Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

Fresno as the new Dust Bowl?

0210OPEDtodd-master495Fresno State history professors Blain Roberts and Ethan J. Kytle hit the op-ed big time Monday when their take on Fresno as the new Dust Bowl made the editorial pages of the New York Times. They ask: With an extended drought, how long will California’s Central Valley be able to grow a third of the nation’s fruit and vegetables? They point out Fresno doesn’t have a sterling record in terms of water conservation but suggest there’s a larger issue:

Fresnans have long resisted water-saving measures, clinging tenaciously to a flat rate, all-you-can-use system. Nudged by state and federal officials, Fresno began outfitting new homes with water meters in the early 1990s, but voters passed a ballot initiative prohibiting the city from actually reading them. It took two decades for all area homes to acquire meters and for the city to start monitoring the units. To its credit, Fresno has a watering schedule, limiting when residents can water their lawns. But enforcement, to put it charitably, is lax.

Our behavior here in the valley feels untenable and self-destructive, and for much of it we are to blame. But we also find support among an enthusiastic group of enablers: tens of millions of American shoppers who devour the lettuce and raisins, carrots and tomatoes, almonds and pistachios grown in our fields.

It’s an interesting, timely read.

One more thing: It’s refreshing to read something about Fresno in the New York Times written by someone who lives here and understands the city, rather than the “foreign correspondent” approach in which a Times staffer helicopters in for a few days and crams as many cliches as possible into a story.

Mark Todd / The New York Times

New York Times spotlights Fresno’s bulldog question


Posted today by the New York Times: an extensive article about Fresno State’s bulldog mascot and how it plays a double role as football icon and gang symbol. Yes, it pretty much makes the whole city sound like a war zone. Peruse this scene-setting opening paragraph:

FRESNO, Calif. — Bulldogs can be seen snarling from flagpoles, from baseball caps, from T-shirts and from tattoos — one man has the dog’s face inked across his torso, its behind across his back. Young men on street corners bark at passing patrol officers. They call their children “little dogs” or “bull puppies.” Police raids find their targets asleep beneath red blankets emblazoned with the dog.

The several thousand words that follow aren’t groundbreaking or particularly timely — one of the underpinnings of the article is the murder of a Fresno man, allegedly for wearing a Bulldog sweatshirt, that occurred in 2011 — but this is more one of those “big picture” stories that tries to capture the zeitgeist of a city for a national audience. In that regard, it’s probably no better or worse than most such stories. It addresses serious issues that are very real, if not quite as all-consuming as suggested by the Times article. In that sense, it’s good for all of us. And, in a very practical way, it reminds me that when I read stories about other cities, regions or parts of the world in the national and international media, I should be aware of the human tendency to generalize.

Photo: New York Times

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NY Times highlights Fresno’s poet laureate


The New York Times doesn’t byline many stories from Fresno, but it did this trend story posted today about cities naming poet laureates.

Of course, the Times gets in an anti-Fresno crack right off:

This city has long been an object of ridicule.

The other Fresno parts of the story, which include an engaging portrayal of new city poet laureate James Tyner, pretty much satisfy the Big City Looks Down on the Hinterlands Times Check-List: Photo of ominous alley scene that includes graffiti, overturned shopping cart and stray garbage? Check. Quotation about nothing to do here? Check. Reference to cultural wasteland? Check. Lavish use of the word “dust”? Check.

The story is livened up by a fun exchange with Philip Levine, former national poet laureate, who asks if too many poet laureates could devalue the title, then shares a very funny anecdote:

During decades of teaching creative writing at California State University, Fresno, Mr. Levine was credited with nurturing generations of poets. But, he recalled, when he moved here in the late 1950s, there was only one small bookstore, from which the chairman of his department waved him away.

“He said: ‘I called up once and asked if they carried poetry magazines. They said yes. When I went down there, it was poultry magazines,’ ” Mr. Levine said.

The Times piece is interesting, and I’m certainly not Times-bashing. The story is well-written and accurate, even if it doesn’t mention any of our cultural amenities (besides some good poets). It’s hard to fit nuance into a short story that already has a definitive theme. But in the spirit of complexity, I do find it interesting, as a New York City lover, how little of the grime of the Big Apple makes it into the pages of the Times on a daily basis. Just once I’d like to see a photograph of Donald Trump up against a wall of graffiti.

The review heard ’round the web: New York Times takes a dump on Guy Fieri’s restaurant

You knew the smackdown was coming. When Guy Fieri — the Food Network personality and “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” host — got so popular as to host a network TV game show and open a three-level, 500-seat mega restaurant in Times Square, the backlash was inevitable.

Food snobs, of course, have never really taken Guy all too seriously. There’s the frosted hair, the rock ‘n’ roll attitude, his inner “bro” that he liberally lets escape on our TVs and the fact that he’ll put something called Donkey Sauce on a menu.

So when the New York Times’ Pete Wells unleashed a stinging zero-star of review of Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar under the headline, “As not seen on TV,” he was putting into words that a lot of people had been thinking for a few years now. Since last night, it’s zoomed around the web and was even a chatter item on “Good Morning America” today.

Here are a few choice quotes:

What exactly about a small salad with four or five miniature croutons makes Guy’s Famous Big Bite Caesar (a) big (b) famous or (c) Guy’s, in any meaningful sense?

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New York Times loves Audra in ‘Porgy and Bess’


New York Times critic Ben Brantley loved Fresno’s favorite Broadway star, Audra McDonald, in the out-of-town tryout of the new adaptation of “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” that opened last fall. In his review of the Broadway production, which opened Thursday night, he went positively weak-kneed:

But suddenly an elemental force takes possession of the stage, and its tremors course through the audience.That’s the storm raging within a woman who’s tearing herself to pieces before our eyes, fighting with her infernal attraction to a man she knows she should be fleeing. For devastating theatrical impact, it’s hard to imagine any hurricane matching the tempest that is the extraordinary Audra McDonald’s Bess at the moment she is reunited with her former lover, Crown, played by Phillip Boykin.

As for the rest of the show: Brantley thinks it’s “just pretty good.” But as for Audra, she’s great. Could this be a fifth Tony award in the making?

Photo / New York Times

Um, New York Times? Did you forget something?


I don’t think of myself as one of those folks who takes offense at every Fresno slight or omission. But when the New York Times does a piece on the first phase of California’s high-speed rail project and doesn’t even mention Fresno — and even leaves it off the locator map! — it seems like something is missing.

Jesse McKinley writes:

Under a plan approved in early December, the inaugural stretch of the multispurred 800-mile system will eventually connect San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Sacramento and other major California cities and will run through the state’s farm-rich Central Valley.

Federal and state authorities have committed some $5.5 billion to the first leg of the project, which will connect Bakersfield, the valley’s southern hub, and the unincorporated area south of Madera. [Borden]

Time for a New York Times geography lesson, methinks.

The Beehive Asks: Creative advertising or blasphemy?

There’s an interesting newspaper controversy brewing this week related to the premiere of the new “Law & Order: Los Angeles” show. NBC took out an ad with The Los Angeles Times that looked like the paper’s front page, which confused and upset some readers.

The L.A. Times has done some interesting things with its front-page ads. This and this come to mind. Interestingly, the New York Times ran the “Law & Order” ad differently.

What do you think, is this creative advertising or blasphemy?

Required reading for hamburger lovers

Since the publication of this New York Times story about E. coli in processed ground beef, I’ve been fielding questions about food safety.

The problem: Commercial burgers aren’t made from single cuts of meat. Instead, the meat in burgers comes from several sources, including slaughterhouse trimmings and scraps.

“Those low-grade ingredients are cut from areas of the cow that are more likely to have had contact with feces, which carries E. coli,” New York Times reporter Michael Moss writes.

Testing for E. coli in the manufacturing process is limited. It doesn’t prevent 0157:H7, a virulent E. coli strain, from entering the food supply. Moss points out that ground beef sickened 8,000 folks in 16 E. coli outbreaks during the past three years.

And as seen in this video, simply following the handling and cooking directions on packages of ground beef won’t prevent the spread of E. coli in your kitchen:

So, what’s the best way to handle ground beef? Tips come after the jump.

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Way to go, Rick!

Via Beehive commenter couchlock: My movie colleague and fellow Beehiver Rick Bentley gave the New York Times inspiration for the entire lead paragraph of a story that moved this afternoon on the wire:

LOS ANGELES — “If Eddie Murphy’s career were an injured horse, it would be shot and the carcass buried in the remotest part of the desert to ensure no one ever stumbled upon it.”

That harsh sentence, written on June 12 by Rick Bentley in The Fresno Bee in California, is as good an example as any of the prevailing sentiment about Mr. Murphy these days. With two big flops in a row (“Imagine That” and “Meet Dave”), another risky project on the way (“A Thousand Words”) and a diva reputation, people seem to be confused. Why does Hollywood keep hiring this man?

Memo to Rick: I wouldn’t accept any invitations to Murphy’s secluded mountain cabin if I were you.