The Shadow Out of Time

Ever read anything by H.P. Lovecraft? Well, now I have. He’s an old science fiction writer from the 1920s and 1930s. “The Shadow Out of Time” was his last major work, according to the cover. This story is only about fifty pages. His writing style is dense and wordy and hard to get through but the story was pretty gripping overall.

I’ve been curious about old science fiction writers. Not too long ago I saw the movie “The Man From Earth” a low budget flick with a made-for-TV feel, written by Jerome Bixby. It reminded me that good science fiction should speculate on scientific what-ifs, and not just be an action-adventure story on a spaceship.

I also picked up “I, Robot” which I’ll read next.

The Yankee Years

I’ve been plowing through “The Yankee Years” this week. The cover says it’s by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci (whom I recall was the high school sports reporter at Newsday way back when). I doubt if Joe Torre had anything to do with writing it, but it’s about his 12 years managing the New York Yankees. The awkward metaphors and lockerroom gossip scream “sports writer”.

Verducci’s analysis of the Yankees’ decline mostly jives with my own. He puts the Torre era (1996-2007) in context with useful chapters about steroids, revenue-sharing, scientific management another other changes in Major League Baseball. He mentions but doesn’t offer much opinion about one of my pet peeves: pitch counts and the decline of starting pitching.

I could go on and on about this book and its subject. It boils down to this: Joe Torre may not have been an innovative tactical manager but he was a sensible and consistent leader who got the most out of his players. He brought them to the playoffs every year for 12 years, even as decrepit and insecure superstars replaced the can-do gamers of the World Championship teams.

Verducci’s portrait of the present-day Yankees is not encouraging. Poorer clubs have had to run smarter operations to reach the high bar the Yankees set in the 1990s, now the Yankees are trying to catch up. The Yankees’ huge piles of money may be all they have going for them right now. By the way, Opening Day is in 10 days. I’ll see your innovative management techniques and raise you a C.C. Sabathia, an A.J. Burnett, and a Mark Teixera.

Douglass and Lincoln

I think NPR had mentioned “Douglass and Lincoln” by Paul Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick a couple of times, so to further my goal of learning more about Lincoln I borrowed it a couple of weeks ago. This one is about Frederick Douglass and his relationship to Abraham Lincoln. There wasn’t much of a relationship–they only met three times–but the authors detail Lincoln from Douglass’ perspective.

Lincoln is such an icon and accomplished such great things that it’s easy to forget there were others who were disappointed by his caution. Douglass was one of them; he saw from the beginning of the Civil War that if slavery was to be abolished it would be by the crushing of the South. Lincoln and a lot of other Unionists wanted to keep slavery out of the conflict at first then came around to Douglass’ view later. For Lincoln and others, this shift was partly out of necessity, because the logic of the connection between slavery and the war became inescapable as the war dragged on. Douglass never put Lincoln on a pedestal. He was sometimes bitterly disappointed in Lincoln. Douglass observed at the height of Lincoln’s martyrdom, that Lincoln’s greatness came from overcoming his “racist attitudes, actions, and propensities”, not from a lack of having flaws.

Slumdog Millionaire

The New Strand is showing “Slumdog Millionaire” this week. Danny Boyle’s last movie was such a bomb that I’ve been dying to see what he did right this time around. “Slumdog Millionaire” is a good story with even better cinematography and editing. It’s a pretty disturbing depiction of India, too. You would think from this movie that nobody has any regard for human life over there. However, people who travel there seem to love it. For Americans overdosing on superficial predictability it’s probably a good shot of reality.

Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois

My move to Iowa was my first foray into the Midwest. While I’ve seen quite of bit of eastern Iowa and have traveled to Missouri and Nebraska, I still haven’t been to the industrial heartland around the Great Lakes. This week’s training course brought me to Ohio for the first time. On the drive back, I got to see a little more of Indiana and Illinois.

Three thin tree trunks partially obscure a red wooden covered bridge.
Three thin tree trunks partially obscure a red wooden covered bridge.

From time to time I’ve heard it said that Ohio is not in the Midwest, but the Northeast. Garrison Keillor might agree. What’s not urban and sprawling is either eastern deciduous forest or small farms. There is definitely more New York and Pennsylvania in the land than Iowa and Kansas.

An upholstered armchair with uneven arms designed for hanging one's legs over the edge.
An upholstered armchair with uneven arms designed for hanging one\’s legs over the edge.

After class let out we took a short jaunt to James A. Garfield National Historic Site in nearby Mentor. Garfield’s house, like his biography, is much distorted by his assassination. Substantial donations to his widow expanded the already large Victorian farm mansion. The addition is mostly a spacious library for the late president’s book collection. Garfield himself slouched over a small armchair–custom designed for hanging his legs over one of the arms–in his study on the other side of the house.

We stayed Friday night in Indiana and dropped in on Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which abuts the grungy industrial city of Gary. Having lived and worked along Atlantic and Gulf coasts, I am not easily impressed with beaches. The lake beaches lack something that the ocean beaches have even in the dead of winter. Maybe it’s the crashing waves and the salt air.

A blue lake reaches the horizon, as seen from the top of a massive sand dune.
A blue lake reaches the horizon, as seen from the top of a massive sand dune.

We went to Mount Baldy, a massive dune bare of vegetation that is an environmental disaster: thousands of people climbing it and trampling its plants have turned the dune into a roving blob of sand. Driven by the lake wind, it is creeping at a glacial rate southward. In my imagination it will slowly roll across Indiana, devouring everything in its path. In fact it is so gradual that right now it only threatens to bury the parking lot behind it. The park is trying to stabilize it by planting dune grasses, but this effort appears puny. Beware!

The Sears Tower and other lesser but still massive office buildings front the lake.
The Sears Tower and other lesser but still massive office buildings front the lake.

From there we drove back to Iowa via Chicago. The corridor along Lake Michigan between Gary and Chicago is the landscape of industrial might. People sneer at Gary as a living museum of urban blight, but they at least they make useful things. Ought the gleaming financial centers that produce nothing but worthless paperwork assets be the new objects of disgust?

Speaking of gleaming financial centers, we made a quick detour along Lakeshore Drive in Chicago. From the impressive museum campus, I snapped some photos of the city’s office towers. The Sears Tower, now known as Willis, appears undiminished by the renaming.

Cuyahoga Valley

I’m at Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio this week for training. We were cooped up in a classroom most of Monday and Tuesday, but class got out a little early today, so one of the rangers here took us down to the tow path along the canal along the Cuyahoga River. There’s a wetland that was once a junkyard. Some beavers built a dam and flooded the area, now it’s one of the prime wildlife viewing areas in the park. The beaver dams and lodges are easily seen from the trail. It’s warm enough now that the chorus frogs and spring peepers started up late in the afternoon.

“Cramer vs. Not Cramer”

I’ve been following the Jon Stewart-Jim Cramer feud this week, which came to a climax with Cramer’s appearance on “The Daily Show” last night.

I was surprised by Cramer’s contriteness and Stewart unfunniness. Yet it was a very powerful interview, and underscores how unfortunate it is that I have to tune into a comedy show for any serious accounting of reporting lapses by big TV networks.

As usual, there is a better analysis of this elsewhere.

Long Island movies

I’ve always want to make a list of the top 10 Long Island movies, but I’m short on material. I did find a couple of compilations on the websites Long Island Portal and Epinions.

The common denominator of both lists is a broad interpretation of what a Long Island movie is. The Epinions list mentions exceptional movies starring Long Islanders, even in bit parts; for Kenneth Branaugh’s “Hamlet”, which features Billy Crystal as a gravedigger. I haven’t seen that one, but I question the merit of Billy Crystal’s appearance in any film, never mind an adaptation of Shakespeare.

I’ve always ruminated on whether “Wall Street” or “The Godfather”, excellent and iconic films, should be considered Long Island movies. Only small parts of them are set or filmed on Long Island. As for “Jaws”, I’ve seen it many, many times and it was never clear to me that Amity is on or around Long Island or even in New York State (it was filmed on Martha’s Vineyard).

And then there are Ed Burns’ “The Brother’s McMullen” and Steve Buscemi’s “Trees Lounge”, which are decent and in many ways are quintessential Long Island movies, but I don’t find either very memorable.

I find it odd that neither list includes any film adaptation of “The Great Gatsby”.

After considering these lists, here are my criteria for forming my own:

  1. I define Long Island as including what most Long Islanders consider it to include: Nassau and Suffolk counties and their offshore islands, and excluding Brooklyn and Queens.
  2. The film must be set substantially and filmed at least partially on Long Island, and if set there identified as such. I don’t consider a short scene demonstrating that a character has a summer home on the beach somewhere to be substantial, so exit “Wall Street”.
  3. I have to have seen it.
  4. I have to like it. I’m willing to stretch my definition of “like” to mean I feel it conveys some sense of Long Island or its people.

So far, the only films that pass muster are:

  1. The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  2. Meet the Parents
  3. The Brothers McMullen
  4. Trees Lounge

I’d like to put a fifth one in there to at least make it a top 5, so if you think I missed something please leave a comment.

Conference over

Our presentation yesterday was the during the last session in the last day of the conference and I was glad to get it over with. I saw some good presentations and some bad ones. Ours was one of the good ones. It went smoothly and on time; it was well-attended and well-received. Whew.

This conference was intellectually challenging and mentally exhausting. The two-hour concurrent sessions offer five or six different presentations on a common theme (sort of like “This American Life” now that I think about it). Many of them are presentations on academic research. I like attending these but they can be very technical. I don’t like suffering through the obligatory discussion of methodology. There is a lot of information to absorb and I wonder if anyone really internalizes any of it.

A large man shows a woman how to dance to bazooki.So, we celebrated by going out to a restaurant called Greek Cusina. In addition to Greek food, wine, and bazooki music, a man named Christos taught us Greek folk dancing and plate-breaking. It was quite hilarious.

In case you were wondering, ours was a panel discussion titled “Science Communication: Strategies for Successful Collaboration”. We discussed the problems of making the scientific work done in the national parks accessible to non-scientists–whether they be staff or the public–though better collaboration between resource managers and interpreters.

Newberg

Italianate-style white house marked Hoover-Minthorn House Nationa Historic Site.Herbert Hoover’s other childhood home is just south of Portland. Though nearby, I don’t have a car here and the trip requires a tedious suburban bus trip with several connections. I was able to recruit a colleague with a rental car and we drove down to Newberg.

The Hoover-Minthorn House is where the orphaned Herbert Hoover lived as a teenager with his uncle and aunt. The house and artifacts are in excellent condition. It’s attended to by a couple named Gordon and Lorraine, who are very knowledgeable and are excellent interpreters.

Ken Burns

Ken Burns was one of the keynote speakers this morning. He and his partner Dayton Duncan previewed a few parts of their documentary on National Parks that will air on PBS in September. I’m pretty stoked about it.

I didn’t watch much of the last one, “The War”. I think I’m just sick of World War II nostalgia. I loved “Baseball”. It aired while I was still away at college. My mom taped it and then one weekend I went home and watched the whole 18 hours or something like that.

I took pictures, but they’re so blurry they make a Loch Ness Monster out of Ken Burns. I really did see him speak though. That’s not just a guy in a Ken Burns costume.

Portland, Oregon

I’m in Portland, Oregon for a conference of the George Wright Society. The Pacific Northwest has that lamentable stigma of being that place where “it rains all the time.” Jen told me that it probably comes to us from Southern Californians, who hail from where it never rains. Anyway, it’s cloudy and raining.

The clouds and damp give Portland the look of an old Northeastern city, but with friendlier beggars. I took the convenient light rail, which is free if you take it around the downtown, down to Old Town-Chinatown. Chinatown doubles as the adult entertainment district, from what I see. There is also a very nice Chinese garden which I wandered around to the tune of $8.50. I love Chinese gardens. They’re full of surprises.

The conference is in the Doubletree at the Lloyd Center, which is where I’m staying. I’m always amazed at what we can squeeze out of government travel rates. My room overlooks the rear end of central Portland, but it’s a nice view. The light rail is just below, when the train comes in the crossing signals make a cuckooing sound, so I can hear that from my room.