Archive for September, 2008

I Can See Clearly Now

September 25, 2008 Leave a comment

Really, I don’t get the fuss being made over Sarah Palin’s suggestion that because Alaska is close to Russia, she has some expertise on the country. Seems reasonable to me, as she explained to Katie Couric.

I grew up on Long Island. On many summer weekends during my early childhood, we would go to Jones Beach, one of Long Island’s famous barrier beaches. As I stood ankle-deep in the water and looked across the Atlantic, I imagined seeing France. (Well, okay, I would have had to look over my left shoulder, but that’s not the point.) Our family had, and would continue to develop, a close connection to France. My father arrived in Normandy just a few days after June 6, 1944 and spent quite a few months there. A woman he met in Reims during his stay would come to New York a decade later as an Air France executive and became a regular visitor to our home before her return to France a couple of years later. I stayed with her and her husband in Paris a little over a decade after that. My sister married a Frenchman in 1980 and has lived in France ever since. My niece and nephew are native speakers of French. My son is a French major. In August 1999, my wife and son and I visited my sister and her family in La Baule, on the Atlantic coast, where they used to spend their annual August vacation. We stayed at the Hermitage Hotel, on the beach, along with fellow vacationer Nicolas Sarkozy, then mayor of Neuilly. (My sister told us way back then that he might some day be president.) We even sat poolside with him one afternoon.

Who can doubt that my close relationship with France and the French people began on Jones Beach?

Let us give respect where it is due. I have my doubts about Palin in other areas, but not Russian affairs.

Categories: Politics

Pennant Races

September 25, 2008 Leave a comment

With four days to go in the regular season, all eyes are on the White Sox and Twins, as they battle for supremacy in the American League Central Division and the final playoff spot in the junior circuit. Over in the National League, the Mets and Brewers are tied in their battle for the wild card playoff spot, though the Mets could still overtake the Phillies and win their division outright. Pennant races — they ain’t what they used to be. The good news: many more teams are fighting for playoff positions than they would have in the era when only two teams made the playoffs per league, or the still-earlier era when only one team made it per league. The bad news: how excited can we be about battles between mediocre teams? Yet, one of those mediocre teams could get hot and be the World Series Champion. So attention must be paid.

But let’s go back to the good old days. A wonderful website allows us to do so. (Thanks to my son for showing me this site last season.) Once there, you can select a year, as well as a division or league, and hit play. The pennant race will then unfold in front of you. Hit pause and you can click on the arrows at the left and right of the slider bar to go forward or back a day at a time.

Ready? Let’s give it a try. I propose that we follow the 1967 American League pennant race. Remember, there were no divisions at that time. No playoffs within a league. Just the World Series. One of the ten American League teams would represent it in the Series against one of the ten National League teams. Everyone else would go home at the end of the regular season.

Carl Yastrzemski, Triple Crown winner, 1967

Carl Yastrzemski, Triple Crown winner, 1967

Go here, enter 1967 for the year, and enter AL for the league. Click on “Play,” but get ready to click on the button again (now reading “Pause”). Do so when the date reaches 8/22/67. You’ll find that at this point, with 121 or 123 games played out of 162, so essentially the three-quarter point in the season, there was almost a dead heat among four teams. The Red Sox and White Sox were in a virtual tie for first, with the Twins and Tigers in a virtual tie one game back in the standings.

From here on, click the forward button a day at a time and watch the race unfold. And remember, one team goes on to the World Series; the rest go home.

You’ll see that on 9/6/67, there was a virtual four-way tie for first with about 22 games to go. On 9/18/67, with 10 or 11 games to go, there was a three-way tie for first with the White Sox a half game back. Entering the final weekend, all four teams were still in it. Keep going to see how it ended.

Categories: Sports

Sarah Palin, VII

September 25, 2008 Leave a comment

In the wake of Sarah Palin’s interview with Katie Couric, Salon‘s Glenn Greenwald has done an about-face. Here’s one passage:

But Sarah Palin’s performance in the tiny vignettes of unscripted dialogue in which we’ve been allowed to see her has been nothing short of frightening — really, as I said, pity-inducing. And I say that as someone who has thought from the start that the criticisms of her abilities — as opposed to her ideology — were much too extreme. One of two things is absolutely clear at this point: she is either (a) completely ignorant about the most basic political issues — a vacant, ill-informed, incurious know-nothing, or (b) aggressively concealing her actual beliefs about these matters because she’s petrified of deviating from the simple-minded campaign talking points she’s been fed and/or because her actual beliefs are so politically unpalatable, even when taking into account the right-wing extremism that is permitted, even rewarded, in our mainstream. I’m not really sure which is worse, but it doesn’t really matter, because with 40 days left before the election, both options are heinous.

What seems most likely is that she’s perfectly conversant in the exceedingly narrow and parochial range of issues she’s concerned herself with as Wasilla Mayor and Alaska Governor — oil drilling on the North Slope, specific local budget items, corruption issues inside the Alaskan State GOP, and evangelical and religious matters. She really doesn’t seem to have any thoughts about anything outside of that — or if she does, she is suppressing them — and is thus capable of spouting little more than empty right-wing slogans.

Categories: Politics, Today's News

A Beautiful Mind

September 25, 2008 Leave a comment

Katie Couric interviewed Sarah Palin yesterday. Given the limited access to Palin, this is required viewing.

See the comments of hilzoy and the Anonymous Liberal.

Categories: Politics, Today's News

Neil Diamond, II

September 24, 2008 Leave a comment
Neil Diamond

Neil Diamond

I wrote last night about our plans to see Neil Diamond at Seattle’s Key Arena tonight. We did, and we’re glad we did, because we got to see a genius. His genius lies not in the music, as good as it sometimes is (and as bad as it also sometimes is), but in his ability to draw in the crowd, take us on a journey, create an intimacy even in a huge arena, make us one. I’m not normally much for being one with thousands, but resistance would have been churlish and ungrateful.

Then again, how can one resist a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn who made good? (Plus, he attended my mother’s alma mater, Erasmus Hall High School.)

Categories: Music

Perpetual Motion

September 24, 2008 Leave a comment

In my post last night on Neil Diamond, I wrote about my stay at the Barrington Court Hotel in Leeds in the summer of 1977, describing in particular evenings spent in the lounge watching BBC on the TV. I recalled two highlights: broadcasts of the final round of the Open golf championship and of a Neil Diamond concert. Let me tell you about another televised highlight, the live demonstration of a perpetual motion machine.

I am neither a historian of science nor a physicist, so I am not well positioned to describe the centuries of effort to build perpetual motion machines or the reason that such efforts are doomed to failure. Roughly, such machines can’t exist because of the principle of conservation of energy. A perpetual motion machine, if it were to exist, would be a mechanical device that moves in some ordered way forever. After construction, one would apply an initial force to get it moving, then one would sit back and watch it move in the same way unceasingly, without further application of energy. In normal everyday life, we know that when we start something moving, it eventually stops, due to other forces acting on it, such as friction. A perpetual motion system would somehow be free of the effects of friction, or other forces. It would just keep moving along. This is what’s impossible.

Nonetheless, I saw such a machine on British TV in July 1977. It was demonstrated on some sort of comedy revue, a sketch show. I marvel at the idea that one would have a physics demonstration on a mass appeal television show, a comedy at that. Clearly the producers had great respect for the audience, recognizing that it would understand, at least intuitively, that a perpetual motion machine is silly, and even something worth laughing at.

Here’s how it worked. A picture would help, but I’ll try to describe it with words alone. Read more…

Categories: Culture, Science, Television


September 24, 2008 Leave a comment

Donald Craig Mitchell, an attorney in Anchorage, has an article in the Alaska Dispatch that provides an excellent account of Sarah Palin’s response to the Troopergate investigation of her. Particularly interesting is his discussion of Palin’s appointed state attorney general, Talis Colberg.

Here’s one passage from the article:

One of the individuals who was subpoenaed was Todd Palin. But most of the others were state employees. It also is important to know that, pursuant to Alaska Statute 24.25.080, an individual who refuses to comply with a legislative subpoena can be fined up to $500 and jailed for up to six months.

So how did Attorney General Colberg, the chief law enforcement officer of the State of Alaska, respond to the subpoenas?

In a letter to Hollis French dated September 16 Talis first noted that the state employees who had been subpoenaed (who he characterized as his “clients”) were in an “untenable position” because “the Governor [i.e., Sarah Palin] has so strongly stated that the subpoenas issued by your committee are of questionable validity.” He then asked Hollis to withdraw the subpoenas and thereby “relieve” his “clients” from “the circumstance of having to choose where their loyalties lie.” He then concluded by announcing that if the subpoenas were not withdrawn “our clients will not appear in response to the subpoenas until either the Alaska Senate or the full Alaska Legislature convenes to issue a resolution requiring their presence before the appropriate legislative committee.”

As Mitchell notes (and I urge you to read the article in full), here we have the state’s AG taking legal advice from Palin, who is not a lawyer, rather than providing legal advice to her. Bizarre. Or worse.

Categories: Politics, Today's News

Cheeseburger Spring Rolls

September 24, 2008 Leave a comment

Frank Bruni’s review in today’s New York Times of the restaurant Delicatessen on Prince Street has whet my appetite. He opens the review with admiration for one of their inventions:

This invention is called the cheeseburger spring roll, and it’s just that: a spring roll with the makings (ground beef, melted American) of a cheeseburger inside, or rather four such spring rolls, because that’s how many come per order, nestled in their look-how-plain-and-functional-I-am metal pail and ready to be dipped in the ketchup nearby.

And the point of them, the brilliance of them, isn’t how they taste, which is sort of vacuously oily, crunchy and beefy, truth be told. It’s the name, the idea, the tidy wedding of classic diner staple and trendy Asian canapé.

They promise comfort with a bit of spin and a dash of international sophistication, comfort with a cheeky tweak. And in doing so they crystallize the appeal of this seriously mediocre but ingeniously conceived restaurant, a delicatessen that’s not really a delicatessen, in the same way that its forebear, Cafeteria, isn’t really a cafeteria.

And then there are the “Reuben fritter (Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and corned beef inside a densely battered shell)” and the “’blintz trio,’ one … filled with banana and Nutella, another with sweet corn and ricotta.”

I could learn to like serious mediocrity.

Categories: Food, Today's News

Neil Diamond

September 23, 2008 Leave a comment

Tomorrow at this time my wife and I will be seated in Seattle’s Key Arena seeing Neil Diamond in concert. The tickets were an impulse purchase weeks ago. We rarely go to concerts. When we do, we are frustrated, or at least I am, by some aspect of the event. The acoustics, the impossibility of resolving the artist from a great distance, the annoying people next to us. All three. (Van Morrison, November 2006, but that’s another story.) Why, then, are we going to see Neil Diamond? He’s not even in my top ten list of artists. Or top one hundred for that matter. If I could think of a hundred artists. But I have a memory, a faint one now, and because of that memory, we’re going. Read more…

Categories: Culture, Music, Travel

Sarah Palin, IV

September 23, 2008 Leave a comment

Michael Cooper of the New York Times has been following Sarah Palin around town today as she meets with world leaders in New York. Cooper reports that as photographers were led into a meeting of Palin and Henry Kissinger, they were talking about Georgia, in which context Palin said “Good, good. And you’ll give me more insight on that, also, huh? Good.” Another area of expertise for Kissinger is lying, but she won’t be needing more insight on that.

Henry Kissinger and Sarah Palin together

Henry Kissinger and Sarah Palin

Categories: Politics, Today's News