Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The "second-worst-case scenario"

In times of disaster, people think of the small things.

My friend Todd writes from Tulsa: "I called my house [in New Orleans], and amazingly the phone still works. That has to be a good sign."

Another friend emailed me from her refuge in Alabama. Among other things, she is "weirdly grieving out of all proportion for the books I left behind."

A third friend, whom I haven't heard from in a while, works at the Times-Picayune, which I have been reading. I too think of small things, like whether he was on one of the delivery trucks that evacuated T-P staffers after the roads became impassable for cars.

(Terry Teachout has been linking to Katrina-related blog reports.)

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Actual New York licence plate, seen on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Political wisdom of the day

Novelist Walter Kirn, guest-blogging on Andrew Sullivan:
This red-blue thing isn't real: it's a grid put down on the landscape by lazy pundits in order to foster a conflict that isn't there so the poeple who profit from conflict can work their way with us.
I suspect that far more of politics is about the interests of jostling factions of the political class than those of us who follow it prefer to admit. Red-blueism doesn't just overlook those interests, it obscures them, to the public's detriment.

Walter follows with a fascinating snapshot of Montana culture (his home state).

Monday, August 22, 2005

A "very different way of measuring success"

The editors of the Washington Monthly have a new ranking of colleges and universities. They "asked what colleges are doing for the country" by measuring their contributions to social mobility, to scientific and engineering research, and to community and national service.

Their top ten:
1. MIT
3. UC-Berkeley
4. Cornell (Go Big Red!)
5. Stanford
6. Penn State
7. Texas A&M
9. U. Penn
10. Michigan
The Monthly's editors admit that their formula is imperfect. True enough, but it's great to see a popular (well, sort of popular) measure of higher education based on social outputs rather than inputs. By contrast, a school's ranking in U.S. News is determined mainly by its financial resources and the SAT/GPA numbers of the entering class.

Of course, the most important thing is that Cornell does much better than in U.S. News.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Toward a theory of tolls

Recently observed:

Bronx to Queens, by Whitestone Bridge: $4.50
New Jersey to Manhattan, by any tunnel or bridge: $6
Brooklyn to Staten Island, by Verrazano Narrows Bridge: $9

I'm glad that I don't believe that prices express intrinsic value. But can anyone explain the last one? Seriously?

Oh, and by the way:

NYC to NJ, by any tunnel or bridge: Priceless.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Another day, another library

I go to a different research library, again to concentrate on my work and look up a few quotations. This one is on a university campus. On a Monday evening in mid-August, the campus is quiet, its library more so.

The plush lounge where I seat myself is decorated with memorabilia of the Class of '37, which apparently paid for these luxurious furnishings — couches in leather and handsome cloth, even a grandfather clock. My only company are two or three young women (graduate students?) and an older man in a tee-shirt and khakis (a professor, maybe?). The picture of scholars, we all keep our heads down, typing into our laptops.

Me too. At least, until the older fellow across the room loudly whispers at his computer: "Fuck ... fuck .... god damn it ..."

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Do ... not ... procrastinate

I am sitting in a research library facing the public internet terminals. The scholarly atmosphere helps me to concentrate on the work I need to do.

One man in front of me was watching television commercials for drug store products: Sudafed, Benadryl and Listerine. I really want to know why, but can't figure out how to ask.

A woman opened up a journal article on JSTOR, left her bag on the seat and disappeared for an hour. Now she's back.

Another woman was reading blogs, but now she's gone.

Who am I to throw stones? On my own laptop, I'm blogging, too.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Under new management

There's a deli at 43rd and Baltimore that used to be called The Wurst House. It has recently been renamed The Best House.

Both names were a stretch.