Times Digital Workaround?

The Times announced plans to start charging for its digital content:

All subscribers who take home delivery of the paper will have free and unlimited access across all Times digital platforms except, for now, e-readers like the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook. Subscribers to The International Herald Tribune, which is The Times's global edition, will also have free digital access.

So what if you became a subscriber and then just always suspended home delivery (crediting your account and not donating the credit for the duration of your vacation to provide The Times to schools)? Isn't that a win-win? You get the digital version for free and the Times gets to count you as a subscriber (and thus amp up their subscription numbers to advertisers). Am I missing something here?

Posted: March 19th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Half-Baked Theory | Tags: , ,

As Articulate As They Wanna Be

Later in the day I usually turn on ESPN and have it on in the background while I'm working. Yesterday's Jim Rome take involved Los Angeles Laker Ron Artest's comments on Los Angeles Clippers rookie forward Blake Griffin's rapidly expanding highlight reel, which is about all you'll be able to catch of Griffin, since the Clippers have been horrible for years and are never shown on national television.

Griffin looks awesome, at least in the highlights they show on ESPN, and Artest was asked about it:

I hope he dunks on me. His highlights is stupid.

That's "stupid" as in Black Eyed Peas' definition of "stupid". It's a hilarious quote. You can watch him saying "His highlights is stupid" here at 9:35 (start at 9:08 to get the full gist):

Artest goes on to say that if Griffin dunked on him he would buy that poster and ask the rookie to sign it. Like I said, hilarious — and when you watch the full interview you see how Artest is holding court for the sports writers and they're all laughing along with him.

I was telling Jen about the "highlights is stupid" quote and I noticed an above-the-fold story about Griffin on the front page of The New York Times sports section. Sure enough, they brought up the Artest quote in the fourth paragraph, but look at how lamely they cleaned it up:

"His highlights are sick," said Lakers forward Ron Artest, repeating the declaration as if speaking in capital letters. "I wish he dunks on me. I'm not going to lie. I hope he dunks on me, puts his shoulders on my face and like, 'Aaaaah!' Just crazy. Lights it up. His highlights are stupid."

I suppose it's OK to clean up Artest's vernacular but why? It's such an awesome quote — sort of like "Why Can't Us?" or "The Bears are who we thought they were!"

If you watch the full interview it's clear that Artest is being purposely folksy. Maybe an overeager copy editor even changed the quote. A friend once told me that an overeager copy editor changed his "through a glass darkly" to "darkly through a glass." He was pissed. Regardless, the Times should give Artest his quote back.

At the same time, maybe Jim Rome could have contextualized Artest's comments a little more — maybe by showing the Los Angeles Times' YouTube of the interview (incidentally, how cool is that that they put up all eleven-plus minutes of it online?). Rome's staff is having some fun with Artest's vernacular at Artest's expense — fair enough but a tiny bit cheap if you listen to the whole clip on the YouTube. And if you watch the full video you can hear more about his charity championship ring raffle to raise money for mental health issues, which seems extra cool on the part of Artest.

Posted: December 11th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Thrill Of Victory And The Agony Of Defeat! | Tags: , , , ,

The Backfat To The Backlash

I was talking to a guy I know the other night and he was bemoaning the foodie arms race. I'd been having similar thoughts, and I was agreeing with him, and brought up a particular "a ha" moment I had after eating at a new pizza place in Manhattan that just didn't seem like it merited all the pre-opening buzz it received.

We talked and agreed and talked some more and then he brought up a great wine pairing he tasted — something about the nuttiness of a sherry working with a particular dish. I was excited because we had just tried a bunch of sherries and I was lucky enough to experience the same kind of pairing wonderment.

He suddenly stopped me and said we were now sounding like the same thing we were just saying we were sick of. True . . . but . . . there's a difference.

The people in the Village Voice Media chain have have thrown down — a la Bobby Flay — pronouncing a Foodie Backlash. Here's a writer in the Houston Press noting the "self-aggrandizing" of foodies that has turned into "a pompous satire of itself." A writer in the Seattle Weekly went further with his disdain for "those coup-counting, lock-jawed, cake-eating, nose-in-the-air dimwits who, with sticks planted firmly in their flabby asses will make their weekly cruise out to the hottest addresses in town, get weak little culinary boners over year-dead trends, focused-grouped Frog-humping menus and anyone doing New American comfort food or French-Asian fusion in million-dollar spaces; who will swoon after 'discovering' restaurants with 200 Yelp reviews, dismiss cheeseburgers and chicken-fried steak and sloppy tacos and Americanized Chinese food as beneath their notice, but go fucking bonkers for any restaurant that name-checks a farm on its menu". (Irony: Even bloggers for the Village Voice Media chain are exhibiting the same tendencies as the foodie straw men they try to villify when they rush to post ever-evolving takes on the food world.)

I like trying to string together a bunch of humorous observations about straw men as much as the next guy, but I think we need to clarify some of the criticisms.

It wasn't so long ago that "foodie" was a neutral term for someone who embarked on a personal quest to fulfill culinary essentialism checklists. Then it got overexposed. And then there was a backlash. I'm less interested in backlash because it's easy to feel annoyed by shit you read in the Sunday Styles section. Or T Magazine, as both Jen and I were the other day when we came across this convoluted apology for a Toll House log:

Anyone else craving a nice refreshing wedge of iceberg lettuce from the local A&P?

Actually, no. I wasn't even that impressed by my wedge salad at Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc on fried chicken night.

That's a joke, at least the second part of it.

Seriously though, I don't like iceberg lettuce — it's bland and tasteless and has little nutritional value and is probably the reason it took me years to start to really eat salads, which, if you do them right, can not only be healthy but also quite good tasting. The point of experimenting with good ingredients isn't to impress shallow people or raise the ire of Village Voice Media bloggers but rather to learn how to make great tasting food. I know the T Magazine writer is being facetious, but there's a reactionary impulse in there that is disturbing.

The other day I got free tickets to a taping of a podcast. The less said about it the better, except which to say that I came to the conclusion that maybe there are ideas and thoughts that don't need to be podcast. Or, the kind of idle discussion about culture or whatnot that sounds brilliant in your living room can come off as really annoying on your iTunes, much less real life. Just because you can say something in a podcast doesn't mean you necessarily should.

"Fuck, man," I turned to Brother Michael after we were out of earshot of anyone at the taping, "Do I sound like that?" Like as in, is this what we come off like when we shoot the shit in our living room? All he said was, "Take it to heart." It shook me to my core.

I think in part people are lashing back at the mediated experience — which is fine, whatever — but I don't think I want to go back to how it was when there were only a few gatekeepers and relying on word-of-mouth recommendations about where to eat or how to cook something. The free flow of information has made it simple for us to discover — for ourselves, not for humankind — great places to eat and fun recipes and ingredients to try. I'll tolerate a few insufferable food snobs in exchange. (Besides which, it's easy to figure out who is full of hot air and who isn't — in real life and online.)

The real problem with the foodie backlash is that it often doesn't differentiate between restaurant-goers and home cooks. Granted, sometimes there's overlap, but there are two levels here.

On the one hand, yes, food publicity and restaurant oneupmanship has gotten a little out of hand. There are a lot of goofy tropes in the restaurant world that are ripe to be lashed back at. There is a fetishism on the part of restaurant-goers that has contributed to an artistry-hospitality imbalance on the part of restaurateurs.

But even Guy Fieri's worst excesses don't mean that we should go back to a pre-lapsarian world of chain restaurants and Sysco-distributed ingredients. To all the Village Voice Media bloggers looking to "discover" a new take on the "controversy," get a fucking grip — it's still a good thing that people are searching for high-quality restaurant experiences, even if you have to deal with fellow diners photographing their food. There are worse things to get pissed off about. Banning foie gras, for example.

On the other hand — and this gets at the T Magazine article — what the fuck is wrong with trying to cook cool shit? Have you ever actually met anyone who was so obnoxious about the ingredients he or she was using that you didn't want to enjoy a home-cooked meal? I don't believe you. I don't even believe the piece. One person quoted in it seems to look down on homemade ice cream made with vanilla beans shipped from Madagascar. If I had been the person making the ice cream I would have been like "fuck you."

I was going to say "Only in America do people look down on well-intentioned though perhaps misguided home cooks who labor to make good-tasting food" but it's probably just a matter of "Only in the minds of over-educated freelancers do people look down on well-intentioned though perhaps misguided home cooks who labor to make good-tasting food." If someone I knew made me free-range whatever with whatever "Gilroy garlic" is and went out of his or her way to find a good head of baby lettuce for me to eat I would say thank you to him or her. What I wouldn't do is submit a snarky column about it to The New York Times, especially not for the glossy adservers that comprise those special magazine inserts.

But really this gets back to the artistry-hospitality divide. There's a backlash against artistry that seems forced or pretentious, whether on the part of restaurants or restaurant-goers or home cooks. But at least with home cooking, please don't overlook that someone is making you something to eat, and that in itself is a gesture that we've gotten away from.

I started writing these posts on restaurants because I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to entertain people in your own home. Our financial position — or I should say my financial position — means that we've gone to way fewer restaurants lately, which is something I'm OK with (Jen maybe less so, truth be told). I've adapted Michael Pollan's "eat food/not too much/mostly plants" to apply to eating at restaurants — basically: "Eat out, not that much, if you can't."

Just kidding. Actually, it's more like eat out only at restaurants that are truly special dining experiences — it doesn't matter if it's an expensive prix fixe or an exceptional ethnic restaurant, just being more cognizant of what is "special" means that you're going to avoid all the craptastic chicken sandwiches and french fries that are probably not that great for you anyway. A corollary is only drinking at bars that serve high-quality drinks that you wouldn't normally make at home — no more twelve-ounce "pints" of draft beer that costs triple what you would spend at the already overpriced corner store.

Don't misunderstand, there's nothing "wrong" with a simple burger and beer at a neighborhood place, but more and more I'm kind of wondering why we should bother in the first place. One, it's just not that special. Two, it's overpriced for what it is. Three, you and I have no idea what they put into those things or where they come from, and even if you do know where it comes from, knowing the "sourcing" probably makes you want to revisit point #2. (And I know some of what I'm saying about the "artistry-hospitality imbalance" goes against this, but welcome to The Slightest; the first rule of The Slightest is that its authors reserve the right to tolerate apparent logical inconsistencies from entry to entry, or even within an entry as the case may be; email for a refund if you have a problem with this.)

I'm not excited about the service industry imploding when everyone follows this advice, and of course no one will, so there's nothing to worry about, but maybe people would at least feel less fatigued by it all.

Finally, it's absurd to get excited about cooking at home, but in a city where people use their stoves as storage, and hot plates as stoves, and it would take you eleven years to visit every restaurant that New York Magazine blurbs, it's not clear that home cooking is "typical" behavior. That's weird and troubling.

Fortunately, people are entertaining more at home. Unfortunately, this practice is also producing quotes like this:

"If you can't afford to hire a bartender," he added, "you shouldn't be having a party."

I kind of don't believe this guy said this, or if he did, that he wasn't joking about it. We should probably stop reading Styles articles, too, or if we do, then maybe fewer of them. Maybe we should just apply a Michael Pollanism here, too:

Read The Times. Not too much. Mostly the front section.

Posted: December 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Feed | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,