Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Star-Ledger Death Watch -  Does This Wheel Roate?


Journalists, in my experience, truly agonize over typos. At least the serious ones do. And I write this even as I also recognize that, no matter how many pairs of eyes look over a "piece" of copy (which of course is no longer in hard copy form), things can and will slip through. Serious journalists, however, often wish to kill themselves when something like this occurs.Yes, they take it that seriously.

Still, in the Star-Ledger this past Sunday, there was this, in headline-sized type on page 5 of Section Five (meaning the Sunday Sports section), in a story about the Yankees as they begin spring training: ""Questions abound: Aging roation a key cog." All  but the biggest numbnuts out there will note the missing "t" in the word "rotation," but perhaps those ranks include the Star-Ledger's editors.

Now, this is a terrible headline in the first place, and as such it probably should have led into a Jerry Izenberg column. But worse than that, it is the sort of reason journalists and reporters ponder falling on their swords. And type is no longer set in the traditional fashion, so that excuse, that a piece somehow got "lost" while being set, isn't viable.

At a paper where one can clearly prove on a daily basis that so few apparently know the difference between "it's" and "its," however, this kind of contempt for one's own craft seems disastrous. Just another indication that the Ledger is in its death throes, writhing on the newsroom floor while coughing up blood.

More's The Pity

In a possibly related development, and perhaps the dumbest-sounding remark I've ever read in a Jersey newspaper (which is saying something in this state), the Star-Ledger's editor Kevin Whitmer, in a story Sunday on how his paper did for 2012 in the New Jersey Press Association's "Better Newspaper Contest," said that "Winning awards in New Jersey is difficult because there is so much competition." And when he made this utterance (which seems to me on the level of Senator Menendez's pitiful attempts at public literacy), somewhere Homer Simpson said the loudest, most sustained 'Doh!" he has ever said.

Nonetheless, our plucky Ledger editor also opined that 2012 was "a year of remarkable accomplishments." I'm reasonably sure he didn't mean either the Ledger's economic woes, its recent layoffs or even the fact that Jerry Izenberg keeps churning out dreck for his employer.

It Gets Worse

Intrigued by the Ledger's proud announcement that it had won 42 NJPA awards for 2012, I went to the NJPA's own website. Where I naturally expected to find proud headlines about the NJPA's awards. (And I really don't begrudge the Ledger its awards, they seem to still be "big fish" in a rapidly draining journalistic pond and that's fine.)

Still, the opening page of the NJPA's own website doesn't include so much as one stirring quote from the likes of Thomas Jefferson or Lenin or even Jerry Springer (I read it's his birthday day, if so we should all go and do as Jerry once did: get elected mayor of a large city, solicit a prostitute and get busted for that by a cop who doesn't recognize him as his ultimate superior) as to the value of a free press. And it certainly doesn't proudly tout its own supposedly prestigious journalism awards.

Rather, and this is truly terrifying, the cover page encourages visitors to its website to place either their statewide classified or display ad "Now." In some circles, this is termed pandering of the worst sort. It definitely does not inspire confidence as to the common desire and moral resolution of Jersey's daily and weekly papers alike to  hold high the banner of a free, independent press as long as possible.

Interestingly, too, in the Ledger's own story on those 42 awards (it's credited to "Star-Ledger staff," as well it might), the claim is made that "the Star-Ledger competes against daily newspapers with daily circulations of more than 35,000." But last year, in its own story on its NJ.com website, written by the Ledger's Jessica Calefati and about the awards the paper picked up from the NJPA for its 2011 efforts, the claim was that the Ledger competes against dailies with daily circs of more than 45,000 (italics mine).

So it's either a simple factual error (fairly common in all of Jersey's dailies, if distressing) or a major "readjustment" downwards by the NJPA of the criteria for its own lead awards category. The latter possibility is deeply chilling. Things may indeed be this bad for Jersey newspapers.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Spot Of Cross-Selling

The "other" blog by this author may be viewed at www.thebaptizedrs.blogspot.com. It focuses on a novel about the modern "Holy Trinity" of God, Harley-Davidson and near-unspeakable evil, and I'm understandably, I think, quite big on it. Please go there and then feel free to comment. Thanks much.

Star-Ledger Death Watch - Izenberg's Still At It


Well, another Super Bowl has passed. And of course sports columnist Jerry Izenberg was there "covering it" for the Star-Ledger. Which amounted, as far as I can tell, to but two (or was it three?) columns,each of which could have been written without one's actual physical presence in New Orleans.

The Ledger loves identifying Izenberg, who actually retired several years ago,  as one of only  two sportswriters who've covered every Super Bowl since the first. Somehow, however, the paper never gets around to identifying the other sportswriter. Oh well, I suppose we should be grateful that they've dropped that truly awful "columnist emeritus" sobriquet they used to pin on the old hack.

Still, even as I don't totally begrudge him his annual junket, it hints that the Ledger, which just two weeks ago again cut back on its reporting and editorial staff, is quite cavalier about money when it involves one of their seeming beloved old sweats. Really,too, the sad fact remains that Izenberg is a truly bad writer. The man views metaphors as the verbal equivalent of mix-ins in ice cream cones, and he will leap desperately for each and every deplorably inapt and pretentious usage with thudding reliability. That the Ledger allows him to  go on so makes me think that it just holds its reading audience in contempt. Thus, too, that the speculation that Si Newhouse will try and milk the Ledger and its rapidly declining revenues and circulation numbers for as long as possible, then just shut it down abruptly.

Since I suspect that Izenberg would probably in his stead like to hold on until the Super Bowl comes to New Jersey (and he is especially baldly tiresome with his metaphors about the Meadowlands and predictably inane references to Hoffa maybe being buried there, to the point where I always wish upon him an attack by rabid muskrats born and raised in East Rutherford), I half-hope the Ledger shuts before that. It has milked New Jersey readers and advertisers for much too long already.

And if one believes that the Ledger could well do with new editorial blood, gallons and gallons of it if it's to even have a distant chance of survival, then there is even more pressing need to quick get rid of Izenberg and all that his survival at the Ledger connotes about dear dead old journalistic days.

 Really, Jerry, it's way past time that you paid for your own ticket to the Super Bowl. In fact to any game or event in any sport.

I Don't Really Hate Saying "I Told You So..."

Something like 20 years ago, I wrote an article for the New York Times' Sunday Jersey section (remember when the NYT took NJ seriously as a place deserving some coverage other than the occasional restaurant review?) which suggested, in a rather modest way, that the town of Sea Bright, in lieu of what even then seemed to me constant rebuilding and clearly futile beach replenishment efforts, should simply be abandoned to the elements. Even perhaps turned into a park. This was, too, around the time when a husband-wife team on the Rutgers faculty had written a much talked-about book proposing their "Buffalo Commons" theory, basically meaning that most of the Dakotas should similarly be bulldozed over and given back to prairie critters. This  book was taken quite seriously at the time, despite (because of?) its rather chilling dismissal of the rights of Amerinds to keep living, albeit today with modern conveniences and Indian-owned casinos, where they'd already resided for hundreds of years. The Rutgers couple also rather blithely said "screw you" to both cattle ranchers and wheat farmers.( I was especially personally upset that their land usage theories would have meant the demolishment of both the Corn Palace and Wall Drugs, as well as an end to the annual biker pilgrimage to Sturgis, SD.)

Anyway, my relatively modest suggestion re Sea Bright did not sit well with the Times' reliably liberal and prone to frothing readers. (About as well as did to me   that the Times did not in fact pay people like me for such articles, I was told by the editor I dealt with there to shut up and simply be grateful the Times had deigned to run my essay in the first place.) As a tribute to the kindness of Times readers I was pilloried for even daring suggest such a notion. Only they did it through my then-wife, whom many knew how to contact, and they did it cruelly and very aggressively. In a fishwifely, near-threatening vein of "Tell your husband that..."

Well, what do I see lately in the Star-Ledger (that magical place of respect for the English language where the concept of martial law was recently spelled "marshal" with no pun apparently intended and, in a news story, the famous Latin phrase was spelled "per say") but at least four columns so far by its resident editorial thug Paul Mulshine dealing with pretty much the same topic. Covering the entire post-Sandy shore, more or less, but still pretty much with the same basic idea, that "the Shore" has to be, uh, "rebuilt."

Now, Mulshine epitomizes much of what I find offensive about the Ledger as it goes through its public death throes for good reason  -  he's arrogant, pugnacious and clearly contemptuous of the opinions of others even when they might be expected to agree with him. (I once wrote him congratulating him on a column he'd written, and he wrote back in an amazing "Yes, I am quite wonderful" tone"without ever thanking me for taking the time and effort to write.)

This past Sunday, Paul Mulshine was at it again. Maintaining that the Shore of course has to come back and quoting with approval the mayors of Brick Township and Seaside Heights as to why, perhaps even how, sea walls might in fact save those towns and many others. (Galveston in 1900 had a seawall too, as the song, a frequent component of Tom Rush's act, uncomfortably reminds; nonetheless something like 8000 people died there.) Yet not with any comparable discussion of what such projects might cost, let alone where the money might come from. 'Desert the shore?Withdrawal is not an option" was the title of Mulshine's column, and he brooks no opposition.

Really,however,  the debate about what to do about NJ's beaches post-Sandy has to be more truly open than that. When I was a little kid, the Shore seemed a magical place to me. I even found the tiny, obviously fragile cottages of the Ocean Beach development near Lavallette charming. I suspected even then that they were all really made of balsa wood, but I nonetheless found them cutesy little dwellings, fit littoral-side summertime shelter for the likes of Beatrix Potter's characters as much as for vacationing factory workers from Garfield and Edison and their families.

As I got older, however, and began to understand that it's hard to ever completely separate the idea of intemperate greed from even rational discussions about the real estate industry, Sea Bright in particular, but also "simply" much of beachside Monmouth and Ocean counties, struck me as precariously situated, placed where no sane architect would have built. Where no totally rational and prudent buyer would buy, either. But then, the myth of the Jersey Shore remains a very seductive one indeed. (As opposed to, say, the actual, to a scare-the-horses level, grubbiness, raunch and tattoo festival that is the Seaside Heights boardwalk every summer.The Shore calls more for a Tom Wolfe at his most excoriating than "the Boss" lyrically waxing romantic.)

That feeling has only intensified with storm after storm hitting Sea Bright. Sandy was just the final straw. Hard as it may be to speak unemotionally about the shore, too. (Although it's maybe useful to note that even Bruce Springsteen lives well away from tides and waves, first in that berm-protected Tudor-style place in Rumson, for the last several years in Colts Neck.)

It is therefore time for Paul Mulshine in particular to grow up and shut up.The time for "Shorebirds Commons" may well have finally arrived. More's the pity, I know, honest.. But whatever is finally decided, there has to be actual debate.And the present, grumpily Mother Nature-defiant attitudes of neither Paul Mulshine nor Govenor Christie are much of a genuine help. One might even term both men obstructionist on this one, and to an absolutely foolish and self-defeating degree.


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Dumb-Dumb Bobby Menendez


Been out of commission here for a while. Sorry about that. But I'm back.

So let's roar into action. And let's start with Senator Menendez, he who is so clearly height-challenged but, more importantly, apparently literacy challenged if one has ever seen him speak off the cuff rather than from a printed statement. The man usually simply burbles haplessly when challenged. 

Whatever one makes of the charges against him, isn't anyone else a bit amazed that he so rapidly coughed up approximately $60k to reimburse his pal Melgen for two private jet trips to the Dominican Republic? $60k is hardly cat chow, after all. Particularly for a pol who claims but to be a modest man of the people from Hudson County.

(And does anyone recall his commercial which ran during his recent re-election campaign? It showed him standing in front of what seemed to be a housing project someplace and reassuring viewers that he still in fact lives but a few miles away. This, however, is one of those "yes, but..." sort of traps. Akin to someone who lives in a mansion on Upper Mountain Avenue in Montclair but grew up in a squalid part of Irvington (where there seems to be a good deal of squalor, if not quite on the level of Camden) assuring folks that he, too, still lives "nearby." An Uriah Heep-ish sort of remark, in other words. Especially for someone who in fact has $60k at the ready to repay Melgen when (yet only if) called to account about it.) And does anyone even half-believe that as a result of this sudden need for reimbursement the Senator will actually have to do withoutany of life's staples?

Some measure of Menendez's core unfamiliarity with the nuances of the English language, let alone his chilling apparent lack of interest in Senate rules re both finances and ethics, can be gotten from this statement he made yesterday to reporters, according to the Star-Ledger: "I was in a big travel schedule in 2010. I was the chair of the DSCC, plus my own campaign, getting ready for my re-election cycle. When it came to my attention payment had not taken place, I personally paid for them. If it had come to my attention before, I would have in fact done it before."

This is both waffling to a very high degree indeed and a refusal by Menendez to accept any real responsibility for his (admitted, sort of) errors. Really, the guy should have known way, WAY better. Such verbal evasiveness and probable stupidity does not bode well for a subsequent investigation into his actual sexual interest in young stuff. 

It's also quite amusing that Melgen's cousin, who's also a lawyer (akin perhaps to Algonquin Calhoun of the old "Amos 'n' Andy" shows of radio and early TV in his seeming knavishness, or Alton Maddox from the Tawana Brawley case if one needs a more modern counterpart), is currently blaming "drug cartels" for his dear cuz's many problems with the Feds. Yes, when in doubt blame the drug cartels. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Few Base Notes About "The Sopranos."

Unlike perhaps most folks in NJ, I never cared much for Tony Soprano and his pals and family members. Perhaps that's just because, hey, if you're living in this state and feel THAT starved for media attention about this state....

I found the show badly acted, directed and written.  There was very little "Jerseyness" about it.(I never even felt that its makers had ever set foot in such "social and athletic club"-ridden towns as Garfield and East Rutherford and certainly never had a real meal in a genuine Mafiosi feeding trough such as the long-gone Tony Maita's Villa in Union City.)  And it seemed to feature either the most incompetent law enforcers imaginable on the Federal level (while as we know, the Feds thankfully have in truth basically crushed LCN in this state, albeit only to be presented with organized crime in several other formats) or posited a universe in which local and state law enforcers seemed to have vanished from this state entirely.

Mostly, however, I dislike the romanticization of organized crime members. Anyone who actually has ever met actual members of the Italianate subculture in which Tony Soprano and his ilk dwell should certainly acknowledge that these characters are just unregenerate scumbags, drooling slobs and louts in either warm-up wear or curiously shiny suits. Charming they really aren't. Nor are they likable. Unless, maybe, one already keeps lizards as pets.

Anyway, the general defense of "The Sopranos," especially in the Ledger, was often that the show was "really about family." (Which in fact is the usual defense made about "Sons Of Anarchy," which is equally morally dubious viewing.)  This in fact is often the last possible defense fans of either "The Sopranos" or the somewhat more wretched "Sons Of Anarchy" (where did Charley Hunnam, a Brit,dig up that hokey twang he sometimes adopts, for example; it's certainly not what one really hears in the California zones where the show supposedly takes place, and here law enforcement appears even more hapless and often corrupt to boot) can muster. So they fall in behind a truly appalling concept of family. Why they simply cannot admit that either show is merely a guilty (even near-obscene) TV pleasure is beyond me. In the Ledger in particular, its crack critics have gone on and on as if writing graduate school-level papers on both shows.

 (Here's my own similar admission: I used to really, really enjoy Fred "The Hammer" Williamson's blaxploitation movies, although I never saw them as anything other than amusing trash, once even gratefully accepted a t-shirt touting his "Mr. Mean" movie from the hands of the Hammer himself after a 10AM show of the movie on 42nd Street.. Hey, I even sat through and chuckled at Rudy Ray Moore's much cruder "Dolemite" series, and Jim Brown in both "Slaughter" and "Slaughter's Big Rip-Off." But I never believed that such movies reflected the true state of African-American families in these 50 states.)

Anyway...for those who either raise the issue of  familial relationships by way of a weak intellectual defense for a weekly TV wallow or simply dumbly believe that LCN's assault on the public good  at core has nonetheless  always been about family no matter how violently and feloniously the "love" has been applied, I would like to commend the work of the British academic John Dickie.

Dickie's written several fine books, but the one worth focusing on here (it's available in paper) is his "Cosa Nostra - A History Of The Sicilian Mafia." The rare writer about Mafia matters who actually reads and speaks fluently Italian and its dialects, Dickie quickly demolishes the idea that LCN has ever been about family. Even more  devastatingly, however, he also convincingly establishes that, unlike a belief many people have and I seem to recall even Tony Soprano buying into on the show, the Mafia-La Cosa Nostra is truly no more than a late 19th century phenomenon. (Sort of like what we know modern witchcraft, incidentally, despite the claims of its faithful to be the true "ancient religion, and there's even a case to be made that the "roots" of Wicca stem from a book of that time supposedly based on "research" in Italy.)

Worst and best  of all, Dickie shows, from an examination of existing court records what the term "Cosa Nostra" really means, and how LCN's interest in ill-gotten gains stems from efforts by a criminally inclined few to control Sicily's citrus industry, since navies of the time depended on citrus juices as a means to avoid scurvy in its crews. It's a long, sad story, and it of course led to some bad Sicilians, the ones not as successful at crime as the local dons they admired, emigrating to America along with their law-abiding fellow countrymen.

But in no case did the origins of LCN really arise from any sense, even a perverted one, of "family."  (Are you listening, Francis Ford Coppola?) That should be underscored first and foremost. America has suffered enough from Sicilian-style organized crime (as it now suffers from bike clubs, Mexican drug cartels, Russian mobsters, gangbangers, etc.) that we shouldn't also have to live with the myth of "family." (Most Sicilians of course have suffered even more, from Mafia rottenness in the mother country and from the stigma of possible organized crime involvement here, it seems such an automatic assumption of those of Sicilian descent that he or she at the very least always "knows somebody who knows somebody" who can get things done.)

Dickie's website is www.johndickie.net. For those interested in the social structure of Sicily where the modern Mafia-La Cosa Nostra has thrived, one might also read Norman Lewis's "The Honored Society," which explains how the Mafia actually strangles the land of its birth. That both Dickie and Lewis are Brits does American historians and even our pop journalists and filmmakers no credit, by the way. (Are you still listening, Francis Ford Coppola?)

In real life, alas, as opposed to reel life now that "The Sopranos" only carries on in the world of re-runs and DVD sets, Jersey remains full of organized crime scuzzballs. It's just that a lot fewer of them seem to have Italian surnames these days. And far too many of them (save for outlaw bike clubs which have their own special "uniforms") still have terrible taste in track suits and related "workout" clothes. The workouts they dress for, however, generally only amount to mulcting and oppressing the public.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Star-Ledger Death Watch - Peanuts!

On Wednesday, the Ledger, which normally avoids coverage of the Shore region (when's the last time the paper ran any substantive coverage of Atlantic City and gaming-related issues?), ran an item about Barnacle Bill's restaurant in Rumson, a burger bar which like a lot of others offers free peanuts to patrons and expects them to toss the shells into the floor.

The story noted that, in response to complaints by people that they'd both slipped on peanut shells and had concerns about their children having peanut allergies (what, they couldn't just slap the kids' hands away?), Barnacle Bill's would no longer offer free peanuts.

Now, this story was in fact the Ledger's LEAD business story for Wednesday. Really. But it was also covered by Middletown's version of Patch and its somewhat livelier local competitor Red Bank Green. As an item for such sites, the topic of Barnacle Bill's is fine. As occasion for a "business story?" There wasn't even, by way of at least  a half-hearted display of journalistic energy, any mention of whether Barnacle Bill's has in fact ever been sued by patrons who, uh, "slipped."

This exercise in legumed triviality suggests to me, as usual, that the hands on the wheel at the Star-Ledger simply no longer care terribly much, they just go through the motions. Day after slow news day. There are probably rodents  hanging round Barnacle Bill's. There are definitely mice at work in the editorial offices of the Ledger.