Archive for June, 2009


June 23, 2009 Leave a comment


We were married 24 years ago today at the Olympic Hotel in downtown Seattle. Our ceremony was in the Kensington Room, a small function room on the balcony level just above the hotel reception desk. We then had dinner in another small room around the bend and up some stairs. Sometimes we return to the Olympic to celebrate our anniversary, having dinner in the Georgian Room, their main restaurant. There’s not a more elegant restaurant in the city. But the Georgian Room isn’t open on Sundays and Mondays, so some years it isn’t an option. This year it is, and in three hours we’ll be eating there for the first time in five years.

I can’t wait, all the more because it will provide a wonderful break from our diet, which is in week four now. Five years ago we were on the same diet, having started it on May 3rd that year, and we didn’t depart from the diet until our anniversary. Dessert never tasted so good.

More perhaps in a later post. Congratulations to us!

Categories: Family


June 18, 2009 Leave a comment


I’m a little late getting to this, but how about that Stanley Cup series? Any series that goes to a 7th game is special, and one where the outcome is in doubt in the last second is especially so. We were looking forward to watching the 7th game last Friday, and to rooting the Red Wings to victory over the Penguins. As you’ll recall from an earlier post, the Red Wings are one of the NHL’s original six, and I always root for an original six team over a newcomer. Plus, given our love for all things Detroit, we have to support them.

The thing is, we were invited two days before the game to go to the symphony. We have old friends who subscribe. They invite us every year or two to join them. (They have four seats.) The symphony started at 8:00 PM Friday. We left the house at 7:00, just as the third period started. The Penguins were up 2-0 at that point, to our disappointment. There was the possibility that the third period wouldn’t be too exciting. We set the DVR to record the rest of the game and listened to the first few minutes on the radio as we drove downtown. Then we put it out of our minds and enjoyed our evening in Benaroya Hall.
Read more…

Categories: Music, Sports

McCain on Iran

June 18, 2009 Leave a comment

In April 2007, John McCain famously sang “Bomb Bomb Iran” to the melody of the Beach Boys song Barbara Ann. (Watch the video above.) Here’s the thing — and I’m hardly the first to point this out — if we had bombed them, among the victims would be the people now fighting for a just election result, democracy, and the rule of law in Iran. Here’s how Glenn Greenwald put it two days ago:

Much of the same faction now claiming such concern for the welfare of The Iranian People are the same people who have long been advocating a military attack on Iran and the dropping of large numbers of bombs on their country — actions which would result in the slaughter of many of those very same Iranian People. During the presidential campaign, John McCain infamously sang about Bomb, Bomb, Bombing Iran. … Rudy Giuliani actually said he would be open to a first-strike nuclear attack on Iran in order to stop their nuclear program.

Imagine how many of the people protesting this week would be dead if any of these bombing advocates had their way — just as those who paraded around (and still parade around) under the banner of Liberating the Iraqi People caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of them, at least. Hopefully, one of the principal benefits of the turmoil in Iran is that it humanizes whoever the latest Enemy is. Advocating a so-called “attack on Iran” or “bombing Iran” in fact means slaughtering huge numbers of the very same people who are on the streets of Tehran inspiring so many — obliterating their homes and workplaces, destroying their communities, shattering the infrastructure of their society and their lives. The same is true every time we start mulling the prospect of attacking and bombing another country as though it’s some abstract decision in a video game.

For more on McCain and Iran, see the comments of hilzoy and Larison. hilzoy concludes her post as follows:

Seriously: this guy might have been President. National security was supposed to be his strong suit. On the most charitable interpretation, he is completely ignorant of the history of our relations with Iran, but this fact does not prevent him from pontificating about what we ought to do. Think about that, and thank the deity of your choice that he lost.

Categories: Foreign Policy, Politics

Misbehaving Audiences

June 18, 2009 Leave a comment
Tovah Feldshuh in Irena’s Vow

Tovah Feldshuh in Irena’s Vow

I was going through a pile of Wall Street Journals last night before recycling them when I came across the front page feature article from two Saturdays ago. I’m glad I caught it. It has the clever title Are Misbehavin’: No Tonys for These Performances, and in it, Ellen Gamerman writes about some astonishing examples of audience misbehavior these days. For example:

The litany of misdemeanors is long. During a Saturday matinee of the Holocaust drama “Irena’s Vow,” a man walked in late and called up to actress Tovah Feldshuh to halt her monologue until he got settled. “He shouted, ‘Can you please wait a second?’ and then continued on toward his seat,” recalls Nick Ahlers, a science teacher from Newark, N.J., who was in the audience. He says the actress complied.

Ms. Feldshuh says she typically pauses when she’s interrupted. She doesn’t recall the incident, which she says may be evidence of the Zen attitude she’s cultivated onstage. “I have no negative energy about it to even remember,” she says.

Gamerman makes the useful observation that unruly behavior isn’t new: “Rowdy audiences have been around as long as stages. William Shakespeare’s plays were performed outdoors while prostitutes and drunk spectators milled about eating fruit and nuts, talking back to the actors and throwing things at them.”

Maybe this is as it should be. The article ends on a cheery note:

Some shows are beginning to experiment with new etiquette rules. “Hair” director Diane Paulus is exploring ways to make the theater atmosphere more relaxed, less traditional. In order to keep up with the times, she plans to allow cell phones this summer at a theater space at the American Repertory Theater, in Cambridge, Mass., where she is the artistic director.

“I’ll tell you, it’s radical,” she says. “I don’t think there’s a theater in America that tells you to turn your phone on.”

Categories: Theater

Get Over It!

June 18, 2009 Leave a comment


I try not to overdo posts referencing Ted Rall cartoons, but I couldn’t pass up this one. There’s something to be said for the rule of law, but it’s not clear in what sense the law ruled in Bush v. Gore.

Categories: Politics

Illegal Refuse Presentation

June 16, 2009 Leave a comment


Fans of Edinburgh will enjoy Geoffrey Pullum’s post two days ago at Language Log. Pullum is a British linguist who spent many years at UC Santa Cruz, but returned to the UK two years ago to become a professor at the University of Edinburgh. He is also one of the founders of Language Log, along with Mark Liberman at the University of Pennsylvania.

In the recent post, Pullum returns to one of his recurring topics, which he has come to call nerdview, and which occurs when a document is written “in technical terms from the perspective of the technician or engineer rather than from a standpoint that would seem useful to the customer or reader.” (This quote is taken from an earlier Pullum post on nerdview.) I will leave it to Pullum to tell the story of his latest example of nerdview, the sentence, “This refuse has been checked for illegal presentation,” courtesy of the city of Edinburgh. The light he sheds on life in Edinburgh makes the post worth reading independent of the linguistic issues. Here’s a sample, without the context Pullum has provided regarding the challenges of setting out garbage for pickup in the New Town area:

You see, Edinburgh is basically on a seacoast. We have seagulls.

These large, wily, and sharp-beaked birds don’t spend all their time on the arduous traditional pursuit of catching live fish. Several days a week they head inland for an easier life, and flock to the New Town (they know exactly which streets to head for on which days). They come with the breaking dawn, looking for bags that were illicitly put out at midnight. In the spring and summer there is enough light to spot them as early as 4 a.m.; plenty of time to have breakfast before the streets start getting crowded with people walking to work.

Great gangs of gulls rip open the sacks, pull out packaging and envelopes and other dry trash and toss it all over the place, and dig around for discarded food, which they drag out and eat on the sidewalks (which are called “pavements” here; I hope you are appreciating the vocabulary lessons I have built into this piece). By 7 a.m., the street in front of many houses looks like a municipal dump. …

These birds are big, omnivorous, and fearless: you cannot frighten them away more than about ten feet. They come straight back the moment you move on. And they have no sense of civic pride whatsoever. Edinburgh is heart-stoppingly beautiful, but the gulls do not appreciate that. On some pickup days I have had to come home and use a shovel and broom to clear up outside our home.

Categories: Culture, Language

Roosevelt Island Improv

June 16, 2009 Leave a comment

I posted last week about Improv Everywhere‘s latest mission, the Surprise Wedding Reception, embedding their video report on it as well as a video of their JFK welcome back mission. If you haven’t seen the videos, take a look now. Yesterday they posted their report on the their sixth annual MP3 experiment, which took place on Roosevelt Island in New York City last month. The video is above, but the report has far more background information plus additional photos.

Here is the first paragraph of Improv Everywhere’s overview of their series of MP3 experiments:

The Mp3 Experiment has become an annual event for Improv Everywhere; Agent Tyler Walker and I put an mp3 online (usually around 45 minutes long) and agents download and transfer it to their iPods. Everyone then synchronizes their watches to an atomic clock on the website, and then heads out to the same public location. At the predetermined time, everyone presses play. Hilarity ensues as participants carry out ridiculous instructions delivered to their headphones via narrator Steve (aka The Omnipotent Voice From Above) and folks passing by try to figure out why a mass of people are all silently jumping around.

As for last month’s experiment, they explain that

This year’s location was Roosevelt Island. It’s a really beautiful place, situated in between Manhattan and Queens on the East River. There are about 12,000 residents on the island. To participate in this year’s experiment, agents were given these instructions. Everyone synchronized their watch to the clock on the instruction page, downloaded the mp3, wore a red, blue, yellow, or green shirt, and then traveled to the island. At exactly 4:00 PM, everyone would press play from wherever they happened to be on the island.

With this as background, watch the video above (or go to the link at youtube, and then be sure to click on HD), and if you enjoy it, read the report for more details.

As it turns out, NYT technology writer David Pogue participated in the experiment. His blog report is worth a look. And finally, Pogue mentions one of Improv Everywhere’s older missions, which I hadn’t seen yet, Food Court Musical. It’s worth a look too. Just click below.

Categories: Culture

I Read Books, II

June 15, 2009 Leave a comment


At the end of December, I posted a lengthy note about the books I’d read over the previous eight months, responding to Karl Rove’s WSJ column the week before in which he described the book-reading competition he and George Bush had. (In the column, we learn about the true, intellectual Bush.) I couldn’t keep up with Bush and Rove, even though the eight month period I described was one in which I had an unusual amount of free time. In January, I returned to teaching for the first time in 7 1/2 years and my book-reading rate declined. I did read, as some of my winter posts make clear, but spring book reading was limited. Too much grading to do. And blog reading. And blog writing. And newspaper and magazine reading. But when Janet Maslin’s review in the NYT of Gone Tomorrow, the new Lee Child thriller, came out on May 14, I decided I would read it as soon as I was done teaching for the year. Read more…

Categories: Books

Oy Vey

June 14, 2009 Leave a comment


I haven’t had occasion to mention this before, but I’m a big fan of Vows, the weekly featured wedding announcement in the NYT Sunday Styles section. You’re guaranteed a great story every week. And there’s a style to the pieces that I find difficult to describe but that Claire Messud parodied so perfectly in her novel The Emperor’s Children. That alone makes the novel worth reading.

Today we meet Elizabeth Wood and Gabriel Nussbaum. What got my attention wasn’t their story as much as the identity of Gabriel’s grandfather. As part of their story, we learn that Elizabeth and Gabriel made a trip to LA to visit Gabriel’s 97-year-old grandmother Ruth, whose husband Max is described as the rabbi in Hollywood who converted Elizabeth Taylor to Judaism. But that’s the least of his achievements. For more about his extraordinary life, see excerpts I’ve included after the jump from his biographical sketch at the American Jewish Archives website.

I couldn’t help but wonder, once I learned who Gabriel’s grandfather was, whether Elizabeth is Jewish. Could Gabriel marry a gentile? Well, yes. Three sentences later, we learn that

They were wed on June 6, as a nippy fog rolled in and 200 guests, including Ruth Nussbaum, gathered under a cherry tree in the garden of his parents’ Amagansett home. The ceremony was led by Dr. Arlis Wood, Ms. Wood’s father and a Church of Christ minister, and Cantor Debra Stein sang blessings.

The bride, wearing a pale mocha silk gown with peacock blue straps and a temporary “Elizabeth-Gabriel” tattoo on her arm, giggled and shouted, “I do.”

After a buffet of pulled-pork sliders and fried macaroni and cheese balls, friends and family paid tribute to the couple with a song and dance revue.

Pulled-pork sliders? I’m guessing that when Rabbi Nussbaum headed over to Cantor’s Deli after Temple Israel’s Shabbos services, he didn’t have pulled pork sliders. Chopped liver, maybe. Tongue, maybe. But pulled pork sliders?

I wonder what Ruth ate.

Read more…

Categories: Culture, Food, Religion

Saucepan Reasoning

June 14, 2009 Leave a comment


Two weeks ago, I wrote again post about the edible idiom feature at Clotilde Dusoulier’s blog Chocolate & Zucchini, in which she discusses a French idiom related in some way to food or cooking. Once more I can’t resist writing about her latest, which this week is “Raisonner comme une casserole.” Clotilde offers the translation “reasoning like a saucepan” and the explanation that “it means demonstrating poor logic, formulating arguments that are evidently flawed. It is a colloquial expression that should only be used in informal conversation.” She goes on to reveal the underlying pun, which becomes merely a near-pun in English:

It’s not hard to imagine that debating philosophical matters with a saucepan would lead you nowhere, but there is actually a little more to this idiom than that: it is in fact a pun that plays upon two homophonous verbs, raisonner, which means to reason, and résonner, which means to resound. So when you say, “il raisonne comme une casserole,” it is really a double entendre, meaning that the person has as much sense as a saucepan, but also implying that if you banged him on the head, it would likely echo.

I should explain that I may have been particularly charmed by this expression because I graded the last homework assignment and the final exams for my spring quarter course in the two days before Clotilde’s post appeared. The course is named Introduction to Mathematical Reasoning. It is intended to prepare students who have taken our standard lower-level math courses (calculus, linear algebra, differential equations) for the more rigorous courses that lie ahead. I had something to do with the department’s decision to introduce this course a decade ago, but by the time we started offering it, I had begun my multi-year teaching hiatus. Now that I’m back in the classroom, teaching it seemed like a good idea.

I would prefer to adhere to my general policy of not discussing my teaching experiences here at ronsview. I’ll restrict myself to two points. First, I’ve been humbled by the discovery (or, really, re-discovery) of how hard it is to teach reasoning. Second, I’ve had the opportunity to hear a lot of saucepan reasoning. My ears are still resounding.

Categories: Language, Math, Teaching