Past

You are currently browsing the archive for the Past category.

door knocker, beacon hillIn the physical world we know what privacy is and how it works.

We know it because we have developed privacy technologies and norms for thousands of years. Doors and windows are privacy technologies. So is clothing. So are manners respecting the intentions behind others’ use of those things. Those manners are personal, and social. They are how we clothe, shelter and conduct ourselves — and respect how others do the same.

The Internet is a new virtual world we also inhabit. In the form we know it today, it was born with the first graphical browsers, the first ISPs, email and other handy graces.

In many ways it was a paradise. But, as with Eden, we arrived naked there — and we still are, except for the homes and clothing we get from companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple. Also from governments and other entities that tell us what our names are and limit what we can do.

What those entities give us is as modern as the middle ages. We toil and prosper inside the walls of their castles, and on their company lands. In many ways, this isn’t bad. But it isn’t ours.

To have true privacy in the networked world, we should be in charge of our own lives, our own identities, our own data, our own things, in our own ways.

We should be able to control what we disclose, to whom, and on what terms.

We should be able to keep personal data as secret and secure as we like.

We should be able to share that data with others in faith that only those others can see and use it.

Our digital identities should be sovereign — ours alone — and disclosed to others at our discretion.

(True: administrative identifiers are requirements of civilization, but they are not who we are, and we all know that.

Think of how identity works in the physical world: why governments and credit cards call me David while family members call me Dave and the rest of the world calls me Doc.

In the physical world we are not constantly advertising our identity. Nor is every entity we encounter interested in burdening themselves with knowing our names. It is enough to recognize each other as human beings, and learn people’s names when they tell us. Up to that point we remain for each other literally anonymous: nameless. This is a civic and social grace we hardly cared about until it was stripped from us online.

In the physical world, companies don’t plant tracking beacons on people, or follow them around to see who who are and what they do — unless they’ve been led by big-data-at-all-costs advisors to copy the bad manners of an online world that has the manners of a toddler.

Bad manners by companies spying on us online won’t change as long as we don’t control means of disclosing our selves, including data that is clearly ours. Until we have true privacy — privacy that we define and control for ourselves — all we’ll have are:

  • Crude prophylaxis, such as tracking and advertising blockers
  • Talk about which companies screw us the least
  • Talk about how governments screw us too
  • Calls for laws and regulations that protect yesterday from last Thursday

We won’t get true privacy — the kind we’ve know and understood offline since forever — until we have the online equivalents of the clothing, doors and manners we have long established in the physical world.

If we expect big companies or governments to give it to us, we’re barking up the wrong tree.

I’m hoping we’ll get it from the Barney Pressmans of the online world. Here’s a classic ad for Barney’s (his clothing store) that ran in the 1960s: http://youtu.be/KMIgu9-zd8M. (Just watch the first one, which ends :47 seconds in.) That’s where my headline came from.

 

I’m now four episodes into Serial, the hugely popular reality podcast from WBEZ and This American Life. In it reporter Sarah Koenig episodically tugs together many loose ends around the murder of Hae Min Lee, a Baltimore teenager, in 1999. The perp, said the cops and the proscecutor at the time, was former boyfriend Adnan Syed, who was convicted by a jury of first degree murder. They deliberated about as long as it takes for an afternoon nap. He’s been in prison ever since.

My provisional conclusion is that the court was right to find Adnan guilty. My case for that conviction (or vice versa) is an ad hominem one: the whole thing is eerily eminiscent (for me) of Edgar Smithedgar-smith, (that’s his mug photo on the right) who served a record length of time on death row before successfully arguing for a retrial, which resulted in a lesser conviction and his release — after which he kidnapped and tried to kill someone else, confessing as well to the original crime. He’s an old man now, serving time for the second crime.

While still in jail for the first crime, Smith earned a high degree of media attention and celebrity with his book Brief Against Death, which was a bestseller at the time. I read it and believed him. So did William F. Buckley Jr., who befriended Smith, and was instrumental in getting Smith’s case reconsidered, by both the courts and the public. Buckley even wrote the introduction to Smith’s book.

Think of the media-intensive Smith case as the Serial of its time.

Back then a good friend of mine was studying at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, and interviewed Smith. “He’s guilty,” my friend said. “The guy is brilliant, but he’s also a liar.” Later Bill Buckley said the same thing.

It haunts me that I was snookered by Smith, and comforts me none to know I wasn’t alone.

This of course makes no case at all against Adnan Syed. He might be innocent as a lamb. And I’d like to say he’s innocent until proven guilty. But his guilt has already been decided by a court of law, so now it’s the other way around: he needs to prove his innocence. Or at least raise the shadow of doubt to a height under which he can be sprung.

I worry about what will happen if all the current interest in this case results in Adnan’s release. What if he really did kill Hae — meaning he’s as remorseless and manipulative as Edgar Smith?

With the case headed to an appeals court, this now appears possible.

I’ll keep my mind open as I listen through the rest of Series. It’s outstanding radio. And I also invite the @Serial team to look at the Smith case as well — if they haven’t already.* It may not be relevant, but it is similar.

Bonus case: Jack Henry Abbott.

* (14 December) Have they? I’ve now listened through Episode 7 and so far they haven’t mentioned it.

While doing research on another topic, I ran across this post by Amy Gahran (@agahran) in Poynter, riffing off a March 2007 post on my old blog titled Giant Zero Journalism.

Reading it, I feel like I just opened a time capsule — especially when I also just finished reading Robinson Meyer‘s Atlantic piece, And Just Like That, Facebook Became the Most Important Entity in Web Journalism — In one chart! (from Peter Kafka) and A Eulogy for Twitter The beloved social publishing platform enters its twilight, which Robinson co-wrote with Adrienne LaFrance.

Twitter and Facebook were still their old (young) selves way back then, and not the social media giants they’ve become since then. (Oh, and Google still mattered too. Remember them? Just half-kidding.)

Some of what I wrote holds up, however, as does what Amy adds about credibility — which always meant everything, or damn close.

Here’s the post:

We’ll start with Corporations Co-opt Citizen Journalism, by Frank Beacham, who concludes,
I predict that in a world overflowing with dreadful citizen-made images, talented photographers and videographers will survive. Perhaps they will not be on the payroll of the traditional news organizations. Yet, they will always be in demand by a group of discriminating consumers who will pay for their services.
News dominated by citizen journalists will be just like the neighbor who makes you sit through a viewing of his 300 vacation snapshots or baby pictures from Costco. Your eyes will begin to glaze over, followed by an urge to scream.
Beware of news organizations that think they can replace professionals with citizen-made free content. It will stink. Always has, always will.
I found that through The Fatal Attraction of Free, by Dan Kennedy, who says,
There is, however, a significant flaw in the corporate-defined citizen-journalism model. Good journalism may be hard, but technology is easy. And rather than giving it away to Yahoo, Reuters et al., most citizen journalists are doing it themselves.
Dan also points to Citizen Media: Fad or the Future of News? — The rise and prospects of hyperlocal journalism, from the Knight Citizen News Network. It’s a big report. A press release about the report begins,
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Local news web sites offering content generated by users are securing a valuable place in the media landscape and are likely to continue as important sources of community news, according to a report released today by J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism.
“Citizen sites are developing as new forms of bridge media, linking traditional news with forms of civic participation,” said J-Lab director, Jan Schaffer, author of the report, which was funded by a grant from the Ford Foundation.
These sites, which take many forms, have rapidly emerged since 2004. But rather than delivering comprehensive news and “finished stories,” most sites are “forming as fusions of news and schmooze” that pay particular attention to key issues in their communities, Schaffer said…
Most citizen media ventures are shoestring labors of love, funded out of the founders’ own pockets, and staffed by volunteer content contributors. While they¹d like more readers and revenues, site founders nevertheless professed a solid resolve to continue: 51% said they didn’t need to make money to keep going; 82% said they planned to continue “indefinitely.” Nearly all would welcome reinforcements and the ability to make even token payments to writers.
Kudos to KCNN: the whole report is in .html rather than .pdf. (Kevin Marks:HTML is now the default document format. Exactly.) My only complaint: they apparently didn’t talk to Edhat.
Dan’s bottom lines:
I think it’s likely — or at least I hope — that the very real problem identified by Beacham will turn out to be self-correcting. Corporate media executives who genuinely want to use citizen-media tools to build community and experiment with new business models will be rewarded for their efforts.
But those who think they can profit by suckering amateurs into giving away their content will soon discover that what they’ve created a host of new competitors.
A commenter under Dan’s piece pionts to NY Times publisher: Our goal is to manage the transition from print to internet, by By Eytan Avriel in Haaretz. An irony-packed excerpt:
Will it be free?
No, Sulzberger says. If you want to read the New York Times online, you will have to pay.
In the age of bloggers, what is the future of online newspapers and the profession in general? There are millions of bloggers out there, and if the Times forgets who and what they are, it will lose the war, and rightly so, according to Sulzberger. “We are curators, curators of news. People don’t click onto the New York Times to read blogs. They want reliable news that they can trust,” he says.
“We aren’t ignoring what’s happening. We understand that the newspaper is not the focal point of city life as it was 10 years ago.
“Once upon a time, people had to read the paper to find out what was going on in theater. Today there are hundreds of forums and sites with that information,” he says. “But the paper can integrate material from bloggers and external writers. We need to be part of that community and to have dialogue with the online world.”
Then there’s Mark Glaser’s report on We Media, at PBS’s MediaShift. Sez Mark,
My personal definition of “we media” is the movement toward an empowered audience, who can customize their media experience and create their own media, leaving behind the old model of the mainstream media control.
Later he points out,
The conference was marketed as being a conversation among various players in the media industry. As the conference site put it: “The program includes a series of roundtable discussions and a variety of participatory activities involving communities, individuals and organizations to help participants understand and address the challenges of a changing multi-media world.”
But some individuals, who wrote complaints on the We Media website, were put off by the $1,000+ walk-up registration fee...
It’s true that there are other low-cost unconferences such as BloggerCon, where there are no fees and no sponsors, and the space is donated. But this is not what We Media is aiming for. I chatted with the conference organizers, Dale Peskin and Andrew Nachison (a.k.a. the new media Blues Brothers), this morning before the confab started, and they explained the high cost of We Media...
Nachison said that registration fees only pay for 20% of the costs to put on the conference, with sponsor money making up the rest of the income. Their group, iFocos, is non-profit, but they obviously aren¹t looking for charity here. This is about business, and how the media business is changing, and it¹s not just the army of citizen media people.
I got to Dan and all the other stuff above through We are the Web, at howardowens.com. Howard, looking at all the above, offers this summary:
There’s a book end of attitudes about big media companies and distributed media. On one end is the suggestion that MSM’s only interest in UGC is as free content, and on the other end, the meme that MSM is just big, dumb media that somehow stands apart from social media instead of a part of we media.
He concludes,
If people didn’t get something out of their contributions, they wouldn’t write, shoot and submit. Not all compensation is monetary. MSM companies that make available a distribution channel for UGC assume the financial risk associated with the effort (a risk not shared by contributors), and provide a valuable service to contributors looking to reach a wider audience than might be available to a solo act. Yes, MSM getting into UGC are hoping that the effort will generate audience, and hence revenue, but it¹s a complete misunderstanding of the economics of the matter to say the whole process is just a rip off. You¹ve got to start some place, and maybe some day UGC will generate sufficient revenue to justify monetary compensation for contributors, but for most newspapers still incubating UGC, that just isn¹t possible right now.
Of course, I’m one of those corporate MSM guys who believes in UGC, so you might think I have a conflict of interest here.
Here¹s the thing though: As I watched the Web 2.0 video, I revisited a thought: “We are the media.” And by We, I don¹t just mean the so-called citizens of citizen journalism. We also includes the MSM. Like it or not, every MSM outlet is part of the conversation. Some are reluctant or even resistant contributors to the conversation, but every report in MSM is ripe for citizens to expand on, comment on or react to.
Those of us who work on the MSM side of the conversation also believe that in building the means of participation we aren¹t just looking for free content — we believe in the conversation. That should mean something.
I found Howard through I, Reporter, which I found through a search for Gannett+citizen+journalists, because I was wondering what happened with Gannett’s CJ (or crowdsourcing) efforts since I last wrote about it.* I was doing that as part of an offline dialog with Sheila Lennon, who has been working for some time at the juncture of newspapering and blogging.
All this was also on the front of my mind, since several people had spoken or written to me about a Frontline piece — I’m guessing it’s either the whole Newswar series, or Part III: What’s Happening To News. One of my correspondents, Dave Winer, makes a point he says Frontline misses: we are the sources, going direct.
Exactly. That brings me to a related point, which is about the Net as an environment.
This is what I told the public media conference in my closing remarks there:The Net is a giant zero. It puts everybody zero distance from everybody and everything else. And it supports publishing and broadcasting at costs that round to zero as well.
It is essential for the mainstream media to understand that the larger information ecosystem is one that grows wild on the Net and supports everybody who wants to inform anybody else. It no longer grows inside the mainstream media’s walled gardens. Those gardens will continue to thrive only to the degree that they do two things: 1) open up; and 2) live symbiotically with individuals outside who want to work together for common purposes.
Framing is a huge issue here. We have readers and viewers, not just “audiences” and “consumers”. We write articles and essays and posts, not just “generate content”. “User-generated content”, or UGC, is an ugly, insulting and misleading label.
“Content” is inert. It isn’t alive. It doesn’t grow, or catch fire, or go viral. Ideas and insights do that. Interesting facts do that. “Audiences” are passive. They sit still, clap and leave. That might be what happened with newspapers and radio and TV in the old MSM-controlled world, but it’s not what happens on The Giant Zero. It’s not what happens with blogging, or with citizen journalism. Here it’s all about contribution, participation. It involves conversation, but it goes beyond that into relationship — with readers, with viewers, with the larger ecosystem by which we all inform each other.
As I’ve said before (and I said it again at the conference), we don’t just “deliver information” like it’s a Fedex package. We inform each other. That is, we literally form what other people know. If you tell me something I didn’t know before, I’m changed by that. I am not merely in receipt of a box of facts. I am enlarged by knowing more than I did before. Enlarging each other is the deepest calling of journalism, whether it’s done by bloggers, anchors or editors.
We are all authors of each other. What we call authority is the right we give others to author us, to make us who we are. That right is one we no longer give only to our newspapers, our magazines, our TV and radio stations. We give it to anybody who helps us learn and understand What’s Going On in the world. In that world the number of amateur informants goes up while the number of editors on newspaper staffs goes down. Between these two facts are many opportunities for symbiosis.
“Curation” and “curative” are words tradition-bound journalists like to use when they defend their institutions. But these are museum words. They suggest collections of artifacts behind locked doors in basement collections. The New York Times may have a financial success with Times Select, its online paper. But Time Select is a walled garden with a locked gate. You can’t look up anything there in Google, because its “conent” is trapped behind a paywall. Only subscribers can see it, and there’s a limit on how much archival material they can see without paying more.
The majority of papers today still lock up their archives. It’s time to stop that, for the simple reason that it insults the nature of the Giant Zero environment on which they now reside. They can make as much or more money by exposing those archives to Google’s and Yahoo’s indexing spiders, by placing advertising on them, by linking to them and bringing interest and visitors to them, by making them useful to other journalists (many of whom will be bloggers) seeking to write authoritatively about their communities and their communities’ histories.
Established media institutions have enormous advantages. But they can’t use them if they continue to live in denial of the nature of their new world — and of the interests, talents and natural independence of the other inhabitants there.
[Later...] *Greg writes,
Re: Gannett’s “crowd sourcing,” here in Poughkeepsie, the Journal keeps bugging readers to blog for its site on its terms, but doesn’t seem interested in acknowledging local bloggers who are already covering these area/issues on their own. Community opinion matters only to the extent that it’s expressed under the Gannett roof.
Our own Daily Nexus at UCSB (where I am a research fellow) just published a piece today that covered placeblogging, with narry a link and hardly a mention of Edhat, which has been doing an awesome job for years as both supplement and alternative to the daily paper here in Santa Barbara. Credit where due: The piece does give props to the excellent work being done by the Independent, our local weekly.

 

Bonus link: Remembering Peter Sklar, placeblogging pioneer. Peter was the founder, publisher and main writer for Edhat. In character with Peter’s lack of self-aggrandizement, he remains an unsung hero. But placeblogging, by whatever name we use, would not be the same without him. He was a true original and in that sense alone (plus many others) he was an exemplary journalist.

A couple weekends ago I visited the graves of relatives and ancestors on my father’s side at Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx. All of them died before I was born, but my Grandma Searls and her sisters often visited there, and I thought, Hey, now that I’m in New York a lot, I should visit these dead folks. Grandma would like that. Here she is at at age three, in early 1886:

5220039836_7fef3aa9ed

She was born Ethel Frances Englert, on November 14, 1882, the third of four sisters. Here they are with their dad, Henry Roman Englert, in 1894:

5212424474_60250bb2dc_zGrandma is the foxy one on the lower right.

They lived here, at 742 E. 142nd Street in the South Bronx:

424060093_8e824804f9_z

That row house was razed, along with the rest of the block, to make room for what is now called “Old” Lincoln Hospital. These days an impoundment lot for towed cars reposes atop a hill formed by the imploded remains of the hospital. Amazingly, a lookup of the address on Bing Maps still goes to the same location, a century after these homes disappeared. Here’s how it looks now.

Henry was a son of Christian and Jacobina Englert, immigrants from Alsace-Lorraine, and head of the Steel & Copperplate Engraver’s Union in New York. His first wife, the four girls’ mom, was Catherine “Katie” Trainor, the daughter of Thomas Trainor, who emigrated from Letterkenny, Donegal, Ireland at age 15 in 1825, leaving six siblings behind. Thomas married Mary Ann McLaughlin of Boston, settled in New York, and made his living in the carriage trade:

15365102925_1c017f087b_z

He lived and died at 228 East 122nd Street in Harlem. He and his wife Anna (née McLaughlin), married at St. Peter’s in Manhattan produced seven children, of which Katie was the second. The others were Hanna, Ella, Margaret, Mary and Charles, who was killed in the Civil War. Family legend says Chartles ran away as a teenager to fight, and was shot carrying the Union flag. But he didn’t die then. The old man visited the kid in a Washington army hospital, barely recognizing his son through the boy’s thick red beard. On Christmas 1865 the Charles arrived home in a box.

Thomas, Charles and other Trainors are among the early plantings in Old Calvary Cemetery in Queens. At three million corpses strong, Calvary is New York’s largest. I’ve never been there, and I’ll bet almost nobody else has in over a century. (One exception: Aunt Catherine Burns, about which I say more below.)

Katie’s sister Margaret, better known as “Aunt Mag,” or “Maggie,” was a favorite of the Englert girls and a source of gentle but stern family wisdom. A sample: “You’ve got it in your hand. Put it away.” Here she is:

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 3.30.49 PM

Maggie was the only one of the Trainor kids to live a long life, dying in 1944. Katie died at 38.

After Katie’s death, Henry married Tess Atonelle*, who had worked for the family. Here is Tess with Henry’s youngest brother, Andrew Englert:

andrew-tess

Tess and Henry produced a number of additional offspring, of which only one was remembered often by Grandma and her sisters: Harry, who died at age 4 in 1901:

harry-roman-englert

The next year Grandma married George W. Searls, my grandfather, who was 19 years older. George was, among other things, the head carpenter for D.W. Griffith, when Hollywood was still in Fort Leed. Here he is…

3503899717_c271f6610d_z

with his crew:

3505729157_f0ca6ca2d1_z

He built the family house at 2063 Hoyt Avenue, where my father and his two sisters were born and raised, and where my parents were hanging when I was born in 1947. The two upstairs floors were mostly rented out. Among guests and tenants passing through were Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish. Grandma preferred Lillian, finding Mary’s language too salty. Another was Edward Pierson Richardson, Sr., M.D., father of Elliot Richardson (who served as Commerce Secretary under Richard Nixon).

Grandma met Grandpa when she was working as cleaning help in a boarding house, where she found Grandpa sleeping. She was so attracted to the rugged carpenter that she bent over and kissed him. He woke up, pulled her down and kissed her back. Natural selection, I guess.

Grandpa died in 1934 at age 70 after catching erysipelas from a nail that scratched his face. If they had penicillin back then he might have lasted a lot longer. I remember his older sister, Eva Quackenbush, well. She was born in 1853, lived almost to 100 (she died in 1953), and told stories about what it was like when Lincoln got shot. She was 12 at the time. Here she is with Mom and the infant me:

426418080_8e3440c649_z

I was lucky to know so many interesting characters born two centuries back, or close: stories of New York when the streets were all dirt and cobble, of the arrival of gas light, electricity, subways and trolleys, bridges and tunnels, cars and phones.

These people were living history books. Grandpa walked with a limp from a wound he got fighting in the Spanish-American War. Among many other achievements, he was foreman of the crew that built the Cyclone at Palisades Park: the scariest roller coaster in world history. Pop worked in that crew and was the first to ride it. Heres a photo he shot from the top:

2687452629_ede4b8fd77_b

Pop was a fearless dude.

Through the Depression Pop worked as a longshoreman in New York, helped build the George Washington Bridge, served in the Coastal Artillery and went to Alaska to build railroads. That’s where he met Mom. Then he re-enlisted to fight in World War II, where his last job was as General Eisenhower’s phone operator in Paris.

All four Englert girls were still going strong the whole time I enjoyed perfect childhood summers at the beaches and in the backwoods of South Jersey. Here they are on the Jersey shore in 1953:

5212836913_d34a32ef94_z

They all spoke Bronx English, so the place where they stood was called ‘Da shaw.” It was also Mantoloking, not Point Pleasant. Just being historically accurate here.

What matters are the memories, which fade in life and disappear in death. I had hoped to bring some up, or to organize them in some way, when I visited Woodlawn.

It was less eerie there than blank: dead in several meanings of the word. Graves not “endowed” were marked by stones sinking into soft and hummocky glacial moraine. Who still remembers or cares about Henry Kremer (1853-1905) and his infant son, whose headstone is a few years away from burying itself? Those who cared enough to buy the stone are surely gone. How about Joseph Harper, who departed in 1897?

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 6.04.34 PM

Bet nobody.

I took those photos while following a map made for me by my cousin, Martin Burns, who shares the same ancestors and relatives, and who had been there before with his mother, Catherine (named after her Irish grandma, Katie), who did much of the genealogical and photo-gathering work from which my research here benefits. She died not long ago in her late 90s. (If accident or disease doesn’t get us, we’ve got a nice portfolio of genes to work with here.)

I walked around for about half an hour. During that whole time, and while driving in and out of the cemetery, I saw nobody else, other than my wife, sleeping in the car. (She said this wasn’t her idea of a fun date.) Verdant and peaceful as it is, Woodlawn is abandoned by nearly all but the dead who reside there.

The Englert inhabitants of Woodlawn are spread across three grave sites. The fourth one on Martin’s map is the Knoebel’s. They’re the family into which Aunt Gene, Grandma’s oldest sister, married. She’s the second sister from the left in the beach shot, above. There are six graves in the Knoebel plot, which is the only one of the four that I found. Thirteen people were buried there. One, Aunt Gene, went in when she died in 1960, and came out a decade later, when she was moved to Fairview Cemetery in New Jersey.

Christian and Jacobina are in an endowed plot, so their headstone stands upright. Here are aunt Catherine and cousin Kevin Burns (brother of Martin), standing behind it a few years back. There are three graves here, containing the bodies of seven people. I’ve listed them in this photo, by Martin. Four died young, and three lived full lives.

The single grave of Andrew and Annie Englert is unmarked, far as I know. (That’s Andrew next to Tess, above.) I didn’t find it. Nor did I find the grave of Henry Roman Englert, the root stock of most of the descendants I knew and heard about growing up. (I hadn’t yet posted the photos I got from Martin, so all I had to go by was a print-out of his map.)

After finding none of the Englert graves, I stood in one quiet spot and sent out a mental message to any ghosts who might be around, asking for a clue. I felt and heard nothing: clear evidence that the departed are truly gone.

Later, when I looked at these two photos, I saw that I was standing exactly on top of the graves of Henry, Katie, Harry, and several others. Here they are, in a photo Martin shot:

15095589240_d1f5ca7970_c

Several more things weirded me out, once I looked at the affidavit Catherine got from Woodlawn (or somewhere), listing the deceased under the grass there.

First was that a fifth Englert sister, Grace, existed. She was the youngest, died at age 2, and was buried here in 1889. Obviously my aunt Grace Apgar was named after this kid. But I never heard about the late baby Grace or forgot it. Either way, it was a surprise to learn she once walked on Earth, and lies in it here.

Second was that little Harry lay beneath both his older sister, who died at 28, and his mom, Tess, who died at 63. That all died young seemed even more tragic to me. (I’m five years older than Tess was when she went. “Young” is always less than one’s own age.)

Third was that old Henry R. got the only headstone, and it was probably not one he bought for himself. I’m sure it was put up after he died, I suppose by his surviving daughters.

Yet the site was visited often, way back when, I was told. Why did nobody ever mark them all? Or those in the other plots? Was it too expensive? And how did they know where to look without a marker of any kind?

I doubt I’ll ever know. Whatever the reason, it became clear to me that cemeteries are for one or two generations of living souls, and that’s it. If the dead remember the dead, they don’t do it here on Earth. Thanks to burial vaults (coffin containers) the dead don’t even serve as fertilizer.

At any moment there are better things for the living to do than dwell on dead people that nobody alive remembers or cares about. I’m probably wasting my time and yours by visiting the subject right now.

Yet I do feel a need to put what little I know about these people in pixels on the Web, rather than just on cemetery stones. I am sure, for example, that some Englert descendants — cousins I don’t know — will some day find this post and appreciate the efforts put into this accounting, mostly by Catherine and Martin.

Harvard, founded in 1636, is likely (I hope) to keep this blog up long after I’m gone; but even Harvard won’t be around forever. Everything dies. Rock under my ass in uptown Manhattan dates was formed about a half billion years ago. In another half billion years, life on Earth will be gone: burned away by a growing Sun.

Kevin Kelly once told me that in a thousand years, evidence of nearly everyone alive today will have disappeared. It’s a good bet.

Life is for the living. So is knowledge. All I’m doing here is contributing a little bit of both to the few people who might care — and acknowledging the love and caring that flows between people within and across all generations, nearly all of which are gone or not yet here.

Since I started with Grandma, I’ll close with her gravestone, in Brookside Cemetery in Englewood, New Jersey:

10848257303_d5752b6d04_z

If we matter enough to be written about, our lives are framed by dates in parentheses. Grandma’s here is (1882 – When?) The answer is 1990, when she was nearly 108 years old. She is buried next to her husband George and her older daughter, Aunt Ethel M. Searls (1905-1969). Grandma’s other two kids were my father, Allen H. Searls (1908-1979), and Aunt Grace Apgar (1912-2013).

Ethel died of horrible medical treatment (including convulsive electroshock) for what was probably just depression. Though beautiful and brilliant, her love life went poorly, and she hit the glass ceiling as a regional office manager for Prudential Insurance Company — the highest position in the company held by a woman at the time.

Pop died of his fifth heart attack, all of which I am sure were caused by decades of heavy smoking. He and Mom are buried together in North Carolina. I visited Pop’s grave three times: 1) when he was planted in it; 2) with Mom on her 90th birthday; and 3) when she died a few months later. I haven’t been back since.

Grace died last December of being done. Until then she lived an active and wonderful life. You can see that in shots of her 100th birthday party, which was a gas. She lived in Maine and her body, like those of husband Archie and son Ron, was cremated, sparing us all the need to avoid visiting remains in gardens of stone where almost nobody goes — except once, when they die.

I’d like my body to be recycled. Just put it in the ground somewhere, to feed living things. These days they call that natural burial. But I’m in no rush. Too busy.

_______________

* Since Google finds approximately no families named Atonelle, and many named Antonelli (and a few named Atonelli), I suspect Atonelle is an error. So I’d welcome a correction.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

themodernA couple weeks ago I took a walk around the historic neighborhood in Fort Lee where my extended family had a home — 2063 Hoyt Avenue — from the turn of the last century into the 1950s. It’s where my parents lived when I was born, and where my aunt and grandmother sat for my sister and me (taking us often for walks across the George Washington Bridge, which my father helped build) and held big warm Thanksgiving dinners.

It was all erased years ago, and the parts that aren’t paved over are now turning into high-rises, starting with The Modern (there on the left), a 47-floor mirror-glass monolith that towers over the George Washington Bridge, and straddles what used to be Hoyt Avenue, exactly next door to the old house, which was paved over by Bruce Reynolds Boulevard (where “Bridgegate” happened). A twin of The Modern will go up nearby, as part of the Hudson Lights project. The whole thing is huge and will change the New Jersey skyline and the Fort Lee community absolutely. But hey, that’s life in the ever-bigger city.

Anyway, I shot a bunch of pictures. More in the captions.

It Istanbul Spice Marketwould have been great to visit the Egyptian Spice Market in Istanbul with my old friend Stephen Lewis, whose knowledge that city runs deep and long. But I was just passing through the Old City by chance, waylaid en route from Sydney to Tel Aviv, and Stephen was still in Sofia, which he also knows deeply and well.

But I still enjoyed his company vicariously, though his remarkable photography, such as the shot on the right, explained in his blog post, Exuberance or Desperation? Street Vendor, Rear Wall of Egyptian Spice Market, Eminönü, Istanbul, Anno 2000. Stephen’s tags — Film-based Photography, Infrastructure, Istanbul, Public Space, Rolleiflex 6x6cm, Street Commerce, Turkey, Urban Dynamics — expose the depth and range of his knowledge and expertise on all those matters, about which he blogs at Bubkes.org.

His two prior posts, also featuring Istanbul, are Unkapani Before the Construction of the Golden Horn Metro Bridge: A Declining Neighborhood Perched Atop a Major Infrastructural Improvement and Urban Back Streets: End of Day, Samatya Quarter, Istanbul.

Before that, is Brooklyn, Late Spring: Blossoms in the Midst of a Cold Spell. There he writes,

The photos above, below, and linked to via the Read More button at the bottom of this entry, were taken during a late-day stroll in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Prospect Heights and a mid-day walk from Park Slope to Boerum Hill, a couple of miles to the west.  On most grounds, economic and social, I oppose the rampant gentrification that has pushed out non-white, lower-income, and gray-haired New Yorkers from swaths of northern Brooklyn.  However, when I see the revived and manicured beauty of such neighborhoods my opposition momentarily softens … that is, until I remember that, given the pace and expanse of gentrification, ordinary New Yorkers will soon be forced to live so far from the city’s lovely historic neighborhoods that they will rarely have the opportunity, time, or means to visit them.

This hits home in a literal way for me. My ancestors on the Searls side (half of which originated via German and Irish immigration) lived in New York for generations. And I am currently domiciled, at least part of the time, in a district of far-northern Manhattan that remains, as @ChrisAnnade, puts it, “Starbucks-free.” It is a high-character neighborhood of Orthodox Jews and Spanish-speaking immigrants, mostly from the Dominican Republic. It’s an inexpensive part of the city, where commercial establishments are mostly of the non-chain type and sky-bound rents are not yet the norm. But it’s nice enough that I suspect things will change as the neighborhood gets “discovered” by people with more money or fame than those who already live there.

Back in the early ’90s I was waiting for an elevator one night at a high rise hotel when I was joined by a group of Miami heat basketball players and Jack Ramsay, who was then most famously the former coach of the Portland Trailblazers, a team he led to an NBA championship in 1977. But he had coached a number of other teams, including the Buffalo Braves (now the Los Angeles Clippers) during my former schoolmate Bob Kauffman‘s time there. So I thought, “Oh. Jack Ramsay is coaching the Heat now.” Back in those days Miami was not a great team, and even as a fan I was paying no attention to them. But the team was paying attention to Dr. Ramsay. That much was clear.

We got on the elevator together. The tallest players, 7-foot Matt Geiger among them, had to cock their heads toward one shoulder to avoid bumping the ceiling. I was crowded into a corner like a piece of luggage. The team had just lost a game. For the whole trip up to the Nth floor, Jack talked to the guys about what you can learn by losing that you can’t by winning — in useful detail. It was obvious that the old guy was still a great coach, and that the players had great respect for him. By that I mean, they weren’t just being nice. They were listening, carefully.

It was only later that I learned that Jack was not the coach, officially. His job was color commentary on Heat broadcasts.

All basketball fans by now have learned something from Doctor Jack, who went on to share his wisdom and experience over ESPN and other outlets. The man always had something interesting to add to the time-filling blather that comprises most of sports commentary.

So I just learned that the good doctor passed this morning, at age 89. I also learned that he enlisted for service in the U.S. Navy at age 19 during World War II, and shortly thereafter became the platoon leader of an underwater demolitions team — the forerunner of today’s Navy Seals. I suppose he was younger during his service than most or all of the players he taught in that elevator. Tougher too, I’m sure.

Ghandi said we should learn as if we’ll live forever and live as if we’ll die tomorrow. Jack Ramsey was clearly one of those guys who did both, for all his life.

Here is my short list:

  1. Larry Josephson
  2. Howard Stern
  3. Bob Grant
  4. Bob & Ray
  5. Barry Gray
  6. Bob Fass
  7. Steve Post
  8. Rush Limbaugh
  9. Alex Bennett
  10. Allan Handelman

And here are my qualifications: a) the performer has to do (or have done) a show that runs daily (or close),  b) the listener has to sense that they are missing something if they’re not listening, and c) I need to have been a listener.

I bring this up because in January I heard Howard Stern speak regretfully — and movingly — about how Bob Grant was something like “the greatest broadcaster who ever lived,” and how he (Howard) blew the chance to say that to Bob directly while the old guy was still alive. Bob died on New Years Eve at age 84. (Later Howard was not only reminded that he did say kind things to Bob, but somebody produced recorded evidence. Apparently Howard is correct that his memory sucks.)

I first heard Bob in the early ’70s, when he came to WMCA in New York from KLAC in Los Angeles. (Staying at the same spot on the dial, since both were on 570am.) WMCA had dropped its Top 40 format (conceding that ground to WABC and the FM band) and became the first full-time talk station in New York. I agreed with very little that Bob espoused, but found the show highly entertaining, especially when some dumb caller made no sense and Bob yelled “Get off the phone!”

But Howard is by far the best radio performer, ever. There’s nobody close. He’s funny as hell and his celebrity interviews are masterful to an extreme nobody will ever exceed. All his shows are longer than Gone With The Wind, filled with original comedy bits and supported by a veteran and gifted staff of interesting characters who are themselves sources of entertaining studio encounters. On days Howard’s not on, the re-runs — both from the past few days and from archives that stretch back a quarter century — are also brilliant. The show is blue, but I enjoy that. Life fucks itself all the time, or none of us would be here.

I put Larry Josephson ahead of Howard because I’ve never loved a morning host more than I loved Larry. Back when he was on WBAI in the ’60s and early ’70s, my daily life was anchored in Larry’s show. Larry spoke frankly about his personal life, and flouted just about every morning-host formalism you can list. (As Howard still does. But Larry was first.) He’d show up late, eat on the air, and take calls during which you heard nothing of the person at the other end. He was funny (among other things, like me, he was a sucker for puns), wickedly smart, hugely informed, and deeply interested in big issues of many kinds. Years later he leveraged all that into the public radio shows Modern Times and Bridges. I still have many recordings of both on cassettes in my garage. After leaving the air Larry made a living selling recordings of Bob & Ray (next on my list), who were two of the funniest guys in radio, from the fifties into the seventies. Find those and other goodies (including What is Judaism and Only In Amercia) from Larry at RadioArt.org. Meanwhile, also dig what Larry is doing today at An Inconvenient Jew: My Life in Radio. A better biography than this one or Wikipedia’s is here.

Bob & Ray are next on my list because they were the funniest radio comics of their time. Both had warm baritone voices, which hardly changed whether they were playing characters young or old, male or female. Their humor was droll and dry and played for irony at many levels. Buy some samples from Larry.

I’ve got Barry Gray next because he was — at least for me — the father of all the radio talk shows that followed. His slot from 11pm to 1am on WMCA seemed highly anomalous, given WMCA’s role as one of New York’s Top 40 music landmarks. But for me as a kid growing up in the 50s and early 60s, it was a window on the intellectual and cultural world, giving me lots of stuff to talk and think about the next day. I liked Barry Farber too (they were both pioneers, and Farber is still at it today) but to me, growing up, the better Barry was Gray.

I put Bob Fass and Steve Post next because they were Larry Josephson’s teammates on WBAI during the station’s heyday, and I loved all three of them (and some others I hate not mentioning, but I’m trying to keep this from getting too long). Bob Fass’s Radio Unnameable was required late night radio listening in The Sixties, and had enormous influence on the spirit of that time, including too many events and personalities to mention. I recall Steve as WBAI’s smart and witty utility infielder and team captain. He was more than that, both for WBAI and later for WNYC, where he was active while I was elsewhere. Mostly I enjoyed listening to him whenever he was on.

I put Rush Limbaugh next because he is just so damn good at what he does. For many years I enjoyed listening to him, even though I mostly disagreed with his politics. He was tuned in to a sensibility that I knew well, and in many ways he understood the political left better than it understood itself. Maybe he still does. I’m just so tired of right wing talkers at this point that I don’t listen to any of them. But I want to give credit where due, and Rush deserves plenty.

I first heard Alex Bennett on WMCA in the late ’60s, and followed him to WPLJ while I was still living in New Jersey. Later I picked him up again in the Bay Area when he was on a variety of stations there. Alex was at his best (for me at least), when he brought comedians into the studio to hang out. I’m sure Alex played a key role in the surge in comedy clubs that happened in the 1980s. (Wow, I just learned that Ronni Bennett is Alex’s ex. Guess I missed that.)

Allan Handelman is the only guy on this list (and I regret that they are all guys) who has had me as a guest on the air. It was in the early ’80s on WPTF in Raleigh, to talk about radio, like I am now. I first heard Allan when he was on a little FM station in Farmville, North Carolina. I was 100+ miles away, in Chapel Hill, but had a big antenna on my roof that I would aim east to get Allan’s signal, amazed at the guests he would get to come on. Most notable among those was Frank Zappa. Allan’s discussions with Frank are among my treasured radio memories.

So that’s it for now. I started to write this in January and decided to finally throw a few more sentences in, and liberate it from the Drafts folder. If you care, tweet or comment on your own faves. One I would volunteer for a slightly different category (such as “uncategorizable”): Phil Hendrie.

I grew up on Woodland Avenue in Maywood, New Jersey, a few miles west of where I am now in New York City. Flexible flyerThe street was unremarkable, except when it snowed. Then the town would often block it off, so kids could sled on it. It wasn’t a big hill — just an ideal one for sledding: steep at the top, with a long glide path. With a good start you could ride your Flexible Flyer down past Garden, Cole and Elm Streets, all the way to Cole’s Brook. On the other side of that was Borg’s Woods, which was then owned by the Borg Family. They had a steep back yard behind their house on Summit Avenue in Hackensack, and kindly encouraged neighborhood kids to sled there.

So snow was a big deal for us, and still is for me. I love it. Alas, too often Winter forecasts in New York went like this: “Snow, changing to rain.”

Well, that’s what happened today in New York. We had a beautiful snowy day before it turned into rain and worse. For the last hour or so we’ve also had lightning, thunder and hail. The result is thick white slop, atop the frozen and half-thawed mess left over from the last storm. Here is how it looks right now at Weather.com:

I am sure there are kids in Maywood (and all over the East Coast) who wish the snow didn’t turn to slush today. My inner kid knows how they feel. (I’m also hoping my grandkids in Baltimore fared better. They got a bunch of snow today too — I think with less rain.

(By the way, our original Flexible Flyer looked just like the one above, only a bit longer. It could seat three or four kids. And nobody ever wore helmets.)

Cities aren’t simple, especially mature ones. They are deep and complicated places that require equally deep attention to appreciate fully.  That’s what I get from Stephen Lewis‘ insights about the particulars of present and past urban scenes and characters in Sofia, New York, Istanbul and other cities he knows well. His latest post, titled  The Women’s Market, Sofia, Bulgaria: The Endurance of the 19th Century, Layers of Unwarranted Blame, and the Virtues of Slow Lenses, goes even deeper than most — accompanied, as always, by first-rate photography that speaks far more than words in any sum can tell. A sample passage:

The endurance of the 19th century

In a lifetime of working in and observing cities throughout the world, I’ve noticed that late-nineteenth century neighborhoods are amongst the last to be regenerated.  This is due in part to the resilient endurance of their economic and social functions throughout the twentieth century and into the early-twenty-first.  In such neighborhoods, cheap rents and high vacancy rates in storefront occupancy enable the provision of inexpensive goods to those whose budgets constrict their choices.  The same interstice of factors offers opportunities for marginal entrepreneurship and a shot at mobility to those who might otherwise fall outside of the economy.  The low profit-margins inherent to such entrepreneurship, however, can make for dubious goods and equally dubious practices.  Thus, shopping in the Women’s Market calls for a taste for sharp-tongued banter and a quick eye ever on the lookout for rigged scales and for good looking produce on display but underweight and damaged goods placed in one’s shopping bag.  Still, where else can one buy, for example, persimmons or grapes, albeit on the last legs of their shelf-lives, for a third of the price of elsewhere and serviceable tomatoes for even less?

To live is to change — and eventually to die. Yet cities are comprised of many lives. They are always an us and never just a me, even if we don’t get along. Who we are changes as well, and that too is a subject of Steve’s attention. For example:

Layers of unwarranted blame

There is a fine ethnic division of work and functions at the Women’s Market.  Meat, cheese, and fish  kiosks, and stands offering wild herbs and mushrooms, are run by Bulgarians. Fruit and vegetable stands and peripatetic bootleg cigarette operations are run by Roma (Gypsies).  Storefronts in adjacent streets include honey and bee keeping supply stores run by Bulgarians and rows of “Arab” shops — halal butchers, spice stores, barbers, and low-cost international telephone services — run by and catering to increasing numbers of legal and illegal immigrants from Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Turkey, Central Asia, and Afghanistan. Many Bulgarians, their weak self esteem shakily bolstered by contempt for “others,” blame the shoddier commercial practices of this wonderfully vibrant marginal neighborhood on the presence and “inferiority” of such outsiders.

Blaming others may be among our most human of tendencies. I have often thought that the human diaspora, wandering out of Africa and across oceans and forbidding landscapes, was caused by disaffection between tribes — the dislike, subjugation or dehumanizing of others, and the construction of specious narratives that rationalize a simple urge to blame. In known history there have been countless migrations, some for opportunistic reasons, but many more simply to escape misery. (Or, in the case of slavery, in states of misery dismissed by traders who regarded their captives as mere property.)

Yet cities, perhaps alone among human institutions, invite and thrive on human diversity. What hope I have for our species I get more from living in cities than from being anywhere else, no matter how pleasant. Steve’s photos and essays don’t always give me more hope, but they always give me more understanding, which is the better deal.

Bonus postings:

 

« Older entries