Archive for July, 2009

Cooling with Buster

July 31, 2009 Leave a comment


The record high temperatures of the last two days are over. We hit 103 Wednesday, and flirted with 100 yesterday but didn’t go above 97 or 98 (depending on location). There’s some marine air over Seattle now, the temperature is around 60, and the house is cooling down at last. The forecast for the next five days shows temps getting into the mid 80s, dropping to 60 overnight, with morning clouds burning off. So, we’re back to a typical summer pattern.

In yesterday’s post on the heat, I brought in Buster Poindexter to serenade us with Arrow’s classic Hot Hot Hot. Buster is back today, by popular demand. Enjoy. (And thanks to Joel, whom I didn’t credit yesterday, for helping me come to a full appreciation of Buster’s greatness.)

Note: youtube has disabled embedding of the Poindexter video, so I can’t put it in this blog post directly, as I tried initially. You will have to follow the link to see him.

Categories: Music, Weather

More Happy Days

July 30, 2009 Leave a comment

We’re just ten days away from the 35th anniversary of Nixon’s resignation — August 9, 1974. Days don’t get much happier than that. I haven’t seen any mention of the anniversary yet. I’m sure there will be some coverage of it next week. Meanwhile, you can begin the celebration by watching (above) a portion of his speech on August 8 announcing the resignation.

The Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia has a Presidential Speech Archive. The full transcript of Nixon’s resignation speech as well as links to the audio and video are here. Below is one passage:

From the discussions I have had with Congressional and other leaders, I have concluded that because of the Watergate matter, I might not have the support of the Congress that I would consider necessary to back the very difficult decisions and carry out the duties of this office in the way the interests of the Nation will require.

I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as President, I must put the interests of America first. America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad.

To continue to fight through the months ahead for my personal vindication would almost totally absorb the time and attention of both the President and the Congress in a period when our entire focus should be on the great issues of peace abroad and prosperity without inflation at home.

Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office.

On Inauguration Day last January, I wrote briefly about where I was when Nixon made this speech. I won’t repeat myself. I’ll just say that it was a great day.

Categories: History, Politics

Happy Days

July 30, 2009 Leave a comment


The lead sports item this afternoon is the news that Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz “were among the roughly 100 Major League Baseball players to test positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003.” It’s a continuing mystery to me why names keep leaking from the now-famous list. The results were supposed to be anonymous, and anyway, steroid use was not yet banned.

But I’m not here to write about steroids and the game. Rather, I just want to enjoy the photo above, which dominates the SI homepage for now. It was so great to be a Red Sox fan in the Ramirez-Ortiz glory years. And not just because of the magical World Series championships of 2004 and 2007 (after the haunting 2003 defeat to the Yankees — we flew from NY to Boston on the day of that fateful game and watched it on TV in Cambridge, bracing ourselves for the all-night celebration in Harvard Square that never was). Manny and Big Papi were so much fun, such enormous creators of joy. And Pedro too. What a team!

While we’re giving credit for Red Sox joy creation, let’s be sure to thank our own Mariners for trading Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe to the Sox in 1997 in return for Heathcliff Slocumb. The Mariners had so much talent that year. Very disappointing season, plus losing key players for the future.

Categories: Baseball, Sports

Do I Feel Lucky?

July 30, 2009 Leave a comment


I haven’t posted a Ted Rall cartoon in over three weeks, so maybe I can get away with posting one again. His latest is above.

Um, do I need to explain anything? You see, there’s Skip Gates. And Sgt. James Crowley of the Cambridge Police Department. You know them. And there’s this famous movie, Dirty Harry, with Clint Eastwood as Harry Callahan. In the movie, well, see for yourself in the clip below. The key lines start at 1’35”, but the entire clip is useful for context.

Feelin’ Hot Hot Hot

July 30, 2009 Leave a comment

Too hot to blog. Too hot to do anything.

Not so bad yet, to tell the truth. We hit 103 yesterday, smashing the all-time high for Seattle. We may get to 100 again today, as had been predicted last night, but the latest prediction for today’s high is the high 90s. It was well into the 90s at this time yesterday, just past noon. Now it’s only 85. Downright comfortable in comparison. Mind you, we can go a year or two at a time without seeing the high 90s. Most of us in these parts do without air conditioning. We sure could use it this week though.

Anyway, as long as we’re too hot to do anything, we may as well sing and dance with Buster. Gotta love him.

And let’s not forget Arrow, who gave us the song. Since it’s still too hot to do anything, let’s keep singing and dancing.

One more time:

Categories: Dance, Music, Weather


July 28, 2009 1 comment


Yesterday I mentioned Fred Kaplan’s new book 1959: The Year Everything Changed, which I started on my flight to New York last Thursday and finished yesterday. I had read a review of the book in mid-June in the Wall Street Journal and was a little curious, but what got my attention was George Packer’s post at the New Yorker two weeks ago. I decided the book would be perfect reading for my upcoming New York trip and promptly ordered it.

The idea that any single year be the year that “everything changed” seems gimmicky at best, and perhaps puerile. But on the other hand, using a given year as the means to integrate developments in art, music, politics, science, and technology can work well, and it does here. I was going to summarize some of the items that Kaplan treats in the book, but Edward Kosner has already done the work for me in his WSJ review:

It was the year, as Mr. Kaplan’s handy timeline reminds us, that Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, Berry Gordy started Motown records in Detroit, Allen Ginsberg recited “Howl” at Columbia, the Pioneer spacecraft blasted off, the dirtiest version of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” was published, Toyota and Datsun (now Nissan) made their American debuts and Ford mercy-killed the Edsel, the microchip was introduced, the first U.S. soldiers were killed in Vietnam, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum opened, Martin Luther King went to India to study nonviolence, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg were shown at the Museum of Modern Art, and Searle sought approval to sell the first birth-control pill, Enovid. In sum, a year “when the world as we now know it began to take form.”

All these events had back-stories, and part of the fun of “1959” is sparked by the cultural artifacts Mr. Kaplan unearths.

Missing is the Los Angeles Dodgers’ victory over the Chicago White Sox in the World Series, the first World Series I followed. I don’t know how it changed the world, but it was the first time a west coast team played in the World Series. Also that year the American Football League was formed, though it would begin play only in 1960. I’m sure a chapter could be written about how the US professional sports industry of the future had its roots in 1959. Evidently, despite the extraordinary range of Kaplan’s knowledge and interests, sports doesn’t make it.

Nonetheless, Kaplan tells a great story. Jazz is one of his professional interests, and his chapters on Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman are especially good. I also enjoyed learning, in the early chapter that focuses on Allen Ginsburg and Jack Kerouac, how the word ‘beatnik’ came to be. I had no idea it is one more gift Sputnik gave to US culture.

Perhaps you know the story. It starts in 1952, when Jack Kerouac told friend and writer John Clellon Holmes that whereas the generation after World War I was the Lost Generation, theirs was the beat generation. Holmes wrote an article in 1952 for the NYT Magazine with the title, “This is the Beat Generation.” Five years later, shortly after the launch of Sputnik, the SF Chronicle columnist Herbert Caen wrote about the bohemians in North Beach, saying they were as “far out” as Sputnik and calling them beatniks.

Good book.

Categories: Books, History

Linguistic Fact Checking

July 28, 2009 Leave a comment


I suppose it happens in any field, but when it comes to language, people seem happy to repeat the nuttiest myths as fact. This behavior is a recurring theme over at Language Log, where just yesterday Benjamin Zimmer posted a note on the reporting in some of “Walter Cronkite’s obituaries that ‘Swedish anchors are known as Kronkiters; In Holland, they are Cronkiters.’ Or by some accounts it’s the Swedes who use ‘Cronkiters.'”

As Zimmer explains — briefly at Language Log and in more detail at Word Routes — the claims about Kronkiters and Cronkiters are simply false. Zimmer does some research on the early appearances of this myth, and finds that Cronkite himself deserves some of the blame. Zimmer’s conclusion:

So how did all these smart people — journalists, academics, and Cronkite himself — get caught up in a language legend that has no clear basis in reality? Well, it’s possible that Cronkiter/Kronkiter was used by someone in Sweden or elsewhere, perhaps as a playful ad-hoc neologism, and that mistakenly got picked up by a CBS News correspondent (and then by Gary Paul Gates et al.) as if it were a universal, generic term for “anchorman.” If it really did enter circulation, the life of Cronkiter/Kronkiter must have been quite brief, since it gets nary a mention in current and historical sources from Sweden, the Netherlands, or any other nearby country.

None of this should undercut the significance of Cronkite’s career and his place in journalistic history. But shouldn’t we honor his great legacy of accurate and trustworthy reporting by checking this stuff out?

By the way, if you are under the mis-apprehension that Eskimos have twenty-three words for snow (or fifty, or a hundred), see Geoffrey Pullum’s 1991 essay on the matter, or the wikipedia entry. (Pullum’s article is based on the 1986 report of Laura Martin, to which I don’t have a direct link.) Pullum is a co-founder of Language Log. He concludes his article with a warning that applies as well to the Cronkiter myth:

For my part, I want to make one last effort to clarify that the chapter above isn’t about Eskimo lexicography at all, though I’m sure it will be taken to be. What it’s actually about is intellectual sloth. Among all the hundreds of people making published contributions to the great Eskimo vocabulary hoax, no one had acquired any evidence about how long the purported list of snow terms really was, or what words were on it, or what criteria were used in deciding what to put on the list. The tragedy is not that so many people got the facts wildly wrong; it is that in the mentally lazy and anti-intellectual world we live in today, hardly anyone cares enough to think about trying to determine what the facts are.

Categories: Language

Taibbi on Health Care

July 28, 2009 Leave a comment
Max Baucus

Max Baucus

Perhaps Matt Taibbi is best taken in limited doses. He does go on too long, and at times he places style over substance. (Then again, if I wrote as well as he did, I wouldn’t hesitate to do the same.) Plus, he uses words in writing that I tend to reserve for oral use. But he does have a way of getting to the heart of the matter.

In his latest blog post , Taibbi discusses why we are about to get such a crappy health care bill. (Or maybe he would use a different word in place of ‘crappy’.) I already take that for granted, so no surprises there. But what’s up with Obama and the Democrats in the Senate anyway? Why are they unwilling to do anything substantive?

Yes, I’ve read about how Obama has the long view in mind. He’s savvy. He knows what he’s doing, working his way through the political thickets or minefields that other Democratic presidents have been trapped in for decades. Well, to hell with the long view. Let’s do something now (before Joel uses up his eligibility under my health care plan — the idea that he will have to stay in school or land the right sort of job in order to get continued coverage is absurd).

So anyway, here are excerpts from Taibbi:

It’s been clear from the start that the Democrats would make a great show of doing something real, then they would fold prematurely, ram through some piece-of-shit bill with some incremental/worthless change in it, and then in the end blame everything on Max Baucus and Bill Nelson, saying, “By golly, we tried our best!”

Make no mistake, this has nothing to do with Max Baucus, Bill Nelson, or anyone else. If the Obama administration wanted to pass a real health care bill, they would do what George Bush and Tom DeLay did in the first six-odd years of this decade whenever they wanted to pass some nightmare piece of legislation (ie the Prescription Drug Bill or CAFTA): they would take the recalcitrant legislators blocking their path into a back room at the Capitol, and beat them with rubber hoses until they changed their minds.

The reason a real health-care bill is not going to get passed is simple: because nobody in Washington really wants it. There is insufficient political will to get it done. It doesn’t matter that it’s an urgent national calamity, that it is plainly obvious to anyone with an IQ over 8 that our system could not possibly be worse and needs to be fixed very soon, and that, moreover, the only people opposing a real reform bill are a pitifully small number of executives in the insurance industry who stand to lose the chance for a fifth summer house if this thing passes.

It won’t get done, because that’s not the way our government works. Our government doesn’t exist to protect voters from interests, it exists to protect interests from voters. The situation we have here is an angry and desperate population that at long last has voted in a majority that it believes should be able to pass a health care bill. It expects something to be done. The task of the lawmakers on the Hill, at least as they see things, is to create the appearance of having done something. And that’s what they’re doing. Personally, I think they’re doing a lousy job even of that. …

This whole business, it was a litmus test for whether or not we even have a functioning government. Here we had a political majority in congress and a popular president armed with oodles of political capital and backed by the overwhelming sentiment of perhaps 150 million Americans, and this government could not bring itself to offend ten thousand insurance men in order to pass a bill that addresses an urgent emergency. What’s left? Third-party politics?

Categories: Government, Politics


July 27, 2009 2 comments


If you’re in the Seattle area, you hardly need me to tell you this, but for any readers from afar, it’s HOT! Mid 90s today, but high 90s the next three days before (maybe) dropping back into the 80s. We do typically get a few days in the 90s each year, sometimes just barely in the 90s. And then there are the less frequent years with a day or two in the high 90s. But we are now at the beginning of what may be a record heat wave.

Don’t take my word for this. Listen instead to Cliff Mass, famed local meteorologist, author of the recently published The Weather of the Pacific Northwest, and professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at UW.* At his blog today, Cliff wrote:

Amazingly, this heat wave could last into the weekend (although the temps should modify a bit on Friday into Sunday, but still in the 80s). And remember, it will be hotter in Portland and the Willamette Valley, where temperatures well into the 100s will occur.

The heat wave is made worse by the high dewpoints today. Many locations are in the sixties, some in the upper 60s and near 70F. Dewpoint is a measure of the absolute amount of moisture in the air..we are usually in the lower 50s in the summer. High dewpoints keep nighttime temperatures up–which makes a heat wave much worse.

In short, we are about to enter an historic heat wave for our region. One day, your grandchildren will ask you… did you really experience the temperatures of July 29th, 2009? What was it like? How did you survive it?

Usually, when we have a more typical heat wave with temperatures in the high 80s, the house gets more uncomfortable by the day, until by day 3 or (heaven forbid) day 4, the evenings are unbearable, except in the basement. (I should explain that given the infrequency and short duration of heat waves, most houses in greater Seattle don’t have AC.) And then the weather changes. What’s scary this time is that when I got back to the house from New York late yesterday afternoon, it was already unbearable, and this was before the start of 90 degree days. We headed to the basement to sleep. This isn’t going to be fun.

*Cliff and I are fellow Long Island Jews, growing up just a couple of villages apart, though we didn’t get to know each other until early in my dean days. I knew of him long before, thanks to his local radio appearances on Fridays to predict the weather for the weekend. His voice is what the word mellifluous was invented to describe. A mellifluous baritone. And our commonality extends beyond our backgrounds: we both fancy ourselves experts on teaching mathematics. I because I’ve done it for decades; Cliff because, well, I don’t know why. But he is on a mission to change how math is taught in the schools, and he’s fearless in his belief that he knows what needs to be done.

Categories: Weather

Congressional Cowardice

July 27, 2009 Leave a comment

Republican Congressional cowardice, that is, though of course there’s plenty of both. The video above was made by Mike Stark, under the auspices of firedoglake, where it appeared today in a post by Jane Hamsher.

We know there are plenty of crazy people out there, some of whom are hung up on the idea that President Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii. And we know that those people hung up on the idea that President Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii, form a disproportionately large percentage of the so-called Republican base. But they’re crazy. Why must Republican members of Congress be respectful of this craziness?

Some members of Congress may themselves be a blend of crazy, stupid, and ignorant. But let’s assume they’re not. Then the ones who won’t come out and say Obama’s birthplace is a non-issue must simply be cowards.

Categories: Politics