The Italian Feasts of New York City

The New York City I grew up in is gone. It has been replaced by a new city, different in many ways and with ongoing challenges, but not without an endless variety of vibrant neighborhoods and ethnic influences.

But I have to say that I deeply miss what “Little Italy” once was. It was the home of my ancestors, two wanderers from Italy who came alone from Calabria and Tuscany, met in the Big Apple, and raised a respectable family on the basis of hard work, faith, and thrift. And the Italian enclave of New York was a perfect place for them to live the American Dream.

Mulberry Street in 1900, Colorized. This is about the time my grandparents arrived from Italy.
Little Italy in 1962

The neighborhood as I knew it was busy and vibrant, full of local bakeries, pizzerias, streetside stalls, cigar stores, candy stores, stationery stores, butcher shops, and anything and everything a thriving community transplanted from the “old country” would need or want. But even then, the slow downward slide toward gentrification had begun.

Anyone who has seen “The Godfather, Part II” is familiar with the street festival during which Vito Corleone assassinates Don Fanucci. This is a portrayal based on the Festa di San Gennaro (The Feast of St. Januarius) which was brought to New York by immigrants from Naples in 1926 as a continuation of the celebration of their patron Saint. Originally a one-day celebration, the Festa continues to this day as an 11-day extravaganza (except in 2020, when it was cancelled due to the Covid outbreak); activities include Italian street food, sausages, zeppole (fried dessert balls otherwise known as “Italian doughnuts”), games of chance (often dishonest¹), music, cannoli-eating contests, vendors, parades, and the grand procession honoring the patron saint – the tradition of attaching money to the statue continues, with the funds designated to be used for the poor. In the past it has been a major tourist attraction, and hopefully it will be once again when the pandemic madness has passed.

The Feast of San Gennaro

But known to fewer people is the fact that there was a second Festa which took place along Sullivan Street in Greenwich Village during the ’60s: The Feast of St. Anthony of Padua. St. Anthony’s was established in 1859 as the first parish in the United States formed specifically to serve the Italian immigrant community. (Wikipedia)

St. Anthony’s Church

I know of this because the celebration happened right under my window when I was living right on the corner of Prince and Sullivan, at 186 Prince Street.

186 Prince Street, seen in 2009

Saint Anthony’s feast was not as big and grandiose as the one for San Gennaro, but it was more intimate and more homey. The noise and the ruckus and the celebration would last far into the night, and the sounds and the smells of Italian food was tantalizing.

Feast of St. Anthony, 1960s

Even kids got into the act. It was not uncommon to see a number of boys sitting along the street inviting others to play the “shot glass” game, in which pennies were dropped into a slot at the top of a large jar of water, with the aim of getting them into a shot glass at the bottom. Winners collected 10¢; those who had the knack of holding the coin by its edge and giving it a spin straight down could usually clean out their competition in short order, while others simply watched their coins gently float down to land outside the sweet spot.

Shot Glass in the Bottle Game

Sadly the festival for St. Anthony has largely died out; efforts have been made to revive it, but due to the changing demographics of the Village and the reduction of Little Italy to a shadow of its former self, interest has waned and there has not been enough social momentum to bring it back to its former glory.

The St. Anthony Procession in 2015

From what I am told, Italian festivals continue to be a big deal in other cities such as Boston, but these were the ones that I knew, and I miss them

The Old Wolf has spoken.


Footnotes

¹ I say this from personal experience. One game involved a long track in front of the stand, in which a shiny metal car was pushed; it would bounce back and forth between springs at each end (kind of a flat variation of the “wheel of chance”) and a pointer on the car would land in a given zone when it stopped. The very small center zone was highlighted for a major prize; others were smaller prizes or nothing. I gave it a shot (probably 25¢ a play) and watched the car land dead center in the grand prize. That was before the ride operator gave it a shove with her hand, which I saw very clearly. I walked away with a set of colored glasses which I gave to my mother, but I should have won something much better – can’t remember what it would have been. I was only 12 at the time and complaining would have done no good.

Netflix and “The Age of Resistence”

Every now and then a company makes a hideous mistake in the pursuit of maximizing shareholder value.

Twelve publishers rejected J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter manuscript. I would be willing to wager that each of them has moments when decision makers wake up at 2 o’clock in the morning in a cold sweat, screaming “What the hell was I thinking‽”

Gail Berman, the former president of entertainment at Fox Broadcasting Company, was the one who pulled the plug on “Firefly” because “[it] was a big show, a very expensive show and it wasn’t delivering the numbers.” Similarly, Fox cancelled J.J. Abrams’ amazing series “Fringe,” again for the same two reasons:  falling ratings and an expensive production budget.

Popularity doesn’t matter. Quality doesn’t matter. Ground-breaking content doesn’t matter. All that matters is those eyeballs on ads.

Dark Crystal Netflix series

So let’s talk about Henson Studio’s breathtaking return to the world of Thra, a re-imagined prequel to the original “The Dark Crystal.” The first (and now only) season ran for ten episodes, and fans were delighted – everyone I know who resonated with the show was waiting for a continuation of the saga with bated breath.

And then, despite the show being awarded an Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Program – 2020, “88% fresh” ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, and universal acclaim from Metacritic, some yeast-headed executive at Netflix made the decision to “un-renew” the series, and I’d bet a buffalo nickel that the reason was “not making enough money.” The original film was only modestly received when it was first released back in 1982; it earned $41 million at the box office over a production cost of $25 million, but later gained a cult following when it was released to VHS. I have not been able to find production costs for Age of Resistance, but I guess revenue and ratings led the bean counters to conclude that it wasn’t worth the investment.

This is an absolute catastrophe. My poor little Deet; I fell in love with her and now Netflix is going to leave her wandering around in the wilds of Thra, consumed by the Darkening.

How AGE OF RESISTANCE Gives THE DARK CRYSTAL a Happier Ending - Nerdist

How could they? A show that absolutely captured the magic and beauty of the original, and added to it with new layers of technology and beautiful storytelling. I tell you this: If I ever get hold of the person who was responsible for the decision to cancel this series, they will think that being attacked by a thousand Garthim looks like a picnic with Miss Julie’s Romper Room class. Jumping H. Jehoshaphat! My heart is broken and I summon legions of Mandalorians and Chaotic Evil Paladins to wreak vengeance!

The only glimmer of hope on the horizon is a statement by Lisa Henson, the executive producer:

“We know fans are eager to learn how this chapter of ‘The Dark Crystal’ saga concludes and we’ll look for ways to tell that story in the future,” said executive producer Lisa Henson. “Our company has a legacy of creating rich and complex worlds that require technical innovation, artistic excellence, and masterful storytelling. Our history also includes productions that are enduring, often finding and growing their audience over time and proving again and again that fantasy and science fiction genres reflect eternal messages and truths that are always relevant. We are so grateful to Netflix for trusting us to realize this ambitious series; we are deeply proud of our work on ‘Age of Resistance,’ and the acclaim it has received from fans, critics and our peers, most recently receiving an Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Program.”

Now from where I stand, she’s being phenomenally charitable to Netflix, but I’m hopeful that Henson Studios can find a way to continue the saga in another environment before I go the way of all the world.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

How strong is my password?

The faster processors like CPU’s and GPU’s become, in addition to using them for byzantine calculations like orbital mechanics, finding the largest prime number ever, bitcoin mining, economic theory, and figuring out how many angels can dance on the head of of a pin, more hackers will use them to try to crack your password.

I’ve written about strong passwords before, but it becomes more and more important almost with each passing month to make sure that your personal data – financial records, credit card numbers, birth date, Medicare numbers, bank accounts, and the like – stay safe. Because the bad guys want them. And there are more bad guys than ever. And they are worse than ever. Since August 26, 2020 there have been four separate attempts to access my Microsoft account from Turkey, Belarus, Thailand, and an unknown location – fortunately all unsuccessful because my password is relatively strong.

I just did another comparison for the sake of not being able to sleep at 2AM, and because that’s the rabbit hole my mind decided to go down. There is a website named, just like the title of this post, “How Secure is my Password?” and using it will tell you how easy it is for a computer¹ to crack your password by brute force (that is, just trying every possible random combination of numbers and letters and such).

Some examples:

PasswordTime required to crack
mW_37UmK4B),b(L}41 trillion years
Hotmail%23464321 BYZ3 Sextillion Years
Choice Berry Worthless Kaboom300 Decillion Years²
passwordinstantly
George400 milliseconds
(about 1/2 second)
my dog butch54 years

The lesson is hidden in the patterns. Random collections of numbers, letters (upper and lower case), and special characters are good. A lot better than dictionary words. Adding spaces is better. But using a sequence of four random words separated by spaces is still best of all, and are often easier to remember (see this XKCD comic for reference).

Regardless of what system you use, our online existence requires an increased use of passwords. Some people have hundreds that they use, and of course it’s always recommended to use a different password for each account – because if you don’t and a bad guy gets one, he can get into everything that you have used that password for. As a result, some sort of a password vault or storage system is a good idea. Keeping your passwords in an encrypted file works, but you have to remember one master password to get into it, and you need to make sure that one master password is a strong one. Other solutions are available online – you can check them out and decide which one best meets your needs.

But remember that the takeaway here is “frustrate the bad guys: always use strong passwords.”

The Old Wolf has spoken.


Footnotes:
¹ I have no idea what the computing power of that hypothetical device is – whether it’s an 80168, or a core i7, or some insanely fast GPU, or the Summit supercomputer delivering 148.6 petaflops. So the numbers given need to simply be looked at in terms of relativity. A password that will be cracked in 3 microseconds is going to be far weaker than one that takes a trillion years.

² 300,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years, in case you were wondering.

You can’t call Public Purpose Spending “Socialism”

This blog post is republished from an entry posted on August 17, 2016 by Ellis Winningham, who wrote about MMT and modern macroeconomics. The relevant website is now defunct, but this article was retrieved from the Wayback Machine on 9/14/2020, as of 30 May 2018. It deserves to be read, and read again. Any emphasis is mine.


There is an immense problem with the term “socialism”, especially in the United States, where the word is abused endlessly by right-wing politicians, “free market” enthusiasts and now, even liberals have joined the red-baiting bandwagon, labeling former Sanders supporters, many of whom are now Stein supporters as “socialists” and any proposed economic initiatives as “socialism”. This is the result of a successful long-term propaganda campaign of intentional misinformation which causes the general public to view any public purpose spending as socialism and so, they irrationally fear the public purpose. Meanwhile, the 1% reaps the benefits through continued abuse of an unwitting public, allowing them to profit at the expense of the national economy and society. Let me assure you that there isn’t an academic definition of socialism for those of us who possess degrees and then an entirely different one for the general public. It doesn’t work that way. There is only one definition of socialism and we will discuss it today, because the nonsense needs to stop.

Many people think that universal healthcare is socialism. It is not.

Many people think that public schools and free college education are socialism. They are not.

Many people think that welfare is socialism. It is not.

Many people think that police and roads are socialism. They are not.

And many people now think that a federal Job Guarantee is also socialism. It is not.

I mentioned “red-baiting” a moment ago. It’s important to our discussion. Some of you, especially the younger generation, might not know what it is. Back in the 1950’s when the Soviet Union was the world’s enemy and the Cold War was in full swing, prominent politicians were certain of a communist conspiracy afoot in America and elsewhere in the western world and told every American to fear communist subversion.

A whack-job named Senator Joseph McCarthy rose to prominence in 1950 and led a highly un-American nation-wide campaign to root out every last commie. He claimed that communist spies were everywhere, lurking in the shadows, awaiting the opportunity to lure our children in and poison their minds. They could be teaching in our schools, working at the post office, acting on the silver screen, writing books, pumping gas, bagging groceries; they could even be in the highest levels of government. He began accusing people by name of being communist spies and sympathizers. Given the public’s fear of the Soviet Union – the result of intense Cold War propaganda – most people believed McCarthy’s accusations. This caused many to fear ending up on McCarthy’s “hit list” so to speak. The Senator’s tactics became known as “McCarthyism”.

McCarthy’s wild and unsubstantiated accusations, labeling people communists or communist sympathizers, is what we call “red-baiting”. It is a fear tactic that is used today, mostly by those of a right-wing political persuasion, to either derail or totally silence progressive political opinion and initiatives. Because the Soviet Union is long gone, the words communism and communist have mostly fallen into disuse by politicians and the general public. Today, “red-baiting” takes the form of accusing people and their ideas of being socialist. Of course, there are delusional individuals on the far right such as “the Tea Party” who accuse people of being a “fascist, Marxist, socialist commie” (whatever that is), but on the whole, accusing people of socialism is the new “red-baiting”.

Like communism, socialism is seen as un-American, unpatriotic, anti-freedom and most importantly and relevantly, “anti-free market”. If you’ve followed my articles for any length of time, you’ve learned that there is no such thing as a “free market” when a national government like the US federal government, issues its own sovereign currency. Because the market uses the government’s US Dollar, the government has the authority to regulate that market as it sees fit for the benefit of the nation. The market does not make laws and so, does not have the authority to determine what is best for the nation. That is the job of the federal government. In a modern monetary economy, the US government is the monopoly issuer of US Dollars. They come from nowhere else in the world. It is the issuer and since its US Dollar floats freely on an exchange (See FOREX) and is non-convertible fiat, it has an infinite supply of US Dollars at all times. It needs no income to spend. And when you are but a mere user of the federal government’s US Dollar, like the market is, you are entirely dependent on the federal government for your survival. There is no such thing as a “free market” and “free market ideas” cannot successfully function, nor can the market self-regulate for the simple facts that the market has no authority to create laws and it can run out of US Dollars and go broke. Involuntary bankruptcy is not possible for the federal government. It is the sovereign to which the market is subject. With that out of the way, let us turn our attention to what socialism actually is versus what many people incorrectly think it is.

Socialism is the complete control over the means of production by the workers (the people), with government as the people’s central representative authority. It need not be democratic. For instance, in authoritarian socialism, a regime could take charge of the federal government and seize the entirety of production, leaving the people as slaves to the state. Democratic socialism, on the other hand, is the democratic control over the means of production. Here, the federal government controls the entirety of the production infrastructure and the people have a democratic say in employment conditions and the direction output takes. But what is important here is that socialism, whatever flavour, means the complete control over the means of production. It is the throwing off of capitalism altogether and the restructuring of the entire economy and society to one of central planning. Public purpose spending for programmes such as universal healthcare cannot and will not result in the entire means of production in every sector shifting from independent businesses to government control. Such thinking is nonsense.

Because the federal government is the highest public authority and charged with the duty (US Constitution, Article 1, Section 8) to issue US Dollars, it must issue currency with the intent of serving the needs of the public in its entirety, not just a few private individuals and entities. The US Dollar is public “money”; the sole product of the federal government and must be issued for the public purpose. What then is the public purpose? That which benefits the entire nation.

1.) The provisioning of the federal government with goods and services, ensuring that it can properly function for the benefit of the nation.

2.) Military spending for defense of the nation.

3.) Infrastructure – transportation, railways, airports, roads and highways, bridges, power grids and energy resources, hospitals, buildings and ports.

4.) Indefinite full employment which allows for perpetual economic stability, ensuring that whatever the United States produces can be purchased by consumers.

The US government – A public entity. US Dollars – Public currency. All US citizens – The public.

Private markets – Social and individual activities within the national boundaries that are not conducted by agencies of federal, state or local government, nor a function of federal, state or local government, but which are entirely dependent on public funds issued by the federal government to function and are subject to the laws of the land – full stop.

As time advances, new technology arises that enhances the quality of life and the security of the citizenry. The US Air Force is clearly not mentioned in the US Constitution, precisely because nobody alive in 1791 could completely envision a future where man could fly, let alone use the flying contraption for defense of the nation. Hence, the US Air Force was created and is now funded by the US government to meet the needs of the military, or more precisely, to meet the needs of the public purpose.

As the US government is the sole currency issuer and as it has an infinite supply of that currency and as its constitutional duty as that sole currency issuer is to issue US Dollars for the public purpose, only the US government can ensure that infrastructure can be fully modernized, that full employment can be sustained indefinitely, that disease and spinal cord injury research can be properly conducted, that the health needs of the public, whatever the treatment needed, can be completely looked after, that the educational needs of our children and college students can be met without financial hardship.

And so, we continue with our list of what constitutes the public purpose. The question is never “how do we pay for it?” The question is always “Does the United States have the real resources available to meet the needs of the public purpose?”

5.) Education – an uneducated populace hinders today’s economy as well as a future economy by obstructing advances in technology necessary to increase the citizenry’s standard of living and enhance their quality of life as well as the expertise needed to work with that technology. Student loans do not advance education, but rather, damage today’s economy and mortgage the nation’s future by leaving students who are lucky to be employed spending a large chunk of their income on debt, rather than on goods and services today, resulting in unemployment. For those who cannot find a job in their field due to reduced consumer spending, their intellect and input remain idle, thus obstructing the advance of technological development for tomorrow. Those who cannot afford college and do not wish to go deep into debt to pay for it, forego a beneficial education, further compromising a future economy.

6.) Healthcare – an unhealthy workforce is an inefficient workforce, hindering production. An unhealthy populace means a reduced labour supply, which in turn, means reduced output capability. A population burdened by healthcare costs means debt and bankruptcy and so, reduced consumer spending which then contributes to persistent unemployment and reduced output.

There were no iPhones, cars, refrigerators and airplanes in 1791, legs and arms were amputated regularly for injuries that are easily treatable today, dentistry was questionable, people died of diseases that are easily treatable today. You cannot operate a modern monetary economy from a 1791 perspective, unless you are willing to forego all of the advancement from that day to this. Two hundred years from now, things will have advanced even further and that which is related to the public purpose will only expand, along with the federal government’s spending to ensure it. The failure of the US government to advance the public purpose through deficit spending is detrimental to the people’s standard of living, their quality of life and the nation’s security.

Understand me clearly here – a capitalist framework does not imply a restricted public purpose. Whatever technology is developed by private entities using the government’s US Dollar that enhances the quality of life of the citizenry, increases their standard of living and ensures the nation’s security, that technology has a public purpose and the federal government has a duty to fully utilize it for the common good. I am not saying here that the federal government must seize control of the technology and all sectors of production (socialism), but utilize it, fully funding both national programs which the public can access free of charge and fully funding the private entities developing that technology through appropriate levels of deficit spending, resulting in increased consumer spending, thus increased private profits and development (capitalism).

Within capitalism, there is still the federal government at the head. It is the centerpiece of a modern monetary economy and issues the currency necessary which capitalism uses to function. Universal healthcare is not socialism. Free primary and secondary education is not socialism. Police and roads are not socialism. A federal Job Guarantee is not socialism. It is capitalism functioning properly and efficiently within a modern monetary economy.

When the state seizes control over the entire means of production, issuing three and five year plans for production across every, single sector, then you can call it socialism – not before.


Stop listening to the right-wing fear-mongers and talking heads who would have you looking for Bolsheviks under your bed every night. America’s Constitution is sound, and despite efforts by The Thermonuclear Bowel Evacuation Currently Disgracing the Oval Office to destroy everything good that our nation stands for, we will never become a Soviet wannabe.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Another “sextortion” email

The scammers never give up. Obviously, it must work at some level or they would find something else to do. But with the number of people in the world, the bell curve pretty much predicts that by blasting out millions of email messages like this, they will snag someone who is untutored enough to pay their extortionate demand. It makes me very sad that the world is so full of evil creatures like this.


Greetings!

⚠️ I’ve been watching you for weeks now. ⚠️
The thing is, you’ve been infected with malware via the adult website you visited.

I have made a video showing how you satisfy yourself on the left side of the screen, and on the right side you see the video you have been watching.
With one click, I can send this video to all your contacts in the mail and social networks. I can also publish access to all your emails and messaging apps that you use.

If you want to prevent this, then:
Transfer $650(USD) to my bitcoin wallet (in case you don’t know how to do it, then type in to Google: “Buy a bitcoin”).

My Bitcoin Wallet:
obfuscated bitcoin wallet address
After receiving the payment, I will erase the video and you will never hear from me again.
I will give you 50 hours (more than two days) to pay.
I see you’re reading this email and the timer started you opened it.

Timer id: 241996031

Don’t attempt to reply me. It doesn’t make any sense (the sender’s address is created automatically).
Filing a complaint somewhere doesn’t make sense, because this email cannot be tracked, and neither can my bitcoin address.
I don’t make mistakes.

If I find that you shared this message with somebody else, the video will be distributed immediately.
Good luck with that.


Ya. Well, good luck with your blackmail attempt, since I don’t use a webcam, you waste of human cytoplasm.

As always, the takeaway is never send money to scammers, or unknown people, by bitcoin, Western Union, Gift Cards, or any other method.

The Old Wolf continues to be outraged by these antics.

The Princess Bride Reunion Script Reading

Organized by the Wisconsin Democrats, to whom you can contribute any time, this amazing tribute to an amazing movie; since the invention of the film, there have been five movies that were rated the most perfect, the most pure. This one left them all behind.

(Scroll to 18:22 to get to the beginning of the reading)

The Princess Bride Script Reading

The cast list for this delightful event was as follows:

*Original Cast*
Cary Elwes as Westley
Robin Wright as Buttercup
Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya
Wallace Shawn as Vizzini
Christoper Guest as Count Rugen
Billy Crystal as Miracle Max
Carol Kane as Valerie
Chris Sarandon as Prince Humperdinck

*Introducing*
Rob Reiner as The Grandfather
Josh Gad as Fezzik
Eric Idle as The Impressive Clergyman
King Bach as Yellin, The Assistant Brute and The King (unable to attend because of technical difficulties – his part was taken over on a moment’s notice by Finn Wolfhard)
Finn Wolfhard as The Grandson
Shaun Ross as The Man with Albinism fka The Albino
Whoopi Goldberg as The Ancient Booer and The Mother
Jason Reitman as The Narrator

*With*
Patton Oswalt as The Q&A Moderator
Norman Lear as The Man That Made It All Happen (Executive Producer will join the Q & A)

There were a few technical glitches. It happens. It took a while to get going, and the server kept crashing under the “hug of death.” Occasionally someone was muted; sometimes there was audio lag. But everyone took it in stride, the technical people behind the scenes (I have no doubt) were running around with their butts on fire to make things work, and it all came together in the end to create a once-in-a-lifetime, thoroughly enjoyable presentation.

Right off I noticed some differences in the dialog from the script and what was finalized in the movie. We got to experience a little bit of “deleted scene” stuff there, things that didn’t make it into the final cut. And of course, there was some choice ad-libbing from Billy Crystal and a few others, entirely within the spirit of the whole production.

The performances were mixed. Without mentioning any names, I would have to say that I felt like a few of the cast were just phoning it in (figuratively, since all of them were literally phoning it in for the virtual round table); but most of them were having a great time and many of them were giving it 100% of their best effort to recreate the glory of the original.

Especially notable for outstanding performances were Mandy Patinkin, who stepped into the rôle of Inigo Montoya as though it were 33 years ago (he even produced this incomparable sword during the reading); Wallace Shawn as the inconceivable Vizzini; Chris Sarandon as the king’s stinking son; Billy Crystal and Carol Kane as Miracle Max and Valerie; and newcomer Josh Gad paying astonishing tribute to André the Giant. Rob Reiner channelled Peter Falk so well that it was uncanny. This in no way implies that the others were not wonderful as well, but these were the stand-outs for me, and of course Your Mileage May Vary.

There was a Q&A afterward, based largely on questions submitted by fans; I sent one in for Billy Crystal, but sadly it wasn’t selected. After Montoya tells him that Humperdink will suffer “humiliations galore,” Max says something – supposedly in Yiddish – that sounds like “hy didde lik val dang nation. Haha, that is a noble cause. Gimme the 65, I’m on the job!” Now I have a passing knowledge of Yiddish, fluent German, and a modicum of Hebrew under my belt, but this is nothing I could make any sense of. I fear I may just have to wait until I meet Billy in the Great Beyond to get my question answered.

Some good stories were told, and – not unsurprisingly – a lot of the conversation turned to the current political situation and the need for Wisconsin to give its electoral votes to Joe Biden instead of The Thermonuclear Bowel Evacuation Currently Disgracing the Oval Office. But then, this entire delightful event was organized to help Wisconsin Democrats, and so I had no objection.

My wife and I are great fans of this film; we celebrate Valentine’s Day by giving it a watch and then eating Mutton, Lettuce, and Tomato sandwiches for lunch or dinner. It’s hard to find lean mutton here in Maine, so we usually make do with lamb… but it’s still so perky.

If you also love this movie, I recommend that you hit your library up for a copy of As You Wish, the moving behind-the-scenes story of how the film came together written by none other than Cary Elwes.

My thanks to Benjamin Canant for capturing and uploading this event. Enjoy watching.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The truth about “ugly produce.”

This post is taken from a series of tweets by Dr. Sarah Taber (@SarahTaber_bww). I’ve collected the tweets, edited them for clarity and brevity (sometime abbreviations help you meet Twitter’s length limit), and bowdlerized them just a bit for a family-friendly audience. If you don’t mind a bit of language, you can, of course, view the original thread here.


Most “ugly” produce gets turned into soups, sauces, salsa, jam, ice cream, etc. You think that stuff gets made from the pretty fruit and veggies?! Jeebus, think about it for a minute.

The amount of produce wasted because of labor problems (can’t get a crew to harvest) and bad weather (melons that rot in the field because it’s too hot and wet, etc) WAY outstrips produce thrown out because it’s “ugly.”

Because again… we eat a LOT ugly produce. You just wouldn’t know it because it’s salsa.

As someone who works in produce, this whole “ugly fruit” movement is actually kind of enraging because it’s completely disconnected from what really happens in the supply chain. It’s a big honkin’ wad of fraud that self-promoting foodies get away with because nobody knows better.

After it leaves the farm, most produce goes to a packinghouse. This is where they cool, wash, sort, and package it. In other words, it’s where the ugly fruit people think all this “waste” is happening.

he only time packinghouses throw out fruit is when IT’S ACTUALLY INEDIBLE. Like it’s either rotten or (in the case of one watermelon field that one time) it had rained so hard that the melons filled up with water and were completely tasteless. Also about to explode.

Produce gets graded by size, prettiness, and (sometimes) flavor/eating quality.

Know what happens to most of the produce that’s edible, has enough shape to survive in transit, but looks funny?

IT GOES TO THE GROCERY STORES THAT POOR PEOPLE SHOP AT.

In the broke times of my life I did not shop at farmers’ markets, because they’re at bizarre times when working class people are usually working or sleeping (late service sector nights = no 7 AM Saturday farmer’s market for you). Farmer’s Markets are built around the “9 to 5” white-collar schedule.

Most of your real poor people, when buying produce, get it from shops white collar people don’t go to.

Those shops stock ugly produce.

[The shops] that white collar people don’t go to. Then conclude, looking at their nice stores stocked with pretty No. 1 produce, that nobody’s eating the ugly stuff.

So there’s one beef. The “eat ugly fruit!” movement is as classist as it comes. You’ve got to have a debilitating level of ignorance to assume that if Whole Paycheck Market doesn’t stock ugly fruit, it must be getting “wasted.”

Upside-Down Face on Microsoft

Back to the packinghouse. When produce is EXTREMELY UGLY, it goes into cull bins.

My fave cull bins to date:

  • Sweet potatoes. Did you know that they make a *lot* of giant, freaky-shaped spuds? Like a rat king of sweet potatoes, somewhere between football and basketball sized. What happens to these ugly, unloved sweet potatoes? OH WAIT THEY GET LOVED, THAT’S WHERE EVER-LOVIN’ SWEET POTATO FRIES COME FROM!
  • Apples. We love to say we don’t mind “spots on our apples,” but actual sales data tells us we really, really do. And honestly, we should. Even “cosmetic” lesions can make micro-breaks in the apple’s skin, allowing fungus to enter. One rotten apple, barrel, etc. Fugly apples ARE WHERE APPLE JUICE AND APPLE SAUCE AND APPLE CIDER AND APPLE BUTTER AND APPLE JELLY AND APPLE PIE COME FROM! “Wasted” my eye.

    “But some apple variety are better for fresh eating, not processing!” D’ya think Hy-Vee brand apple juice from concentrate really cares at all that today’s shipment of cheap juicing-grade apples are not The Optimal For Juicing?

    NO THEY’RE GONNA JUICE THAT STUFF!

    Did you know: Honeycrisp apples are extra prone to a mostly-cosmetic skin defect called bitter pit?

    Ergo, most Honeycrisp apples become apple juice. That’s why whole, fresh, pretty Honeycrisp apples cost so fricken’ much.

    Because most of them become cheap bulk juicers.

Yes, every once in a while you’ll run into a variety of produce that only really works for fresh and doesn’t lend well to processing. This mostly happens with leafy greens (we don’t make … lettuce sauce), which is such a minuscule amount of the produce tonnage grown per year.

When produce is too far gone to sell and there’s no processing market (say, melons), it often gets fed to livestock.

That’s… actually a lot of the point of livestock, historically. They eat stuff we can’t and turn it into meat, milk, and eggs that we can.

Feeding crop and food waste to livestock also means we’re not having to use as much livestock-only cropland. Just assume that most years a certain percentage of human food crops will get messed up and become livestock feed, and that’s less pasture/grain land needed for livestock.

That Listeria outbreak in cantaloupe back in 2011? As best we can tell it happened because they fed ugly melons to cattle.

Which, in itself, is fine.

The problem is they kept driving the truck back into the cantaloupe shed AFTER getting its tires caked in cow poop during deliveries.

This whole “ugly fruit! uwu”¹ thing is bewildering because in order to believe that retail consumers can change the world by buying ugly fruit, you have to believe that the entire supply chain is made of numpties² who make a regular habit of leaving money on the table.

The food system is a hot mess but using ugly produce is one thing it’s actually really good at. Using every single part of what’s grown, if there’s any possible way to sell it.³

The one big source of food waste that I do worry about is crops that are perfectly good, and rot in the field because the farm can’t get anybody to harvest them. (Orrrrr they don’t want to pay enough for people to come harvest them.)

These labor shortages come down to 2 things:

  1. Bad immigration policy
  2. Farm business models that can’t survive a competitive labor market

(which kinda tends to feed back into that first one)

We SHOULD be worried about THAT. And “buy ugly fruit!” does virtually nothing to address it.

But those aren’t fun problems to fix, because they’re not the kinds of problems that the everyman consumer can fix by just making a simple yes/no choice in the supermarket.

They’re like … systemic or something.

Anyway, that’s my semiweekly grinching about shallow attempts to reform the food system that completely miss the point and at this point the ugly fruit thing is such an accepted belief that. like. you can’t even blame people for believing it, it’s absolutely everywhere.


I originally saw this posted on Facebook. What follows are some comments from a friend of mine who spent his entire career as an agricultural consultant and extension agent for a large midwestern university. I thought these contributed to the discussion.

Story 1: In college, I spent a couple of years in Cooperative Education working as a USDA fruit and vegetable inspector. My job was to examine a shipment of produce, pass or fail it on both cosmetic issues as well as actual decay. After the receiving company got his money back from the shipper (thanks to my report), he’d then sell the produce for top dollar. And I watched how the ugly produce would be separated and sold to organic food coops (because “that’s what organic produce looks like”…mind you, this was back in 1980, when organics were not regulated).
I remember one case where we went to a pickle factory outside of Boston. The load of cucumbers came in with over 50% rotted. Have you ever seen a rotted cucumber? It’s basically a green water balloon…touch it and it explodes. After we finished the inspection, we sat in the receiver’s office while he negotiated with the shipper. After he got almost all of his money back, he hits the intercom and says “OK, run them!”. About 10 tons of rotted, slimy, water-balloon cucumbers were dumped into the pickle juice. It was nearly 10 years before I could eat pickles again.

Ewg!

Story 2: Early in my career with Extension, I had a farmer in southern Indiana who wanted to start an organic apple orchard. He was extremely well-educated, knew a heck of a lot more about apples and apple pests than I did. He fought this for 7 years before giving up. Because in the humid Ohio River Valley, you MUST use fungicides to prevent fungus diseases, or every fruit will develop unsellable spots. His entire crop, year after year, was only good for cider. And you cannot make a living growing cider grade apples. You MUST have a high percentage of US Number 1 apples that the fresh-eating public buys. And despite what all of my organic-gardener friends tell me…if you put out two bins of apples: 1 bin with perfect-looking fruits that are labelled “sprayed every week all season long” and 1 bin with spotted apples labelled “organic,” the sprayed bin will always be bought out quickly. Always.

Story 3: When younger, I took my kids to my local strawberry farmer for U-Pick berry picking. And I watched as the general public would only pick the biggest and most perfect berries. They would leave unpicked the smaller berries (which actually are sweeter than the big ones); they would leave the misshapen ones. And that’s if they were being generous…because the farmer could always pay his workers to go back over the field and pick the skipped-over fruit. But no…the public would pick the less-than-perfect fruit, and toss it or smash it because it wasn’t good enough for them. And that is waste.


Footnotes:

¹ “UwU” is an alphabetic emoji representing a cute or smug face. You might see it as this:

² British for “morons.”

³ Just recently I saw this ad show up on my Facebook wall:

Some executive somewhere: “Hey, I’ve got a great idea how we can make money from getting people to buy the garbage we used to throw away!”

Being a global linguist for fun (and just a little profit)

Languages are Hard - Making Voice Assistants Speak Many Languages

The numbers have changed a bit since 𝑁𝑎𝑡𝑖𝑣𝑒 𝑇𝑜𝑛𝑔𝑢𝑒𝑠 was published by Charles Berlitz in 1982, but the principle remains sound.

Among the several thousand world languages, only 101 count over 1 million speakers. Of these, the fourteen most important in number of speakers are, in approximate order:

Chinese
English
Hindi/Urdu
Russian
Spanish
Japanese
German
Indonesian
Portuguese
French
Arabic
Bengali
Malay
Italian

All of these have at least 50 million speakers, including dialects. Chinese is definitely the number-one language, with almost 1 billion speakers. English, second by several lengths—with approximately 300 million native speakers is nevertheless much more widely spoken over the world’s surface than Chinese. Perhaps 200 million additional speakers around the globe use English as a second language.

Since most of the world’s population either speaks or is familiar with one of the fourteen languages listed above, or with one of three other widely spoken languages—Dutch, Greek, Swahili-or with a language in either the Scandinavian, the Turkic, or the Slavic group, it is possible for an individual with the time and inclination to be able to communicate with the great majority of the inhabitants of this planet by learning to speak these 20 languages.

Berlitz, Charles, Native Tongues, 1982, Grosset and Dunlap

It’s an interesting concept for someone who might want to travel the world and speak to just about anyone.

I regret that the days ahead are fewer than those behind; I would need another lifetime to master all 20 of these, but I have attained conversational facility in English, French, Spanish, German, and Italian and I have made progress in Japanese, Mandarin, and Arabic, along with a bunch of others not on this list like Irish, Norwegian, Croatian, Farsi, and Hebrew.

Some people have great musical skills. Others can do artwork that will knock your eyes out. Or write captivating stories, or all sorts of talents. This one is mine; I’m neither boasting nor do I apologize, and I’m not even a hyperglot like so many others in history. Learning languages was a career, (that’s where the little bit of profit comes in) and also became a hobby. For me, it’s sheer enjoyment.

Q: What do you call a person who speaks three languages?
A: Trilingual
Q: What do you call a person who speaks two languages?
A: Bilingual
Q: What do you call a person who speaks one language?
A: American

I can’t count the number of times while traveling for work or enjoyment that I encountered people who were delighted that an American would take the trouble to learn a bit of their language. It has generated more goodwill than I could describe.¹ Even a few phrases will usually get a smile.

There is, on that note, one other way to get the natives of another country to like you: Enjoy their food. That’s a subject for another essay, but I can share that my stock in the books of the good people of Kinshasa rose precipitously when the learned that I thoroughly enjoyed their fufu, plantains fried in red palm oil, and chicken moambe.

If you’re going to travel, make the effort. Even a rudimentary effort will pay large dividends. For ease of acquisition, [and I’m not a paid shill] I recommend the Pimsleur courses, many of which are available through local libraries. Listen at home, or in your car, or in the great outdoors and by the end of 10 lessons (or 30, for more popular languages) you’ll have a feel for the language and be able to produce and understand some common useful phrases. Another useful site is Omniglot, and there are some great apps out there – Duolinguo is very popular.

Just do it.

Il vecchio lupo ha parlato.


¹ Note: In Paris it doesn’t matter how well you speak French, they’ll be rude to you anyway.

Old pages

It used to be that anything that was on the Internet lasted forever. Sometimes that’s true – the Streisand Effect makes sure that when people do their best to scrub things from the web, they are replicated and hosted in multiple places, so that the Wayback Machine (a part of the Internet Archive) can grab them.

The more Xi tried to suppress this image and ones like it, the more widespread they became.

On the other hand, the advent of robots.txt and other devices ensured that archive copies of some websites were never grabbed, and that’s a shame. But a lot of pages, even if they become obsolete, are still available.

The oldest page on the “World Wide Web,” a term that is about as common these days as NCSA Mosaic, is this one; the earliest screen capture was taken in 1992.

I ran across this picture from September 2008 in my Livejournal:

It linked to a quiz at NerdTests.com, which I was pleased to note still exists. How geeky are you?

A list of websites created before 1995 can be found at Wikipedia, for further perusal.

The Million Dollar Homepage was one of those flashes of inspiration that came to someone who was in the right place at the right time. Once an idea like this is done, it can’t ever be successfully replicated. Kinda like “The Princess Bride.”

The Net is a strange and wonderful place, a rabbit hole with no perceptible bottom. But if you surf diligently enough, you can actually get to the end.

Of course, if you’re a manager you can always have one of your peons print the Internet out for you. ¹

OK, Boss, here’s Volume 1 of 16,384:

The Old Wolf has spoken.


¹ Dilbert was a lot funnier in earlier years. It’s gotten pretty stale and repetitive. If you ask me, it’s time to retire him.