsy as a blogger for having come out of journalism school, working in high-school and college papers, before daily and weekly newspaper jobs and on to magazine writing. I quote sources. Whenever possible, my newsy blog posts include links as well as identification for those cited.

There’s no reason beyond childish competitiveness and bad training that MSM folk can’t, won’t or don’t credit bloggers and podcasters.

When we have an elected official, candidate for office or any expert on the Left Ahead show or as part of a post, if it’s good enough to quote, we should be good enough to cite. I’ve heard my stuff quoted locally as well as on the networks. The likes of GBH’s Emily Rooney treat that material like it’s theirs, public domain or maybe original.

I can’t control that kind of abuse. However, in the future when Vasquez Toness or other newshounds sniff around, I’m making it plain. the SJC acknowledges that bloggers and our ilk can be news media. I expect the professional courtesy that I extend to them. If they quote me, any of my blog posts or any of my podcasts, I require a full citation with a URL. If their J-school profs, editors or program directors or their mammas for that matter didn’t teach them that, I can provide that service.


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Vroom. What Boys Like.

December 6th, 2011

A funny confluence today was a YouTube share on FB of the Waitresses’ I Know What Boys Like. That, of course, was sexual innuendo, but there’s something else boys and men like. That came in news short about Dig This in Las Vegas.

Boys and men, and some women, like or love construction equipment.

The new big-boy playground in Nevada likely appeals even more to guys than driving fast cars does. Pretty much anyone with a credit card can do that. However, watch boys and men as they stare and gape at track mounted motorized tractors (bulldozers to you) and hydraulic excavators. They’re likely to make engine noises while looking too.

At a couple points in the early 1970s when I moved to NYC, I verified that love of huge machines two ways. First, I was along-term temp at MOMA, including working with then Curator of Design Emilio Ambasz. I also got a full-time job later writing for Construction Equipment magazine.

While at MOMA, my main job was as a lackey while he brought the Italian design show (Italy: The New Domestic Landscape) to life. That was great fun getting to work with the brilliant designer and the steady flow of Italian creatives. Beyond that though, I got excited enough to pitch him an idea for making an extensions-of-man exhibit, perhaps in Central Park. I saw everything from prostheses to earth movers. People would be able to be fitted with or use these, anything that amplified or corrected human bodies.

Ambasz professed to like the concept and we spoke of it repeatedly. In the end though, he didn’t want to own it, suggested I strike out on my own and make it happen, and negotiate with manufacturers and bureaucrats to handle the logistics, particularly the huge insurance issues inherent in letting plain folk handle gigantic machinery.

While my only experience in construction had been two summers on a house-building carpentry crew during college, great writer and swell guy John Rehfield hired me for the magazine. When I asked him bluntly why he’d take someone without a civil engineering degree or heavy equipment expertise, he laughed and waved his arm toward the writers and editors. He said sagely, “I can teach you anything you need to know about construction. You’re a good writer. I can’t teach an engineer how to write.”

As the new kid, I had to handle the complex nationwide directory of equipment, bringing it from index cards to computer. I got to apply my journalism studies and newspaper experience to investigative pieces that that the engineers were not comfortable doing. Yet, John was also true to his word and taught me construction as well as sending me on job sites.

In was on the stories of dam projects and the like that I learned that heavy equipment brought out the boys in even the most experienced men. The guys who run those tower cranes, excavators, earth movers far too big to fit in the bulldozer category and more make the noises. Put them in the cabs of the most powerful machines and they are boys again, playing with construction toys, except those aren’t toys anymore.

Actually it was endearing to see and hear the tough and tanned heavy equipment operators having so much fun even after years doing it. They talked about their rigs the way kids do their toys.

As for the extensions-of-man show, John too was intrigued. He also ran through all the complexities to get it done, but thought it possible. Unfortunately, I was in my early 20s and did not have the experience or entrepreneurial bent to go after it. Then Construction Equipment moved to Chicago from across from the Daily News and I had little interest in going with it, leaving Manhattan. Shortly after, John, only in his 40s, got virulent cancer and died.

It was a good idea. Even in its very lesser form in Las Vegas, that subset is also a good idea. Next time I’m out that way, I’ll Dig This.

Turning On and Off the Fans

September 19th, 2011

Arr, know ye all on Talk Like a Pirate Day, me be no football fanatic.

With that out of the way, I am not oblivious to sports. In particular, having started college at the University of South Carolina, I see and hear about it from friends up here in Yankeeland as well as former classmates. Moreover, I was sports editor of my high-school paper (I confess because it was the open slot and I would much rather have run features).

USC logoLately, the Gamecocks have been sports newsy, popping up to 10 or so in the polls. While I honestly think they have been lucky to win both times so far and should be no higher than 18 or maybe 15 in the country, I admit this has been a steady climb. With nearly everyone in power in that state having an undergrad or law degree from the red Carolina, that’s a big deal there and big donations from alumni.

Now their former (ACC) and current (SEC) conferences are big in the sports news. It seems the former snagged two Big 12 teams and adopted a poison-pill-style strategy that any team leaving would have to pay a $20 million penalty. Ho hum, then again ha!

Waaaay back, I arrived in Columbia with little interest in football. Heck, in high school, I covered it as part of the job, but I had been on the wrestling team first then finished as a swimmer. I started college on the swimming team and living in an athletic dorm on a partial scholarship. My only real affection for football was secondary. The badly underfunded swimming team had the right to sell programs outside and inside the stadium and we made a lot of needed money doing do.

Otherwise, Carolina had a hugely successful basketball program under coach Frank McGuire and labored under fantasies of similar success for football. The ACC was the best basketball in the nation and its football was so-so, giving the Gamecock some hope for success. They tried their damnedest, including renting Paul Dietzel, who was doing great at Army after success at LSU. He had one great year, but a losing record overall. That coupled with a sense of victimhood in Carolina basketball and football teams somehow “cheated” out of conference championships when they lost in tournaments. In 1971, a pouting athletic program went independent

As this was brewing, I broke my resolve to avoid sports writing. In the campus paper, also The Gamecock of course, I ridiculed the whole program in a column. In very heavy-handed terms, I wrote that they should drop the pretense and go pro. If they can’t win on an even basis, they should become professional and buy the best and biggest as they tried with coaches.

Well then, despite many strong political columns in that extremely conservative state and region, this one hit it. Wealthy alumni as well as sports-oriented students flipped. They took it literally and wrote long, dull-witted letters about why that was not legal. They called the university president, the dean of the J-school, the top editor of the paper, and they wrote to the local daily papers. They even did what I see so often in MA (as with Elizabeth Warren), pulled the parochial he’s-not-from-here routine.

Eventually though, after 20 years of hit-and-miss records, Carolina joined the SEC in 1991. That was fine for basketball, but suddenly they were in with the big boys of football. It took them a long time of being the team that got snapped with the towel in the locker room — rather got run over by bigger, faster, just better players — to get their football act together. They recruited and trained and coached up to where they are.

Now when the team is on the front of the sports section or web pages, I am likely to notice. I’m not all that interested in the far more local Patriots (or any football). I’m not quite as snippy as the Church Lady about it, but honestly, there’s a larger world of greater concerns. Then again, I have my own diversions and distractions when those bigger issues weigh heavily. Let’s not begrudge those with a sports Jones who remain suspended in their college years.

No Kilt Needed

May 11th, 2011

Little black dresses and wee snifters were the props. Whisky was the feature, that is single-malt whisky (Scottish spelling, if you please), which many of us simply call Scotch.

The Mcallan distiller pumps its promotion budget partly into such dram sipping evening here and there in an annual U.S. road swing. For example, see considerable detail in posts here and here. They write sumptuously on it so I don’t have to. The short version is that we got small snifters of 10, 12, 17 and 18 year old versions, averaging about half an ounce per. Each and more get full descriptions on the company site.

The production fascinated me. It also took me back to my early 20s when I wrote for a big construction magazine, a job which included covering the gigantic Con/Agg show of equipment.

My chum John signed several of us up for the free malt tasting, but only he and I ended up downtown at the Royale nightclub in our cute little theater district. There were no loose ends to this fabric. Mcallan folk had it all neatly woven.

Model types in LBDs greeted us and checked us off the list. They are worthy of comment and what first reminded me of the Con/Agg show. It goes on for days and fills the largest exhibition sites in Chicago. With gigantic earth movers and such, it’s not hard to command such spaces.

What was odd to my young 20s self was women as advertising and sales gear. There was an amusing and pleasing incongruity to the huge, metal machinery and hyper-attractive women in tiny dresses and sometimes bikinis. I recall at the first such show I attended seeing a gigantic dump truck filled with water and a half dozen barely clothed models splashing and swimming and generally showing themselves off in its massive bed. In construction terms, the point was that the bed was as big as a swimming pool, hence capable of hauling terrific amounts of rock and dirt with each load. Yet, the almost entirely middle-aged male potential buyers came to look first at the nearly nude women.

I asked my long-tenured editor how the Caterpillar and Euclid folk got all these stunning women for the show. He knew because he had asked. There was a gold rush of sorts many months before each Con/Agg, with the various equipment makers hitting up the modeling agencies. They wanted xx number of leggy lookers, first come first served.

malt

One might think that in the many years since, we’d be getting over all that. Nah. Men and women alike enjoy looking at and being greeted by attractive women. Exposed legs and shoulders seem to still be the norm. In fact, while they apparently did not have quite enough Mcallan issue LBDs to go around, most of the dozen or so women were in uniform. That was an extremely short and very tight dress, with the right shoulder bare and the left one with shiny black rectangular spangles. The shirt portion barely covered the aspirations of the audience.

Maybe 200 folk got seats at the long tables. A few glasses of walnuts were scattered about with the black and gold company napkins. We got a Mcallan token on the way in, which we traded for a wee glass of the 10-year-old malt. That was the method to keep folk from loading up on multiple shots before the show.

The incongruous disco music played for 20 minutes or so as we got our seats. It sure wasn’t bagpipes. The dark space focused us on the lit stage with the traveling exhibit — a counter for the speaker (brand ambassador Randolph [never Randy, yuck, yuck] Adams), tall display cases of nine different bottles of their malts, and a sports-event-sized touch screen. As the slick presentation started, it was describe Scotland, the whiskies, the process and so forth, interspersed with the women bring around trays of small snifters of the various samples.

There’d be two seatings, so they had it down for an opening at 6:30 and clear the room and tables for the next group between 8 and 8:30. Thank you very much. We can call you a cab if you think you need it.

It was a very efficient operation. Adams had the personality and snappy patter for the job as well. He’s certainly someone you’d, if you pardon, have a drink with. He’d never be a loss for an amusing anecdote.

Back to the temp help, while there were a couple of nice enough looking  20-something men by the doors, they stayed in the background and let the grinning women set the tone. It was a very 1970s tone at that. Also, being Boston instead  of a huge city, the LBD women were nice looking, but not the you-need-to-be-in-movies/Playboy and I-have-to-take-you-with-me types from the Con/Agg show. In that sense, the evening let the maybe 70% male audience concentrate on the snifters instead of sniffing the servers.

The crowd was mostly young men, but with a fair smattering of older guys, older women and a very few young women. I suspect that this is wise promotional expenditure. They’ll certainly keep Mcallan in the public mind, just as certainly sell their bottles to those who attended the next time they hit liquor stores, and get a better return than a similarly priced print ad to the cost of the evening.

I am not likely to be a convert, even though I enjoyed several of the samples. As never-Randy noted early in his palaver, tastes differ. The Irish invented the distilling process and many folk enjoy the lighter whiskey they favor. He also praised other Scottish malt distillers’ products, while holding the Macallan the best.

He made special mention of Islay whisky, saying some Scotch drinkers prefer the peaty, smoky products like Lagavulin and Laphroig. I am in that group and those are my one and two favorite malts.

If you like brown whisky/whiskey, you’d surely enjoy a Mcallan evening. The anachronistic b-girl tone of the severs really doesn’t distract from the purpose of the evening. It’s free and, hey, it’s better than sitting in front of TV.

iPad? Two Fingers, Please.

February 10th, 2011

Perhaps channeling a prissy boxer, Jack Roach stabbed and jabbed furiously with his index fingers poking out of chubby fists. With an IBM Selectric typewriter (this was before PCs), he could hit 30, maybe 40, words per minute.

Although he was editor of Management Review, the American Management Association’s monthly maggy and he had reported for United Press for a long time before, he had a block about touch typing. He said he could do just as well with two fingers. After being his number two for a bit, I figured that style matched his mental text creation speed. All was well, although text by poke is often loud.

He came to mind as I begin to us an iPad. It’s virtual keyboards are touch-typing hostile. I snicker as I found myself flitting over the device with two index fingers.

The design behind the iPad is typically Apple sophisticated. As much of the work as possible is behind the scenes, requiring expensive hardware and software to work, but easier for the user. You can turn the iPad any of the four planar directions, the screen rotates to match. Then, when you open an app and touch a field that can take text or numbers, ta da!, an appropriate keypad appears at the bottom of the screen.

Applehead warning: If you are a true believer, leave now. candor follows.

ipadpadTo a touch typist, these keypads come with two major problems. The first is obvious and common across several technologies, like netbooks and Blackberries, the keys are small. Even without the second issue, they’d be damned hard to use with adult fingers.

Insurmountable though is that the iPad pressure is binary — on or off. There is no pressure adjustment. Try to rest your fingers on the virtual keys and you are entering characters left, right, top and bottom.

Unlike many aspects of their products that Apple marketing would have us believe, this is not a keen feature, not a better way of doing things. While flexible from a software perspective, this is a throttle.

I note that for my many years of computer and trade press, I had been exposed to or reviewed various versions of touch screens used in design or in factories and warehouses. Some were made for high sensitivity, but most were hardened for rough environments and big fingers. Then in the workstation and PC world came membrane keyboards, many with software adjustments for pressure and sound (the typewriter like click).

The iPad ignores all that silliness and history. What it does instead is pretty much a per-app QWERTY, with variations such as the .com key that appears when you load up the Safari browser. What you get is very useful.

Of course, that comes with the Apple attitude —Take what you get, love it, and don’t ask to know how it works or expect to alter it. So, there you have it, or in this case, I have it.

I first saw and held an iPad in April last year. The day after its release, several members of the Boston Media Makers showed them off. They had waited overnight or from pre-dawn to get theirs. They then apparently spent all their time until the meeting playing with their very own so they could provide prima facie commentary.

The BMM are largely Mac users…and iPhone owners…and iPod listeners. They love nothing more than telling someone he wouldn’t have this or that problem if only he has a Mac Pro instead of a PC. Yet, they each and all quickly commented on the iPad virtual keyboards. Their conclusion in general was you could create a blog post or do some writing with an iPad, but you wouldn’t want to.

I of course had to try. I’ve posted on three blogs with an iPad. Yet, it is more work. You really can’t keep up with your brain hunting and pecking. The screen real estate makes it harder to see what you’re doing. Mostly though, the two-fingered typing gets tedious quickly.

Nonetheless, I do surf with it. Its Safari browser is nowhere near as full featured or even as fast as Chrome on a PC, but it’s fine. I do enter short blog posts with the iPad. I also have added a quarter screen of apps, some of which are cloud ones, so I can share text or other files or whole apps from different platforms.

I am not inclined to spent $50 to $100 for a wireless keyboard or docking station with one built in to essentially create a netbook with iPad works. I have a laptop and a couple of desktops. If I wanted the add-ons to make the iPad into an impostor, I’d likely just spend much less and get a netbook.

Regardless, the iPad is fun and adequate to its tasks. It is also seriously light and portable.

The keyboard limitations hark back to when workstation and PC users used to refer to the Apple products as MacinToys. That was unfair then, as so many graphics folk proved with their understandable loyalty to systems that served their needs better than the Intel-based world could.

When I use the iPad, my index fingers fly. Sometimes, I’ll think of Jack. He managed an entire successful career as writer and editor just using two fingers. Worse things could happen.

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