Absinthe From The Catskills, Thanks To A Self-Taught Woman Distiller

ALAMEDA, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Bottles of St. Geo...
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I loved this profile of Cheryl Lins, 56, the first distiller of absinthe in New York. Inspired by a New Yorker article about the spirit, she decided to make it herself.

She happily admits to being obsessed, and her passion has won her devoted clients.

Customers like Astor Wines & Spirits and the bar Louis 649 seem to find her lack of self-promotion sometimes amusing and mostly refreshing. Justin Chearno, manager of the wine store Uva in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, said: “When she walked into the store, I saw she had that thing natural winemakers have — an authentic, obsessive thing. When she said she was selling absinthe, not wine, I was, like, ‘You’re kidding!’ Then I tasted. Her flavors and tastes were just as alive.”

Five years ago, Ms. Lins was living in a yurt in New Mexico. To escape the heat, she came to this small town in Delaware County, chosen for no apparent reason other than instinct. A computer programmer and watercolorist, she tended the fish counter at the health food store in nearby Delhi. Then one March morning in 2006, The New Yorker arrived in the mail. Inside was an article on absinthe.

Though nearly a teetotaler at the time, Ms. Lins became so possessed by the history of the green fairy that she ordered bottles (perfectly legal) from Europe. After several $100 deliveries, frugality took over. She ordered a copper-pot still from Portugal that arrived with “decorative garden ornament” written on the shipping label. Pierre Duplais’s bible of 19th-century distillation techniques became her best friend. She headed to her basement to concoct. Soon, the police were on constant patrol. “They probably thought I was running a meth lab,” she said.

“My first effort was vile,” she recalled. “I burned the herbs.” Eventually her varieties grew in sophistication, absinthe was legalized and friends encouraged her to be a professional distiller. Working as a fishmonger wasn’t a labor of love; distilling became one. “Tactile and sensory, it’s like painting,” she said.

Checkbook Journalism, David Goldman And The Brazilian 'Rescue' — Should Sources Be Paid?

Society of Professional Journalists
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Here’s a wrist-slap from the Society of Professional Journalists:

The Society of Professional Journalists’ Ethics Committee is appalled NBC News breached widely accepted ethical journalism guidelines by providing the plane that carried David Goldman and his son Sean back to the United States from Brazil after a high-profile custody battle.

NBC conducted an exclusive interview with David Goldman during the flight it financed and another exclusive interview once the Goldmans returned to the United States.

Journalists know this practice as “checkbook journalism.”

The SPJ Code of Ethics urges journalists to act independently by avoiding bidding for news and by avoiding conflicts of interest.

By making itself part of a breaking news story on which it was reporting — apparently to cash in on the exclusivity assured by its expensive gesture — NBC jeopardized its journalistic independence and credibility in its initial and subsequent reports. In effect, the network branded the story as its own, creating a corporate and promotional interest in the way the story unfolds. NBC’s ability to report the story fairly has been compromised by its financial involvement.

“The public could rightly assume that NBC News bought exclusive interviews and images, as well as the family’s loyalty, with an extravagant gift,” Ethics Committee Chairman Andy Schotz said.

The news media’s duty is to report news, not help create it. The race to be first should not involve buying — directly or indirectly — interviews, an unseemly practice that raises questions of neutrality, integrity and credibility.

“Mixing financial and promotional motives with an impartial search for truth stains honest, ethical reporting,” Schotz said. “Checkbook journalism has no place in the news business.”

Selling your story to the highest bidder is standard practice in Britain. Journalists  — who, if they are not handsomely rewarded personally, help their parent organizations reap viewers/readers and ad revenue by snagging and riding the hottest stories — routinely refuse to pay sources. That’s just how it’s done in the U.S. and in Canada, even if the person being interviewed is destitute.

It does create an unwinnable “arms race” when a large media organization with very deep pockets can, literally, spirit away the key figure in a breaking international story. But, as we all know, life’s not fair and the media business remains ever more competitive.

What do you think?

Nightclub, Condos And A Bowling Alley Planned For Ex-NYT Building, While Readers' Digest Campus Seeks Tenants

The New York Times
Image by Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr

It’s hard for any journalist who’s ever worked there, or visited its offices, to imagine The New York Times’ former building,  at 229 West 43d Street, becoming just one more Manhattan midtown property under development  by a foreign investor. Long-time employees remember the daily tremors as the presses started rolling, and the truck bays are still there, ready to deliver papers now printed elsewhere. The lobby, entered by a small revolving door, was surprisingly small, even cramped, with a house phone you used — as in the new building — to call whomever you were there to see.

The new building, which is gorgeous if comparatively soul-less, even with its turmeric and cayenne-colored walls and its spectacular cafeteria, just feels like one more tower.

Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev, who paid $525 million for the premises in 2007, plans to turn the old 15-story building into condos, shops, seven restaurants and a high-end hotel, the paper reports:

“The strongest thing going for the property is its location and the continued vibrancy of Times Square as a tourist center and a magnet for visitors,” said Richard A. Marin, chief executive of Africa-Israel USA, Mr. Leviev’s American real estate company. The new plan, he said, “will allow us to create the most value and make the greatest contribution to the Times Square neighborhood.”

It is anyone’s guess whether this plan will work any better than the last one, given the soft condo market, competing bowling alleys in the Times Square area and falling hotel rates. But there is no better place for a radical reinvention than Times Square, where peep shows, T-shirt shops and prostitutes have given way to Bubba Gump, the Hard Rock Cafe, theaters, French cosmetics shops, bankers and millions of tourists.

“Times Square has a special kind of alchemy that’ll make your head spin,” said Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, a business group. “Sleazy becomes sexy, a bank becomes a theater, decaying landmarks become multiplexes or luxury condos, and a gritty newsroom and printing plant become a boutique hotel. The only thing you know is that you don’t know what’s next.”

Mr. Leviev, a diamond magnate who travels with a coterie of bodyguards, had been having trouble paying the $711 million in loans he had piled onto the former Times building, which the newspaper occupied for nearly a century before selling it to move to a new tower on Eighth Avenue in 2007. Mr. Leviev was so intrigued with New York real estate, brokers said, that he did not even tour the building before he bought it.

Reader’s Digest, whose palatial 700,000 square foot building in Pleasantville, a suburban town about 30 miles north of New York City, will be leaving its iconic building next summer, after 71 years there. In the current, lousy economy, the owner of the 116-acre property, SG Chappaqua, is having a tough time finding tenants thanks to restrictive zoning laws demanding each one take huge spaces, one at least 200,000 square feet.

It, too, was a place of history and presence, the walls hung with Impressionist paintings, a hushed 1950s elegance evident the minute you stepped in the door.

The county office market has been hit hard once again by an economic downturn. The volume of commercial transactions in Westchester is down, to about 900,000 square feet at the end of the third quarter of this year, from 1.6 million square feet for the same period a year ago, according to numbers tallied by CB Richard Ellis.

The vacancy rate countywide increased to 17 percent in the third quarter, from 16 percent at the end of the period a year ago.

Separately, when SG Chappaqua acquired the property, it also proposed building about 220 luxury condominiums and town houses and 56 middle-income housing units on the Reader’s Digest campus. That application is wending its way through the approval process and a decision is expected sometime in the next year.

When Is Help Worth Paying For? The Creatives' Dilemma

A chimpanzee brain at the Science Museum London
Pick it, but for a price...Image via Wikipedia

Correct me, please, if I am wrong, but I suspect that engineers or dentists or plumbers or dry-cleaners, when meeting someone socially, don’t get: “Oh, can I ask your advice?” Do you actually show a DDS your molars or point to a stubborn spot on your sleeve? I doubt it. It would be weird and rude and intrusive.

Writers do get this question. All the time. Maybe because, y’know, it’s just writing.

People email me, and perhaps also to many others, out of the blue to “pick my brain” as though that were an activity I might enjoy and find satisfying. Yes, it’s flattering that people think you have something useful to offer them. Sure, one works hard to acquire some level of visibility and credibility. But I’m not emailing random Big Name Person to ask them for their help, free. I know it took them years of hard work and experience, perhaps costly travel and education and internships and apprenticeships, to acquire the very knowledge I wish I had. Why should they just hand it over to me gratis?

I also studied interior design for a few years, planning to leave journalism for that field. One of our classes was  focused on the legal issues designers face. Like being sued. We were warned, in all seriousness, not to hand out advice on anything too substantive lest the suggested curtains catch on fire or someone slips on that sisal or their kid got caught their thumb caught in the Knole sofa and they’d come after us for it. I also liked the basic message — we were experts and would bill for that time and expertise. Clients will ask for anything they think can get away with.

I’ve spent many years mentoring, helping, advising dozens of strangers, free. Not so much any more. I plan to retire and in order to do so need to retain control of my time, which, in addition to my skills, is all I have to offer in the intellectual marketplace.

Here’s the challenge. I’ve already committed to serve on two volunteer boards, for several years, that take up a fair bit of unpaid time and attention. I enjoy giving back.

If you’re someone who really likes to help others succeed, as I genuinely do, and you like to be liked, as many of us do, yet you must carve out a decent freelance income from your well-developed, otherwise uncompensated skills, when and where do you draw that line?

Do you think, or find, that women have a harder time saying “no” to such requests? Do you feel any hesitation asking such questions?

'Reality' Check For Young Women Readers, A New Magazine Edited By An Undergrad

Daniel Boone sculpture on the campus of Appala...
Daniel Boone, Appalachian State U. campus. Image via Wikipedia

In the world of most magazine journalism aimed at young women — All-sex-all-the-time! 45,869,797 ways to lose weight! How to make sure he’s really unto you! — here’s a new idea, an on-line magazine with a Christian focus.

Don’t focus on the religious thing. It’s a decent effort. The EIC is Nikki Roberti, who’s 20.

I read a few of the stories and: 1) she needs a copy editor; 2) some of the pieces are wayyyyy too long 3) the writing needs to be a lot stronger. But…

The 2007 Cocoa Beach Jr./Sr. High grad launched the online magazine “REALITY Check Girl” in September. Roberti is a former writer for The Verge, FLORIDA TODAY’s now-defunct teen section, and 2007 winner of the Al Neuharth Free Spirit Journalism Award.

“REALITY Check Girl” is Christian-based, but not a “Christian” magazine, Roberti said. It features stories aimed at girls ages 15 to 25, covering topics from beauty to current affairs.

REALITY is an acronym for each of the magazine’s sections — Respect, Elegance, Ambition, Love, Intellect, Taste and Youthfulness.

“I’ve always wanted to have a magazine that I felt could touch a wide range of people and could really dig deep,” Roberti said. “Growing up, reading magazines, I would read Seventeen, but my parents wanted me to read Christian magazines. But I felt like Christian magazines didn’t have anything that was really of substance, it was all pretty sheltering, and, at the same time, Seventeen was a little too shocking. So I felt like I could put the two together and get a happy balance and maybe the two demographics could learn something from each other.”

Roberti is a junior journalism major at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., where she has worked as the online editor for The Appalachian, the university’s student newspaper. In January, she’ll move to Washington, D.C., where she’ll intern for the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire, a newswire service.

Good for her. I admire a young female journo trying to offer smart, helpful, non-sexual, snark-free material. So, she’s earnest. There are worse positions from which to operate, like endless cynicism or paid-for “reviews”.

Even if they’re a little clunky, I like the categories that make up the title of her magazine, especially respect.

Respect is something so many young women still (sigh) struggle hard to win — whether from their families of origin, their in-laws (she has an interview with a new 18-year-old bride), their co-workers, employers, professors. Just about everyone. As all feminists know, recognizing and naming explicitly what you need is half the battle in starting to fight for it.

Here’s an interesting first-person story on her site about a young American woman who volunteered to join the Israeli Army.

Women Soldiers Fight Another Enemy — Sexual Harrassment By Fellow GI's

050616-A-5930C-013 Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, vehi...
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It’s not a new story, although not an easy one to report with names and photos of women wiling to speak out publicly on the record. Female soldiers say they face significant sexual harrassment, let alone rape, according to today’s New York Times front-page story.

Here’s a two-year-old story from website DissidentVoice. And here’s an AP piece:

Of the women veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who have walked into a VA facility, 15 percent have screened positive for military sexual trauma, The Associated Press has learned. That means they indicated that while on active duty they were sexually assaulted, raped, or were sexually harassed, receiving repeated unsolicited verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature.

In January, the VA opened its 16th inpatient ward specializing in treating victims of military sexual trauma, this one in New Jersey. In response to complaints that it is too male-focused in its care, the VA is making changes such as adding keyless entry locks on hospital room doors so women patients feel safer.

Depression, anxiety, problem drinking, sexually transmitted diseases and domestic abuse are all problems that have been linked to sexual abuse, according to the Miles Foundation, a nonprofit group that provides support to victims of violence associated with the military. Since 2002, the foundation says it has received more than 1,000 reports of assault and rape in the U.S. Central Command areas of operation, which include Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Miles Foundation, based in Newtown, CT, focuses on helping women facing these issues.

How ugly and abusive that women brave and patriotic enough to fight in war face enemies within their own ranks.

Will The New York Times Wrist-Slap Another Freelancer, A Harvard Professor?

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 14:  The New York Times he...
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Here’s the latest New York Times freelancer who might get sent to the woodshed for ethical lapses — Mary Tripsas, a Harvard professor — reports Gawker.

In today’s column, Tripsas waxes ecstatic about about the 3M Company’s “innovation center,” which helps their customers provide input in the design process. Cool! Except NYTPicker has learned that Tripsas and other “innovation researchers” were flown to the center last month—airfare and accommodations gratis. Imagine the infamous Thrillist junket with less booze and more whiteboards.

This is not kosher with Times freelancer rules, which state:

In connection with their work for us, freelancers will not accept free transportation, free lodging, gifts, junkets, commissions or assignments from current or potential news sources.

Clearly, 3M was a “potential news source” at the time they flew Tripsas out to their Innovation Chocolate Factory, since they became a current news source in today’s column. But Tripsas, who is a professor at the Harvard Business School, is trying to work the “In connection with their work for us” clause into a loophole, according to NYTPicker:

“I am a professor who does research on innovation and, in fact 3M was not aware of my recent NYT affiliation when they invited me,” Prof. Tripsas told The NYTPicker via email. “As a professor, I am sometimes invited to speak to companies about innovation, and it is not unusual for the company to reimburse travel expenses, so 3M did pay for my hotel and airfare. I did not inform the New York Times of that since I viewed the visit as a speaking engagement that was part of my broader academic research.”

As schadenfreudian New York City writers all know, freelance Mike Albo, who wrote a long-running twice-monthly shopping column in the Styles section, lost his gig after accepting a free trip to Jamaica on assignment for someone else.

It’s an interesting game the Times plays, this ethical squeeze play with the talented freelancers whose copy fills almost every single section — national and metro generally excepted. I agree entirely with the spirit of it, and as a Times freelancer, have abided by it for years. But the definition of “freelance” usually means “I sell my skills to the highest bidder”, not “You own me and get to dictate my behavior.”

The very spirit of this code violates the way freelancers run their businesses, using their own standards and definitions of what is fair and ethical, the trade-off we make for the financial insecurity of a life free of corporate shackles, and rules. But we’ve all known or heard of writers who stuff anything they can get into their suitcase or handbag or apartment, which makes the rest of us who don’t do so, whether Times’-constrained or not — look stupid — and, depending on your ethics, these people brain-dead, greedy and up for grabs.

Does it matter to you, dear readers, if a freelancer has their airfare or meals or lodging paid for (as is completely standard in most travel writing) by a source? What do you think of the Times‘ ethics code?