Archive for September 22, 2008


September 22, 2008 Leave a comment

Three weeks ago, for the third Labor Day in a row, Gail and I flew down to Nantucket from Boston on a Cape Air Cessna 402 to spend the week in the part of Nantucket known as Wauwinet. This is a thin strip of land toward the northeast corner of the island, separating Nantucket Harbor from the Atlantic. It is a wonderfully quiet place, and each time we go, we become further convinced that there’s no place else we would rather be.

We had been to Nantucket long ago, before these recent annual visits. In 1984, I spent a few days there with a friend from Boston. A year later, at the tail end of our summer-long honeymoon, Gail and I flew in from New York and met the same friend for a few days. Both times, we stayed in town at a bed and breakfast. I didn’t imagine it would take 21 years for us to return. Now I imagine moving there.

Of course, we don’t have a clue what the winters are like. We know it can be cold. And windy. And wet. And we know a lot of places that are open for the summer season are closed then. And I’m betting I don’t really want to be on one of those Cessnas in a winter storm. Or probably the ferry either. So maybe moving would be madness. For that matter, we don’t really know what life is like in summer. Arriving on Labor Day has the advantage that we come as the summer residents disappear. It’s quiet, but not too quiet. Restaurants are open, stores are open, but not over-crowded.

One of the pleasures of our recent visit was the discovery of Frank Conroy’s Time and Tide: A Walk Through Nantucket, a lovely short memoir published a year before his death. The author spent years as a full-time resident, initially because as part of his divorce, his ex-wife got the home in New York and he got the unheated house in Nantucket. Eventually, he went from full-time resident to summer resident, as he took on a variety of teaching positions, including in due course the directorship of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His description of winter life in Nantucket is one reason I’m thinking we shouldn’t move too hastily, or plan for our retirement years there.

Maybe summer residence is the appropriate compromise for us, putting aside for a moment the cost of owning and maintaining homes in Seattle and Nantucket. The problem is, we can’t imagine any reason to be anywhere but Seattle in the summer. This just isn’t going to work. I may have to content myself with re-reading Time and Tide whenever I get the urge to be in Nantucket.

Categories: Travel

Posnanski on Manny

September 22, 2008 Leave a comment

Joe Posnanski is a sports columnist for The Kansas City Star and a superb writer on various issues in sports, with an emphasis on baseball. His blog is essential reading for any student of baseball, and I am indebted to my son for bringing it to my attention about half a year ago. Late last month, he joined Sports Illustrated online as a weekly columnist. And just a few days ago, he had an excellent column there on the genius of Manny Ramirez. Two examples of Manny’s genius have been much on my mind in recent days. Here is their description in the column:

Bill James, a baseball writer (and Boston Red Sox advisor) who has spent much of his life knocking down baseball myths, believes that Manny Ramirez is such a good hitter, he will purposely get into full-counts when there is a runner on first base. The reason? With a full-count, that runner will be running on the pitch and, as such, will become an RBI when Ramirez hits a double into the gap.
“I’ve seen it too many times to doubt it,” Bill says.

Allard Baird, a longtime baseball scout and executive (and Boston Red Sox advisor) believes Manny Ramirez is such a good hitter, he will sometimes swing and miss at a pitch in April so that the pitcher will throw him that same pitch in September. The idea being: He won’t miss that pitch in September.
“When it comes to hitting, the guy’s mind works on a whole other level,” Allard says.

Categories: Sports

Sarah Palin, II

September 22, 2008 Leave a comment

My son has pointed out to me that I managed to say nothing in my earlier post on Sarah Palin. Yes, I did link to Andrew Sullivan’s blog, pointing out that everything I think he has already said. And if you go to his blog, you’ll find over a dozen posts a day for the last few weeks on the subject, with no ambiguity as to what he thinks.

But maybe I should have said more. I’m new to blogging. I need to learn to state my views directly (or not post at all). Let me hereby declare, then, that Sarah Palin’s candidacy for vice president scares, depresses, and angers me. How it does, and why, is exactly what Andrew Sullivan has described so well. He has also provided many useful links to articles on the subject. The latest such link is to an article in the current Newsweek by Sam Harris. I’ll conclude this post with a sample passage from Harris’s article.
Read more…

Categories: Politics

Missed opportunity

September 22, 2008 Leave a comment

The New York Times published a long investigative piece yesterday on what it described as a “disability epidemic” among retired Long Island Rail Road employees. The article opened with the following information:

To understand what it’s like to work on the railroad — the Long Island Rail Road — a good place to start is the Sunken Meadow golf course, a rolling stretch of state-owned land on Long Island Sound.

During the workweek, it is not uncommon to find retired L.I.R.R. employees, sometimes dozens of them, golfing there. A few even walk the course. Yet this is not your typical retiree outing.

These golfers are considered disabled. At an age when most people still work, they get a pension and tens of thousands of dollars in annual disability payments — a sum roughly equal to the base salary of their old jobs. Even the golf is free, courtesy of New York State taxpayers.

With incentives like these, occupational disabilities at the L.I.R.R. have become a full-blown epidemic.

Virtually every career employee — as many as 97 percent in one recent year — applies for and gets disability payments soon after retirement, a computer analysis of federal records by The New York Times has found.

The details that one learns as the article continues are fascinating.

I have been a close observer of the Long Island Rail Road since birth. My father commuted to Manhattan every workday for years from Westbury, Long Island, and riding the LIRR impressed itself on my infant brain as the ultimate act of adulthood. I loved reading, or having read to me, a humorous book about the LIRR whose best feature was that you could start from either end. At the middle, you would have to flip it over and start again from the other side. This was meant to represent the most important ritual of LIRR ridership: changing at Jamaica. The point was that the railroad had electrified trains from Penn Station in Manhattan out to Queens and diesel engines from Queens to Nassau and Suffolk Counties. Therefore, a commuter would have to change at Jamaica (the county seat of Queens County and the site of Queens’ principal LIRR station) in order to switch between electric and diesel trains. Changing was fun, or at least I thought so, and flipping the book over was fun too.

The best part of a trip on the LIRR was watching the conductor do his (they were all men then) work. He would pull out his hole puncher to validate or punch the tickets as he worked his way through the train, and he would even sell tickets to those who didn’t have monthly commuter passes or tickets bought in the station. The selling of a ticket necessitated repeated hole punching, as he had to punch holes to indicate the beginning and end stations, the cost in dollars and cents, and countless other important items. I admired the self-assurance of the conductor as he punched away. He always knew the fares. He knew everything. He was, in fact, my hero. I had no doubts about what I wanted to be when I grew up — a LIRR conductor.

And now I learn that had I in fact become one, I could be retired by now, collecting my pension and disability pay, playing golf daily. Where should I play today? Sunken Meadow? Bethpage Black? Sigh.

Categories: Today's News

S.L.U.G. Queen

September 22, 2008 Leave a comment

I had a pleasant surprise this morning. I looked at the bottom of the Wall Street Journal’s front page to see what the subject of their daily feature article was and found a piece about Eugene’s S.L.U.G. Queen. This quirky topic might barely have registered on me if not for the fact that I know a S.L.U.G. Queen, my very own college classmate Sarah Ulerick, a comic genius. Sarah first came to my attention at our 25th reunion in 1998, when she volunteered to participate in the class talent show. Our fellow classmate Al Franken was the emcee, and as brilliant as he was, she absolutely stole the show from him. Ten years later, last June, at our 35th reunion, with Al busy running to be junior senator from Minnesota, the talent show was hosted by our very own S.L.U.G. Queen. I wish there were a way for me to share her genius with you. Maybe at my next major party, I’ll bring her up to Seattle to make an appearance.

And speaking of Al Franken, he is being credited in the news today for taking time off from his senatorial campaign to phone in the idea for the opening skit on Saturday Night Live two nights ago. It’s about John McCain’s political advertisements.

The text of the S.L.U.G. Queen article from the WSJ is copied below:
Read more…

Categories: Today's News