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March 2009

A World of Hurts

Implant I apologize for today's blog illustration, but trust me - if you search Google images for "tooth implant," you get an array of the most gruesome photos imaginable. This was the tamest depiction I could find.

So on top of watching the Westchester section - for which I have written for 20 years, eight of those years as a columnist - disintegrate before my eyes (this based on leaked reports coming out of the Times, not to mention conversations with various editors) - I also have part two of my oral surgery today. Part one was the tooth extraction and a bone graft. (You can be thankful there was no illustration of that two hour ordeal.)

Part two, taking place this afternoon, is getting a Titanium screw put into the bone graft.

But here is the up side. Number one - The Weatherman, who takes excellent care of me, and will drive me to and from the appointment, pick up any meds at the pharmacy, and who yesterday stocked the house with pudding, soup and a few other soft things. Well, also Number one (one can't rank these things) is My Mom, who is cooking dinner for us tonight, a soft meal of shredded chicken and rice.

It's not so much the food (though Lord knows that's important to me) but the sense of being loved and cared for.

So Iater I will put on my ipod, block out the sound of the dental drill, and be grateful for what I have. (Which, of course, also includes that book contract!)

Times Co. Announces Temporary Salary Cuts

Times1 By Richard Perez-Pena

"Bill Keller, the executive editor of The New York Times, announced a temporary 5 percent pay cut and furloughs for most employees in a meeting with the news staff Thursday afternoon.

The cuts were mandated for management and nonunion employees, and the Newspaper Guild has been asked to agree to them for those it represents on the newsroom staff. If the union does not agree, Mr. Keller said during a meeting of hundreds of staff members in the paper’s main newsroom, “we will face layoffs, probably on the order of 60 to 70 people,” out of almost 1,300 on the news staff.

Also on Thursday, The Times laid off 100 people in its business operations, and Mr. Keller said it would make other cuts, like reducing spending on freelancers by 10 to 15 percent and possibly consolidating some sections."

Etc., etc. etc.

The Contract Arrives

Images It's here! It's here! In fact four copies of my publishing contract arrived in yesterday's mail. And good grief, I can see why an author needs an agent. There is so much more to negotiate than the advance and the hard and soft cover rights. Everything from audio and foreign rights to how many free copies of the book the author gets.

And I'm not telling you how many free copies I get, because if you are my friend, I'm sure you'll want to pay full retail.

Bottom line: a manuscript of approximately 80,000 words is due February 1, 2010.

Second bottom line: it's time to make the transition - less time on journalism, more time on producing the book.

Holding On By A String

320_CP24_car_tape_080829 You should see my car. Happily, this isn't it, in the picture. But I do have tape now holding up my driver's side visor. The mechanism broke the other day, and the visor is hanging on like a loose tooth, flopping around as I barrel down the highway. (Needless to say it won't stay in the "up" position, nor will it remain steady in the down position.) It's very distracting.

We don't lease cars in our family. We buy them, drive them for years, and run them into the ground. And while we maintain them for safety - brakes, engine, etc., - over the years, we start to let the cosmetics of the car go.

I have a nervous feeling that there is a human equivalent to this approach. It reminds me of a conversation I once had with some women in my writing group.

Me: I woke up this morning and looked in the mirror and couldn't believe how old I looked.

Woman in her 60s: Oh, you still care about how you look? When I wake up, I'm just glad if nothing hurts.

Woman in her 80s: I'm just glad I wake up.

Some People Love Winter

I am not one of them. But the Weatherman and The Boy are big winter fans. And since all I have been doing is reporting and writing these days, which involves a lot of driving, interviewing and hammering away at my computer, I thought I'd share instead scenes from The Boy's life. They are more interesting to look at than mine.

These are taken from The Boy's blog, which he writes for the admissions office of his college in Maine. Here is what the campus looks like in early spring.
And here is what The Boy likes to do on weekends.
And here is a photo of an insane college winter tradition. Please note - the young man that is in his underwear in the picture is NOT The Boy. Which is not to say he hasn't jumped into this frozen pond himself.

For Young Inmates, Judgment's The Theme

Published: March 20, 2009

THE images in the movie trailer come fast and furious. Orange prison garb. Tight shots of young men’s faces — some expressions blank, some guarded, some defiant. A strongly built inmate, standing, fists clenched. A close-up of a tattoo.

“So you want to know what you get when you leave nine inmates in a room with a camera?” asked Stefano DeMicheli. “Hold your judgment.”

“Judgement” is the name of a new movie created by nine inmates at the Westchester County Jail in Valhalla. It is also a complicated subject for these young men, ages 16 to 21, who are part of the Incarcerated Youth Program. Certainly it was a judgment that landed them in jail — a decision made at a point in their young lives that led to their incarceration. And another judgment was made upon each of them, literally, in their conviction and sentencing.

But there are judgments of a different kind, too. The young men in the movie worry about how they will be judged by the movie’s audience.

“Will they understand?” asks one in the film.

“Will they just see wild kids who are trying to get rehabilitated?” asks another.

“How can you make a judgment when you haven’t lived my life?” asks a third.

The movie was made through a pilot program that the Jacob Burns Film Center here offered at the jail in partnership with the county’s Department of Correction. (It was financed by a private grant.) Two staff members from the film center went into the jail to present the digital media class that they have also offered to dozens of high schools in the area. The goal is to teach students how to use video cameras and editing equipment, with the larger intention of what the film center calls visual literacy.

This time, of course, the film teachers were working under unusual constraints. For starters, the entire production had to remain inside the jail classroom.

“Your challenge is to make a film, and you can’t leave the room,” said Mike Kraus, a professionally trained video journalist who was one of the teachers. “You hope these people are going to be excellent talkers.”

Mr. Kraus said he had his own prejudgments about the project. He doubted that young men in that age group would have much to say. He made assumptions about the kind of movie they would want to make, too.

“I thought it would be some kind of rap film or cop chase,” he said. “We got it totally wrong.”

On the first day of class in September, the inmates expressed their own concerns. One suggested that they jettison their prison uniforms for street clothes. “If we’re in jail and we’re in orange jumpsuits, people in Pleasantville are going to judge us,” he said.

Another student saw it differently. He brought up the idea of exposing prejudgments — their own and others’. And so the young men decided to turn the cameras on themselves and explore this very subject. The 18-minute film took about 20 hours over 12 weeks to make. In it, the inmates also grapple with the type of judgment they hope to show in the future.

“I’ve been coming here every year since I was 16,” said one inmate. “You see old people in here. I don’t want to be like them.”

A second said, “When you’re alone in that cell, you do a whole lot of thinking.”

Another said, “There’s not going to be a Part 2 of this movie with me in it.”

The movie had its premiere before a packed house at the film center this month. Two of the inmates in it, Dekwan Clark, 20, and Mr. DeMicheli, 21, have since been released from jail and attended the screening. Two others watched the proceedings from inside the jail, by live video feed. Others in the movie have been transferred to other jails. (County officials would not disclose the charges against the inmates.)

“This is history in the making,” Mr. Clark said, looking around at the audience. Sporting a leather jacket and Yankees cap, he said he was now working, writing poetry and taking technology classes. Mr. DeMicheli said that he was not interested in pursuing film— he is doing drywall construction — but said he enjoyed the experience. “I just hope from the movie people just get a better understanding of who we are.”

County Executive Andrew J. Spano and other county officials also came to see the film, as did teachers and staff members from the jail. Mr. Spano said that the county was committed to education inside the jail and that the jail had the highest high school equivalency pass rate of any county jail in the state. He also said that the film program would continue.

Stephen Apkon, the executive director of the film center, emphasized that the film project was not “an extra” but a vital part of learning.

“The bar between the have and the have-nots has always been about literacy,” he said.

“Judgement” ends with a cameo from each inmate, explaining a little about himself. Jeffrey Lightfoot talks about wanting to be a physical therapist.

Nico Perry discusses his love of astronomy. “I’m probably not all that different from you,” he says.

And after Rory Rohan finishes his clip, he takes off his orange top and tosses it at the camera. “One more thing,” he says. “Don’t judge me by this.”

Never Say Never

Facebook_546x490 How many times have I insisted that I would never join Facebook, because it was age-inappropriate and creepy? Oh, let me count the times! I've blogged about it here. I've clipped articles with headlines like, "Mom, get off Facebook." I've ignored multiple requests from friends to join.

But I have succumbed. I joined this weekend and I will not even report how much time I've already spent locating old friends and playing on the site. I had two main motivations for finally making the leap. Number one - I eventually need it to help publicize the book, and more immediately to drive people, particularly young people, to take the survey on the book's website. (More on that when it's up and running.) Number two - I am completely addicted to the game Word Twist, which is only available through Facebook. I leave it to those who know me best as to which order those reasons should be in.

I decided to illustrate this post with a Facebook page, instead of the more appropriate image of me taking large bites out of my hat.

Times Are Tough All Over

20081219_mddavid_250x375 In the midst of hand-wringing over the AIG bailouts, soaring unemployment and evaporating 401Ks, consider the plight of poor Marie Douglas-David.

Well, maybe "poor" isn't quite the right adjective. Ms. Douglas-Davis, a Swedish countess and former investment banker, is going through a divorce. She says she has no income and that the amount her soon-to-be ex is offering her is just not enough to make ends meet.

See, he's only coughing up $43 million, and what's a girl to do? Marie says she needs far more than that, since her weekly expenses are more than $53,000. That is not a typo. I repeat: Her weekly expenses are more than $53,000 a week.

How can you possibly spend that much money? For starters, she says her weekly expenses include $700  for limousine service, $4500 for clothes, $1000 for hair and skin treatments, $1500 for restaurants and entertainment and $8000 for travel. A week.

This might be a case where the expression, "What planet are you living on?" really applies.


Contract My life is suddenly full of contracts. My agents have been negotiating the fine points of the book contract with the publisher. And I am looking over another contract - this one to set up a website to help me conduct some of the research for the book.

It's pretty standard - the web designer will do thus and so, and I will provide thus and so, and it will cost thus and so. But I was a bit taken aback by one of the "Terms and Conditions," which The Weatherman tells me is a quite standard "Force Majeure" provision. Still, check this out:

"No Party shall be liable for any failure to perform its obligations where such failure is as a result of Acts of Nature (including fire, flood, earthquake, storm, hurricane or other natural disaster), war, invasion, act of foreign enemies, hostilities (whether war is declared or not), civil war, rebellion, revolution, insurrection, military or usurped power or confiscation, terrorist activities, nationalization, government sanction, blockage, embargo, labour dispute, strike, lockout or interruption or failure of electricity or any communication service..."

Uh. OK. Under those circumstances - especially the invasion, civil war or revolution - the web research for the book would probably be put on the back burner anyway.

Reply All

Figure14 Let me be the 12 kazillionth person to say it - please, please think twice before hitting "Reply All" on your email correspondence.

I'm blogging late today because I have been slogging through my email inbox. Almost two dozen emails are in response to a meeting date that was sent out for an organization I'm involved with. Mind you this isn't a discussion of when we should meet, just a simple announcement of the decision. Here in response we get such gems as "I'll be there." Or "O.K." Or "I have a doctor appointment that day at 3 p.m., and then I have to stop at home, and then ....blah blah blah" - bottom line, they'll be late. I DON"T CARE. There are a lot of people who attend these things, and I don't want to hear your life story.

Don't get me started on the nonsense that goes in when you actually try to set up a meeting among a group of people.

I could go on, but you probably have your own group of useless emails to sort through.

Another Goodbye

12-19-06_WA_SPI "We're overwhelmingly grateful to you for supporting us for 146 years -- for buying us on the street, for inviting us into your homes, for placing ads with us, for telling us what you think and helping us be better. And, over the last two months, for telling us how much you'll miss us.

And we're damned sorry we won't be here in print to cover you."

So reads the column written by David McCumber, the managing editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, whose printed edition bit the dust today. The paper is moving to an on-line only offering. What's the big deal about that? Now I'll quote the NYT, who captures it pretty succinctly: "The P-I, as it is called, will resemble a local Huffington Post more than a traditional newspaper, with a news staff of about 20 people rather than the 165 it had, and a site with mostly commentary, advice and links to other news sites, along with some original reporting."

Note the decimation of the news staff. Note the "some original reporting."  The rest of the actual news will be links to other sites, but those sites rely on the reporting of other large news rooms, pretty much all of which are threatened.

I saw a cartoon the other day in which a guy is listening to a cavalcade of bad economic news - jobs lost, the Dow Jones plummeting, and complains to his wife, "When is this bad news going to end?" She replies, "Don't worry. Our local newspaper is closing down." Funny, sad and true.

Hire My Husband

Art.husband.job No, no, this isn't a plea for you to hire my husband, although like a kazillion others he is also looking. This is about the website, which was created by Robin Sterns, who desperately (clearly) wants her husband, Michael, to find employment.

The welcome page features a smiling Robin, holding up a sign that reads "Hire My Husband" with the Golden Gate Bridge in the backdrop. Site visitors can click on  "About Mike," (There's a photo of Mike, also in front of the bridge, with a sign that says, "Hi. I'm Mike") or "Mike's Resume" (He got an MBA from Georgetown University in 2008, and has some experience in marketing) or "Contact Mike."

 His wife told CNN the idea for the website came after she watched him search for work in this market without success. "I grew frustrated. He has been sending out resumes since he graduated but nothing has happened. He's such a great candidate, he would be an asset to any company."

It's kind of clever, kind of pitiful and an incredible sign of the times. I don't know if it will help Mike, and I certainly wish him the best, but it seems more likely that someone would offer Robin the marketing job.

My Cyber Doppleganger

You-are-me It started when I decided to buy so that I could establish an author website. I was shocked to discover someone else owned it. When I went to visit my cyber twin, it turns out she is a math professor at a community college in Connecticut. This is so wrong on so many levels. How could my other half be able to do mathematics? And how did she scarf up my domain name?

Next, I went to set up a new email address that will be fully dedicated for book research and interviews. It turns out that is also taken. As is my first initial and name. And various other incarnations.

I wonder how many of us are out there? Maybe I should host a little cyber get-together.

The New "In"

Bloomingdales3 Oh Lord. Here's what a Bloomingdale's ad in the paper says today, in huge type: "The Big Thing this Spring? Staying In! Think dinner parties. Movie nights. Breakfast in bed and yoga sessions in the living room."

Well, welcome to my world, except of course for the breakfast in bed and the yoga sessions. Breakfast this morning, as usual, is sitting on a plate next to my computer and I've blogged here before about my unhappy yoga experiences.

Of course Bloomingdale's doesn't want you to make do with what you have. The ad goes on to say, "We have everything you need to turn your home into your favorite hot spot." The store is suggesting that these tough times call for the purchase of "fluffy organic towels and sheets," a "sleek new machine" for brewing coffee, a juicer, "chic china" and a "fancy cocktail" kit.

 I'd say they are kinda missing the point about why people stopped going out in the first place. That said, well before this economic mess, my home really was - well, maybe not my favorite hot spot, but certainly a nice warm one.

What Was I Going to Blog About?

Ispi036117 Oh yes, the USA Memory Championship. It was held last Saturday and the contestants have to remember much more than why they just walked in to the room. Get this - they have to do things like memorize the order of a shuffled deck of cards within five minutes, write out a 50-line poem after studying it for 15 minutes and tick off 200 numbers that appear in random order.

This year's champion is Ronnie White, an army veteran and "mental athlete" who trained for months, forcing himself to focus under strenuous conditions, like having kids crawl all over him or memorizing things while under water.

There was a point to my telling you all this, but of course I can't remember what it was.

Why I Don't Like Interviewing Kids

708768 Last night I was covering a story about an educational program inside our County Jail. It was for youthful offenders - ages 16 to 21 - and it was a film class. Nine of these young men made a movie about judgment:  the judgments they themselves made that landed them in jail and the judgments that the audience would make about them as prisoners.

It was interesting - I have to write it up today, to the tune of 850 words.

Two of the inmates featured in the film have since been released and were at the film's screening. Of course I interviewed them both. One was shy and the other a born performer, convinced he was going to hit it big as a rap star. When I asked him if he had found a job since he'd been released, he said, yeah he had. He leaned over conspiratorially (this is after I've identified myself as an NYT reporter, and as I'm standing there with a notepad writing down every word he says) and tells me, "Don't tell anyone, but I'm working as a security guard."

Judgment. Sheesh.

Happy Birthday Barbie

435137755ozhQHR_ph Like just about every girl I know, I grew up playing with Barbie. Of course what vintage Barbie you played with defines your age. Mine were not the ones with shiny straight blond hair that wore shiny pink outfits. I didn't even play with "theme" Barbies. Barbie hadn't yet gone to the moon (Astronaut Barbie) though I did have her stewardess outfit.

No, my Barbie had a blond bubble hair do (like the one pictured here only blonder), wore stylish "pedal pants" (later reinvented as "capri" pants), dresses that cinched atKenone the waist and billowed out, stopping between the knees and the calves. She had all manner of high heels and a very stylish wool coat.

All through my childhood I longed for the Barbie wedding dress. It was $5 and my mother maintained that it was a ridiculous price for a doll's dress. It was just as well, because Barbie had a boyfriend, and I don't think she was ready to settle down. I also owned Ken, who had a blond crew cut made of kind of yellow felt. In a deliberate act of sabotage, my older sister once took a green magic marker to the top of Ken's head. No matter how I scrubbed, I could never get the color right again, and at his best, Ken looked like he had spent too much time in a chlorine pool.

Anyway, it's Barbie's 50th birthday. She looks fabulous. I think she's had some work done....

The New Saturday Night

Netflix-1 More signs of the times. Increasingly, when The Weatherman and I get together with friends, the nature of that outing is changing. It's less an outing than a staying in-ing.

A restaurant? Well, let's not go anywhere too expensive. But then why go out to a moderate or cheap restaurant? They aren't that good and I can cook better food for a far more reasonable price. Movie? Well, if we're already eating at home, why head out afterwards? Especially when ticket prices are north of $10 a piece, the movie that may or may not be any good, and it will almost certainly be proceeded by a string of commercials urging me to join the National Guard.

So it's pot luck (split the cooking and it's half the effort) and Netflix for us and our friends. And you know what? It tends to be a far more relaxing way to spend time together anyway.

March Awareness

John Porcellino March calendar When you're in the news business, you get a lot of breathless announcements about why you should be writing on certain subjects right now. Because, as everyone knows, March is ________ Awareness Month.

Well, just in case you missed it, among other things, March is:

-National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month
-National Sleep Awareness Month
-National Brain Injury Awareness Month
-National Caffeine Awareness Month
-National Nutrition Month
-and National Endometriosis Awareness Month

Just thought you would want to be aware of all this.

More Great Things About Cats

2 on the couch There are many things I love about my cats. Here are a few of them:

-They don't pretend to understand anything about the A.I.G. bailout.

-They remain unconcerned about the government taking over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

-They're not worried about the stock market plunging.

-They never listen to Rush Lindbaugh.

-They don't seem to care if I've gained or lost weight.

-They get extreme pleasure from lying in front of the fireplace, sitting in someone's lap, napping, and receiving affectionate pets - an excellent example for all of us.

Another Sign of The Times

Soft mouth guard See this thing? It looks like a piece of raw shrimp. It is actually a mouth guard. I am the proud new owner of one of these dental appliances. You know why you have to wear one? People who get these devices are grinding their teeth. And this is no good. Your jaw aches, your teeth start to crack, and then your dental care costs even more than this little custom piece of plastic did.

My dentist tells me that she is making more and more of these things, because - not surprisingly in these stressful times - more people are grinding their teeth.

Anyway, as I was  wading through the usual economic gloom and doom in the paper, grinding away on this plastic thing instead of my upper teeth, I got momentarily perked up when I saw a headline that read, "Jobs To Return." Thank God! What are these jobs and where are they going to be? But it turned out to be about Steve Jobs returning to his job at Apple, after a medical leave.

Never mind. Chomp, chomp, chomp.