Archive for January 2009

Playing Ketchup

I guess it takes a particularly dull blogger, even one who only features politics tangentially, to not comment at all on the remarkable transfer of power that took place this week.  Since I was traveling for business, I hadn’t the luxury of declaring Tuesday a holiday (and you can forget about the more established holiday on Monday), and I was reduced to reading fleeting accounts by newsmen and attendees.  I have yet to watch the address.

I tuned in to NPR at noon Central on Tuesday as I was driving out to buy a sandwich, just after the Address concluded, and was surprised to feel so stirred at hearing the Marine Band play Stars and Stripes and an interpretation of National Emblem that I want to hear again, if I can find it on Youtube or somewhere else. (In the section where low brass and high brass do something of a “call-and-response” unison fanfare, the 4 lead-in beats, usually just perfunctory quarter-notes, were struck emphatically and jubilantly, and made the soaring fanfare that ensued that much more delicious. But maybe that’s just the way I heard it that day.).  Surprised because for so long, I’ve cynically viewed patriotic display as mere leitmotif and campaign backdrop for the crowd that just slunk out of the Capitol, and here I was feeling once again the exuberance that I’d once felt playing these marches.

Well, my lack of commentary belies my depth of feeling.  I was doubtful during the election season, not about Obama, but about whether he could prevail against the Palin-o-rama.  I presumed that he would suffer a tsunami of Bradley-effect, especially based on anecdotal evidence that Hillary supporters would abandon him, and that coupled with the revival of the yammering Republican “base” would combine to put McCain in office. I was never happier to be wrong. I was spellbound watching his acceptance speech in Grant Park.

When I’m flying, and there’s no internet and no phone contact (yet!), I descend into the guilty pleasure of catching up on my reading.  This trip, it’s been concentrated on back issues of New York Review of Books, which had a number of ruminations on the election.  One featured Joan Didion and Darryl Pinckney, who seems to be engaging in a wary optimism:

For the first time in the memory of most of us a major political party was moving in the direction of nominating a demonstrably superior candidate = a genuinely literate man in a culture that does not prize literacy, an actually cosmopolitan man in an arena that deems tolerance of the world suspect by definition.  A civil man.  A politically adroit man.

She goes on to express her worry early in his campaign that his support was too messianic and Kool-Aid driven”

It became increasingly clear that we were dealing with militant idealism - by which I mean the convenient but dangerous redefinition of political or pragmatic questions as moral questions - “convenient” because such redefinition makes those questions seem easier to answer, “dangerous” because this was a time when the nation was least prepared to afford easy answers.

I think she has a real point, one that was reinforced last week when I attended a talk by Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  During his talk, he had driven his argument against the current agricultural model of large farms producing a monoculture of products (corn, soy beans, wheat) that are converted into “edible non-food products”.  In the ensuing question-and-answer period, there was a fatuous query wondering if the advent of the Obama administration might be an opportunity to derail this juggernaut.  Pollen noted wryly that everyone seems to be projecting their parochial (my word) hopes on Obama, and that he’s inclined to wait and see.  Yes, for whatever reason, everyone with an agenda that has been out of favor for the last 8 years seems to feel that he is their champion. The cumulative disappointment that will ensue when many of these hopes are inevitably delayed or dashed might be the first substantive test of this administration.

The resiliently positive aspects of the Obama presidency where presented in this issue by Darryl Pinckney:

I am full of inappropriate friendliness to white people and even suspect myself of being patronizing toward them.

Pinckney thinks that Obama reconnects us with our government after a long estrangement:

…the U.S. had become like those countries we tend to pity where the state and the society have less and less to do with each other.  The election of Obama halts that deterioration…We have accustomed ourselves to such a diminished public life that we are scared that we are asking too much of Obama, making too much of him.  We need to be reassured and so President Obama must keep talking.  It is thrilling  to think that his calm voice and graceful manner were not just for the campaign, that as president he will go on talking to us like this.  Overnight, public discourse has been elevated.

My feelings exactly.  I should have just linked the articles to begin with.

Hello, Frostbite Falls

That’s the view today from the Northwest Airlines Worldclub in Seattle - it’s the Olympic Mountains behind an Airbus A330 bound for Incheon, Korea. I won’t be on that plane - I’ll be on a much more modest 757 headed for the balmy climes of Minneapolis (for a short layover), then Milwaukee. The temperature will be nudging 6F when I arrive.  I’ll post more once I arrive and get my keyboard de-iced.


Sitting now in the Minneapolis Worldclub, where the WiFi password is “COLD”.  Go figure.

The red tail in the photo above is an endangered species, as Delta bought Northwest and is slowly repainting NWA’s aircraft.  It’s one more change that I’ll have to accommodate, since I’ve spent so much of the last 10 years or so in and around NWA aircraft.  I’ll have to countenance changes to my frequent flyer plan, even though my miles and status (Gold) will be merged into Delta’s.  It’s superfluous in the overall scheme of things, but when you travel a lot, you can limit the variables and uncertaincy by flying the same airlines, booking the same rental cars, etc.

Here are some images from the flight out of Seattle.  We’ve been experiencing a thermal inversion, so the air is clear once you’re above the inversion layer:

Change Is Getting Old, Already

Change so far in 2009 is a little loose, maybe, but doesn’t appear to be on the spare side.

One change very close to home is new ownership at our gym, the former Anderson’s Greenlake Nautilus, now called American Athlete at Greenlake .  We’ve belonged to this club since about 1985, and we each drop in about every second day to work through a progression of Nautilus machines.  We don’t do anything else there - yoga, spinning, stairmasters, etc, because it’s just close enough that we’d be ashamed to drive there, and far enough (about 2 miles from the house) that we get adequate aerobic work running down there and back.

The place has been under the same ownership for about 20 of those years, and the atmosphere has been laid-back, congenial and probably not as profitable as the “pump-shop” gyms that push all kinds of extras at you.  No juice bar, no social scene (it’s been a fairly mature crowd, 30 and up), perfect for our purposes.  We’d just signed up, and prepaid for, two more years just before the sale.

The new owners are a pair of guys probably early- to mid-thirties.  They’ve made some changes already, including firing all of the employees that we’d befriended over the years, and have plans for lots more.  I’m all for having the place make enough money to survive, and I don’t really think anything they do will affect my routine that much unless they tear out all the Nautilus machines, fill the place with free-weight stations and rip your shirt off and spray you with baby oil as you enter.

It already seems like the clientele has trended younger (not really a bad thing, especially if one has retained his eyesight).  The new owners are affable enough, but one can’t but harbor more than a grain of doubt that Gen-X’ers want to be involved in an activity that extends the lives of Boomers beyond the short end of the actuarial calculations that promise their long-sought liberation from us.

Which brings me to a broader and less anecdotal revelation of change: according to an article last week, it appears that we Boomers are over on the national scene as well:

To a number of social analysts, historians, bloggers and ordinary Americans, Jan. 20 will symbolize the passing of an entire generation: the baby boomer years.

…it’s a sense that a cultural era is ending, one dominated by the boomers, many of whom came of age in the ’60s and experienced the bitter divisions caused by the Vietnam War and the protests against it, the civil rights struggle, social change, sexual freedoms, and more.

Those experiences, the theory goes, led boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, to become deeply motivated by ideology and mired in decades-old conflicts. And Obama? He’s an example of a new pragmatism: idealistic but realistic, post-partisan, unthreatened by dissent, eager and able to come up with new ways to solve problems.

I’ve often chafed at the idea that our generation has been fired by a defining ideology and sense of mission.  We’ve been living on the echoes of a couple of years of testosterone-fueled wildings on college campuses, when, in actuality, we donned suits and hit the corporate ladders in the 80s with shockingly malleable ethics, just now reaching their culmination on Wall Street.  Yeah, baby, them is us.

We changed the world with the crushing weight of our demographics.  It took the cover of Gen-X insouciance to finally get us permission to wear jeans to work, ferchrissakes.

Still, it’s a shock to realize that the generation that was going to live forever is over, that Clinton and Bush the Lesser are the only shots we’ll get.

And yet one more big change has been visited on us in this young year.  The newspaper that carried the article referenced above, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, has been put up for sale by the Hearst corporation.  The “for sale” sign is merely a formality required by the Joint Operating Agreement under which it has operated for the last 30 years.  They expect to shutter the paper at the end of the offer period.

This will be something like an eviction from a living room of consciousness for us.  We’ve subscribed to the paper almost from the day we moved here in 1974, the thunk of it hitting our porch every morning very often our first sensory experience.  We’re so inured to the susurrus of their reporters and columnists whispering in our ears that its cessation on whatever day they cease publishing will be deafening - people like cartoonist and essayist David Horsey, sports columnist Art Thiel, political columnist and resident curmudgeon Joel Connelly, even sports court jester Jim Moore.

As I write, it occurs to me that the mere fact that I can link to the paper at will, and you can read any of it without taking your credit card out of your wallet, is one of the big reasons they’re going under in the first place.

The other paper in town, the Republican-leaning Seattle Times, is also in a world of financial hurt, and will probably not absorb any of these journalists.  They will probably have to begin new careers if they want to stay in town, and their voices will be lost to us unless they find an online outlet (perhaps even a lowly blog!).

We’ll most likely subscribe to the Times simply because my 91-year-old MIL, who lives with us, so enjoys lingering over a printed newspaper while eating breakfast.  I long ago switched to the internet for almost all of my newspaper reading.  Just call me “assassin”.


As you might can see, I selected a new Wordpress theme.  It’s variable-width, so most monitors will display a lot more text than my old theme.  It’s easier to work with and pretty clean-looking.  I didn’t want anything too gloppy and graphicky, as I put enough junk in here myself.  Still have to find a way to embed a photo in the header, but you were probably tired of the old one anyway.

I also upgraded to a newer version of Wordpress on Saturday.  It didn’t work quite right, and everything I did made it worse, right up to the point where the blog just disappeared.  The collective wailing from hip cafes across the country was heart-rending, so I spent a lot of the day Saturday learning how to use my web host’s Backup and Restore utility.  That’s one of the advantages of not having posted for a week - nothing was lost on the restore.

Wherein I Actually Finish Reading A Book

I only made one New Year’s resolution this year, thought it’d give me a better shot at keeping it, and that was to write a blog entry every day.  I’m beginning to think I suck at New Year’s resolutions.

I’ve been pecking away at E. Annie Proulx’s collection of Wyoming short stories, Close Range, and finally finished it over the weekend.  The last story in this collection is Brokeback Mountain, from which the film was made.  I don’t have much basis for determining whether her characters in these stories ring true or if they tend toward caricature.  I haven’t spent that much time hanging out in ranchland cafes.  In some cases, I think she intended to caricature; in others, including Brokeback, they’re more carefully crafted and nuanced.  She keeps a chilly distance from virtually all her characters.  She’s not their buddy, and I remarked at one point that I didn’t think any of her characters got out of her stories alive.

I do have enough visual knowledge of the West to know that she’s got a wonderful talent for describing the landscape:

 You stand there, braced. Cloud shadows race over the buff rock stacks as a projected film, casting a queasy, mottled ground rash. The air hisses and it is no local breeze but the great harsh sweep of wind from the turning of the earth. The wild country–indigo jags of mountain, grassy plain everlasting, tumbled stones like fallen cities, the flaring roll of sky–provokes a spiritual shudder.

I’ve been there, and she takes me vividly back.  I also liked this description of a sunrise up on Brokeback:

Dawn came glassy orange, stained from below by a gelatinous band of pale green. The sooty bulk of the mountain paled slowly until it was the same color as the smoke from Ennis’s breakfast fire.  The cold air sweetened, banded pebbles and crumbs of soil cast sudden pencil-long shadows and the rearing lodgepole pines below them massed in slabs of somber malachite.

She may not be sympathetic to her characters, but she’s clearly taken with the country.  I see she’s published two further collections of Wyoming stories, and I’ll have to put them in the queue.  That one that already stretches to the time when I’ll be too blind and addled to read them.

I saw the very tail end of the Brokeback Mountain film in my hotel room last month, and really want to see the whole thing now that I’m finished with the story.  Also intriguing: Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove) was involved in the screenplay.

Made It!

Happy New Year to everyone!  Just a quick post to let you know that we made it out of 2008 reasonably unscathed, setting charges behind us in the tunnel so that neither it nor its 7 predecessors could follow us.

When I last posted, we really didn’t have any invitations in-house, but a kind neighbor (not a Perils reader) subsequently invited us to an early nosh-and-sip, so your anguish for us was in vain.  Thanks, anyway, though!

Today we trekked over to University Village, a mall-kind of place on the other side of the University of Washington from us, to the Barnes & Noble there to unburden ourselves of most of a Christmas gift card.  While we were checking out, Mrs. Perils pointed the cruelty, probably intentional, of the juxtaposition of these two display tables:

Hope your holidays were joyous!