Hachette vs. Amazon, Redux

The casualties in the Hachette vs. Amazon fight are growing, and they are all collateral damage. Amazon may be finding itself in the same position as the Chinese authorities in Hong Kong. Those folks keep mistreating demonstrators, which only encourages more people to protest and to aid and abet those on the front lines.

dgAs Flavorwire reports, more authors have been calling out Amazon for undercutting prices. Malcolm Gladwell’s observations are particularly “insightful” as he does a takedown on Amazon’s complete silence. The title of his latest book couldn’t be more appropriate, except that the Davids are the authors, not Hachette.

If authors’ comments raise alarm, this post from BoingBoing on the issue of audiobooks should terrify readers and writers alike. It seems that Audible, which is owned by Amazon, controls ninety percent of the audio books market and is looking to drive out the rest. Authors who don’t want to accept Amazon’s DRM (that’s digital rights management, which prevents copying, pirating, etc.) won’t have audio books.

But we may not have to abandon hope. Poets&Writers describes an innovative approach to ebooks, though at the moment it’s limited to “exceptional fiction.” The owner of 0s-1s has a noncommercial approach to publishing, meaning he thinks the creators of the content should receive the lion’s share of the proceeds. What a novel idea!

As for Amazon, it is now time for the Justice Department to launch an anti-trust investigation. Yes, I know that the laws governing monopolies are pretty toothless these days. Yes, I also know that Amazon claims the $9.99 ebook and locked-in DRM help the consumer a/k/a reader. But to the extent that Amazon’s marauding discourages writers from producing “content,” everyone will suffer: the reader, the writer, traditional publishers, and Amazon. But Amazon probably won’t care since it’s too busy selling lawnmowers and bean bags.

Sushi Friday



130 Main Street

Middletown CT 06457


 Sushi Friday lunches continue, but the posts have fallen behind. There’s been some good news of late. Among the best, the horror that was Osaka closed. In its place, Moonlight.

What I like: Lots of free parking right outside the door. The hibachi and sushi bar occupy separate floors so I don’t have the smell of frying meat on my clothes when I leave. The miso comes as a substantial broth with the right balance of seaweed and tofu. The excellent sushi chef offers a lagniappe. The first time he served yellowtail in thin sauce with a slice of jalapeño on top. The second time, when I shared the space with two women who seemed to be  looking for a show, I think it was fried cream cheese (?!) with katsu and sauce I couldn’t id. It tasted great. Another offering included tiny bits of fish with cucumber and spicy sauce. The sashimi – two escolar, three tuna, two salmon – arrived in a magnificent presentation. I saved the orchid and baby’s breath. On one occasion, the chef kept the inept wait staff in line, making sure the rice arrived. Prices fall a bit below others in the area.

What I don’t like: The service can be disorganized, though that has improved since the hostess recognizes me. On the second visit, the food arrived before the beverage, and the waitress spilled half the soup so the bowl was sliding across the counter. The menu has recent Sharpie changes, indicating the management doesn’t have its act together. On one occasion, neighboring diners ordered something with mango. Manager/owner said if they could wait, he’d go buy some. Another diner had to order a refill on his tea.

Grade: B for the fish and the presentation, otherwise it would be C-

Punctuation Update


After I posted “Happy Punctuation Day” I came across a terrific visual example in the NYTimes Book Review. We have the question mark, something headline writers avoid at all costs; an exclamation point, see yesterday’s post; and the hashtag.

The Time piece mentioned the debate over whether # is a punctuation mark. I’d say as a Twitter meme-ette it’s not, but as a substitute for a number sign or a shorthand for pounds (the weight, not the Brit money), then yes it is. In those contexts “#” serves the same purpose as an apostrophe (that mark in its dotage), replaces “of” followed by a noun, or the letter “o” in a negative contraction.

Happy National Punctuation Day


To celebrate, here’s a link to punctuation à la Victor Borge. It’s still funny after all these years. This version offers bonus jokes.

This article in Time has mostly bad news.

  • Emoji maraud where question marks and periods used to roam. I hate it that when I type a colon followed by a closed parenthesis, MS Word assumes I want a smiley face. I’d rather walk two miles in four inch heels than resort to a prefab face to express myself.
  • The repurposing of punctuation, especially the @ sign, poses less of a problem. Wish more people would use § and ^.
  • As for the apostrophe, “don’t” may work as “dont,” but omitting it from “cant,” produces a different word, even if the meaning is obvious.
  • The rise of exclamation points, like the use of emoji, indicates that people are too lazy to express themselves. Cut it out!
  • The loss of the hyphen makes sense. It’s a waste. My mother wrote “to-day” and “to-night” till the 1980s and sometimes even later. Word still demanded “four-inch” before heels in the walk two miles sentence above. So old school.
  • My own least favorite mark is the colon, which graces pretty much every book these days except for novels. The descending “punct” allows publishers to cheat by using one or  two words in huge typeface on the spine with the rest of the book written in the subtitle book on the front cover. Examples: (?!) Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail; Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local – and Helped Save an American Town. Talk about a stew of punctuation. Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health. OK, I’m ready for a desert of bread and cheese.

I suppose the single word followed by a colon, followed by a paragraph improves on such old school titles as The complete Civil War journal and selected letters of Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Emily Dickinson should be happy he was a better agent than writer. Also Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839. It made a splash when Fanny Kemble produced it, but I doubt the tome would make it past the first-read intern these days. Maybe we can compromise to come up with titles that define in a few words such as  Life on the Mississippi or Political Justice.

Anyway, happy .,;””( ) and even!

My Venn

I came late to Venn diagrams but now find them mesmerizing. They make certain types of relationships much easier to visualize.

The problems presented basic logic, numbers of students taking particular classes and so forth, but I did not appreciate purplemath.com’s example of the cat who ”deposited” geckoes on the carpet, including six gray, twelve tailless, and fifteen that he’s chewed on “a little.” Not gonna solve that one even with the disclaimer that “no geckoes or cats were injured in the production of the above word problem.” Couldn’t he have chosen moles or something a bit more destructive than the Geico guy?

The link to Visual Complexity  offers a number of time-wasting graphics. Check out radio right now.

Here’s one I don’t quite get: Eriksondata puts art, data, and math in the three circles. Love that at the intersection lie “very well paid people.” I understand that art produces graphic designers, and math produces stats nerds, but where did data trolls come from?

From that Venn, I conclude it’s OK to  diagram with made-up stuff. The caveat to what follows is that the perspiration side should be at least five times as large as the inspiration.




Banned Books Week


The previous post on this subject discussed the classics that have been “challenged”: Ulysses, Lolita, The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Color Purple.

Here are observations on the 2013-2014 list that school boards or administrators pulled from school libraries and reading lists. As I said before, it’s pretty certain that the people who seek to ban the books haven’t read them. I can understand parents not wanting their own children to read certain of these books, but they have no right to censor what others read.

Yes, The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende contains sex and violence, but it’s all in the context of a sprawling tale of love and war and fully appropriate.

Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man ran into a problem because of “strong language.” Since it was published in 1953, I’m guessing that pretty much anyone over age five has heard those words these days.

The people who objected to The Diary of Anne Frank because of “anatomical descriptions” need re-education. This book should be required reading in every school in the country.

“… material of a sexual nature that the parents deemed inappropriate” got The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett yanked in a Pennsylvania town. The book is almost 1,000 pages but reads moves along with the speed of the action-thriller that it is: a  fabulous mystery, a great exploration of architecture, and history that’s easy to read. I don’t remember any “sexual nature,” which probably occupied less than one percent of the whole.

Chicago took the most egregious action by banning Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. The students caught on and protested the banning of a book that concerns, among other things, the suppression of free speech. The district got the message, and the book stayed.

Sylvia’s Soup

This post should have gone up Friday, but I attended a fundraiser and returned home much too late.  Saturday had me on the track at the high school helping with Deb’s Fun Run, which occupies most of the day and means that chores get postponed.


One of the posts lost in the great reboot concerned my frantic search for Christmas recipes. I was struggling because my dear friend Sylvia had died — on Thanksgiving morning,  which also happened to be my mother-in-law’s birthday — and we had only been without her for a year and a half.

My recipes should have been in the file under “C” for coffeecake and Christmas bread. But they weren’t. So I went into “S” for Sour Cream Coffeecake and Swedish Christmas Bread. The first recipe I pulled out had a big “To: Liz Petry” at the top.

It was Sylvia’s “Kicked Up a Notch Escarole and Bean Soup.” As soon as I saw it I knew Sylvia was saying, “I’m OK. And so is Ma.” It carried me through the entire holiday season, though not without a pang for the people who were no longer gracing the world and giving the rest of us support and wisdom.

Sylvia had graced me with the recipe because she wrote “Sylvia’s Kitchen” for the Courant. In this one she opened by admitting that she was addicted to the Food Channel. And that she had just roasted ten heads of garlic. Yikes!

Anyway, the combination of beans, greens, and a garden full of vegetables sounded fantastic. I lost track of the newspaper version of the recipe and asked Sylvia to fax it to me from her office in Middletown to me in Hartford. Yes, this was in the days of fax machines.

The recipe sat around — and then sat around some more after I found it at Christmas. The weather grew too warm but finally cooled enough last week to roast garlic (only one head), chop, and stir.

As I tasted the first spoonful, I regretted that I had waited so long. That melange of onions, garlic, celery, carrots, mushrooms, escarole, and bean embodied the warm person who devised the recipe.

So here’s to you, Sylvia for that “kicked up” soup.


Frac Anec Cover

I’m stealing my friend Betsy McMillan’s title because she posted a thought-provoking entry on The Fractured Anecdote.

Comfortable?” offers lessons we all need. Regarding change at work, I was reminded of the howls when our newsroom upgraded computer systems. My boss observed that reporters deal with the new and different every day. We all wanted the comfort of same desk configuration, same screen, same keystrokes. Of course the equipment came in, and the change did eventually make our jobs easier. Unlike Betsy’s example, the new system made sense.

Betsy truly defines Renaissance woman. She rivals my mother in this regard. Besides working full time and writing, she was primary caretaker for her mother for years. She cooks and bakes and makes wine to rival $180 bottles from the Valpolicella region of Italy. She catered her daughter’s wedding, which required not only prodigious amounts of cooking but organizing set up, delivery, etc., etc. She sings, performing solos at Easter and Christmas, and lending her pure tones to folk music. She offers moral and emotional support to family members and co-workers in distress. Even though my areas of expertise are more limited, like her, I have a list that would take me to age 200 or more to accomplish.

The message is: embrace change. Absolutely. I recently heard a wise person quote a wiser person: “When you are going through hell, keep going.” And I’ve found that while you’re going, if you ask what lesson you are supposed to learn, hell often becomes, if not heaven, a totally manageable situation. “Comfortable?” actually delivers this message better, too.

I KNOW Betsy is in the midst of something that will bring her closer to one or more of her goals.

If you haven’t yet done so, you need to buy and read The Fractured Anecdote – odiferous cooking is worth the price of admission. Also buy and pass along her latest, A Mystery in the Mailbox. Instead of buckets of ice water, ALS funders (and cancer funders) should be gently handing copies of this book to anyone who cares about people with chronic, terminal illnesses. It is far more compassionate and helps donor and recipient.



I’m breaking my no-politics rule to weigh in on Scottish independence. Of course the implications in favor are far greater than against. But … either way this threat of divorce will have impact Britain and the rest of us for years.

There’s a debate about whether people who will decide will vote with their heads or with their hearts. Here’s my internal debate:

Heart says “independent Scotland.” It’s a very different place from staid old England. I remember sitting on a train waiting to go into the Highlands for a bike trip. At that time, one could take real china cups full of good coffee to one’s seat and then return the empties to the takeout window at the station’s before the train pulled out.

As I was caffeinating, a man of indeterminate age walked up to the bike riders open train windows with a gorgeous golden retriever. He staggered a bit. It was 8 a.m., but he seemed to have already visited the pub for a “wee dram.” He smiled at the Americans and announced, “Let me introduce you to my dog, the bitch Maggie Thatcher!” We gasped, but the Scots on the platform broke out the equivalent of high-fives. It was the first time I realized that not everyone in Britain was enamored of the Iron Lady.

In connection with the above, head says Scotland should remain in the union because it provides a counterbalance to the excesses of English conservatism, which caused unemployment to explode, which then led to xenophobia because “they” were taking away jobs.

Head also says go independent because Scotland can build and renew its ties with older traditional allies. Before there was a European Union, there was a French-Scottish tie. The common enemy of course was England. The result when I visited was excellent French wine that cost less than it did a few miles south and of course far less than I paid in the U.S.

It’s one indication of confusion that when I looked for an image of a flag to accompany this post, I didn’t get a single answer. Check out U.S. flag, you get the same picture unless you add the word “historical.” For Scotland I found the Saltire, the Rampant Lion, and the Satire with the Rampant Lion in the center

Scottish at Heart defines Saltire as “a cross with diagonal bars of equal length.” Scotland.com dates it from 832 ACE. The Rampant Lion aka the Royal Flag, dates from 1165 and features a lion with a heraldic description. The flag entry concludes:

With the unification of England, Ireland and Scotland under one government, the Union Jack became the national flag of the United Kingdom. It is said to be made up of the flags of Scotland, England and Ireland and its use is strictly sanctioned and limited only to governmental and military use. The dragon of Wales was not incorporated. Should any member of these countries desire to fly a flag, they are only permitted to make use of their country’s native flags.

Huh? OK, so head and heart say there will be agony either way.

Conclusion: In the long run, Scotland will be better off on its own.

RIP, Tony Auth

You enlivened my life and my newspaper reading during the years I lived in Philadelphia and saw your work in the Inquirer. “Septaman” was among my favorite long-running series, in which you excoriated the public transportation system. The folks in charge never listened to your advice and hence produced the gift that kept on giving.

I don’t remember exactly when I began to send your cartoons to my mother. It no doubt followed  a visit to O.S. I remember she stared at one or another, saying, “I wish I understood how his mind works – how he can see things that way.” I thought, a good chunk of the world wonders the same thing about you.

Pretty soon I was clipping every cartoon except for the Phila-centric ones. If I sent a letter without enclosures she demanded to know where they were. You and Herblock in the WaPo, which she received from a friend living in D.C., kept her spirits lifted during dark political times.


You and I met in the 1980s when I came to the paper to have you autograph a copy of Lost in Space: The Reagan Years. I was shocked to have the security guard wave me around the metal detector when I flashed the book. Mr. Auth must have a great many fans, I thought. It took me some time to locate your cubicle – as I remember up four flights, down and around some dark and not very clean halls. Once I arrived I couldn’t tell how big a space was because it was so crammed with books, papers, magazines, etc. etc. I described it to Mother. “A man after my own heart,” she sighed.

As I described her love of your work, you sketched a spot-on cartoon of Reagan, hair about to take flight, and added suitable words. I am devastated that the book had disappeared from her library by the time I went through it after her death.

We were both able to enjoy your work in the NYTimes when it was reproducing the creativity of people who worked for other papers. I lost track after they subbed you all out for a comic strip. It’s OK but less satisfying in the way that a poem can encapsulate the world in a few words, while the rest of us have to take the long and winding road.

I never looked for your work online … because I believed you had died long ago. Don’t take this as an insult, but when we met I thought you were about fifteen years older than me, not half that. Here’s a final tribute, even more relevant today than it was five years ago.

Appeared in the NYTimes Oct. 4, 2009, p. 2 of the Week in Review
Appeared in the NYTimes Oct. 4, 2009, p. 2 of the Week in Review

So, RIP, Tony Auth. You brought a great deal of joy to many people – and, I hope, made a great many idiots uncomfortable. I know that once again Ann Petry is looking at your drawings and marveling and laughing. Thank you!