Dudley-Do-Wright: Mets Player & Pitcher of the Month for May


The second month of the season saw a return to form for the Mets young ballplayer all-around great David Wright. While in the totals (see below) he looks like he’s running away with the lead, it should be note that there’s an overall offensive slump on the squad. Still, this does not take away from young David’s achievement.

Congratulations to David Wright, Mets Player of the Month for May 2007

The Mets Pitcher of the Month and sixth overall point receiver is Oliver Perez, the young pitcher who is proving his success is not a fluke and appears to be a burgeoning ace.

Congratulations to Oliver Perez, may you receive many more Pitcher of the Month Awards

 

Here are the complete Player of the Game tallies for May:

Wright 30.5
Delgado 23
Beltran 20.5
LoDuca 20
Reyes 17
Perez 16.5
Chavez 14
Easley 14
Glavine 13
Green 12.5
Gotay 7.5
Heilman 6.5
Newhan 6.5
Smith 6.5
Sosa 6
Maine 5.5
Wagner 5.5
Hernandez 5
Feliciano 4.5
Schoeneweis 4
Alou 3.5
Franco 3.5
Burgos 3
Gomez 2.5
Mota 2.5
Castro 1.5
Johnson 1
Pelfrey 1

And a running total for the season through May 31:

Reyes 48.5
Wright 43.5
Beltran 42.5
Delgado 35
Green 34
LoDuca 26.5
Perez 26
Glavine 22.5
Alou 21.5
Chavez 19
Easley 18
Hernandez 18
Maine 17.5
Smith 14.25
Valentin 12
Heilman 10
Schoeneweis 10
Castro 8
Wagner 8
Franco 7.5
Gotay 7.5
Newhan 7.5
Feliciano 7.25
Sosa 6
Sele 5.5
Burgos 5
Gomez 2.5
Mota 2.5
Pelfrey 1.5
Johnson 1

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Book Review: Practicing History: Selected Essays by Barbara W. Tuchman


Barbara Tuchman, historian and author of The Guns of August and A Distant Mirror, is a darn good writer.  Practicing History: Selected Essays (1981) collects articles and speeches from throughout her career with a focus on the art of writing history.

Tuchman has a lot to say about written history.  Defying the academics that call her a popular historian, she states that good history must be readable.  Tuchman adheres to a “don’t tell me, show me” principle as well by finding appropriate quotes and incidents that illustrate what a country may be feeling on the brink of war or a general’s attitude toward failure. Tuchman feels that a narrative must be constructed from the historical events.  This requires being selective as opposed to comprehensive to avoid overwhelming the writing with trivial details.  She particularly opposes efforts to quantify history or making it a science, the human being an unquantifiable variable.  She makes her biases known, because she believes it is better to reveal them than to pretend to be objective. Most importantly, one cannot begin a historical work with a thesis in mind.  The thesis is revealed through research and writing.

Tuchman believes strongly in using primary sources for her research, turning her nose up at the suggestion that good history must contain long lists of references to previous historians’ work.  Even if the primary sources are flawed — whether they be self-aggrandizing journals or surprisingly unobservant of great historical movement — they still reveal much about the people and their times. Building on the use of primary resources, Tuchman likes to travel to the places where the subject of her research took place, getting a feel for events from the landscape.

Like Wordsworth who described poetry as “emotion recollected in tranquility,” Tuchman believes that distance in time is necessary to good history.  Even a comprehensive historical account needs a cutoff date to avoid the errors that come from not having an historical perspective.  Perhaps that is why her essays on contemporary Israel read like chamber of commerce booster pieces.  That flaw aside, Tuchman’s commentary on current events in essays from the 1930’s-1970’s tend to be as insightful and well-written as her historical work.  Her prescient and accurate evaluation of the war in Vietnam is particularly well-done, and eerily appropriate to current events. She also has an interesting proposal to replace the President with a six-person council to balance out the corruption of executive privilege.

For anyone interested in writing history or just reading good history, I recommend this book.

Favorite Passages

“The writer of history, I believe, has a number of duties vis-à-vis the reader, if he wants to keep him reading. The first is to distill. He must do the preliminary work for the reader, assemble the information, make sense of it, select the essential, discard the irrelevant — above all, discard the irrelevant — and put the rest together so that it forms a developing dramatic narrative. Narrative, it has been said is the lifeblood of history. To offer a mass of undigested facts, of names not identified and places not located, is no use to the reader and is simple laziness on the part of the author, or pedantry to show how much he has read. To discard the unnecessary requires courage and also extra work . . . The historian is continually being beguiled down fascinating byways and sidetracks. But the art of writing — the test of the artists — is to resist the beguilement and cleave to the subject.” — From “In Search of History,” p. 17-18.

What he means, I suppose, it that past events cannot exist independently of the historian because without the historian we would know nothing about them; in short, that the unrecorded past is none other than our old friend, the tree in the primeval forest which fell where there was no one to hear the sound of the crash. If there was no ear, was there a sound.

I refuse to be frightened by that conundrum because it asks the wrong question. The point is not whether the fall of the tree made a noise but whether it made a mark on the forest. If it left a space that le in the sun on a hithero shade-grown species, or if it killed a dominant animal and shifted rule of the pack to one of different characteristics, or if it fell across the pat of animals and caused some small change in their habitual course from which larger changes followed, then the fall made history whether anyone heard it or not.

I therefore declare myself a firm believer in the ‘preposterous fallacy’ of historical facts existing independently of the historian.” — From “When Does History Happen?” p. 26.

Nothing that Wilson said about the danger to democracy could not have bee said all along. For that cause we could have gone to war six months or a year or two earlier, with incalculable effect on history. Except for the proof of hostility in the resumed submarine campaign and the Zimmerman telegram, our cause would have been as valid, but we would have been fighting a preventive war — to prevent a victory by German militarism with its potential danger to our way of life — not a war of no choice. Instead, we waited for the overt acts of hostility which brought the war to us.

The experience was repeated in World War II. Prior to Pearl Harbor the threat of Nazism to democracy and the evidence of Japanese hostility to us was sufficiently plain, on a policy level, to make a case for preventive war. But it was not that plain to the American people, and we did not fight until we were attacked.
In our our wars since then the assumption of responsibility for the direction, even the policing, of world affairs has been almost too eager — as eager as was formerly reluctant. In what our leaders believe to be a far-sighted apprehension of future danger, and before our own shore or tangible interests have been touched, we launch ourselves on military adventure half a world away with the result that the country, as distinct from the government, does not feel itself fighting in self-defense. . .

Two kinds of war, acquisitive and preventive, make hard explaining and the last more than the first. Although the first might be considered less moral, so far human experience abstract morality has not notably determined the conduct of states and a good, justifiable reason like need, or irredentism, or ‘manifest destiny,’ can always be found for taking territory . . . But it is never possible to prove a preventive war to have been necessary, for no one can ever tell what would have happened without it.” — From “How We Entered World War I,” p. 171.

“Basic to the conduct of foreign policy is that problem basic to all policy: how to apply wisdom to government. If wisdom in government eludes us, perhaps courage could substitute — the moral courage to terminate mistakes.” — From “If Mao Had Come to Washington,” p. 207.

“To me it is comforting rather than otherwise to feel that history is determined by the illogical human record and not by large immutable scientific laws beyond our power to deflect.

I know very little (a euphemism for ‘nothing’) about laboratory science, but I have the impression that conclusions are supposed to be logical; that is, from a given set of circumstances a predictable result should follow. The trouble is that in human behavior and history it is impossible to isolate or repeat a given set of circumstances. Complex human acts cannot be either reproduced or deliberately initiated — or counted upon like phenomena of nature. The sun comes up every day. Tides are so obedient to schedule that a timetable for them can be printed like that for trains, though more reliable. In fact, tides and trains sharply illustrate my point: One depends on the moon and is certain; the other depends on man and is uncertain.

In the absence of dependable recurring circumstance, too much confidence cannot be placed on the lessons of history.” — From “Is History a Guide to the Future?” p. 249.

“That is why the defunct principle that a nation should go to war only in self-defense is a sound one. That nation that abides by it will havea better case with its own citizens and certainly with history. No could misunderstand Pearl Harbor or have difficulty explaining or defining the need for a response. War which spends lives is too serious a business to do without definition. It requires definition — and declaration. No citizen, I believe, whether military or civilian, should be required to stake his life for what some uncertain men in Washington think is a good idea in gamesmanship or deterrence or containment or whatever is the governing idea of the moment.” — From “Generalship,” p. 284.

Boston By Foot Tour of the Month: Art Deco


In my spare time, I lead tours as a volunteer guide for the wonderful organization Boston By Foot. Right now I’m in my second year as co-chair for the Tour of the Month committee. I don’t actually lead these tours but coordinate everyone else involved from writing the tour manual, leading the tour to collecting admission fees and making sure the tourees don’t get lost.

Photos from the Art Deco Tour of the Month

I love the Tour of the Month because it gives our talented guides and researchers a chance to learn about the history and architecture off the beaten path in Boston. This season’s first Tour of the Month on Memorial Day weekend was no exception. If you asked me a year ago where to find Art Deco architecture in Boston, I’d tell you to go to New York or Chicago. But plenty of Art Deco structures are hiding in plain sight in Boston’s Financial District.

One of my favorites is the Batterymarch Building, now a Hilton hotel:

One doesn’t usually associate red brick with Art Deco architecture, but there are several brick Art Deco structures on this tour alone! Of course, brick is a standard building material in Boston, so the architects adapted brick to their own purposes.

Another stunning building is the New England Telephone Building on Post Office Square which includes this intricate detail work over the front door:

I never thought to go inside this building before, but it’s worth checking out. There is 360 degree mural over the lobby dedicated to the men and women who worked in the telephone industry. They’ve also reassembled Alexander Graham Bell’s laboratory into a nifty little museum with an audiovisual presentation.

The stepped, trapezoidal shape of the Second National Bank of Boston contains some of the most prominent Art Deco decoration in the city:

Of course I’ve passed the building hundreds of times without even noticing.

Check out more photos from the tour in my online gallery at Othemts.com.

The next Tour of the Month is of the Bulfinch Triangle on Sunday June 24 at 2pm, so come on out for a fun, educational experience.

Mets Week In Review: 21-27 May 2007


I’m way behind on Mets posts. This fourth week of may featured a disheartening Braves series followed by a more uplifting sweep of the Marlins. I suppose that if the Braves are the only team the Mets have trouble with, and the Braves lose while the Mets are playing other teams then it shouldn’t make too big a difference in clinching the NL East. Still, it would be nice if the Mets could win at Turner Field.

At least the Mets have found a Braves killer in Oliver Perez as pointed out by Greg at Faith & Fear in Flushing: Where Have You Been All Our Lives?

By the way, any time the Mets win, the Braves lose, and the Yankees lose all on the same day, it is a Triple Happiness. Unprecedented in recorded history, the Mets sweep of the Marlins began a stretch of four consecutive days of Triple Happiness. More on this astonishing feat at Mike’s Mets.

Players of the game (I award up to ten points, maximum of 6 points to one player, distributed among the Mets players who had the biggest impact in the game):

05/22/07 Atlanta 8, Mets 1

Beltran 1.5
Burgos 1
Green 1
LoDuca 1.5
Newhan .50
Reyes .50

5/23/07 Mets 3 Braves 0

Green .50
LoDuca 1.5
Perez 4.5
Smith 1.5
Wagner 1
Wright 1

05/24/07 Braves 2, Mets 1

Beltran 2.5
Delgado 1
Glavine 3.5
Heilman 1
LoDuca 1
Schoeneweis 1

05/25/07 Mets 6, Marlins 2

Beltran 1
Delgado 1.5
Easley 1
OHernandez 3
LoDuca 2
Reyes 1
Smith .50

05/26/07 Mets 7, Marlins 2

Beltran 1
Burgos .50
Chavez 2
Delgado 4
Maine 1.5
Wright 1

5/27/07: Mets 6, Marlins 4

Beltran 1
Easley 1
Franco 1
Newhan .50
Reyes 2
Smith .50
Sosa 2
Wright 2

Feeling Old Again


Star Wars* was released thirty years ago today. The movie is a cultural touchstone of my childhood and one that revolutionized cinematic special effects and the moviegoing experience (along with Jaws) creating the must-see blockbuster. Big movies don’t seem the same to me today probably because they are available on DVD & TV shortly after their cinematic release and even low-budget TV shows have decent special effects these days. That and I’m no longer a child and have become a curmudgeonly old man at the tender age of 33.

Anyhow, Star Wars was the first movie I ever saw in a movie theater, or at least the earliest movie I can remember. I saw the movie in the summer of 1977 with my father and sister at The Strand in Oak Bluffs, MA. I remember the seats that slide back & forth in the theater as well or better than seeing the movie itself. I’m also pretty sure that I fell asleep during the movie because I remember our heroes escaping from the trash compactor and in the very next scene they were getting medals. It wasn’t until years later when I saw Star Wars again on TV that I learned that a whole lot happened in-between those two scenes.

That didn’t stop me from loving the movie, looking forward longingly to the sequels, and playing with my Kenner action figures (making up new stories as I went along). The Star Wars empire has pretty devolved into a crass commercial venture and the prequels range from disappointing to downright bad, but there’s still a little kid in me that looks back longingly at the great movie that was Star Wars.


* Cranky Old Man Footnote: Yes, I call the movie Star Wars and I will continue to call it Star Wars no matter how much these geeky, pedantic whippersnappers insist on calling it Episode IV or A New Hope (or worse EIV and ANH). The movie was called Star Wars when it was released and people of my generation can distinguish it just fine without numbers or subtitles, thank you very much.

Great Online Tool for Walkers


Just a quick post to share the Gmaps Pedometer. Basically the creators of this tool have modified Google Maps so that one may draw a line on the map and measure distances for walks. Should be very handy for runners and bicyclists as well. Certainly a nice alternative to when I’ve tried to map a route online and have the mapping tool direct me to take an Interstate highway.

Saint Bede the Venerable


bede.jpg

I can’t say I’ve ever made a pilgrimage to place where a saint’s mortal remains rest, at least not on purpose. On a whirlwind trip through England, I made a train stop in Durham so that I could visit the Durham Cathedral and attend the Evensong service. The baggage check at the train station was closed for security reasons so I had to carry my honking big backpack with me as I trudged through the cathedral. My spirits were lifted though when I discovered that the cathedral is the burial place of Saint Bede the Venerable.

Apart from having one of the coolest names of all saints, Bede was also the patron of the church where I worshiped at that time in Williamsburg, VA (an appropriate saint for a city with an English heritage). I’m assuming that photography was not permitted in the cathedral, otherwise I’d have a photo to post.

Bede was first and foremost a scholar. From an early age he studied science, language, arts, ecclesiastical history and scripture. His Ecclesiastical History of the English People is one of the great primary sources for 8th Century Anglo-Saxon research. I guess I’m drawn to Bede because he was a scholar, a writer, and most specifically a patron saint of historians. A lot of medieval saints are known for their miracles and it is hard not to be skeptical about them. Bede’s scholarly approach uses the great gift of education to transmit learning and inspiration to us down through the ages, which I guess is a miracle in of itself.

More on Bede the Venerable at:

Saint of the Day
Catholic Encyclopedia

Beer Review: Long Trail Blackberry Wheat


Because I can’t get enough of fruit-flavored wheat beers.

Beer: Blackbeary Wheat
Brewer:  Long Trail Brewing Co.
Source: 12 fl. oz bottle
Rating: ** (6.9 of 10)

Unlike the apricot beer the blackberry aroma and flavor are not overpowering, in fact the scent is a bit sickly sweet.  But the taste is smooth and refreshing.  Mmm…

Beer Review: Sea Dog Brewing Co. Apricot Wheat Beer


A gift from the ever generous Craig. I didn’t even have to trade him wood & sheep for his wheat.

Beer: Apricot Wheat Beer
Brewer: Sea Dog Brewing Co.
Source: 12 fl. oz bottle
Rating: ** (6.9 of 10)

The label says apricot and when you open it you can smell APRICOT!  And when you sip it you can taste APRICOT!!!  And it is good, sweet and tart with all the qualities of a good wheat beer.  I like it.

Crosswalk Sting


The Boston Herald reports on a police sting operation in a crosswalk in Boston’s South End. A female police officer with a baby carriage crossed the street to see if anyone would stop. Over the four days of the operation, 214 motorists did not stop and they were all slapped with $200 fines. As a regular walker/bicyclist I’m pleased to see the Boston Police making this effort as auto-centric attitudes and urban design often make “America’s Walking City” unfriendly and unsafe for pedestrians. I’ve long thought that if Boston and Cambridge wanted to fill the city coffers then they should station cops at the ends of the Lars Andersen Bridge and collect fines on the many moving violations that happen there daily.

Reactions on the blogosphere range from outright joy and approval to the opposing view of the typical, selfish motorist who prefers to blame the victims of car culture. Now I don’t favor pedestrians stepping out in front of cars when the motorist has right of way (or for that matter bicyclists who run lights and ride on the wrong side of the street) but the fact is that the deck is stacked against the pedestrian. My philosophy is that the roads should be made safe and accessible and shared by all types of users with preference toward none.

Safe places to cross the street are rare and even when there is a stop sign or a traffic light motorists will still plow through. Until recently, for example, a long stretch of North Harvard Street in Allston had no crosswalks for nearly half a mile. In these circumstances it is a necessary act of civil disobedience to jaywalk. If tables were turned and cars had to go a long way out of their way to cross a pedestrian walkway, motorists would not stand for it so why should pedestrians stand for this situation?

Movie Review: The New World


As a follow-up to Jamestown’s 400th anniversary, Susan and I watched the latest cinematic interpretation of the Jamestown story The New World (2005). In the movie we meet our lead characters John Smith (Colin Farrell) and Pochahantas/Matoaka/Rebecca (Q’Orianka Kilcher). Smith wanders sullenly through the tall grasses of the Virginia swamps and laconically avoids conversation with his fellow settlers. You can tell he’s a a true devotee of emo and at times you can almost see the earbuds of his iPod where he listens to an endless shuffle of Thom Yorke. Pochahantas by contrast is a crunchy, hippy girl who dances around the groovy Powhatan village. This extremely well-developed 10-year old and the English pedophile are of course destined for star-crossed love.

Not that they put it that way, but despite claiming to base the film on the latest historical research and even giving a nod to Bill Kelso in the credits, the filmmakers chose to put the mythical romance of Captain Smith and Pochahantas at the center of the story. Like the story of Jesus and Mary Magdelene as lovers the Smith/Pochantas tale at one time may have been an interesting “what if?” but by now is trite and I wonder why authors, artists, and filmmakers keep dipping back into that dry well. Especially since the true story is much more interesting.

Apart from historical innacuracy, weird editing is the bane of this film. Like a music video the movie cuts quickly from image to image, rarely allowing time for a coherent scene. Look Pochantas is patting John Smith’s cheek! Now she’s fifty feet away gesturing to the gods in the sky! Now there’s Chief Powhatan looking grumpy!

Meanwhile back in the fort, a number of extras from Monty Python and David Lynch films are standing around not doing much. A real settlement would require constant tree felling, building, hunting, cooking, preparing goods for the winter, but at this Jamestown there is only room for malaise. They do shoot each other every once in a while for no particular reason, and act creepy to keep things interesting.
Not that it’s all bad. It’s better than the Disney film or the dramatic production “Journey of Destiny.” The cinematography is beautiful, capturing the lush wilderness of Virginia and the courtly world of England equally well. In fact, like the train wreck of Gangs of New York the filmmakers paid great attention to detail in getting the costumes, props and sets to match exacting historical detail. They just didn’t bother to do that with the plot.

So if you like tragic romances, watch this film with the caveat that it is not a true story. If you like history, watch it for the sets and costumes. If you’re annoyed by failure to adhere to a simple historical narrative, don’t watch it all.

Book Review: Two Graphic Novels


I decided to take a break from my usual reading patterns and explore two intriguing phenomena.  The first is graphic novels which my public library now has an entire section devoted to and I’ve heard a lot of buzz about their art and creativity.  The second is steampunk, a genre of science fiction based on possible but not probable technology from the 19th century.  With this twin interests in mind I checked out the following books:

The Remarkable Worlds of Professor Phineas B. Fuddle by Boaz Yakin, Erez Yakin and Angus McKie.

Two English scientists Angus and McKee learn that strange climactic changes and invasions of even stranger creatures are caused by the time travel exploits of the eponymous Prof. Fuddle.  Apparently Fuddle decided to travel through time to share technology with earlier cultures in order to prevent violence and warfare.  Instead he creates a time paradox of multiple, overlapping universes.

Angus and McKee follow Fuddle through time in an attempt to reverse Fuddle’s interventions.  Most of the plot is nonsensical but fun as the two English scientists visit pharaoh’s Egypt, ancient India, and medieval England.  They get in and out of scrapes, and eventually find Fuddle and return him home.  Or do they?

The best part of this book is the illustration with colorful, chaotic scenes of ancient cultures adapting to modern technology that come out as cross between Where’s Waldo? and William Hogarth.

The 4thRail Review

The Five Fists of Science by Matt Fraction and Steven Sanders

This graphic novels sets off a battle of Mark Twain, Nikola Tesla, Baroness Bertha Von Suttner vs. JP Morgan, Thomas Edison, Guglielmo Marconi, and Andrew Carnegie.  Tesla and his assistant invent a giant robot which Twain and the Baroness see as a means of creating world peace on the theory that no one would want to face the annihilation of this massive weapon.  Meanwhile Morgan and Edison construct a giant tower to tap into the dark arts and gain power for themselves through human sacrifices.  Inevitably the two sides go into battle with good triumphing over evil.  Or does it?

I liked the quirky use of historical characters in this book although I feel it could use more text and dialog to fill out the narrative.

This is something I’d like to read more of so if anyone has any good graphic novel or steampunk recommendations, let me know in the comments.

Book Review: The Scientist in the Crib: Minds, Brains, and How Children Learn


Another book about babies. This one is thankfully free of gory details. Instead The Scientist in the Crib: Minds, Brains, and How Children Learn by Alison Gopnik, Andrew N. Meltzoff, & Patricia K. Kuhl examines developmental psychology in children. It turns out that babies are a lot like scientists in the ways they interact with their new world and test assumptions. Or maybe scientists are like babies because it is in our earliest years that we first develop our capacity for learning.

The authors examine how babies recognize other people and themselves, differentiate objects, and develop language. They also have instinctive means to train adults and older children to help in their development. This book is a lot of fun and a fascinating read.

Favorite Passages:

It may be some comfort to know that these toddlers don’t really want to drive us crazy, they just want to understand how we work. The tears that follow the blowup at the end of a terrible-twos confrontation are genuine. The terrible twos reflects a genuine clash between children’s need to understand other people and their need to live happily with them. Experimenting with conflict may be necessary if you want to understand what people will do, but it’s also dangerous. The terrible twos show how powerful and deep-seated the learning drive is in these young children. With these two-year olds, as with scientists, finding the truth is more than a profession — it’s a passion. And, as with scientists, that passion may sometimes make them sacrifice domestic happiness. – p. 38.

The two most successful examples of human learning turn out to be quite similar. Children and scientists are the best learners in the world, and they both operate in very similar, even identical ways, ways that are unlike even our best computers. They never start from scratch; instead, they modify and change what they already know to gain new knowledge. But they are also never permanently dogmatic — the things they know (or think they know) are always open to further revision.

While the idea that scientists are like children might seem surprising at first, it helps make sense of some otherwise puzzling facts. Scientists, after all, have the same brains as the rest of us. And science is convincing because, at some level, all of us can recognize the value of explaining what goes on around us and predicting what will happen in the future. … Why would we have such powerful learning abilities if we never even used them back in the Pleistocene? …

Our answer is that these abilities evolved for the use of babies and young children. – p. 156-7

Reviews:
BrainConnection by Anne Pycha

NEA by
Marcia D’Arcangelo and Andrew Meltzoff.
Science Blog

Book Review: Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born by Tina Cassidy


The main lesson I got from Tina Cassidy’s Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born (2006) is that in the history of people being born, attempts to make it easier and/or more “scientific” have in many cases exacerbated the mortality rates for both mother and child. At different times in history it was thought a good idea to rip children out with forceps, to drug up mothers to a point of insensibility and today’s fashion, cesarean births even when not necessary for medical reasons. The last one bothers me most because Cassidy describes in detail how women are sliced up, cutting important tissues for reasons that often have more to do with convenience than necessity.

Interesting too that until recent years men did not attend births not only because they were too macho to show up, but they were actually forbidden from the delivery room.

Okay, so it’s not easy to read this book without getting all squirmy and squeamish, but on the other hand it’s important to learn that there’s a history of experts stating what are the best ways to be born only to be contradicted and “proven wrong” by the next generation. I don’t think our times are exempt from this pattern.

Tina Cassidy is a blogger too and I’m expecting a lot of ongoing discussion of these issues at The Birth Book Blog.

New York Times opinion pieces by Tina Cassidy “Birth, Controlled” (March 26, 2006) and “Cut and Run” (January 28, 2007).

Reviews:

“Hard Labor,” Washington Post, (October 26, 2006)

Dadlabs.com

Chris’s blog

Book Review: A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby


A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush (1958) is a short book about an extraordinary journey taken by author Eric Newby and his friend Hugh Carless.  With very little training and inadequate supplies they venture into a remote region of Afghanistan to climb Mir Samir, a nearly 20,000 foot mountain. It is surprising that they even survived much less made several attempts at crossing the peak and then writing about it.

The setting is fascinating in that Newby and Carless find themselves among nomadic peoples of Nuristan who were only forced to convert to Islam a generation earlier (as Newby points out, perhaps the last mass forced conversion in history).  At the time of their travels, the British Empire is crumbling but Afghanistan still has some last vestiges of the old Raj.  Sadly Newby reflects some of the old imperial ways and can be a bit ethnocentric in his descriptions of the locals.

Newby redeems himself by being hilariously funny reflecting both on his own colossal inadequacy as well as the quirks of the people he encounters.  He also makes me want to get out and travel, although I’ll take a pass on visiting remote areas of Afghanistan right now.

More about Nuristan: Nancy Hatch, Richard Strand.

More on the Hindu Kush: Iranica.

Book Review: A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley


So you have an aging, ruthless patriarch on the verge of madness deciding on a whim to divide up his property among his three daughters precipitating a descent into tragedy. The story of course is William Shakespeare’s King Lear, but also the basis of Jane Smiley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Thousand Acres (1991) set in Iowa in 1979. This book was the May selection of the William & Mary Boston Alumni Chapter book club, and once again I chose to listen to the audiobook.

Unlike Shakespeare’s tragedy which sympathizes with the noble youngest daughter Cordelia, Smiley tells the story sympathetically from the point of view of the “evil” eldest daughter Ginny. The middle daughter – the outspoken Rose – and their husbands Ty and Pete are central characters while the youngest daughter Caroline is distant both emotionally and physically from the narrative. Looking for similarities with King Lear is a fun game and caught myself saying things like “Oh yeah, the old man goes out wandering in a terrible storm” and “Oh yeah, that guy is blinded.” More King Lear parallels are available at this website.

Luckily, retelling Shakespeare is not the whole story. Smiley invests a lot of effort to make the reader feel and understand the meaning of the land to Iowa farmers. In Ginny she also creates a voice of the unreliable narrator. Ginny fills in a lot of detail with ruminations on the history of the land and the story of her family.

These details coincidentally are also a weak point of the novel because at times Ginny rambles on about some tangential detail shortly after a major plot point, and it really kills the narrative. I’m not sure if this is Smiley’s problem or if it is a deliberate device to show how Ginny deludes herself. Other weaknesses are a failure to really flesh out the motivations and characters of the other principles. The whole thing seems to be a tempest in a teapot and does not reach a satisfactory conclusion. Not to mention that it’s kind of a crazy joke to have a character named Pete married to a character named Rose.

So, I’ll rate this book as good but not great. An interesting read with some real insight into the lives of Iowan farmers a generation ago, but a bit too melodramatic and too long for its own good.

The Cutty Sark


I remember from my younger days a series of sugar packets with images of historic sailing ships.  I was always intrigued by these wooden ships and in my lifetime ended up visiting many of them … the Charles W. Morgan, the U.S.S. Constitution, and the one with the funny name, the Cutty Sark.

The news today is that the Cutty Sark has suffered a terrible fire and is now nothing but burnt planking.  This is another reminder of how those timeless things you think will never go away sometimes do.  On the other hand, restorers working on the ship think that despite the damage, the ship can be restored.

I visited Greenwich in 1998.  I saw the Cutty Sark and took this photo although it was too late in the day to board her.

Cutty Sark

Godspeed Cutty Sark, may you sail again!  Or at least be restored in drydock.

Mets Week in Review: 14-20 May


This week the Mets host two storied teams each with a devoted following of fans worldwide. First the Cubs, a team with a history of losing a lot, and then the Yankees, a team with a history of winning way too much.

I’m afraid I was too busy to make too many notes during the week, so let’s just say it was a satisfying home stand. The Mets went 5-2 against some talented teams. They had some dramatic come from behind victories (see 5/17), some ugly wins (see 5/19) and two very unpleasant losses. I guess I’m taking a glass-half-empty view when I say that this week could have very easily been a bad one for the Mets so I’m unable to fully exult in glee. That being said, the Mets are in first place and visiting the 2nd-place Braves and have a good chance to show who belongs in first.

14 May 2007
Cubs 4, Mets 5

  • Chavez .50
  • Delgado 2.5
  • Feliciano .50
  • Glavine .50
  • Heilman .50
  • LoDuca .50
  • Reyes 1.5
  • Smith .50
  • Wright 3

15 May 2007
Cubs 10, Mets 1

  • Beltran .50
  • Burgos .50
  • Delgado .50
  • Easley .50
  • Green 3
  • Maine 1
  • Newhan .50

16 May 2007
Cubs 1, Mets 8

  • Beltran .50
  • Easley 1.5
  • Delgado 1
  • Gomez 1.5
  • Gotay .50
  • LoDuca 1
  • Reyes .50
  • Sosa 2
  • Wright 1.5

17 May 2007
Cubs 5, Mets 6

  • Burgos 1
  • Beltran 1
  • Chavez 2
  • Delgado 1
  • Gotay 2.5
  • Newhan 1
  • Wright 1.5

18 May 2007
Yankees 2, Mets 3

  • Chavez 2.5
  • LoDuca 2
  • Perez 3.5
  • Reyes 1
  • Wagner 1

19 May 2007
Yankees 7, Mets 10

  • Beltran 1.5
  • Chavez 2
  • Delgado 1
  • Franco .50
  • Glavine .50
  • Heilman .50
  • Wright 4

20 May 2007
Yankees 6, Mets 2

  • Chavez .50
  • Easley 2
  • Feliciano 1
  • Greeen 1
  • Gotay 1
  • Heilman 1
  • Schoeneweis 1
  • Wright 1.50