Archive for August, 2011


August 29, 2011 Leave a comment

I seem to be reading two books at once. I just wrote about Harold Bloom’s The Shadow of a Great Rock. No sooner had I ordered it, and while I awaited its delivery, I came upon the review eight days ago in the Sunday NYT of Charles C. Mann’s 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, which was published three weeks ago. In one of those spontaneous moments that the Kindle makes possible, I bought and downloaded it.

Well, not quite. I looked around to see what I could learn about it online first, and was led to a brief note by Tyler Cowen on his blog Marginal Revolution back in May. Cowen wrote: “I am spellbound reading it, it will be one of the best books of this year, and, although I know this area somewhat, I am learning fascinating information on literally every page. Mann stresses how much it mattered to suddenly be living in the “Homogenocene,” where Asia, Europe, and the New World suddenly started becoming more alike. Mexico City had the world’s first Chinatown and was the first global city. The discussion of the importance of the potato, and in general New World agriculture, surpasses previous accounts and he explains the importance of knowing how to make chuño.”

After reading that, I bought the book.

In his NYT review, Ian Morris explains its premise.

1493” picks up where Mann’s best seller, “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus,” left off. In 1491, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans were almost impassable barriers. America might as well have been on another planet from Europe and Asia. But Columbus’s arrival in the Caribbean the following year changed everything. Plants, animals, microbes and cultures began washing around the world, taking tomatoes to Massachusetts, corn to the Philippines and slaves, markets and malaria almost everywhere. It was one world, ready or not.


[Mann suggests] that only by understanding what Crosby called “the Columbian Exchange” — the transfer of plants, animals, germs and people across continents over the last 500 years — can we make sense of contemporary globalization. The lesson of history, Mann argues, is that “from the outset globalization brought both enormous economic gains and ecological and social tumult that threatened to offset those gains.”

With admirable evenhandedness, he shows how the costs and benefits of globalization have always been inseparable. We cannot have one without the other. Bringing the potato to Europe made it possible for the Irish famine to kill millions when the potatoes were stricken by blight, but it also kept other millions of half-starved peasants alive. Bringing malaria to the Americas depopulated some parts of the New World, but it also kept European armies out of other parts. Mann can even see the point of view of the chainsaw-­wielding loggers who deforested the Philippines so that Americans could have cheap furniture: “These agents of destruction were just putting food on the table.”


Most impressive of all, he manages to turn plants, germs, insects and excrement into the lead actors in his drama while still parading before us an unforgettable cast of human characters. He makes even the most unpromising-­sounding subjects fascinating. I, for one, will never look at a piece of rubber in quite the same way now that I have been introduced to the debauched nouveaux riches of 19th-­century Brazil, guzzling Champagne from bathtubs and gunning one another down in the streets of Manaus.

I made my way through the Prologue and first chapter soon after downloading the book, but then The Shadow of a Great Rock arrived, waylaying me until this morning, when I picked it up again. So far so good. I don’t have much to add. Perhaps I will once I’m further along.

Categories: Books, History

The Shadow of a Great Rock

August 29, 2011 Leave a comment

A month ago, The New York Review of Books blog had a post by Harold Bloom with the title My Favorite Book in the Bible. This got my attention, and I read the short piece on what turns out to be Jonah. A note at the end explained that the piece was from his upcoming book The Shadow of a Great Rock: A Literary Appreciation of the King James Bible, to be published in September. A week and a half ago, I was mentioning the upcoming book to someone and then thought to myself that I should order it. I checked at Amazon and it was already available. It arrived last Tuesday.

Perhaps I should point out that this year is the 400th anniversary of the KJB, a natural occasion for a review of its literary merits. After dinner Tuesday, I sat outside and jumped around in the book to get a taste of what Bloom had to say about Genesis, or the David stories in 1 and 2 Samuel, or Job and Ecclesiasted, or Mark, or Paul’s writings. It quickly emerged that this was by no means a systematic study. Rather, Bloom seems to be running some of the greatest hits through his mind, then sharing them with the reader in a casual chat. Often he will contrast the rendering of a passage in the KJB and with the translations of its two great predecessors, Tyndale and the Geneva Bible.

As one example of Bloom’s readings, I’ll turn to his discussion of Exodus 15:1-18, the Song of the Sea. Sometimes he will compare the translation with the Hebrew itself, but in this case he admits that the passage “is composed in so difficult and archaic a Hebrew as to daunt me. I am not equal to judging the aesthetic contrast between the original and the KJB version, particularly since Handel’s setting of it (Israel in Egypt) will not leave my inner ear.” In lieu of the original Hebrew, he turns to William Propp’s literal rendering of the passage in Exodus 1-18 (The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries).

The translation occupies 2+ pages, after which Bloom returns: “The aesthetic limitations of a literal translation from archaic Hebrew are palpable, yet Propp labors to be useful, and he is. Tyndale, marvelously transforming lyric into narrative, necessarily loses the song and gives us the fierce ecstasy.”

I’ll quote just one line from Tyndale: “His jolly captains are drowned in the Red sea, the deep waters have covered them: they sank to the bottom as a stone.”

Bloom again: “Who would want to lose ‘His jolly captains’ and much else in this exuberant vernacular? The Geneva men, rather than Tyndale, proved the model for the matchless KJB refinement of the martyr’s rough prose music:” Bloom then offers the KJB version, in which “his chosen captains also are drowned in the Red sea. The depths have covered them: they sank into the bottom as a stone.”

Bloom concludes his review of the passage with “The Yahweh of Exodus is a man of war, and this song celebrates his victory and scants Moses. In 15:11 “the gods” presumably are the angels of Yahweh’s heavenly court. Like most victory odes, the Song of Moses offers exultation at the cost of wisdom and can leave the wary reader a little chilled.”

My tiny excerpt from Exodus hardly does justice to Bloom’s approach, as I haven’t allowed you the pleasure of reading the full passages from Tyndale and the KJB. While doing so, one inevitably forms one owns thoughts,before Bloom chimes in, about how they differ, and when he does chime in, he’s a most welcome companion.

After my initial foray, in which I jumped around at will, I put the book aside for a few days, returning over the weekend to begin reading it in the order in which it is presented. I got through Bloom’s discussion of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, a little more than a fourth of the book. I look forward to the rest, though I may put the book aside again for a bit. I don’t anticipate taking it on our forthcoming trip. No room for physical books; just e-books.

Oh, one more of Bloom’s comments, which I came across on my opening night survey. It concludes his discussion of Mark. First he offers KJB’s translation of 10:17-27. You know this one. As a reminder, here’s the middle of 10:21 to 10:27:

go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.

And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.

And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the Kingdom of God!

And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the Kingdom of God!

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved?

And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.

Bloom’s comment, which ends the chapter: “Almost straight Tyndale, should this not be read aloud at all political occasions whatsoever, particularly on the floor of Congress and at our national conventions?”


Categories: Books

Sentence of the Week

August 28, 2011 Leave a comment

I know language changes, and I know that when it does, I’m one of the last to know. I try not to be surprised when I discover that it has. But boy, this sure caught be my surprise yesterday.

Background first. Local football hero Jake Locker was selected eighth overall in the NFL draft last April by the Tennessee Titans, the second quarterback selected. A year earlier, had he chosen to declare for the draft with a season of college eligibility remaining, there was talk that he might have been the first pick of the draft. But an injury-marred senior season in which weaknesses in his passing game were brought to light dropped his stock. For a while, talk was that he would be a second-round pick. Then, in the various combines and individual team workouts that players participate in to show off their talents, his stock rose again and the best guess was that he might be a late first-round selection. None of the major draft prognosticators figured him for the second quarterback of the draft. But Tennessee did, and that’s what matters.

None of this is really to the point, except as explanation of why I would bother looking at an article posted online at Sports Illustrated yesterday about Locker’s situation. In it, Chris Burke raised the issue of how much playing time Locker will get this season in the context of the continuing holdout of the Titans’ great running back Chris Johnson. Just a few weeks ago, after the new NFL collective bargaining agreement was approved the Titans picked up long-time Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, presumably with the plan of starting him and allowing Locker to learn from him. As Burke explains:

The Titans did go out and sign veteran QB Matt Hasselbeck to start for them as Locker eases his way into the NFL. But should Locker’s status on the depth chart be tied to Johnson’s holdout?

Without Johnson, an average Tennessee team becomes a mediocre one. If picking Locker didn’t set off a full-scale rebuilding plan, losing Johnson may.

Finally, I get to the point of this post. See the bolded sentence? Has it come to this? Is mediocre now a synonym for bad? Is it?

I didn’t know. I was still under the impression that ‘mediocre’, as its very root suggests, is in the middle. Median. Average. Yes, sure, median and average are different, but forget the mathematical details. The point is, there’s nothing bad about being average. We can’t all be above average, Lake Wobegon notwithstanding. And if you’re mediocre, you’re not above average, but you’re not below either. You’re just, you know, average. That’s the meaning of the word. Isn’t it?

Oh well. I won’t fight it. Live and learn.

Categories: Language

On Historical Perspective

August 24, 2011 1 comment

Famed Babylonian tablet Plimpton 322*

[Christine Proust and Columbia University]

I read a marvelous passage earlier this week that I would like to share. It’s an old one, from a book published in 1952, but it’s new to me. The book: The Exact Sciences in Antiquity by Otto Neugebauer. Neugebauer is a giant of twentieth-century history, the expert on ancient Babylonian mathematics and astronomy. An Austrian, he studied engineering, mathematics, and physics in Graz, then Munich, and then Göttingen, where he began to work on the history of ancient mathematics. He left Germany for Copenhagen in 1934, then moved on to the US, where he spent the remainder of his career at Brown and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

Neugebauer died in 1990. I was aware of his name and vaguely of his importance to the history of mathematics when we spent the year at the Institute in 1987-1988, but unfortunately I didn’t think to meet him or learn more about his work. Talk about missed opportunities. But now, 23 years later, I’ve been looking at some of his work.

In the 1930’s and 1940’s, in a series of books, he translated and interpreted the mathematics on the Babylonian cuneiform tablets that can be found in many of the world’s great museums and that date to the time period of 1900 BCE-1600 BCE. The book on exact sciences in antiquity from which I am about to quote is more of an overview that grew out of lectures he gave at Cornell in 1949. In the Preface, he explains that the nature of the presentation led him to omit the qualifications he might ordinarily have offered in a more scholarly work, adding that he has “enjoyed the possibility of being compelled for once to abandon all learned apparatus and to pretend to know when actually I am guessing.” The paragraph concludes with the passage below, which I leave for your enjoyment without further comment.

This does not imply that I have ignored facts. Indeed I have consistently tried to keep as close as possible to the source material. Only in its selection, in its arrangement, and in its coherent interpretation have I permitted myself much greater freedom than is usual in technical publications. And in order to counteract somewhat the impression of security which easily emerges from general discussions I have often inserted methodological remarks to remind the reader of the exceedingly slim basis on which, of necessity, is built any discussion of historical developments from which we are separated by many centuries. The common belief that we gain “historical perspective” with increasing distance seems to me utterly to misrepresent the actual situation. What we gain is merely confidence in generalizations which we would never dare make if we had access to the real wealth of contemporary evidence.

*The photo at the top is taken from a NYT article by Nicholas Wade last fall on the occasion of an exhibition of cuneiform tablets at NYU’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. Unfortunately, the exhibition closed last December, or else I would be making plans to see it during our upcoming trip to New York. Wade explained that the “considerable mathematical knowledge of the Babylonians was uncovered by the Austrian mathematician Otto E. Neugebauer, who died in 1990. Scholars since then have turned to the task of understanding how the knowledge was used. The items in the exhibition are drawn from the archaeological collections of Columbia, Yale and the University of Pennsylvania.” Be sure to look at the accompanying slide show, which includes more tablets, a photo of Otto Neugebauer, and his hand drawing of both sides of a tablet.

Categories: History, Math, Writing


August 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Duncan, the family cat back on Long Island, died today. He was a good cat, and he thrived for years, but he has not been well for much of the past year.

Duncan came into our family’s life unexpectedly over a decade ago. One of several kittens who appeared in the yard one summer, he was persistent after the others drifted away. Eventually, my family fed him. But with parakeets in the house, his coming in wasn’t an option. As the weather cooled in the fall, he moved into makeshift lodgings by the kitchen door. With bedding and a steady source of food, hewas content.

A year later, he moved again, into the house. The basement was his domain, a door separating him from the parakeets. He would come up to eat or to go outside, but otherwise spent much of his time downstairs sleeping.

Over the years, his domain continued to expand. He still liked his basement bed, but he established alternative sites upstairs. And he treated the parakeets like a gentleman. When one managed to get out of his cage last year and land on the dining room floor, Duncan was there to watch over him and meow until he could be rescued.

But Duncan had not been eating much in recent months, for whatever reason, and that began to take its toll. He remained friendly and affectionate, eager to get outside to keep up with the latest developments. However, it was only a matter of time. And that time came today.

We’ll miss him.

Categories: Cats, Family, Obituary

Shaw & Sucia Islands

August 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Sunset from Shaw Island

Back in April, at the annual fundraising auction of the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, we were high bidder for an overnight outing to two of the San Juan Islands. The premise of most of the auction items is that you get to spend time with one of the museum’s curators, either in the museum itself or out in the field. In this case, we were bidding for two curators and a generous host couple.

The San Juans, as you may know, lie to the north of Puget Sound and east of the Juan de Fuca Straits, in the waters between Vancouver Island (to the west) and the northern part of Washington State. The US-Canada border snakes through in a complicated pattern, separating the San Juans from Canada’s Gulf Islands to the north. (See the Pig War of 1859 and the ultimate determination of the border in 1872.) Four of the islands are served by Washington State Ferries: Lopez, Shaw, Orcas, and San Juan. But there are many others, such as Sucia, some privately owned and some public.

In outline, we were to arrive at Shaw Island in time for dinner at the host couple’s home along with the hosts and the curators, spend the evening there, then head out as a group on the hosts’ boat to Sucia Island, which lies on the other side of Orcas Island, about an hour away (depending on tides). There, we would explore the archaeology, geology, and paleontology of the island, with a break for lunch, and in mid afternoon we would return to Shaw to catch the ferry back.

Finding a mutually satisfactory time was not entirely straightforward, but we eventually settled on two weeks ago today and tomorrow. Gail and I headed off around 1:30 PM for Anacortes, on Fidalgo Island some 80 miles north of here, and its ferry terminal a few miles west of town. There we met up with Julie and Liz, our guides. Julie was once the museum’s archaeology curator, but has served for six years now as its executive director. Liz is the invertebrate paleontology curator. And both are friends, which was part of the appeal of the trip when we bid on it. (Julie is more than a friend. She’s my long lost twin, having been born on the very same day as me, just hours later. We have shared the fate of having only a limited number of birthdays. Next year is a big one.) The ferries were running late, so we had some time to kill at the ferry landing. The day was warm and lovely, and we were quite content to sit outside waiting and chatting. Once aboard the ferry, we did the same, as we snaked through the islands to Shaw.

I had never been on Shaw before, only looking at it from the ferry. It’s primarily residential. No town. No commercial area, except for the general store and post office just a hundred yards up from the ferry landing. For years, these were managed by nuns, but they left seven years ago, leaving the store in the hands of a Shaw couple. Our host met us, loaded our bags, and whisked us off to his home, where his wife welcomed us. We were shown to our guest quarters, took a few moments to unpack, then headed over to the main house to join everyone.

Soon, as we relaxed over drinks and hors d’ouevres in the most gorgeous of settings, the tour began. A large map of the islands was unfolded and Julie and Liz explained the islands’ geological history, along with that of western Washington as a whole. Birds flitted in and out among the nearby feeders and we looked out at the view across the water to other islands. Our host got the salmon going on the grill, and before long it was time to move inside for dinner.

What a feast! With two weeks gone now, I can hardly remember all the details. Many of the vegetables had been bought the day before at the market in Friday Harbor, the main town of San Juan Island and a short trip by boat. Fresh corn salad, green salad, assorted other vegetables, perfectly cooked salmon. And the conversation was every bit as wonderful as the food.

After dinner, our host took us on a walk up a slight slope on the property to its high point, a wooded area with mysterious boulders that Julie said were not naturally occurring. They would have been placed there by natives, perhaps as a burial area. From there we walked down to an overlook above the water and back to the house. The sun was near to setting, so I headed out with my camera and took shot upon shot, one of which you can see at the top.

Soon dessert awaited us, the most gorgeous of almond tarts. I had been trying to limit my carb intake, but I couldn’t pass up the tart entirely, and our hostess was kind enough to cut off a piece of just the right size for me. It was so good that if allowed, I would surely have had three regular pieces rather than one tiny piece. We talked into the evening, partly about issues of higher education, then headed off to get some sleep before our big adventure.

The next morning, we arrived at the main house from our guest quarters to find yet another feast, a breakfast of eggs and bacon and fruits and berries and bread and more. After eating and loading up, we headed to our hosts’ boat, moored not far away, and within minutes we were off.

Leaving Shaw Island for Sucia Island

The tides were against us as we headed north around the west side of Orcas and then east, along the north side of Orcas to Sucia. We arrived in Fossil Bay, an inlet on the island’s southeast corner, found some dock space to tie up along, and disembarked. The morning was for archaeology.

Julie isn’t just any archaeologist. She’s Ms. San Juan Islands Archaeologist, the famed islands expert, having led digs, studied, and published about them for decades. And Sucia isn’t just any island. It’s the island on which the young archaeologist Robert Kidd did some groundbreaking (I know, this is must be a tiresome pun among archies) research starting in 1960. We walked over to the site of Kidd’s work, where Julie gave us a lesson on the history of archaeological research in the islands. She had brought along photos of the old dig, much of which is now covered over by wild roses and other growth, as well as the thistle pictured below.

Sucia Island thistle

We then walked along the beach in search of evidence of shell middens (the garbage dumps where native residents would have thrown their shells and other waste, and where tools are typically found as well). We didn’t have to look far. We reached one of the raised composting toilets, and there just below was a midden, disturbed of course by the construction years ago of the original toilet. Two parks employees came by and Julie gave us all a lesson on middens.

Time for lunch. We retraced our steps back to the boat, our hosts set pulled out all the food, unfolded a tablecloth on one of the picnic tables that sit on the dock, and laid out feast number three. There were some leftovers, new salads, smoked salmon, homemade chocolate chip cookies, fruit, drinks. Gosh we ate well.

Time for paleontology. We walked back past the shell middens to another stretch of beach, which you can see below. We walked down the beach not in the direction shown, but in the direction behind me.

Sucia Island beach, with Waldron (US) and Saturna (Canada) Islands beyond

This brought us to some cliffs filled with fossils. Let me assure you, in case you have any interest in heading over to Sucia, that fossil collecting is absolutely forbidden. So don’t do it. Unless you have a permit, which you don’t, but which Liz does. Out came two hammers, though Julie showed me that I could pick up any quartz rock along the beach and use it as well.

Sucia Island fossil

We all hammered away at the cliff, or at pieces of fallen rock at the cliff’s foot, turning up fossil after fossil, which Liz duly recorded and bagged. It was great fun. I forgot to mention that Liz had brought some fossils up from the museum collection, showing us back at the house after breakfast what they were and previewing what we might see. As we found new fossils, she was able to tell us what they were.

Well, one can only have so much fun, and there was a ferry to catch, so around 3:00 we started walking back to the boat. Those darn tides. They had gone and reversed themselves on us, setting us up for yet another tide-fighting ride. But a beautiful one, with great company, so we were happy as we bumped along, around Orcas again and on to Shaw.

After docking, we unloaded, carried and wheelbarrowed everything back to the vehicles, and it was time for goodbyes to Julie, Liz, and the hostess, who would be returning to the house. The host drove us on to the ferry landing with time to spare, so we were able to wander through the general store with him and check out the post office. Then one more farewell, leaving Gail and me to sit and look out across the water to Orcas as we waited for the ferry.

The return trip was longer, since the ferry makes a triangle, going on from Shaw to Orcas before returning to Anacortes. We were back at our car around 7:00, in need of dinner. I had seen two possibilities the day before on our way through downtown Anacortes to the ferry, a Chinese place and a Mexican taqueria across the street from it. We drove into town, checked both out, and chose Chinese. A bit of a comedown from the three amazing meals of the previous 24 hours, but perfectly fine. Just what we needed. We got back in the car and an hour and a half later we were home.

We can’t wait for next year’s auction, and perhaps another curator trip, though nothing can top this one.

Categories: Food, Science, Travel

Another Bainbridge Outing

August 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Bloedel Reserve

I was going to call this Bainbridge Outing, but then I did a search and discovered that I already wrote a Bainbridge Outing post, recounting our visit at the end of last December. I even featured the same house shown, once again, above. But last time I provided the front view. Here you see the rear view from below.

The impetus for the trip was an email to members from Bloedel Reserve* informing us of their evening walks a couple of weeks back and last night. They close at 7:00 PM in the summer, but on these special evenings, they remain open (for members only) until 9:00 PM.

*I have written about Bloedel before. This time, let me remind you of what the reserve is by quoting from their home page: “The Bloedel Reserve is an internationally renowned public garden whose primary mission is to provide a tranquil and refreshing experience of nature. The Reserve’s 150 acres are a unique blend of natural woodlands and beautifully landscaped gardens, including a Japanese Garden, a Moss Garden, and Reflection Pool, and the Bloedel’s former estate home. We invite you to visit this Northwest treasure.” The reserve is on the north end of Bainbridge Island, which itself is just across the sound from Seattle, a 40-minute ferry ride away from downtown.

Our plan was to head over to Bainbridge in mid-afternoon, have some time to wander around before dinner, then have an early dinner in the downtown area before heading up to Bloedel for our evening walk. This is essentially what we did, except for taking into account that one can’t expect to simply show up and drive onto the next ferry on a sunny, warm, summer Friday afternoon. Between peak tourist season, the best weekend weather of the summer, and the end of the week for commuters, the downtown ferry terminal was mobbed. We approached the terminal a little before 3:00, imagining that maybe we could be among the last to drive onto the 3:00 ferry, only to realize it would take 10 minutes just to turn into the the pay booth area and buy our tickets. We then drove into one of the waiting lines while the 3:00 ferry boarded, some 15 minutes late. To our right were column upon column of cars that also weren’t making the 3:00 ferry. Well, okay, we’ll wait for the 3:45, which we did. But when that started boarding, there were columns of cars to our far left who went first, and I realized we were at risk of waiting for the 4:40, which would totally mess up our plans.

It was pretty suspenseful, what with boarding being stopped just before our column of cars so that the ferry staff could figure out how much more room they had. Then they let us on. We were maybe the fifth-to-last car to make it. Phew!

We got into town and parked at around 5:00, giving us just enough time to visit one store before dinner and Bloedel. On to Churchmouse Yarns and Teas, always our first stop in town. I don’t knit, and I don’t drink much tea, so it’s a bit of a puzzle why I love the store so, but I do. The layout, the staff, the displays. It’s a most warm and welcoming haven. Right away, Gail saw a scarf (Churchmouse designs and sells many patterns as well as yarn) and discussed it with the saleswoman while I checked out the tea. Then we looked at the Emma Bridgewater bird mugs. And dog mugs. And flower mugs. And back to the teas, at which point the saleswoman joined us to explain what some of the more interesting teas were.

We talked over what to buy, at which point, John appeared from the rear and began to tell us more about the teas. John is co-owner, with his wife, and we had a good time talking with him about the store. (You can read more about John and Kit here.) We then selected several teas, headed to the counter, paid for the teas and yarn, and spoke more with our saleswoman. By the time we left the store, it was dinnertime.

On many of our trips over to Bainbridge in the last year and a half, we have eaten at Cafe Nola, a fine restaurant at the far end of the commercial strip. But yesterday Gail wanted to try another place, Hitchcock, which she said she had read a good review of. What she had failed to explain, or I failed to understand, is that she had just read the good review. In fact, it had appeared that very day, yesterday, in the Seattle Times.

Each Friday, the Times has a weekend entertainment section with movie reviews, theater and concert reviews and listings, and so on. Plus, a featured restaurant review and a short cheap-eats review. When I open up the Friday paper, I often turn first to the restaurant review, just to see if it’s a place near us or out in the suburbs, and whether we frequent or already know about it. Of course, if the review excites me, I make a mental note not to eat there for at least a month, since it will be too crowded.

Normally, finding the restaurant review in the weekend section requires turning to page 5 or 7. Not yesterday, for the restaurant was featured on the cover, with a full page picture of the chef exhibiting a dish of food and the words “From Farm to Fork.” I put it aside for later reading, not bothering to turn inside since I could already see what the place was. And then I never got back to it. Nor did I pay attention to the full wording on the cover: “Hitchcock: From Farm to Fork.” The restaurant name hadn’t registered.

No wonder, when we entered Hitchcock at 5:30, the hostess asked if we had a reservation. I hardly thought that would be necessary. Only when we sat down did Gail mention the review again, at which point our waitress, overhearing us, headed over to the door to grab a copy from the mound of Seattle Times in order to pull out the Weekend section and show us the cover. Sure enough, it said Hitchcock, the very restaurant we were now sitting in. And we were lucky to get a table at all.

To start, we shared a small plate of Marcona almonds, pimentòn. Then Gail had one of the cheeses by the ounce, the Big Boy Blue with bing cherry compote and lavosh while I had the Persephone Farm baby greens, cava vinaigrette, and pickled strawberries. Gail’s main course was the egg fettucini, which I see on the online menu as coming with pork confit, chanterelle mushrooms, and mustard greens, but I don’t remember the menu last night mentioning pork. Maybe I mis-read it, or maybe they changed the menu. I had the pork chop with creamy farro, mustard greens, and rainier cherry compote. Everything was superb. We passed on dessert, regretfully, both because we had eaten plenty and because it was time to get to Bloedel.

Oh, as for that Seattle Times review, which I still haven’t read, let me take a look and see if there are any quotes worth sharing. Well, it describes the reviewer’s experience with a tasting menu, very different from our dinner. Here’s one excerpt:

What he puts on the plate is often spectacular and scrupulously detailed. A single small turnip is unforgettable. Soft and sweet from its olive-oil bath, it’s set like a pearl in a swag of bitter turnip greens alongside a swipe of garlic and anchovy sauce. Cheeses each merit a different garnish. So do oysters: citrus granita for Baywater Sweets; peppery horseradish mignonette for Amai; simply lemon for tide-tumbled Blue Pools.

Bites like these leave you hungry for more. Move on to lemon-dressed arugula rampant with raisins, pine nuts and leaves of grana padano cheese. Or to crostini topped with gravlax: pale, lush marbled salmon cured with dill and dabbed with crème fraîche. Or to lonza — near-translucent rounds of salt-cured, dry-aged pork loin circling a scoop of grape granita that sends out tendrils of sweet-tart juice as it melts into fruity olive oil.

On to Bloedel Reserve at last. We arrived punctually at 7:00, parked, and walked the standard route outlined on their map. For a while, as we crossed the meadow and entered the wooded bird reserve, we saw and heard no one else. The reserve was tranquil, just as described on their home page. We soon crossed paths with others, as we walked through the woods and out toward the visitor center (the old Bloedel mansion). From the visitor center’s rear, we had spectacular views down to the lawn pictured in the photo above, out to the little inlet of Port Madison, and northeast across Puget Sound to north Seattle, Shoreline, and Edmonds, with the Cascades in the distance. We headed down the stairway on the side of the house, out to the lawn and the view just above the water, then followed the path through the glen and on to the Japanese Garden.

At the garden, the Guest House was open to visitors. We had never been inside before. Coffee and lemonade were available, and we could sit and relax or explore the guest bedrooms and bathrooms. (I believe the Bloedel grandchildren would stay there decades ago.) The self-guided tour booklet has this description of the house:

The Guest House was designed by Paul Hayden Kirk, a Seattle architect recommended to the Bloedels by Tommy Church, and completed in 1964. The structure is made of vertical grain, clear, Western red cedar (Thuja plicata), supported by Douglas fir posts that came from Mr. Bloedel’s timber property in Bellingham. The rest of the wood came from MacMillan-Bloedel Ltd. in Canada. The floor inside is teak from the battleship U.S.S. New Jersey, acquired from a government surplus property disposal sale. The chairs and coffee tables were hand-made by master furniture maker George Nakashima of New Hope, Pennsylvania, and were a gift to the Bloedels from the architect. Mr. Nakashima was a classmate of Mr. Kirk at the University of Washington. Paul Kirk once commented in an interview that this building attempts to combine a Japanese style with Northwest Native American.

As this suggests, it’s a wonderful structure, and we were glad finally to enter it.

From the Japanese Garden, we walked through Gail’s favorite, the moss garden, then past the reflection pool, around its far side to the meadow, and back across the meadow to our car. It was 8:15 and we figured we could make the 8:55 ferry.

As we got closer to town, I began to think, with the ferries running late, that maybe we could even make the 8:15 ferry. But no. As we pulled up to the booth to pay, it was pulling out. We would have a while to wait. Having done so much waiting already, I decided to make good use of the time. While Gail stayed behind in the car, I walked up the hill and back into town in order to shop for food at the island’s principal supermarket, Town & Country Market. We needed some items, and this seemed preferable to stopping back in Seattle. Plus, I got to explore the offerings, even as I worried that I might have mis-calculated and Gail would drive onto the ferry without me.

No such problem. I descended to the ferry waiting area just as the ferry approached the dock. Some 15 minutes later, we were on board. We pulled out around 9:15, in dusk. It was a beautiful crossing, with the Olympics silhouetted to the west, above Bainbridge, and Seattle’s downtown slowly growing and resolving to the east. A perfect ending to the day.

Categories: Garden, Restaurants, Travel

Change We Can Believe in, XXI

August 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Change We Can Believe In: Fiddle While the Economy Stalls

I awoke this past Sunday to several blog posts about Binyamin Appelbaum and Helen Cooper’s NYT article on internal White House debates about how to approach the economy. I’m a little late with my own. Let me quote from the article:

Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, David Plouffe, and his chief of staff, William M. Daley, want him to maintain a pragmatic strategy of appealing to independent voters by advocating ideas that can pass Congress, even if they may not have much economic impact. These include free trade agreements and improved patent protections for inventors.


A series of departures has left few economists among Mr. Obama’s senior advisers. Several of his political advisers are skeptical about the merits of stimulus spending, and they are certain about the politics: voters do not like it.

Mr. Plouffe and Mr. Daley share the view that a focus on deficit reduction is an economic and political imperative, according to people who have spoken with them. Voters believe that paying down the debt will help the economy, and the White House agrees, although it wants to avoid cutting too much spending while the economy remains weak.

As Calculated Risk points out, “It sounds like the debate is between doing nothing and doing very little.” Krugman’s summary: “Plouffe and Daley, macroeconomic theorists!”

For this installment of “Change We Can Believe In,” I have replaced the image that has graced the top of the previous twenty installments with Ted Rall’s latest cartoon. Need more be said?

Categories: Economy, Politics


August 16, 2011 Leave a comment

[James Martin/CNET]

I mentioned last night that Joel headed off to North Carolina yesterday to live there for a while. This meant he would have to deal with the dreaded cable company, which in this case is Time Warner. We went online a week ago to set up an appointment to have cable TV and internet set up in his new place, only to get word a couple of days later that his two choices for an appointment wouldn’t work. Things went downhill from there.

Perhaps there will be some good news tomorrow, the best possible news at this point probably being that he can get internet and cable before the end of next week. In the meantime, the lack of internet access (except on his iPhone) is a huge inconvenience, not just for news and entertainment, but to shop and get his new place set up. At least I imagine so. I shouldn’t speak for my son.

What to do? I suggested over the weekend that he might want to take advantage of the tethering feature of the iPhone. Tethering, as you probably know, is the process by which you take advantage of your smart phone’s internet connectivity to hook it up to your computer and connect the computer to the internet as well. It’s not a new idea, and the iPhone has been capable of tethering since iOS 3.0 came out a couple of years ago. At the time, AT&T chose not to permit tethering in the US, no doubt for fear of being overwhelmed by the data demands on its network. That changed a year ago

Of course, one pays more. Plus, in a cruel twist, AT&T announced that if you had an unlimited data plan and added tethering, you would have to give up the unlimited plan. This was part of a larger change, in which AT&T stopped offering unlimited data plans to new customers, allowing those who had contracted for such plans in the past to keep them. We, for instance, pay $30/month on our iPhones for unlimited data. We can switch to the $25/month plan for 2GB of data monthly, paying $10 for each additional 1GB or part thereof. I suspect I don’t use anything close to 2GB (I know, I can easily check), so I could save the $5 by switching. On the other hand, you never know, and once I switch, there’s no going back.

For tethering, one has to make the same sort of decision. Tethering costs $45/month, and with it you get 4GB of data monthly. Thus it’s on a par with the $25/month plan for 2GB plus $10 extra per GB. But again, once you switch, there’s no going back to unlimited. You can switch from tethering and $45/month to the ordinary 2GB data plan at $25/month. But you can’t return to unlimited for $30/month. So even if you just want to test tethering for a week or two, then switch back, you’re locked out of unlimited.

It’s a risk, but life is full of risks, and this isn’t such a huge one. In any case, the option offered Joel a way out. While he waits for Time Warner to schedule him, he can tether his iPhone to his laptop and get internet access. We spoke on the phone tonight and he said he was ready for tethering. As we spoke, I went online and made the change.

I have to give AT&T credit. They make it extremely easy. Up comes our family plan on my computer with our three phone numbers, I click on Joel’s, all the plan options are listed by category, with the current choice in each category marked. I mark another choice, click a couple of next buttons to see and confirm what I’m doing, and that’s it. Within moments, he has a text on his iPhone saying he has tethering and I have an email confirming the change to the account. And moments later, his computer is connected to the internet. He’ll have to be careful how much data he uses on his computer. But in a week or two (yes?) he’ll have his cable modem, at which point he can turn off the tethering feature.

Now I want tethering too. It sounds like fun. Except that I don’t actually need it.

Categories: Computing

Good News, Bad News (cont.)

August 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Last night I wrote about effort to fly from Seattle to Raleigh-Durham on JetBlue yesterday. He got into Boston an hour and a half late — the bad news — but his flight down to RDU was delayed 5 hours — the good news, since otherwise he would have missed it.

Time for today’s good news, bad news. The bad news is that, as one might have anticipated, the length of last night’s delay grew. The flight out of Logan to RDU was initially scheduled to depart at 7:04 PM. Early in the day, that was revised to 12:02 AM. Ultimately, it left around 1:00 AM. Six hours late! Can you imagine? With no clear explanation offered.

The good news? Today, unsolicited, Joel received email from JetBlue informing him that he had received a $50 credit toward future travel. No doubt he’ll have the opportunity to use it. But he may confine his Seattle-RDU travel to other airlines from now on. JetBlue doesn’t have the best set of options.

Categories: Travel