Archive for August, 2012

A Sense of Direction

August 27, 2012 Leave a comment

I’m about 90 pages into Gideon Lewis-Kraus’s A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful. It came out three months ago and promptly got a brief review in The New Yorker. As explained there,

Lewis-Kraus moved from San Francisco to Berlin and then set out on a series of pilgrimages: Camino de Santiago, in Spain; Shikoku, in Japan; and Uman, in Ukraine. He makes the three treks–Catholic, Buddhist, and Jewish, respectively–as a secularist, hunting for clarity while nursing his blistered feet. … Perhaps by design, the writing–beautiful and often very funny–frequently mimics the setting: during the Berlin segment it’s restless, and, on the circular route of Shikoku, sometimes lacks direction. But on the Camino Lewis-Kraus weaves a story that his both searching and purposeful, one that forces the reader, like the pilgrim, to value the journey as much as the destination.

I downloaded the first portion of the book in June, started it, but decided to defer reading it, or perhaps not read it at all. However, I kept seeing mention of it, including this interview of the author in Harper’s. Finally, last week, I downloaded the full book and began reading it.

Progress was slow initially, since I downloaded another book at the same time — James Sullivan’s Island Cup: Two Teams, Twelve Miles of Ocean, and Fifty Years of Football Rivalry — and was alternating between the two. I wrote about Island Cup last month. It’s the account of the rivalry between the Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard high school football teams. My interest in high school football is close to zero. But my interest in Nantucket is high, and what especially appealed to me was the opportunity to learn about year-round life on the islands. Writer and Martha’s Vineyard resident Tony Horwitz explained in his WSJ review that the book

may surprise summer tourists, who associate Nantucket with the homes of whaling captains and with sunburned WASPs in salmon pants. The Vineyard is likewise known for its affluent ease, a retreat for the Clintons, Kennedys and Obamas. But as Mr. Sullivan observes, these crowded resorts have a very different character in fall and winter. They’re small communities, mostly middle- and working-class, with large immigrant populations, isolated by fog and water from what islanders call “America.”

With a visit to Nantucket coming up soon, I thought Island Cup would be useful remedial reading. However, my alternation scheme seems to have turned into a focus on Lewis-Kraus, with island football on hold.

What better timing to be reading about the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, by the way, than during cycling’s Vuelta a España (which I wrote about yesterday)? We’re into the Vuelta’s second week, and this year’s route has been zigzagging across the pilgrimage route. Compare. Below is the Vuelta map:

And here’s the pilgrimage map:

Last Wednesday’s Vuelta stage began and ended in Logroño. Lewis-Kraus and his companion, fellow writer Tom Bissell, just passed through Logroño in a passage I was reading yesterday.

I feel like I’m still settling into the book’s rhythms and the author’s voice. The portrayal of Berlin’s art world, or the slice of it within which Gideon-Kraus lived, was puzzling, both off-putting and fascinating. I’m not far into the Santiago pilgrimage now. Mostly I’m learning about blisters. Plus the gorgeous countryside.

As a counterpoint to The New Yorker review, here’s an excerpt from James Campbell’s WSJ review:

[Kraus-Lewis] is a guy with a laptop and a phone that translates whatever he needs to say to the natives. In truth, Mr. Lewis-Kraus isn’t the least bit interested in the natives—neither in Berlin, where he starts out, nor in Spain, nor Japan, nor Ukraine, where he ends up. The people he meets are mostly people like him, restless in their over-gadgetized lives, hopeful of glimpsing a private self in the wilderness.

Maybe my reading Campbell in the spring is the reason I hesitated to get the book. I have it now, though, and I’m reading it.

Categories: Books

La Vuelta

August 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Alejandro Valverde winning yesterday’s stage on the climb of La Gallina, with Joaquim Rodriguez and Alberto Contador just behind

We’re a week into the Vuelta a España, the third of cycling’s annual three-week stage races, following the Giro d’Italia in May and the Tour de France in July. The Tour has become easy to follow here in the US, with extensive TV and newspaper coverage. The Giro and Vuelta — not so much. Back in May, I kept searching on TV for the Giro. I knew it was on Universal Sports, but I couldn’t figure out where Comcast had it, or hid it. Last night I finally figured out the problem, with respect to current viewing of the Vuelta at least. Universal will let you watch the live feed, but only if you are a current subscriber to DIRECTV or DISH with a package that includes Universal. Which is to say, I’m out of luck. This isn’t good, for me or for cycling.

What we have been able to watch this past week is the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, a one-week stage race in Colorado that concluded today. It has featured many of the top US riders, along with a selection of other top riders from around the world. I haven’t watched much, but I’ve been following the results in the paper. Our local hero (and family friend of my pal Russ), Tyler Farrar, who did not have a good Tour last month, rebounded with two stage victories. Tejay van Garderen and Christian VandeVelde, who had been fighting it out for the overall lead, fell behind on a mountain stage yesterday to Levi Leipheimer, in good form at last in his recovery from being hit by a car in Spain in April. Overall victory came down to today’s time trial in Denver, which Gail and I were watching live on NBC Sports Network early this afternoon, but it was only a tease. They switched to car racing, reserving the broadcast of the leaders for prime time tonight. Who wants to wait? I read the results. VandeVelde won, with Tejay 21 seconds back and Levi 24 back.

As for the Vuelta, it’s been exciting so far. You may recall Chris Froome’s outstanding performance in the Tour last month, having many wondering if he could have won had he not been riding in support of teammate Bradley Wiggins. A year ago in the Vuelta, he was in the same position, riding to support Wiggins, only to prove himself the better rider in the end, too late to win, but good enough to finish second, with Wiggins third. This year, on the Tour’s penultimate stage, the time trial into Chartres, Wiggins demonstrated his mastery, finishing 1’16” ahead of second place Froome on the day and showing that he really was the team leader. He would finish first and Froome second overall the next day in Paris. Eleven days later in the Olympics time trial, Wiggins won gold, with Froome in third. So, okay, maybe Froome isn’t the best. But he’s riding in this year’s Vuelta and Wiggins isn’t, which means if he isn’t too tired from peaking for the Tour and the Olympics, he may be the favorite.

Then again, what about Spaniard Joaquin Rodriguez? He entered the final day of the Giro in May with the overall lead, 31 seconds ahead of Canadian Ryder Hesjedal. That final day’s stage was a time trial in Milan, in which Hesjedal outrode Rodriguez, slipping ahead for victory by 16 seconds. A dramatic finish. This is Rodriguez’a opportunity, on home roads, to make up for that narrow loss.

But wait, Alberto Contador is back. Wasn’t he banned for doping? Yes but the ban ended on August 5th. He won the Tour in 2007, skipped it in 2008 while winning the Giro and Vuelta, won the Tour again in 2009, and won it in 2010 (but was stripped of that victory). What form is he in? Can he return on top?

What I’m suggesting is, this is a dramatic Vuelta, with three of the world’s best riders out to prove themselves. A Vuelta I would have liked to watch.

How has it been going? Through Wednesday, it was pretty tight, with Rodriguez first, but Froome in second just a second behind, Contador in third five seconds behind, and another 14 riders within a minute. Thursday’s stage opened up the first gaps, Froome and Contador still second and third, but 10 and 36 seconds back, with Colombian Rigoberto Uran 42 back, Dutchman Robert Gesink 54 back, and Spaniard Alejandro Valverde moving into sixth at 54 seconds back.

Yesterday’s stage in the Pyrenees separated the leaders further. Contador appeared to have the stage sewn up, but Rodriguez and Valverde came up quickly in the closing meters, both passing him, with Valverde getting the stage win and Rodriguez and Contador given times one second behind (as in the photo above), Froome finishing 15 seconds back. Overall, Froome still held second, but 33 seconds behind Rodriguez, with Contador third at 40 seconds and Valverde climbing to fourth at 50 seconds, all four well clear of the field (with Gesink in fifth, 1’41” back).

Today’s stage ran from the Pyrenees into Barcelona, with a closing climb up Montjuïc. Looking at the times, I see that Rodriguez just missed out on a stage victory again, finishing second to Philippe Gilbert with Froome and Contador in the peloton 12 seconds back. Oh, there must be time bonuses for top stage finishes, because despite being only 12 seconds back, they both lost 20 seconds overall. And Valverde, who was 9 seconds back of Rodriguez on the day, lost 17 seconds overall. Thus, as we go into tomorrow’s rest day, Rodriguez lies 53 seconds ahead of Froome, a minute ahead of Contador, 1’07” ahead of Valverde.

But remember, Rodriguez lost his Giro lead in May in a time trial, and a 39.4k time trial looms this Wednesday.

I just looked in The Guardian for their brief coverage of today’s stage. Here’s a quote:

Both Froome and Contador will view Wednesday’s time trial as an opportunity to wrest the race leadership from Rodríguez, who is not noted for his ability against the clock.

“I know I’m not going to enjoy [the time trial] and I’m not capable of adding a full minute to my lead in the mountains so adding every second I can could make the difference on whether or not I finish on the podium,” said Rodriguez, who lost the Giro d’Italia because of a weak time-trial ride. “And, hopefully, for winning the Vuelta.”

I wish I could watch.

Categories: Cycling

Masters 2013, Here We Come

August 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Augusta’s 12th hole

Augusta National Golf Club is in the news this week because of its announcement Monday that it has admitted its first female members. (I just wrote about the announcement, expressing my disgust regarding one of the two new members.) But that’s not the only news.

The club runs The Masters, one of men’s golf’s four major tournaments, and for many players and observers, the best. I have had the good fortune of attending the three other majors: The Open Championship (familiarly known in the US as the British Open) at St. Andrews in 1990 and Troon in 2004, the US Open at Bethpage on Long Island in 2002, and the PGA Championship here at nearby Sahalee in 1998. But I have never gone to the Masters.

There’s a reason. It’s just about the hardest US sports ticket to get hold of. Tickets for the other three majors are made publicly available, but the Masters is like season tickets for team sports: ticket holders can renew their subscriptions, receiving tickets for life. Since the club isn’t interested in making a ton of money through ticket sales, a modest number of tickets is sold compared to other golf tournaments, and ticket prices remain low. Thus, ticket turnover is low too.

Ticket holders are barred by Augusta’s rules from re-selling their tickets, but of course many do, and the resulting prices are high. Once you get on the course, food prices are low. Indeed, the food is flat out cheap. Not cheap just by the standards of a sporting event, but cheap like turning the clock back a few decades.

There used to be a waiting list for available tickets, but the club abandoned that recently. Intead, it makes a small number of tickets available by lottery. You have to set up an account, log in, give them some information, and apply separately for tickets on tournament days (Thursday through Sunday) and on practice days (Monday through Wednesday). There’s a limit, 2 tickets per day on tournament days, 4 per day on practice days. I applied for both a year ago for this year’s Masters and struck out. I applied again a few months ago for next year’s tournament, learning a month ago that I would not be getting tournament tickets.

Now for the big news: Last night, I got an email informing me that I had won the practice round lottery. I was asked to log in for details. On doing so, I learned that I’ve won 4 tickets for Tuesday, the second practice day. Only Tuesday. I need to pay by September 15 or release them.

Not exactly what I was hoping for. Imagine flying all the way to Georgia, finding a hotel, and staying just for one day. It hardly seems worth the trouble.

Then again, the Masters! I can go! I can see the 12th hole at last. And the 13th. And the 14th. All of them! The holes any golf fan has memorized from years of watching the coverage on TV. (I failed to make this point — the other three majors rotate among courses. The Masters is always in one place. Players and fans come to know the course intimately.)

What to do? I have no idea. My cousin John has told me for years that however hard it is to get tournament tickets, or however expensive, obtaining practice round tickets is a breeze. I could pay for the Tuesday tickets and count on finding Wednesday tickets, so we could attend for two days, not just one. Or wait for the year that we win the tournament ticket lottery. Or, after a few more years of failure, just pay the big bucks.

Meanwhile, here’s an article by WSJ sportswriter Jason Gay that I just found, written on the eve of last April’s Masters.

The Masters may be one of the hardest tickets in sports – daily tournament tickets are awarded by lottery, and though the price is a relatively modest $75, the reselling market can be many multiples of that (on, there were Sunday tickets available for $745 each; Thursday’s were going for $590).

But once you’re inside the grounds, Augusta is weirdly inexpensive. The general rule of the modern sporting event is the “quintuple gouge” – gouge you for a seat, gouge you to park, gouge you to eat, gouge you to drink, and gouge you once more if you’re daffy and flush enough to want a souvenir. But the Masters is charmingly anti-gouge. Official parking is free, though if you want to be a cowboy and park at a private lot, there are plenty for $10. Food is astonishingly cheap – not just cheap in the sporting event context, but just cheap, cheap. The famous Pimento cheese sandwich is a buck and a half; two of them will have you napping under a shade tree. An egg salad sandwich is also $1.50. The Masters club sandwich is $2.50. For big spenders, you can go wild with a grilled chicken wrap at $3.00.

And beer? This will make you cry: $3 for domestic, $3.75 for imports.

At those prices you should have a few clams left over for a stop at the souvenir stand, where the prices are not discount den, but hardly grim. Official cotton Masters hats are $24, visors are $15; a commemorative glass is $7; you can buy a Masters carry-on bag for $99, but it comes with free shipping. Probably the most useful and travel-friendly gift is the official ball marker, which goes for $8. Last year’s Masters winner Charl Schwartzel raked in $1.44 million for his performance – good enough to purchase 180,000 ball markers, or 960,000 Pimento sandwiches.

If only today’s well-moneyed athletes played for Pimento sandwiches. Sports would be a different, cheesy place.

Some day. I don’t think I even like pimento cheese sandwiches, but I look forward to buying one.

Categories: Golf

The Good Life, War Criminal Division

August 23, 2012 Leave a comment

2012 Masters winner Bubba Watson receiving his green jacket from 2011 winner Charl Schwartzel


I should have seen this one coming. What? I’ll get to it. Some background first.

Augusta National Golf Club is home to the most famous golf course in the country and host of The Masters, one of the four major men’s golf championships. It’s not your typical local golf club, with membership drawn primarily from the region around Augusta, Georgia. Rather, as the name suggests, it is a national club, with a membership including many CEOs and political leaders.

Membership is by invitation only. Asking to join is a good way to ensure that you won’t be invited, at least not for a while. Supposedly this happened to Bill Gates. That’s the story that got told a few years back anyway.

The lack of African-American members was a source of controversy a couple of decades ago, in the context of the PGA Tour having a policy of not holding tournaments at clubs without black members. The club soon admitted some. More recently, the absence of women among the membership had become national news, thanks especially to the attention Martha Burk, former chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, drew to this issue in 2002. She called for a boycott by the Masters tournament advertisers, to which the club’s long-time chair Hootie Johnson responded by preempting her, announcing that there would be no TV ads (and reducing whatever fee CBS pays for coverage of the tournament). The Masters exercises tight control over the broadcast as it is, with strictly limited advertising and no CBS promos of upcoming shows. It is far and away the best golf broadcast of the year.

This year, the spotlight fell once again on the absence of women among club members, for an entirely different reason. As Jason Gay explained in the WSJ:

Augusta National is again confronted with a question that gets elevated as a “cultural moment” but really just sounds absurd in 2012: Why aren’t there any women members?

The subject has been pushed to the forefront by the appointment of Virginia M. Rometty as the CEO of IBM. IBM is a prominent Masters sponsor, and Augusta National has a history of inviting the company’s top executive to join its club. Ms. Rometty is a golfer. She spent late Sunday afternoon at Augusta sitting in a second-row chair behind the 18th green. Her jacket was pink, not green [green being the color of jackets that members receive].

Hootie Johnson’s successor as club chair, Billy Payne — whom you may remember running the Atlanta Olympics in 1996; he did a good job, maybe he should run for president — insisted at the time that membership is a private issue, and they would invite women when they were ready.

As Gay points out, the club sounded absurd, if not worse. The betting was that they wouldn’t be caught in the same position come April 2013 and the next Masters tournament.

No surprise, then, that three days ago Augusta National finally announced two new female members. One is Darla Moore. On reading about her (here and here), I realized that she was always the “obvious” choice for first female member of Augusta National. She’s a long-time friend of Hootie, fellow graduate of the University of South Carolina, and fellow major USC donor (for whom the business school is named).

Which brings me, at last, to the point of this post — the conventional, predictable, but sickening choice of the other inaugural female member: Condi Rice. Ah, the rewards of directing a regime of torture.

Let’s see. This will do, from an article in 2009:

Condoleezza Rice approved ‘torture’ techniques:

Condoleezza Rice, President George W. Bush’s Secretary of State, personally approved a CIA request to use “waterboarding” and other harsh interrogation techniques.

She verbally agreed to allow the methods to be used on Abu Zubaydah, an al-Qaeda suspect, in July 2002, a Senate report has revealed.

Miss Rice’s role was outlined in a narrative released by the Senate Intelligence Committee as the controversy over alleged torture by the CIA continued to rage.

The information indicates that the programme was approved at the highest levels of the Bush administration.

The new timeline suggests Miss Rice played a more significant role than she acknowledged in written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee submitted in the autumn.

No matter. She’s now a member of the most exclusive golf club in the country.

And let’s not forget Obama telling us nine days before his inauguration that “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” Okay then. I’m good. Condi, enjoy.

Categories: Golf, Politics, Torture

Line of the Week

August 23, 2012 1 comment

[Jeff Weeks]

It’s tough to compete with Missouri representative Todd Akin, who in the last week has given us what may be the line of the year. But let’s put politics aside — along with its concomitant lies, ignorance, and stupidity — and turn instead to mathematics. Bill Thurston, one of the great mathematicians of our time, died on Tuesday, way too young, at 65.

The NYT obituary does a passable job of conveying some sense of his importance, though it borders on the bizarre to learn that “Thurston was among a very rarefied group in his field that thinks deep theoretical thoughts with no particular practical application, a luxury he reveled in.” Just about everyone I spend my days with thinks theoretical thoughts with no particular practical application. I never thought we’re part of a rarefied group. But maybe the point is that our thoughts aren’t deep. In my case, I won’t argue.

The line of the week? It’s a remark by Thurston’s son Dylan:

Dylan Thurston, also a mathematician, said that despite working in a realm of rather cold abstractions, his father was personally very warm.

I picture Dylan saying this with a wink. We mathematicians don’t live in a realm of cold abstraction. Our abstractions are warm and fuzzy, good company in all circumstances. How warm we are is another matter.


For more on Thurston’s work, see the short note by Evelyn Lamb at Scientific American.

Categories: Life, Math, Obituary

Darwin’s Ghosts, 2

August 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Five weeks ago, I wrote about Rebecca Stott’s new book Darwin’s Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution, which had received strong reviews in the WSJ (by historian of science Laura Snyder) and the Sunday NYT (by anthropologist Hugh Raffles). Although I was only a chapter into the book, I was enjoying it so far.

Assorted events intervened, bringing book reading to a halt for a few weeks. When my reading resumed, I moved on to two other books, Michael Sandel’s philosophical examination of recent trends in capitalism, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, and Martin Walker’s crime novel of rural France, The Devil’s Cave (newly out in the UK but not yet available here). Tuesday night I returned to Darwin’s Ghosts, finding it even more engaging than I remembered and finishing it Friday night.

The opening chapter of Darwin’s Ghosts treats Darwin’s concern about identifying and giving proper credit to earlier scholars who in some way anticipated the ideas he published in 1859 in On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection. Each of the eleven chapters that follow focuses on one or a small handful of such people, ones Stott has chosen to tell us about, not necessarily those whom Darwin had identified. We start with Aristotle 2200 years earlier, jump 1100 years to the Islamic scholar Jahiz, who lived in Basra and later Baghdad and wrote the Book of Living Things. Another jump takes us to Renaissance Italy and France, after which the pace slows down and we focus on a series of scholars in France and Britain. These include Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus; the great French trio of Cuvier, Lamarck, and Geoffroy; the Scot Robert Chambers; and finally, inevitably, Alfred Wallace.

Each chapter functions as an independent piece, the book resembling a linked collection of short stories. And indeed, each chapter has the narrative drive of a short story, with the historical setting and secondary characters economically yet marvelously sketched. One on-going theme is the importance for all of Darwin’s predecessors of close study of animals and fossils. Only through detailed empirical examination could they gain new insight. In this way, the chapters double as case studies on the development of scientific method.

What emerges as well is the enormous value of collections, not as a random assortment of curiosities, but as the source of new knowledge. The Cuvier-Lamarck-Geoffroy chapter is especially informative on this point, conveying the significance of Paris’ Jardin des Plantes and the establishment within, by the revolutionary government in 1793, of the Museum of Natural History. This is a good reminder, today as well, that beyond the exhibits one sees when one visits such museums lie vast collections that form the basis of fundamental scientific research.

It perhaps goes without saying — but I’ll say it — that another continuing theme is the ever-present and complicating role of religion, as both encourager of the study of animal anatomy, physiology, and species differentiation as a means of appreciating God’s wonders and discourager of new ideas that point toward the long history of the earth and the continual appearance (seemingly obvious once one looks at the data) of new species.

Coincidentally, just after I finished Darwin’s Ghosts, the NYT published excerpts from an interview with Rebecca Stott. Here are three of the questions and her answers.

Q. The very first sentence of your book is: “I grew up in a creationist household.” How much did that drive your interest in Darwin?

A. Darwin was described as the mouthpiece of Satan in the fundamentalist Christian community in which I was raised. His ideas were censored, and of course censorship can act as a kind of provocation to curiosity. The school library had a good encyclopedia with several pages on Darwin. I can’t say I understood much of his ideas back then, but I understood enough to be mute with fascination. It was extraordinarily different from the biblical version of how things had come to be – but no less strange.

Q. Aside from Wallace, who came closest to scientifically (as opposed to metaphorically) figuring out natural selection before Darwin?

A. Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was one of the first men of science to have access to enough fossil and living animal specimens and bones to really gather the weight of evidence that would be needed to understand the ways in which species evolve. Lamarck worked in the Museum of Natural History in Paris, which in 1800 had the most remarkable collection of natural history specimens in the world – Napoleon Bonaparte had stolen hundreds of famous European natural history collections during the Napoleonic Wars and brought them all to Paris.

Q. You start in 344 B.C. Then you hop forward to A.D. 850. And then to the late 15th century. What accounts for such large gaps between periods of progress in this subject?

A. I wish I knew. Perhaps certain thinkers or schools of thought have been lost to history. Perhaps in the West it was due to the dominance of Christianity, and particularly Catholicism, over intellectual inquiry. Some of the periods of acceleration in the history of evolutionary thought were caused by material changes – the development of the printing press or of the microscope, growth in literacy rates, the gradual opening up of libraries and natural history collections to the public – but it always strikes me as salutary that one of the greatest periods of acceleration in evolutionary speculation took place in post-Revolutionary Paris between 1790 and 1815, when the priests had been banished and the professors had been given license to pursue any question they liked. That’s when evolutionary ideas really came into their own.

Categories: Books, History, Science

Lutz on Volt Lies

August 18, 2012 Leave a comment

[From the Chevy Volt website]

The right wing has no shame. That’s not news. But when Bob Lutz, American automobile industry icon, calls them out, we know how bad it has gotten.

Lutz is the man behind the Chevy Volt, the innovative electric car with a supplementary gas engine that allows the driver to make longer trips without recharging. The crazy right wing (i.e., the heart of the modern-day Republican Party) has seen fit to attack the Volt and General Motors as expressions of Obama’s socialist vision for America. Lutz — no liberal he — is none too happy, and last spring he fought back in several venues. There were a Forbes column, a co-written Chicago Tribune op-ed, and — in the March/April issue of Charged, a magazine about electric vehicles — an interview by Markkus Rovito.

Here is some of what Lutz had to say to Rovito (hat tip: Jim Fallows). Please read it.

The level of owner satisfaction is extremely high. Quality and reliability is extremely high. But the downside is that the political extreme right has been distorting the facts of the Volt. The Volt passed the government crash tests with a five-star safety rating, and didn’t roll over. But the testing protocol requires that even if the vehicle doesn’t roll, it has to go through the rotisserie maneuver, which is five minutes on one side, five minutes on its back, five minutes on the other side, and then back on its wheels again. At some point during the rotisserie, some fluid leaked out, and three weeks later caused a short in the battery and the vehicle caught fire. I mean, how safe it that? Three weeks should give people adequate time to exit the vehicle.

And what did all these right-wing commentators make of that? “Chevy Volts catch fire.” All of them were talking about “yeah, they all catch fire. GM’s gonna recall ‘em. There’s just another Obama-inspired program – a misguided socialist automotive policy. And not only did they spend a lot of your hard-earned tax dollars creating this vehicle, but now they put a $7500 tax credit on it.” Well, there are a couple of things wrong with all those statements. First of all, the Volt was my idea in 2006. We showed the first prototype at the Detroit Auto Show in 2007. Obama wasn’t elected until late 2008, so Obama could not be the progenitor of the Chevy Volt. And what they also conveniently forget is that the $7500 tax credit for electric vehicles was enacted under the Bush administration.

As for Volts catching fire, the crashed one caught fire after three weeks, and then the NHTSA, in order to determine the root cause of the fire, deliberately mistreated two more battery packs until they caught fire to try to find the root cause of the initial fire. That of course in the media was: “GM grapples with additional Volt fires.” And these people are supposed to be for American jobs? They did such reputational damage to the Volt that the demand dipped to a very low level. So GM did the right thing, which was to idle production for 5 weeks and lay off workers. So here are these right-wing pundits who are always talking about jobs, jobs, jobs. Actually through their irresponsible reporting on the Chevrolet Volt they managed to put American workers out of their jobs for five weeks! It annoys me to no end.


As a conservative myself politically, it annoys me no end to see deliberate lying and misinformation coming out where they will trash an outstanding American product and do damage to American employment just to get at Obama. That’s just plain unethical.


Categories: Automobiles, Lies, Politics

The Liar: Near Miss

August 18, 2012 Leave a comment

The last couple of years, we’ve made it a point when we’re on Nantucket to get over to Madaket, the small beach community on the western edge of the island’s south shore. We always stay on the eastern end of the island, so it’s good to get over to the other side. We grab lunch at Millie’s, which opened there two Junes ago, then walk on the beach. I wrote about our initial visit here and last year’s visit here. My short description last year:

My “Cambridge salad” was excellent: Grilled marinated chicken with mixed summer greens, mandarin orange, radish, peanuts, crispy tortilla strips, cilantro, and honey scallion dressing. Gail had the Pocomo tacos: Braised pork carnitas in flour tortillas with peach tomatillo salsa and chopped radish, cilantro, and onion. High quality food, filling, well served, and with views over Madaket Beach to the Atlantic.

We’ll be back on Nantucket soon, and an outing to Madaket is in our plans. Imagine what a relief it was, then, to learn that we missed today’s surprise visitor. Yes, Mitt Romney, is on the island raising funds. Rather than staying in town, he made it over to Madaket.

Mitt Romney is briefly mingling with voters in Massachusetts even though he has no hopes of winning the state this fall.

The Republican presidential candidate spent 10 minutes Saturday shaking hands and posing for pictures in Millie’s restaurant in Nantucket. Romney wanted photographers to get a shot of him mingling with voters on a day otherwise totally devoted to raising millions of dollars in six closed events in Massachusetts resorts.

The short AP note concludes with the news that “several Millie’s patrons wished Romney well. But one man shouted ‘five years’ returns.’ He was alluding to Democrats’ demands that Romney release five years of his tax returns instead of two.”

It’s just as well that I wasn’t there. I might have been less polite. I don’t do too well with blatant liars.

Speaking of which, I leave you with an excerpt from Alec MacGillis’s piece a few days ago on Romney’s lying. (Hat tip: Jim Fallows.)

[Romney] got his biggest applause during this riff:

I want you to know I heard something the other day that really surprised me… What I heard is that the president is taking the work requirement out of welfare. …

Romney proceeded straight from this into a retelling of Obama’s “you didn’t built that” line, but even that did not get the applause the welfare riff did. After the speech, several in the audience told me that their favorite part had been Romney’s calling out Obama for weakening welfare work requirements. Yes, one of the more depressing parts of the job of being a political reporter is watching an audience fully absorb a blatant and knowing lie. Which is, of course, what this is. Countless factcheckers—here is one of many—have unequivocally rejected the assertion that Obama has ended the work requirement. His administration has instead granted more leeway to states, including several with Republican governors, to explore new ways to get people onto welfare into jobs, with the proviso that their new approaches must increase the share of recipients with jobs.

But this has not stopped Romney.

Categories: Lies, Politics, Travel

Sentence of the Week

August 18, 2012 Leave a comment

‘View from the Dunes with Beach and Piers, Domburg’, Piet Mondrian, 1909, Museum of Modern Art

Tomorrow’s NYT travel section has a piece by Freda Moon on Domburg, the Dutch North Sea resort where Piet Mondrian once spent his summers. Or, as Moon explains,

From 1908 to 1916, Mondrian spent summers (and some winters) in Domburg, before moving to New York in 1940.

Am I missing something? I suppose something went wrong in the editing process, but this is a strange sentence, isn’t it?

It does appear that Mondrian moved to New York in 1940, and that his last year in Domburg was 1916, so the details are correct. Just juxtaposed oddly.

Categories: Art, Writing

Curiosity, 2

August 15, 2012 Leave a comment

Ten days ago, with NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity two hours away from landing (or crashing), I embedded a NASA video illustrating the extraordinary sequence of steps involved in a successful arrival. I have since been following Curiosity’s twitter feed, a convenient way to keep abreast of the latest news and photos. A few hours ago, Curiosity told its followers about the video I’ve embedded above.

Earlier today, Curiosity tweeted with news of the video below, which features the unlikely NASA celebrity and flight director Bobak Ferdowsi, better known as Mohawk Guy.

But nothing beats Curiosity’s photos themselves, like the one below, taken a week ago by Curiosity’s Mastcam.

Part of Gale Crater’s north wall

Categories: Science, Technology