Thursday, August 28, 2014

Interview. Tom Hughes, Memories of the Brattle Theater and the Cambridge of his youth.

It was June 1961 and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had just finished berating 44-year-old John Kennedy at the Vienna Summit. Robert White became the fastest man on earth by flying a U.S. Air Force plane 3,600 miles per hour, one mile every second, and Ernest Hemingway was one month away from his own demise. 

If you wanted to take a break from it all and forget about the world for a while, there were always the movies. Few places are better than the dark of the theater to get away from the pressing business of the day. If you liked the arty stuff, the European stuff, the Brattle Theater in Harvard Square was busy redefining the rules for American film-goers. They were showing films you couldn't see elsewhere in the country. Man in a Cocked Hat. The Naked Night. Othello. 3 Penny Opera. Grand Illusion. The Seventh Seal.

Tom Hughes
I recently sat down with Tom Hughes to hear about those days. Tom worked at the Brattle back then as a young man. He remembered the theater in those early days and it’s mercurial founder Cy Harvey, a man who was said to have the Midas touch turning everything to gold, a man who started not only the Brattle but also Crabtree & Evelyn out of a small shop in Harvard Square called Truc.  Tom also remembered the Cambridge of his youth, the city he grew up in over a half-century ago. Here is Tom's story.


Tell me about the founding of the Brattle?

Cy Harvey was in World War Two. He came home after staying in Paris for a while and he meets a guy named Bryant Haliday who he went to Harvard with. Cy was really into foreign films. He was supposed to be going to the Sorbonne, but he was mostly going to look at foreign films like Truffaut and so on.  

The Brattle entrance today
He comes back and he meets Bryant on Brattle Street, and he finds out that Bryant’s grandmother had left him the Brattle Theater which at one point a dance hall and other things. By the way my mother went to her prom there in 1930.

Anyway, Cy has the idea of importing foreign films and showing them in Harvard Square.


What year are we talking about?

We’ve got to be talking about late 1940s or early ‘50s. Apparently at this time the only other foreign film theater in the United States was in Greenwich Village. Bryant owns the theater, left by his grandmother from what I hear. They have the first rear-projection theater around where its not projected from the balcony. This gave them a little bit more room and space.

At the same time, Cy thinks of opening up a bar at the back of the theater. He’s very successful bringing in foreign films but also stuff like Casablanca, American films, Humphrey Bogart and so on. He shows Casablanca during reading periods and there are lines around the block. All the students have seen it at least four times in their career at Harvard and they recite some of the lines that Bogart gives.  

We used to give out Bogie buttons at the theater. This is in the late 1950s or early '60s. Cy and Bryant used to tear tickets, collect the money. I think at the time it was 50 cents to get into the theater because when I started working there it was 75 cents.

Cy then starts a film company called Janus Films and he opens up a bar nightclub and calls it the Casablanca and it becomes a very popular bar. People from all walks of life are going there and having cocktails. It was a great hangout for a lot of people.


What’s Harvard Square like at this time?

They have Cardullo’s restaurant. There’s a place called Albiani’s restaurant. There are big cafeteria style restaurants that all the students liked to eat in.  

The Harvard Square Theater was called the University Theater when I was a kid. It was a neighborhood theater as well as a theater for the Harvard and Radcliffe students. Saturday morning they used to have a 10 o’clock showing just for kids.


Did they show cartoons or something?

No, it was the whole deal. They would show news events, Pathe news. This had to be end of WWII, the Korean War. As a kid, I used to love to watch these news films even before the regular feature came on, before Tonto and the Lone Ranger came on. If you saved your ticket stub, the other half you’d put it in for a drawing. After the news they’d have a drawing for 100 shiny pennies and if your number was read off, you’d get 100 shiny pennies. And then they’d have the regular feature. And then after that, they’d have a short — Tom Corbett Space Cadet where the rocket ships would take off but not straight up but zip around. You were out of there by 12 o’clock. You got to see newsreel, cartoons, a main feature. It was great.


Eventually, you started working at the theater. How did you get the job?

I worked there when I was a freshman in college. I got the job because he lived on the same street I did in West Cambridge. We lived on Sibley Court, he lived on Sparks Street. My mother used to babysit for his daughter. He had married a French woman. She was kinda different. The reason my mother was babysitting for her, she didn’t work, but she and a Jewish lady across the street, Mrs. Shain, they used to like to go to Suffolk Downs and catch the afternoon meet and gamble down there and she didn’t want her husband to know this so she would leave the baby, Papette, with my mother and she would come back at 5 pm after afternoon meet at Suffolk Downs and pick the kid up.
Sibley Court

Cy knew that my mother was a babysitter and I had met him and so he offered me a job. I’m 19 at the time. This is at the Harvard Square Theater. We all had to wear blue blazers. We all went over to J. August on Mass. Ave. and we all got fitted for blue blazers. He wanted to do it right. And we had blue blazers and flashlights and we’d show people their seats and that’s how I started there. I disliked dressing up wearing ties and blazers and at the Brattle Theater you could wear anything, and so I started working at the Brattle in 1961. I did it right through college and graduate school. We used to work at the Brattle. I would take tickets. You didn’t have to show people their seats.


Was it configured the same way it is today?

The old exit door, Casablanca was downstairs
No. Where the Algiers is now, that was a big door that opened up onto the street. You entered next to the Adult Education Center. Inside it was basically the same building as it is today. We used to sneak in there until the guy who was managing it who’d graduated from Harvard, Buddy Cramer, he and his wife, he worked for Cy and he leased the Blue Parrot Coffee Shop, he said, “You guys don’t have to sneak in, I’ll let you in for nothing.” So, that’s how we knew about the place, and then a lot of us worked there later on, and a lot of my friends, I would get them jobs there.

Did that include Rich Rossi?

It included the present-day City Manager of Cambridge. He was a part-time manager at the Brattle Theater. He says it was the best job he ever had. He loved it.

How about for you, was it a fun job for you?

It was terrific. You know the old story, one hand washes the other. I used to let the waiters from the Casablanca in for nothing and then when I went downstairs, they’d let me drink for nothing there. It wasn’t an even swap because it was only 75 cents to get in, and you could drink a lot of beers.

You worked there for a few years?

I worked there until I got a job teaching overseas. I was actually working there when I got my first teaching job in Winthrop. Then at the end of my first year in Winthrop, I went overseas to work for the Department of Defense to teach and that was the last time I worked there.

Did you go see some of these films that were being shown?

We saw all the films. We all became experts on Ingmar Bergman and Truffaut and Fellini. Even to this day, we all can talk about the great Fellini films. Jean Renoir, the son Auguste Renoir, the painter, was a famous film producer and we showed many of Renoir’s films at the theater at the time. We showed the Grand Illusion, we showed Boudu Saved from Drowning. These are classic Renoir films, all in black and white.

What was it like seeing those movies then?

from The Boston Globe, June 7, 1961
These were classic films. Some of these films, they were done in 1922, 1932, black and white, Boudu Saved from Drowning was done right on the Seine. That was a classic film. I found it the other day at the library in Cambridge and I looked at it and it brought back memories of forty years ago.

Did the directors come and visit here?

Truffaut came and visited Cy and I believe Bergman because he showed all the Bergman films in the theater. Bergman was anti-social. He wasn’t into meeting a lot of people and in fact when he won the 1960 Best Foreign Film award for Virgin Spring, he didn’t want to go to Hollywood to accept so our boss Cy Harvey, being friends with him, accepted in Hollywood for Ingmar Bergman. We were all downstairs at the Casablanca drinking Cy’s booze and watching on television as they said “Accepting in Hollywood for Ingmar Bergman is Cyrus Harvey.” We shouted, “Eh, Cy, alright, Cy!”


Switching gears a little, I want to ask you about the Cambridge of your youth. What was it like for you growing up in your neighborhood?

I grew up in what today is West Cambridge and is considered one of the nicer parts of the city. When I was growing up there, part of it was very nice, the other part I lived in was typical working class. This was the area below Brattle Street. It was called the Marsh because at one time before they put in the locks at the harbor, it used to overflow, hence the word marsh.

Riverview Apts, urban renewal Cambridge-style
People who lived there historically worked for estates on Brattle Street. They were the caretakers, the gardeners, and so on. A lot of them had their own crafts. They were housepainters and truck drivers. There was the Su-Lee Wet Wash Laundry. It was an ethnic mix. There was poor Italian, poor Irish. Some Chinese. A few Jewish families. One owned an antique store there. 

By 1960, there was a section that was considered blighted so urban renewal came in. Luckily it wasn’t our side of the street but the other side which was mostly garages, a wet wash laundry, an antique shop, kind of rundown housing, but it was cheap and affordable for Italian and Chinese immigrants. But they tore it all down which would probably never happen today, and all my friends wound up living in housing projects in Cambridge and Somerville. They really didn’t do a lot for the people they displaced, but they put in some very nice housing. The Riverview apartments basically occupy most of the area. There was a family that lived in back in a very nice house — she was the daughter of General “Beetle” Smith, who was the primary aide to Eisenhower in WWII, lived right on Bradbury Street.


The view from home plate, looking towards centerfield
What would you do as kids?

We were a little way from the Cambridge Common which was really the only place you could really play baseball, so there was a small park on the corner of Memorial Drive, Hawthorn and Mt. Auburn Streets and we’d play baseball in the park there. It wasn’t organized. It was just like back in the '40s and '50s and '60s before parents organized kids, we all went down there and chose up sides and played baseball. A lot of time arguing over whether the kid was safe or out or ball or strike. There were no barriers. Foul balls wound up on Memorial Drive. Wild pitches in Memorial Drive. It was a small park but when you’re ten years old, you don’t need a big park and a few kids could hit it out onto Mt. Auburn Street. It was a nice place. It was close to home. Within 5 minutes we could be back for lunch. I remember there were streetcars there.



I swam in the Charles River when I was 7 or 8 years old. This was '47 or '48. We swam at Gerry’s Landing. It was where the Eliot Bridge is now. And the bathhouse is the present-day American Legion Marsh Post but that was actually a bathhouse. And we’d go up there and swim in Gerry’s Landing and I’m sure it was somewhat polluted and it even became worse as time went on. Everybody dumped into the river. Even the Mt. Auburn Hospital would dump into the Charles River. After that, by the early '50s you couldn’t swim in it anymore and that’s when they began to build MDC pools along the rover. One on Magazine Street, the magazine beach pool. Magazine Beach, where Riverside Boat Club is today, that used to be a beach on the river where people swam. I never went down there. So when they closed the river to swimming, they built these pools and that’s where kids would swim for the summer.


As you think back on it all, what are your thoughts?

The idea that the old days were so great ... they really weren’t that great. My parents had very little money. I went to the local Catholic grammar school. I still have guilt from serving under the nuns. For my parents, life would revolve around the church and working. There wasn’t a lot of social entertainment. My parents almost never ate out. In fact I don’t ever remember eating in a restaurant except for once a year we’d go to the Turkey Farm in New Hampshire. My father wouldn’t mind going up there because nobody knew him. He enjoyed going up there, one of the few social events he enjoyed. Typical Irish family, everything played close to the vest. Don’t take any risks. It was an interesting neighborhood. You had a lot of ethnic mixes. You still had a lot of racism, ethnic competition, “Don’t let the Italians get ahead of you, don’t let this one get ahead of you.” They were still into that kind of stuff. 
From Harvard to the hearts of millions, FDR

But they all voted Democratic. They all came through the Depression and had terrible memories of it. They thought Roosevelt was a god, and in my estimation he was. Without the New Deal, we wouldn’t have what we have today. And they all became Roosevelt Democrats, and ever since everybody votes Democratic. In fact, the state of Massachusetts is still the most Democratic voting state in the country.


What are your thoughts about Cambridge in 2014?

Cambridge has had a terrific evolution and I mean for the better. When I grew up, there were very few parks. There were very few things for kids to do. The educational system was somewhat average. The city wasn’t kept up that well. There was minimal attention to development in the city. Unfortunately, there was a lot of political corruption in the city. They tended to hate Harvard. They didn’t want the Harvard people getting control of their city. The educational system suffered because of that. 

Construction in Kendall Square today
Today it’s dramatically different. The schools are better. What I’ve seen is tremendous influx of immigrants, from the Caribbean, from all over the world coming to Cambridge. When I was in school here, there was minority community of blacks on Western Ave. and River Street. Poor, basically, some working-class. There was actually a middle working-class community up around Concord Ave and Walden Street. Many of them worked in the post office, for the government, for the MTA, they had pretty good lives. But there were very few immigrants. The only immigrants were Portuguese, and they worked in East Cambridge in the shoe factory and the food processing places in East Cambridge. Today in the high school we have multiple languages being spoken. The opportunities are terrific in Cambridge. With the subway extension, they took the debris from the subway and they stored it up at the dump and then the turned the whole dump into a beautiful park, and the subway extension in the '80s really made a dramatic difference in Cambridge and Somerville. Today it’s a terrific city. Excellent tax base. 1960 Kendall Square had been torn down. They were going to situate NASA there, and what happened was, the story goes, after the death of Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson said NASA’s going to Houston. Whether that’s true or not, I’m not sure, but the whole area kinda sat vacant for years, which was a good thing, because they did some very good planning. It’s kind of like the Silicon Valley of the east. 

I've seen the city go from working class basically working class, middle class to a situation where real estate because people want to live here and they want to work in Kendall Square in high tech area, real estate has gone through the roof. For the average citizen, owning a single-family home here is beyond their means. A lot of people have moved to the suburbs.


Do you care? A lot of people get very bent out of shape about that, but they didn’t grow up in Cambridge. They moved here.

I think a lot of it has been for the better. I’ve seen the city purposely not go the total gentrification route. The city has built a lot of low-income housing so they could retain working class people. There have been a number of housing projects put in since the war and they’ve maintained low-income housing for people of lesser means, so it hasn’t been an exclusive city although real estate is sky-high. You also have the opportunity if you don’t have the means to live in low-income moderate housing, mixed housing, which is a good thing. This city could be if they didn’t make an effort it could be exclusively upper class, very wealthy. It could look like some of the suburbs, Lincoln or Winchester or so on. The city fathers made an effort to include all socio-economic groups within the city itself. I think they’ve done a pretty good job. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

The stories white people tell themselves.

Every culture has its myths. Myths are the stories a group tells itself about itself to reinforce its sense as a group. Often these stories speak of the exploits of a “hero class”, individuals who stand out from the rest, exemplars of the creed. 

As the recent unrest in Ferguson, Missouri and today’s funeral for Michael Brown bring the American struggle of race once again to the fore, it occurred to me that looking at the artifacts of white culture might be interesting and informative and helpful too.

Last week, I noticed two magazines on a table that screamed at me “what white people read” with a vengeance. Wired and Vanity Fair are the repositories of a portion of our collective narrative — glossy and vain, informed yet inconsequential, highly self-congratulatory.



On Wired, a young man with a square-ish jaw and broad cheekbones looks back at us, hooded sweatshirt covering the top of his head. He’s a combination of Luke Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobe. It turns out, he is 21-year-old Californian Palmer Luckey, creator of something menacingly named the Oculus Rift, which apparently will change the way our world works.  He is the hacker-child-genius extraordinaire, with the looming potential of also becoming a billionaire. American archetype #1. In our age of internet, this has become a version of the American Hero. 

Vanity Fair, true to a time-tested formula for selling magazines, has put the duke and duchess of Cambridge on their cover. Though they are not American, the Cambridges are nevertheless American archetype #2, young, British and royal. Kate with her natural English beauty — Karl Marx once remarked that of all the women in Europe, English women were the most beautiful — sits highest on the page, top of the triangle of bodies, and her two “boys”, her husband William and their son George, form the base. They are prince and princess and child, traveling the world, not really real, but not make-believe either.  

Of course, there are other expressions of whiteness in our nation. A website established to raise money for the police officer who shot Michael Brown had so many racist comments posted on it, they shut it down.

The snapshot of America today is odd. A country changing so rapidly relives its perennial misery even still.  


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Random thoughts on a Wednesday: British boys' schools; Ferguson, Mizzou.

I was talking to an American about boys' public schools in Britain. These exclusive institutions like Eton, Winchester and Harrow, have trained centuries of the British ruling class in settings that date back equally as long. To meet a graduate of one of these places is to greet a most curious combination of delicately refined high culture molded through a boys’ savage Darwinian barbarism that would put most primeval despots to shame. 

On a separate note, if there is a silver lining to the images and sounds and reports out of Ferguson, Missouri, it is the broad condemnation from across the political spectrum of an emerging American police state enforced by idiots, led by fools and paid for by federal dollars unleashed after a massive terror attack against New York City in 2001. Even in a culture that worships the gun, the weapons on display are terrifying for the ignorance they embody.  Strong enough to kill a man from over a mile away, a sniper’s rifle has no place in tiny Ferguson. Quality leadership, effective training, heightened awareness and sensitivity — all of these appear entirely lacking in a local police force of 53 mostly white officers in a town that is 65 percent black. I fully suspect that if the police used their minds and their capacity to communicate (such as it is) as readily as they reached for their arsenal of deadly tools, much more positive would have been accomplished in these intervening days.  I do at times wonder what it must feel like to be black man in America, under siege in a land your people have inhabited longer than almost any other immigrant group.

The whole episode is shameful, but serves as a bright beacon for the direction we are headed and must avoid.  There is no freedom down that dead-end alley.  No suh, not none at all.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

1974 (busing).

The four decades since 1974 have washed away memories of a year that most wanted to forget even then. Still, 1974 was a monumental year not just in America's history, but in Boston's, and it should not be forgotten, ever.

It was a year when the fabric of society was strained to its tearing point.

1974 was the year that the city was compelled by federal district judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr. to implement busing. It hit the city like a ton of bricks. 

It is very hard today to recall the anger, fear and violence that busing brought, deep and pervasive though they were at the time.  Adults stood out daily to protest the arrival of children at school.  Motorcycle convoys of police escorted buses every morning.  Racial tensions ran very high.  

The ruling found its origins in a 1960s-era Massachusetts law that ordered the state's schools to desegregate or risk losing state funding. Then, in 1972, a group of black parents filed suit claiming that Boston's school system was unconstitutionally segregated. 

"Just hours after Boston's schools had closed for the summer on June 21, Judge Garrity issued the historic ruling that had taken him a year to decide. The Boston School Committee had, he said, 'knowingly carried out a systematic program of segregation affecting all of the city's students, teachers, and school facilities and [had] intentionally brought about and maintained a dual school system,'" reported a 2000 Harvard study on the busing crisis.

"He knew there was going to be a lot of opposition," Brian LeClair, Garrity's law clerk at the time of the ruling, said in a Boston Globe interview earlier this year.

The impacts of Judge Garrity's ruling were immediately felt.

Eight-year-old Michael Patrick McDonald had his own perspective on this. As a white kid living with his mother in the Old Colony housing project in South Boston, he had a ringside seat to the turmoil he saw in his neighborhood.  In 1999 he sat down to write an account of the times in his book All Souls.
When the motorcade had passed, everyone lingered on street corners in the project talking about "forced busing." It was going to begin in the fall, they said.  They all seemed to know it was going to happen, but win or lose, everyone believed in going down fighting. I saw neighbors talking, people I knew had grudges against each other before. In the following days, I even saw people who were from different parts of Southie getting over their differences to talk about the busing.  Mothers from City Point talking on Broadway to mothers from the projects.  I couldn't believe it.  The whole feeling in the neighborhood was changing.  Before long, we kids could cross any turf line.  We were united. Some said it was the communists who were making this happen.  Still others said it was rich lawyers, judges, and politicians from the suburbs, and that it had nothing to do with the blacks, that they didn't want to come to Southie any more than we wanted to go to Roxbury.  In the end it didn't really matter who we were united against, as long as we kept up our Southie loyalty.
To comply with Garrity's order, Boston decided to start by integrating the predominantly black Roxbury with the almost entirely white and equally poor South Boston.  From today's vantage point, it's hard to image two neighborhoods less likely to integrate successfully.  Furthermore, it has been asserted that they were two of the worst performing schools in the district, so what benefit would be derived from conflating them was unclear.  The anger that emerged in the largely Irish working-class South Boston swelled and the mix proved toxic.  McDonald remembered this.
Some of the neighbors raged against "the niggers" more than ever before. But others were starting to talk about how this wasn't about race. That it was about poor people being told that they have to things that rich people don't have to do. Our mothers couldn't get over people thinking that we had something in our schools that blacks in Roxbury didn't have. "Our kids have just as little," they said. "Neither side has a pot to piss in and now they want us to fight over who can piss in what alley." I couldn't believe that there were people who were now willing to admit they were poor.  I'd never heard that one before in Southie, especially not in the project.  We weren't poor; that was a black thing, being poor.  But the ones who talk about us being poor were few and far between, and it wasn't long before the talk became all "niggers this" and "niggers that."

Class, race, ethnic tribalism, poverty, a sense of disenfranchisement all fueled the anger and the public reaction that overtook the city. Some neighborhood politicians like Louise Day Hicks exploited it. Boston, the 
enlightened City on a Hill, was embroiled in one of the ugliest chapters in its history. To manage the crisis, Garrity appointed "masters" to shepherd through the desegregation plan.  One, Charles Willie from Harvard, noted that unlike the civil rights struggle in the South which was all-encompassing and built its own momentum, Boston's struggles were more isolated from the larger surrounding social context and this isolation allowed a continuous resistance to fester. 

Regardless, from day one things didn't go well.  According to the Harvard report, 

"On September 12, 1974, school buses set out to pick up 20,000 children—out of a total of 87,000 students then enrolled in the Boston Public Schools—for journeys ranging from several blocks to several miles. But many buses pulled up to their assigned schools with only a few students, or none at all. Only 124 of an expected 1,300 students, for instance, showed up at South Boston High School for the first day of school. Of those 124 students, 56 were black and had come to desegregate the previously all-white institution."  

Garrity tried to get the universities to become more active partners on the theory that both white working-class parents and African-American parents would feel greater confidence in the desegregation efforts if the many institutions of higher-ed took a more active role in the schools. Boston University president John Silber stepped up immediately, pledging the support of BU in the effort.  Harvard was more ambivalent about getting involved and assigned it to a graduate student at the Ed School, according to the Harvard report.

Court ordered desegregation efforts continued until 1999, when a group of white parents filed suit to have it ended.  Nevertheless, its impacts are wide-felt.  The effort was a wrenching one that showed the ugly side of the civic personality of the city. At the same time, it was a genuine and brave effort to undo a pervasive pattern of discrimination.  Our school systems have not succeeded in closing the gaps in student performance, with race as an unfortunately accurate predictor.  Nevertheless, we are a much more multi-cultural society than we were and the neighborhood and ethnic boundaries that used to define and constrain us have almost entirely disappeared after so many trips through the wash cycle.  Though race has by no means vanished from the conversation, income and education differentials play an equally pervasive role as skin color.

Why did I write about the busing crisis?  The story revealed a time that is no longer with us in a place that still very much is.  In that way, the searing and painful drama etches out what has changed about us, and what hasn't.  More than that, as I reflected on the era, I realized that 1974 was a year in the history of this city when the foundational pillars of society shook.  In addition to the busing crisis, in that year the Massachusetts Supreme Judical Court ruled the state's obscenity laws unconstitutional.  The Boston Redevelopment Authority was laying the groundwork for an area that became known as that Combat Zone,

And of course, forty years ago tomorrow, Richard Nixon resigned the presidency of the United States.

What a year.

-------------------------------------

The filter of time allows us to see the past through a gauze that reveals the outlines, but obscures the specifics. Photographs pull the gauze away, showing it all in an unblinking black and white. People and places emerge from the past in unnerving, familiar detail.  













Monday, August 4, 2014

And now for something really uninteresting …

What’s the most boring thing you can imagine?  A day revisiting last year’s tax returns?  A long Sunday afternoon with the in-laws?  How about sitting down and watching a play about gentrification in New York City?  Well, if you chose number three, now you can fulfill that experience because there is just such a play underway in Harlem.  


Presumably, the dramaturge includes a climactic scene where our hero grabs his head in both hands and with anguished look on his face stares silently into space before shouting at the audience: “I hate that I am a perfect representation of the trend that I hate!” Or something to that effect.

And if cruel irony weren’t cruel enough, on the facing page of the August 4th New Yorker where this play gets its billing, there is a short piece about Rockaway Beach, which begins in this manner:
In 2011, Rockaway Beach was poised to become the next hipster frontier. MacCarren Park Pool party organizers held “Rock Beach” indie-band concerts, the concession stand Veggie Island served kale juice and miso sandwiches, surfers and artists thronged the peninsula’s white-sand beaches — some even chose to forgo the hour-long A-train commute from Manhattan and moved there.  But in 2012, just as the Rockaways seemed destined for a fair-trade kitting shop and a Cafe Grumpy, Hurricane Sandy brought fifteen-foot waves and ten-foot floods, leaving the place in shambles.
Now Rockaway Beach, undeterred and still scruffy, is poised for a renaissance ...


Sometimes the things that are trying to hit you in the face actually succeed.


Sunday, August 3, 2014

The end of the American Century.

It must stand as the harbinger of a final decline, the time when our affluence is no longer luxury, merely excess.  The conceit of an empire is revealed in that moment when the avarice that started out as a hunger ends in nothing but lethargy.

To go to a roadside stand on a summer's day, order a small ice cream in a cup and be confronted with an amount that easily fills a pint-like container to its brim -- this picture is not plausible in any sense. It is too damn much ice cream, it does not meet the definition of "small", it will make the little children fat.

Ah yes, the little children, I think of the little children.  What will happen to the wee ones?  They will soon not be so wee anymore, not because they have grown up but because they have grown out, from string beans to watermelons. (And if it will do that to a small child, what in God's name will it do to a middle aged man?)

In other words, if that's a small, how big is a large?

And we worry that we have a national obesity problem.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Google is smarter than Harvard.

Just in case you were wondering, Google is actually smarter than Harvard and here's the proof ...

In searching for this book, "Weisber, Stewart E. (2009). Barney Frank: The Story of America's only Left-handed, Gay, Jewish Congressman," my first stop was Harvard's online library catalog, Hollis, where I entered the information exactly as I had retrieved it from a Wikipedia entry about Boston's Combat Zone. Hollis responded in this manner, "No results found. Your query did not produce any results."

It seemed odd to me that the world's largest university library system would have no record of a book. So I entered the same information into a Google search, which immediately returned this, "Showing results for: Weisberg, Stuart E. (2009). Barney Frank: The Story of America's only Left-handed, Gay, Jewish Congressman," with a link to Amazon, followed by another 5,919 after that.

I am certain there is a raging academic debate as to whether an online university catalog should require an exact citation or not   this is after all the kind of thing that academics debate   but in a world where the people's encyclopedia Wikipedia offers up an erroneous reference and Harvard draws a blank on it, it is nice to know that some geeks in Mountain View, California are smart enough to figure it out. The score is now Google 1, Harvard 0.