Saturday, June 18

Saturday Morning Coffee Browse

Woke up this morning to find the wife chasing the cat around and yelling "Mao! Mao!"

This reminded me of the cartoonist B. Kliban and his famous cat cartoons, so I googled him up. Neuza is enchanted: Cartoons are her major passion in life. She used to write the Portuguese scripts for the Li'l Lulu strip, and she's been reading everything she can get her hands on about R. Crumb lately. I keep telling her she should do what Harvey Pekar does: write scripts and storyboards and find artists to realize the drawing.

Of course, the search for Kliban cats also turned up some enthusiasts of cartoon cats in general, whence the illustration, above, of one of Felix the Cat's archenemies from the Moon. I can remember being very disturbed by Felix cartoon when I was four or five.

I guess I'm in that still-sleepy, impressionable semi-dream state. Ah, here comes the coffee now!

Now to the e-mails. I'm using procmail, fetchmail, and pine now: command line clients instead of any of the stupid GUIs. Fast, efficient, and relatively foolproof. On the list of tinkering for this weekend is to get SpamAssassin configured properly and I'll be home free. I'm using Webmin to tinker with some of the stuff I've always wanted to learn about, like SSH and VPN.

Also have to figure out how to forward from my wireless router to my own machine here so I can access my desktop remotely.

That would have certainly come in handy this week at work. My copy editor was stricken with some horrible plague just as we got rolling on the biggest issue of the year. We were swapping files back and forth electronically, which normally is no problem--mostly because it's Mike on the receiving end in the office tending to our Stone Age content management system: Three open folders on the server called Edit, Final, and Ship (corresponding to line edit, copy edit, and layout, basically).

This time, though, it was me on the receiving end, and with the pressure mounting, I started to cut corners. Mike would send me back both the Word file to put in final and the plain-text file that the art director flows, but I would just copy the text file into SHIP. So then the art director starts complaining that some characters are coming in wrong, quote marks and apostrophes. I tell him to just run a global search and replace and we'll check it in proofreading, but he launches into some elaborate explanation of why that's not a good idea and proposes to just resave the files from FINAL into SHIP as plain text. I tell him not to because those are the wrong versions. He finally says okay, but later apparently forgets. Result: Two pages go out with raw copy instead of copy that has passed through three edit cycles.


I calculated that we commissioned, wrote, edited, designed, laid out, and shipped more words in one week that we used to on some of the consumer monthlies I have worked on, with less than half the staff. I myself contributed 2,300 words on top of everything else, and another 1,000 words worth of pull-em-out-your-ass graphics. 700 of my words were complete shit, written with people screaming in my ear and flacks phoning me up every 15 seconds.

And we still have writers who react to the first edit like you just botched a plastic surgery on their first-born. No, let's not have a long conversation about why you think taking out the adverb in the last sentence of the sixth paragraph and casting the sentence in the active voice destroys a nuance that I am too stupid to perceive. The process kicks it back to you for a reason: shut up and fix it! I'm ordering a desk copy of strunk & white for everybody.

In the end, we prevailed. Mike rose heroically from his sick bed to manage his end of the process. Masterfully, as always. Total mensch that guy. And at the end we didn't hate one another too much, though there were a few incidents of harsh sighing passing back and forth.

Pretty decent issue, really. Should impress favorably when handed out with all the other tchotchkes and ephemera at the big trade show. I knew we could do it, and we did.

Now for the ninety routine tasks I had to neglect to push it through. But don't get me started on THAT.

Anyway, here's a fascinating little piece I find in the personal intelligence stream that flows into my pine inbox--from a Google Alert series I use to track linguablogging items, including a search on "arabic": Food ingredient experts are concerned that the petroleum industry and the janjaweed are spoiling the vital Sudanese gum acacia supply, and are working to stabilize it:

P.L. Thomas, the only US representative at the recent Gum Arabic industry meeting in Sudan, tells Anthony Fletcher why the international commitment to secure long-term supplies of gum Arabic is such an important breakthrough. The market for the ingredient, obtained from Acacia trees and used extensively by the food and beverage industry as a means of preventing sugar crystallization and the emulsification of fat, has been subject to tremendous external pressures such as war, exhausted stocks and unstable prices. But the Khartoum summit between leading gum producers Sudan, Chad and Nigeria and international firms and organizations could be a major breakthrough. It achieved a vital consensus on a number of crucial issues, not least the importance of building stockpiles of about a year?s worth of supplies. ?There is hope that the current effort will help improve the information flow, price stability, supply assurance and overall reputation of gum arabic,? New Jersey-based ingredient supplier P.L. Thomas president Paul Flowerman, the only US participant at the meeting, told ?We want to make the supply of gum arabic sufficiently predictable and stable that the industry can, with confidence, increase the usage in new applications. This will lead to increase business volume and help the industry grow. The aim is to make gum arabic a reliable ingredient.? For this to happen, producers need to be guaranteed a fair price for an ingredient that requires incredibly careful cultivation. It is hoped that the security stock plan will provide producers with a guarantee that will help them secure future finance to develop the industry. The acceptance of the security stock model, developed by Prof. Enrico Casadei of FAO (the United Nation?s Food and Agriculture Organization), will now be implemented to the specific requirements of each country. ?The existence of a security stock will be a reassurance for the manufacturers and users of gum arabic in the whole industry,? said Flowerman. ?If successful the process will mean assurance of supply, price stability and clear flow of information. It will make the industry feel more comfortable using gum Arabic in new formulations.? The security stock will be built by and held in the exporting countries. The details for each country will be worked out in the next 6 months. It is for this reason that Flowerman believes the Khartoum Declaration is such a significant step forward in helping to secure an industry that faces numerous difficulties. ?Three major producing countries are now oil exporters and this presents a major demographic challenge,? he said. ?Many traditional collectors are now attracted to jobs related to the oil industry. Due to less collection, the growing countries were not able to replenish their reserve stocks as in previous years. ?Also five per cent of Sudan gum supplies were inaccessible due to the problems in Darfur state. Fortunately the peace treaty between north and south has opened up new areas for gum collection.? The meeting, hosted by the FNC, (Forest National Corporation) of Sudan, was attended by representatives of exporters and producers from Sudan, Chad and Nigeria. Representatives of NGARA (Network for Natural Gums and Resins in Africa) / FAO, FNC and the World Bank, and delegates from the Association for the International Promotion of Gum (AIPG) including AIPG President Hinrich Wolff. P.L. Thomas said that many Americans were put off attending because Sudan remains a daunting and difficult destination. At the conference Flowerman chaired several sessions and urged the participants to make tangible demonstration of their commitment and unity. He also supported the efforts to set up a follow up process to make sure that certain actions are being implemented. "For PLT gum Arabic has been an important product for two generations, and we want to see it grow," he said. "This meeting will be remembered as historic if the participants make good on their promises to do the necessary and doable to put gum arabic business and public relations on a stronger footing."

God forbid that when we drive our groceries back from the supermarket in our HMMVV we should find that the sugar in our Ding Dongs has crystallized.


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