Archive for December, 2008

Seattle Driving after Snow

December 20, 2008 Leave a comment
Above I-5, just north of downtown

Above I-5, just north of downtown

In my previous post, I described Joel’s decision to fly home from Boston on Thursday, a day early, in order to avoid Friday’s snowstorm. As I noted, we had our own snowstorm here in Seattle on Thursday. Our storm would have been a minor nuisance in Boston, but here, with the hills and with only limited plowing and sanding, when it snows and the temperatures stay below freezing, driving is always pretty chancy.

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Categories: Today's News, Travel

Bonus Day with Joel, II

December 20, 2008 Leave a comment
Berlin Airlift, 1948

Berlin Airlift, 1948

Just under three weeks ago, at the end of Thanksgiving weekend, I described the bonus day we had with Joel. Thanks to heavy fog that Sunday night, his overnight flight back to Boston was cancelled. We had already driven him out to the airport and gotten home, and he was at the gate, when the cancellation was announced after midnight. It was no easy matter to get him booked the next night, which Gail and I worked on while he got a taxi home, but you can read about that in my Bonus Day post.

Now it turns out we got another bonus day, in the opposite direction, as I’ll describe after the jump.
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Categories: Family, Travel

Where the Hell is Matt?

December 18, 2008 Leave a comment

Here’s yet another post with yet another video that anyone who has spent more than 2 minutes on the internet has seen. Except me. Mind you, I saw Matt Harding’s first two dancing videos, but the third one, which came out about half a year ago, had somehow escaped my attention until last week. You can watch it above, but you would be better off going to this link and watching it at the youtube website, where you can select the option of viewing in high definition. There’s something surprisingly joyful and uplifting about Matt’s videos.

You can learn more about Matt at his website. Among other things, you’ll learn that he now lives in Seattle. He made the first of his three videos on his own, but was sponsored by Stride gum for the next two. David Pogue, in his blog last week, had an interesting post about the difficulties Matt had filming one of the scenes in this latest video in HD. (That’s how I realized the third video existed.)

By the way, I can’t resist linking to a blog post from almost three months ago that draws an interesting contrast between Sarah Palin and Matt.

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Categories: Culture, Travel

Girl Effect

December 18, 2008 Leave a comment

The video above on the Girl Effect may not be new, but I didn’t see it until yesterday. I recommend it. It had the effect, as Gail and I were in the midst of making our end-of-year charitable donations last night, of leading us to some organizations we were not familiar with, resulting in our making a donation to one of them.

Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist, had a blog post yesterday that linked to the video, which is how I found it. You can also see it at the Girl Effect website, which has additional information. The premise of the girl effect, as Kristof explains, is that “foreign assistance often won’t work unless women are front and center. For example, educating boys has many benefits, but there’s pretty good evidence that educating girls is even more effective — primarily because it does more to reduce the number of children in the next generation. Moreover, men already tend to be in the labor force, while educating girls and training them or giving them capital tends to encourage them to participate in the economy in ways that bring real benefits to the household and to the entire economy.”

A fact sheet at the girleffect website notes that “when a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children.” Also, “when women and girls earn income, they invest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent for a man.”

Two more videos after the jump.
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Categories: Culture, Education, Politics

My Latest Video

December 16, 2008 Leave a comment

On Thanksgiving Day, I posted a note about my new Flip Mino HD, a pocket high-def camcorder that David Pogue reviewed favorably in the NYT the week before and that I ordered three days later. It arrived on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, just in time for me to take it to the airport when Gail and I picked up Joel a few hours later. As I noted in the post, I filmed Joel at the airport as he passed through security and approached us, to his annoyance. I also set up a youtube account so I could upload my videos for others to see. At the end of my post, I promised that high def video would be coming your way soon.

I apologize for not keeping my promise. It’s three weeks later, well past soon, and I have yet to post a video. To make up for this delay, here is my latest video. Have a look, then continue after the jump.

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Categories: Culture, Music

William Ayers

December 15, 2008 Leave a comment

I hardly need to review the ways in which the McCain campaign twisted the relationship between Barack Obama and William Ayers during the presidential campaign this fall, the low point being Palin’s description of Obama as “palling around with terrorists.” Ayers remained mute throughout the campaign, but he spoke up in a New York Times op-ed piece recently.

I was very disappointed in what he had to say. The passage that most troubled me was the following:

We did carry out symbolic acts of extreme vandalism directed at monuments to war and racism, and the attacks on property, never on people, were meant to respect human life and convey outrage and determination to end the Vietnam war.

Peaceful protests had failed to stop the war. So we issued a screaming response. But it was not terrorism; we were not engaged in a campaign to kill and injure people indiscriminately, spreading fear and suffering for political ends.

I don’t understand in what sense “symbolic acts of extreme vandalism” fall short of being terrorism. Here in Seattle, in May 2001, members of the Earth Liberation Front set fire to an office at the University of Washington’s Urban Horticultural Center, destroying a building as well as the research, contained within the intended office, of Professor Toby Bradshaw. Their choice of Professor Bradshaw’s research as a target reflected enormous ignorance on their part as to what he was doing, but my point is that this was an act of terrorism — eco-terrorism, just as the work of the Weather Underground was terrorism.

For other comments, on Ayers op-ed, see hilzoy and Katha Pollitt. Here are Pollitt’s closing two paragraphs:

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Categories: Politics

The Forever War

December 15, 2008 Leave a comment


I’m reading Dexter Filkins’ book The Forever War, partly about war in Afghanistan but largely about Iraq, based on his reporting for the Los Angeles Times a decade ago and for the New York Times in recent years. It’s an extraordinary book. I bought it after reading Robert Stone’s review on the front page of the Sunday New York Times Book Review in September, started it, found it painful, and set it aside, but now I’ve returned to it and I’m almost halfway through it.

Filkins writes simply and directly, in a sequence of vignettes, about incidents he sees, recounting what the people around him — townspeople, soldiers, officials — have to say. The last few chapters have been about Iraq during 2003 and 2004. What comes through most powerfully is the arrogance and delusion of higher-level US military and government officials. This isn’t exactly news, and Filkins doesn’t even say it himself, but it is so starkly inescapable as one reads the stories. The lack of interest in local culture and history, the inability to listen or see.

Because I saw the now-famous shoe-hurling incident at the press conference with President Bush and Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki yesterday during breaks from reading the book, I was not at all surprised that Muntader al-Zaidi is now a hero in Iraq. One learns in page after page of the book how disliked Americans are.

Did we learn nothing from Vietnam?

Categories: Books, Politics, Today's News

Making Conversation

December 11, 2008 Leave a comment


During my four years as an undergraduate, I retained my allegiance to various New York sports teams (Yankees, Giants, Knicks, Rangers) and my complementary hatred of their Boston counterparts (Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, Bruins). This was stupid for many reasons, the largest of which is that I didn’t get to enjoy the greatest years of the greatest hockey player ever, Bobby Orr. When I stayed on in Cambridge for graduate school and got my own apartment, I started to feel like a resident for the first time, and I started paying more attention to local news, the local newspaper (The Globe), and local TV sports coverage. By spring of my first year in graduate school, I was transformed. The Celtics won the NBA championship. The Bruins lost to the Flyers in the Stanley Cup Finals. And I was rooting for both of them. The next year, the magical year of 1975, I became a devoted Red Sox fan. That’s when I discovered that being a Red Sox fan was like holding a free pass to get into any conversation anywhere in greater Boston. You could talk to anyone, anywhere. And I did. I didn’t know how to talk to people before. Suddenly I had the ticket.

I mention this because I recently read William Deresiewicz article The Disadvantages of an Elite Education from the Summer 2008 issue of The American Scholar, which opens like this:

It didn’t dawn on me that there might be a few holes in my education until I was about 35. I’d just bought a house, the pipes needed fixing, and the plumber was standing in my kitchen. There he was, a short, beefy guy with a goatee and a Red Sox cap and a thick Boston accent, and I suddenly learned that I didn’t have the slightest idea what to say to someone like him. So alien was his experience to me, so unguessable his values, so mysterious his very language, that I couldn’t succeed in engaging him in a few minutes of small talk before he got down to work. Fourteen years of higher education and a handful of Ivy League degrees, and there I was, stiff and stupid, struck dumb by my own dumbness. “Ivy retardation,” a friend of mine calls this. I could carry on conversations with people from other countries, in other languages, but I couldn’t talk to the man who was standing in my own house.

I wanted to say “Gosh, William, couldn’t you just have talked to him about the Red Sox?”

This passage also made me think of a conversation I had just had the day before, about duck decoys. For a couple of decades now, Gail’s extended family shows up at some member’s house on the Saturday after Thanksgiving for the annual lefse-making, Norwegian-culture-celebrating party.

With the death of Gail’s father, her first cousin Mark became the honorary leader of the clan. He retired a couple of years ago after a distinguished career as a Thurston County sheriff, with some high-profile investigations to his credit. Now he is free to pursue his hobbies, including duck hunting and the crafting of stunningly beautiful decoys: mallards, snow geese, swans, whatever. I’ve never hunted. I imagine I never will. But listening to Mark, I was mesmerized, as he spoke about the different species of wood he uses, their strengths and weaknesses, how he does the color patterns, how his son missed a duck and shot the decoy.

Still, Deresiewicz has a point. I wouldn’t have engaged in such a conversation when I was younger. Harvard didn’t prepare me for duck decoys. And it was my loss.

A sharp contrast to Deresiewicz’s plight when the plumber came is provided in Garry Wills’ remembrance of Studs Terkel, which I read a few days later in the latest New York Review of Books. Terkel could talk to anybody. Here are two excerpts, the second of which describes how Terkel handled the surprise appearance of a burglar.

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Categories: Culture, Education


December 11, 2008 Leave a comment


How can you not love this juxtaposition of heads from As noted there, the resemblance is uncanny. If only I had more hair (and if only it were brown again), this would be the style for me.

Categories: Politics, Today's News

Writing Tartines

December 6, 2008 Leave a comment

A tartine

In my post last month on the French baked delicacies canalés, I referred to the wonderful blog Chocolate & Zucchini written by the Parisian Clotilde Dusoulier. One of my favorite features in her blog is a continuing series of posts on “edible idioms” — French idiomatic expressions related to food — that began two months ago.

Clotilde’s latest edible idiom post appeared yesterday, on the idiom ecrire des tartines, or writing tartines. As she explains, “a tartine is a slice of bread topped with some sort of spread, such as butter or jam,” and writing tartines should be understood as “writing reams, or being unnecessarily wordy.” Clotilde concludes her post by noting a variant:

This colloquial expression can also appear in the singular (“écrire une tartine”) and is derived from the 18th-century journalists’ slang, in which une tartine was a very long (and, it is implied, boring) article or speech. A rather self-explanatory image; I always picture the writer or speaker fastidiously buttering a long piece of split baguette.

I love this image. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I’ve written more than a few tartines. Now I have the language to describe such posts.

Categories: Food, Language