Sunday, October 24, 2010

Writing about Flavor: Problems with Subjectivity

This note by Ed Behr in the Art of Eating summarizes a specific way of writing about flavor. Rather than a flowery story or purple prose, Ed's wine reviews are attempting to get at the non-subjective elements of drinking a particular bottle of wine.

Our wine reviews are a direct reviews are a direct response to the failure of conventional ones to provide a reader with practical, more or less objective information that will help at the table: capacity to refresh (weight, especially percentage alcohol and how evident), acidity and sweetness, the intensity of taste together with an idea of key flavors (more the broad indisputable area than subjective metaphor). Some comment on aroma and taste is required in any useful writing about wine for consumers, but we try to avoid "tasting notes," which are often so dangerously close to satire.

It may not the most romantic way to write about wine but that's OK. I think too many writers assume that food is so subjective that they quit trying to give useful information. Their reviews are entirely subjective, entirely useless. And the 100 point scale for wines, which gives a false sense of objectivity, is, in my opinion, a farce.

I like Ed's practical wine reviews. That said, I'm not against romance. For a slightly more lovely side of wine writing I opt for Kermit Lynch's newsletter. Someone put my name on the mailing list ten years ago and, for some reason I  can't fathom but greatly appreciate, Kermit still mails me an issue every month. In my view it's just about the best sales driven writing on wine—or any food, for that matter—in America.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Different Way to Look At Unemployment

Unemployment Rate by Income Level 
On the left, unemployment rate as a percent (.1 = 10%, .2 = 20% and so on). 
On the bottom, income level (<20K = earning under $20,000 per year)

This graph tells a much more interesting—and stark—image of unemployment than the usual 10%  number you hear. Lower income levels are far more likely to be unemployed. In fact at the lowest income levels, under $20,000 per year, the unemployment rate is over 25%. That's almost the same as the average rate during the Great Depression.

We've been starting to think about how to offer job skills classes to the 300 people we hire each holiday at Zingerman's Mail Order. This picture makes that work even more urgent.

The graph is from a study by Andrew Sum and Ishwar Khatiwada, with Sheila Palma, of Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, funded by the Mott Foundation of Flint, MI.