Archive for January, 2009

Dr. Strangelove/Cheney

January 20, 2009 Leave a comment

In my last post, I described how Bush’s departure reminded me of Nixon’s more unorthodox (and equally welcome) departure in August 1974. I enjoyed reading this afternoon, in a post on the blog of The New Yorker’s Rick Hertzberg, about a connection his colleague Nick Paumgarten made between Dick Cheney and Dr. Strangelove. The two have much in common, but the relevant connection here is the wheelchair. As Hertzberg describes, New Yorker staff members were watching the inaugural activities mostly in silence, but “when Dick Cheney and his wheelchair filled the screen, a voice spoke up from the back of the room: ‘Mein Führer! I can walk!’ Kudos, please, to Nick Paumgarten for his instant recall of a great—and apt—moment in cinema history.” If you need to review the moment, see the video above.


January 20, 2009 1 comment


George W. Bush is not someone I have much personal sympathy for, but I was transfixed nonetheless by the scene on the Capitol steps today after the inauguration as he and Laura stood with Barack and Michelle Obama, and then went down the steps to board the helicopter Marine One. How difficult it must be to leave not just the job but the home and all the people who worked with and attended to him. And of course how much more difficult to leave as a failure. His failure may be reason for us to rejoice at his departure, but still, it was painful to watch.

I was reminded of that most familiar (and welcome) of presidential departures, Richard Nixon’s on August 9, 1974. It’s one of those moments, and dates, I never forget, like Kennedy’s assassination and 9/11.
Read more…

Categories: History, Politics

Tough Times at Stanford

January 20, 2009 Leave a comment


All universities are facing financial problems, even the wealthiest, and not just in their core academic budgets, so I wasn’t entirely surprised to see the headline “Facing $5M loss, Stanford Could Cut Some Teams” at the Sports Illustrated website. Nor was I surprised, on reading the AP article on Stanford’s problems, to learn that they’ve had the most successful sports program in the country for years. I knew that. This is the school, after all, that John McEnroe and Tiger Woods attended and competed for, though only briefly. But I was surprised to learn just how successful they’ve been, and I couldn’t help but wonder why they’ve made such success a priority. Here, from the article, is a summary of last year’s success:

Last year, the university captured its 14th consecutive Division I U.S. Sports Academy Directors’ Cup, a recognition presented each year to the best overall programs for each athletic division in the country.

Stanford scored points in 24 of its sports but could only count the maximum 10 each on the men’s and women’s sides — earning 12 top-five finishes. The Cardinal won an NCAA title in women’s cross country; placed second in women’s volleyball, women’s basketball, men’s gymnastics and men’s golf; third in baseball, men’s and women’s swimming, women’s gymnastics and women’s water polo; and fifth in women’s indoor track and field and women’s tennis.

Read more…

Categories: Society, Sports

Books, Movies, TV

January 19, 2009 Leave a comment
Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire

I’ve posted many times recently about the Naipaul biography I finished two Saturdays ago, and then a couple of days ago about the book on Vietnam and McGeorge Bundy. I’m in the midst of three other non-fiction books: the history of the Byzantine Empire that I’ve also written about, the recent bestseller on traffic that I started just after Christmas, and a short book about the history of Daylight Saving Time that Joel read when he was home and left for me. But I decided it’s time for some fiction. Which leads me to an aside.

One of the larger figures in the Naipaul biography was his longtime editor Diana Athill, now 91. By chance, just last week her second memoir, Somewhere Towards the End, was reviewed in the NYT. Having edited Updike, Mailer and many others as well as Naipaul, Athill knows a thing or two about fiction. Yet, when I read the review, I was stopped by this passage:

I was surprised that this longtime fiction editor has declared that she has “gone off novels.”

Why? She no longer feels the need to parse the intricacies of human relationships and love affairs, “but I do still want to be fed facts, to be given material which extends the region in which my mind can wander.”

I’m not there yet. I think I’m not anyway, but then again, I haven’t read a novel in months. What I have read, this morning, is
Read more…

Categories: Books, Film, Television

Washington Syrah

January 17, 2009 1 comment


I don’t know much about wine. Our October exploration of the wine valleys of northern Sonoma County (discussed in assorted posts at the time, such as here and here) was great fun, and we continue to explore the wines we shipped up here from eleven different wineries. But I’m still suspicious of wine-tasting terminology and hesitant to take it seriously. One thing I learned from the trip is how to swirl my glass around while holding the base on the table before tasting, so I can get the wine high on the sides for better smelling. It’s changed my life.

Even before the trip, I had started to read and enjoy Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher’s wine column in the Saturday Wall Street Journal. Today, Gaiter and Brecher write about Washington Syrahs. You can find the column here, but you may need an online WSJ subscription for it to work. Alternatively, you can go to here, which I think is a link to their latest column, so if it works, it will take you to the Syrah article only temporarily. And if you get there, you’ll also find a link to an accompanying video. Whether you get there or not, I can tell you that they are crazy about Washington Syrahs, convinced that the Syrahs may just be the best American red wines available. This seems rather extreme, but really, it’s what they say: “As a group, these are the most exciting red wines being made in America today that you might actually find on a shelf.” I’m not going to argue. In a sidebar, they list their six favorites. One gets their highest (and rarely given) rating, “Delicious!”. It’s the Dunham Cellars 2004 from Columbia Valley, with a price of $44.99, and with the following description:
Read more…

Categories: Food, Travel

Bundy and Vietnam

January 17, 2009 Leave a comment
John Kennedy and McGeorge Bundy

John Kennedy and McGeorge Bundy

At the end of November, I wrote a post about two books I had to read, based on their reviews in the preceding two Sunday NYT book review sections. One, of course, is the Patrick French biography of V. S. Naipaul that I finished a week ago and have written about many times. The other is Gordon M. Goldstein’s Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam. Having finished it just two nights ago, I’ll say a few words about it.
Read more…

Categories: Books, History, Politics

Italian Forests

January 17, 2009 Leave a comment

As a follow up to my most recent post, which was written in honor of Ricardo Montalban and the “soft Corinthian leather” option on Chrysler Cordobas that he made famous, I bring you the video above on the making of books. (HT: Andrew Sullivan.) Just past the 2:22 mark, we learn that “the pages of a book are sourced exclusively at Italian forests.” This is a good reason not to get a Kindle.

The video doesn’t mention what kind of leather is available for the cover.

Categories: Books, Culture