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Times’ Best Paragraphs

December 17, 2009

This, my friends, is why you read the newspaper.  I couldn’t just post one or two Times’ Best Sentences from this story—I had to go for the whole final four paragraphs of this story about Florida Governor Charlie Crist (Republican) signing a bill into law that will increase and improve railroad service in the Sunshine State.  Here are these glorious paragraphs:

Ms. Dockery is also at the center of a dispute over how the legislation was drafted. Her office filed a public records request last month for all e-mail related to the bill, and among the thousands of messages produced by the State Department of Transportation, three used breakfast foods in the subject line — “pancake,” “Pancakes” and “French Toast.”

Each had no text, just attachments about the bill, leading Ms. Dockery to accuse state officials of “using code words in an effort to disguise the true content.”

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos has said the subject lines were simply to get her attention, but Mr. Crist directed the state’s chief inspector general Tuesday to investigate.

Ms. Dockery is still waiting on a follow-up request for all e-mail messages “containing breakfast food related words, including but not limited to: pancake, French toast, bacon, egg, cereal, waffle, grits, and sausage.”

You’re welcome, Dear Reader.


December 16, 2009

It’s been a while since I’ve posted (or, for that matter, written) a poem, so I thought I would somewhat make up for it by posting “Aubade,” one of Larkin’s very best:


I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
– The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused – nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast, moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear – no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anasthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small, unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

Flash Raves: Surprisingly Kind of Joyous and Cool

December 11, 2009

I learned about this from a friend on Facebook, who linked to a story about it by the Fayetteville Flyer, an alternative (weekly, I think) newspaper from my college town.

It seems that this past weekend some kids at the school, the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, organized a “flash rave” to be held in the Student Union at 11pm.

Now, this sort of thing is nothing new. “Flash mobs” have been around for some time now. But I couldn’t help from smiling at the YouTube video of this event.

Here’s a little viewing guide, in case you don’t want to watch the whole thing:

  • Watch the first 30 seconds or so, just so you’re not jumping in in medias res.
  • Then skip to the one-minute mark (which is when it kind of kicks off) and watch for about 10 seconds.
  • Then skip to the 1:55 mark and watch until you see something inexplicable and awesome. You’ll know.

Happy weekend and winter, everybody:

Another Picture from Thanksgiving on the Ice

December 2, 2009

After reading my blog post from yesterday, my friend Ross (again, on the right) sent me this new picture from Thanksgiving on Antarctica in 2004. That’s our other friend Chad down below.  I’m wearing my Cub Scouts hat, which I stole from someone (my friend Sandwich, I think) and loved thoroughly.  We always had to wear some kind of hat in the galley.  At other times I wore a paper hat, like so:

That’s right.  Hot stuff.

Antarctic News

December 1, 2009

Twitter users (and Antarctic aficionados) might be interested to know that the Scott Polar Research Institute, at the University of Cambridge, is Tweeting Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s last expedition to the Ice, the Terra Nova expedition.  It’s actually kind of cool, seeing this nearly 100-year-old account show up in your Twitter feed on a daily basis.  However, I wonder why they didn’t wait until next year, the hundredth anniversary of the start of the Terra Nova expedition, to do this … it would have been cool to tie the Tweets to the exact day, 100 years apart, of Scott’s journal entries.  At any rate, the Twitter handle is scottslastexp.

Today also is the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Antarctic Treaty, the 12-nation agreement that demilitarized Antarctica and reserved it for scientific research.  Each nation “takes care of”—but does not own—the portion of Antarctica which it historically has controlled.  Some, however, are making the case that the treaty’s time has passed, and that the continent would be better served if each nation with an interest in Antarctica were free to make its own decisions and enforce its own laws, rather than submitting everything to a vote by the Treaty nations—a system in which a “nay” vote by any one nation can scuttle any initiative.

Finally, for New Yorkers, DJ Spooky is putting on a thing at BAM tomorrow, Friday and Saturday night—a work called Terra Nova: Sinfonia Antarctica (after the Ralph Vaughan Williams symphony of the same name, which was composed from 1949–1952).  It’s a musical work made up of field recordings of ice and landscape sounds that Spooky (real name: Paul D. Miller) made when he was down in Antarctica on, I assume, an Artists and Writers Program grant—which, as I just discovered, has been at least temporarily killed for the 2010–2011 Austral summer season.  That is just a real disappointment.  I wonder why?  Any of my readers with Antarctic ties know?

In the meantime, here’s a great interview from Gothamist with DJ Spooky about the piece. Here’s one representative Q. & A.:

I get the impression of the ice fields as a quiet place, so when you go there and set up a portable studio, what are you recording? There are a couple things at hand: one, natural sounds put in the filter of digital media are no longer natural, they’re audio files. What I wanted to do was just kind of explore that kind of paradoxically, and artificial vs. natural. What ended up happening is these ice fields are not quiet places, they’re huge echo chambers on one level or another. Every footstep you make on the ice crunching, or snow crunching, or the gritty gravel and rocks and so on, you are a kind of an amplifying machine walking around; the landscape is huge, and you think of the scale of these kinds of places, there are only about 2000 some odd people there.

That is totally true, what he says about “every footstep you make”—when I read that I flashed back to the surprisingly loud crunching and squeaking of snow that I heard when I was working out at the Long-Distance Balloon Facility, one of my best weeks on the Ice.  Here’s a picture I took from there and then, of the world’s southernmost active volcano, Mt. Erebus:

And here’s a picture of me almost exactly five years ago, after our crazy galley shift on Thanksgiving, 2004.  One McMurdo resident gave the Dining Attendants (that’s what I was) a bottle of wine as a thank-you for our hard work throughout the season (and on Thanksgiving), and after our shift me and a few others (that’s my friend Ross, on the right) went out back on the loading dock and passed the bottle ’til we killed it, which took about 45 seconds.  It was a good day.

After a Week Away

November 30, 2009

Here’s what’s news:

The Onion A.V. Club (whose film, music, book, and video game criticism is really top-notch) has an interesting dissection of the famous four-minute, single-shot scene in the movie Children of Men.  It’s a great scene, with excellent backing music—The Kills.  This link has a video of the scene embedded in it.

Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish talks about Christianity versus Christianism, in what seems like a spin-off of The Atlantic‘s cover story this month, by Hanna Rosin, which asks the question, “Did Christianity Cause the [Housing] Crash?”

The Awl takes a horrifying look at the California Cougar Convention.

A week ago, President Obama kicked off a new campaign called Educate to Innovate, which, writes Kenneth Chang in the New York Times, is designed “to enlist companies and nonprofit groups to spend money, time and volunteer effort to encourage students, especially in middle and high school, to pursue science, technology, engineering and math.”

Here’s a great quote by our president from that same story:

“If you win the N.C.A.A. championship, you come to the White House.  Well, if you’re a young person and you’ve produced the best experiment or design, the best hardware or software, you ought to be recognized for that achievement, too.  Scientists and engineers ought to stand side by side with athletes and entertainers as role models, and here at the White House, we’re going to lead by example.  We’re going to show young people how cool science can be.”

Here, though, is an even better quote (and no I’m not kidding):

“As President, I believe that robotics can inspire young people to pursue science and engineering. And I also want to keep an eye on those robots in case they try anything.”

That is so awesome.  Here’s an embed of the (30-second) clip:

Politics & Ninja Turtles

November 20, 2009

Bad news for the media business in New York City: Comptroller Bill Thompson (who just lost a mayoral bid against Bloomberg) has issued a report saying that the city lost 30,000 “information services” jobs (including magazines, publishing, new media, and so on) from 2000 to now.  Back then, we had 192,300 of these jobs.  As of two months ago, we have 161,500.  I personally know a few of these unlucky 30,000.

I never thought I’d agree with former Arkansas governor (and— before Palin, at least—the breakout star of the campaign for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination) Mike Huckabee, but here you have it: At a speech earlier this month, he shot back at critics on the right (such as Rush Limbaugh) who claimed that President Obama’s appearance at Dover Air Force Base to pay respect to dead soldiers coming back from Afghanistan was nothing more than a cynical photo opportunity.  Huckabee said:

“When he [Barack Obama] was at Dover the other day, and went there to pay respect for soldiers, I heard a lot of people on the Right say ‘Aw, that’s just a cheap photo-op.’ No, I think it was the Commander-in-Chief of our military paying respect to a dead soldier, and I’m grateful that he did that, and I was proud of him for doing that. And I think we all—as Americans—should give him credit for doing that.”

Well said.  The Huffington Post has more.

Apologies if anyone thinks this is racist … which maybe it kind of is?  But The Awl has an item on black people and Twitter versus white people and Twitter.  Interesting factoid?  Twenty-six percent of African-Americans use Twitter, but only 19 percent of white people.

Politico has a story about how the “Tea Party” movement might soon begin to consume itself. Wait, you have to be kidding!  A movement that is characterized by vitriol, screaming at people, and a total lack of reasonableness and willingness to engage in mature and fact-based debate is in danger of falling apart?  You don’t say.  Here’s the lede:

“After emerging out of nowhere over the summer as a seemingly potent and growing political force, the tea party movement has become so rife with internal feuding over philosophy, strategy and money that some supporters fear it will disintegrate before realizing its full potential.”

Finally, this is pretty amazing: A mash-up (similar to The Shining re-mix that was big a few years back) of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Reservoir Dogs.  Got it from The Atlantic‘s Andrew Sullivan, on his blog The Daily Dish.

Must Be Santa + Bodymore, Murdaland

November 18, 2009

Two videos for today.  One, for Bob Dylan’s song “Must Be Santa,” off of his newish holiday album, Christmas in the Heart.  It’s a bonkers video, of a holiday party that gets a bit out of hand, with Dylan singing and wearing a Santa cap and weird wig that makes him look a lot like David Bowie.

Second, 100 Greatest Quotes from The Wire.  Anyone who knows the show will love this; anyone who doesn’t should go out right now, pick up the first season, and clear your calendar for the next month.

What’s News

November 17, 2009

The New Oxford American Dictionary has named its word of the year for 2009: unfriend.  As in, “I was forced to unfriend her on Facebook because she kept posting those pouty-lipped self-portrait photos that are all the rage these days.”

It turns out that Budget Travel magazine is not closing or laying off staff, as had been previously reported by New York magazine’s Daily Intel blog.

Ross Douthat (pronounced “DOW-thut”) is, according to some, The New York Times‘ token conservative columnist.  He’s reasonable and smart, and the points he makes often have me nodding along.  Yesterday he wrote about unemployment and midterm elections, a topic he expands upon (with a handy graph) on his blog.

Slate has a fascinating story about how we might warn future humans (or other sentient species) of the dangers of buried radioactive detritus at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, New Mexico.  The Department of Energy created a report on the topic (which can be downloaded as a PDF by clicking here) that recommends a system of redundancy that would include the following:

Giant, jagged earthwork berms should surround the area. Dozens of granite message walls or kiosks, each 25 feet high, might present graphic images of human faces contorted with horror, terror, or pain (the inspiration here is Edvard Munch’s Scream) as well as text in English, Spanish, Russian, French, Chinese, Arabic, and Navajo explaining what’s buried.

Even more fascinating is what the report suggests the earthworks might comprise:

The report proposes a “Landscape of Thorns” with giant obelisk-like stones sticking out of the earth at odd angles.  “Menacing Earthworks” has lightning-shaped mounds radiating out of a square.  In “Forbidding Blocks,” a Lego city gone terribly wrong, black, irregular stones “are set in a grid, defining a square, with 5-foot wide ‘streets’ running both ways.  You can even get ‘in’ it, but the streets lead nowhere, and they are too narrow to live in, farm in, or even meet in.”

Or maybe we should just leave a continuously playing video loop of Sarah Palin’s appearances yesterday on Oprah and today on Good Morning America.

Fire Department Blotter for Nov. 12

November 12, 2009

File under Why We Need Investigative Journalism: The New York Times today has a story about Peter W. Galbraith, a former American ambassador (and son of the famous economist) whose close relationships with Iraq’s Kurdish regional government and a Norwegian oil company, as well as the Kurdish constitutional provisions that he helped the ethnic group extract from the Iraqi central government, have put him in position to earn upwards of $100 million dollars from a Kurdish oil field.

Politico has a memo from Newsweek editor Jon Meacham, who says that layoffs are happening at the weekly.  That’s a shame.  I really like the magazine’s new redesign and direction, launched earlier this year.

According to the Nielsen Company, U.S. TV-viewing is at an all-time high: The average American watches four hours and 49 minutes of the stuff every day. (How is that even possible?)

The New York Times has a generally high-marks review of the new video game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 … save for this disturbing revelation:

Basically, the player, in the guise of an American commando, can participate in a massacre of unarmed civilians.

Or is it acceptable?  The review goes on to make a queasy sort of argument for the sequence’s validity.  And, oftentimes great books or movies put readers or viewers in the shoes of people who do terrible things … though of course many oppose these works as well.  Is a video game any different?  As the reviewer writes:

Yet the player may find it hard to feel much animosity toward the virtual Russians because you have seen or participated in the very atrocity that has prompted them to attack the United States. It all lends an emotionally ambiguous cast to the cavalcades of explosions and gunfire that Modern Warfare replicates so energetically.