Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

The Indignity of the Dollar Continues

With all the global financial upheaval over the course of the past five years, the financial system of the United States seems a lot less secure than it used to, although it’s in measurably better straits than the economies of many European nations. However, as the New York Times noted in an article on Italian counterfeiters, for a key demographic of hard currency enthusiasts, the dollar no longer holds court as the supreme symbol of  ill-gotten gains.

The euro — particularly the 500-euro note, worth about $660 — has become the currency of choice for drug dealers worldwide, and fake euros have become part of their operations.

Categories: Economy, Media

Marketing Markets: Frugal Delights

Frugal traveler (what a job!) Seth Kugel hit the mark when he filed a brief report from Los Angeles on a recent layover. His subject? The delicious and bewildering ethnic markets of Los Angeles, an article that makes for a welcome departure from the usual knee-jerk tropes of Los Angeles. For a person who isn’t timid about asking workers or customers at these stores, many pleasures are to be had, from unfamiliar cuts of meat to affordable and delicious morsels. Kugel missed some of the more vibrant markets in town; sadly, there’s nothing on the list from Koreatown and no mention of Super King, which straddles enough ethnic  categories as to render the idea of ethnic as moot. As Kugel finds out, though, the best part about shopping in these largely noncorporate markets is getting insight into the many varied relationships Angelenos have with food.

So I asked a woman who had just ordered what the difference was between the two large flatbreads in her bag. “They’re the same. Same flavor, different shape” she said, to the vigorous objections of the woman behind the counter.

“So why did you buy both?” I asked.

“My mother loves this one,” she said, pulling out the matnakash. “My husband loves this one,” she said, pointing at the barbari. (Note to the husband: she bought two matnakash and one barbari.) I went for a matnakash, but also scored by ordering a beef lula sandwich, a seasoned, molded log-shaped kebab, wrapped in fresh bread that was thicker than a tortilla but thinner than pita, for $5.99.

Categories: Food, Los Angeles, Media

On Style

It’s probably the J school background, but I’ve always been the sort to be fascinated with style guides and what they tell us about the publication and its audience. From the gallimaufry of anglicized spellings and punctuation in The New Yorker to the ghastly excuses for style in many Internet publications, style is a very important element to my reading experience. I’m not sure it’s recent, but today I got a peek at The Economist‘s style guide.

The introduction makes a quick plea for writing clearly and succintly by evoking George Orwell’s cardinal rules.

Never use a Metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
Never use a long word where a short one will do (see Short words).
If it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out (see Unnecessary words).
Never use the Passive where you can use the active.
Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a Jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous (see Iconoclasm).

The Economist takes Orwell’s advice about metaphors to heart:

“A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image,” said Orwell, “while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically ‘dead’ (eg, iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves.” … Some of these are tired, and will therefore tire the reader. Most are so exhausted that they may be considered dead, and are therefore permissible. But use all metaphors, dead or alive, sparingly, otherwise you will make trouble for yourself.

Good stuff, as are the little clarifications that help us use the English language as carefully and precisely as we can, whether writing about political and economic developments or descriptive language in service of more creative aims. I particularly enjoyed the clarification of the difference between masterful (imperious) and masterly (skilled). I’ve certainly been guilty of incorrectly using the former term in many circumstances.

Categories: Media

Lush Workers

Every once in a while, usually on a Saturday, the New York Times will turn back the clock and run pieces like this, an old-fashioned police beat special about the still-extant scourge of “drunk rollers.”

The lush worker sounds like a monster in a bedtime story, a stooped creature with a razor blade in one stealthy hand. Don’t drink, children, or the Lush Worker will get you.

But he is actually a middle-aged or older man who has been doing this for a very long time. And he is a fading breed.

“It’s like a lost art,” the lieutenant said. “It’s all old-school guys who cut the pocket. They die off.” And they do not seem to be replacing themselves, he said. “It’s like the TV repairman.”

Lush workers date back at least to the beginning of the last century, their ilk cited in newspaper crime stories like one in The New York Times in 1922, describing “one who picks the pockets of the intoxicated. He is the old ‘drunk roller’ under a new name.” While the term technically applies to anyone who steals from a drunken person, most police officers reserve it for a special kind of thief who uses straight-edge razors found in any hardware store.

I would be livid were I the target of one of these operators, but this article makes me nostalgic for the New York as depicted in Low Life or a Weegee picture.

Categories: Media, New York

Malaysia, Stab Protection

“In London, maybe you need only stab protection, knife protection,” Caballero said. “In India, maybe between knife and guns. Malaysia, stab protection. Latin America, bullets. But in Russia the risk is not only with guns. There have special ammunition, called Tokarev—nickname, ‘police kill.’ It is very similar to regular nine-millimetre but is armor-piercing.”

From “Survival of the Fitted,” an article about bulletproof couture in the September 26, 2011, issue of the New Yorker.

Categories: Media

On Public Space and Protest

Interesting article from the New York Times Sunday Review examining the idea of public space in the Occupy Wall Street protests. Zuccotti Park, the protesters’ base of operations over the past month, is a private park, aptly enough, named for a corporate leader.

Much as it can look at a glance like a refugee camp in the early morning, when the protesters are just emerging from their sleeping bags, Zuccotti Park has in fact become a miniature polis, a little city in the making. That it happens also to be a private park is one of the most revealing subtexts of the story. Formerly Liberty Park, the site was renamed in 2006 after John E. Zuccotti, chairman of Brookfield Office Properties, the park’s owner. A zoning variance granted to Brookfield years ago requires that the park, unlike a public, city-owned one, remain open day and night.

This peculiarity of zoning law has turned an unexpected spotlight on the bankruptcy of so much of what in the last couple of generations has passed for public space in America. Most of it is token gestures by developers in return for erecting bigger, taller buildings. Think of the atrium of the I.B.M. tower on Madison Avenue and countless other places like it: “public” spaces that are not really public at all but quasi-public, controlled by their landlords. Zuccotti in principle is subject to Brookfield’s rules prohibiting tarps, sleeping bags and the storage of personal property on the site. The whole situation illustrates just how far we have allowed the ancient civic ideal of public space to drift from an arena of public expression and public assembly (Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, say) to a commercial sop (the foyer of the Time Warner Center).

The article misses an opportunity to elaborate in greater detail about the commodification and privatization of public spaces, but that’s been documented in other places, albeit not for most mainstream audiences. At the very least, these protests are provoking some important and overdue debates.

Categories: Media, Urban space

Business Minded

Again, the New York Times comes with an insightful portrayal of Los Angeles, this time centering on the city’s economic woes. Joel Kotkin, who seems to be everywhere these days, hammering home his predictable talking points, appears, as does  Austin Beutner, the city’s former first deputy mayor and chief executive for economic and business policy.

 Half a century ago, Los Angeles was a dominant economic force in various respects, with its formidable military contracting industry, for example, and a garment trade that rivaled that of New York. Today, unemployment in Los Angeles County is 12.5 percent, one of the highest rates among the country’s major metropolitan areas. The recession walloped industries like manufacturing and retailing that have traditionally been strong in the city.

Now, Los Angeles is more like an “Athens by the Pacific,” Joel Kotkin, a professor of urban development at Chapman University, has written, comparing the city to modern-day Greece. But dysfunction can breed innovation. As Los Angeles works to solve its economic woes, it could provide a road map for other ailing metropolises, said Austin Beutner, the city’s former first deputy mayor and chief executive for economic and business policy.

Comparisons with the current incarnation of Athens? Ouch. Not even on par with Dallas–even worse:

Mr. Kotkin says he thinks a different approach to attracting jobs — one that focuses on the city’s small, local communities, as opposed to its vast size — would be more fruitful….

Mr. Kotkin says that to achieve growth in an economy like that of Los Angeles, “you’ve got to grow it from the ground up, nurture its roots — in the small factories, in people’s houses,” Mr. Kotkin said. “L.A. can never again compete at the megacorporation level. It can’t compete with Dallas.”….

This phenomenon can be seen all across Los Angeles, where new restaurants, shops and other small businesses are started by the children of immigrants looking to meld their ethnic heritage with their American upbringing and education — the food-truck revolution being just one example.

The prominent obstacle to growth, according to the author: bureaucracy.

Categories: Los Angeles, Media