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Wednesday, September 30, 2020


Jon Allsop writing in the Columbia Journalism Review

his space has praised Columbia School of Journalism Media Today columnist Jon Allsop for his canny command of the obvious. That’s what a media watcher has to be. 

His latest media centric column--a day after the first Biden-Trump debate-- is a required reading catch all that captured most of the noise in a bottle. How do you put “the shit show” in proper context? But he did it and still had room on his menu for some media business news like Verizon trying to sell the HuffPost. 

Dana Bash call it like she saw it

All in all, the pundits, who Allsop has quoted, out did themselves providing sound bites post debate. Whom among us a year ago would have thought legitimate media reporting from the likes of Dana Bash would include descriptions like “That was a shit show?” For a truly remarkable read: “Last night was the logical endpoint of debates in America.” Click here.


Built atop Mt. Lee by Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler as an epic $21,000 billboard for his upscale Hollywoodland real estate development, the Sign soon took on the role of giant marquee for a city that was constantly announcing its own gala premiere.
Hollywood, which by now represented not just a city, but also an industry, a lifestyle and, increasingly, an aspiration, was officially crowned when the “Hollywoodland” sign was erected in 1923.

Built by Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler as an epic $21,000 billboard for his upscale Hollywoodland real estate development, the Sign soon took on the role of giant marquee for a city that was constantly announcing its own gala premiere.

Dates and debates swirl about when the Hollywoodland Real Estate development – and the massive electric sign that advertised it – actually came into being. But a review of local newspapers from the era (i.e., The Los Angeles Times, Holly Leaves, Los Angeles Record, Los Angeles Examiner and the Hollywood Daily Citizen) clears up any confusion. For instance, a Hollywoodland ad in the Los Angeles Times (June 10, 1923) states that the real estate development launched in late March of that year and that by June, 200 men were employed, 7 miles of road had been cut and 300,000 cubic yards of dirt had been moved.

And while some sources still cite that the Sign was born in 1924, the correct date is indisputably 1923. The earliest found mention of the Sign appeared on December 14, 1923 in a Holly Leaves article about the Mulholland Highway soon to be built, which would extend from “…from the western end of the (Griffith Park) road, under the electric sign of Hollywoodland, around Lake Hollywood and across the dam.”

Just two weeks later another Los Angeles Times article (December 30, 1923) with the headline “Hollywood Electric Sign Reached by Car,” reported on actor Harry Neville’s epic, experimental trip to test whether a motorcar could reach the Sign on the unpaved grade, and whether the car’s brakes would work on the precipitous path down. According to the article, “A motley crowd of hillclimbers, workmen, salesmen and curiosity thrill-seekers …stood by with fear and trembling as the loose dirt began to give way but Neville stuck by the ship…” to make it safely back to the “wide smooth roads of Hollywoodland.”

By 1928, homes dot the hillside of early Hollywoodland tract.  Gates to the project (at Beachwood Drive are pictured lower left.
There has also been debate about whether the Sign was originally erected without lights (with the thousands of bulbs added later). However, historic photos from the Bruce Torrence Hollywood Photograph collection, taken just as the Sign was being erected, show workers carrying parts of the Sign that include the original lights in frames or “troughs.” Bruce Torrence, curator of the photo collection, notes that the shape of the light boxes indicate that these sections were probably part of the letter “A” and possibly the “L.”

Confusion solved: by the end of 1923, the Hollywood Sign was fully erected, a high-profile beacon – lights ablaze – for the fast-growing Los Angeles metropolis.

The “billboard” was massive. Each of the original 13 letters was 30 feet wide and approximately 43 feet tall, constructed of 3×9 metal squares rigged together by an intricate frame of scaffolding, pipes, wires and telephone poles.

All of this material had to be dragged up precipitous Mt. Lee by laborers on simple dirt paths.

Few know that a giant white dot (35 feet in diameter, with 20-watt lights on the perimeter) was constructed below the Sign to catch the eye. The Sign itself featured 4,000 20-watt bulbs, spaced 8 inches apart.

At night the Sign blinked into the Hollywood night: first “Holly” then “wood” and finally “land,” punctuated by a giant period. The effect was truly spectacular, particularly for pre-Vegas sensibilities.

Originally intended to last just a year and a half, the Sign has endured more than eight decades – and is still going strong.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020



Today, September 29 marks the 156th anniversary of the Civil War battle of New Market Heights, VA. That day in 1864 a bitter battle pitted remaining elite Confederate defenders versus two brigades of men and officers of the valiant United States Colored Troops. After the battle 14 members of the USCT were awarded Medals of Honor

GUEST BLOG / By Peter A. Sicher, Writer, American Battlefield Trust--At the end of what had been a long and difficult day, Sgt. Maj. Christian A. Fleetwood of the 4th United States Colored Infantry recorded in his diary that he “Charged with the 6th at daylight and got used up…saved colors.” 

Terse though it may be, Fleetwood’s entry opens a window onto a tale of heroism that is extraordinary, even by the standards of the American Civil War. On Sept. 29, 1864, during the Battle of New Market Heights (part of the larger Battle of Chaffin’s Farm) near Richmond, several regiments of United States Colored Troops launched an assault on a well-fortified Southern position at the gates of the Confederate capital. 
Medal of Honor Awardee
Christian Fleetwood,
United States Army, 1864

Because of this action, 14 black soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor, the U.S. military’s highest decoration for acts of valor in combat. These men represent the largest group of African-Americans from a single battle to be so recognized. 

The Medal of Honor recipients from September 29, 1864 are: 
COVERED IN GLORY--William H. Barnes, Powhatan Beaty, James H. Bronson, Christian A. Fleetwood, James Gardiner, James H. Harris, Thomas R. Hawkins, Alfred B. Hilton, Milton M. Holland, Miles James, Alexander Kelly, Robert A. Pinn, Edward Ratcliff, and Charles Veal. 

They fought in hellish conditions. New Market Heights – a portion of which has been preserved by the Civil War Trust – was defended by one of the most storied units in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, the Texas Brigade. Formerly commanded by John Bell Hood, the Texans were now led by John Gregg. 

Joining the Texans was a brigade of dismounted cavalry led by Martin W. Gary which included Hampton’s Legion, another legendary unit. Artillery batteries anchored each end of the Confederate line, exposing the Federal flanks to deadly enfilading fire. 

The defenders were protected by the trenches from which they fought, plus formidable natural and artificial obstacles, including two lines of abatis*, and a swamp through which the Union attackers had to wade while under enemy fire. The brave black soldiers in blue assigned the task of taking that position were undeterred, successfully carrying the rebel works and opening the way to the capital. 

Indeed, a Confederate soldier later admitted, “upon 29th September, Richmond came nearer to being captured, and that, too, by black troops, than it ever did during the whole war.” 

This victory came at tremendous cost. The attack on New Market Heights fell primarily on two African-American brigades with a combined strength of just over 2,000 men. When the smoke cleared, there were well over 800 casualties, including more than 130 dead. 

The stories of Fleetwood, James, and Beaty illustrate just how impressive these men were. 

CHRISTIAN FLEETWOOD--A free African-American from Baltimore, Christian Fleetwood helped found one of the first black-owned newspapers in the South before enlisting in the 4th USCT in 1863. By the time of the New Market Heights assault, he had been promoted to sergeant major. During the combat, Fleetwood witnessed his regiment’s flag bearer go down. 

Rushing forward, he seized the national colors, carrying them throughout the rest of the fight and somehow surviving what he later described as “a deadly hailstorm of bullets, sweeping men down as hailstones sweep the leaves from the trees.” Several months later, the white officers of Fleetwood’s regiment organized a petition calling for him to receive an officer’s commission, stating “they would gladly welcome him as one of themselves.” The War Department denied the request. 

After the war, Fleetwood continued to serve the public, working in several government positions and commanding a battalion in the D.C. National Guard. 

MILES JAMES--Born enslaved in Virginia, Miles James was a corporal in the 36th USCT when he fought at New Market Heights. His heroism in battle is described by his Medal of Honor citation: “Having had his arm mutilated, making immediate amputation necessary, loaded and discharged his piece with one hand and urged his men forward; this within 30 yards of the enemy's works.” After the amputation, James requested permission to stay in the army. His commanding officer supported the request, writing, “He is one of the bravest men I ever saw. 
He is worth more with his single arm, than a half dozen ordinary men.” 

Medal of Honor Awardee
Powhatan Beaty
United States Army

-Like Miles James, Powhatan Beaty was born into slavery in Virginia. A sergeant in the 5th USCT, Beaty played a critical role in the Union’s victory at the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm. When every officer in his company was killed or wounded, Beaty took command. 

Keeping his men organized in the face of heavy fire, Beaty led them forward in an attack that broke the Confederate line. After the war, he became a prominent Shakespearean actor, performing across the nation to rave reviews. A man of many talents, he also wrote a play that focused on the transition from slavery to freedom. In the early 21st century, a highway bridge near Richmond was named in Beaty’s honor. 

The attackers at New Market Heights punched a hole in the Confederate defenses around Richmond. That the rest of the Union army was unable to exploit this opening takes nothing away from their achievement. Thomas Morris Chester, then the only black correspondent for a major daily newspaper, declared that the victorious division had “covered itself with glory” and predicted that it had “wiped out effectually the imputation against the fighting qualities of the colored troops.” 

DONATE TO AMERICAN BATTLEFIELD TRUST Help Save American Battlefields. Click here. 

Monday, September 28, 2020


Mobster Al Capone (left of policeman with baton) for all his alleged criminal activities had his empire crushed by an IRS conviction in 1931 for tax evasion.

oday, in his Media Today column, Jon Allsop writing for the Columbia Journalism Review did an admirable job in wrapping day one of the New York Times mammoth Trump tax story.  Headlined: "The Times drops the mother lode on Trump's taxes," Allsop praises Times reporters Russ Buettner, Suzanne Craig and Mike McIntire for the biggest tax dodge scoop since 1930s Al Capone (our words) and Richard Nixon's 1970s tax returns (their words).  For CJR's coverage click here.






The author of “The Pump House Gang” (La Jolla’s surfer scene in the late 60s) died in 2018 and an obit ran in the San Diego Union-Tribune by John Wilkins.  Wilkins piece offers background on Tom Wolfe, the pump house and its denizens and why Tom Wolfe was reviled by some that led to the “Tom Wolfe is a Dork” graffiti on the pump house.

So claims a classic 1973 article in the San Diego Reader by Jane Weisman. Surfers in 1965 cling to the pump house in the Windansea beach area of La Jolla.  Click here.  

A pump house like the one above at the foot of Nautilus Street in San Diego’s La Jolla community is a City of San Diego water-utility station. It contains mechanical equipment needed to pump storm water run off into the sewer system instead of the open beach.  That's Tom Wolfe posed with the pump house in the background.  Tanned locals in beachy San Diego still are in awe of Wolfe's vanilla white double breasted suit.  "We never saw that much untanned white on any of our beaches before or since," said one denizen. Photo by James Skovman, 1982. 

Sunday, September 27, 2020


On Sept. 8, 2020, Jeff Holman was walking by Windansea beach in La Jolla with his young son when he spotted his name in graffiti painted on the pump house. Photo by Jeff Holman.
La Jolla man embarks on a war against taggers who took aim at him, offers $1,000 reward.

Note: During this current pandemic, the San Diego Union Tribune has kindly offered responsible bloggers the rights to reprint articles of community interest.  Thank you.

GUEST BLOG / By Diane Bell, Columnist, San Diego Union-Tribune--Residents in La Jolla’s Windansea beach area were greeted by the words, “Jeff Holman is a Kook,” early this week. The blue painted message popped up on neighborhood utility boxes and on the beach pump house.

But who is Jeff Holman? And why is he a kook?

Turns out, he is the local passerby who alerted city officials in late June to a snarl of blue graffiti along the wall of a public path to the beach and, two days later, to a tag instructing Zonies to stay out scribbled on the Windansea pump house.

The 42-year-old investment banker and body surfer took photos and used the city’s “Get It Done” app to report the tagging. A city clean-up crew immediately took action, painting over the unsightly messages.

On June 26, Holman gratefully thanked the city for its prompt action on the Nextdoor website that serves his neighborhood.
Then things got uglier. He became a personal target. It appears that the disgruntled vandal or vandals may have read his thank you post, which included his name, and embarked on a new graffiti spree — this time mentioning him.

The new round of tagging came to Holman’s attention last Tuesday morning as he and his 6-year-old son headed to the beach on their “walk and talk.” Suddenly his son exclaimed, “Dad, look at that,” and pointed to the words, “Jeff Holman is a Kook,” spray painted across the pumphouse. “That’s your name,” the boy noted, "... but you can’t cook.”

Holman good-naturedly gave his son an impromptu spelling lesson. Then he relayed the tagging incident to Chris Cott, well-known in the neighborhood for his personal mission of painting out graffiti, and got a big surprise.

“You haven’t seen the others?” asked Cott. “I’ve actually wondered, Who is Jeff Holman?” Cott explained that he had painted over the same phrase neatly stenciled in blue on city utility boxes. He sent Holman photos.
A tagger went to the trouble of making a stencil to paint this utility box attack on a well-meaning citizen who had reported graffiti to city officials.

An airbrush artist by trade, Cott, 62, says he paints out graffiti every day. “One less makes the world a little better,” he theorizes. He coordinates with local police and Enhance La Jolla and carries a supply of colored paints in his van.

“I look like a tagger. I have black for crossings, silver and white for the backs of signs, three colors of red for the curbs (depending upon the fade factor). He also has tans and light greens for public utility boxes and retaining walls. When he sees a tag, he pulls over and paints it out if he has the time. If not, he returns later.

He already had repainted three “Jeff Holman is a Kook” utility box messages before Holman contacted him.

The more Holman thought about the personal attack on him, the more incensed he became. He viewed the tagging as retaliation against a well-meaning citizen trying to keep the neighborhood clean and attractive and attempting to do the right thing.

So Holman decided to go on the offensive. He notified police he was being targeted. He also returned to the Nextdoor message site. He posted a photo of the “Who is Jeff Holman” tag and answered the question.

“He’s a La Jolla resident who lives here with his family, and views tagging his name as an attempt to intimidate him and/or his family. He’s also someone who doesn’t take kindly to intimidation. So, he’s the person offering a $1000 REWARD FOR INFORMATION LEADING TO THE SUCCESSFUL ARREST OF THE VANDALS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS GRAFFITI.”

Holman announced that anyone interested could contact him through Nextdoor’s messaging link or SDPD officer Scott Holden, whom he had consulted about the problem, at

“Even if you don’t really care about graffiti, you should feel a bit uncomfortable that someone trying to do the right thing and keep our neighborhood beautiful is targeted for retribution by criminals reading Nextdoor,” Holman posted. “Even if he is a kook!”

He added that he is willing to “call off the dogs” if the perpetrator messages him, apologizes and promises not to tag again.

An avalanche of neighborhood responders gave him attaboys, virtual back pats and pledges of support. Someone even sent an old photo of the pump house defaced with the message: “Tom Wolfe is a DORK!,” adding: “At least you are a level above Tom Wolfe, reviled author of ‘The Pump House Gang’” (1968).

“All part of the cancel culture,” observed a Mount Soledad resident. “If they don’t like what you stand for, they try to intimidate you. Keep standing up for what is right!”
Another commented: “I’m going to write in Jeff Holman for mayor. Get some yard signs going.”

La Jolla resident, Francis (Skip) Stanton, M.D., noted that sympathy is nice but real action is needed. He is offering to add $1,000 to the reward. If other pledges come in exceeding $1,000, he says he’ll match them up to $3,000. “This man has been cruelly victimized for doing the right thing,” he said.

Enough is enough. This time the graffiti vandals have crossed the wrong person.

Friday, September 25, 2020


The façade of the Comic-Con Museum and surrounding outdoor spaces will become canvases for communicating the sense of adventure, enterprise and imagination that define Comic-Con. Major renovations to the exterior of the 85-year-old building are planned for completion by 2024. 

San Diego’s beloved Comic-Con (San Diego Comic Convention) is adding a museum in Balboa Park in addition to its annual gathering. The non-profit pop culture experience is set for opening summer 2021 in a Mayan designed building that was part of the City’s 1935 Exposition. 

 The new museum will include two art galleries, theatre, rotating exhibits, outdoor seating, gift shop, café, and education center. 

 From the beginning, the founders of Comic-Con set out to include not only the comic books they loved, but also other aspects of the popular arts that they enjoyed and felt deserved wider recognition, including films and science fiction/fantasy literature. 

After one more name change (San Diego’s West Coast Comic Convention, in 1972), the show officially became the San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) in 1973 with the fourth annual event. In 1995, the non-profit event changed its name to Comic-Con International: San Diego (CCI). 

 The show's main home in the 1970s was the fondly remembered El Cortez Hotel in downtown San Diego. In 1979, Comic-Con moved to the Convention and Performing Arts Center (CPAC), and stayed there until 1991, when the new San Diego Convention Center opened. Comic-Con has been at home in that facility for over two decades. 

With attendance topping 130,000 in recent years—in a convention center facility that has maxed out in space—the event has grown to include satellite locations, including local hotels and outdoor parks. Programming events, games, anime, the Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival, and the Eisner Awards all take place outside of the Convention Center, creating a campus-type feel for the convention in downtown San Diego. 

With four flexible galleries, the Museum’s Main Level will feature a continually refreshed year-round schedule of top-quality exhibits, panels, art shows, multimedia installations, experiential cinema and more. Renovation of the Atrium is planned for completion by the Museum's grand opening in 2021. 

Over the years, Comic-Con has become the focal point for the world of comics conventions. The event continues to offer the complete convention experience: a giant Exhibit Hall (topping over 460,000 square feet in its current incarnation); a massive programming schedule (close to 700 separate events in 2014), featuring comics and all aspects of the popular arts, including hands-on workshops and educational and academic programming such as the Comics Arts Conference; anime and film screenings (including a separate film festival); games; the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, the “Oscars” of the comics industry; a Masquerade costume competition with prizes and trophies; an Autograph Area; an Art Show; and Portfolio Reviews, bringing together aspiring artists with major companies. 

Comic-Con has presented literally thousands of special guests at its conventions over the years, bringing comics creators, science fiction and fantasy authors, film and television directors, producers, and writers, and creators from all aspects of the popular arts together with their fans for a fun and often times candid discussion of various art forms. 

The pre-pandemic event has seen an amazing array of comics and book publishers in its Exhibit Hall over the years. Over it’s four-and-a-half decade-plus history, Comic-Con International has continually presented comic books and comic art to a growing audience. That love of the comics medium continues to be its guiding factor as the event moves toward its second half-century as the premier comic book and popular arts style convention in the world. 

 More info: Click here. 

Thursday, September 24, 2020


The Las Vegas branch of Eataly, a popular worldwide Italian food mall is set to reopen its restaurants, quick service counters and grocery store next week, September 30.

Eataly is part of the Park MGM Resort, which announced it will reopen its hotel and casinos on the same day after being closed since March because of the pandemic.

The Butts Stop Here.
MGM resorts also announced that its Park MGM property, including NoMad Las Vegas boutique hotel and Eataly will be smoke free.  That announcement makes the Park MGM Resort the first Las Vegas hotel and casino that is permanently cigarette and vape free.

The first Eataly opened its doors in Torino on January 27, 2007, when an old vermouth factory was transformed into Eataly Torino Lingotto – the very first multifunctional marketplace dedicated to the Italian culinary experience.  Now there are 37 Eataly locations worldwide including six in the U.S.; one in Toronto and Dallas is set for a late 2020 opening.

The Las Vegas site opened after Christmas 2018 and became Eataly’s first 24/7 operation.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020


San Diego Bay as seen from Coronado, September 21, 2020. photo.


Natives understand San Diego’s temperate climate actually gets better after the kids go back to school. Having one of the best Indian summers in the country, the good weather will continue into mid-December. 

June in the rest of the country is a summer month. In San Diego, a collaboration of weather factors makes this southwest city a chilly, gloomy and often rainy winter-like period that usually lasts until mid-July. 


Two large mountain ranges travel north to south through the middle of San Diego County. During June, west of the Laguna and Cuyamaca mountains, clouds rolling in from the Pacific butt up against the peaks causing overcast days over the west basin (mountains to the sea). 

 The clouds linger because the summer sun still hasn’t warmed the ocean. The chilly ocean literally gives rise to daily low clouds and early morning fog rolling in over San Diego. 

During the year, these clouds are usually are dissipated by noon—but not in June. 

On the east side of the mountains San Diego County has vast desert areas. In June, the summer heat rises up the desert side of the mountains creating a shield that doesn’t allow clouds to keep moving out of the region. This cloud backup is called June Gloom. 

Clueless tourists, who were sweltering in other areas of the country arrive in droves after the school year ends seeking relief from triple digit temperatures. But to their chagrin, if they arrive in June they should bring a sweater and maybe even a coat. 

The mild sunny days the local Chamber of Commerce promises is one big fat lie—year after year. The reality being June in San Diego is a winter month. 

During August, San Diego has another weather phenomenon in play. Wet weather coming up from Mexico during August is part of a worldwide monsoon season that often brings annual rain to the desert and mountain areas of San Diego. On more rare occasions the rains from the south bring a week of wet weather and cloudbursts to San Diego further dampening the spirits of unwary visitors. 

Bottom line: If you are a planning a suntan trip to San Diego, the best weather in a city known for having an excellent climate, is between Labor Day and Thanksgiving. Period. Now, you know what something the entire pinhead state of Arizona can’t figure out and that is San Diego during June is a winter month. Plan accordingly or if you’re a Zonie—stay home. 


Called Nettuno this Mid-engined, 621 horsepower coupe offers no apologies for price (begin at $200K) or outrageous speed zero to 62 mph in 2.9 seconds.  Possesses a 3.0 liter V-6 engine that asks its twin turbochargers for 7,500 rpm.  Comes with two sparkplugs per cyclinder, plus both direct and indirect fuel injection capabilities.

Floor it and your Maserati Corse will reach 120 mph in 8.8 seconds and the MC20 max speed is a hair over 200 mph. 

Made in Modena Italy.

Delivery: Mid-2020.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020


Citizen Vindman
In a remarkable and candid article in “Hive,” an online newsletter by Vanity Fair magazine, writer Eric Lutz recently interviewed Alexander Vindman, a hero to the majority of the American people. 

The Army officer who testified in the 2019-impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump believes “the president’s conduct has “politicized” him and pushed him to continue to sound alarms about democratic backsliding under this administration.

“Authoritarianism is able to take hold not because you have a strong set of leaders who are forcing their way,” he said. “It’s more about the fact that we can give away our democracy.”

“Truth is a victim in this administration,” Vindman added in Lutz’s article. “I think it’s Orwellian—the ultimate goal of this president is to get you to disbelieve what you’ve seen and what you’ve heard. My goal now is to remind people of this.”

The following is another snippet from Eric Lutz’s excellent article:

“...Describing the president as an “unwitting agent” of Putin, retired-U.S. Army Colonel Alexander Vindman said the Kremlin wouldn’t even need to use kompromat against Trump if they had it because he “has aspirations to be the kind of leader that Putin is.” “President Trump should be considered to be a useful idiot and a fellow traveler,” Vindman said. “He likes authoritarian strongmen who act with impunity, without checks and balances. So he’ll try to please Putin.”

“In the Army we call this ‘free chicken,’ something you don’t have to work for—it just comes to you,” Vindman added. “This is what the Russians have in Trump: free chicken.”

To view the entire article click here.

Vindman resigns from U.S. Army:  Click here.


Monday, September 21, 2020


o honor the memory of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, someone in New York City placed a lace collar on the statue of the financial district statue called “The Fearless Girl.” 

Fearless Girl is a bronze sculpture by Kristen Visbal, commissioned by State Street Global Advisors, an asset management company in Manhattan. The statue was installed in 2017 for International Women’s Day. The four-foot tall statue is located near the New York Stock Exchange Building. 

 Fearless Girl with Senator Elizabeth Warren.


In 1965, at a critical juncture in the Civil Rights Movement, James Baldwin’s essay “The White Man’s Guilt” unmasked the myths and lies that sustain racial injustice in America. 

We’re in a comparable moment now, writes Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. in the New York Times bestseller Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons For Our Own, and “it would do us well to listen to James Baldwin tell the story of how we failed when faced with a similar choice, and how we can still muster the faith to begin again.” 

ZOOM with Glaude, Distinguished University Professor of African American Studies at Princeton, as he explores the contemporary resonances of Baldwin’s powerful and prophetic piece. There will be a brief Q&A at the end of the program; you will be able to type a question and submit it to the event moderator. Free Registration required. 

After registering on Eventbrite, you will receive a confirmation email from Zoom with instructions on how to join the presentation. Organizers ask that you download the Zoom app in advance for the best user experience. 

Wednesday, September 23 6:00 – 7:00 pm

This free event is presented in partnership with The Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, The Association of Literary Scholars, Critics & Writers, and The New Republic


Sunday, September 20, 2020


2020 Longlist National Book Award for Fiction: 

Rumaan Alam, Leave the World Behind Ecco / HarperCollins Publishers 

Christopher Beha, The Index of Self-Destructive Acts Tin House Books 

Brit Bennett, The Vanishing Half Riverhead Books / Penguin Random House 

Randall Kenan, If I Had Two Wings W. W. Norton & Company 

Megha Majumdar, A Burning Alfred A. Knopf / Penguin Random House 

Lydia Millet, A Children’s Bible W. W. Norton & Company 

Deesha Philyaw, Secret Lives of Church Ladies West Virginia University Press  

Douglas Stuart, Shuggie Bain Grove Press / Grove Atlantic 

Vanessa Veselka,  Great Offshore Grounds Alfred A. Knopf / Penguin Random 

Charles Yu, Interior Chinatown Pantheon Books / Penguin Random House.

The News
. The National Book Foundation today announced the 2020 ten contenders for the National Book Award for Fiction. The Finalists in all five categories will be revealed on October 6. Winners in all categories will be announced live at the virtual National Book Awards Ceremony on November 18. 

The 2020 Fiction Longlist counts three debuts among the ten titles. Only one writer, Lydia Millet, has been honored by the National Book Awards before; Millet’s novel Sweet Lamb of Heaven was Longlisted for Fiction in 2016. This year’s Longlist includes two writers who have been previously honored by the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 prize, Brit Bennett and Charles Yu. 

 The authors on the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction Longlist have earned recognition from numerous prizes, including the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize. In addition, their writing has appeared in a variety of publications, including the New York Times, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Elle, New York Magazine, The Paris Review, New York Review of Books, GQ, The Atlantic, McSweeney’s, and more. Three titles on this year’s Longlist are set in the American South. 

---Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half is a multi-generational family saga in which the characters contemplate the consequences of their lineage. Twins Stella and Desiree escaped rural Louisiana as teenagers, but years later Desiree returns with her daughter in this work of crisp social commentary that addresses colorism, gender identity, and more. 

 --The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw draws us into the multifaceted lives of Black women across several generations as they engage in self-discovery and seduction. In Philyaw’s first work of fiction, her characters push the boundaries of thought around morality, Christianity, and their community’s expectations. 

 --Returning to the fictional territory of Tims Creek, North Carolina in which two of his previous works also take place, the short story collection If I Had Two Wings by Randall Kenan explores appetites of all kinds, as well as characters yearning for both metaphorical and literal flight. 

 Two Longlisted titles mine the complexity and poignancy of apocalyptic events. --In Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam, Brooklyn couple Amanda and Clay head out on a family vacation to Long Island, but their trip turns uneasy when the homeowners seek refuge following blackouts in New York City. As the world outside moves towards greater unrest, the group faces their perceptions about each other and the very concept of safety. 

 --Civilization’s future is at stake in A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet, who holds a master’s degree in environmental policy. The cast of young characters in Millet’s novel easily fend for themselves as their parents remain indifferent to the devastation of the world around them in allegorical tale that defies rationalizations about climate change. Two debut novels set overseas consider the impact of a lack of support, whether from society or family, in very different settings and time periods. 

 --In Megha Majumdar’s debut A Burning, a Facebook post results in protagonist Jivan being accused of collaborating with a terrorist on social media. With this act at its center, Majumdar lambasts the promise of social mobility through technology in India, capturing the despair felt by all of those betrayed by the promise of digital democracy and failed by their nation’s justice systems. 

 --Set in Glasgow in the 1980s, Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart is an epic portrayal of a working-class family haunted by alcoholism. Each of their experiences are portrayed with great care through the eyes of lonely Hugh “Shuggie” Bain, who finds himself at the margins of his own family. 

Two novels interrogate interpersonal relationships and self-concept. 

 --The reveal of a family secret propels The Great Offshore Grounds by Vanessa Veselka. Originally seeking an inheritance, sisters Livy and Cheyenne join forces with their adopted younger brother Essex to find their other mother, Ann, who agreed to let Kirsten raise both daughters, provided Kirsten not reveal the details of who belonged to which mother. Their quest takes them across the country as each character works to define their own freedom. 

 --In The Index of Self-Destructive Acts by Christopher Beha, statistics whiz Sam Waxworth arrives in New York City to write a monthly column for a venerable magazine and soon finds himself entangled in a crumbling family empire. Beha’s novel meticulously explores the relationship between the old guard and new meritocracy as Waxworth unpacks his complicated relationship to his analytics career.  

Everyone embodies a role in Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu and protagonist Willis Wu strives to land the best one available to an Asian-American man: Kung Fu Guy. Yu’s novel takes the concept of allegory and uses the familiar landscape of Hollywood tropes to create a nuanced, heartfelt, and stylistically unique portrait of Asian-American identity. 

Publishers submitted a total of 388 books for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction. The judges for Fiction are Roxane Gay (Chair), Cristina Henríquez, Laird Hunt, Rebecca Makkai, and Keaton Patterson. Judge’s decisions are made independently of the National Book Foundation staff and Board of Directors and deliberations are strictly confidential. Winners in all categories will be announced live at the virtual National Book Awards Ceremony on November 18.

Saturday, September 19, 2020


Thank you, mucho Tom and Chuck!
GUEST BLOG / By Maxine Builder, as posted in product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.

No matter where you work, the coffee in the office break room or kitchen is probably bad. One of the best hacks you can learn on the job is how to make better office coffee, since what you're drinking is probably bitter, in part because you don't know how long it's been sitting there in the pot, and filled with coffee grounds or some other unidentified sludge. If you've ever wondered how to make office coffee taste better, you're not alone in your quest. Coffee aficionados around the world have been trying to game out the work-coffee challenge, to varying degrees of success.

But there are some very simple things you can do to make better office coffee and save your coworkers, and, more importantly, yourself, from drinking sludge ever again.

BYOM (Bring Your Own Milk)
In a perfect world, you'd be drinking better coffee, but if you don't have any say in how the coffee in your office gets brewed, try bringing your own milk. Change the things you can control, you know? A milk with higher fat content, like half-and-half, will help mask any bitterness from bad coffee. If you're on that dairy-free kick, try a high-fat non-dairy creamer with coconut cream.

Get a Mug Warmer
Perhaps the problem with your coffee is that it's getting too cold, too quickly, or you're not getting a mug until the office carafe is already cooled down a bit. You can remedy that by investing in a mug warmer for your desk. This gadget costs $10 and will keep your coffee hot for hours on end.

Make a Fresh Pot
Sure, this sounds like a no brainer, but one easy way to get better tasting coffee is to make a fresh pot. The longer coffee sits in the carafe, the more bitter it tastes—so if you coffee that tastes as good as possible, be the good Samaritan for your coworkers and brew a new batch.

Clean the Coffee Maker
Part of the reason office coffee tastes so gross is a tragedy of the commons. If everyone is making coffee, no one person is responsible for the coffee maker, which means that sometimes, your office coffee maker could be filled with mold. Yes, mold. It's disgusting and will absolutely change the taste of your brew. So if bad-tasting coffee is the norm, even after you make a fresh pot, try using vinegar to clean out your office coffee maker.

Come in a few minutes early to work. Fill the water reservoir with equal parts water and white vinegar, and "brew" the solution, according to Good Housekeeping. Stop the brew midway, and let it soak for 30 minutes so that all the nasty bits can come out. Finish brewing and then dump out the solution. Brew another pot of clean water to rinse, and then start making better tasting coffee in a hopefully mold-free coffee maker.

Make Your Own
It seems drastic, but desperate times sometimes for desperate measures. If you really can't stand the taste of office coffee, it might be time to bring your own brewer. A French press is the easiest deskside option for high-quality coffee—and it doesn't have to be too cumbersome on your undoubtedly already cluttered desk. This French press from Bodum, for example, makes just three cups. If you bring your own French press, you'll be in control of everything, from the strength of the coffee to the quality of the beans, so you'll have no one to blame for bad office coffee except for yourself. PICTURED: Bodum Caffettiera 8 cup, 34 oz. $25 @ Target. Also via Amazon and Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Editor’s note: Of course, in a pandemic office health standards apply.  Be careful.  And, if you’re lucky to office from home there are other perks to perc-ing coffee a la maison, n’est-ce-pas?

WEEKLY COFFEE QUIZ--Where in the world is this coffee establishment?  Answer next Saturday in Coffee Beans & Beings post.

LAST WEEK’S COFFEE QUIZ ANSWER. Mario’s Bohemian Café has been at the corner of Columbus and Union Streets since forever.  Located in San Francisco’s historic North Beach neighborhood, Mario’s will add zip to your latte with a shot of Vov, a Euro liqueur made with      
Photo: Krystyna Maliniak.