When reporters get “news” from trade associations

4 Feb

On Saturday, the Mexican government agreed to require its farmers to raise the price of tomatoes they sell in the U.S. — in some cases the prices will more than double — after succumbing


to pressure from the U.S. government. The U.S. Commerce Department pursued the trade deal after the Obama Administration closed the U.S. tomato market to Mexican growers in September to pacify tomato farming operations in Florida, which had lobbied the government to protect its business interests. (You have to read between the lines in this Reuters story to figure out what happened.)

Here’s how Angie Goff of NBC Washington’s News4 Today reported the story on Sunday morning around 9:30:

Do you love tomatoes? If you do, we have some good news for you. Just hearing that the U.S. and Mexico tomato growers reached a tentative deal to keep those prices from doubling. Under the agreement, Mexico can raise the minimum price of tomatoes sold in the U.S. That should help American growers stay competitive. Fresh Produce Association of America warned prices could have spiked without that agreement.

So a deal in which Mexican farmers are forced to double the price of their tomatoes sold in the U.S. is presented as “good news” that will “keep (tomato) prices from doubling.”That’s what happens when reporters get their news from trade associations.


A great new Ethiopian restaurant in Fairfax

25 Apr

I love Sheba, the new Ethiopian restaurant in Fairfax.

Keep in mind that I’m no foodie, and my perspective is extremely narrow. Although I’ve eaten food from Sheba at least a half-dozen times now, it’s always been takeout. So I’ve never actually had a meal inside the restaurant.

And I’ve ordered the same dish every time  — the vegetarian combination.

Like I said: My perspective is narrow.

The injera (the pancake-looking thing in the photo) is fresh and spongy, and the vegetable dishes — green beans and carrots, lentils, collard greens, cabbage and a couple of other things that I haven’t figured out yet — are delicious and not too greasy.

Tyler Cowen reviewed Sheba recently. He liked the food, but complained about the service. Of course, I wouldn’t know anything about the service.

Although I’ve never had a meal inside Sheba, I’m the Foursquare mayor. A proud accomplishment.

Great news for Northern Virginia movie buffs

2 Feb

According to the Cinema Arts email newsletter issued Wednesday afternoon, Angelika will be opening a movie theater in Merrifield.

Any new theater in Fairfax Co. would be welcome, but Angelika is special. The Angelika Film Center in Soho is one of New York City’s most prominent arthouses.

The programming at the theater they open in Merrifield will be probably be less adventurous than the one in Manhattan (where they are currently featuring The Artist, Carnage, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Coriolanus, Miss Bala and Melancholia) but we’ll take it.

According to its website, Angelika also operates the Village East Cinema in New York, as well as Angelika Film Centers in Dallas and Plano, Texas. The programming at each takes the blockbusters-plus-indies approach of Cinema Arts in Fairfax, and that’s probably what we’ll see in Merrifield.

I don’t know yet when or where (the site of the old Multiplex Theaters on Route 29 across from the Home Depot?) the new theater will open, but I sent an email to the company and when I learn the details I will report back to my many millions of adoring readers.

And by the way, the business strategy that leads a company to open movie theaters in Soho, the Village, Dallas, Plano and Merrifield is not obvious. Maybe I should ask them about that too.

LinkedIn is Getting Awfully Pushy Lately

12 Jan

On Dec. 12, I got an email from LinkedIn encouraging me to join three named acquaintances “and 35 other connections who have found people they already know on LinkedIn.” Hmm, I don’t remember signing up for LinkedIn marketing messages, I said to myself.

Twice since then my iPhone buzzed when I received trivial notifications from LinkedIn. Funny, I thought, I don’t remember signing up for anything from LinkedIn that would make my phone buzz.

Yesterday I received another email from LinkedIn, this time recommending four groups they thought I should join.

At this point I was growing tired of LinkedIn invading my personal space, so I clicked on the unsubscribe link at the bottom of the email. My web browser opened. “404: Page Not Found.”

Now I was upset, so I fumbled around with my LinkedIn iPhone app trying to find the settings to turn off all of these annoying messages and notifications. Only thing was, there was no such setting.

So I vented through Twitter.

A “fix?” The lack of an opt-out tool in LinkedIn’s iPhone app isn’t a bug. It’s a feature!

That was all I could take. I went to LinkedIn’s website to opt out of everything I could find. Guess what? Their opt-out tool is an inversion of the design of every other opt-out tool on the web. In order to rid yourself of LinkedIn’s marketing messages, you must place a check mark in the box designed for that purpose, rather than remove it. If I was the conspiratorial type, I would think it was purposely designed that way to confuse people.

Someone at LinkedIn sure doesn’t want me to opt-out of their marketing messages.

P.S. As long as I’m ranting: A few months ago I noticed that my tweets were appearing as status updates on my LinkedIn page even though I never did anything to make that happen. I guess the folks at LinkedIn needed my content so badly they decided to take it without asking.

My Favorite Movies of 2011

2 Jan

I saw 72 feature films that were originally released in 2011. Here are my ten favorite, in roughly descending order of preference:

The Descendants – Alexander Payne
Drive – Nicolas Winding Refn
Incendies – Denis Villeneuve
Weekend – Andrew Haigh
Martha Marcy May Marlene – Sean Durkin
Terri – Azazel Jacobs
Shame – Steve McQueen
Take Shelter – Jeff Nichols
Rango – Gore Verbinski
Meek’s Cutoff – Kelly Reichardt

It took two screenings for me to realize that The Descendants was one of the two or three best movies of the year, and that Martha Marcy May Marlene wasn’t.

If they were released in 2011, when the bulk of their theatrical run occurred, Mike Leigh’s Another Year and Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine would have been on the list.

Just outside my top 10 are four excellent documentaries: Martin Scorsese’s George Harrison: Living in the Material World; Richard Press’ Bill Cunningham New York; Carl Colby’s The Man Nobody Knew; and Werner Herzog’s Into the Abyss.

Other movies I rated highly: Melancholia; 50/50; Margin Call; Warrior; The Debt; Nostalgia for the Light; Source Code; Of Gods and Men; Win Win; The Illusionist; Bobby Fischer Against the World; The Tree of Life; The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo; A Dangerous Method; Tabloid; Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest; The Black Power Mixtape 1967-75; Certified Copy; J. Edgar; Crazy, Stupid, Love; Even the Rain; The Four Times (Le Quattro Volte); Super 8.

Memorable performances: Shailene Woodley in The Descendants; Albert Brooks and Ron Perelman in Drive; Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene; Michael Fassbender in Shame; John C. Reilly in Terri and Cedar Rapids; Michael Shannon in Take Shelter (and Boardwalk Empire); Kevin Spacey in Margin Call; Charlize Theron in Young Adult; Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Ides of March; and my pal David Carr in Page One: Inside the New York Times.

The Financialization of Northern Virginia

2 Jan

There are five bank branches clustered at the intersection of Chain Bridge and Hunter Mill, all within a quarter-mile of my home in Oakton. Four of them — Bank of America (2936 Chain Bridge Rd.), Capital One (2938 Chain Bridge), Wells Fargo (2946 Chain Bridge) and PNC (2964 Chain Bridge) — have moved into the neighborhood within the last two years, displacing a Blockbuster, Appalachian Outfitters (which opened in 1969) and who knows what else. BB&T (2941 Chain Bridge), formerly First Virginia, has been here awhile.

If that doesn’t sate my desire for banking services, I can always take a right on Chain Bridge and drive two miles, where I can choose from among seven banks in the mile-long stretch of Maple Ave. between Nutley and Lawyer’s Rd. In this thriving financial district in Vienna, Virginia, I can open an account or take out a loan at SunTrust (501 Maple), Freedom Bank (502 Chain Bridge), BB&T (415 Maple), Burke & Herbert (302 Maple), United Bank (226 Maple), Bank of America (235 Maple) or HSBC (214 Maple).

And if I’m still not satisfied? Turn right on Nutley and drive another two miles to the intersection at Lee Highway in Fairfax, where there are five more banks clustered around the Pan Am Shopping Center: SunTrust (9401 Lee), PNC (3050 Nutley), Wells Fargo (3019 Nutley), Bank of America (3065 Nutley) and Capital One (3095 Nutley).

That’s 17 different bank branches within three miles of my front door, and most of them are relatively new tenants located in standalone properties. And that’s not even counting the three 7-Elevens in the same radius where I can access a Citibank ATM, or the Giant or Safeway stores with their PNC and SunTrust mini-branches.

Clearly, this blight on our retail space is one of the many unfortunate consequences of the financialization of America. But that alone doesn’t explain why banks are leasing all of this real estate at the very moment when most information-intensive businesses are abandoning bricks-and-mortar for the internet.

What is going on here?

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