Archive for June, 2011

Georgian Room Dinner, 2

June 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Georgian Room

I wrote earlier today of our visit to the Wright Exhibition Space last Thursday afternoon, on the occasion of our 26th anniversary. Thursday evening, we continued our anniversary celebration with a dinner at the Olympic Hotel’s Georgian Room. This is always a natural location for our anniversary dinner, since we were married in the Olympic. We don’t make it there every year. Last year, for instance, we headed across the Sound to Alderbrook Resort & Spa on Hood Canal, a visit I wrote about at some length. But we were at the Olympic for our anniversary dinner two years ago, and I can’t imagine why we waited so long to return. It’s open, after all, on days other than our anniversary.

I realize now that I wrote about our two-year-ago Georgian Room dinner at the time. I had a lot to say. I expect this report to be briefer.

Let’s start with the menu. This link may not survive for long, and the menu displayed online tonight isn’t a perfect match with last Thursday’s, but it’s close. You might take a peek to start.

We arrived on schedule and were seated at one of the banquette tables along the back wall. These are two-tops designed for the diners to sit side-by-side on a sort of love seat to one side of the table, the other side being open. Sitting on the table was an arrangement with a dozen orange roses. (How did they know? I suspect it probably helped that I called Topper’s, a florist located on the hotel’s bottom floor, that morning.) We sat down, admired the flowers, then examined the menu.

A fixture of the menu is dessert soufflés, a standard one and a nightly special. In addition to deciding on our appetizer and main dish, we also needed to think about whether to order a soufflé early. More precisely, I had to decide. Gail didn’t. She always orders a soufflé. And we had to decide about wine.

In due course, we made our decisions. Gail chose the lobster appetizer. The online menu doesn’t explain it well. It came with a seaweed salad and some other item on the side that slips my mind. I had the onion tart, which is accurately described: Walla Walla Onion Tart, Baby Spinach, Warm Shallot and Bacon Vinaigrette. The tart wasn’t much more than an inch in diameter and an inch high, or maybe 1.5 inches. Next to it was another cylindrical stack, with greens and bacon in alternating layers. The salad stack was perfect. The onion tart was pretty good too, but I liked the salad even better. Gail was happy with her lobster, not so sure about the seaweed salad.

Oh, I jumped ahead, didn’t I, going from choosing appetizers straight to eating. Sorry about that. For her entrée, Gail selected the Roasted Rack of Lamb with Tomato Crusted Kalamata Olive, Sweet Pea Quinoa, Grilled Spring Onion. I’m going off the online menu, but it might have been slightly different. I chose the Filet of Angus Beef, Shallot and Oxtail Braisage, Young Organic Carrots. That’s what the online menu says, but our menus were different. Instead of carrots, I had mashed potatoes and peas. We also ordered a half-bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau, Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, and Gail chose to start with a Bellini.

The Georgian Room’s sommelier was soon at our table with the wine. He’s the same fellow I wrote about two years ago, from Austria, who regaled us with family stories for several minutes that evening after someone other table’s entrées were brought to us by mistake. This time, we learned about his nearly complete home kitchen remodel, even as a waiter brought us our amuse bouche and another brought Gail her Bellini. We didn’t mind. He’s awfully charming.

So, now I have things in the right order. We chose our food and drink, the wine came, the amuse bouche and cocktail came, then the already described appetizers came. I don’t have much to say about the amuse bouche. I hardly remember it. It looked interesting, but the taste wasn’t so memorable.

And then it was entrée time. We were both happy with our choices. My steak sat atop the peas, which were encircled by the mashed potato, extruded it appeared from one of those pastry extruder bags. A lovely presentation. Gail’s lamb sat atop the pea quinoa, which formed a firm rectangular block, a blended mix of peas and quinoa that looked inviting and tasted pretty good too. Off to the side was a waffle-shaped tomato crisp, and below were balsamic dots. When Gail was done, I tasted her pea-quinoa cake. It was so good, I finished it off, then I asked her why she hadn’t finished it or her chops, as I bit off the last of the meat. That’s when she pointed out that she didn’t know she was finished. She was just giving me a taste. Oh well.

By the way, I failed to mention it, but after an advance look at the dessert menu when we finished ordering the main dishes, I decided to join Gail with soufflé. She chose the on-going option, a black and white chocolate soufflé. I chose the nightly special, a peaches and cream soufflé. A waiter came by to ask about coffee just as we were reminiscing once again about the time we were eating at Topper’s Restaurant in Nantucket and Gail asked at dessert time if they had a Sauternes. Sure. She had a glass, and only when the check came did we find that it cost $65. We didn’t know how expensive Château d’Yquem Sauternes is, and we haven’t ordered it since.

But this was our anniversary, so Gail decided to go for it. She asked if it was possible to get a glass of Château d’Yquem. The waiter apologetically said no. She ordered cappuccino. Then the waiter returned a few minutes later, apologetic again, this time because he hadn’t pointed out that (a) she could have other Sauternes and (b) we could order a bottle of Château d’Yquem. Well, we sure as heck weren’t going to choose (b), but I urged her to go ahead with (a).

Soon the soufflés came. And the Sauternes. And the cappuccino. Everything was perfect. And some minutes later, the closing treat was brought to us, adorned with two lit candles making an arch and the message Happy 26th Anniversary written in glaze on the plate. The treat consisted of some chocolate disks, a little dish of honey, and a long narrow trough filled with white chocolate flakes. We were instructed to dip the chocolate in the honey, then drag it through the white chocolate trough. That worked well.

So ended our anniversary dinner. Except for a little confusion on the bill. The wine was missing. I suspected this wasn’t a parting gift, so I pointed the omission out to the waiter, who was effusive in his thanks. The adjusted bill came, we paid, we walked out, and we made our traditional journey to the Kensington Room, half a flight up on the balcony level that overlooks the hotel’s grand lobby. All the other function rooms looked pretty dead, but the Kensington was hosting a reception, so we couldn’t really stare in, as I like to do. Gail isn’t as caught up in this tradition as I am. The Kensington is, of course, the room in which we were married, and I’m always happy to point this out to any passersby. I resisted the temptation to crash the reception and tell the guests that they had the good fortune to be sitting in the very room where 26 years ago on that very day … .

Categories: Food, Restaurants

Color Field Paintings

June 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Painting with Frame by Helen Frankenthaler

[Wright Exhibition Space]

I’ve written twice before (here and here) about seeing exhibits at the Wright Exhibition Space. This is a small gallery that mounts shows from time to time drawn largely, or entirely, from the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, the largest collection of contemporary art in the Pacific Northwest. I highly recommend going, whatever the show, because the art is superb, the mix of art is interesting, you often have the space to yourself or nearly to yourself, there’s an informative little printed guide, and there’s often a docent to introduce you to the show and chat with. The gallery is open Thursdays and Saturday, with free admission.

The current show is Color Field Paintings and Related Abstractions Revisited, the “revisited” referring to the fact that much the same show was put on in 2004. We went down to see it on Thursday afternoon. Thursday was our wedding anniversary, so this seemed like a good way to mark the day, all the more because the gallery would be on the way to another stop we wanted to make in celebration of our anniversary, Albert Lee Appliance. What better way to celebrate domestic bliss than to shop for kitchen appliances?

The exhibit features multiple paintings from the Wright Collection by Helen Franenthaler, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, and Larry Poons, plus single paintings by Mary Corse, Hans Hoffman, Morris Louis, Robert Motherwell, Gerhard Richter, and Anne Truitt, 23 works in all. From the guide, Virginia Wright writes:

Dismissed as “corporate,” “lacking in human emotion” and “merely decorative,” critics attacked Color Field paintings as a dead end, of no interest or inspiration to other artists. For a long time there were few exhibitions of the work of Louis, Frankenthaler, Noland and Olitski, and only modest sales of their works. For example, Olitski’s Thigh Smoke in this exhibition, a painting that had been included in the Venice Biennale in 1966 and in Geldahler’s important 1969 exhibition at the Metropolitan, came up at Sotheby’s at a morning sale in 1997 and failed to make the opening bid of $20,000. We acquired it after no one else showed any interest in it, and regard it as one of the most important works in our collection.


Matthew Kangas and Bagley Wright had been after me for some time to organize a Color Field show because our collection includes many Color Field paintings. They felt that after some thirty years, it was time to take another look at these “merely decorative” works. The hope was that in 2004, as a new century was beginning, we would perhaps begin to look back at the 20th century with new eyes, and Color Field painting might get a reprieve. In fact, there were already some indications of a change of heart. …

I have been pleased that the Color Field show of 2004 did help to retrieve the reputation of the artists on view. It was so popular that we decided to repeat it. This show is almost identical to the earlier one, but with a few changes we hope will intrigue viewers. Our hope is that Color Field painting will come to be seen not as a dead end but as a stunning chapter in the development of abstract art, capable of inspiring other artists and, above all, providing pleasure of the very highest order.

On Thursday, we spent a few minutes getting an overview of the show by the docent, then explored on our own for 40 minutes or so. We each had our favorites, and some of the works we had seen in previous shows, but as much as the individual works, we loved the impression they make as a group. We will return before the show ends in September, and you should go too if you’re in the neighborhood.

Categories: Art


June 26, 2011 Leave a comment

It has occurred to me over the years that my interest in professional golf is not widely shared. As a result, I write far fewer posts about golf than I am inclined to do. I have on my list that I need to write about last August’s US Amateur men’s championship, which I attended for a day, as much to talk about the course — Chambers Bay, site of the US Open in 2015 — as the event. I still may, even as the details have faded.

But then there’s last week’s US Open. Of course I spent Sunday watching it. If I get to choose how to celebrate Father’s Day, then you know where to find me: in front of the TV watching the Open. And that’s what I did. But what surprised me was how closely I watched it on Saturday. Whenever one of the four major golf championships is underway, I’ll spend part of Saturday watching the third round if I don’t have to be somewhere else. But I don’t make it a point to watch every single moment of it. Last Saturday I did. I couldn’t tear myself away. I had to see how Rory McIlroy would do on each hole. Would he drive the ball in the fairway? Or if he got in trouble, how would he respond? Would he put himself in good position on the green? And if not, would he find a way to get up and down? After his famous final-round collapse at the Master’s in April, I just wanted to see how he was holding up.

As you know if you pay even the slightest attention to golf, Rory held up just fine, on both Saturday and Sunday, running away with the championship. It was a wildly popular victory by the 22-year-old Northern Irishman, with fans cheering him at every hole. He was a joy to watch on TV as well.

I have nothing to add to what has been written about Rory. All I want to do in this post is link to two videos of him as a nine-year-old. He’s way too charming. Enjoy. (And hat tip to Geoff Shackelford.)

Categories: Golf

Why I’m a Cavalier

June 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Last November I wrote a short post about a freshman basketball player at Duke who, based on the first few games of the season, looked like he might be the top college player in the country. Alas, he would be injured soon thereafter and not return until the NCAA tournament in March. The reason for the post? The photo of him that I featured at the top and have copied above. Yes, as you can see, his name is Irving. Kyrie Irving. And he’s #1. How could I resist?

Irving is now #1 in another sense. It was always understood that he would leave Duke after his freshman year to turn professional and enter the NBA draft. And so he did. The draft was on Thursday. To no one’s surprise, he was the #1 pick, selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers as a key part of their rebuilding plan in the wake of LeBron’s departure a year ago.

I’m not much for wearing official team clothing, but I see a Cleveland Cavalier jersey in my future.

Categories: Clothing, Sports

Elena Bonner

June 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Elena Bonner

[Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images]

The extraordinary human rights activist Elena Bonner died on Saturday. Today’s NYT obituary is well worth reading, as is David Remnick’s remembrance at the New Yorker blog. As the obit explains,

Elena G. Bonner, the Soviet dissident and human-rights campaigner who endured banishment and exile along with her husband, the dissident nuclear physicist Andrei D. Sakharov, died Saturday in Boston. She was 88.

The cause was heart failure, said Edward Kline, a director of the Andrei Sakharov Foundation. He said Ms. Bonner had been in the hospital since February.
Maligned by the government and, for much of her life, cast aside by society, Ms. Bonner and her husband were considered royalty among the tight-knit and embattled community of dissidents who challenged Soviet authority.

Before and after exile, their modest Moscow apartment was a command center of sorts from which a seemingly quixotic, but in many ways successful, war against Soviet authoritarianism was waged.

Though Sakharov was better known, Ms. Bonner became a force in her own right, waging a tireless campaign to improve the lives of her people long after her husband’s death in 1989.

It is a role she accepted out of necessity, she would say. A pediatrician by training, whose family suffered greatly during the Stalinist purges, Ms. Bonner longed for a simpler life.

Rather than being “the heroic woman,” she once said, she would vastly prefer to be a “babushka,” using the Russian word for grandmother. “I would much rather be a simple woman, mother and daughter,” she said.

Remnick observes that

Unlike many dissidents and democrats of the era, Yelena Bonner did not fade away. She did not pursue fortune or self-aggrandizement. She was always present. She was there, in August 1991, defending Moscow’s White House against a K.G.B.-led coup. In the two decades left to her, shuttling between her children in Boston and her apartment in Moscow, she took it upon herself to continue the battle for human rights, liberal values, and democratic norms. She spoke out on human-rights questions around the world and, above all, the betrayals of the Putin era in Russia. She wrote two brilliant memoirs—“Alone Together” and “Mothers and Daughters”—and seemed ready to assist any human-rights group that needed her. As ever, she was incapable of fear, incapable of selling out.

I had, as it turns out, an unexpected connection to Bonner: I became her son’s Master’s advisor when he emigrated to the US. This was back in the late 1970s, when I was still a fresh Ph.D., on the faculty at Brandeis. Alexey arrived in Boston wanting to complete the work he was doing in the USSR. I’m unusually hazy on the details, but arrangements were made so that he could matriculate at Brandeis without delay, and somehow it was proposed that he talk to me about his work. I don’t even remember if he finished his Master’s with me or with someone else. What I do remember is a series of meetings in my office.

The NYT obit excerpt above speaks of Bonner and Sakharov as royalty. What I remember amidst the haze is the special respect accorded Alexey within the local emigré community, and my utter cluelessness about why until some time late in the process, when I learned the identity of his step-father. Sakharov would have been at the peak of his fame at the time, what with his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize only a couple of years before and his moniker as the “father” of the Russian hydrogen bomb.

Categories: Obituary

Kelvinside, Glasgow

June 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Winton Drive in Kelvinside, Glasgow

[Kieran Dodds for The New York Times]

Somehow I missed an article three days ago in the Great Homes and Destinations section of the NYT. I don’t know where it was buried in the print edition. But fortunately I stumbled on it online. It features a house for sale in a neighborhood Gail and I think of as our own. Well, at least I do. Gail is not as presumptuous about such matters as I am.

The title: House Hunting … in Glasgow, Scotland. The neighborhood: Kelvinside, in the West End. The article explains that

This three-story semidetached town house in the Victorian style is in the fashionable Kelvinside neighborhood in the West End of Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city. The West End is known for its Victorian and Edwardian architectural gems originally designed for Scottish merchants. Many of the structures have been converted into apartments.


The quiet Kelvinside neighborhood is less than four miles from the mostly commercial city center. The West End is perhaps Glasgow’s most consistently popular neighborhood for residential living, offering trendy bars, restaurants and shops along with gracious period homes.

The photo at the top, which is part of a NYT slideshow that accompanies the article, shows a typical Kelvinside street. Below is Byres Road, also featured in the slideshow, with the caption describing it as “the heart of the West End, [with] many popular restaurants, bars and shops.”

Byres Road, Glasgow

The article oddly omits mention of the institution that lies at the cultural core of the West End, the University of Glasgow, one-time home of (among others) Adam Smith, James Watt, James Boswell, and Lord Kelvin. No visit to Glasgow would be complete without a stop at the Hunterian Museum & Art Gallery. We’re suckers ourselves for The Mackintosh House, “a reconstruction of the principal interiors from the Glasgow home of the Scottish architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) and the artist Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh (1864-1933).”

The Mackintosh House -- I took this one

The house was purchased by the University of Glasgow in 1946. The generosity of the vendors, the Davidson family, led to the simultaneous gift of all of the original furniture. In 1963, the house, threatened by subsidence and next to land scheduled for redevelopment, was demolished. Prior to demolition, however, an extensive survey was made and all salvageable fitments removed to enable the future reconstruction of the hall, dining room, studio-drawing room and main bedroom. While the architects, Whitfield Partners, conceived The Mackintosh House as an integral part of the Hunterian Art Gallery, they took pains to ensure that the sequence of rooms exactly reflected the original. Virtually the same views and effects of natural light are enjoyed, as 78 Southpark Avenue stood only some 100 metres away. Other areas of the original house – cloakroom, kitchen, bathroom, and secondary bedrooms – have not been reconstructed.

Dining room, The Mackintosh House

After visiting the Hunterian, as you head back to Kelvinside, be sure to walk up Byres Road to its intersection with Great Western Road and head into the Glasgow Botanic Gardens. It’s a great place to wander through, or just to sit.

I should perhaps explain that Gail and I have made the West End our Glasgow home away from home going back to our honeymoon, thanks to our dear Glaswegian friends who live there. We’ve followed them from a flat just off Byres Road to two different houses. We can’t think of a place we’d rather be.

Maybe we should make an offer on that house the NYT features. On second thought, it’s a bit too large for us.

Categories: Architecture, Travel

War Is What I Say It Is

June 19, 2011 Leave a comment

A few days ago, I wrote about the White House’s justification for continuing the war in Libya without the Congressional authorization that the War Powers Act would appear to require. As explained in the NYT article by Charlie Savage and Mark Landler, Harold Koh, the State Department legal adviser, and Robert BAuer, the White House counsel, argued that “American forces had not been in ‘hostilities’ … They argued that United States forces are at little risk because there are no troops on the ground and Libyan forces are unable to exchange fire with them meaningfully.” (See Ted Rall’s representation of this concept above.)

On the front page of yesterday’s NYT, Charlie Savage followed up with a piece on how Bauer and Koh won Obama’s ear, and the day, despite counter-arguments by

Jeh C. Johnson, the Pentagon general counsel, and Caroline D. Krass, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, [who] had told the White House that they believed that the United States military’s activities in the NATO-led air war amounted to “hostilities.” Under the War Powers Resolution, that would have required Mr. Obama to terminate or scale back the mission after May 20.

But Mr. Obama decided instead to adopt the legal analysis of several other senior members of his legal team — including the White House counsel, Robert Bauer, and the State Department legal adviser, Harold H. Koh — who argued that the United States military’s activities fell short of “hostilities.” Under that view, Mr. Obama needed no permission from Congress to continue the mission unchanged.

Savage goes on to explain that “Presidents have the legal authority to override the legal conclusions of the Office of Legal Counsel and to act in a manner that is contrary to its advice, but it is extraordinarily rare for that to happen. Under normal circumstances, the office’s interpretation of the law is legally binding on the executive branch.”

Only in the penultimate paragraph does Savage reveal the the stunning news that “Other high-level Justice lawyers were also involved in the deliberations, and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. supported Ms. Krass’s view.”

President Bush listened to his OLC, but then he made sure to appoint hacks who told him whatever he wanted, most notably by re-defining torture so that whatever he wanted to do wouldn’t count. I don’t know what’s worse, Bush’s approach or Obama’s: just keep asking around until you hear what you want, then ignore the OLC and your attorney general.

The rule of law continues to wither away.

Categories: Government, Law, War


June 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Unagi in cucumber sheaths

[Ramsay de Give for The New York Times]

When I opened the NYT this morning, I turned straight to Ben Brantley’s review of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. Had Bono and the Edge salvaged the show since Julie Taymor’s dismissal or was it still a hopeless mess?

You can read Ben’s thoughts yourself and find out. Turning to the weekly dining section, I found myself captivated by a different review, that of famed New York Sushi restaurant Masa by Sam Sifton. Sifton is a fine writer. Even though I’m never going to eat at Masa, when his subject is one of New York’s great restaurants, I pay attention.

Frank Bruni, Sifton’s predecessor, had given Masa the highest and rarest of ratings — four stars — a year after its 2004 opening. Over the course of the past year, Sifton visited and re-visited Masa before deciding to award it three stars. Sifton loves the food, writing of spending his time there “in a fog of pleasure, sitting dumbfounded on the shores of excess.” However, he finds the service wanting.

But extraordinary food alone does not an extraordinary restaurant make. The experience of eating at Masa can clash, sometimes greatly, with the grace, simplicity and excellence of the cuisine on display.

One night I entered the 26-seat restaurant five minutes before my reservation time, arriving before my three guests. The room was empty, save for servers and one occupied table in the dining room. The woman at the restaurant’s front checked my (fake) name off a short list of reservations on a piece of paper on a block of wood in front of her. She took my briefcase and placed it in a closet.

Then: “You may wait outside,” she said. “When you return with your guests, please have your cellphone turned off or on silent.”


There are other wrinkles in Masa’s fine silk. At the sushi bar it is not uncommon for the prepared dishes served at the start of a meal, which are brought to the bar by servers, to be placed before customers with no explanation whatsoever. In the dining room it is possible for the same lapse to occur with the arrival of the sushi. It is unsettling, given the luxury of the food, and the question of its cost.

Some will take issue with the fact that Masa serves an enormous amount of bluefin tuna, a fish that some say hovers on the brink of collapse as a species. (The reason is presumably simple: its taste.) Others will cavil at the manner in which Mr. Takayama caters to some guests in the restaurant while ignoring others, in seemingly direct proportion to the amount of money they are spending.


Finally, meals at the restaurant end with a clank: you are given a dessert and it throws a switch. Everyone turns away and you will have little contact with the staff until you find someone to give you the bill. Guests stare at one another awkwardly: What do we do now?

Read the full review. And check out the accompanying slide show.

Categories: Journalism, Restaurants

Change We Can Believe In, XIX

June 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Change We Can Believe In: It’s My Party, and I’ll Bomb Who I Want To

If you’re of a certain age, you’ll get the reference. If not, well, there was this nice Jewish girl named Leslie Sue Goldstein who recorded It’s My Party under the name Lesley Gore. As she turned 17 in the spring of 1963, it became the #1 song in the country, a hit for both her and producer Quincy Jones. The words of its immortal refrain were on all our tongues that summer: “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to, cry if I want to, cry if I want to. You would cry too if it happened to you.”

This morning I was dumbfounded as I read online the NYT article by Charlie Savage and Mark Landler, to appear in tomorrow’s paper, in which White House explains why the fighting in Libya is not a war. This was the basis for concluding that the War Powers Act doesn’t apply, so that President Obama need not ask Congress for authorization for continued fighting in Libya.

In contending that the limited American role did not oblige the administration to ask for authorization under the War Powers Resolution, the report asserted that “U.S. operations do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve U.S. ground troops.”


“We are acting lawfully,” said Harold H. Koh, the State Department legal adviser, who expanded on the administration’s reasoning in a joint interview with the White House counsel, Robert Bauer.

The two senior administration lawyers contended that American forces had not been in “hostilities” at least since early April, when NATO took over the responsibility for the no-fly zone and the United States shifted to primarily a supporting role — providing refueling and surveillance to allied warplanes, although remotely piloted drones operated by the United States periodically fire missiles, too.

They argued that United States forces are at little risk because there are no troops on the ground and Libyan forces are unable to exchange fire with them meaningfully. And they said the military mission was constrained by a United Nations Security Council resolution, which authorized air power for the purpose of defending civilians.

“We are not saying the president can take the country into war on his own,” said Mr. Koh, a former Yale Law School dean and outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s expansive theories of executive power. “We are not saying the War Powers Resolution is unconstitutional or should be scrapped or that we can refuse to consult Congress. We are saying the limited nature of this particular mission is not the kind of ‘hostilities’ envisioned by the War Powers Resolution.”

If I understand this correctly, we’re not at war because even though we get to fire missiles, Libyan forces can’t fire back.

Is this a great country or what? I love the rule of law. Okay, so the president is constrained by law to get Congressional approval to fight wars. But if we want to bomb the crap out of a country, as long as we keep them at arm’s length so they can’t return fire, we’re not at war.

Sorry, Congress. You don’t matter. It’s my party, and I’ll bomb who I want to.

Categories: Government, Law, War

One with Everything

June 15, 2011 Leave a comment

I saw the video above first thing this morning and intended to write a post around it, but by now I’m a little late. The video has been picked up on Andrew Sullivan’s blog, and I suppose on just about every other major aggregating site in the English-speaking world by now. So you’ve probably seen it already. But in case you haven’t, click on the play button above to watch host Karl Stefanovic of Australia’s Today show tell the Dalai Lama a joke. Stefanovic’s willingness to make a complete fool of himself is adorable.

I initially stumbled on the video in a Language Log post by linguist Geoffrey Pullum, who uses it as an opportunity to reflect on the nature of humor:

Stefanovic is surely not the only person who has discovered to his cost how easy it is to underestimate the quantity of cultural and linguistic background needed if you are to reliably get the jokes that people tell. For this one, (i) you must have encountered the Buddhist idea of merging or unifying with the universe, expressed using the idiom become one with (which in other contexts is not common); and (ii) you must have encountered pizza in the American style, with loads of different topping choices, ordered using a preposition phrase headed by with (as in with pepperoni and mushroom); and (iii) you must have been in a pizzeria that has as one of the choices on its menu the indecisive glutton’s non-choice consisting of a megacombo of all available toppings (by no means all pizza restaurants give you that option), so that everything is a possible topping choice.

When you put it that way, no wonder the Dalai Lama was so clueless. As Pullum concludes, “it’s a wonder most jokes don’t [die a quietly horrible public death], considering the complex web of previously encountered phrases and cultural references that jokes typically rely on.”