Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"I make no complaint. I am a writer. I do not accept my condition. I will strive to change it; but I inhabit it. I am trying to learn from it.
"Our lives teach us who we are."
~~Salman Rushdie (From "In Good Faith," A 1990 essay response to the reaction to his book The Satanic Verses)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

When the cure is, quite possibly, worse than the disease

Not one to drink on New Year's Eve (I generally work, making sure others are drinking), there have been the random occasions where I make those deals (you know...the never agains that last until the memory fades). But while I guarantee I won't be putting these recipes aside for those types of rainy days, this little journey through the history of the hair of dog (literally) and other cures in yesterday's Wall Street Journal is a fun read.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"The liveliness of literature lies in its exceptionality, in being the individual, idiosyncratic vision of one human being, in which, to our delight and great surprise, we may find our own image reflected. A book is a version of the world. If you do not like it, ignore it; or offer your own version in return."
~~Salman Rushdie (From "In Good Faith," A 1990 essay response to the reaction to his book The Satanic Verses)

Monday, December 22, 2008


So...for the next couple of days, schools have been closed but the stores will be open 24 hours...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Well, I could have done THAT

So, for most of this week I was suffering from what I assumed to be a stomach virus. I never get sick and have actually never met my primary care doctor. But tired of the whole ordeal and having a free couple of hours, I decided to get checked out.

Of course, my primary care doctor wasn't free (so we still haven't met) so they sent me to the urgent care section of this particular practice. The person who examined me was stumped as to possible reasons for my symptoms as they apparently weren't conclusive. So he sat down at the computer and started looking things up, asking me if I had related symptoms for the particular diseases in question. We went from the common ("Could you be pregnant?" "No" "How do you know?") to increasingly rare or unlikely ("It could be a precursor to heart disease, any history?" and "It's also a symptom of hepatitis, but I see you've been vaccinated.") Finally he just said to give it a couple of days, drink plenty of clear fluids--no caffeine or alcohol (like that's going to happen), and if I was still having trouble to come back.

Next time I'll do my own Internet research.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"I'm not going to be okay when my wife finds out I was on a train coming from New York City."
~~A man originally headed to Providence on the Acela after being told by a doctor on board that they had rerouted the train to Bridgeport and were taking him to the hospital and had called his wife (he had just borrowed someone's cellphone to call her, so they hit redial), but that he would be okay. (He had just woken up from a seizure.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Santas Invade San Francisco

Saturday was Santa Con in San Francisco. Basically a Santa-themed day-long bar hop that started in San Francisco 14 years ago and has since spread to several cities worldwide. It's in Boston on Dec. 20. So if you are so inclined, don a Santa suit (or some such apparel) and drink on...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"We aren't dead yet. We may be in deep trouble but we aren't done for. And while there is life, there must be analysis, struggle, persuasion, argument, polemic, rethinking, and all the other longish words that add up to one very short word: hope."
~~Salman Rushdie

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The over-examined life

They say the unexamined life isn't worth living. But what about the over-examined life? More to the pont, if you were to log every single detail--what you eat, drink, and spend; where you walk; how many pages you read; even who you sleep with and how often--when would you find the time to live it?

In the Wall Street Journal today, Jamin Brophy-Warren takes on all the websites that one can use to aggregate the mundane data of your day-to-day life. But does anyone other than Nicholas Fenton care that he drank 632 beers in 2007 (broken out by country of origin)? Apparently they do, since this and several other equally intriguing bits of data are in his annual report and people actually read it.

Word to the wise, though. You better not be planning a divorce or have any other reason to hide all those day-to-day details...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Tuesday quote of the week

"The good parts of a book may be only something a writer is lucky enough to overhear or it may be the wreck of his whole damn life and one is as good as the other."

~~Ernest Hemingway

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Forget the turkey. It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without...

...Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant." (This video uses clips from the original movie along with a 40-year anniversary performance in the original church.)

Not-to-fun fact: After 40 years, the fine for littering is still $25. Or at least for leaving trash out early...and they do dig through it and take photos as evidence...not 8X10 glossy photos, but digital photos. And they still send our kids to war.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"Each moment is a place you've never been."
~~Mark Strand

Saturday, November 22, 2008

45 years ago: the Kennedy assassination

Before people were asking "Where were you on 9/11?" the universal question was "Where were you when Kennedy was shot?"
A few years ago when I was in Dallas, I visited the museum in the school book depository and the grassy knoll. I was most struck by how small it is...physically, at least.
To commemorate the day, here are links to an article in today's Dallas Morning News, a link to Ralph Schuster's pretty comprehensive site on the subject, and, below, a recording from Dallas radio station KLIF from that day:

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Street corner philosopher

One reason to support the bailout (this according to the fast-talking guy at the bus stop): The Commons are already too crowded. We don't need to add more white-haired guys sitting on the park benches playing checkers huddling over the board when the wind blows. He demonstrated this, laughing, and explained, you know, to keep the pieces from blowing away.

I say fast-talking because in just under ten minutes we—I use the term loosely, my part consisted of smiling and nodding knowingly—went from the financial crisis to sex education (These kids don't know anything about the birds and the bees. They think they can just love each other.) to the value of a good woman. (Every man needs a "first lady," which, as it turned out, was someone who paid the rent and did the laundry.) From there we tackled local government spending. (The city is dark, except for the bus stop, which is so brightly lit you can see it from all the way down the street.) That led fairly seamlessly to a fear of city hall officials. (They are scarier than anyone you'd run into on the street.) And, once we were on the subject of the everyday guy on the street, what is up with having prisoners cleaning the streets? (They should just have them clean the streets around the prisons and give the jobs cleaning the rest of the city streets to people who didn't get in trouble and are just trying to get by. And, BTW, people would take these types of jobs if there wasn't so much paperwork involved in the whole job process.) And, finally, to get back to the whole financial thing, did you ever notice that there's an open enrollment for healthcare but not the stockmarket? (Healthcare is more important, but even if you have a crappy plan, you can only change it once a year. But if you want to invest in the stockmarket, they'll take your money any time of the year and let you chase that dream, even though your dollar is like the silver ball in a pinball machine, ricocheting and bouncing around. Maybe you'll get an extra game, maybe you’ll lose it all, maybe you'll tilt.)

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"The morning news will not be the same without the foul specter of Richard Nixon glaring out of the tube. But the war is over now and he lost....Gone but not forgotten, missed but not mourned; we will not see another one like him for quite a while. He was dishonest to a fault, the truth was not in him, and if it can be said that he resembled any other living animal in the world, it could only have been the hyena."
~~Hunter S. Thompson, from "The Scum Also Rises" (1974, on Nixon's resignation)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Today in history: "On Nov. 13...

...Felix Ungar was asked to remove himself from his place of residence. That request came from his wife."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"Those who do not know how to weep with their whole heart don't know how to laugh either."
~~Golda Meir

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Why I'm not glowing

I just got a message from a friend saying that if I wasn't glowing about Obama, did I have time for coffee/dinner. I'm actually a little disappointed that he even considered the possibility, as we tend to be likeminded in our cynicism towards all things. But I guess I can appreciate his caution. This past week the buzz has been palpable. I don't particularly share it, so I've been keeping my mouth shut. (No small feat.)

I did vote for Obama, and I think it's a definite change in the right direction, of course. But I don't share the belief that our economic and racial problems are solidly behind us.

Is he the next FDR? I don't think so. At least not today. The jury's not only still out, but they haven't even gone into the deliberation room. There are a lot of clever coincidences, it's been 75 years since Roosevelt took the reins, but, aside from the nice, round number and the fact that he saw us through the Great Depression, I think the comparisons are stretching it a bit. And everyone's getting into the act. Joe Nocera noted in his column in the New York Times yesterday that there are similarities in their initial press conferences: Roosevelt saying "action, and action now" and Obama vowing to "act swiftly." Let's not forget the fact that his speechwriters have access to Roosevelt's speeches and that he has "invoked the spirit" of Roosevelt during his campaign, so it's hardly a meaningful coincidence.

And then there's the whole race-relations thing. Yes, again it's a step in the right direction. And with this election and Italy's response, we've made great comparative strides. But it's no longer a thing of the past. I don't think in Western Pennsylvania they're all holding hands and singing "Kumbaya."

Hope and optimism are fine (so I hear), but, honestly, the man (and, he is a man, not a god or some other mystical entity) hasn't even taken office yet, so all the dancing in the street is a bit premature. I just came across a poll on Yahoo: "Who is the greatest President of all time Obama, JFK, Roosevelt or Lincoln? (Please be excrutiatingly honest in your answers.)" It's really at least eight years too early to even consider the question, let alone write the history books.

There's going to be a lot of disappointed people after the buzz fades and the hangover sets in. Hopefully as a nation we're not collectively puking in the toilet the morning after. That's about as optimistic as I can get.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Happy Election Day in Massachusetts

So, today I voted.

If everything goes my way, I'll be able to take the extra money and get high and go to the dogtrack.

Okay, I'm only kidding about two out of these three positions.

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"Great creativity begins with tolerance."
~~Yo-yo Ma

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Some photos...

...from the White Oak Plantation in Baton Rouge:

Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday Lyric of the Week

"See these eyes so green
I can stare for a thousand years
Just be still with me
Ya wouldn't believe what I've been through
Well, you've been so long
It's been so long
And I've been putting out the fire with gasoline
Putting out fire with gasoline"

David Bowie, "Putting out Fire [Cat People]"

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pizza and Poppers in New Orleans

So, this past weekend I went to New Orleans. It was a family visit kind of thing, which generally necessitates a great deal of drinking, so it would appear that I went to the right place. In the past, conversations I’ve had with my father while traveling have included the following bits of dialog:

“What time is it?”
“Is that too early to have a drink?”
“Where do you want to go?”

“Do you want to get a drink?”
“No, thanks.”
“You can have a drink.”
“I’m really not in the mood.”
“Don’t not drink on my account.” [He had stopped drinking then.]
“Really, I don’t want one. We’re going to dinner in an hour, I plan on having one then.”
[Deep sigh and rolling of the eyes] “Suit yourself.”

I fondly refer to a trip to Washington DC several years back as the drinking tour, since we matched every sightseeing stop with a bar stop. We even justified a drinking stop as a sightseeing opportunity (the Watergate Hotel). To put it properly in perspective, for his part, it’s more about the opportunity to stop and rest, as I walk a lot normally and he doesn’t. But, anyway, I digress. This post really isn’t about drinking.

In New Orleans, one is expected to drink. It’s a little depressing, really. People go just to drink in the street. Before Katrina, there still was that, of course, but there was also easy music and a cultural vibe that permeated the French Quarter. You could walk around and hear snatches of jazz and zydeco pouring out of the bars or on the street corners. Now it is one big frat party. Jazz can still be found, but you have to look for it (outside of the jazz and French Quarter festivals, of course). Most of the music is karaoke, juke boxes, or really, really bad cover bands.

It’s actually kind of weird. The hotel staff and local business owners all promote the nightlife and street drinking (24-hours a day, they remind you), as if it were the only reason to be there. And, indeed, after 10 it is. We got in late the first day, so by the time we went out looking for dinner, there were no restaurants open. Finally, we found Jimani’s, a corner, neighborhood-type of bar. After a 12-hour trip complete with misdirected luggage and staggering airport waits, we weren’t rewarded with étouffée, but rather poppers and pizza. I could’ve just walked down the street for that. But at least the beer was cold and the people were friendly.

The city is still in a state of flux. (Years too long, but that’s another conversation.) The next day, at the event we were in town for, there was a gospel/jazz singer. Part of her banter was about how the city would never go back to the way it was, but that New Orleans was struggling to find its “new normal.” It is a battle between pandering for the tourist buck and rediscovering the vitality that was. But there are signs that the vibe is coming back. In both this visit and the last, a few months ago, the street performers, artists, and tarot card readers in Jackson Square are finally beginning to outnumber the “For Sale/Rent” and “Help Wanted” signs.

In the meantime, now that I’m back in Boston and the pressure is off, I’m going to have a drink.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"I am plunging into the night. I am navigating. I have on my side only the stars....The first stars tremble as if shimmering in green water. Hours must pass before their glimmer hardens into the frozen glitter of diamonds. I shall have a long wait before I witness the soundless frolic of the shooting stars. In the profound darkness of certain nights I have seen the sky streaked with so many trailing sparks that it seemed to me a great gale must be blowing through the outer heavens....I felt no weariness. It seemed to me that I could go on like this at the controls for ten years. I was happy."
~~Antoine de Saint-Exupery (From Wind, Sand and Stars, 1939)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Where have all the sportswriters gone? To the business pages.

After receiving my umpteenth e-mail news alert today, not to mention this week, it occurs to me that I haven't seen this much attention paid to the Dow since I can't remember when.

It's become the sports event of the season. (I guess since the Red Sox got ousted we need one...) I half expected the scoreboard that had been a regular feature on Boston.com during baseball season to be replaced with one for the stockmarket averages to better track the play-by-play action.

While I have my doubts on whether the attention being paid by the media is such a good thing (I haven't checked into this, but I expect that financial planners and investment counselors have become quasi-psychologists to their clients. I also expect that the drug companies that make anti-anxiety meds are thrilled...), it's been a boon to the creativity of business writers.

It used to be if you wanted to see colorful writing, you went to the sports pages. Now it's the business pages: The Dow is diving, plunging, sinking, bouncing, and seesawing...why just today:

"The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Standard & Poor's 500 tumbled as fears of a full-blown global recession intensified" in the Telegraph (UK).

"Wall Street looked set to be heading for another substantial plunge as fears of a global recession and a wave of profit warnings stirred panic among investors and sent world financial markets into a tailspin." from the Press Association (UK)

"Wall Street plunged on Friday morning, following the world stock market down the tubes..." from Forbes.com under the headline "Wall Street Takes a Walk on the Downside."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"Close observation of a passion often reveals the panic that feeds it."

~~Nick Bantock (From The Museum at Purgatory)

Friday, October 17, 2008

"Joe Bracchitta, that's B-R-A-C-C-H..."

He used to be a musician, until he fell under the spell of disaster-recovery sales.

That’s why I love writing. Everybody, everywhere has a story. I regularly travel by train between Boston and New York, and there’s always someone interesting to talk to. In the past several months, I’ve met an executive who works for fun at a friend’s tree farm, a lawyer for a terrorist, and my all time favorite: the divorced lawyer and his ex-wife who were coming back from their daughter’s law school graduation. (The lawyer’s latest girlfriend was the same age as his daughter.)

Yesterday it was the disaster-recovery sales guy. If he had told me what he did first off, he might have had a sale. If I could use anything, it would be disaster-recovery insurance. Unfortunately, they don’t offer that to writers, for good reason. But I digress.

He told me the company in first class was generally boring—mostly business people and sales people (and people like me who get bonus upgrades) talking about their kids and “shallow stuff.” Joe clearly doesn’t like pools and golf courses. What he does like is cooking. He learned technique from his mother, but not recipes. He says if you ask his mother for a recipe, the first ingredient is always a big sigh. He cooks the same way—off the cuff, not full of sighs. One gets the impression that his family recipes are full of laughs and smiles, not sighs, the best kind of cooking.

He describes himself as being a Guinea ADD-type of from Yonkers. He got off in New Haven, so I guess you can take the guy out of Yonkers, but you can’t take the Yonkers out of the guy.

Joe and his wife, Lori, recently went on vacation to Italy, a small town outside Rome, to visit family. He said he could have sat the whole time—either watching the world pass by or just watching the world (nature is a wonderful thing if you can find it.) And, guess what? That’s exactly how he spent his vacation. He claimed he wasn’t exaggerating, his wife had to go back to Italy, with his mother, to see the sights. (They left Joe at home.)

As a final note, or coda if you will, Joe and I have an understanding. Even though he ’fessed up to being on the phone with his lawyer while we were on the train, he won’t sue me because I warned him I would be writing this after a couple of glasses of wine. He said he understood, writers being tortured souls and all that. As for Lori, well…hopefully she’s as understanding (and doesn’t have a lawyer on speed dial). Again, the reason why a writer never qualifies for disaster-recovery insurance, but should probably have a disaster-recovery plan…

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain."
~~James Baldwin (from "Notes of a Native Son")

Monday, October 13, 2008

Happy Columbus Day...or not

As I was walking through the Christian Science Center this afternoon, I was greeted with a concert on the lawn. I was a little surprised until I remembered that today, in celebration of Columbus Day, Fenway museums hold their Open Our Doors event, where admission charges are dropped and most hold special events (like the aforementioned concert).

I covered this event a few years ago, so I tend to notice it even if I don't partake. One of the things I think about is the somewhat awkward timing. From one perspective it makes sense. Odds are it will be a beautiful, fall day and most parents are home with their kids looking for something special to do. However, from another perspective it's a bit insensitive. Organizers of the event tout it as a way to give back, and they try to target the black community (Fenway neighbors Roxbury, Dorchester, and the South End) specifically in their attempt to welcome those who might not otherwise visit their museums. When I interviewed some of the organizers, they were commenting on the low turnout of inner-city residents. Of course, most in that community don't see Columbus Day as a holiday worth celebrating, so it seems an odd choice of days.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I guess it's all about who's giving the experience...

When Clinton was offering up his "experience" in the Oval Office, well, people thought that was just wrong. But somehow when it's Betty White (the "Happy Homemaker" from The Mary Tyler Moore Show) offering it up to Barack Obama, well, it's just funny. I guess we all have to do our part to support our particular candidate of choice. Some people knock on doors, some send checks, some go all out...

Watch it here.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"You have to draw a distinction between hope and optimism. Vaclav Havel put it well when he said 'optimism' is the belief that things are going to turn out as you would like, as opposed to 'hope,' which is when you are thoroughly convinced something is moral and right and just and therefore you fight regardless of the consequences. In that sense, I'm full of hope but in no way optimistic."
~~Cornel West, in The Progressive (Jan. 1997)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

When the parents become the children

They said it was bound to happen. Every family faces the same situation eventually, when you wake up one day and realize with a start that there has been a switch between the roles of parent and child...

I was having lunch with my parents who are, well, older than me. (My mother would kill me if I put her age in print.) And then it happened.

The talk turned to politics and eventually Sarah Palin. (Is there a conversation anywhere that doesn't go there?) My mother asked if I had seen the Katie Couric interview (no) and then if I had seen the Saturday Night Live skit (no, again). My mother is up-to-date on SNL...and I'm not?

Excuse me while I go tool around on YouTube and try to put the universe right again.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"Nature seems (the more we look into it) made up of antipathies: without something to hate, we should lose the very spring of thought and action. Life would turn to a stagnant pool, were it not ruffled by the jarring interests, the unruly passions, of men. The white streak in our own fortunes is brightened (or just rendered visible) by making all around it as dark as possible; so the rainbow paints its form upon the cloud."

~~William Hazlitt, from "On the Pleasure of Hating"

The Jerry Lewis goat

This is just funny. Silly, really.

Friday, September 26, 2008

"No Banker Left Behind": Bailout protest on Wall Street

Yesterday I was in New York and went downtown with my friends in the UAW to take part in the rally to protest the government bailout of Wall Street:

Story from Reuters

Some photos:
WCBS NEWSRADIO 880 - Photo Gallery: Bailout Protested on Wall Street

You can tell a lot about an area by its ancillary businesses. There it was sushi restaurants and health clubs. In parts of Florida it's gun shops and pawn stores. In the Tremont St./Mass Ave. area it's check cashing stores and nail salons. (I don't think there's been an actual study done, but I think that the poorer a neighborhood, the more nail salons it has.) So, of course, I'm thinking the next time I'm in the market for fake nails, I'll head down to Wall Street.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"It is the heart that makes a man eloquent."
~~ Quintilian

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Times are tough, we *all* have to economize

The Wall Street Journal today had a sad story about what the economy is doing to New York's well-to-do. Apparently, they are feeling the pinch along with the rest of us. Poor Brittany almost had to go back to school this year with last year's nose. (Luckily, Mom figured out that if they forewent the private nurse and overnight hospital stay, they could squeeze by.) And then, even if they can afford it, they are passing up caviar on the party menus, because, well, that would just be too showy.

I can relate.

Well, no, I really can't.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Friday Lyric of the Week

"You may be right,
I may be crazy.
But it just may be a lunatic
you're looking for."

~~Billy Joel, "You May Be Right"

Thursday, September 18, 2008

"Typo rebels end with a sentence"

I guess it's true, no matter how geeky you think you are, there's always someone geekier. While I admit to copyediting various signage (street signs, store signs, etc.) in my head, I would never actually set out and do it, especially as a vacation. (Read about it in the Toronto Star.)

The renegades with the red pens got nabbed because they bragged about it on their blog. The lesson there–if you've just broken the law, don't advertise it–can be added to the list of common sense lessons, such as the one learned this week by Diane Wilkerson–if you are going to be in the public eye, keep your personal house in order–and the one learned by countless criminals caught on the lenses of Cops–if you are carrying drugs or illegal weapons, don't speed.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"A writer who has his sights trained on the Nobel Prize or other earthly triumphs had best write a novel, a poem, or a play, and leave the essayist to ramble about, content with living a free life and enjoying the satisfactions of a somewhat undisciplined existence."
~~E.B. White

Lehman Swag

To put the Lehman meltdown in real terms: Bidding started yesterday at $0.99 for a Lehman water bottle, while stock prices fell to $0.21/share. What more can you say?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Friday Lyric of the Week

Ziggy played guitar, jamming good with Weird and Gilly
And The Spiders From Mars
He played it left hand
But made it too far
Became the special man, then we were Ziggy's band
Ziggy really sang, screwed up eyes and screwed down hairdo

Like some cat from Japan,
He could lick 'em by smiling
He could leave 'em to hang
He came on so loaded man, well hung and snow white tan.
So where were The Spiders, while the fly tried to break our balls?
Just the beer light to guide us,
So we bitched about his fans and should we crush his sweet hands?
Ziggy played for time, jiving us that we were voodoo

The kids were just crass, he was the nazz
With God-given ass
He took it all too far, but boy could he play guitar
Making love with his ego, Ziggy sucked up into his mind
Like a leper messiah
When the kids had killed the man, I had to break up the band

Oh, yeah

Ziggy played guitar

"Ziggy Stardust," David Bowie

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"He had got his frail weekly off the rocky shoals of 1925 and piloted it into safe harbor through Depression and Recession, World War II, and the even greater perils of the McCarthy era. His good ship stood up all the way. He sometimes threatened to quit, and he was at least twice threatened with being fired, but he kept on going like a bullet-torn battle flag, and nobody captured his colors and nobody silenced his drums....He made, as I have said, a lot of friends and lost a few; he made the right enemies and kept them all. Some of the things he touched were smudged, but most of them were stained with a special and lasting light, as hard to describe as the light in a painting."
~~James Thurber describing Harold Ross, founding editor of the New Yorker, in The Years With Ross

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Found: People out at night in Atlanta

And on the third night, there were people.

Friday night, my last night in Atlanta, I got a ticket to see Kathy Griffin at the Fox Theatre. After the conference wrapped up that day, a couple of colleagues and I went out to dinner in a place nearby (I forget the name). We drove by the theater and there were actual people heading toward the theater for the early show, and in the lounges at both hotels across the street, which had been deserted the previous two nights were packed with people.

After dinner, while waiting to head across the street myself for the late show, it was standing room only on the terrace bar where I stopped to have a drink. I became engrossed listening to this conversation amongst these women also on their way to the theater. Either some people shouldn't drink at all, or I should drink more.

This one young woman had recently returned from India. She was talking about...well, as she put it, "It used to be called Bombay, but now that they aren't under England, they call it Bomb-eye [an attempt at her pronounciation]." I thought I just misheard her, but this went on for about five minutes, with her friends in disbelief, amazed at how a political change resulted in a pronounciation change. "Yeah, now they have to pronounce it Bomb-eye." "Bombay, Bomb-eye, tomato, tom-a-to." It was all that I could do to keep quiet. Finally, they got off that and she got all profound and serious. "It really makes you realize how lucky we are over here," she said, describing how much it cost her to take a tour somewhere, "I mean, here we get to choose to have a middle class." I wasn't that close, but I thought she had tears in her eyes. I know I did.

But, anyway, back to Kathy Griffin: The theater itself is gorgeous inside. I know who she is, but I've never seen her show on Bravo. She was extremely funny. While waiting for her to go on, this woman next to me, who had bought a T-shirt and picture, showed me the picture and said, "Isn't she beautiful?" I said yes, but that I thought she was cuter before all that plastic surgery. "Yeah, she's had a lot, but it's a different kind of beautiful now." Who could argue? The woman and her friend also had bought a couple of glasses of champagne each. The other woman dropped something in her glass and then in in her friend's. It turned out to be gummy bears.

That pretty much is as good a metaphor for Atlanta as anything: champagne with gummy bears.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Destined to drink alone

I thought the Newark experience was a fluke.

This week I am in Atlanta for the SPJ (Society for Professional Journalists) conference. Of course, the main purpose of the trip is representing NWU and the conference itself, but then there are the nights.

The first night, Wednesday, I was done at 5:00 and had the whole night to kill. As I left the conference hotel, I noticed that downtown seemed to be emptying out. I went to my hotel (about a ten minute walk down Peachtree Street) to consider my options. I checked out the Fox Theatre, across the street from my hotel, but they were dark for the night. So I had a drink at the terrace of my hotel (yes, the bar was empty) and read a local what-to-do magazine. I found a restaurant with a cigar/jazz club downtown. Of course, I was skeptical. So I called. After some conversation, I found out that the city was pretty much deserted because of the holiday. But the woman assured me there was plenty around, so if I came by and didn't like the scene there, there were other places nearby. She rattled off a few places and then said, "There's also a Hooters; there're always busy." (Luckily it didn't come to that.)

The crowd at the club (Dailey's) was pretty sparse, but it was interesting. The trio was one of a few that rotated regularly, and they had a pretty bizarre set list. I never would have imagined a jazz treatment of Bob Marley.

Last night when I got back from dinner with a colleague who joined me for part of the conference. I went to the hotel next door since the lounge at my hotel was again deserted. This one was deserted, too, but I went out on the patio and there was, surprisingly enough, a piano (electric) player. (I felt like I stepped into a Deep Space Nine episode, where they have the lounge on the holodeck that springs to life when they come in.) It was kinda nice, but all-in-all a little discordant.

The hotel was the Georgian Terrace, the hotel where they had the premiere party for Gone With The Wind, and if you squinted, the ghosts were still there. I couldn't help but think about the changes in the city since then. The hotel and the theater across the street are fine, but the stretch between that and downtown, where the hospital is, is full of boarded up buildings, half-empty $3-a-day parking lots, plenty of churches, and gated parks. And there are signs every block or so that state "This area monitored by video 24 hours a day." The billboard for the theater screams with lighted advertisements for Coca-Cola and Lexus (criticism for the commercialism tempered with the knowledge that if it wasn't for them, the marquee would most likely be dark).

Someone told me that southern cities, unlike northern ones, are not places where people who live there go, and I guess that's true. There are office buildings and conference hotels downtown, and I noticed that after 5, the people that worked there had left and the people walking around at night were mostly from out of town.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"Deep down, we all know that the real allure of sexuality has about as much to do with copulation as the appeal of food does with metabolic combustion. Trite though it (used to) sound, real sexuality is about our struggles to connect with one another, to erect bridges across the chasms that separate selves. Sexuality is, finally, about imagination."
~~David Foster Wallace

Friday, August 29, 2008

Friday Lyric of the Week

"And I could say oo oo oo
As if everybody knows
What Im talking about
As if everybody would know
Exactly what I was talking about
Talking about diamonds on the soles of her shoes"

By Paul Simon

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair."
~~Kahlil Gibran

Monday, August 25, 2008

Life in the big city—and Newark

I never really had an issue with Newark, until I started staying there. (To know it is to hate it.)

This past weekend, I was in New York for meetings, but stuck in Newark at night. The commute itself, a little over an hour on a good day, wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the 11-hour work days.

I’ve been staying at the Robert Treat Hotel, which is a Best Western. (Not to be snobby, but that pretty much sums it up.) After having dinner with colleagues in Manhattan, I got there that night at 10:30--incredibly early by my internal clock. Since I had spent almost every waking hour that day and the day before in the company of my colleagues and I don’t like being confined in a hotel room (even though most are about as big as my apartment), I decided to go to the hotel restaurant for a drink and a change of scenery.

Well, as it turned out, there was a wedding party staying at the hotel and they had closed the restaurant for a private party. There was no other place nearby to go, and I was under strict orders not to walk around downtown Newark at night. (One warning I might have ignored, but by the time I heard the third one, I figured if I didn’t heed it I would be a prime candidate for a karmic dummy slap, so I decided to stay put.) The host-person at the restaurant told me they would serve me a drink, but I would have to drink it “over there.” I assumed that he was pointing to a lounge. So I got my drink and went “over there.” But, to my surprise, “over there” turned out to be this little room off to the side of the restaurant that had four tables set up. A waiter came over and promptly took off the settings on the table I selected, and then I was left alone to drink my drink, totally defeating the purpose of going there in the first place.

A funny thing did happen on the elevator going back to my room. I was going to the 10th floor, and this crowd of people got on the elevator with me. (It had been an African wedding, by the way, so most were dressed in traditional attire.) The mother of the bride and some members of her family got on (going to the 7th floor) and a friend of a friend of the mother got on, also going to the 10th floor. While we were waiting for everyone to get on board and all the way up, the friend effused to the mother about how beautiful her daughter was, what a wonderful couple they made, how delightful the wedding was, she barely took a breath between praises. However, as soon as the family got off the elevator and we resumed our ascent, she promptly stated, “I pray they last the year” and then laughed a humorless laugh as we reached our floor, said goodnight, and parted ways.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Friday Lyric of the Week

"Don't ask me what I think of you,
I might not give the answer that you want me to."

From "Oh well" by Fleetwood Mac (written by Peter Green)

Performed in 1969 on the BBC

Thursday, August 21, 2008

An all-too-brief day in the sun

Solar was supposed to be the next big thing in the seventies. Granted it was a sunnier time. Coming off of the decade that brought us the smiley face and “Let the Sunshine In,” environmentalism was all about crying Indians and owls urging us to “give a hoot.” But because it was expensive to develop the technology on a widescale level and, heck, we had plenty of coal, solar technology was relegated to the back of the closet along with rainbow suspenders and Tang. But it didn’t quite fade away. It’s back, but with more of a modern, amped-up edge.

According to the Earth Policy Institute, the amount of sunlight that reaches the earth in just 70 minutes is the equivalent of one year of annual energy consumption. It makes sense, then, to harness solar power on a large, commercial scale as one way to cut carbon-emissions in a serious way. Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plants have been gaining prominence out in the Arizona desert. Using mirrors and solar panels to heat fluid and generate steam, these plants can efficiently produce clean, carbon-free energy.

But the research and implementation costs aren’t cheap. If it wasn’t for the Investment Tax Credit (ITC), the effort would be stalled. (Because, of course, being environmentally friendly is only friendly if it’s cost-effective and produces a profit.) So one would think that renewing the ITC, set to expire at the end of the year, would be a no-brainer. But apparently supporting an industry that is good for the environment, cuts reliance on fossil fuels and foreign oil, and creates jobs isn’t a priority, at least in Washington. According to CleanEdge, 48 governors (all except South Carolina and Georgia) sent a letter to Congress urging leaders to renew the credit. It did pass the House, but support in the Senate is shaky. And without that support, larger companies like Arizona’s SunPower (according to an article in EcoGeek) will be forced to move their operations to more favorable countries, such as France or Greece, and smaller companies will just fold. “Kinda grabs ya by the boo boo, don’t it?”

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"All things change round about us, we ourselves change, and no one can be sure of loving tomorrow what he loves today. All our plans of happiness in this life are therefore empty dreams. Let us make the most of peace of mind when it comes to us, taking care to do nothing to drive it away, but not making plans to hold it fast, since such plans are sheer folly. I have seen few if any happy people, but I have seen many who were contented."

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Frog

Maybe we were just an overeager bunch. We were at the tail-end of a week-long photography course as part of a conference at the UAW center at Black Lake, Michigan. We had learned all about the importance of light, composition, all that good stuff. And then we were let loose on the golf course.

And the frog? Well, little did he know that he was in for a ride. He seemed content enough there in the grass on the edges of the golf course, but then he became the center of attention. And, of course, that meant that changes had to be made. After all, there wasn’t a lot of contrast and the grass on the green was, well, greener. So—scoop—up he went. Before he knew it, he was plopped down on the green.

Pictures were taken. (Yes, I partook.) And when it was time to move on (as it always is), the frog was dropped back on his home turf. A little more worldly and wiser, perhaps. Maybe now he has a yen for adventure and broadening his horizons. Or maybe he appreciates the security of home all the more. Good experience or bad? Only the frog knows for sure.

“As soon as I am under the trees and surrounded by greenery, I feel as if I were in the earthly paradise and experience an inward pleasure as intense as if I were the happiest of men.”

Friday, August 15, 2008

Friday Lyric of the Week

"If I lay here,
If I just lay here,
Would you lie with me
And just forget the world?"

From "Chasing Cars" by Snow Patrol

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"I am in the present. I cannot know what tomorrow will bring forth. I can know only what the truth is for me today. That is what I am called upon to serve, and I serve it in all lucidity."
~Igor Stravinsky

Friday, August 8, 2008

Friday Lyric of the Week

"Monday morning feels so bad
Everybody seems to nag me
Coming Tuesday I feel better
Even my old man looks good
Wednesday just don't go (bah-oom)
Thursday goes too slow (bah-oom)
I've got Friday on my mind"

"Friday On My Mind" original by the Easybeats, covered by David Bowie

Monday, August 4, 2008

Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't out to get you...

So, I've been reading Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Reveries of the Solitary Walker (yes, by choice). It's an interesting and funny little book. It is a series of essays structured around the self-examination and reflections on his life that he undertook during his walks written during the last couple of years of his life. (He died in France in 1778.)

Rousseau was an exile, unwelcome in his home country of Switzerland, and he made many enemies in his adopted country as well because of his ideas. He seemed to be a cranky old man, perhaps understandably so, a crankiness borne out of being regularly beseiged. He regularly refers to his "enemies" and "persecutors" (mostly "authors" a word that he uses with the utmost disdain).

He does have some pleasant memories. He writes of their importance, "As I tried to recall so many sweet reveries, I relieved them instead of describing them. The memory of this state is enough to bring it back to life; if we completely ceased to experience it, we should soon lose all knowledge of it."

But still, Rousseau spends most of his time worrying about his enemies and how they are keeping his work from being read, and even his last hope, that after he dies his work will be discovered, appears to be dashed, "I can have no chance of handing on anything precious to future ages without it passing through hands that have an interest in suppressing it." He goes on to write, "The accumulation of so many chance circumstances, the elevation of all my cruelest enemies, as if chosen by fortune, the way in which all those who govern the nation or control public opinion, all those who occupy places of credit and authority seem to have been hand-picked from among those who harbor some secret animosity towards me to take part in the universal conspiracy, all this is too extraordinary to be a mere coincidence....[It] leaves me in no doubt that it is Heaven's eternal decree that their designs will be crowned with complete success."

Phew! The translator of this edition, Peter France, writes in his introduction that while he did have many enemies because of his work, he was perhaps exagerrating their vehemence.

However, Rousseau writes in one of his walks about an accident he had had. He took a fairly serious tumble, but wasn't seriously injured. However, rumors started circulating, and in one village, the talk was that he had died from the accident. As he put it, the rumor spread "quickly and irresistibly" and was even covered in the local paper, the Avignon Courrier. According to the translator's notes, it said, " ' We are sorry not to be able to speak of the talents of this eloquent writer; our readers will no doubt feel that his abuse of them imposes the strictest silence on us.' "

Friday, August 1, 2008

Friday Lyric of the Week

City of New Orleans

Riding on the City of New Orleans,
Illinois Central Monday morning rail.
Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders,
Three conductors and twenty-five sacks of mail.
All along the southbound odyssey,
The train pulls out at Kankakee
Rolls along past houses, farms and fields.
Passin' trains that have no names,
Freight yards full of old black men
And the graveyards of the rusted automobiles.


Good morning America how are you?
Don't you know me? I'm your native son,
I'm the train they call The City of New Orleans,
I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.

Dealin' card games with the old men in the club car.
Penny a point ain't no one keepin' score.
Pass the paper bag that holds the bottle
Feel the wheels rumblin' 'neath the floor.
And the sons of pullman porters
And the sons of engineers
Ride their father's magic carpets made of steel.
Mothers with their babes asleep,
Are rockin' to the gentle beat
And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel.


Nighttime on The City of New Orleans,
Changing cars in Memphis, Tennessee.
Half way home, we'll be there by morning,
Through the Mississippi darkness
Rolling down to the sea.
And all the towns and people seem
To fade into a bad dream
And the steel rails still ain't heard the news.
The conductor sings his song again,
The passengers will please refrain
This train's got the disappearing railroad blues.

Good night, America, how are you?
Don't you know me I'm your native son,
I'm the train they call The City of New Orleans,
I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.

Written by Steve Goodman, made into a hit by Arlo Guthrie

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"We are subjected to hurricane alerts, terror alerts, Amber alerts, and yet, no one seems to be alert."
~~Jamarhl Crawford

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Johnson Syndrome

I remember reading a long time ago, back in a prior life when such things mattered deeply to me, about a business theory based on Lyndon Johnson’s behavior during the Vietnam War. The war wasn’t going well, the strategy wasn’t working, and, rather than step back and reevaluate, LBJ figured that more of the same—more of what wasn’t working—would do the trick. So he threw more troops in (a troop surge if you will) and, well, surprise surprise, it didn’t work.

This somewhat natural reaction, to refuse to admit that a well-thought out plan or strategy might need to be reevaluated and either altered or abandoned in favor of a new, revised approach, became known as the Johnson Syndrome. (At it’s most basic, when the computer freezes, continuing to hit the delete or enter key over and over before finally changing strategy and rebooting is a prime example.) Some businesses did use this to their advantage. Johnson & Johnson (perhaps they felt an affinity with the name), for example, used it to inculcate a culture of failure. It was okay to admit a mistake as long as it resulted in change. To avoid their people (and ultimately their company) becoming mired in the status quo, they encouraged a climate where frequent reassessment of goals and benchmarks became the norm, so that mistakes and business strategies were constantly challenged.

So, what does this have to do with anything? Well, lately I’ve been thinking about it as I’ve been thinking about quitting—good or bad?—and the whole idea of reevaluating goals from a personal perspective. I wanted to revisit the Johnson Syndrome, so I was interested in whether or not people were still talking about it. So I did a Google search.

I found several hits for a skin disease: Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. I didn’t spend much time there…skin diseases aren’t quite my thing. (My curiosity does have some bounds, usually based on the ick-factor.)

Other than that, I didn’t find much. But I did stumble upon an interesting phenomenon. It turns out there were a few mentions of the Johnson Syndrome, but all based on various idiosyncrasies of Lyndon Johnson. To wit:

• One computer programming business site made mention of it in what could also be called the good-news syndrome. As they described it, when his advisors brought LBJ bad news about the war, he got angry. So rather than incur his wrath, they only brought him good news and ignored the bad, so he only had a partial view on which to base his decisions. (This could also be described as the tell-them-what-they-want-to-hear syndrome.)

• According to the History News Network blog archives, Doris Kearns Goodwin coined the term to describe the experience she had writing Johnson’s memoirs to explain why presidential biographies tend to be dull. LBJ would tell her all of these interesting stories about himself, but when she showed him the manuscripts, he would routinely take them out because they weren’t “presidential” enough.

• And just a couple months ago, the Aussie paper Herald Sun trotted out the Johnson Syndrome to describe the excitement politicians of a financial bent have when it comes to talking about budgets. As Roger Franklin put it: “Such a talent would have made him a natural in Canberra yesterday, where it was all about the dead president's second-favourite subject: spending other people's money.

“Unveiling big budgets was so thrilling, he once confessed, that he had to remind himself it was a lot like losing bladder control—a hot moment for him, even if no one else saw it the same way.

“If you want to call it Johnson Syndrome, then a black-suited Treasurer Wayne Swan seemed firmly in its grip as he strode into work just after 9am and faced the day's first barrage of questions.

“He had slept like a baby, he said, confident that six months of bean counting would chart a 10-year course towards security, justice, prosperity, honesty and a fair go for all.” (It’s actually a pretty funny article, as it goes on to tell how, confident swagger aside, the rest of Canberra, Australia, didn’t feel the same way.)

So there you have it. Four different syndromes after one man. That has to be some kind of a presidential record.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Where are the photos?

It's not just the flag-draped coffins we aren't seeing: The New York Times takes a look at the disparity between the number of casualties in Iraq and the number of photos coming across the wires.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

This is your brain on Google

Is Google Making Us Stupid?” inquiring minds at the Atlantic Monthly (July/August) want to know.

Google’s power and appeal (or powerful appeal or appealing power?) cannot be ignored. But while Google does put a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips, it, at the same time, closes off even more from consideration. Yes, they have been trying to remedy this by scanning every book they can get their electric mitts on (copyright be damned), but they make it too easy for students, scholars, and writers to neglect all the source information that is hidden in archive boxes and bookshelves in out of the way libraries. Not to mention that there is something tactile and satisfying in touching and reading an original letter that has long been hidden away and all but forgotten about that you just can’t get from keyboard clicks and the glow of a computer monitor.

All that being said, the folks at the Atlantic Monthly are getting at something more basic and elemental. All that quick reading that we are doing by flipping through Google snippets and flitting from Web page to Web page is having a physical effect on our brains. (As McCoy once said, “They’ve got Jim’s brain!”) Only it’s not the aliens, we’ve done it to ourselves by how we now read. As the Atlantic Monthly’s Nicholas Carr puts it, “what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”

As it turns out, reading is not as hardwired into our brains as speech and oral communication is. This is evident, clearly, in the history of communication. We were speakers and listeners long before we were writers and readers. And we brought the instinct for oral communication, according to researchers at Cornell University, along with us on our evolutionary journey from the sea.

Reading, apparently, is not that fundamental.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one."
~Henry David Thoreau (from Walden)

[Fun with Thoreau]

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Bald is beautiful...

...or at least it'll keep you cool.

Speaking of hair, or in this case lack of it, New York Times writer Glenn Collins took some time during the recent heat wave to visit New York barber shops and see what the guys were up to. Not surprisingly, men across the city are taking it off. Taking it all off.

Why not? If it can be a fashion or a political statement or even a way to stave off looking one's age, why not be a way to keep cool? Of course, it's a men only kinda thing, unless you're Sinead O'Connor or are angling for a part in a Star Trek movie.

"It is her own hair; she bought it."

I don't really have anything to add or say about this comment. It's just one of those random, overheard comments that need to be remembered, maybe for dialog, maybe for the title of a novel, or just for a laugh.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday Lyric of the Week

"I'm free -- I'm free,
And freedom tastes of reality
I'm free -- I'm free,
And I'm waiting for you to follow me."

From The Who's Rock Opera, Tommy

Performed live at Woodstock...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"Grass cannot truly be uprooted, for the earth in which it grows comes up with the roots, ready for replanting."
~~I Ching

Saturday, July 12, 2008

City Snapshot

So last night when I was walking the dog--yeah, it was kinda of late--this guy fell into step with me for part of the way. He clearly had had a few. The conversation started with comments on my dog's markings and went on from there. This guy was on his way home to Southie and was talking about helping his buddy look for an apartment. The conversation then turned to who actually lives in the South End (he decided that I fell under the "artsy" category). We also talked about street smarts...well, I called it street smarts, he called it always expecting to get your head kicked in.

Somehow, the conversation turned to how he recently broke a few toes. No, it didn't happen on the streets of Boston...it happened in his bathroom. It wasn't too spectacular of a story, just a little odd. Apparently, a picture that had been hanging there forever fell as he was standing there and landed on his toes. What was funny was that halfway through telling me, a complete stranger, he realized what he was describing (he was making sure he demonstrated the stance properly), but he just shrugged and continued on with the story.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

You mean you can use it for punctuation, too?

A comma is as good as a semicolon to a weak sentence.

The article by Roy Peter Clark, "Good Semicolons Make Good Neighbors," was posted on Poyntner's website today. It praises the semicolon, which would probably have died off due to indifference, misuse, or ugliness except for the one practical purpose it still seems to serve: How else would we convey that we are winking?

Researching Arctic Ice

Research scientists have started to tag along on regular Coast Guard flights to get up close and personal with the arctic sheet ice. The researchers are hoping to get more detailed data on something the the Coast Guard has been noticing lately: The ice, while spectacular in this photo, is shrinking.

The following article, "The smaller picture:
Colorado scientist prepares to collect detailed data on Arctic ice" by Drew Herman, appeared in the Kodiak Daily Mirror (Alaska) on July 1:

From 1,000 feet up, the Arctic sheet ice looks like the top of a piña colada when you lose the race to drink it before the froth melts. In the 24-hour sunlight of late June, open water only appears as isolated patches connected by dark, narrow veins.

From his perch at an observation window in a Coast Guard C-130 airplane, Mark Tschudi estimated a thickness of about 3 feet for the largest of the flat, motionless ice islands. The smaller shards might be 1 foot thick, he said.

Tschudi, a remote sensing scientist from the Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research at the University of Colorado in Boulder, hitched along for the June 19 Arctic Domain Awareness flight from Air Station Kodiak. ADA is a Coast Guard program aimed at familiarizing crews with operating in the far north — something they expect to do more and more as global warming shrinks polar ice and shipping lanes open across the top of the world.

“That’s how it’s been going,” Tschudi said. “Last year we hit an all-time minimum for coverage in the Arctic.”

Although the ice extended to every horizon, and usually reaches minimum coverage only in September, he did not expect to see it so thin and so close to shore as the summer solstice neared.

But Tschudi was not completely surprised, either.

“The ice in the Arctic has been shrinking every year,” he said.

For now, however, the extreme latitudes get little traffic, leaving scientists with few platforms for gathering data on an issue of global importance.

“Satellites are a big one,” Tschudi said. “That’s, of course, the big picture for the Arctic.”
For the smaller picture, researchers need to get closer to the surface.

In an important international study in 1998, a Canadian icebreaker was allowed to freeze into the Arctic ice and drift for months, giving scientists a close-up platform for their instruments.
Only two of the U.S. Coast Guard’s three Arctic icebreakers are operational.

Tschudi’s trip with ADA let him check the viability of mounting specialized instruments on a C-130.

“The Coast Guard is really cooperative with this stuff,” he said. “Since these guys fly every two weeks, it’s a great opportunity to get lots of photography that way.”

A row of downward-facing flare tubes at the rear of the aircraft’s cabin offer a promising mount. With technicians at the University of Colorado machine shop, Tschudi plans to develop a compact, fully automated instrument package with a laser profiler, a spectral radiometer and a high-speed camera.

“If that works out, we’ll be able to fly all three of those on every one of these flights,” he said. That would yield a regular stream of data, the foundation of reliable science. “It’s the old ‘picture’s worth a thousand words’ sort of thing.”

Tschudi’s specialty is pond coverage, the shallow pools of water on the surface of sea ice. Spectral analysis tells him what is on the ice.

“That helps the modelers predict how fast the ice is going to melt,” he said.

Some models predict an ice-free Arctic summer within the next six years. Several nations, including Russia, Canada and Denmark, have recently shown the flag in the region many expect to become more important for commerce and resources.

Coast Guard pilot Lt. Steve McKechnie and his crew have flown ADA missions since last summer. The day-long airborne patrols have already become as regular as weather permits, with missions planned for nine months per year.

The June 19 flight left Kodiak at 10 a.m., made a touch-and-go landing in Kotzebue, then skirted the coastline about 50 miles north of the shore to Barrow. After another touch-and-go at 3:25 p.m., the crew turned back to Kodiak, arriving in time for dinner.

The planes’ routes vary, with detours toward anything that looks like a boat, even if it turns out to be a chunk of ice casting a boat-shaped shadow. Sometimes they check on the oil pipeline, alert for environmental or security problems.

Aiding the scientific community is a bonus, adding to the list of Coast Guard functions.
For Tschudi and his colleagues, the Arctic flights add to the solid scientific ground under their feet even as the solid ice goes away. Tschudi said people often ask them if global warming is real and whether humans are responsible.

“There’s a lot of information being put out from various sources in the media,” he said. “The bottom line is yes, there is a man-made influence to the global warming that is occurring.”
How much of the warming comes from human activity is another question, but that people are speeding it up appears clear.

There may be more or less ice in the Arctic Ocean in any given year, Tschudi said, “but the trend is down, definitely.”

[Photo information: The shadow of a Coast Guard C-130, flying at about 1,000 feet, falls on offshore sheet ice west of Barrow during an Arctic Domain Awareness flight, June 19. Photo by Drew Herman.]

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Doubleshot

As much as I hate Starbucks and all that they stand for, I keep finding reasons to go back (in addition to the obvious...sometimes they're the only show on the block).

The latest is the venti doubleshot. Five shots (yes, five) of espresso, some sweetener, and a little milk all over ice. Especially on a day like today, when I need all the help I can get to make pushing through the humidity even remotely worthwhile, this makes my previous summertime favorite (a caramel frappachino affogato) seem like sissy stuff. And it's a lot easier to ask for. (If I have to explain one more time what affogato means to a Starbucks' barista, when it's not my word but theirs, I may just scream.) And, oh yeah, did I mention the five shots of espresso?

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"A writer is a man who, embarking upon a task, does not know what to do."
~~Donald Barthelme

Friday, July 4, 2008

Friday Lyric of the Week

"The world was moving she was right there with it,
And she was.
The world was moving she was floating above it,
And she was, and she was.

She was glad about it... no doubt about it,
She isn't sure about where she's gone,
No time to think about what to tell them,
No time to think about what she's done,
And she was.

And she was.

And she was."

From "And She Was" by the Talking Heads

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"An answer is always a form of death."
~John Fowles

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Sex, Lawyers, and Video Games

What would happen if you threw a party and no one came? According to the New York Times, a group of lawyers found out.

A bunch of lawyers had filed a class-action suit on behalf of purchasers of the Grand Theft Auto–San Andreas video game who were offended by the embedded sex scenes. The terms of the settlement were that they would get either $5 or a replacement game with the sex scenes edited out.

Apparently, not many were too concerned. As it turns out, gratuitous sex no longer warrants outrage—or at least it doesn’t justify the 42-cent stamp to send in the claim.

After seeing Amanda Palmer perform at Symphony Hall with the Boston POPs, this doesn’t surprise me. While she is a talented musician and the show was a good deal of fun, it definitely wasn’t standard, G-rated POPs fare. While people who operate on auto-pilot pretty much get what they deserve, I kept thinking of those POPs regulars who had stumbled on the show and didn’t quite know what she was all about, especially during the particularly raunchy (well, they would have been raunchy if they weren’t so funny) semi-simulated sex scenes by the back-up singers, complete with dill pickles—the big kosher deli kind—during her rendition of “Don’t Tell Mama.” Well, in this case Mama (and Papa for that matter) knew, as they were there in the audience and couldn’t have been prouder of their little girl.

All in all, I’d say as a culture we’ve crossed some kind of a line.

Back to the Grand Theft Auto party. So, what does happen with a class-action-less lawsuit? The video game maker will pay out only about $30 thousand in claims and the lawyers will take the bulk of the $1.3 million settlement in fees after tying up the courts for a case no one wanted. That’s the real obscenity. Ca-ching.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What the...

OMG, the N.C. DMV is not LOL at their license plate snafu. Apparently, after issuing 10,000 plates with the three-letter combination WTF, the DMV got the 411 when a couple of text-saavy kids alerted their grandma that her license plate was not as innocent as she had thought.

Read it here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

It would be a fashion crisis if, well, I cared

As a bit of backstory: When I came out of the closet, so to speak, and announced that I was leaving a career in finance to become a writer (well, it left me, but that's a minor technicality--that just speeded up the process) a colleague (and still a friend) asked me when I had decided to change careers. "Was it a couple of months ago, when you stopped cutting your hair?" And another friend, my dogwalker who has seen the inside of my home as much as I have sometimes, once commented on my "bohemian lifestyle." I think what she really meant was, "You know, there's such a thing as a broom."

Needless to say, now that I can wear what I want combined with the fact the I hate to shop, has led to the creation of what can only be described as my own sense of style: every day is casual Friday, some more casual than others.

Well, in the past couple of weeks, I have heard the following eerily similar, left-handed compliments:

Today, the photo intern where I copyedit, said, "Those are fantastic pants!" When I said thank you, she said, "Yeah, not too many people can wear such a bright shade of green, but on you they look good!" (Needless to say, I spent the rest of the day noticing other people's pants. None green, let alone bright green.)

And a couple of weeks ago, while working at Symphony Hall, a patron came up to me after the concert and said, "I love your glasses!" When I said thank you, he said, "Not too many people can get away with that look, but it works for you."

As Arlo Guthrie once said, if one person says something, maybe they're crazy. If two people say it, well...

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"Consider how much more often you suffer from your anger and grief than from those very things for which you are angry and grieved."
~~Marcus Antonius

Saturday, June 21, 2008

City Snapshot

Happy first day of summer.

This morning, thanks to the MBTA, I found myself sitting on a park bench in the Boston Commons--my original plans derailed. Since I rarely find myself up, dressed, and out that early with no particular place to go, I sat drinking a cup of coffee and planning my unexpected free time.

There was an elderly man on the bench next to me. An old friend of his came up to him, pleasantly surprised to see him. They had this brief exchange, apparently not for the first time:

"Well, hello, Mr. Harvard, my old friend. Good to see you!"

"Yes, I went to Harvard. I went in the front door and out the back."

This is just disturbing

I work with a lot of twenty-somethings, which is an education in and of itself.

Last night, the downtime conversation was about drinking. One woman said that she heard from a college friend that the latest trend was for college girls to soak tampons in vodka and insert them. The logic, if you will, being that one can immediately get drunk.

This disturbs me on many levels, but mainly I just find it a little sad. As the woman who was telling this story said, "I drink a lot; I get drunk a lot. I set out to drink, but I never say, 'I'm going to get drunk.' " It's more than semantics, it's a difference of goals.

The way I see it, drinking can be fun, being drunk, not so much, and the next day, way not so much. Why anyone would cut to the chase is beyond me.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Friday Lyric of the Week

"This ain't no party, this ain't no disco,
this ain't no fooling around
No time for dancing, or lovey dovey
I ain't got time for that now"

From "Life During Wartime" by the Talking Heads

Full lyrics

Watch it here

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"People may or may not say what they mean...but they always say something designed to get what they want."
~David Mamet

Monday, June 16, 2008

Karma. Or, ewwww! What's that smell?

One of the perks of city living in the summertime is the overheard snatches of conversation from people walking down the street.

The other day, three men were walking by, and, when they were in front of my window, they happened to be talking about picking up after their dogs. One said that he rarely does it, especially if it's late at night and he thinks no one is looking. He said that the rain washes it away, anyway. [It doesn't, except maybe in Disney movies, where everything sparkles after a sun shower and bluebirds put ribbons in your hair.]

Well, one day, he did get a payback. On his way to work he stepped in dog poop, which can be quite a mess especially with the right shoes. That was a bit of poop he had to pick up, and it wasn't even from his own dog.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Well, this is just funny

OK...I'm convinced. I'm voting Republican (NOT!)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday Lyric of the Week

"There is a road, no simple highway,
Between the dawn and the dark of night,
And if you go no one may follow,
That path is for your steps alone.

Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.

You who choose to lead must follow
But if you fall you fall alone,
If you should stand then who's to guide you?
If I knew the way I would take you home.

From "Ripple" by the Grateful Dead
(Lyrics by Robert Hunter)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Is it a caramel macchiato or a macchiato with caramel?

Another reason to hate Starbucks: They make it annoying to order macchiatos anywhere else.

A true macchiato is espresso with just a touch of foam. I happen to like it with a little caramel. No big deal: a caramel macchiato.

Unfortunately, at Starbucks, a caramel macchiato is nothing like that. Yeah, it has espresso and caramel, but it's ¾ milk. There’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what you want. And when I’m at Starbucks and that’s what I want, that’s what I order. (Although truth be told, I’ve never been able to quite figure out—not that I’ve stared at the ceiling nights worrying about it—what the difference is between a Starbuck’s macchiato and a latte.) But when I'm not at Starbucks, I don't want to be reminded of it.

I go to Starbucks reluctantly. I would much rather shop locally. With the exception of summertime, then it’s all about the caramel frappachinos. There’s a moral price to pay for the satisfaction--isn't that always the way. But that little moral dilemma is a story for another day.

I know of two places, one in Boston and one in New York, that not only make macchiatos, but that make them perfectly. (Berkeley Perk and NewsBar, in case you’re curious.) But when I order one, I have to ask for a macchiato with caramel (as opposed to a caramel macchiato) or risk being given the warning that this isn’t a Starbucks macchiato—just so I know. I know.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"Honor thy error as a hidden intention."
~I Ching

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Northwest, make that Northworst

I like traveling, really, I do. I used to like flying. Now, not so much. And when it comes to Northwest, not at all.

In the past couple of years, I don't think I've ever taken a Northwest flight that was on time, except for today. Figures.

It was the connecting flight home from Indiannapolis that was on time. The originating flight from Minneapolis was an hour late. It arrived at exactly the same time the connecting flight was scheduled to leave. When I got off the plane, the customer service rep that met the plane told me what gate the Boston flight was leaving and told me they were holding it, but to run or it would leave.

I started to run, and then said to myself, "Wait a minute. It's their fault it's late." I did walk fast. As I approached the gate, they announced it was the final boarding call for me (by name). So I did run then. The woman at the gate was motioning to me to hurry or they would leave without me. I reminded her that it was, after all, their fault: It was their flight that had been late in the first place.

She said that she had to get special permission from her supervisor to hold the plane because they were concerned about their flights being on time.

C'mon. I told her, as she was hurrying me onto the plane, that she had to be kidding. But apparently, they have so few flights that are on time, that they'd rather inconvenience their passengers, not to mention pay the hotel bill to spend the night (it was the last flight), rather than hold a flight for two minutes. Talk about scrounging for stats.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Foreclosure woes...well...

Having heard story after story of real people with real housing woes, I'm real hardpressed to come up with sympathy tears for Evander Holyfield.

The boxer and marketer of the Real Deal Grill is in a real deal of financial trouble. He is behind in his $3,ooo month child support payments. (That is, or was, one lucky kid. $3k buys an awful lot of Cheerios.) And his $10 million house is being foreclosed. The house sports 107 rooms including three kitchens, 17 bathrooms, and a bowling alley. C'mon. Maybe he should have invested in some sound financial planning advice instead.

(Read about it on Deadspin.com.)

Friday, June 6, 2008

Friday Lyric of the Week

"Lately I've been talking in my sleep,
I can't imagine what I'd have to say."

From "Running on Faith," by Eric Clapton
(lyrics by Jerry Lynn Williams)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"There are two insults no human being will endure: that he has no sense of humor, and that he has never known trouble."
~ Sinclair Lewis

Monday, June 2, 2008

Well, this is just funny

The national spelling bee: If there was ever a case for clarity, or using the word in a sentence, this is it...

The word is...

Sunday, June 1, 2008

LSA Anaconda

So, after posting the last entry, I was curious about LSA Anaconda. It is an airbase 50 miles north of Baghdad in the city of Balad. According to James Gordon, who has a page of photos on flickr.com, it is known for having the only 35-mm projection screen theater and full-size swimming pool in Iraq. (Not to beat a dead horse, but, again, why can't they get more recent movies than the 1983 Superman 3?????)

To view James Gordon's photos: view photos here

January 2008, "crazycarl82" posted some photos and videos taken in 2004: view photos here

Iraq 2008 and Red Sox Opening Day 1987

I recently found in my inbox an article, a letter-from-Iraq-type missive, from an army chaplain who talked about the goings-on during a recent movie night at LSA Anaconda. Before the showing of Superman 3 [can’t they get them more recent movies?], as is the custom, the soldiers stood at attention while a recording of the national anthem played. The recording got stuck and stopped halfway through. The soldiers remained at attention and the recording was restarted, and again it stopped. Instead of giving up and sitting down for the movie, the soldiers finished the song, 1,000 voices strong, and then sat down.

The chaplain writing this wanted people to know how moved he was by the integrity of the men and women serving overseas. It’s a nice story, but in the telling he speculates, somewhat sanctimoniously, on what would have happened if this had occurred here in the States. He writes: “I imagine there would be hoots, catcalls, laughter, a few rude comments; and everyone would sit down and call for a movie. Of course, that is, if they had stood for the National Anthem in the first place.” I’m not so sure.

Sherman, set the way-back machine to a brilliantly sunny April day in 1987—the opening day Red Sox game. This was the year after they won the AL pennant, which back then when the curse was in full force was more than anyone could have dared to expect, so even though that’s as far as they went, they were champions to us. (Well, all except Buckner, maybe, but time heals all wounds, or at least puts them in perspective. But I digress.) In addition to being naive in our expectations and not having an all-or-nothing view of success (well, we were just tired of always losing), it was a different time. This was in the glory days of the ‘80s, before the Republicans co-opted the flag and when a “patriot” act may have actually had something to do with patriotism.

Anyway, they had a big pregame ceremony, and, since they were playing Toronto, after they had everyone on the field and gave out rings and had speeches, a woman, I forget who, took the microphone on the field and everyone stood for the singing of the Canadian national anthem with the words rolling by on the scoreboard. Everyone clapped, and she walked away. Then there was an extended silence. Everyone looked around, the players on the field were all uncomfortable and didn’t know what to do; they were shuffling their feet and joking with each other. Finally, they got the signal and all walked off the field, and it looked like the game was about to start.

Well, those in the stands would have no part of it. The people around me were all in disbelief, “They forgot!” was the common assumption. It started with pockets of people here and there, but pretty soon, everyone was on their feet singing the national anthem. Without music, a singer, or words to prompt them. When the singing stopped, an announcement flashed on the scoreboard. It turned out that the singer for the American national anthem had been stuck in traffic. A decision apparently was made that no one would notice if, rather than admit that their well-thought out program had hit a snag, they just skipped it and started the game.

They were wrong.
[A note on the photos: Yes, that's me, is all I can say is that it was the 80s, curling irons were in. Although I showed more restraint than the guy in front of me, who I shouldn't dis since he and his friends were responsible for taking the pictures.]

Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday Lyric of the Week

"No fears alone at night, she's sailing through the crowd.
In her ears the 'phones are tight, and the music's playing loud.

She gets rock 'n' roll--a rock 'n' roll station
and a rock 'n' roll dream.
She's making movies on location.
She don't know what it means.
But the music make her wanna be the story,
and the story was whatever was the song--what it was."

From "Skateaway" by Dire Straits

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Rachel Ray: Sometimes a scarf is just a scarf

So, Rachel Ray, the doyenne of fine dining a la Ritz crackers, is causing controversy because of her fashion choices. Apparently, in a Dunkin' Donuts ad she is sporting a scarf that looks like a keffiyeh, which has led to blogger outcries that she is a Palestinian terrorist sympathizer and is sending solidarity messages abroad. Dunkin' doesn't like the association and so has pulled the ad.

C'mon. While the whole thing is a little silly, one has to wonder where it will lead. No, I'm not talking about raising the alert because of the terrorist girl next door or even the power of the blogosphere to alter marketing decisions, but about co-opting religious attire as fashion accessories. What's next? Red hats on the fall runways?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"One man's vulgarity is another's lyric."
~Justice John Harlan, Cohen v. California

Monday, May 26, 2008

A walk in the park

Yesterday, I took advantage of a sunny day with no calendar obligations (rare when the two coincide) to take a walk down by the river. In addition to getting a much-needed dose of sunshine, there was plenty of other environmental stimuli as well:

Did you ever walk in front of someone having a conversation where you just have to turn around to get a glimpse at the people talking? Usually they are talking loud enough as if their intent is to entertain the world, but it's almost a little sad when you realize their conversation is serious.

For quite a ways, two young women were having a conversation sparked by a puppy playing in the grass. It went like this:
"Oh, how cute."
"I want a puppy."
"You always say that."
"You know what I really want, is a baby."
"You always say that when you see a puppy."
"I know. I see a puppy and I want one to play with it, then I think, why just a puppy? If I had a baby I could be playing with that."
"But if you get tired of the puppy, you can give it away. You can't do that with a baby."
And on it went. (Believe it or not, there was more.)

As if that isn't enough, off to the side, along with all the people sitting and laying along the Charles, there strode a man who was looking for just the right spot to get a little sun. (The first nice weekend day, there was a lot of people there.) What set him apart from everyone else doing the same thing? He had stripped down to absolutely nothing but a thong. And there he was, weaving through the crowd flashing his bare butt like it was the most normal thing in the world.

The only thing I could think of was that it was a good thing these two didn't meet....