Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Alex Smith and the 49ers

It's clear now. Some horrible, rotten, lying, cheating scumbag died and was sent to Hell where he was tortured by having to come back to life as Alex Smith.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Windows 8

I'm finding myself using a Mac more and more for professional purposes, which I thought I'd never do since so much of my software development work involved writing code for Microsoft platforms. Since I'm heavily invested in web application and service development, this is becoming less the case. Lately, I've been working with Node.js on the back end, and Angular.js on the front end. There's nothing Microsoft in the pipeline, and I'm becoming shockingly convinced that there's no need nor place for .NET. Like the good little whore of a language it is, Javascript is seducing me with a leering wink from the server side.

So OS X is a great environment for doing development work. In addition, I have all these older Macs lying around which I used to use as well-built Windows hardware. What I find (prepare to be shocked!) is that OS X works great on a Mac. What a discovery! What I really mean is that I get better performance from my tools over the long run. Things seem to stay cleaner rather than what everyone experiences with Windows in a long performance decline over time. Maybe this is the case with OS X, but I don't tend to install lots of productivity software on a Mac. Anyway, older Macs seem to work great for me, but I'm digressing.

I've been waiting for Windows 8, wondering if I should upgrade my existing Windows machines and/or look into new Windows 8 hardware. What I'm finding is a growing reluctance to buy into the new OS. Everything I read about it suggests a kind of user experience set of hoops you have to jump through to be productive. I hear colleagues of mine saying the same thing. The root of my prejudice, though, is the Windows Phone, whose effort I applaud but whose interface I dislike. I've disliked it since the early days.

What bothers me about Windows 8 is that the primary motivation of the new UI (and one should really call it a bifurcated UI) is not to help me out and make life better for me as a user. Instead, the new UI seems motivated by marketing: it's a unification effort with the Windows Phone. In my opinion, Metro on the Windows Phone was an inspired effort to differentiate a user experience from competitors who had light-years worth of a head start in the market, but I never thought it was necessarily a better experience. Microsoft simply had to differentiate just to get in the game. I can concede the need for that paradigm shift on the phone, but it makes no sense to me for the desktop. Yes, you can debate the placement of tablets between the phone experience and the desktop, and the need for some sort of continuity in user experience. But when it comes to the desktop, Metro, or properly the Windows 8 UI, is not my cup of tea.

I never, ever installed Windows Vista. I was able to avoid mucking myself up in that disaster. For years I ran XP, and then gratefully upgraded to Windows 7, which I like (except for the idiocy of the name, which was surpassed in its idiocy only by Windows Phone 7). Names aside, I'm not wasting my time with an OS upgrade that provides no service to me. I don't see how Windows 8 on the desktop does anything but make my life more difficult. The desktop is not a phone, and it's usually not a tablet, either. In the case where I need a touch screen, then I want a user experience I like, and I do not like Metro. Worst of all, I do not like being shoe-horned into a marketing decision, and a desperate one at that, to break the current mold of touch-based user experiences. I recognize the need for Microsoft to have done so, but doing so and forcing me into it has lost me.

And thrown me into the arms of Apple where, after years of working on and with the Windows desktop shell, I never thought I'd be.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Two words why Facebook's sponsored stories will fail

"You shill."

Any user involvement in pushing advertising is going to result in negative peer pressure. If this is connected to Likes, then it's going to kill Likes. No one wants to see advertising in their stream. No one likes a hack. All it takes is an adapted pattern of behavior to kill the adopted behavior Facebook wants to promote. Shame will kill this effort. Just watch.

 I've had some ideas of my own toward mobile advertising, but more recently I've soured pretty severely on the whole notion. Why? Business models that create and build tangible things that people want to buy directly are much more interesting, viable, and, well yes, moral. The idea of all those brains and all that money trying to figure out how to sell advertisements instead of useful products is such a depressing statement about American business.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A tender moment

Me: Jacob, do you know how much I love you?
Jacob: Not enough to let me play Halo.

Monday, January 02, 2012

OMG! I actually agree with Rick Perry

"Governor, some of your staffers have told us..."

Perry won't bite, and good on him! Republican, Democrat, idiot, saint, whatever: It is fantastic to see someone stand up to a god awful lazy journalist taking back-biting comments from some coward hiding behind anonymity. It's no story that people grouse and complain. It's a story only when someone believes strongly enough in their position to put their name behind it. Anonymous sources, except in the most unusual, compelling circumstances, are a waste of everyone's time and a bane on journalism, such as it exists today in America.

How to define "compelling circumstances?" The same way Thurgood Marshall defined obscenity. We know it when we see it. The onus is on the journalist to make damn sure.

The likes of Mike Allen will never make the case.

Rick Perry, you're not going to get my vote, but one of your bozo bits has dropped from my evaluation. Nicely done!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Infallible logic

Reported earlier today by Sharon.

Jacob: Hey, I just cleared my plate off the table without anyone asking me to!
Sharon: But I just asked you to clear your plate.
Jacob: Yes, but I didn't listen to you.

Monday, August 23, 2010

His word is good with me

I take Mitch McConnell's word for it that he's not an idiot.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Religious bigots and a mosque in Manhattan

I don't write much on here. Writing about politics these days, in particular, is too depressing and useless. Maybe things have always been the same. You have only the snapshot of your lifespan with which to measure. If the inanity of today is matched by previous history, then the most I can say is that humans are terminally messed up.

With that as a premise, I have at least to say that what the Republicans in whole, and some cowardly Democrats in part are doing in demonizing Muslims is disgusting, sickening, and un-American. Hateful, fear-mongering demagogues have a shelf-life of effectiveness, a short one, followed by an eternity of historical condemnation. I hope for some brief period of enlightenment, perhaps in blinding clarity on their death beds, when they can contemplate on a wasted life. While these little people's names will fade in obscurity, their behavior will be lumped together in history's squalid examples of human intolerance.

In a few years, assuming it's still available, I'll have to re-read this story. With luck, things won't get worse. We'll just be a bunch of stupid people arguing over the right to use a building. But without luck, it will get uglier. Without people stepping up to protect minority rights, to defend the rule of law, to think not "like an American" but in this case, yes, "like a lawyer," our future is an unpleasant one.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Drone Wars II

What I said below, the UN reports with alarm several months later.
A senior United Nations official said on Wednesday that the growing use of armed drones by the United States to kill terrorism suspects is undermining global constraints on the use of military force. He warned that the American example will lead to a chaotic world as the new weapons technology inevitably spreads.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Drone wars

Roger Cohen discusses the science and ethics of Drone warfare. What I never read is how we're going to feel when this technology is adopted outside of the U.S. We act as if we have a monopoly on innovation. As Bill Gates said, robotics are today where computers were in 1980. Do we really think we're going to dominate in lethal robotics forever?

Killing people isn't rocket science and robotic killing isn't limited to remote sensor flying machines. People who want to kill are going to be creative with the technology. We have no moral high ground to stand on in this matter. As with all our other mistakes, we're just teaching the world how to do it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Steve Martin

I love this scene from the old Steve Martin film, The Jerk, where his character leaves an argument in a huff:
Navin R. Johnson: Well I'm gonna to go then. And I don't need any of this. I don't need this stuff, and I don't need you. I don't need anything except this.
[picks up an ashtray]
Navin R. Johnson: And that's it and that's the only thing I need, is this. I don't need this or this. Just this ashtray. And this paddle game, the ashtray and the paddle game and that's all I need. And this remote control. The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that's all I need. And these matches. The ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control and the paddle ball. And this lamp. The ashtray, this paddle game and the remote control and the lamp and that's all I need. And that's all I need too. I don't need one other thing, not one - I need this. The paddle game, and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches, for sure. And this. And that's all I need. The ashtray, the remote control, the paddle game, this magazine and the chair.
[walking outside]
Navin R. Johnson: And I don't need one other thing, except my dog.
[dog barks]
Navin R. Johnson: I don't need my dog.

Sharon said that Jacob was reprising the role this morning when he left the house, pointedly grabbing his ragged stuffed dog, a food container holding ten marbles, a book, his jacket, and wearing a horned Viking cap.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hypochondriac cat

It was 108 degrees yesterday, which is 42.2 if your keyboard lacks a Z and has an extra U. It's been over 90 here since, seemingly, Adam started wearing a loincloth and the house is now hot enough to bake bread without using the oven. It was 93 degrees inside the house until around 11:30 last night when mercifully, it dropped to 91 and I could go to sleep.

Needless to say, the cat no longer wants to live. Either that, or the cat absolutely loves this. She says she loves the heat, being a ferocious desert panther, but her heart doesn't seem quite in it when I see her sprawled on her side, only her eyeball moving, looking less panther and more flounder.

I stood over her in her room today. Yes, she has her own room, though she shares it with the washer and dryer, the latter recognized not as my appliance but as her high-tech Magic Fingers for KittyTM. Pity wells in my heart.

"You're hot," I say.

"You're perceptive," she says.

"You don't have to do this. It's cooler downstairs. You should try it."

"I'd rather stay here as my ancestors would."

I'm not a big fan of feline pride, so I pick her up and take her downstairs and put her on the tiled floor of the kids' bathroom. It is cool underfoot. It's the only way I know to communicate the idea.

"Lie down. Try it."

She rubs herself back and forth against my legs then regally and slowly walks her way back upstairs to her room. Flops down on her side. Eyeball rolling.

As I head back downstairs, I hear a small voice. "Indeed."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


The sun is setting right now in an angry red glow, snarling that it will be back again shortly. The house is 93F upstairs, and my sheltered outdoor thermometer peaked at 101.3. Tomorrow promises to be worse.

In the same year, we've experienced the lowest temperature (11F) and the highest I've seen since moving to Washington.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Good riddance

Yet another article on Palin musing over her future, as if Palin's plans have any more foresight and planning than the weekend plans of your local Safeway checkout clerk. It's aggravating to see this woman treated seriously, with never, ever a comment on the unfathomable judgement of John McCain and what it would have meant to this country had he and his selected wack job been elected.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The long knives

If you believe the latest stories about Sarah Palin, coming from Republican sources, then it's a pretty amazing thing to have a vice-presidential candidate who doesn't know which countries participate in NAFTA, confuses Africa for a country rather than a continent, and who stumbles as badly as Palin did in her one-on-one interviews with ABC, CBS, and Fox.

But these are Republican sources! They knew who they were dealing with at the same time they were marketing her to the country. They waited until after the election to start dishing on her as a dangerously ignorant, unqualified candidate. And their campaign motto was, "Country First."

Really? Really??

After eight years of this nonsense, the biggest relief will be to be rid of these faux patriots for once or for all.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Obama over the top

Watching the crowds celebrate at Grant Park, the networks having just projected Barack Obama the 44th president. Crying like a baby. A naive, idealistic hope two years ago and this man and our country have done it.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

You say tomato...

Here's a tough situation. Say you make a joke, maybe through email, based on a play of words where you purposefully twist the real meaning based on a clearly false, alternate meaning. It's a bit like a pun, not quite an ironic joke. What you get back is a huffy reply formally defining the word or words as if you didn't know or understand in the first place.

Awkward! Your ego immediately wants to jump into the game. "I know what the word means. See, see, I was just trying to make a joke. <Lame attempt at explanation follows>." It's aggravating. You want to defend your intelligence, but what you're having to do is confront someone else's lack of subtlety and imagination. Your ego gets in the way of cool, calm self-assurance. So what do you do?

Write a blog posting. Heh.

Actually, this made me think of McCain's snarky, "Senator Obama doesn't understand the difference between a strategy and a tactic." Obama was cool enough not to rise to the bait. But oh the irony!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

An earnest student

Watch the blinking eyes, the practiced, fine-tuned suppressed panic, the stalling for time, the questioning of terms she should know, all followed by the insertion of memorized boilerplate intended to fill time but to answer nothing. How is this any different than the student responding to oral examination when she's read only the CliffsNotes and is desperately trying to bullshit her way through the test? Teachers and professors see this all the time.

Sarah Palin. The most qualified Republican to be vice president.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


Dan Quayle, Clarence Thomas, Willie Horton, Lee Atwater, Newt Gingrich, Clinton impeachment, Karl Rove, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, WMD, Iraq, Nigerian yellowcake, Scooter Libby, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Torture, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Jack Abramoff, Tom Delay, Terry Schiavo, Wiretapping, Harriet Miers, Alberto Gonzales...

And their latest offering, Sarah Palin.


The contempt John McCain shows toward the electorate is hereby returned.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Texting with the ex

Her: Jacob is Mrs. Snow-ing me. Today he told me he couldn't eat the banana in his lunch becuz it was 'unexpected.'

Me: Who is mrs snow?

Her: Mrs snow from polyanna. She always wanted something different than what she was served.

Me: She was a character derived from jacob? <snark>

Her: Her and mr hyde

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I like this by Frank Wilson, which I found on Sullivan:
I used to get angry a lot, but I realized something about anger one day that pretty much cured me of it in a snap. What I realized was that I got angry because (a) I was hurt and (b) couldn’t really do anything about it. The anger was an expression of impotence. The one thing I could do about what had hurt me was rant about it. No sooner had I realized that than I asked myself, “Why bother?” It didn’t do any good. And it felt awful. There is nothing pleasant about feeling angry. Of course, there’s nothing pleasant about feeling hurt, either, but if you face up to the discomfort, it fades after a while. Anger just prolongs it, like picking at a scab.

I think that summarizes what I've learned about dealing with my own anger, though I never really put it into words. I wouldn't say that I've learned to suppress my anger, but I have learned the uselessness of it and I work hard to limit my expressing it. And I do my best to get over it very quickly.

My children may disagree with my assessment on this, however.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Activist judges

I keep looking at Antonin Scalia's dissension to the Guantanamo Bay habeas ruling:

"Scalia said the nation is 'at war with radical Islamists' and that the court's decision 'will make the war harder on us. It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.'"

In what way do these words form a part of a judicial ruling, especially from one who touts himself as a supporter of the original meaning point of view? Is Scalia suggesting that a ruling on habeas corpus depends on whether the bench thinks executive branch tactics are effective instead of constitutional? And even if he's correct in terms of policy, what does this have to do with constitutional interpretation? Isn't it possible for certain policies that are constitutional to put Americans at risk of death? Should we revoke driver licenses?

His line sounds like something you'd hear from a legislator (and a lunatic right-wing one, at that), not a justice. Judicial activism is meaningless as a code word for left leaning judges given its adoption by right wingers like Scalia.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A naif in Paris, part 3

For my final days in Paris, the weather threatened to break down into cooler temperatures and rain. This was the forecast all week, but it never happened, as if Paris had an invisible dome covering the city protecting it just for my benefit. Late Saturday afternoon, though, after a trip to Versailles to catch a glimpse of the gardens, the thunderclouds rolled in and I was trapped in a doorway near St. Germain while the heavens belched forth a gout of water. I had brought an umbrella, but it would have kept only my head and shoulders dry while the rest of me slogged through the growing river that the streat was becoming. Ok, I exaggerate a little here, but it was an impressive downpour, ignored by one or two nonplussed French women who pedaled their bikes through the road rapids while soaked to the skin. An impressive display.

I thought that I might miss my Magnificat concert on the Ile St. Louis if the weather stayed bad. But the rain faded and I took the half hour walk briskly to the island as the clouds lifted. Passing diners seated outdoor at numerous restaurants and cafes, I arrived at the church where a line was forming at the entrance. The concert was advertised to start at 8:30, but the doors didn't open until then and it seemed to me a tedious task as each person bought a ticket from a single table near the inside entrance of the church. It took about an hour to process the queue, and the concert didn't start until around 9:30.

While waiting outside the church in line, I noticed a plaque on the church wall, the contrast between the ancient stones of the church wall and the shiny newness of the plack quite evident. The plack was written in French, but I could understand most of it. Paraphrasing, it went something like: "We remember the sainted Jewish members of this school, arrested by the Nazi barbarians, aided by the collaborators of the Vichy government, and taken to the death camps. We will never forget them." It was dated 2004. I stood reading and re-reading the note, surrounded by Parisians who greeted each other in a manner making me think they must be members of this church. If there were other foreigners in line, I couldn't tell. I wondered what politics were involved in the posting of this sign, 60-some years after the crimes of the Nazis and the shame of Vichy France. I kept thinking, "2004. Why the wait?"

I don't spend much time inside of Catholic churches, so I have little to compare with. The church interior seemed preserved to be as old as the exterior, with stained glass windows, painted pictures of saints, and all the accoutrements of the church that I cannot name. The pipes of the organ lined the walls of the back of the church, and while the concert began with a small chorus gathered at the front of the church accompanied by a harpsichordist, violinst and violist, the latter pieces were performed with the organ, the chorus assembled up above the church floor at the rear of the church. It was a little strange. The pews all faced forward, yet the bulk of the concert was performed from behind the audience. About half the congregation contined to face forward, lost in thought with the music, while the other half twisted around to watch the performance. Being an American, I compromised in my end seat by facing the side wall, looking up at the performers from time to time.

It was a valiant effort, but either I'm a lousy critic and it was just less than optimal accoustics, or the singers lacked range and projection. Some in the audience displayed some familiarity, even friendship, with some of the performers, so I assumed this was an amateur performance by church members. In either case, I'm glad I attended, but I didn't stay for the whole thing.

I mentioned in another post what the walk back was like - bright moon, the lights of Notre Dame. It was a night time counterpart to my happy morning walks. I settled in late at a cafe on rue Jacob, where they served me toasted bread covered with melted cheese and ham. A peasant meal, but a pleasant one.

My last Sunday I took a farewell tour of my favorite sights, walking up rue St. Dominique to the Eiffel Tower, crossing the river and climbing the hill to the Champs Elysees. The Sunday morning streets were quiet, becoming a bit busier as time went on and as I approached the Champs Elysees. I passed the Crazy Horse club, recommended to me by a friend who suggested that I would enjoy watching the topless dancers. I laughed when I passed the club, since I half thought that I was having my leg pulled. It really was there, but I didn't regret seeing the city but not its breasts.

The sky threatened again, and I found my way to a cafe off the main street where I found that once again I was too late for what I wanted to order - this time, an eclair and coffee. I could have the latter, but not the former, I was told, so I substituted an omelette, instead, and ate slowly while the storm passed. I had walked by the Gucci store on the Champs Elysees, but it was closed as were all the high end shops in the neighborhood. I asked the waiter if any of them would open later and he shrugged, telling me I'd have to find out for myself. I walked back to the shops after my second breakfast, as Pippin and Merry would call it, and wandered around, considering buying expensive lingerie as a souvenir for a sweetheart I hoped to renew sweetheart status with soon.

I found a very upscale shop that was open, as a matter of chance as it turned out, because the owner decided on a whim to come in and open up for a couple of hours. She was a petite, slim, older French woman with silver hair and a style about her that suggested wealth and an ease around the young, beautiful and sexy. I felt like an American hick around her, and there was a strange, unspoken sort of communication between us that suggested an imagined conversation:

Her: Mon Dieu. I open my store on a Sunday and this guy comes in.
Me: I'm out of my league here, but the girl I want to buy this for is well within yours. Help me out here.
Her: Sigh. He's got money, so I'll choke down my pride.
Me: Sigh. She's going to squeeze me for all I'm worth.

She showed me a few flimsy things that I thought at first were just tissue paper for the gift boxes, but finally found something appropriately inappropriate. Or inappropriately appropriate. Whichever. That part of the story doesn't continue here.

My purchase in hand, or in bag, I completed the circuit of my long, long walk, crossing the Pont Alexandre III again and walking along the river back to the hotel. It was time to rest up for my flight the next morning, and I intended to get up early for my trip to the airport.

I said goodbye to the concierge at five the next morning, and he assured me he had no idea as to when the Metro opened but that I would certainly find out for myself. And I did, sitting in a train with its doors open on the C line for 10 minutes before noticing the sign hanging from the ceiling outside stating that the C line doesn't run until 6:30. I hopped off and did a forced march to the connecting station where I intended to catch the B line north to the airport. Hot and sweaty from my walk hauling my luggage, I found the B line to indeed be open at 5:30.

Unlike my trip from the airport to Paris, the reverse trip was more relaxed. I sat in the train across from a woman hunched deep in her overcoat, her little elf-like face peering briefly at me. I asked her in French whether the train went to the airport, and she smiled, nodded, and went back to her elf-like sleeping state. The sweat from my nervous walk to the station slowly dried off of me and my clothing, and the express train zipped to the airport, bypassing most of the stops I endured on my way in. A cool, grey morning passed by outside as I left Paris and entered once again, those spaces between spaces which are airports. When I got up from my seat, I was surprised to see my elf companion rise to no more than four and a half feet in height. I thought, "Child." But she wasn't. The flight home was easy, though long, with a half-empty flight and a row to myself.

It fades so quickly, they way I felt to be there. Back on the job, back home, it's how I knew it would be: memories like other memories without tangible senses to back them up. Just words and pictures. Not the aching joints from a long walk, the heat of the sun in Tuileries, or the sound of incomprehensible words, slowly building to a language I can think in. I closed my eyes in the metal tube of the airplane, and when I awoke it was again as if it had never happened.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A naif in Paris, part 2

A friend had pointed out to me that he stayed at a hotel at the Ile St. Louis, one of a pair of small islands in the Seine just to the southeast of my hotel. I decided to make a walk of it on the third morning of my visit, heading down rue St. Germain to where it ends at one of the bridges leading to St. Louis. St. Germain is the primary shopping district on the Left Bank, the yin to the Champs Elysees' yang. Branching off from St. Germain, you will find high end shops (though supposedly at lower prices than their Right Bank counterparts) such as Louis Vuitton and other haut fashion cathedrals of the sort to freeze a man's loins should he store his wallet nearby.

The river crossing to the Ile St. Louis afforded a view up the river to Notre Dame, which resides on the larger of the two islands. Those familiar with Paris will be scoffing at me here, but all this was new to me. I was actually astonished to see Notre Dame there, an utterly unexpected view. The Ile St. Louis seemed ancient to me, tightly packed with elegant old buildings serving as apartments and residences, with shops and restaurants on the street level. As with everywhere else in Paris, I would stop from time to time near a doorway to check with my iPhone to see if there was a free WiFi connection available, the seduction of technology too great for me to avoid even surrounded by the wonders of central Paris. I felt the need to fire off an email of the form, "Can you believe I'm seeing this?" It's akin to the cell phone call, "Guess where I am, now?"

The rue St. Louis en l'ile bisects the island parallel to the flow of the river around it. I think this was my favorite street of all I saw in Paris. Tall, old stone buildings to either side of the narrow road, it felt dark, slightly damp, as if I was tunneling deep into history leaving the sunshine of today far in the future. I walked the length of the island and back along this street, stopping for a brief while when I heard organ music playing. Inside a cathedral an organist was practicing and I stopped in the doorway to listen for awhile. I didn't go in, though the door was unlocked and open, but I read a flier outside the church advertising a concert the coming Saturday evening of a performance of four Magnificats, including Bach's. I made a mental note of this and decided to go to it. I'd see the inside of the cathedral then.

At the tip of the island was a bridge leading to Notre Dame on the other island. I crossed it, sat in the courtyard on the sunny side of Notre Dame and admired the architecture. The courtyard, more of a park actually, had public WiFi I'm both happy and ashamed to announce. Here I am at this architectural marvel and I'm still thinking about WiFi. I sat down to rest my aching back and fired off a note to Amy, telling her where I was and that I was hot on the lookout for Esmerelda. I didn't mention that with my back feeling the way it was, I was playing the role of the hunchback.

I walked along the street side of the cathedral to where the hordes of tourists were gathering at the main entrance. This was unpleasant, like a huge gathering of people getting into a baseball game. It had to be endured, though, if I wanted to spend time admiring the building itself, seeing it all finally for the first time.

At one point, a woman walked up to me holding a small hand written note and she asked me if I spoke English. I said yes, to which she thrust the note in front of me for reading. It said she was from Bosnia, had hungry children, needed money, etc., etc. That typical pang of guilt hit me as I read the note, but I noticed just past her shoulder an older woman shaking her head at me, wagging her finger in an expression of "Don't encourage the begging." I apologized to the woman with the note and moved on.

The other woman approached me and said, in French, that I should beware of the pickpockets. Soon, I saw what she meant as it seemed that every other person in the square was carrying a similar note, thrusting it in front of tourists. Swimming upstream against this current, I made my way to the bridge leading away from Notre Dame, answering everyone who asked me if I spoke English with, "I don't speak English" but in Russian. I considered using a cruder phrase that I've taught Amy (which translates literally to, "I'm wacking pears with my prick"), but decided maybe one of them actually speaks Russian. In any case, the Russian with the American accent made his way safely out of the danger zone. No one tried to kiss me.

If I have any regrets on my visit, and I don't really regret this to be honest, it was that I didn't indulge in fine restaurants. This was partly because, well, I'm just too damn shy to eat alone, and also because I could eat - happily and enjoyably - for so much less by just buying bread, fruit, and other items in the local markets and making a meal of that. The hotel served a very substantial breakfast that came with the cost of the room, so I made sure to have my "dinner" there, but at breakfast time. The rest of the day I improvised. I was never hungry, and I ended up not spending much money.

I had one meal at a good restaurant one evening, and this cemented my satisfaction in my alternate plan. An order of fois gras and raviolis baked in cream and thick, grilled cheese made me realize I could actually die (happily of course, but thoroughly dead) from the heaviness of the food. I couldn't finish the fois gras, but the waiter wouldn't take the remains. It became a battle of sorts, probably not unlike the stalemates of World War I trench warfare, my not eating the remainder and the waiter bending unspoken pressure on me not to be a German pig and leave good food behind.

I lost the battle and sheepishly choked it down. It was really good, of course, but eating that much made me feel as if the poor duck was getting a measure of sweet vengeance for its treatment in life.

My favorite meal was an impromptu picnic of baguette, apples, orange juice and macaroons, the latter procured at Laduree, a bakery recommended by another Seattle friend. I ate this while sitting on a bench in the Jardin Tuileries, basking in the warm evening glow, watching the children play and the lovers stroll about the gardens. What can I say but that I'm a romantic at heart - everyone in Paris is a romantic at heart - and I thought about a certain beautiful girl and what it would have been like to have her there with me. This notion crossed my mind many times while in Paris. Walking across the Seine after the Magnificat concert on the Ile St. Louis around 11pm, the moon riding high in the sky, Notre Dame lit up by lights, the couples leaning on each other as they walked holding hands - I made a mental note to try taking a date here sometime in the future.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A naif in Paris

It's magic. You step into this long aluminum tube, close your eyes for about ten hours, and when you open them you're on another continent. Everything still looks like planet Earth, but the scenery is different, and the people speak a different language, but you don't feel like you've been physically displaced. Since airports all look alike, the effect is especially pronounced.

So my first encounter with the reality of being on a different continent, in a different country, on the other side of the globe was navigating my way through the French metro system. Getting to the metro was enough of a challenge - finding my way via airport shuttle to immigration and then to the RER station was a wide-eyed, opened ear exercise in paying attention to what was said and sucking the life out of anything written in English. I felt a little less alone when I stood in line at the ticket machine with other foreigners, attempting to decode the French instructions for purchasing a ticket.

Long story short: I found my way to the hotel despite guessing wrong on a metro transfer. My first attempt at real French was to ask a hurrying commuter which way was it to the St. Michel platform. She was magnifique, not only explaining slowly in semi-understood French, but actually leading me there even though she was headed in another direction. So much for French aloofness.

It was a sweaty, unnecessarily long journey to the hotel what with the botched transfer, the milk run out of the airport instead of the express train to the city center, and the walk from the Musee d'Orsay to my hotel. But I arrived to a friendly hotel staff, took to my room, had a shower, and ventured out in the early afternoon.

The Hotel Pont Royal is just off the rue du Bac, and looking across the street I noticed Amy's favorite shop, though in French, non-pornographic form.

The Pont Royal - the bridge rather than the hotel - is just down the rue du Bac and leads over the Seine to the Louvre. I wanted to see the grounds first and foremost, so I had my first look at the river and the elegantly arched bridges. It was warm and sunny, the sky and reflected light off the buildings so bright as I squinted my way to the grounds between the Louvre and the Jardin Tuileries.

It's probably not worth mentioning my impressions. What could be said about the architecture, the majesty, the mood, that hasn't been said thousands of times by others? What I felt about seeing such things for myself was more of a personal nature. The fact that I was in Paris despite my inhibitions, on my own, without pressures of time or work or children was enough to make everything I looked at very beautiful, unique, and personal.

I surely looked the part of an obvious tourist, though I was walking about with no bag on my shoulder, wearing a shirt and jeans. I didn't feel out of place, but, then, the Louvre and Tuileries are mostly the gathering places of tourists. So I shouldn't have been surprised when, alone in a side area of the Louvre grounds, a pretty young woman bent down to pick something up off the ground and presented it to me. She spoke only French to me:

She: Monsieur, I think this is gold. Someone must have lost it.
Me: Hmmm.
She: Do you think I should keep it?
Me: Oui. Bien sur.
She: No, I think I will give it to you.
Me: Non, non. Mais, merci.
She: Yes, take it as a welcome to Paris.

She handed it to me, then embraced me, kissing my left cheek, then my right. As she walked off, I was thinking I could really enjoy this visit. But then she turned around and asked me for money.

She: I am hungry and need money. Could you give me something for food?
Me: Sigh (pulling a 5 Euro note from my pocket)
She: I need 10 Euros, please. A sandwich costs 10 Euros.
Me: Non, desole. C'est tout.
She: No, you have 10. Please give me 10.
Me: Non. Je suis desole.

After she walked off, the paranoia set in and I began to think the whole thing was a ruse to distract me while she attempted to pick my pocket. I think with my wallet and passport in my front jeans pockets, it was too difficult and she found nothing during her embrace to take from me. I am such the innocent. Later, various people would warn me about the varied techniques of the pickpockets who prey on unwary tourists. I'm sure it was only my sinister, Clint Eastwood-like presentation that protected me and my valuables.

I walked on and admired the Louvre, not worrying myself as I probably would have at home. I loved this framed view, so I took a quick snapshot.

What I enjoyed most about my stay in Paris was to walk, and walk, and walk. Each day I would head out in a different direction and walk as far as my tired feet would take me. While I think I'm in pretty decent shape, riding my bike at home each day, walking woke up new muscles, not familiarly used, and my lower back ached after a few miles. While my legs and feet hurt a bit, it wasn't the grief my lower back gave me. By the end of my visit, though, I felt that I could walk forever, at least with a better pair of walking shoes than those I brought.

I loved the narrow Paris streets. What would seem like tiny unused alleyways in the States were major thoroughfares, and cars would be parked nose-to-bumper on the sides. Most cars were Citroens and tiny "smart cars," a few of which you see in Seattle - half-sized tiny cars used for city driving and parking. About 35% of the traffic was motocycles and motorized scooters, zipping in and out of traffic lanes between the cars. The scooters are loud and are a primary component of the constant Paris background noise.

For my first full day in Paris, I decided to walk to the Champ de Mars and see the Eiffel Tower. I also decided to try to buy a French SIM card for my iPhone, the iPhone I purchased to act as a mini-laptop for my trip. I had unlocked the thing before I left, inserting a T-Mobile SIM that I thought would work in France, albeit with steep per-minute international roaming fees. But when I landed at the airport, I found that the card gave me no service for reasons still not understood.

Looking at a map, I decided to walk along rue Grenelle which would lead to the Champ de Mars. Along the way, I stopped at a tobacco shop - these are everywhere in Paris -to try to purchase a SIM card. This was another exercise for my language skills - the shopkeeper spoke only French to me though she was very sympathetic of my attempts. It was actually very encouraging to me, and I got a rush from it similar to the kind of rush I get from coding software, the thrill of figuring something out and decoding an unfamiliar language. I was able to understand from her, and a patron sitting at the bar (tobacco shops often provide food/coffee services - think upscale 7-11), that I could get only a service recharge at tobacco shops and needed to go to an Orange or SFR shop to get a SIM card, Orange and SFR being French mobile providers. The patron showed me on my map where to find one on rue St. Domanique.

It was a lucky encounter because I found I really loved the walk along St. Domanique, and would return that way many times during my stay. The street passed through government ministry buildings, guarded by police/military with automatic rifles, then the Esplanade des Invalides - a panhandle shaped park leading up to the buildings of the Invalides, and then a very pleasant shopping district that seemed to be devoid of tourists during the times I walked there. I usually took my first walk of the day early, around 8 or 9 am, and the shops would be opening or being prepared for open, with people hosing down the sidewalks in front of their shops, sweeping, or dusting off their windows and entrances.

The streets are the city's garbage cans. Everyone throws their cigarette butts into the gutters, or sweeps off the refuge of the sidewalk onto the streets, and magically everything is gone the next day. I suppose some combination of street cleaners and rain water flushes everything away to the sewage treatment centers, but the streets are clean and tidy every morning.

The halfway mark of my first day's walk was the Champ de Mars and the Eiffel Tower. I sat on a couple of benches, looking at the tower from different vantage points, enjoying the rest from walking and the absolutely magnificent day of blue skies and soft, warm temperatures. It was this first day of walking that I realized I was almost religiously happy, happy to a previously unknown degree, utterly content with just being alive and being in Paris. I hope I never forget how happy I was that first full day and the other days I stayed in Paris. I guess it's a bit sad to say that that sort of happiness in living for the moment was foreign to me and a surprise. It's difficult to describe. I was happy.

I played tourist, taking pictures of the obvious.

I sat on a bench watching these two men pulling up old flowers, preparing the ground for new plantings. A woman came by and snipped flowers for an impromptu bouquet. It was very quiet, being early in the morning for the tourists and for Parisians who start their day and end their day later than I'm used to.

I thought about how Jacob would love looking at the Eiffel Tower, the ultimate Erector Set project, with its interconnecting rails and braces, stairways and platforms, and elevators running diagonally up from the ground and finally straight up to the platform near the top. If he were there, I would have told him to run up and down the stairs to the first platform as exercise. He would have said, "Daa-aad."

Along with the Champ de Mars and Jardin Tuileries, my favorite place to just sit, think, and look was the Jardin du Luxembourg, the site of the French Senate with spacious gardens, fountains, and statues. I visited here several times when I wanted an excuse to just sit and not do anything at all. I made my first visit on this same first day, and by the time I returned back to my hotel my body was aching from all the walking. But the gardens were wonderful and sitting in the shade was a great relief from the sun that was turning my face and head beet red. I neglected to bring a hat, thinking somehow that through strict fashion sense I would be protected from any sunshine and not wanting to look like some hayseed tourist even though that's what I most assuredly must have looked like anyway.

Another target of one of my long walks was along the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe. I walked here several times, my favorite route being across the Pont Alexandre III bridge with its gold leaf decorations, past the Grand Palais and the statue of Charles de Gaulle (with flowers left by admirers at his feet). The Champs Elysees leads up a steady hill to the Arc, with a huge traffic circle at the center of twelve connecting streets. Here I would sit and watch the traffic zip around the Arc, amazed at the simple mathematical impossibility that scores of deaths weren't occuring each hour. Really, I was fascinated by what I was seeing there - the steady inflow of traffic from the feeding streets, the maneuvering of cars, scooters, motorcycles, and bicycles ridden by elderly women carrying long baguettes under their arms as they sped around the circle, paying attention to no particular lane markers, sliding in and out radially from the center of the circle as they tried to make their exit. Honking was indiscriminate, less to warn or to scold than to just announce that, "I'm here, damnit, and I'm French."

I wouldn't drive through that roundabout if I were paid good money to do so. Later in my visit, though, I was driven through it as a passenger, but I remember little of it due to my eyes being tightly closed.

I loved the Champs Elysees and the side streets, especially Avenue Montaigne which hosts an expensive cloister of upscale Parisian clothing stores, the wet dreams of high maintenance women and the nightmares of their men. The Right Bank was definitely of a different character than the Left Bank, and I enjoyed exploring both.

More to come...

Friday, May 09, 2008


In October, the headlines will be about the dismay and gloom of the GOP in anticipation of the next month's election. It's May now. With five months to rally the Democrats, build name recognition, and spread the word of his rationalist, pragmatic, unifying approach, just watch the tidal wave engulf the Bush/Rovians.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Face book

I loved this, from Slate's Emily Yoffe:
I also enjoyed watching the backdrop behind Hillary—the shifting facial expressions of Bill Clinton. I'm always intrigued by the semiotics of what she does with Bill. At the last few election nights she's had him in camera range as she spoke; whenever she has him close it seems to signal she feels she's in trouble. At first Bill watched her with that lip-biting look of enchantment we know so well, but as the speech wore on the mask seemed to drop and you could almost read his thoughts: "Hill, you haven't got it. I've got it, and you haven't, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. Hill, guess what, all those years you sacrificed for my career—well, it turns out I wasn't holding you back. You're only on this stage because of me, and even so, now that it's your turn and you had everything in your favor—Hill, you just haven't got it. And let's face it, Obama, he's got it."

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Four more years!

From today's NYT regarding Hillary Clinton's support for a gas tax "holiday." Instead of naming an economist who agrees with her views, she says,
"I’m not going to put in my lot with economists,” she said. A few moments later, she added, “Elite opinion is always on the side of doing things that really disadvantages the vast majority of Americans.
A wrong-headed policy based on political expediency rather than on the facts, a disdain for and ad hominem attack on those who disagree with her. Gee, who does that sound like?

And who is she appealing to?
In an interview after the program, however, Mark Moorman, another audience member and a firefighter, said he shared Mrs. Clinton’s mistrust of experts. Political candidates cite economists but they “never say anybody’s name, or where the study came from,” he said. “So as far as me, it doesn’t have no relevance.”