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Archive for January, 2009

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Dr. Strangelove Transformation Complete (via Life in the NohoDome)

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johansson1Ingemar Johansson, the Swede who stunned the boxing world by knocking out Floyd Patterson to win the heavyweight title in 1959, has died. Johansson was 76.” (via ESPN)

[Sometimes a person, or an event, sticks in your head in ways you don’t necessarily appreciate until much later, perhaps not until the person dies or the event regains relevance.  I have been an avid sports fan, mostly of baseball, since I was a young boy growing up in the 1950s in a home with a sports-crazed father. I remember vividly my father’s shock, and disappointment, when Johansson KO’d Patterson in 1959 – my father went on for months about how it was the greatest upset he had ever seen in any sport.  The following year, in October 1960, just two months shy of my 8th birthday, my beloved New York Yankees were upset by the Pittsburgh Pirates in a classic seven-game World Series — classic if you rooted against the Yankees — ended by Bill Mazeroski’s famous home run. While the Yankees loss meant much more to me than the Patterson defeat, I think that together, the two famous upsets, one coming so soon after the other, “proved” to my nascent sports-fan’s sensibilities that the world of sports was a world in which anything — anything! — could happen. If so, Johansson is owed my thanks (as is my father, of course, and the still-despised Bill Mazeroski) for my lifelong love of sports.]

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“How can we navigate through the information landscape that is only beginning to come into view? The question is more urgent than ever following the recent settlement between Google and the authors and publishers who were suing it for alleged breach of copyright. For the last four years, Google has been digitizing millions of books, including many covered by copyright, from the collections of major research libraries, and making the texts searchable online. The authors and publishers objected that digitizing constituted a violation of their copyrights. After lengthy negotiations, the plaintiffs and Google agreed on a settlement, which will have a profound effect on the way books reach readers for the foreseeable future. What will that future be?”

(via The New York Review of Books)

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typewriter

Found online today, during a waaaay-too-long procrastination break (OK, I’m not working on a novel, but still . . .):

Invaluable tips for would-be authors from the no-nonsense book How NOT to Write a Novel (via Times Online)

If all else fails, there’s always self-publishing!

Self-Publishers Flourish as Writers Pay the Tab (via NY Times)

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“Jackie Robinson was my boyhood hero and with every passing year I have a richer appreciation of what he went through and how he made this world a better place with his courage and grace.” (Tom Brokaw)

Earlier this week in New York, in advance of what would have been his 90th birthday tomorrow, Robinson’s widow, Rachel Robinson, kicked off a fund-raising campaign for a planned Jackie Robinson Museum. “The museum will consolidate the major themes that defined Robinson’s life and the lives of all who aspire to effect change: commitment and courage. ‘I saw [those traits] in Jack and I see that in President Obama and others who prevail,'” said Robinson, during an interview with New York Times sports columnist William C. Rhoden. 

A Way to Mark Robinson’s 90th Birthday (via NY Times)

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The Audacity of Hate

church-fireIn Springfield, Massachusetts (barely 30 minutes south of my home in Northampton), during the early morning hours immediately following Barack Obama’s election as President, a predominately black church under construction was destroyed by fire.  Earlier this week, the three Massachusetts men, all white, accused of having set the fire, were formally indicted.  The indictment alleges the men talked about their racial motives before setting the fire.  Although I was horrified when I heard the news, I was, sadly, unsurprised that even in Massachusetts, the bluest of blue states, this sort of hate crime could be perpetrated.  Now comes evidence that not only are hate crimes on the rise, but that “A new black president and the deepening economic crisis are creating the perfect storm for racist groups intent on swelling their ranks.”  So says Neo-Nazi David Duke who offers that “Obama will be a ‘visual aid’ for angry white Americans and will provoke a backlash among relatively mainstream whites that will ‘result in a dramatic increase in [the] ranks’ of extremists.”  A sampling of racial incidents, from Maine to California, reported in the wake of the election would appear to support his claim.

Obama Called a “Visual Aid” for White Supremacist Recruiting (via AlterNet)

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Turtles for sale in an open air market near Oudong, Cambodia (December, 2006)

“At open-air markets and restaurants in Asian communities here and abroad, millions of turtles are being butchered for food and their alleged “medicinal qualities,” and conservationists note that this rapacious craving has already wiped out some wild turtle populations in China, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.  The international turtle trade is big business, and it’s conducted with little concern for the continuation of species.”

Eating Turtles to Extinction (via The Progressive Puppy)

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We’ve all seen the videos many times before but now that he’s really, really gone, they seem, well, sad.

Top 10 George W. Bush YouTube Moments (via TIME)

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The Historian as Cartoonist: Drawing George W. Bush

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    updikeJoseph O’Neill, author of last year’s highly regarded novel, “Netherland” — one of the finest contemporary novels about New York City and one of the few novels “about” 9/11 worth reading (my very short list would also include “Saturday,” by Ian McEwan and “The Emperor’s Children” by Claire Messud) — writes of the debt owed Updike by contemporary writers. For O’Neill, “The death of John Updike is an instant literary disaster.”  

    Why Updike Matters (via Granta)

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    I have always used American Express, rather than VISA/Mastercard, whenever possible when traveling abroad but with AMEX fees now increased to 2.7% from 2.0%, well, now what do I do? Matt Gross, better known to readers of his New York Times articles and blog as “The Frugal Traveler,” offers advice to international travelers seeking to avoid the increasingly costly ATM and credit card fees charged by U.S. banks. (See: Frugal Traveler: Packing the Right Credit Card)

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    dockstreetrendering“Opponents of a controversial residential tower proposed to rise next to the Brooklyn Bridge brought their case to Borough President Markowitz on Tuesday night, bitterly describing developer Jed Walentas’s project as bad public policy and a disastrous way to treat the fabled and legendary span.” (via The Brooklyn Paper

    [Notable among the opposition was two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author David McCullough whose 1972 history of the Brooklyn Bridge, “The Great Bridge,” remains, alongside Alan Trachtenberg’s “Brooklyn Bridge: Fact and Symbol” one of the essential texts for understanding the cultural context of the bridge’s construction. A letter from McCullough was read by a representative from the Simon & Schuster publishing house.]

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    upd0-005“My subject is the American Protestant small town middle class,” Mr. Updike told Jane Howard in a 1966 interview for Life magazine. “I like middles,” he continued. “It is in middles that extremes clash, where ambiguity restlessly rules.”

    [My first encounter with Updike’s writings was during the summer of 1970 when I was required to complete a summer school course in American Literature to satisfy the requirements of my high school diploma that was provisionally bestowed that June.  As an “extra credit” project, I read Updike’s first novel, “The Poorhouse Fair,” which led me to consider his short story collection, “Pigeon Feathers.”  Updike’s anthology, which even he, apparently, considered among his finest work, kindled my everlasting appreciation for short story writing.  Updike also contributed one of the greatest sports essays ever written, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” about Ted Williams’ last major league game.]

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    afp9“Editors from three news agencies discuss the photographic record of George W. Bush’s presidency.”

    Mirror, Mirror on the Wall (via NY Times)

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    mac128

    Happy Birthday to the much-beloved Macintosh computer that turned 25 yesterday!

    When Steve Jobs introduced the Mac in 1984 at the Flint Center at De Anza College in Cupertino, the original Macintosh 128 cost $2495 with the following options:

    • Imagewriter printer $595 ($495 if purchased with Macintosh)
    • Numeric Keypad $129
    • Modem 300 $225
    • Modem 1200 $495
    • Carrying Case $99
    • 3 1/2-inch disk box (10 disks) $49
    • MacWrite/MacPaint $195 (included free with each Macintosh during the introductory period)
    • External Drive $495

    The Macintosh 128 was my first personal computer and I have never used another brand of personal computer since – I upgraded first to a Macintosh 512; then a Mac SE; then a Performa, a PowerBook 1400, a Power Mac G3, a PowerBook G4, then to my current MacBook.

    Happy Birthday Mac . . . and Get Well Soon Steve Jobs!

    Happy 25th birthday to Macintosh (via NY Times)

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    obama-portrait“On Tuesday, as Barack Obama was being sworn into office, his portrait by the street artist Shepard Fairey — reproduced endlessly during the campaign until it became the defining image of the future president (it towered over a stage at one of the inaugural balls) — was on view at the National Portrait Gallery. A collaged poster of it had just entered the collection along with portraits by artists like Gilbert Stuart (George Washington), Norman Rockwell (Richard Nixon) and Elaine de Kooning (John Kennedy). . . . the portrait gallery’s decision is arguably the establishment’s most public embrace of a quintessentially anti-establishment brand of art.”

    Outlaws at the Art Museum (and Not for a Heist) (via NY Times)

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    “Like obscenity prosecutions, paraphernalia cases often target people for conduct they believed was legal. The law in both areas is fuzzy, and drug paraphernalia, like obscenity, tends to be judged by the “I know it when I see it” method.”

    How the crusade against drug paraphernalia punishes controversial speech (via reasononline)

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    facebook-logoAs a relatively new member of the Facebook community, I am continually fascinated by the myriad ways — good, bad and ugly — that individuals, groups and organizations utilize this far-reaching social network.  A few recent examples:

     Revolution, Facebook Style

     

    On Facebook, Sicilian Mafia Is a Hot Topic

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    MUCH has been made of President Obama’s (say it soft and it’s almost like praying) Inaugural Address and whether or not it lived up, in rhetorical terms, to the great expectations that awaited it.  Former Presidential speech writers were split; John McWhorter praised Obama’s oratory for “its seasoning of black cadence”; and others suggested that whatever it might have lacked as oratory, it “is proving to be more powerful in the reading than it was in the hearing” (Stanley Fish and Henry Louis Gates Jr.)  The text of Obama’s speech follows; a video can be found here. Compare and decide for yourself.

    “My fellow citizens:

    I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

    Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we the people have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents.

    So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

    That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

    These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

    Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.

    On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

    On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

    We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

    In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

    For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

    For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

    For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sanh.

    Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

    This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

    For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do.

    Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

    What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. Those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

    Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

    As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers … our found fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

    Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

    We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort — even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

    For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

    To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

    To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

    As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

    For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

    Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

    This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

    This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

    This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

    So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

    “Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet (it).”

    America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

    Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.”

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    “McDonald’s is planning to this year create 12,000 jobs and open 240 new restaurants across Europe, it emerged on Friday, as the fast-food chain shows signs of being one of the few global companies to benefit from the financial crisis.

    In stark contrast to the multinational groups announcing record job cuts and losses, McDonald’s plans for expansion in Europe are its biggest in five years.

    ‘We’re certainly not slowing down,’ said Denis Hennequin, president of McDonald’s Europe as he outlined to the Financial Times his plans to hire 50 people at each of the 240 new restaurants, mostly in Spain, France, Italy, Russia, and Poland.”

    McDonald’s defies downturn (via Financial Times)

    [The only good news, as I see it, is the increased number of clean public toilets that tourists and locals will now be able to utilize. During various overseas travels, in need of a public toilet, I have been directed to the nearest McDonald’s which locals called “The American Embassy.”]

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    In the years since the felling of the World Trade Center towers, the Brooklyn Bridge has taken on an increasing symbolic importance to New Yorkers. The bridge is now used as a backdrop for almost every local television news broadcast while the adjacent state and city parks along the East River in DUMBO, Brooklyn are regularly used as settings for fashion and other advertising photography and for television shows of various stripes. The relationship between developers, preservationists and those favoring the construction of a new middle school, is a contentious one that likely won’t be resolved any time soon. Even if the proposed development gains the necessary approvals, it is not clear when, or if, the project will ever be completed. One need look no further than the oft-delayed and scaled-back plans for the Atlantic Yards development in downtown Brooklyn to know that the battle to preserve the sanctity of the Brooklyn Bridge will be a long one.

    Wondering if a New School in Brooklyn Is Worth Blocking the View (via New York Times)

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