Thursday, February 28, 2008

Michael Kinsley on the press's swoon for Obama.

No doubt we'll all turn on him at some point, faithless bastards that we are.

Punching above its weight.

What with the negative press Liechtenstein has been receiving lately, here's something brighter from James Wimberley:
Liechtenstein was admitted to the Council of Europe in 1978, after long arguments about the rights of women, and shorter ones about whether it was really an independent state. The Principality thus acquired the right to nominate a judge on the European Court of Human Rights. It astutely decided to propose not some native tax expert but an eminent Canadian jurist, Ronald St. John Macdonald. His successor is an experienced Swiss human rights lawyer, Mark Villiger. Liechtenstein thus set a truly revolutionary precedent for staffing international bodies simply with the most qualified people.

The price of fame.

Gen. Mark Clark, former commander of U.S. forces in Italy during World War II and Korea during the Korean War, on being noticed in public:
It was a beautiful day in New York and as I walked along Fifth Avenue I realized somebody had been right behind me for blocks and I was curious, when finally the red light stopped my march, I was relieved to see a little old lady come up along side of me and smile and say ‘pardon my intruding on your privacy but I've admired you for many years.’ And I said ‘well thank you very much.... you make my day perfect and so on.’ The green light came and as I started to cross she said ‘and God bless you Senator Kefauver'."

When the railroad ruled America.

When the railroad ruled America, even small children knew it ruled by physical size and technological supremacy, not merely because its corporate owners and stockholders controlled state legislators and members of Congress. After the Civil War, the locomotives grew ever more massive, towering over anything but trees and two-story buildings, and the trains grew longer and longer, until by World War I mile-long freight trains crept along the rails, which were shared by ninety-mile-an-hour express passenger trains composed of a few Pullman cars each eighty feet in length. Long before small towns and farmhouses boasted electric light, the nighttime passenger train advertised its incandescent brightness, and while farmers heated kitchens with wood and bathed in tin tubs, Pullman passengers swept past warmed by steam heat and luxuriating in hot showers.

On cold winter nights the throaty roar of the steam whistle echoed for miles along valleys and across prairies, and the brilliant locomotive headlights stitched the countryside like so many lighted needles poking the darkness. Humid summer nights made the whistles sound almost mournful and kept the smell of coal smoke lingering long after the slow freight or air-conditioned passenger train had become only a pair of red lights twinkling miles off or a faint throbbing sound finally overwhelmed by crickets or silence.

Every freight train rolled emblazoned with boxcars labeled for places as mysterious or mundane as Bangor & Aroostock, Moscow, Camden, & St. Augustine, Illinois Central Gulf, the Milwaukee Road, and Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe, or they carried names less easy to find in schoolroom atlases, names like Cotton Belt, Nickel Plate Road, Old Colony, Southern Pacific, and Grand Trunk Western. Every mail train rolled like lightning, never stopping at small towns but instead flinging out a sack of first-class mail even as a pistol-packing railway post office clerk leaned from an open door and swung the hook that grabbed and pulled in the sack of mail hanging from a crane by the depot platform. Every passenger train -- from the local puffing asthmatically to the transcontinental express roaring from city to city without pause -- offered the spectacle of escape into the metropolitan corridor, into modernity.
John Stilgoe, Outside Lies Magic 42-44 (Walker & Co., 1999).

Putting the "O" in momentum.

Via Matt Yglesias, Newsweek's Andrew Romano interviews graphic designer Michael Bieruit about the design successes of the Obama campaign.

What are the elements of the Obama brand?
To start, he has this way of writing Obama in upper and lowercase in a serif font and juxtaposing it with that "O" symbol he has--the blue ring with red and white stripes disappearing into it, making the white form inside the blue look like what I suppose is meant to be a rising sun.

That's his "logo," right?
Right. A lot of times when he's at a podium what you'll see is, centered right beneath him, at the very top of the blue field that usually says something like "Change You Can Believe In," it'll be just that little symbol, functioning in the same way the Nike swoosh does. People look at that and know what it means, even though it's just an "O" with some stripes in it. . . .

How else is Obama's design different than what has come before--or what rival campaigns are doing?
He's the first candidate, actually, who's had a coherent, top-to-bottom, 360-degree system at work. Whereas, I think it's more more common for politicians to have a bumper-sticker symbol that they just stick on everything and hope that that will carry the day.

The thing that sort of flabbergasts me as a professional graphic designer is that, somewhere along the way, they decided that all their graphics would basically be done in the same typeface, which is this typeface called Gotham. [See "Change We Can Believe In" sign, above] If you look at one of his rallies, every single non-handmade sign is in that font. Every single one of them. And they're all perfectly spaced and perfectly arranged. Trust me. I've done graphics for events --and I know what it takes to have rally after rally without someone saying, "Oh, we ran out of signs, let's do a batch in Arial." It just doesn't seem to happen. There's an absolute level of control that I have trouble achieving with my corporate clients.

Then if you go to the Web site, it's all reflected there too--all the same elements showing up in this clean, smooth, elegant way. It all ties together really, really beautifully as a system.

Is Obama's stuff on the level with the best commercial brand design?
I think it's just as good or better. I have sophisticated clients who pay me and other people well to try to keep them on the straight and narrow, and they have trouble getting everything set in the same typeface. And he seems to be able to do it in Cleveland and Cincinnati and Houston and San Antonio. Every time you look, all those signs are perfect. Graphic designers like me don't understand how it's happening. It's unprecedented and inconceivable to us. The people in the know are flabbergasted.

The benefits of competition.

About seven weeks ago, after Obama's victory in Iowa opened up the road to a long campaign instead of a quick coronation, I wrote, "I'm for Obama, but I can live with Clinton or Edwards, and I think the candidate who prevails will be the stronger for the experience." It would seem that most political insiders feel the opposite way, wanting to be done with the primaries for fear that process will expose or weaken their candidates. The fear is not unfounded -- for example, one can imagine a desperate Clinton campaign unleashing attacks that divide Democrats at a time when they could be uniting to challenge McCain -- but I think it is overstated, and part of the reason is that the benefits of the prolonged campaign can be harder to perceive. But Gail Collins, on today's Times op-ed page, sees one:
Back around Debate 10 — lo those many debates ago — Hillary routinely wiped the floor with Barack. He was reluctant and stumbling. She was confident and presidential. Then, as Adam Nagourney pointed out in The Times this week, he suddenly evolved. Now, he’s better than she is — calm and witty at crucial junctures, always to the point, never obsessing on the small stuff.
All those debates have left Obama (and Clinton, if she can somehow come back) better prepared for the fall campaign. [eta: John Dickerson agrees.]

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A curve, found again.

Martha Bakerjian
One of Cosimo I's building projects was the Santa Trinita bridge, which was rebuilt, after a flood, by Ammannati, who also extended the Pitti Palace for Cosimo, botching, in the enlargement, Brunelleschi's original design. Ammanati's bridge, the most beautiful in Florence, the most beautiful perhaps in the world, was destroyed by the Germans during the last war and has been rebuilt, as it was. The rebuilders, working from photographs and from Ammannati's plans, became conscious of a mystery attaching to the full, swelling, looping curve of the three arches -- the slender bridge's most exquisite feature -- which conforms to no line or figure in geometry and seems to have been drawn, free hand, by a linear genius, which Ammannati was not. Speculation spread, throughout the city, on the enigma of the curve. Some said it was a catenary curve, drawn, that is, from the looping or suspension of a chain; some guessed that it might have been modelled on the curve of a violin body. Just before the bridge's opening, however, a new theory was offered and demonstrated, very convincingly, with photographs in the newspaper; this theory assigns the design of the bridge to Michelangelo, whom Cosimo I was consulting, through Vasari, at this period. The original of the curve was found, where no one had thought of looking for it, in the Medici Tombs, on the sarcophagi that support the figures of Night and Day, Twilight and Dawn. Thus, if this argument is correct (and it has been widely accepted), a detail of a work of sculpture, done for the glorification of a despotic line in their private chapel, was translated outdoors and became the property of the whole Florentine people. Sculpture returned to architecture, like a plant reverting to type, and a curve of beauty, thrice repeated, which was as mysterious in its final origin as though it came from a god and not from an architect's drawing board, upholds the traffic of the city.
Mary McCarthy, The Stones Of Florence 49-51 (Harcourt, 1963).

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Queen Loana.

I pretty much agree with what Jake Seliger has to say about Umberto Eco's The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, a visually appealing book that will disappoint readers who make it past the pretty pictures and hope for an actual novel, rather than a narrative pretext to revisit lots of stuff that Eco liked to read when he was young. As an exercise in nostalgia, it has its moments; as fiction, it doesn't.

I've been meaning to post about this and everything else I've read in the past six months, and maybe someday I will.

Better than your average Lucite cube.

Dan Cummings, managing director and co-head of equity capital markets for the Americas at Merrill Lynch in New York, recalls how a small memento received eight years ago to commemorate a deal he had just completed left a lasting impression.

"Our bank had pushed hard to price a client's stock at around $20 in an initial public offering, but on the day of the float, it shot to $50," he says. "At the closing dinner, the company presented us with a special gift: a miniature plastic model of a garbage bag filled with real, shredded money, representing all the cash we'd left on the table at the IPO. After that, the party was pretty much over." . . .

In spite of his client's ingratitude, Mr Cummings, 42, says he still treasures the plastic rubbish bag given to him in 1999, near the height of the dot-com boom. "The company doesn't even exist any more," he says. "But they called a spade a spade and that deal toy reminds me of the importance of humility in life."

Leah McGrath Goodman in the FT. I don't need the moral to the story, but the desk toy would be neat.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Young minds are a terrible thing to waste.

Now see this.

Driving a massive positive externality through the heart of downtown Boston.

The New York Times reports from Boston about the progress of the Big Dig. The expensive work affecting traffic patterns is done, but the city is now hard-pressed to find the revenue to complete what had been planned for the newly opened land above the new tunnel:

Where the highway used to be is now a milelong green space with benches, fountains and fledgling trees ready to welcome pedestrians come spring. Where the highway cut off waterfront neighborhoods from the rest of the city, there is now a clear view to Boston Harbor, the Italian North End, the New England Aquarium and the wharfs that surround it.

Yet problems persist. The Big Dig was one of the most expensive public works projects in the nation’s history, and money for finishing touches is scarce. The real estate downturn has threatened development along the corridor, and the new parks, skinny and hemmed in by busy three-lane surface roads, present their own hurdles.

Lackluster fund-raising and other obstacles have stalled plans for four new buildings along the greenway — a museum, a cultural center, a visitors center and a Y.M.C.A. — and a glassed-in garden planned for its southern tip has been scrapped.

While the project was a godsend for drivers — a study by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority found it cut the average trip through Boston to 2.8 minutes from 19.5 — residents are looking to the $100 million worth of aesthetic changes for more proof the agony was worth it.

There's the missing funding, hiding right there in the last paragraph. Saving so many drivers so much time translates to huge dollars in savings, and yet these drivers get to pass (so quickly) under Boston now without even slowing down to leave some money. You don't have to assign a very high value to drivers' time to place a massive value on the ongoing benefits created here, a considerable positive externality. Some sort of toll is the obvious way to share these benefits, and to realize some of the other benefits associated with congestion pricing. I'm sure that making I-93 a toll road was considered and rejected during the planning for the project, though perhaps this was before the advent of technology that speeds toll collection. I don't like paying tolls any more than the next guy, but I bet most people would happily pay 50 cents to drive through Boston in three minutes instead of twenty. And Robert Moses proved, among other things, that you can do an awful lot of building with the money generated by urban tolls. Building a museum, a cultural center, a visitors center, a Y.M.C.A., and a glassed-in garden would still leave a lot of money for good works.

From a little on-line digging, I can't figure out when and why tolls were ruled out -- anyone know? There are tolls charged for use of the Ted Williams Tunnel, a new route to Logan Airport and East Boston.

The Trunk Monkey.

Via Brad DeLong.

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Florentine street.

A 'characteristic' Florentine street -- that is, a street which contains points of touristic interest (old palaces, a Michelozzo portal, the room where Dostoievski finished The Idiot, et cetera) -- is not only extremely narrow, poor, and heavily populated, lined with florists and greengrocers who display their wares on the strip of sidewalk, but it is also likely to be one of the principal traffic arteries. . . . The traffic on Via Romana is highly 'characteristic'. Along the narrow sidewalk, single file, walks a party of Swiss or German tourists, barelegged, with cameras and other equipment hanging bandoleer-style from various leather straps on their persons; clinging to the buildings, in their cleated shoes, they give the effect of a scaling party in the Alps. They are the only walkers, however, who are not in danger of death. Past them flows a confused stream of human beings and vehicles: baby carriages wheeling in and out of the Boboli Garden, old women hobbling in and out of church, grocery cats, bicycles, Vespas, Lambrettas, motorcycles, topolinos, Fiat seicentos, a trailer, a donkey cart from the country delivering sacks of laundry that has been washed in ashes, in the old-fashioned way, Cadillacs, Alfa-Romeos, mille-centos, Chevrolets, a Jaguar, a Rolls-Royce with a chauffeur and a Florence licence plate, bands of brawny workmen carrying bureaus, mirrors, and credenzas (for this is the neighborhood of the artisans), plumbers tearing up the sidewalk, pairs of American tourists with guidebooks and maps, children, artists from the Pensione Annalena, clerks, priests, housemaids with shopping baskets stopping to finger the furred rabbits hanging upside down outside the poultry shops, the sanitation brigade (a line of blue-uniformed men riding bicycles that propel wheeled platforms holding two or three garbage cans and a broom made of twigs), a pair of boys transporting a funeral wreath in the shape of a giant horseshoe, big tourist buses from abroad with guides talking into microphones, trucks full of wine flasks from the Chianti, trucks of crated lettuces, trucks of live chickens, trucks of olive oil, the mail truck, the telegraph boy on a bicycle, which he parks in the street, a tripe-vendor, with a glassed-in cart full of smoking-hot entrails, outside Volkswagen station wagons marked 'U.S. Forces in Germany', a man on a motorcycle with an overstuffed armchair strapped to the front of it, an organ-grinder, horse-drawn fiacres from the Pitti Palace. It is as though the whole history of Western locomotion were being recapitulated on a single street; an airplane hums above; missing only is the Roman litter.
Mary McCarthy, The Stones Of Florence 8-10 (Harvest, 1963).

Kinda like Lessig, but with better hats.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Po Bronson on why and how kids lie.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lessig 4 Obama.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Get ready for it.

If it is true that "the faster someone blogs, the less information the blog contains," then this here blog is going to be spouting some fantastically informative posting anytime now. A good cabernet bottled in 2006 is years from being ready to uncork.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

How it might have looked.

Book designer Peter Mendelsund designed this cover for Ryszard Kapuscinski's Travels With Herodotus, and says that it was killed after it went to the printer. Via Kottke, here is an interview with Mendelsund.

According to China Mobile.

Missing iPhones found in China. 400,000 of them....

The Maas at Dordrecht.

Aelbert Cuyp
The Maas at Dordrecht, c. 1650
Andrew W. Mellon Collection, National Gallery of Art

The museum's guide explains:
Holland’s Maas river flows through France and
Belgium, where it is known as the Meuse. In
Aelbert Cuyp’s radiant vista over the Maas’ ocean
port at Dordrecht, crowds jam the docks, bugles
and drums sound fanfares, and cannons fire
salutes. Near the end of the Thirty Years’ War,
Dordrecht hosted a two-week festival in honor of
30,000 soldiers. On 12 July 1646, a huge fleet of
merchant and navy ships set sail to end the happy
furlough and return the men home.
This vast, sunny composition specifically
accents one figure: the young man standing in the
dinghy beside the large ship. The anchored ships
at the left create a wedge-shaped mass that points
toward him, as do some rigging lines. His head
lies directly before the horizon, and his stark
black outfit is silhouetted dramatically against the
palest area of the picture, the morning mist over
the far shore. Because he wears a sash with
Dordrecht’s city colors of red and white, he may
be the festival’s master of ceremonies and is probably
the patron who commissioned Cuyp to document
this historic event.
More here, including detail images and links to other Cuyp paintings. For a different view of seventeenth-century Dordrecht by Jan Van Goyen, see this.

Buy your own copy for $229 or at various prices depending on the size and color you desire. (Read about the Chinese art village of Dafen here and here.) Or get a poster for $19.97.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

And a happy Valentine's Day to you, too.

I find this entirely plausible. For all the cynicism out there about the Clintons' marriage, I think they love each other.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


This piece by Joshua Green about the shake-up in Sen. Clinton's campaign staff is worth reading. It takes an insider to really care about who's in and who's out among the campaign staff, but the picture of the people with whom Clinton surrounds herself and of her style of leadership, or lack thereof, seems to foreshadow what a Clinton Administration would be like. For better or worse, Obama's aides understand that he is the story, not them.

As close to election night live-blogging as I'm going to come.

According to, with 94% of the precincts reporting, Barack Obama has 565,777 votes in Virginia. Hillary Clinton and John McCain combined have 542,641.

"This seemed like annihilating space."

At the risk of stealing the steamboat's focus for the railroad, Ari's post (see below) prompted me to pull Solnit off the shelf to find some excerpts:
Once, the North American continent had taken months to cross, and the passage was arduous and perilous. In the decade before the railroad the time had been whittled down to six or seven grueling weeks, barring accidents. With the completion of the railroad those three thousand miles of desert, mountain, prairie, and forest could be comfortably crossed in under a week. No space so vast had ever been shrunk so dramatically. The transcontinental railroad changed the scale of the earth itself, diminishing the time it took to circumnavigate the globe. . . .

Barges had transformed the the transport of goods in England before railroads arrived, and the manmade canals built in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century to accommodate them had transformed the English landscape. Before, most communities had relied largely on local materials for building supplies, provisions, and other materials. Roads were bad and sometimes dangerous, horses were expensive, and each village and town lived in a kind of isolation hard to imagine now. Most people who wanted to get somewhere walked, and many lived and died having never gone farther than a day's walk from home. By the early nineteenth century a carefully coordinated stagecoach system with horses changed every dozen miles or so brought traveling speeds up to ten miles an hour for those who could afford its exorbitant charges, and the coaches seemed reckless and godlike in their swiftness.

Goods moved on barges along canals dug into the landscape, and the barges themselves were a slow-moving business. [Eadweard] Muybridge's cousin Maybanke Susannah Anderson recalled that when their grandfather Edward Smith "drove in his gig to London, to buy wheat or coal, he took under the seat of his gig, a carrier pigeon, and in his pocked a quill or two, and when he bought a cargo, he wrote on a small piece of paper the number of barges he needed, put the paper in the quill, tied it under the wing of the pigeon and set it free. Someone watching for the bird's arrival unfastened the quill, took the message to the barges, and they started." Pigeons were the fastest communications technology; horses were the fastest transportation technology; the barges moved at the speed of the river or the pace of the horses that pulled them along the canals. Nature itself was the limit of speed: humans could only harness water, wind, birds, beasts. Born into this almost medievally slow world, the impatient, ambitious, inventive Muybridge would leave it and link himself instead to the fastest and newest technologies of the day. But that world was already being transformed profoundly.

On September 15, 1830, less than six months after Muybridge's birth, the first passenger railroad opened. The celebrated young actress Fanny Kemble had been given a preview of the Manchester and Liverpool Railroad that August. In a letter to a friend she exclaimed, "The engine . . . set off at its utmost speed, thirty-five miles an hour, swifter than a bird flies (for they tried the experiment with a snipe). You cannot conceive what that sensation of cutting the air was; the motion is as smooth as possible too. I could have either read or written; and as it was, I stood up, and with my bonnet off 'drank the air before me.' . . . When I closed my eyes this sensation of flying was quite delightful and strange beyond description." Thirty-five miles an hour was nearly as fast as the fastest horse, and unlike a gallop, it could be sustained almost indefinitely. It was a dizzying speed. Passengers found the landscape out the train windows was blurred, impossible to contemplate, erased by speeds that would now seem a slow crawl to us. Those who watched the trains approach sometimes thought they were physically getting larger, because the perceptual change in a large object approaching at that speed was an unprecedented phenomenon. Ulysses S. Grant remembered riding on one of the early railroads in Pennsylvania in 1839 with the same amazement that most early travelers recorded: "We traveled at least eighteen miles an hour when at full speed, and made the whole distance averaging as much as twelve miles an hour. This seemed like annihilating space." If distance was measured in time, then the world had suddenly began to shrink; places connected by railroad were, for all practical purposes, several times closer to each other than they ever had been.

At the railroad's official opening, Kemble returned to ride with her mother, who was "frightened to death" of "a situation which appeared to her to threaten with instant annihilation herself and all her traveling companions." That celebration of a thousand passengers and almost a million onlookers along the route was interrupted by an actual annihilation, the death of the progressive Tory politician William Huskisson. At a stop to take on water for the steam engines, Huskisson got out to stretch and was hit by an oncoming train. It is hard to imagine today the reflexes and responses that made it impossible to step away from a noisy locomotive going perhaps thirty miles an hour, but Huskisson could not. His leg was run over and crushed. Though the duke of Wellington applied a tourniquet to prevent him from bleeding to death on the spot, he died that evening.
Rebecca Solnit, River Of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge And The Technological Wild West 5, 8-10 (Viking, 2003).

Distance annihilated by steam.

In River Of Shadows, Rebecca Solnit writes about the advent of the steam locomotive, and the way that it changed perceptions of time and space. The outer limit of human speed had been that of a speeding horse, and people were killed by oncoming trains simply because they did not comprehend that the engines could be moving so fast. Over at The Edge of the West, on the anniversary of Robert Fulton's 1809 patent for the steamboat, Ari writes about how the vessel transformed time and space on the Mississippi River, drawing New Orleans much closer to the hinterlands upstream -- but not thanks to Fulton, whose monopoly over river traffic forestalled progress for years:
Skeptics wondered how New Orleans could succeed so long as upstream navigation proved so difficult. And with good reason, because struggling with the river was an annual rite for traders who floated produce downriver to market, and then faced a grueling journey home: using a combination of wind power, poling, rowing, or the cordelle, a heavy rope, fastened to the bow of a riverboat, which allowed a crew to play a months-long game of tug-of-war with the Mississippi’s current. Dangerous and unpredictable, the trip upstream could take “three or four, and sometimes nine months.” Because of the voyage’s length and difficulty, valley traders typically made only one trip to market at New Orleans per year. Consequently, the river’s current captivated New Orleanians who pondered the Mississippi’s power, confident that business would boom in their city if people could somehow overcome its flow.

The Fulton group guaranteed that it would do exactly that. The partners offered the Orleans territorial government hope that places that had been removed from the city by thousands of miles and the river’s current would be within easy reach after steamboats tamed the Mississippi. In short, they promised to control nature.

But if the territorial legislators had hoped to spur economic growth, they instead forestalled it. With the Fulton group enjoying the “sole privilege of using Steam Boats” in Orleans Territory, other vessels avoided the region for six years. Until, finally, in 1817, Henry Shreve (for whom Shreveport is named) sued to open the river and won. In the year after that, fourteen new steamboats began working the lower Mississippi. By 1827, there were more than 100 steamboats afloat on the river. And by 1859, in excess of 250 steamboats made more than 3,500 stops at New Orleans’s waterfront, accounting for well over $100 million in receipts there.

Even in retrospect, the numbers boggle the mind, but observers at the Port of New Orleans were more impressed by the gathering together of goods and people from the distant reaches of the continent. Whiskey from Kentucky distilleries, apples from western New York orchards, corn from central Illinois farms, furs from the Canadian backcountry, cotton from upper Louisiana’s alluvial soil, cheese from Wisconsin’s dairyland, as well as starched visitors from London, Creole traders hawking wares, African-American firemen cleaning soot from their faces, so-called “Kaintucks” napping beside battered flatboats, genteel couples ambling arm-in-arm and taking in the sights — all these mingled on the banks of the Mississippi at New Orleans. . . .

How did that happen? Mostly because of increasing veolcity and the predictability steamboats imposed on the Mississippi River system. The first steamboat, the Washington, to travel upstream from New Orleans to Louisville took twenty-five days to make the trip in 1817. Then, later that fall, the Shelby covered the same route in just over twenty days. In 1828, the Tecumseh arrived in Louisville just eight days out of New Orleans. By 1850, a passenger could leave Louisiana on Sunday for a Friday engagement in Louisville, confident that she would arrive on time. Steam travel collapsed time and space, as a kind of technological alchemy first turned six months hard labor into one month’s comparatively luxurious travel. Less than twenty years later, further innovation transformed that month-long voyage into a journey of less than a week. It seemed as though steamboats had compressed the Mississippi Valley’s geography like an accordion, bringing the upper Ohio River and the lower Mississippi together as easily as one might fold a map, leaving Baton Rouge astride Pittsburgh. One commercial commentator wrote of the steamboat’s impact: “distance is no longer thought of in this region—it is almost annihilated by steam.”

Monday, February 11, 2008

Yes we can.

Mark Schmitt explains why Obama's successes in caucuses "should change the conventional notion about which campaign is about hard work and discipline."

Regurgitation is not reporting.

The Associated Press reported today that Russian bombers recently "buzzed" a Navy aircraft carrier:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Associated Press has learned that U.S. fighter planes intercepted two Russian bombers flying unusually close to an American aircraft carrier in the western Pacific during the weekend.

A U.S. military official says that one Russian Tupolev 95 buzzed the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz twice, at a low altitude of about 2,000 feet, while another bomber circled about 50 nautical miles out. The official was speaking on condition of anonymity because the reports on the flights were classified as secret.

The Saturday incident, which never escalated beyond the flyover, comes amid heightened tensions between the United States and Russia over U.S. plans for a missile defense system based in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Flying over a ship at an altitude of 2,000 feet is not "buzzing" the ship, though the word surely provides the spin that the Navy wanted. I found it by clicking on the headline, "Low-Flying Russian Bomber Buzzes U.S. Ship," on a well-known blog. BTW, there's no good reason for the AP to give its source confidentiality here.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

West-to-east fog.

Time lapse photography of San Francisco, shot from Marin County on February 8, 2008.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

In the dark.

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

-- Wendell Berry
Maggie Oman, ed., Prayers For Healing 254 (Conari Press, 1999).

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Declining risk.

This graph, found by E. Frank Stephenson and Wilson Mixon, suggests that OSHA is superfluous:

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Clinton and Obama.

This piece by E.J. Dionne gets at their key differences, and why I favor Obama.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Clinton hatred.

I have yet to see the piece that truly nails Clinton hatred, but this post by James Wolcott (in turn relating this review by Susan Faludi) comes closer than most.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Palmetto State.

Teofilo explains why "South Carolina really is by far the weirdest state in the nation and always has been." It's the slave trade -- and not that slave trade, the other slave trade. The plantations came later.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Noted without comment.

Sarah Boxer considers books considering blogs for The New York Review of Books.
Many bloggers really don't write much at all. They are more like impresarios, curators, or editors, picking and choosing things they find on line, occasionally slapping on a funny headline or adding a snarky (read: snotty and catty) comment. Some days, the only original writing you see on a blog is the equivalent of "Read this.... Take a look.... But, seriously, this is lame.... Can you believe this?"

The Today show and its viewers.

Caitlin Flanagan:
The Today show creates a bond with its overwhelmingly female viewers because so many of them watch it, as I did, during one of the most psychologically complex and lonely—and most emotionally fulfilling—times of their lives: their tenure as mothers to small children. Indeed, one reason the show is so successful and profitable is that long ago its producers realized that American households follow a rhythm: early in the morning, there is a great bustling of activity as the working members of families propel themselves out of the cocoon and into the cold world of commerce and adult preoccupation, and then there is a quiet settling down, once the cars have backed out of the driveways and the neighborhoods have been drained of their breadwinners. This is a delicate moment for any mother who spends her days home with children: on the one hand, the number of household residents who feel they own a piece of her has just diminished; on the other hand, she’s been left behind with the babies and the pets.

It is into this emotional void that the Today show’s second hour comes to the rescue, trumpets blaring: out go the first hour’s reports on war and politics and economic trends, and in come pieces on family and shopping and decorating. “The men are gone,” the show seems to tell us. “Now we can talk about the things we love”: the exact way to sneak vegetables into the diet of a finicky toddler, the trick to putting aside a little money for a family treat, the essential components of a first-aid kit for the car—all the minutiae of running a household, presented without irony or scorn by hugely compensated media celebrities. It is the loneliness of at-home motherhood—the loneliness for other adults, for the adult way of life, for the work clothes and schedules and employment itself—that makes the hosts of the Today show crucial. When you turn on the program, there they are: your friends. You half-listen to them, the way you half-listen to your children playing on the floor in the next room, and together the two worlds make up the whole of your enterprise: theory and practice. The host discusses shoes that are supposed to help toddlers walk more steadily, and you turn to your own baby and wonder if you ought to buy him a pair. The Today show pours into the house through the kitchen-counter television or the bedroom television (because the main TV, the big one, is tuned to Arthur or Clifford the Big Red Dog, and you’re half-watching those shows as well), and it is different from other shows. When it is on, the television screen is no longer a barrier separating real life from TV land; the television screen is a window into another room of the house, the one where the grown-ups are.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Dear John,

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