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Archive for February, 2011

Catching Up Again

February 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Hickory, Scottish deerhound

This has been a bad month for blogging. And the longer I go without writing new posts, the more post ideas accumulate, making the prospect of catching up sufficiently daunting that I keep putting it off. But mostly what has kept me quiet has been the confluence of two events: a busy period with regard to various work duties and the poor health of my still new iMac. I was without the iMac for a few days, and now that it’s back from the Apple Store, the problem that sent it there is as bad as ever. I’m using it tonight, but it will return to the store tomorrow morning.*

So much for using it tonight. It lost its internet connection partway through this post. This has been the problem. First the mail app stops working, but the browser is fine. Then the browser goes, which is what happened. And then the computer crashes if I wait long enough. I have switched to my MacBook Air and will finish this post, but that may do it for today.

Anyway, let’s see. I’ll list a few of the items I had intended to write about, though some are getting dated and I can barely remember the details of others:

1. Technology update: the woes of my iMac, the beauty of my new Kindle, some thoughts on my new 11″ MacBook Air.

2. Westminster dog show. It took place last Monday and Tuesday. How can I not comment on it? Love those dogs.

3. Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory. This was the subject of my last post, written when I was part way through the book. I’ve finished it now.

4. The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam. This is the book I’m now reading. About one third of the way through.

5. A WSJ article last week about walker rage.

6. A WSJ article last week about the friendship between a man and a goose in LA.

7. A NYT article with an incredibly poorly written sentence.

8. The Wayne Rooney goal. You’ve probably seen it by now, but if not, I was going to link to it.

9. Dinner last weekend at La Spiga.

It’s tempting to say something about the events in Wisconsin this past week, with further thoughts about state employees and unions in general, but what do I know? I mean, I know a little, what with being a state employee and all. But I’m not exactly an expert on politics or unions or disingenuous right-wing governors. I did try to think yesterday morning of what experts on Wisconsin I could think of, first among friends of mine in academia, then among bloggers I read. And then it occurred to me that a blogger I eschew reading because her views are too far to the right for me is in fact a law professor at Wisconsin, so surely her thoughts would be of interest. Off I went to Althouse, the Ann Althouse blog, and sure enough, it was of great interest.

It’s tempting also to comment on Albert Pujols and his failed contract negotiations with the Cardinals, but this is yet another area on which I’m hardly an expert.

I’ll get back to some of these issues tomorrow, I hope. But unless Apple does the right thing and hands me a new iMac tomorrow to replace the one I bought in November, I’ll have to do my blogging on my little MacBook. It’s quite frustrating, what with Gail’s iMac failing from day one and mine failing a month later.

More tomorrow.

Categories: Life

Country Driving

February 8, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve been meaning for a few days now to write about Peter Hessler’s Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory. Looking for links to it, I just discovered that it has come out this very day in paperback, so this is a good day to write about it.

As I mentioned a week ago when I wrote about Ted Conover’s The Routes of Man, I learned about both books a year ago. They were published a week apart and got good reviews in the NYT (here and here for Hessler; here for Conover). Repeating myself again from a week ago:

Last February, I read reviews a week apart of two new travel books and thought both would be good reading on a trip to the east coast I would be taking during the first week of March: Ted Conover’s The Routes of Man: Travels in the Paved World and Peter Hessler’s Country Driving: A Journey Through China From Farm to Factory. But which to bring?

As I explained in a post last April, I bought, and brought, both. That’s one of the benefits of the Kindle. Weight and space aren’t issues. . . . Once I boarded the plane for my trip, I immediately began to read Conover’s book.

Why Conover over Hessler? I think I was afraid that since some of Hessler’s book had appeared in the New Yorker, I might find it familiar, so I wanted to read the fresher book first. But I only got part way through Conover’s book. I started Hessler’s book during the trip too, reading just a few pages (or their electronic equivalent).

More recently, in the wake of reading Ian Frazier’s Travels in Siberia in December, I was inspired to return to Conover’s and Hessler’s books. I finished The Routes of Man two Fridays ago, writing about it last week, and now I’m about two-fifths of the way through Country Driving.

I had an odd experience when I initially started in again on Country Driving last week. Conover’s book describes six driving trips, each having an underlying theme. The fifth of the sixth trips was in China, the theme being the rise of a new class of people who can afford to buy cars and take self-driving trips. With that trip fresh in my mind, I switched to Hessler’s book and found myself again on the road in China, following Hessler on a trip along the Great Wall. What was odd was how their two voices ran together in my head. Not that they are similar; not that their journeys are similar. But I had to convince myself nonetheless that I was reading a different book by a different author with a different vision.

For that matter, it didn’t help, with Frazier’s Travels in Siberia still in my head as well, that I was now heading west along the northern edge of China, whereas just a few weeks back I was heading east on the other side of the border. The books were all becoming one. Heck, even Paul Clemens’ Punching Out, which I read last month, entered the mix. He didn’t travel anywhere exactly, staying put in a single closed auto plant in Detroit, but like Frazier and Conover and Hessler, he spends much of his book narrating conversations with people who have a variety of jobs and (although all in Detroit at the time) come from different regions of a big country, immersing himself in their worlds and reporting on them.

The confusion has lifted as I have gotten farther into Hessler’s book, which is quite good. I will have more to say about it after I finish it. Now that it’s out in paperback, you may wish to pick it up. At $9.08 from Amazon, it’s cheaper in paperback than on the Kindle ($9.99).

Categories: Books

Change We Can Believe In, XI

February 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Change We Can Believe In: de facto life sentences at Guantánamo

It’s been so long since I’ve had an entry in my Change We Can Believe In series that I’ve lost count of where I am. I think this is right. Anyway, in the news last week, if you’ve looked hard enough, was the death at Guantánamo of Awal Gul.

The Defense Department announced on Thursday that Awal Gul, 48, an Afghan who had been held at the military prison in Cuba since October 2002, collapsed late Tuesday after exercising on an elliptical machine.

The statement described Mr. Gul as “an admitted Taliban recruiter and commander of a military base in Jalalabad” who operated a guesthouse for Al Qaeda. It said he also admitted meeting with Osama bin Laden “and providing him with operational assistance on several occasions.”

But W. Matthew Dodge, a lawyer who represented Mr. Gul in a habeas corpus lawsuit, called those claims “outrageous” and “slander.” He said that his client had resigned from the Taliban, and that in three years of litigation, the government never claimed or pointed to any evidence that his client had run any Qaeda house or admitted providing support to Mr. bin Laden.

Mr. Gul was the seventh detainee to die at the prison since it opened in January 2002.

As long as we get to hold people in indefinite detention without due process, many more will find themselves serving unintended life sentences. What’s that? President Obama said he’s closing Guantánamo? Yes, he did say that once, didn’t he? It seems he wasn’t serious.

For more details, see Glenn Greenwald’s report last Friday. I’ll quote one paragraph:

This episode also demonstrates the absurdity of those who claim that President Obama has been oh-so-eagerly trying to close Guantanamo only to be thwarted by a recalcitrant Congress. The Obama administration has sought to “close” the camp only in the most meaningless sense of that word: by moving its defining injustice — indefinite, due-process-free detention — a few thousand miles north onto U.S. soil. But the crux of the Guantanamo travesty — indefinite detention — is something the Obama administration has long planned to preserve, and that has nothing to do with what Congress has or has not done. Indeed, Gul was one of the 50 detainees designated by Obama for that repressive measure. Thus, had Gul survived, the Obama administration would have sought to keep him imprisoned indefinitely without any pretense of charging him with a crime — neither in a military commission nor a real court. Instead, they would have simply continued the Bush/Cheney policy of imprisoning him indefinitely without any charges.

If Obama doesn’t watch out, he may find himself in the same boat as Bush, unable to travel to Switzerland after his presidency. President Obama, you better get over there now. Do some sightseeing. Have some schnitzel mit spaetzle. Chocolate too.

Categories: Law, Torture

We’re Back (USA. Cars.)

February 7, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve been pretty excited about the Chevy Volt. If only my current car weren’t just four years old, with just over 15,000 miles driven, I would trade it in for the Volt. What with my averaging 308 1/3 miles per month, or just over 10 miles per day, I’d be a perfect candidate. The Volt’s gas engine would rarely kick in to re-charge the battery.

But that’s not all GM is up to. They’re on a roll. Firing on all cylinders. Or, as Dan Neal writes in his review of the 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Sports Wagon in the WSJ two Saturdays ago, “GM is getting its mojo back, playing the game, rousing the faithful. You have to love it.” (See the accompanying slideshow too.)

Let’s say you bought this car, a Cadillac CTS-V Sport Wagon, with a 6.2-liter, 556-horsepower Corvette V8, six-speed manual transmission, magnetorheological dampers (I’ll get to that), Michelin SP2 gumballs, 15-inch front Brembo brakes with six-pot calipers, and microsuede wrapping on the steering wheel and shifter. Well, first of all, you’d be one strange cat, which is to say, unusual. Notwithstanding any nitro-burning ice-cream trucks or flying boattail Rollses in your neighborhood, this wagon is about as esoteric an automobile as you’re likely to find. Statistically speaking, General Motors will sell exactly none of these cars, the Detroit equivalent of Zoroastrianism.

But if you did buy one, what would you do with it? You’d have a lot of options. Like Cadillac’s 3.6-liter CTS wagon—with a mere 304 hp—the V-Wagon has a useful and accessible 22 cubic feet behind the rear seats and a generous 56 cubic feet with the second-row seats folded. Among other things, you could take three weeks’ worth of groceries to the test-and-tune session at your local drag strip. Zero to 60 miles per hour in this car goes by in 4.3 seconds—such acceleration momentarily takes years off your sagging jowls—and then the car really starts to move, thundering through the quarter-mile in 11.9 seconds at 116 mph, according to my colleagues at Car and Driver, who do impeccable instrumented testing.

Such a car would be useful if you wanted to duck car-pooling duty or avoid field trips with the Cub Scouts, because no child emerging weepy and jelly-kneed from the back seats of this supercharged washing machine will ever want to get back in. You’ll be on cupcake duty from then on.

You could attempt to redeem yourself for such an automotive purchase, as you should. The V-Wagon is utterly, cosmically and seismically wrong, a filthy, shameful ogre of torque that bellows and sets alight thatched roofs as it drives by—Caliban with pushrods. You owe God or somebody an apology.

Perhaps you could put on demonstrations for the local high-school physics club, using the g-meter built into the car’s instrument cluster to show exactly what more than 1 g of lateral acceleration feels like. It feels like a fat lady is trying to push you out the side window. Or if not physics, the Greek club, since like Antaeus the V-Wagon maintains an Olympian grip on the earth and draws strength from it. Maybe you could help out at the police training range, letting cadets chase you to improve their hot-pursuit driving skills. Then, having been completely demoralized, these plebes will quit to become firemen. The world needs firemen.

What you couldn’t do is volunteer to rush transplant organs to faraway hospitals, because if you did, you’d only arrive with coolers full of gazpacho.

Over at Chrysler, I can’t tell you much about the new Chrysler 200, but I can tell you to watch the two-minute ad for it that was the high point of yesterday’s Super Bowl. (Just click play on the embedded video above.) The Joe Louis fist. Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry fresco. Eminem: “This is the Motor City and this is what we do.” A paean to manufacturing and to what made America great. Stirring, even if Fiat does own a big chunk of Chrysler.

And speaking of what makes America great, even if this one is made in Japan, have a look at yesterday’s NYT car review, Ezra Dyer’s droll look at Infiniti’s new behemoth.

The QX’s most helpful features, though, are the ones that apply to the simple challenge of seeing out of the thing. Visibility is always a problem in a full-size S.U.V. You’re sitting up there in the wheelhouse and your bumpers are somewhere down below the cloud ceiling, possibly in different counties. You’re always getting home and finding small items like A.T.M.’s and hot-dog carts stuck in the wheel wells and wondering, “How long has that been there?”

To address this problem, Infiniti’s Around View monitor uses multiple cameras to digitally stitch together a bird’s-eye view of the vehicle, which is mighty useful in parking lots and other close quarters. A blind-spot-warning system lets you know when a Miata is swimming like a remora off your rear flank.

My favorite electronic helper, though, is Distance Control Assist, part of the $2,850 Technology Package. (The full-boat QX56 4WD that I drove included that option, as well as the $2,450 Theater Package and $6,950 Deluxe Touring Package, bringing the grand total to $72,170.)

You could probably live without the Theater Package’s twin DVD screens, but the Technology Package should be considered mandatory. It includes Distance Control Assist, which uses lasers to scan the road ahead; if it concludes that you’re on a collision course with a car or other obstacle, the accelerator pedal physically pushes back to clue you in to slow down. If you’re still oblivious, the QX hits the brakes for you, which could be a real boon in mind-numbing stop-and-go traffic.

The system really works; I drove the QX several hundred miles and didn’t crash into a single thing. I attribute this success to Distance Control Assist, my own careful driving and the fact that the QX56’s front-end styling physically repels most living things. One gentleman driving ahead of me took a look in his rearview mirror and promptly set a new land speed record for an octogenarian in a Buick Park Avenue.

Categories: Advertising, Automobiles

Not Listening

February 6, 2011 Leave a comment

No, I’m not referring to the Super Bowl hype, though it’s true that I’m not listening to that. I won’t even turn on the TV until kickoff in half an hour. No one can possibly say anything new at this point about the teams and the matchup.

I’m talking about Ronald Reagan. His 100th birthday would have been today? Not listening! Don’t want to hear about it. Like the Super Bowl, everything I want to know about him I know already. I have no interest in the absurd cult that keeps growing around him. I will not participate in his beatification. Spare me. As far as I’m concerned, much that’s wrong with this country’s politics today can be traced back to him. So leave me out of it.

Now about that game. I better get ready to watch.

Categories: History, Politics