NYT Photographer Tyler Hicks on Track to Win Another Pulitzer

Plug “Tyler Hicks Pulitzer Prize” into the Googletron and here’s what pops up.

Hicks in in Ukraine right now doing what he does so amazingly well. Here’s part of what he captured for yesterday’s New York Times.

Here at the Global Worldwide Headquarters (from which we occasionally venture into the real world but never into conflict zones), we’ve always had the utmost respect for Tyler Hicks (and his longtime partner, the redoubtable C.J. Chivers, who abandoned war reporting a few years ago because . . . his family, as Esquire’s Mark Warren chronicled).

Hicks is still out there, as vivid as ever.

Here’s one of his photographs in today’s edition of the Times.

The New York Times features a deep roster of superb photojournalists. Tyler Hicks surely ranks among the finest of them, as he is proving once again.

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Seriously, When Did ‘Call In Sick’ Turn Into ‘Call Out Sick’?

About ten years ago the hardwording staff proposed a federal government Syn Tax, “a fine for misuse of the English language. At a quarter a pop, that could wipe out the deficit in no time.”

Some six years later, we posted this linguistic lament under the headline, Seriously, When Did ‘Based On’ Turn Into ‘Based Off Of’?

Plug “based off of” into the Googletron and you get over 17 million search results, among them this admirable dissent from GrammarBook.com.

Once again we say: There should be a Syn Tax – a monetary fine – for every grammatical error in America. Google can be the referee.

Rest assured, splendid readers, we would wipe out the national debt in a matter of months. And that’s just from tracking our pre-verbal president. (See his Associated Press interview this week for details.)

Caller Question: “Hi, Grammar Girl. This is Ellen from Newark, California. I have a question. I am 60 years old, and I always use the phrase or heard the phrase ‘calling in sick’ if I couldn’t make it to work. Or if someone couldn’t make it to work, they would call in to say they were sick and couldn’t come to work. But in recent years, like within the last 10 years, I have heard family members say they’re ‘calling out’ and that sounded very strange to me. But even today in the ‘Washington Post,’ there was an article and sure enough it used the phrase ‘calling out sick’ because of COVID. Employees are calling out. So I just was curious about the phrases ‘calling in sick’ and ‘calling out sick.’ Thanks a lot.”

Thanks for the question, Ellen.

I’ve always said “call in sick.” The way I think of it is that you call in to the office to say you’ll be out sick. And if I call in and you take the call, you would tell everyone else that Mignon is going to be off sick or out sick today.

Grammar Girl goes on to say that “call in sick” is the most common phrase, although – in our experience – apparently not at NPR.

Regardless, we’re glad we got that sorted. Next up: When did “even so” turn into “even still”?

We’ll get back to you on that.

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Restaurant Employees Fleeing? Bring Back the Automat!

According to multiple news reports, the exodus of restaurant employees from their jobs has reached Biblical proportions, as Business Insider’s Juliana Kaplan and Madison Hoff reported last month.

A record-high 1 million restaurant and hotel workers quit in November — and it shows the labor shortage might really be a wage shortage

In November, 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs — and 1 million of them are restaurant and hotel workers.

That’s a record-high number of people quitting in a month overall, as well as a new record for the restaurant and hotel industry. But in a month where job openings dipped, and hiring remained robust, 1 in 16 leisure and hospitality workers in the US — 6.4% of the industry’s workforce — acted with their feet and left.

Helpful chart.

Yeah – serious problem. But there’s a reasonable – and fun! – solution.

I grew up on East 89th Street in New York during the 1950s. Three blocks away – on 86th between Lexington and Third – was a Horn & Hardart automat. Here’s how it looked in 1936, via the New York Public Library Digital Collections.

The automat was the best: soup, sandwiches, main dishes, desserts – all sitting behind glass doors you could open with the drop of a few nickels. Not to mention coffee that flowed out of dolphin-shaped spouts.

Here’s some history from the NYPL’s Manuscripts and Archives Division.

Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart founded the Horn & Hardart Co., in Philadelphia in 1902. Horn and Hardart started their careers in 1888 with a luncheonette in Philadelphia. This soon changed, when Hardart became inspired by the “waiterless” service at some of Europe’s fine restaurants and hotels. While in Europe, Hardart purchased the automat equipment in Berlin, but the ship transporting it sank during a storm in the English Channel. Not discouraged, Horn & Hardart reordered the equipment. When the first Automat opened, the novelty of receiving one’s food from a self-contained glass enclosure after depositing a nickel or two created an immense impression on the public. The Horn & Hardart partners found a winning formula with the Automat.

After their initial success in Philadelphia, the first New York Automat opened at 1557 Broadway in 1912 . . .  The company would eventually grow to 165 locations – the Automats, cafeterias, and retail food shops. Most of the Horn & Hardart establishments in Philadelphia were cafeteria-style, while most in New York catered to a more hurried clientele, and thus were true automats.

The New York Horn & Hardart Automats rank among the legendary eating establishments of New York City, along with Mary Elizabeth, Chock Full O’ Nuts, Nedick’s, Longchamps and Schrafft’s. The Automats are remembered for their Art Deco buildings and stained glass windows, as well as their famous baked beans . . .

And, in earlier times, remembered for their well-dressed clientele, as evidenced in this Sulamith Sokolsky print – “The Automat” – that the Missus and I were fortunate enough to acquire some years ago.

For another trip down Memory Lane, there’s this video from Recollection Road, which has 131,000 subscribers on YouTube.

Narrator’s conclusion: “As we watch to world become a more automated place, with vending machines or kiosks replacing workers, it wouldn’t surprise me if somewhere, someplace, there was someone exploring the rebirth of automats. Because they were very popular places to eat, back in the day.”

Someone? That’s me!

Kind of.

UPDATE: By coincidence – or kismet? – this Joe Morgenstern review of a new documentary about Horn & Hardart appeared in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal.

‘The Automat’ Review: A Documentary Feast

Lisa Hurwitz’s film about the democratic chain of restaurants features a smorgasbord of high-profile interviewees

When a relatively unheralded documentary contains interviews with Mel Brooks, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elliott Gould, Colin Powell, Carl Reiner and Howard Schultz, chances are it’s something special, and Lisa Hurwitz’s “The Automat” certainly is. Those illustrious participants are all there to recall the glory days of a vanished, cherished and singularly democratic institution, and to share their own memories of breakfasts, lunches and dinners at a chain of restaurants where anyone from any stratum of society could put nickels in a slot, turn a knurled brass knob, lift a little door with a rectangular window and withdraw a generous portion of remarkably good food.

Here’s the official trailer.

One more tasty treat from the late, lamented Horn & Hardart.

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WSJ Ghosts Boston Globe CEO Linda Henry on WNBA $$$

The Boston Globe’s Michael Silverman dutifully reported yesterday that Globe CEO Linda Henry was part of an investment group that pumped $75 million into the WNBA.

Linda Henry part of $75 million investment in WNBA

Ever since her young daughter asked, “Are girls allowed to play baseball?” Linda Henry has been searching for ways to answer in the affirmative about not just baseball but all sports.

On Thursday, Henry joined a group that made the largest-ever investment in a women’s sports league, a $75 million capital raise for the WNBA.

“Supporting professional women’s sports is a way of celebrating strength and hard work, showing girls around the world what they are capable of,” said Henry, who is the CEO of the Globe, in an e-mail. 

Henry also got props at Yahoo Sports and NBA.com, but not so much in Joseph De Avila’s report in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal.

WNBA Raises $75 Million From Group Including Nike, Condoleezza Rice to Revamp League

The cash infusion from more than two dozen investors raised the combined valuation of the league and its teams to $1 billion

The Women’s National Basketball Association has raised $75 million from a group of investors that includes Nike Inc., businessman Michael Dell, and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in an effort to revamp the league.

The $75 million infusion is the largest-ever capital investment for a women’s sports property and will be used to help the league overhaul its brand and appeal to more fans, the WNBA said Thursday. This also marks the first time the league has raised money through investors.

Those investors that the Journal listed: “Laurene Powell Jobs, philanthropist and the widow of Apple Inc.co-founder Steve Jobs ; Micky Arison, Carnival Corp. chairman and owner of the NBA’s Miami Heat; Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. co-founder Joe Tsai and his wife Clara Wu Tsai, who own the WNBA’s New York Liberty and NBA’s Brooklyn Nets; former NBA stars Baron Davis and Pau Gasol ; and former WNBA great Swin Cash.”

Cash from Swin Cash? Check. Cash from Linda Henry? Nope. Hey – that’s show biz.

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Why Rafael Nadal Is the Most Admirable Person in All of Sports

The hardrooting staff has written often about Rafael Nadal, one of our all-time favorite athletes along with New York Yankees icon Mickey Mantle (our youthful crush) and Mantle’s New York Rangers doppelgänger Rod Gilbert.

But Rafa is even more special.

Exhibit Umpteen: In the run-up to today’s Australian Open men’s singles final – which, if he won it, would give Nadal 21 major singles titles, moving him ahead of his Big Three compatriots Roger Federer and Novak Djokivic – Rafa said this, as Christopher Clarey noted in the New York Times: “Being very honest, for me is much more important to have the chance to play tennis than win the 21, no?”

Yes.

Nadal also said this after his semi-final win over Matteo Berritini: “Two months ago I didn’t know if I could play tennis again and it is a gift of life to be able to be here. In the last six months, I have had many doubts as to whether I could continue. But now I feel good.”

Today marked Nadal’s improbable sixth final at the Australian Open. He beat Federer for the title in 2009; lost a five hour, 53 minute epic to Djokovic in 2012; hurt his back and lost to Stan Wawrinka in 2014; lost to Federer in 2017 after leading 3-1 in the fifth set; and lost to Djokovic in straight sets in 2019.

Which brings us to today’x title match against Russian ace Daniil Medvedev, a decade younger than Nadal and the winner of the 2021 U.S. Open final against Djokovic, which kept the Serbian player from reaching 21 major titles.

A bouquet of ledes, starting with Christopher Clarey in the New York Times.

MELBOURNE, Australia — For an aging champion who has earned his reputation as one of the greatest competitors in sports, it was a fitting way to stand alone with 21 Grand Slam men’s singles titles.

Down, two sets to none, in the Australian Open final, against the higher ranked and considerably younger Daniil Medvedev, Rafael Nadal did not simply count himself fortunate to have made it so far in a tournament he once considered himself unlikely to play.

Instead, he did what he has done since he burst onto the tennis scene nearly 20 years ago as a longhaired teenager in pirate pants.

He fought. He thought. He fought and thought some more, and his prize was his most unexpected major title and a victory, 2-6, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5, that was utterly suitable for archiving.

Associated Press report (via ESPN).

MELBOURNE, Australia — Searching for inspiration when he was down two sets and facing triple break point, with his prospects of winning a record 21st Grand Slam title almost shot, Rafael Nadal thought back to some of his most difficult defeats.

A renowned right-to-the-end competitor, Nadal dug deep in that critical moment and won the next four points to survive the immediate threat from Daniil Medvedev. Minutes later he held for 3-3 in the third set and swung the momentum of the Australian Open final around.

Liz Clarke at the Washington Post.

By the fifth set of Sunday’s Australian Open final, having battled back after falling two sets in arrears, Rafael Nadal had no energy for the pirate-like leaps of his youth or even a shout of “Vamos!”

To save what energy remained, he celebrated service breaks and big points against Daniil Medvedev with a simple clenched fist.

In the end, after a five-hour, 24-minute battle of attrition, Nadal’s champion’s heart, resolute belief and extraordinary stamina delivered the most significant victory of his career — and a men’s record 21st Grand Slam title, 2-6, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5.

See for yourself.

 

(You can watch the entire match here if you like.)

Medvedev was extremely gracious and humble in hs remarks after the match.

 

Rafa was equally gracious and humble.

 

John McEnroe had it right. “Rafa . . . has to be the humblest, classiest champion of almost any athlete I’ve ever seen in any sport,”

Yes.

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The Illustrated History of Stealth Marketing

Caveat emptor, quia ignorare non debuit quod jus alienum emit.

 (“Let a purchaser beware, for he ought not to be ignorant

of the nature of the property which he is buying from another party.”)

Oxford Reference

Prologue

Let’s start with two questions.

Question #1: Should you have the right to know when you’re being advertised to?

Question #2: Should you have the right to know who is advertising to you?

Both questions lie, so to speak, at the heart of stealth marketing, which takes the form of product placement, custom content, native advertising, brand journalism, your euphemism goes here. They are all, in the end, ads in sheep’s clothing.

The answer to Question #1 has traditionally been yes, with audiences expecting clear distinctions between advertising and editorial content.

But as we know, tradition is generally out of style nowadays. So myriad media publications have lured myriad marketers (and their myriad marketing dollars) with the promise of ads tricked out as something other than advertising.

The deception is the point for stealth marketers: The less apparent the selling is, the less it triggers the average consumer’s natural resistance to being sold. Rule of thumb: the more opaque the sales pitch, the better.

The interests of reputable publishers, by contrast, run counter to those of stealth marketers: The more that readers/listeners/viewers find themselves duped into mistaking advertising for editorial content, the more a publisher’s integrity and credibility could be eroded.

That tension was neatly captured by legendary media critic A.J. Liebling, who wrote in the 1960s, “The function of the press in society is to inform, but its role in society is to make money.”

In the 21st century, stealth marketing has come to represent a major source of that money. In 2019, U.S. product placement rang up over $11 billion in spending, while native advertising expenditures in the U.S. approached $53 billion in 2020.

That’s real money for fake content.

As for Question #2, it’s instructive to examine the work of lawyer/lobbyist Rick Berman, who – as CBS’s 60 Minutes reported in 2007 – relishes the nickname “Dr. Evil.”

Berman is in the business of establishing fog-machine front groups to promote corporate interests ranging from the fast food industry to soft drink manufacturers to Big Tobacco to any corporation fighting minimum-wage increases.

Here’s a partial portfolio of Rick Berman’s Potemkin Non-Profits.

The Center for Media and Democracy’s Source Watch characterized Berman’s grift this way.

Berman & Co., a Washington, DC public affairs firm owned by lobbyist Rick Berman, represents the tobacco industry as well as hotels, beer distributors, taverns, and restaurant chains. Berman & Co. has lobbied for companies such as Cracker Barrel, Hooters, International House of Pancakes, Olive GardenOutback SteakhouseRed Lobster, Steak & Ale, TGI Friday’s, Uno’s Restaurants, and Wendy’s.

Berman & Co. operates a network of dozens of front groups, attack-dog web sites, and alleged think tanks that work to counteract minimum wage campaigns, keep wages low for restaurant workers, and to block legislation on food safety, secondhand cigarette smoke, and drunk driving and more. 

In 2013-14, Berman and his Employment Policy Institute “think tank,” have led a national fight against campaigns to raise the minimum wage and to provide paid sick leave for workers with renewed attacks on proponents (including the Center for Media and Democracy, publisher of Sourcewatch), misleading reports, op-eds, TV and radio ads and more.

Source Watch has tons more dirt on Berman if you’re so inclined. You can also review some of Berman’s handiwork elsewhere on this blog, as well as at Sneak Adtack and It’s Good to Live in a Two-Daily Town. Also instructive: Berman’s 2009 tango with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow here and here.

This, however, has to be the quintessential Rick Berman story.

The roll call of Berman’s front groups featured above came from the website BermanExposed.org, which was dedicated to tracking the corporate gunsel’s endless smoke-screen campaigns.

But somehow, somewhere along the line, Berman co-opted/acquired the BermanExposed URL so that when you go there now, you get this.

To recap: Changing the Debate means not only that Berman is reframing public-policy issues to serve the corporate interests of his clients, but also that he’s turned BermanExposed into BermanSuperimposed.

That’s not even evil. That’s just brilliant.

Then again, let’s step back and play devil’s advocate for a moment.

Take the issue of what Berman’s ads call the Food Police, those government agencies and officials who want to regulate the consumption of trans fats, sugar, salt – anything the public health community deems potentially harmful to the well-being of the average American.

Question #3: Is the role of government regulation regarding individual choices a legitimate issue for debate?

If so, Question #4: How does that debate happen?

Let’s say McDonald’s runs a nationwide advertising campaign that opposes federal restrictions on trans fats. Would the fast-food chain’s argument be taken seriously by the American public, or would it be dismissed as a naked attempt to promote McDonald’s financial interests?

If the issue of government regulation of trans fats is indeed a legitimate subject of debate, wouldn’t the American public be better served if those regulations were opposed by what seemed to be a neutral party – even if, in reality, it wasn’t neutral?

In other words, does Rick Berman’s duplicity actually foster a more worthwhile public debate?

We know: It hurts to say that maybe it does.

But maybe it does.

The Sneak in Review

There has been stealth marketing in American media since the beginning of American media.

As Juliann Sivulka noted in her book Soap, Sex, and Cigarettes: A Cultural History of American Advertising, the first known ad in America was embedded in the 1704 Boston News-Letter.

It’s also the first example of native advertising – an ad fashioned to look like the editorial content surrounding it . . .

Find the rest of the hidden war on American consumers at Sneak Adtack.

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Massachusetts to Unemployment Recipients: Pay It Backward

Bay State officials have embarked on the Great Covid Clawback of 2022, as Boston Globe columnist Larry Edelman reports today.

Mass. seeks to claw back at least $2.7 billion in jobless benefits it says were incorrectly paid

The Department of Unemployment Assistance made overpayments on about 719,000 claims in 2020-2021. It’s going after recipients even if they weren’t at fault.

In the early months of the pandemic, when nearly 700,000 local jobs disappeared in a flash, the Baker administration was caught in a bind: There was a massive backlog of unemployment claims, but laid-off workers needed money fast or a bad economic crisis would only get worse.

The Department of Unemployment Assistance rushed to get benefit checks out the door ASAP, even as vetting applicants was made more complicated by the sheer volume of work and confusing eligibility rules for new federal relief programs. While delays persisted, the DUA says it ultimately delivered $33 billion in state and federal jobless payments in 2020 and 2021 to almost 4 million people.

Problem is, according to Edelman, “[at] least $2.7 billion in benefits went to claimants who, the DUA later determined, received too much money or weren’t eligible for unemployment in the first place.”

And now the DUA wants its money back in sums ranging from several thousand dollars to $80,000 or more, Edelman writes.

The DUA issued what are called overpayments on 719,000 jobless claims from March 2020 through September 2021 . . . The department says that the number of claims still unresolved stood at 383,000 last month and that individuals may have more than one claim.

To be clear, we’re not talking about the gangs of scammers who took Massachusetts — and other states — for billions of dollars by filing fraudulent claims with stolen personal information. That’s an entirely different problem.

No, these folks run the gamut from minimum-wage workers to white-collar professionals, and most applied for relief in good faith. They never dreamed the state might come back months later and say, “Sorry, we made a mistake. Pay up.”

I was involved in a similar clawback in the mid-’70s when I worked at the Social Security Administration as a claims representative in the Supplemental Security Income program.

As I chronicled in The Redemption Unit, a memoir of my misadventures in the SSI trenches, when SSA launched the SSI program in 1974, it took aged, disabled and blind people off the state welfare rolls and put them on the federal dole.  Problem was, it pretty much paid everyone top dollar in their category, so after the transfer was complete, every claimant needed to be “redetermined.”

That’s where I – and a cadre of other recent college grads, civil service exams being the last refuge of the liberal arts major – came into the picture. We did the redetermining. And when that was done, the overpayment notices went out.

I’ll let The Redemption Unit take it from here.

When the last claimant’s benefits had been redetermined and the government added up its losses, it immediately decided to recoup them by initiating the Overpayment Recovery Program. Letters went out – on green paper instead of redetermination red – telling claimants they had to come in to the District Office. And the whole kabuki dance started all over again.

   Claimant plunks green letter down on desk.  File comes out. Conversation begins.

   “Mrs. Patterson, our records show that you were overpaid during the past two years by a total of $2162.”

   “I never got no check for $2162.”

   Conversation effectively ends.

In essence the Overpayment Recovery Program took people who’d just had their welfare checks cut, and cut them some more. One day my next-desk neighbor, Tricia McDermott, flipped a file across her desk and leaned back in her chair. Tricia was too compassionate for the job but too strait-laced not to do it by the book. She stared toward the windows and said to no one in particular, “What we need here is an overpayment recovery incentive. Do you think they’d ever consider giving us a cut of the take?”

“In this lifetime?”

“No, really – 10% off the top of any money we recover. We could limit it to refunds and exclude adjustments or returned checks.”

“Uh-huh.”

That there were three different ways to achieve a single result was pure SSA. Back then the Social Security system was virtually all exceptions and no rules . . . SSI wasn’t quite as bad, but it was still a contraption only Rube Goldberg could love. To make matters worse, the claims reps received a steady stream of what were called “claims transmittals” – memos that were supposed to clarify, but more often complicated, SSI’s crazy-quilt regulations.

Representative sample: “Transmit payment status code of WO4, WO5, or WO9. However, because of systems limitations do not input these PSCs. Use force pay to pay correct amount.” (SSIH, 13515-2)

So nobody read the transmittals. Except me. I figured I needed something on the plus side of the ledger to offset being chronically late and generally out of step. Consequently I read every transmittal, which probably was why I got the computer to do things no one else could.

In the course of my reading I also discovered that two obscure SSI regulations, when combined, essentially allowed a claims rep to waive any overpayment.

So that’s what I did.

A claimant would come in, sit down at my desk and wearily hand over his green letter.

“Yes. Mr. Randolph. Our records show – let’s see here – that during the past two years you were overpaid by $846.”

“I never got no check for $846.”

“That’s right, Mr. Randolph. This is really just a bookkeeping thing. I need you to sign a couple of forms and you’ll be all set.”

I had decided to hand-write the two forms each time; if I had a stack of copies around, they might accuse me of premeditated overpayment waiving. Better to have a sort of eureka element involved. I’d scribble out the forms, turn them toward the claimant, and spend a good five minutes convincing him to sign them. The claimant would walk away looking slightly puzzled. Then someone else would come to my desk with a green letter.

For a while my waive-‘em-all policy stayed under the radar. But I ran into problems when people began asking for me by name. Apparently word had gotten around the claimant community that I was the guy to see with your overpayment letter. So they would come into the DO and – completely disregarding SSI’s sophisticated system of assigning claimants alphabetically – say they wanted to be interviewed by me. Suddenly I was very much on the radar screen.

It got crazy bureaucratic from there. If you’re a glutton for punishment, the climactic conclusion is here.

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Two-Way Tie in New York Times ‘Year in Pictures 2021’ Bakeoff

As some of you splendid readers might recall, the end of December is the most photoful time of the year around the Global Worldwide Headquarters, thanks in no small part to the annual Dance of the Shutterbugs in the New York Times.

The Year in Pictures 2021 appeared in Sunday’s edition, so we dutifully embarked upon our traditional bakeoff to see which photographers scored the most shots in the special section.

Previous bakeoff winner Doug Mills racked up three entries in the first half of the year, including these Joe Biden moments in the Capital.

Newcomer Jim Huylebroek filed not from the Capital, but from Kabul.

Jim Huylebroeck had lived in Kabul for seven years. The takeover by the Taliban was the story of a lifetime. There was no way he was leaving.

“There were rumors that Kabul would fall. The police and military started laying down their weapons. The president had fled. We went to the west of Kabul where the Taliban were pushing in, and when we arrived there were crowds of people lining the streets, cheering them on. Seeing that kind of support in the capital was just really something. We jumped back in the car with our driver and then we saw this Humvee, which is an icon of the war. It is America. And there is the Taliban sitting on top. I’m like, “Stop the car, I need to get this frame.” I jump in front of this Humvee, which is stuck in traffic like everyone else. I shoot a photo. By this time, I had gotten the confidence that it was OK, that the Taliban wanted Western journalists to continue doing their jobs.”

Huylebroek had two other photos in the Times review, so he gets props along with Mills.

The double-shot roll includes Ashley Gilbertson, Meredith Kohut, Erin Springer, Victor J. Blue, and Max Whittaker.

Beyond that, the section features 41 one-hit wonders.

Altogether, a photorific year for the Grey Lady.

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Remembering Anne Rice (Biting Tom Cruise’s Neck Edition)

Popular and prolific author Anne Rice died last week at the age of 80, as noted in this New York Times obituary.

Anne Rice, Who Spun Gothic Tales of Vampires, Dies at 80

She wrote more than 30 novels, including the best seller “Interview With the Vampire,” which became a hit movie starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt.

Anne Rice, the Gothic novelist best known for “Interview With the Vampire,” the 1976 book that in 1994 became a popular film starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, died on Saturday at a hospital in Rancho Mirage, Calif. She was 80 . . .

Ms. Rice was a largely unknown writer when she turned a short story she had written in the late 1960s into “Interview With the Vampire,” her first published novel. It features a solitary vampire named Louis who is telling his life story to a reporter, but Ms. Rice said the tale was her story as well.

Full disclosure: The hardworking staff has never read any of Anne Rice’s novels, but we did write about her in one of our 1994 Boston Globe Ad Hoc columns, which introduced the term I-vertising – individuals running full-page ads about themselves in major daily newspapers.

Rest in peace, Anne Rice. Your work is undead for the ages.

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Peggy Noodnik Writes Again (Kamala Harris ‘Veep’ Edition)

Latest in our long-running series

Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan opened up the family-size can of worms with yesterday’s piece about the various and sundry deficiencies of Vice President Kamala Harris.

Kamala Harris Needs to Get Serious

Her shaky standing is a danger to the country given the position she could be called on to fill.

President Biden’s poll numbers are bad and Vice President Kamala Harris’s are worse. A survey this week from conservative-leaning Rasmussen had her at 39% favorable, 57% unfavorable.The number that stuck in the public’s mind came last month, from a USAToday/Suffolk poll that put her approval at 28%, disapproval at 51%.

The past few weeks she’s been hammered by bad news. There’s been an exodus of high-level staffers. The Washington Post had a sweeping, searing piece that described a “dysfunctional” and chaotic office full of bitter enmities. A consistent problem: Ms. Harris refuses “to wade into briefing materials prepared by staff members” and would “then berate employees when she appeared unprepared” . . .

All this leaves people uneasy. The president is old and his judgment questionable; she seems out of her depth. We will have another three years of this? It is also dangerous: We don’t want their weakness to become America’s weakness.

(Note, please, Exhibit Umpteen of a publication’s choosing the most unflattering image it can find of someone from the opposing team.)

Fear not for the republic, though: Ms. Noodnik had “some thoughts on how [Harris] might improve her situation,” such as a) come to terms with her job, b) become more useful, and c) decide to become serious.

The hardwincing staff will leave the broader critiques of Noonan’s piece to others, such as Democratic National Committee chair Jaime Harrison . . .

or The Atlantic contributing writer Jemele Hill . . .

or investigative journalist Victoria Brownworth . . .

or TV writer Bryan Behar . . .

or random disgruntled folks.

Here’s our beef. In addressing the possibility that Harris “could become president at any moment the next three years,” Noonan writes that “[we] face grave challenges—China, Russia, the endurance of the American economy. Who leads us matters.”

What also matters is that anyone who looks at the challenges facing this country and ignores the challenge to the endurance of American democracy – the most serious since the Civil War – is not an honest broker of information.

You don’t have to take our word for it. Check out Barton Gellman’s chilling piece in the current issue of The Atlantic.

Trumps Next Coup Has Already Begun

January 6 was practice. Donald Trump’s GOP is much better positioned to subvert the next election.

Technically, the next attempt to overthrow a national election may not qualify as a coup. It will rely on subversion more than violence, although each will have its place. If the plot succeeds, the ballots cast by American voters will not decide the presidency in 2024. Thousands of votes will be thrown away, or millions, to produce the required effect. The winner will be declared the loser. The loser will be certified president-elect.

The prospect of this democratic collapse is not remote. People with the motive to make it happen are manufacturing the means. Given the opportunity, they will act. They are acting already.

Who or what will safeguard our constitutional order is not apparent today. It is not even apparent who will try. Democrats, big and small D, are not behaving as if they believe the threat is real. Some of them, including President Joe Biden, have taken passing rhetorical notice, but their attention wanders. They are making a grievous mistake.

And the anti-democratic forces on the right are making serious progress, as Charles Homans reports in today’s New York Times. He notes that a May Reuters/Ipsos poll   found that over 60% of Republicans believe the 2020 election was stolen. The bigger problem, Homans writes, is that they’re acting on it.

This belief has informed a wave of mobilization at both grass-roots and elite levels in the party with an eye to future elections. In races for state and county-level offices with direct oversight of elections, Republican candidates coming out of the Stop the Steal movement are running competitive campaigns, in which they enjoy a first-mover advantage in electoral contests that few partisans from either party thought much about before last November.

To Peggy Noonan, though, that’s all less of an issue than the U.S. economy. She’s worse than a noodnik. She’s a schnook.

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