Archive for May, 2010

The Supremacy of Law

May 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Eric Holder

On the last day of our visit to Washington, D.C., in January, after my business concluded in mid-afternoon, I returned to our hotel, bundled up, and headed down Pennsylvania Avenue to the National Gallery of Art for a visit described here. In a separate post that I wrote a week later, I talked about passing the Justice Department headquarters on my way down Pennsylvania Avenue and seeing, engraved on its side, John Locke’s (or William Pitt the Elder’s) words “Where law ends, tyranny begins.”

Two weeks ago today, Gail and I took a shorter version of this walk, from Ford’s Theater on 10th Street down to Pennsylvania Avenue, across the street to the Justice headquarters, and then down Pennsylvania again to the National Gallery. Last week, I discussed the walk and gallery visit, but left for another time some remarks on another saying engraved on the building.

Our text for today: “No free government can survive that is not based on the supremacy of law.” I realize — to my astonishment — that expressing disappointment with the Obama administration in this context places me on the radical fringe, but disappointed I am.

I never know how much to say on this subject, since I am not an expert, and since whenever I do write about it, I end up quoting or linking to others. Almost every day I find some item I am tempted to blog about, then decide to pass. For today, let me mention just one example, Obama’s assumption of the right to assassinate US citizens without due process. This has been written about for months, but finally was given full attention in simultaneous articles on April 7, by Scott Shane in the NYT and Greg Miller in the Washington Post. Shane wrote:

The Obama administration has taken the extraordinary step of authorizing the targeted killing of an American citizen, the radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is believed to have shifted from encouraging attacks on the United States to directly participating in them, intelligence and counterterrorism officials said Tuesday.

Mr. Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico and spent years in the United States as an imam, is in hiding in Yemen. He has been the focus of intense scrutiny since he was linked to Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., in November, and then to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man charged with trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Dec. 25.

American counterterrorism officials say Mr. Awlaki is an operative of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the affiliate of the terror network in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. They say they believe that he has become a recruiter for the terrorist network, feeding prospects into plots aimed at the United States and at Americans abroad, the officials said.

It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing, officials said. A former senior legal official in the administration of George W. Bush said he did not know of any American who was approved for targeted killing under the former president.

What ever happened to arresting and trying people? Do we really give the president the authority to judge and sentence someone without a jury trial or a defense?

As usual, Glenn Greenwald got here ahead of me. He had already been writing about Obama’s assumption of the right to be judge, jury, and executioner before, but on the day that the NYT and WP articles appeared, he returned to the topic with a lengthy blog post. I have nothing more to add.

I just wish we had an independent Justice Department, a concept that vanished during the Bush years but that Obama (I thought) promised to return to. In a replay of the Bush years, Obama’s political advisors (Rahm, Axelrod) appear to carry more weight than the attorney general (that’s him, at the top of this post).

Oh, and the same week that those two articles appeared, Obama withdrew the nomination of Dawn Johnsen to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. After the mockery Bush (and Bybee and Yoo and Bradbury) made of that office, Johnsen was an ideal choice to restore the supremacy of law. But Obama was never willing to push for her Senate confirmation, letting her languish for a year before she withdrew. (See further commentary here.)

At least the words are still on the building. We can hope.

Categories: Law, Travel

O’Hare Eames Chair

May 18, 2010 2 comments

When I think of the famed designer couple Charles and Ray Eames, what first comes to mind are their iconic lounge chair and ottoman, pictured below.

Two such chairs and the ottoman graced the house we moved into when I was ten, and are there still, decades later. I was unaware of the Eames at the time. (I’ll confess, once I learned of them, I imagined they were brothers. It hadn’t occurred to me that Ray was a woman and that they were, in fact, a married couple.)

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal page one feature article, Daniel Michaels reported from the Passenger Terminal Expo 2010 in Brussels on the latest in terminal seating. Pictured inside the paper were some newer options, but I was stunned when I saw on page one the drawing at right of that most familiar of all terminal seats, with the caption, “The Eames seat.”

I had no idea. Is there a chair that has been sat in by more people in history than this one? Probably not. And it’s yet another Eames chair.

It turns out, as everyone in the trade must know, that the Eames designed this chair for the opening of the expanded O’Hare Airport in 1962 (at which point O’Hare became the principal Chicago airport and Midway was relegated to minor status). The chair is still available. At the Herman Miller website, it is called Eames Tandem Sling Seating and given the following description:

Eames tandem sling seating serves millions of travelers every day and does it comfortably and reliably.

Designed for O’Hare International Airport in 1962, the sleek, contemporary design remains in style for all kinds of public transportation stations. Around the world, people find it a comfortable, inviting place to wait. And terminal operators appreciate its space-saving flexibility, durability, and easy maintenance.

I’ve never been a fan of the Eames tandem. It looks inviting enough, and I suppose it’s comfortable enough, but not when I’m about to sit on an airplane. I’ve had enough back problems over the years that the last thing I want to do before being locked into a plane seat for hours is lie way back in a chair with minimal lower back support. Often, when confronted with the tandem, I have chosen to stand, or walk around. I eventually succumb and take a seat, but after a few minutes I force myself to get up again, more out of fear of what the position I’m in might to do to me than any actual discomfort.

Eames. I still can’t get over it.

I can’t write about the Eames without mentioning my favorite of all their work, their mathematics museum exhibit. I first saw it in 1966, at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. I had always assumed it originated there, but yesterday I learned (here) that it was initially commissioned in 1961 by IBM for the new Science Wing at the California Museum of Science and Industry (now the California Science Center) in Los Angeles. A duplicate opened later that year in Chicago. The Museum of Science and Industry considers its opening sufficiently important that it is listed as one of the highlights in the museum’s history, the only highlight between 1956 and 1971.

The California Science Center re-mounted the exhibit temporarily in the summer of 2002, as explained at the time in a press release, which notes that “the exhibition . . . won the hearts of several generations of teachers and students during its tenure at the California Science Center (formerly California Museum of Science and Industry) from 1961-1997.” The New York Hall of Science installed a permanent version in 2004, and a case study of the mounting of this exhibition is provided here, along with photos. Below is one of the photos, depicting the famous history chart.

If you have a chance to see the exhibit, please do.

I’ll conclude with one more Eames production, the powers of ten documentary from 1968, which you can watch below.

Next time you’re in New York, after visiting the Hall of Science, head to the Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History and see Scales of the Universe, a wonderful exhibit that shares the theme of depicting relative scales from the sub-atomic to the extra-galactic. And next time I find myself waiting for a plane in an Eames tandem, I’ll be thinking about those scales.

Categories: Design, Math

Haunting the Library

May 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Improv Everywhere posted their latest mission at their website this morning. You can watch the video above. It’s enjoyable enough, but not one of my favorites, perhaps because I was never much of a fan of Ghostbusters.

The video presentation of the mission shouldn’t be watched in isolation. Read also the description of the mission that follows the video at the mission webpage. Of particular interest is the fact that the mission originated through a request by the New York Public Library to host a mission as a means of publicizing their current financial difficulties.

Watching the three ghosts enter the library’s reading room, I found myself thinking of an on-line discussion at Andrew Sullivan’s blog last week regarding the wearing of burqas and niqabs. The discussion’s starting point was a piece by Christopher Hitchens at Slate on the issue of banning the wearing of burqas in France. Hitchens notes, as part of his discussion, that “[o]n the door of my bank in Washington, D.C., is a printed notice politely requesting me to remove any form of facial concealment before I enter the premises. The notice doesn’t bore me or weary me by explaining its reasoning: A person barging through those doors with any sort of mask would incur the right and proper presumption of guilt. This presumption should operate in the rest of society. I would indignantly refuse to have any dealings with a nurse or doctor or teacher who hid his or her face, let alone a tax inspector or customs official.”

Sullivan made reference to Hitchens’ article here, then continued the thread with several more posts sharing reader reactions. Of particular interest in the context of the New York Public Library mission is this reader’s comment:

I work in a public library in a very large American city and have encountered several women in a burqa at the reference desk. Immediately I am struck by how our culture is not set up for a woman to be almost completely covered like that. I am a woman, and have found myself several times by myself at the reference desk trying to converse with another woman, who happens to be veiled. The veil made it difficult to hear these women since it covered their mouths. It occurred to me this burqa is not designed for a free society where women are allowed and actually expected to speak for themselves. Body language communication was impossible to read from these veiled women which is such a huge part of conversing, almost as big as the words actually said.

Watch the video again. See the guard question the first ghost. Notice the reactions of the patrons when ghosts sit next to them. There’s no religious context here, just the oddity of sharing space with someone whose only visible facial features are his, or her, eyes.

Categories: Humor, Movies, Theater

Thirty Years Ago

May 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Mount St. Helens, May 19, 1982 -- two years after the eruption

The 30th anniversary today of Mount St. Helens’ eruption has prompted assorted remembrances, as well as a look at the state of affairs at the mountain today. (For example, the Sunday Seattle Times feature article was an excellent piece on the return of various species, especially frogs, and today’s lead article discusses the advances in volcano monitoring.)

Where was I when the mountain erupted? Newport, Rhode Island. I hadn’t moved to Seattle yet, but I had accepted a job here just months earlier, so I knew I would be coming this way. As a result, I had paid closer attention to the Mount St. Helens news that spring that I might otherwise have. That day, May 18, 1980, I took a day trip down to Newport from Boston with my then-girlfriend Christine. We toured a couple of Newport mansions, though I don’t remember which. Marble House was surely one. Later in the afternoon, we drove around and found an outlook to the water. Looking at the map now, I would guess that we took Ten Mile Drive and stopped at Ocean Drive State Park. Wherever it was, we parked, walked down to some rocks, sat, and enjoyed the magnificent ocean view. On our return to the car, we turned on the radio and learned about the eruption.

Not the most dramatic story. Gail’s should be more interesting, since she was living here, but hers too is a little short of drama. She was still closer to the mountain than Seattle, down in Black Diamond where her father then lived. She had to go to work that day at Northgate, the historic shopping mall in the northern end of Seattle. When she got ready to leave, her father warned her that she couldn’t drive, the mountain had blown up. This didn’t deter her. She got in the car and drove away. And indeed, the eruption didn’t have much effect on Seattle, thanks to the direction of prevailing winds. Years later, I would drive in eastern Washington state and see ash deposits left behind by the mountain, but none of that headed this way.

Not much of a story. I know. Two summers later, in August 1982, I got my one close-up look at the mountain. Christine was here in Seattle for part of the summer and we drove down to Portland to visit Gerry, who was out from Boston to see his parents. The five of us had a lovely day’s drive up the Columbia River to Hood River, then south to Mount Hood and back to Portland. At the end of our stay, Gerry was to come up to Seattle with us to spend a day before returning to Boston. As we drove north on I-5, somewhere north of Kelso, we saw a sign advertising Mount St. Helens sightseeing flights available at Rocky’s Flying Service in Toledo, Washington. (I never knew the significance of “Rocky” — was it the name of the company’s eponymous pilot or a reference to Rocky the Flying Squirrel?) Gerry and Christine insisted that we get off I-5 and learn more. The small airfield was a few miles away. I kept saying, as we headed to it, that I wasn’t too keen to go up in some tiny plane. By the time we reached the field, I had become somewhat anxious. We met with the pilot who would take us, learned the cost, and then had to decide what to do. All eyes were on me, since Gerry and Christine were going up, with or without me. It was my choice. No pressure. Join them or wait for their return.

I didn’t want to miss out, but I also didn’t want to go up in the tiny plane. Finally, the pilot pointed out to me that he had his ass up there too. Aha! I got it. He had every bit as much a stake in our safe return as I did. I was convinced. Off we went.

It was 2×2 seating. I was in the rear right. I held on to the bottom of my seat. I don’t think I let go for the entire trip. We headed east until we were more or less due north of the crater. Then we turned south, approached the crater as far as was allowed at the time (the crater was still smoking; the FAA had strict regulations), made a u-turn, and reversed our route. What a sight! Blown down trees everywhere. Trucks everywhere. Timber companies were engaged in a massive salvage operation. And there was the shell of the mountain, a sight I’ve since seen many times on commercial flights, though never at so low an altitude. (The photo above, from wikipedia, just happens to have been taken at around that time. You can see what we would have seen.)

That’s my Mount St. Helens story. Not much, but it’s all I have.

Categories: Life

Lacrosse, 2

May 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Steve Schoeffel and Ned Crotty, Duke, versus Johns Hopkins

[Courtesy Duke Photography]

Having written about the NCAA men’s lacrosse championships two mornings ago, I may as well provide an update. As I explained, 16 teams participate, with 8 of them given seeds from #1 to #8. These eight teams host the other eight in the opening round, which was played over the weekend. The eight winners play the quarterfinal games next weekend, four at one neutral site, four at another. The four winners of this round face off in the semi-finals and finals over Memorial Day weekend, to be held this year at the Ravens’ football stadium in Baltimore.

I explained on Saturday that only 7 schools have ever won the championship, and that these 7 have dominated the tournament over the years, not just winning but filling most of the final game slots as well. (Syracuse, Johns Hopkins, Princeton, Virginia, North Carolina, Cornell, and Maryland.) I also noted that in recent years Duke has joined these eight as an elite lacrosse school, falling just short of winning the championship but otherwise having a record of consistent excellence that makes it their peer. It was runner-up to Hopkins in 2005 and 2007, which I pointed out, but I forgot to mention that it also reached the final four in 2008 and 2009, losing yet again to Hopkins in the 2008 semi-finals (Hopkins would then lose in the finals to Syracuse) and losing to Syracuse in the 2009 semi-finals (Syracuse would go on to defeat Cornell in overtime in a final that Cornell was within seconds of winning in regulation). As for 2006, that of course was the year that Duke’s season ended prematurely amidst the arrest of three of their players.

This leads me to another gap in my preview Saturday of this year’s tournament. I failed to mention the shadow that hangs over #1 seeded Virginia, one of whose players was arrested two weeks ago on charges of murdering a member of Virginia’s women’s lacrosse team. I have nothing more to add. You can read about it, if you haven’t already. A huge, irrational loss of a fine young woman.

One more point omitted from my preview: the two top-ranked teams entering the tournament were Virginia and Syracuse. Both had only one loss. Syracuse lost to Virginia at Virginia by a single goal back on March 7 and was undefeated since. Virginia lost to Duke at home on April 17, but six days later, in the first round of the ACC championships, it beat Duke. (There are only two rounds, since there are only four ACC schools with lacrosse teams, all four among the sport’s elite: Virginia, Maryland, UNC, Duke.)

The seeded teams — to repeat from my previous post — were Virginia, Syracuse, Maryland, UNC, Duke, Princeton, Cornell, Stony Brook, in that order. All eight first-round games were on television, but seven of the eight were on ESPNU, not part of my cable package. I had to content myself with watching the first game of the weekend, Duke vs. Hopkins, which was on ESPN Saturday morning. Hopkins had a disappointing season and was lucky to make the tournament. They were the only traditional elite school not to be seeded. But Hopkins is Hopkins, the Yankees and Packers and Canadiens of college lacrosse. There was always the possibility that they would rise to the occasion. Alas, they didn’t. They stayed close early on, but late in the first half, with Duke leading 6-4, Duke got two quick goals to take a 8-4 lead into the break. In the third quarter, they broke open the game, outscoring Hopkins by a shocking 8-0. The final score was 18-5.

Although I was unable to watch any of the other games, I could follow them at the NCAA website, which has a “gametracker” feature that lets you know possession by possession what happens — a goal, a clear by the defending team, and so on. This isn’t the most interesting way to follow a game, but I tried it off and on. There was one thriller, #7 seed Cornell’s 11-10 victory over Loyola in triple overtime. In the other three Saturday games, the seeds advanced, #1 Virginia over Mount St. Mary’s in another rout, 18-4; #3 Maryland over Hofstra, 11-8; and #8 Stony Brook over Denver, 9-7.

(Mount St. Mary’s? Have you heard of it? It’s a small Catholic liberal arts college in Emmitsburg, Maryland, at the foot of the Catoctin Mountains, just south of Gettysburg. As it turns out, we drove right through it on US 15 two weeks ago, on our way to and from Gettysburg. I had no idea at the time that they had a major lacrosse team. Then again, they might not have gotten into the tournament if not for getting an automatic bid as conference champion. Looking over their schedule, I see they lost regular season games to the two major teams they played, Virginia and Georgetown, and Georgetown would surely have liked to have the tournament slot that went to Mount St. Mary’s instead.)

Yesterday, three more first-round games were played. I followed #4 North Carolina against Delaware on-line. Pretty exciting, for much of the game, UNC would go ahead one and Delaware would tie it. At one point Delaware went ahead one, only to be tied. In the end, UNC was able to open up two-goal leads twice that Delaware closed to one, but could do no more, losing 14-13. I also caught the end of an upset, Notre Dame beating #6 seed Princeton 8 to 5. But the final game was the shocker of the weekend. When we left the house for dinner, #2 Syracuse seemed to have things in hand against Army, leading 6-3 late in the second half. With one second to go in the half, Army scored to close the gap to 6-4. Syracuse scored first in the third quarter, but didn’t score again that quarter, Army getting two goals to narrow the gap to 7-6 as the quarter ended. The fourth quarter was similar: Syracuse scored first, but Army stopped them the rest of the way and scored two goals, tying the game at 8-8 with just under seven minutes left. That’s how regulation ended. In the second overtime, Army won 9-8.

I sure would have liked to see that one on TV.

The two upsets of seeded teams occurred in the same half of the bracket. Here’s how the quarterfinals set up. In one half of the bracket, #1 seed Virginia faces #8 Stony Brook (at Stony Brook!) while #4 UNC faces #5 Duke (at Princeton). In the other half, #3 Maryland plays unseeded Notre Dame (at Princeton) and #7 Cornell plays unseeded Army (at Stony Brook).

Duke looked awfully good against Hopkins. With Syracuse’s departure, the two best teams in the tournament may be Virginia and Duke. Be sure to watch them on Memorial weekend if they do meet in the semi-finals. I would guess Virginia won’t be challenged by Stony Brook, though what do I know? They did meet earlier in the season, at Virginia, with Virginia winning 13-8. As for UNC-Duke, perhaps I shouldn’t be so quick to declare Duke the winner. In their one meeting this season, at Duke, Duke lost 13-7. But that was on March 10. Duke’s only loss since was to Virginia in the ACC tournament game mentioned earlier.

I don’t know if I’ll be writing about lacrosse again. Maybe I’ve overdone it at this point. I’ll be following for sure.

Categories: Sports

Lacrosse Championships

May 15, 2010 Leave a comment

The NCAA men’s lacrosse championships start today. I’m ready. A week ago I printed the 16-team draw and pinned it to the wall above my desk. In an hour, the Duke-Hopkins game will be on ESPN. I’ll be watching.

I should provide some background, about the tournament and about my interest. The tournament is set up with a 16-team single-elimination draw. Eight teams are seeded. In the opening round, each of the seeded team hosts one of the unseeded teams at home. If all goes to plan, the eight seeded teams win and move on to the quarterfinals a week later, where they face off in the traditional fashion — #1 versus #8, #2 versus #7, etc. The quarterfinal round is played at neutral sites, two games at one of the sites and two at another. Neutral in principle. In practice, the sites –which are selected long before the tournament draw is established — are the stadiums of traditional lacrosse powers, so it is entirely possible that one of the quarter-finalists finds itself playing at home. The tournament is timed so that the semi-finals and finals are held a week later on the Saturday and Monday of Memorial Day weekend. Since 2003, the championships have rotated among NFL football stadiums in the northeast. This year, they return in two weeks to the Ravens’ stadium in Baltimore.

The most fascinating aspect of the tournament, for me, is the fact that the same seven schools dominate year after year. The only schools ever to have won are Syracuse, Johns Hopkins, Princeton, Virginia, North Carolina, Cornell, and Maryland. This is in order of number of championships, from 10 for Syracuse and 9 for Hopkins down to 3 for Cornell and 2 for Maryland. If you count the number of appearances in the final, Hopkins leads with 18 to Syracuse’s 16, with UNC having the fewest final appearances, 5. Only five other schools have made the final game: Duke and Navy twice, Massachusetts, Towson, and Loyola each once.

Duke is an interesting story. In recent years, it has become one of the sport’s powers. It lost to Hopkins by just a single goal in both the 2005 and 2007 finals. It was ranked #1 regularly in those years. You will recall that in the year between those finals appearances, Duke’s season ended abruptly in the wake of the arrest of three of its players, when the president decided to fire the coach and end the team’s season.

This year, the traditional powers continue to dominate. Six of them are among the eight seeded teams in the draw. Among the super seven, only Hopkins is not among the seeds, though it did make the draw. The remaining two seeds are Duke — in effect the eighth power — and surprising Stony Brook. In order, the seeds are: Virginia, Syracuse, Maryland, UNC, Duke, Princeton, Cornell, Stony Brook.

The eight unseeded teams are Mount St. Mary’s, Denver, Hopkins, Delaware, Hofstra, Notre Dame, Loyola, and Army. Several of these have great lacrosse traditions in their own right — Hofstra (ranked #1 all season a few years back but upset early in the tournament), Delaware (a semi-finalist three years ago), Loyola (a one-time runner-up), Army. Notre Dame has come on strong in recent years. Denver, a newcomer, hired away long-time Princeton coach Bill Tierney in the off-season in a quest to move into the top ranks of the sport. (See, for instance, this recent article in the NYT.)

One more point about this year’s tournament. I mentioned the fact that the quarter-finals are played at two neutral sites, each hosting two of the four games. This year’s sites are Princeton and Stony Brook. If Princeton wins its first-round game tomorrow against Notre Dame, it will get to play its quarter-final game at home. Likewise, if Stony Brook beats Denver today, it will play at home next week.

We have a tradition of spending Memorial Day weekend watching the semi-finals and finals on ESPN. We would watch more, but lacrosse coverage is usually on ESPN’s college network, ESPNU, which we don’t get, so we wait patiently for the last weekend. Today, however, as I noted at the beginning, one of the first-round games is on ESPN, the Duke-Hopkins match-up, a rematch of two recent championship games, but with Duke heavily favored this time.

I don’t really know how our tradition started. I grew up, of course, in the heart of lacrosse country: Long Island. But our high school did not have a lacrosse team at the time, so I didn’t grow up playing or watching or having friends who played. I knew the game existed. I knew that just three school districts down Northern Boulevard was one of the traditional powers, Manhasset High School. In the 1950s, they had a player who is still spoken of as the greatest ever. He went on to star at Syracuse, and maybe he would have dominated in the pros if there were such a thing at the time. But there wasn’t, so he went pro instead in his other sport, football, a sport in which he also happened to be just maybe the best ever. Jim Brown.

One of my best friends in college was a defenseman. He lived above me in our freshman dorm, as did an attackman. I watched several of their games over the years. Cornell was the dominant team in the league at the time, but we were pretty good. It was many years, though, before I watched lacrosse again. I would read about the championships to the extent that they were covered, but I don’t think they were on TV until some time in the 1990s, or at least I didn’t notice until then. There was a stretch in the 90s when Princeton and Syracuse alternated as champions, starting in 1992 with an overtime victory by Princeton over Syracuse for Princeton’s first championship. Somewhere in there is when I started watching, though more by happenstance than planning. If the championship game was held on Memorial Day in those years, I failed to figure that out.

Also, in those years, our daughter Jessica was playing lacrosse for her school in Maine. One time, when we were visiting, we went back and forth between two fields, watching her game and a men’s game that was being played concurrently. That’s the first time Gail saw the sport and she fell in love.

Somehow, the tradition was established. Three years ago we were in Boston on Memorial Day weekend for the wedding of our friends Gerry and Margie. That Saturday afternoon they were having a day-before-the-wedding open house and we had time to kill before it started. We walked around Back Bay, went into stores, took a walk through the Boston Public Library, returned to our hotel, and caught part of the semi-finals: the end of the Hopkins-Delaware game and the start of Duke-Cornell. The only problem was, we had the wrong time for the open house, based on an initial save-the-date mailing, having failed to take into account the updated information of the official mailing. There we were watching lacrosse in our room while the party was underway 10 miles west. We were a little puzzled, when we arrived, by the line of parked cars way down the street and the paucity of food. People were already leaving.

Oh well. At least we caught some of that year’s lacrosse. We would miss Monday’s Duke-Hopkins final, thanks to a post-wedding brunch and a drive out to Acton to see Katie and Micah and their boys.

But now I get to see Duke-Hopkins after all. The game is about to start. Gotta go.

Categories: Sports

Jack Reacher #14

May 14, 2010 Leave a comment

I have written several times about Lee Child’s series of Jack Reacher novels. Two years I was unaware of them. Had I heard of them, I wouldn’t have thought they would interest me. That’s when #12 in the series, Nothing to Lose, appeared. It was June, I had some time on my hands, and Janet Maslin’s NYT review appeared in the NYT.

Leaves turn. Snow falls. Robins tweet. And a new Jack Reacher novel arrives as the year’s first red-hot beach book. Truly, this is how some of us keep track of the seasons.

That’s because Lee Child’s brainiac tough-guy series has been on a steady winning streak, a pattern that began three books back with “One Shot” and continues through the latest installment, “Nothing to Lose.” . . .

Mr. Child’s books, like Hitchcock’s films, inspire a hard-won confidence: every detail, no matter how minor, has been put into play for a reason. . . .

The Reacher books are hugely, deservedly popular. Some of Mr. Child’s devotees relish these novels’ strategic intelligence; some like the brisk interpersonal dynamics; some like the author’s fascination with minutiae. . . .

I decided to find out what the fuss was about. I got the book a week later, started it one night, and finished it the next afternoon. I wouldn’t say I was hooked. The book had extraordinary momentum, but the plot seemed mighty silly and I hadn’t yet come to appreciate the depths of Reacher’s character.

Nonetheless, when #13, Gone Tomorrow, appeared last June, I snapped it up and devoured it. That’s when I got serious about Reacher. A few weeks later, I picked up One Shot (#9) in paperback, based on Maslin’s reference to it as the start of the series’ winning streak. I discussed it at the time, concluding: “I don’t know what to make of these books. They’re not by any means great literature. I’m not even sure I like the Jack Reacher character so much. What I do like is how his reasoning is laid out. He has unparalleled fighting skills, but his mental skills are just as important to his success and great fun to observe. No doubt I’ll read #14 next year as soon as it comes out. Maybe I’ll continue my remedial reading in the meantime.”

In September, when we arrived in Nantucket, I decided I needed another Reacher book to read while sitting outside our inn looking out at the harbor, so we made a bookstore our first stop and it had Reacher #1, Killing Floor, in paperback. I thought after that that a break might be in order, but a month later I got my Kindle, in preparation for our trip to Europe, and I decided that reading yet another Reacher novel on it would be a good experiment. Let’s see. What’s #2? Die Trying. Moments later it was on my Kindle and a day later I had finished it.

By this point, I was saturated. I really did need a break. I put Lee Child out of my thoughts. Even with summer’s approach and robins’ tweets, I didn’t think of him. Until I opened the NYT this morning and found yet another Janet Maslin rave review of another Lee Child Jack Reacher novel, his newest, 61 Hours. It’s already out in the UK, but it won’t be out here until Tuesday.

I didn’t get far in Maslin’s review. The first sentence starts, “In ’61 Hours,’ the 14th, craftiest and most highly evolved of Lee Child’s electrifying Jack Reacher books, . . . .” That was all I needed to know. Reading any more would spoil the plot. I’m ready. If it were available today, I’d be reading it now on my Kindle rather than writing this post. But I have to wait. And once I saw on the Amazon site that I would have to wait, I had time to contemplate whether I really wanted to read it on the Kindle rather than as a physical book.

In principle, this should be easy. There are no maps, no photos, no family trees, none of the graphic elements that frustrate me on the Kindle. It’s just a straightforward narrative, the ultimate page turner (or next button pusher). Read, click, read, click. Yet, these books are so much fun to read, and part of the fun is that genuine page turning experience, feeling the book thicken in the left hand, thin in the right, until the right is empty. I went for the book version.

Now let’s see if I can restrain myself from downloading the Kindle version next week if the book doesn’t come quickly.

Categories: Books

William Maxwell

May 13, 2010 Leave a comment

In celebration of its 85th anniversary, The New Yorker has had a daily online feature in which it highlights some New Yorker author and a particular piece by that author that appeared in its pages. An especially noteworthy aspect of this enterprise is that the “issue containing that day’s selected piece will be made freely available in our digital archive and will remain open until the next day’s selection is posted.” Thus, a non-subscriber who has sufficient time can have a go at an entire issue from years or decades ago at no cost. But even without this bonus, the short blurbs written by current New Yorker writers about past works and their authors have been informative.

Yesterday’s featured work, discussed by Jon Michaud, was William Maxwell’s short novel So Long, See You Tomorrow, which appeared in 1976 in two parts. Maxwell is perhaps better known as the long-time New Yorker fiction editor than as a fiction writer. He edited, among others, John Cheever, Eudora Welty, and Vladimir Nabokov. On seeing Michaud’s post, I was reminded yet again that I have long wanted to read Maxwell. I considered downloading So Long, See You Tomorrow from Amazon for my Kindle, then wondered if I should instead grab it for free from the New Yorker archive. Why pay $10? But I didn’t really want to read it online, because the look of articles in the archive is not welcoming. Indecision got the best of me.

Last night I asked Joel if he had read anything by Maxwell. No. This morning I was talking to Joel when I glanced at the books on the shelves above his desk. (I should take a moment here to explain that we did a remodel last year whose last step was the installation of the built-in desk and shelves. Since I didn’t want the shelves to look empty at the end of the installation and Joel wasn’t due back from Grenoble for another week or two, I put some of my books on the shelves, books that I had read and put out of the way in piles while awaiting more shelf space, or books I hadn’t read and put out of the way to make room for newer books.) As I talked, I noticed Joshua Ferris’s 2007 novel Then We Came To The End, which I so loved, and asked if he had read it yet. No, just the first few pages, but he said he’d give it another try.

And then I realized that the book next to Ferris’s had William Maxwell’s name on the spine. My gosh, we have a William Maxwell book! Was it Joel’s? No, he assured me that it’s mine. What a puzzle.

The book is Maxwell’s All the Days and Nights: The Collected Stories. It was published in 1995. I have no idea when I got it, or how. A present, surely. Or did I buy it on remainder? That could be, given my continuing desire to read him. I felt foolish. I will start the book tonight.

In the Preface to All the Days and Nights, Maxwell has a passage that I remember reading before, perhaps in Morris Dickstein’s NYT review of Barbara Burkhardt’s 2005 biography William Maxwell: A Literary Life, which quotes it. This passage is what convinced me I must read Maxwell.

The year was 1933, and I was twenty-five. I had started to become an English professor and changed my mind, and I had written a novel, as yet unpublished. I meant to go to sea, so that I would have something to write about. . . . I had no idea that three-quarters of the material I would need for the rest of my writing life was already at my disposal. My father and mother. My brothers. The cast of larger-than-life-size characters — affectionate aunts, friends of the family, neighbors white and black — that I was presented with when I came into the world. The look of things. The weather. Men and women long at rest in the cemetery but vividly remembered.

Categories: Books, Writing

Seattle Treats

May 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Theo Chocolate

This is a short one. I’m just posting to point to an article now online at the NYT that will appear in the Sunday travel section, the weekly Choice Tables feature. It’s about places for treats in Seattle. Featured are:

  • Columbia City Bakery
  • Cafe Besalu
  • Panama Hotel Tea and Coffee House
  • Theo Chocolate
  • Bakery Nouveau
  • Full Tilt Ice Cream

See also the accompanying slide show.

It would seem that I don’t take very much advantage of the local offerings. I bought three bars of Theo Chocolate last Saturday to give to Gail the next day for Mother’s Day, but Theo is the only one of the six places discussed whose offerings I’ve tried.

We have work to do.

Categories: Food

Giro d’Italia, II

May 12, 2010 2 comments

Tyler Farrar winning stage 2 of the Giro d'Italia, in Utrecht

I’ve been asleep at the handlebars! The Giro d’Italia started last Saturday and I didn’t even know until Joel told me a half hour ago. It doesn’t help that there’s been no coverage in the papers. Last year was different. All it took was Lance deciding to ride in it as preparation for the Tour de France, and suddenly there was daily coverage in the NYT. (I complained in a post last year about the sudden appearance of the Giro in the news. And remember, Americans have been in the Giro before. They’ve even done well before, with Andy Hampsten winning in 1988.) Now we’re back to business as usual. No Lance; no coverage.

Nonetheless, whether we’re paying attention in the States, they’re riding. The Giro held its opening three days in the Netherlands, rested yesterday, and picked up today with a team time trial from Savigliano to Cuneo. Perhaps I haven’t missed too much. Coverage is on Universal Sports, which is part of our cable package, and today’s stage will be re-broadcast at 7:00 PM. I hope the Penguins-Canadiens seventh game is over by then. I don’t know who won yet, thanks to a non-spoiler mode at the Giro website. Past days results are shown, but you have to click the appropriate link to find out today’s results.

Reviewing the results of those earlier days in the Netherlands, I see that I missed two of my favorite riders taking the opening stages. The British rider Bradley Wiggins took the very short (8.4k) time trial in Amsterdam on Saturday by 2 seconds over Brent Bookwalter and Cadel Evans. And local (Washington State) hero Tyler Farrar won the 210k stage from Amsterdam to Utrecht Sunday in the sprint finish shown at top.

I’ll be paying attention the rest of the way.

Categories: Cycling, Sports