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Ephemera

March 22, 2011 Leave a comment

[From vintagemural.com]

A few days ago, on the eve of our entrance into yet another war, I wrote a less than careful post on Afghanistan and Libya. There’s much I’ve wanted to say since, but I’m so troubled by the rush of events that I hardly know where to start. Then again, anything I might say has been said already. Thus, even though the other topics I have in mind are lightweight by comparison, I will proceed to write a few ephemeral posts.

Then again, blogs are supposed to be ephemeral, aren’t they? So here goes.

Categories: War

Permanent War

March 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Under Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy and Gen. Petraeus

[Stephen Crowley/The New York Times]

With General Petraeus in DC this week to testify before Congress about the war in Afghanistan, it’s been a discouraging week, as the likelihood increases that we’ll have troops there throughout a second Obama presidential term, if there is one, and beyond. On Tuesday, he

described the value of sustaining a long-term relationship with Kabul, and raised the possibility of operating joint military bases with local forces long after foreign troops are scheduled to withdraw in 2014.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of American and coalition forces, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that “it’s very important to stay engaged in a region in which we have such vital interests.”

[snip]

General Petraeus said that while Afghan and coalition forces had turned back the Taliban’s initiative on the battlefield, he warned that progress remained “fragile and reversible.”

After almost a decade, what is our goal exactly? How do we recognize progress?

And now we seem poised to start a third war, in Libya. Aren’t two enough? Why Libya anyway? Are we really talking about a humanitarian mission? Then why not elsewhere in Africa as well? And how do we define success? What stake do we actually have in this that justifies piling on further national debt, deferring investments in our own country, and so on? Digby captures the issue well in a post today:

This is not a war to save people. If we cared about that we would be intervening in Cote D’Ivoire, where there has been horrible violence on the same level as that in Libya. There is human misery all over the planet that we can’t even be bothered to look at, much less intervene. So let’s not kid ourselves about what this is about:

Oil reserves in Libya are the largest in Africa and the ninth largest in the world with 41.5 billion barrels (6.60×10^9 m3) as of 2007. Oil production was 1.8 million barrels per day (290×10^3 m3/d) as of 2006, giving Libya 63 years of reserves at current production rates if no new reserves were to be found. Libya is considered a highly attractive oil area due to its low cost of oil production (as low as $1 per barrel at some fields), and proximity to European markets. Libya would like to increase production from 1.8 Mbbl/d (290×10^3 m3/d) in 2006 to 3 Mbbl/d (480×10^3 m3/d) by 2010–13 but with existing oil fields undergoing a 7–8% decline rate, Libya’s challenge is maintaining production at mature fields, while finding and developing new oil fields. Most of Libya remains unexplored as a result of past sanctions and disagreements with foreign oil companies.

Seriously, we are fighting two wars in the region already. And we have hardly “stabilized” the region. There are some good signs that the people themselves have gotten tired of the “oiligarchy” economies and are finding their way out of it. And some of those rulers are going to fight back. But I find it almost impossible to believe that we are actually going to make things better for the people. The objective is to stabilize the region for the oil companies.

If people want to talk honestly about this and admit what it is we are really doing then perhaps, as a democracy, we can hash this out properly. But using the uprising as an excuse to “intervene” on behalf of Exxon and BP has nothing to do with humanitarianism and liberals need to disabuse themselves of this illusion once and for all.

What was the point of the 2008 presidential election anyway?

Categories: War

Sentence of the Week, 4

March 16, 2011 Leave a comment

The winners in my recent Sentence of the Week posts (here, here, and here) have been loser sentences. This latest entry is a true winner. (Can Roger Angell write anything but winners?)

The current issue of The New Yorker has an article by Ian Frazier on the return of seals to New York harbor. I haven’t read it yet. I’d rather wait until our print copy arrives. However, I did read Roger Angell’s reflection on the article yesterday at The New Yorker’s blog. It’s just three paragraphs, which I’m tempted to quote in full, but I’ll stick to the mandated single sentence.

If they proliferate down here, as I expect, commuters on the Staten Island ferry some morning will get close enough to a seal to notice water dripping off his whiskers, and—if he makes his alternative head-last drop-down into deeper water, as against a dive—watch the seal’s nostrils, the final part of him, magically squeeze shut a quarter-second before he’s gone.

One more sentence? Okay, here is Angell a paragraph earlier, commenting on his time on the water during summers in Maine.

Up there, aboard my ancient day-sailer or even while rowing a smaller dinghy or paddling a kayak, I sometimes find myself in sudden close company with a harbor seal: a damp and pleasing, Lab-sized presence who has silently broken the surface fifteen or twenty yards away and now looks me over with unblinking interest.

At top is a photo I took on our 25th anniversary last June as we rode the ferry from Seattle to Bremerton. The seals are just off the southwest corner of Bainbridge Island, where Puget Sound narrows into a channel between the island and the Kitsap Peninsula.

Categories: Language

Change We Can Believe In, XV

March 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Change We Can Believe In: Reaffirming the commitment to close Guantanamo but keeping it open

You gotta love it. Eight days ago, the White House released a fact sheet on Guantanamo and detainee policy announcing that it “remains committed to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, and to maintain a lawful, sustainable and principled regime for the handling of detainees there, consistent with the full range of U.S. national security interests.” There’s the rub. Committed consistent with national security interests. And if the administration’s determination of national security interests results in keeping Guantanamo open, oh well.

I’ve been meaning for a week to write about this, but now I can simply refer to an eloquent editorial in last Saturday’s Des Moines Register that says what needs to be said. Excerpts below.

President Barack Obama’s announcement this week that some prisoners at Guantanamo Bay could be held indefinitely by the United States without benefit of trials is a major disappointment. He may have inherited Guantanamo from former President George W. Bush, but by failing to make good on his pledge to shut it down, Obama now shares credit for this stain on America’s once proud tradition as a champion of justice for all.

That stain must eventually be removed. The president alone clearly cannot resolve the Guantanamo dilemma, however. It will take leadership from both parties in Congress, and the support of the American people, who should see that this nation has a strong interest in living up to its commitment to protecting human rights.

The president made a bold – if risky – promise in his first month of office in 2009 to close down Guantanamo and prosecute or resettle the remaining prisoners outside the United States. . . .

On Monday, Obama appeared to throw in the towel. He cleared the way for trying some Guantanamo detainees before military tribunals. He issued an executive order regarding the fate of the remainder who cannot be tried for various reasons, and who are too dangerous to release: Their status will be periodically reviewed, but unless some miracle happens, they likely will remain in U.S. custody for the remainder of their lives even though they have never been tried or convicted of any crimes against the United States.

[snip]

The United States must eventually come to terms with the fact that it has imprisoned foreign nationals for years with no immediate prospect of a fair trial. Some of these men may present a potential threat to the United States, but the world is full of terrorists who would dearly love to wreak havoc on America. We cannot lock them all up, and locking up a few of them forever without trial will create whole new generations of terrorists with good reason to hate this country.

The stain must be removed.

Categories: Law, Politics

Lark, Oxtail, and More

March 13, 2011 Leave a comment

We’ve had a pretty good run of dinners the last few days, thanks to Gail and Joel. i was thinking a brief rundown might be in order.

Wednesday: On Saturday night four weekends ago, we tried to eat at Lark, but couldn’t get a table. No problem. We simply went three blocks up and ate at La Spiga, where we had such a good dinner that we returned two weeks later to celebrate my (non)-birthday. There was a problem though, which is that Gail had bought a $100 voucher for Lark a year ago for $50 and it would expire two nights ago. Plus, I wasn’t showing sufficient enthusiasm for going. So it was that Gail announced to me last Monday that she and Joel were going to Lark on Wednesday. I decided to join them.

As the website explains, Lark’s “menu features small plates of locally-produced and organic cheese, charcuterie, vegetables, grains, fish, and meats, all prepared with a signature focus on flavor and quality.” You can get a better sense of how they implement this by looking at the on-line menu. Each page of the menu has the note, “Our menu consists of small to medium-sized plates. We encourage family-style sharing.” And our waitress suggested that the right number of small plates for three people was 7 or 8. We had never eaten at Lark before. Therefore, it took us a while to sort through the menu and come up with an acceptable list of shared items. Here’s what we ordered:

From the cheese menu, “Smokey Blue: rich, hazelnut smoked blue.”

From the vegetables/grains menu, “Sunchoke soup with chestnuts, brown butter and duck confit” and “Rosti potatoes with clabber cream.”

From the charcuterie menu, a goose prosciutto that’s not on the current on-line menu, so I can’t quote their description. It came with marcona almonds and a balsamic spread. And we ended up with two plates of it through some misunderstanding, which was just as well given how few of the thin prosciutto slices came on each plate.

From the fish menu, another item not listed online, bacon-wrapped cod.

From the meat menu, “Meyer Ranch hanger steak with Provencale sunchokes, truffle sauce.”

Oh gosh, this isn’t adding up. What else could we have had. Oh, also from the vegetables menu, “Sautéed half wild mushrooms with garlic, olive oil and sea salt.” And maybe one other dish that I’m forgetting.

They came in waves. The cheese. Then the soup and prosciutto. Perhaps that’s when the mushrooms came also. The fish and steak. The potatoes at the end. They were fabulous. But then, everything was.

I think if I were to order for myself in a traditional way, I would have had the soup to start, the steak and potatoes next, and then dessert. Speaking of which, we ordered three desserts. I chose the chocolate madeleines with Theo chocolate sauce, not currently listed on-line, which is how I would have finished my meal if just ordering for myself. They were bite-sized and there must have been about 20 of them. (I shared.) Joel chose a tarte tatin. The menu lists “Bartlett tarte tatin with Calvados caramel and vanilla ice cream,” but on Wednesday the tarte tatin was made with pineapple. Gail had the mascarpone cheesecake.

We were glad we went.

Thursday: I don’t know where the idea came from that we should eat oxtail, but Gail and Joel decided Thursday was the night for it. They must have planned the whole meal. All I know is, when I came home, the meat was cooking on low heat and with Gail out until later, Joel got the sauce and the polenta going. Gail helped Joel finish on her return and then plated a beautiful meal. I wish I had taken a picture of it. The oxtail pieces sat atop the polenta, with the sauce ladled over it all. The raisins and blanched celery gave the sauce an interesting texture. The meat came right off the bone and was delicious.

Who needs Lark when you can eat so well at home?

Friday: Joel was out Friday, so Gail and I were on our own. I called from my office and we entered into a long debate, as I resisted the idea of going all the way up to the Northgate area just to get Indian food. But Gail was convinced that Saffron Grill was our best bet, as other long-time favorite Indian restaurants have declined, and I finally relented.

I know. I should always relent. A hard lesson to learn. Dinner was excellent. And the place was packed. It’s an old Denny’s, which is to say, it’s much larger than the typical Indian restaurant. Cavernous. Yet we were lucky to get a table.

What did we eat? Well, we’re pretty predictable. We always start with pappadam and vegetable samosa. Then we have Tandoori chicken tikka, chana pindi or (in this case) chana masala, and then, if we get a third main dish, lamb korma. Plus roti. All were superb. We don’t usually get dessert, but Gail insisted that I try their baklava. I should explain that in addition to Indian food, they serve Mediterranean food, which is why baklava finds its way onto their menu. And the waiter brought us a complimentary second dessert, kheer (rice pudding, with nuts and cardamom). I’m not usually much of a rice pudding eater, but given that their kind offer, I partook. Pretty good.

Saturday: As I mentioned in my basketball post last night, we found our way to Northlake Tavern, where we more typically eat on Friday nights. Not much to say. I love it, for unaccountable reasons. Salad. Pizza. Pear cider. And a thrilling UW overtime victory over Arizona in the Pac-10 championship game.

Sunday: Gail and Joel made a chicken stir fry on rice. Broccoli. Pea pods. Bamboo shoots. A great end to the week.

Categories: Food, Restaurants

Change We Can Believe In, XIV

March 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Change We Can Believe In: Don’t Mess With the Man

I wrote twice last week (here and here) about the mistreatment of PFC Bradley Manning, held in solitary confinement in the Quantico brig, spending his nights naked, and not even convicted of a crime. Last night I wrote about State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley’s description three days ago of Manning’s treatment as “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid” and President Obama’s response two days ago that the Pentagon had assured him that “the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards.”

Well, okay. I’m glad that’s clarified. The Pentagon certainly knows a thing or two about how to treat people held in military prisons who haven’t been convicted of anything.

The latest news is that Crowley has been fired for speaking his mind.

P.J. Crowley, the state department spokesman, stepped down Sunday after saying publicly that treatment of Wikileaks suspect Pfc. Bradley Manning in military detention has been “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.”

In a statement, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote that she accepted his resignation with regret.

“P.J. has served our nation with distinction for more than three decades, in uniform and as a civilian. His service to country is motivated by a deep devotion to public policy and public diplomacy, and I wish him the very best,” Ms. Clinton wrote.

Back in June 2008, Joe Klein quoted candidate Obama as saying, “I don’t want to have people who just agree with me. I want people who are continually pushing me out of my comfort zone.” (Hat tip: Luke Johnson, via Glenn Greenwald.) That was then. Now we know otherwise. Crowley is lucky that he hasn’t joined Manning in solitary confinement.

(See also Will Bunch’s comments.)

Categories: Politics

Change We Can Believe In, XIII

March 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Change We Can Believe In: Mainstreaming brutality

In the last two posts of my Change We Can Believe In series (here and here), I wrote about the recent escalation in the mistreatment of PFC Bradley Manning at the Quantico brig, where he is held in solitary confinement and now forced to spend nights naked. Thursday, while speaking to a small audience at MIT, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley described Manning’s treatment as “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.”

News of Crowley’s comments first appeared in a blog of Philippa Thomas, who was at the event, and who concluded her account with the note that:

A few minutes later, I had a chance to ask a question. “Are you on the record?” I would not be writing this if he’d said no. There was an uncomfortable pause. “Sure.” So there we are.

Crowley’s comments were widely covered yesterday, with Crowley confirming to Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin that they were indeed on the record, adding that “What I said was my personal opinion. It does not reflect an official USG policy position. I defer to the Department of Defense regarding the treatment of Bradley Manning.”

ABC’s Jake Tapper asked President Obama yesterday if he agreed with Crowley’s comments.

President Obama said Friday that he’d “asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards.”

Pentagon officials, he said, “assure me that they are. I can’t go into details about some of their concerns, but some of this has to do with Private Manning’s safety as well.”

Asked if he therefore disagreed with P.J. Crowley, President Obama sidestepped the question, saying he’d responded “to the substantive issue.”

Manning’s safety! Yes, the Defense Department has said Manning may commit suicide, and if there’s even a kernel of truth to this, it’s because they have been systematically driving him crazy by using the same techniques used on prisoners in Guantánamo. But is he really going to kill himself with his underwear? As Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs, explained last week,

his client’s clothing was taken away at night after Manning commented that if he wanted to harm himself, he could do it with “the elastic waistband of his underwear or with his flip-flops.”

He now has to strip every night before bed and also stand outside his cell naked during an inspection every morning, after which his clothes will be returned. He will be allowed to have two blankets at night.

Military officials said the move was a “precautionary measure” to prevent Manning from injuring himself.

Obama’s response yesterday lends credence to Alex Knapp’s observation in a blog post at Outside the Beltway last Monday that Obama is mainstreaming brutality. Well, Knapp doesn’t lay the blame entirely on Obama. Rather, he lays out a familiar, decade-long process. Obama is just the endpoint.

What I find most troubling is that until Obama acquiesced in this process, one could imagine it was a short-term Bush-Cheney aberration. Indeed, many voted for Obama in the belief that he would ensure the short-term, aberrational character of the Bush-Cheney brutality. Instead, by sanctioning such brutality, Obama is ensuring instead that it will move into the mainstream. Knapp explains:

I’ve been trying for the past couple weeks to write about Bradley Manning, but I can’t. It makes me sick to my stomach. The whole trend of brutality and betrayal of American ideals over the past decade makes me sick to my stomach.

We have gone from being the first country that established the principle that prisoners of war should be treated respectfully to a country that operates black sites and sends prisoners to other countries to be tortured–when we don’t torture them ourselves.

In the American Revolution, the number one cause of death for American soldiers was maltreatment and disease in British POW camps. In the Civil War, Andersonville was a cause of national outrage. In the early 20th century, the United States emphatically supported the adoption of the Geneva Conventions. In World War II, German soldiers happily surrendered to Americans in the West, knowing they’d be well treated. But in the East, they fought the Russians to the last man because they knew they wouldn’t be.

Now, in the 21st century, we send robot planes to bomb civilians in a country that’s ostensibly an ally. We have prisons where people are routinely denied basic essentials, denied due process, are maltreated and tortured. We reverse decades of tradition and not only have legalized assassination, but have legalized assassination of United States citizens.

[snip]

Then in 2008, one major reason why I voted for Barack Obama was because he forcefully claimed to be opposed to such policies. And I was mad that that was actually a voting issue for me, because you’d think that not torturing people is a moral no-brainer.

But, as it turned out, Obama lied.

Now, as I look to vote in 2012, I realize that just like in 2000, no part of my consideration for any of the candidates will involve their positions on torture, war crimes, secret prisons, renditions, etc.
Because both candidates will be in favor. Without apology.

Categories: Law, Politics, Torture

A Loss and a Win

March 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Princeton’s Douglas Davis with last-second shot

[Jessica Hill/Associated Press]

Basketball isn’t my sport, so I don’t want to spend much time on this, but I do want to follow up on my post a week and a half ago about Ivy League basketball. At the time, Harvard would be playing Penn and Princeton at home to close out the Ivy League season. With victories, it could win or tie for the Ivy title.

Harvard beat both teams, ensuring at least a tie for the title, pending the result of the Penn-Princeton season ender this past Tuesday. When Princeton beat Penn, it joined Harvard atop the league, necessitating a one-game playoff between Harvard and Princeton to determine the school that would receive the league’s automatic slot in the NCAA tournament.

The playoff game took place this afternoon. A neutral site was required, and Yale is just about halfway between the schools, so Yale served as host. The game wasn’t on TV — no surprise, I suppose — but ESPN did show a live stream of it on espn3.com. I tuned in during the first half. However, the feed wasn’t very good, freezing for seconds at a time, so I abandoned it. Later, still not knowing the result, I turned on another game as the network was using a break in the action to show various highlights. I was just in time to see tape of the Princeton team going wild, with a final score of Princeton 63, Harvard 62. I had missed by just a second the replay of Princeton’s Douglas Davis making a last-second shot.

Harvard is still Ivy co-champion. Just not an automatic qualifier for the NCAAs. Historically, for the Ivy League, not being an automatic qualifier means not being a qualifier. But Harvard is actually being described tonight as a bubble team, with a chance to qualify. That would be fun. Their last NCAA appearance was in 1946.

As for the win of this post’s title, the Harvard-Princeton game was winding down as the Arizona-Washington Pac-10 championship game was heating up. Washington was the pre-season favorite to be conference champion, and widely regarded to be a top 15 team, if not top 10. That was how they were ranked at times, too, but a three-game losing streak during conference play dropped them out of the rankings. A few key victories near the end of the season allowed UW to finish 3rd in the conference, behind Arizona and UCLA, but an NCAA bid wasn’t guaranteed. An early loss in the Pac-10 tournament might have doomed them.

But here they were, this afternoon, in the tournament championship game, after a narrow escape over Washington State two nights ago and a convincing win over Oregon last night. We watched the first half, then Gail, Joel, and I headed over to Northlake Tavern for an early dinner. (You’ll recall that in a post a few weeks ago, I confessed my secret love for Northlake.)

When we walked in, the place was nearly full, with every TV tuned to the game. And we were up! We had erased the 3-point half-time deficit and were up another 3. Alas, that didn’t last long. We were up 59-55 when Arizona scored 8 straight points. But three times in a row, over the last minute and a half, we made 3-point shots to draw close and finally to tie, sending the game into overtime. I don’t think I would have watched so intently if we were home. I would have been too nervous and walked out. But at Northlake, with a full restaurant hanging on every possession, I watched us open up a lead in overtime and keep it until an Arizona 3-pointer tied the game with seconds to go. Then Isiah Thomas, our star all game long, pulled up at the 3-point line and attempted the most amazing off-balance shot imaginable, with the ball falling through the net as the backboard light flashed to show that time had run out. Washington 77, Arizona 75. An NCAA bid assured, as it probably was once UW made the championship game. More important may be the impact of the win on UW’s seed. I think we might have been a 7 or 8 otherwise, but maybe now a 5 seed is imaginable?

Okay, enough of that. This may be my last college basketball post for a while. I have to say, it was fun to be at the tavern for the end of regulation and then overtime, with everyone watching as one. Maybe I’d like basketball more if I did that more often.

Categories: Sports

Move On

March 12, 2011 Leave a comment

A couple of weeks ago, New York Magazine announced that Frank Rich would be joining them in June.

Rich will be an essayist for the magazine, writing monthly on politics and culture, and will serve as an editor-at-large, editing a special monthly section anchored by his essay. He will also be a commentator on nymag.com, engaging in regular dialogues on the news of the week.

For those of us who have been reading Rich at the NYT for decades — first as chief drama critic, then as an op-ed columnist — the news of his departure was a shock. In fact, my Rich reading days go back to my arrival at college years earlier. He was two years ahead of me and a bigwig at The Crimson.

Rich’s farewell column appears in tomorrow’s NYT. I was reading it online earlier this evening with moderate interest until I reached the closing paragraph, which took me by happy surprise.

You will recall that I am a huge Stephen Sondheim fan, and that Sunday in the Park with George is “our” musical — the musical Gail and I saw on Broadway when we passed through New York as one stop on our extended honeymoon and whose music has moved us ever since. Having reminded you of that, I’ll now quote Rich’s final NYT words:

Of all the things I’ve done at The Times, there may be none I’m prouder of than, in my critic’s days, championing “Sunday in the Park with George,” Stephen Sondheim’s and James Lapine’s 1984 musical about two artists in two different eras restless to create something new. For a quarter-century now, the show’s climactic song has inspired countless people in all walks of life when the time has come to take a leap. “Stop worrying where you’re going,” the Sondheim lyric goes. “Move on.”

You will find below, courtesy of youtube, Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin singing the song during the original Broadway run of the show. And at top, their reprise 25 years later at Sondheim’s 80th birthday concert. Both versions are glorious. Together they provide an excellent primer on the change the years bring — in appearance, in voice, in interpretation.

Categories: Journalism, Theater

Third Generation Kindle

March 6, 2011 Leave a comment

In mid-January, at the end of my post about Robert Crais’ latest crime novel, The Sentry, I said a few words about e-readers:

I started The Sentry Sunday night on my iPad, because it’s what I happened to have at hand. But yesterday, when I set about reading the book in earnest, I switched to the Kindle. It’s still my preferred e-reader, unless I actually want the distraction of being able to check my email and the blogs every few minutes. But distractions aside, it’s so much easier to hold for extended periods of reading. Holding an iPad with one hand isn’t feasible. Holding a Kindle and turning pages with one hand makes a huge difference. And just imagine how much better the experience must be with the third generation — lighter still, better contrast. In two days, I won’t have to imagine. My new Kindle will arrive.

I have meant since then to write about Amazon’s third-generation Kindle. I started a post a week ago, but got no further than pointing out that in the preceding six weeks, I had read four books on it despite lots of other obligations, concluding that I couldn’t seem to put it down. It’s one of the reasons I did so little blogging in February, and why unread New Yorkers and New York Reviews of Books are piling up everywhere.

I know this is difficult to believe, given that the new Kindle is only a little smaller (same screen size though) and a little lighter than the old one, but I felt as I read those four books that for the first time, I’d rather read a book on the Kindle than read the book itself. Before, I would read on the Kindle for the convenience, especially when traveling. And because it’s lighter and easier to hold when lying down. And because I save on the space the books take up in the house, and usually on cost too. But I never felt I preferred the Kindle-reading experience.

What’s different now? Here are my guesses. I mean, I know what’s different about the Kindle. The question is, what about its differences makes me enjoy reading on it more? And my preference for reading on the Kindle is an observed fact, but without immediately obvious explanation, so I must guess.

1. The reduction in size of the Kindle, and reduction in weight too I suppose, allows me to hold it in one hand more comfortably than I could its predecessor. Both are easy to hold with the thin dimension pinched between thumb and other fingers. Now, though, I can put my hand behind it and hold the full width in my palm, whereas before I could do so only with a bit of hand stretching.

2. The better contrast between the e-ink text and the background makes reading more natural, at least in good light. In low light I don’t notice an improvement in contrast. With sufficient direct light, the text pops out in a way it doesn’t on the Kindle 2.

3. The black color of the body allows the Kindle to disappear into the background more than the white body of the Kindle 2 does. The less obtrusive keyboard helps too.

4. The quieter page turning buttons create less of a distraction, both aurally and in the way pressing them feels.

5. Having buttons on both the left and right sides to turn back a page is vastly more convenient. In the Kindle 2, one could move forward by pressing a button on the left or a parallel button on the right, but to go back, one had to push a smaller button that was on the left only. The new Kindle has mirror image buttons left and right — a larger forward button and a smaller back button. Since I usually turn forward with my right hand, I used to have to grab the Kindle 2 with my left when I wanted to go back, with the result that sometimes I just didn’t bother turning back even when I wanted to check something. There was some sense, conscious or unconscious, that doing so was a nuisance. Now going back feels as natural as going forward.

6. The surface of the new Kindle is different, a little textured, not smooth like the Kindle 2. At first, I didn’t think I would like it, but now I prefer it.

The next books I want to read happen to be ones I own in hardcover. And there’s a novel I want to read — Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad — that I almost downloaded for the Kindle in January, only to be warned by an Amazon reader review that this would be a big mistake. The reviewer explained that there are chapters written in Powerpoint, and that these “chapters are extremely difficult to read on the Kindle. The print is so small and the back grounds so dark that even a magnifying glass was little help. The font size selection feature on the Kindle did not work on the ‘slides’ for those chapters.” As it turns out, the novel comes out in paperback in two weeks, and at a lower price than the Kindle price, so I’ll order the paperback edition.

But here’s the curious thing. I’m deferring reading these books. I’d rather read on the Kindle. Or maybe part of the point is that I’m deferring starting another book altogether, so I can get my work done and make a little headway on my magazine backlog. Whatever the reason, I miss the Kindle experience.

Categories: Books, Technology