Tuesday, April 16, 2002

ON SECOND THOUGHT, I decided that my rant against the term "homicide bombers," originally posted here, belongs on my real site.

Monday, April 15, 2002

I'VE BECOME OBSESSED with chardonnay. You know, the ubiquitous white wine that everybody was crazy for 15 years ago or so? I've always been a red-wine guy; in fact, I was way ahead of merlot-mania. I drank a lot of merlot in the early 1980s, and I think I even invented a wine-tasting term. If you've read anything about wine you've probably seen flavors and bouquets compared to such prosaic things as pineapple and pears and berries and jam, and such esoteric items as bell peppers, cigar boxes and the forest floor. But have you ever seen "cobbler" used in wine criticism? Yep: Back then, at least, certain merlots (like, oddly, certain batches of Pepsi) had an off taste that can be described only as like the pastry part of fruit cobbler.

Anyway, I've made up for my prescience on merlot with this very belated discovery of chardonnay. We're way past even the chardonnay backlash. Near as I can tell, it's OK to like chardonnay now, as long as you steer clear of the stereotypical big and buttery ones. Which ones to I like? As buttery as possible, please. My chardonnay drinking started with a popular Australian label, Lindemans Bin 65. Nice and buttery. But then somebody gave me a bottle of Chateau Ste. Michelle chardonnay, from the state of Washington. Much more buttery. And the great thing about not knowing a heck of a lot about wine is that whatever you like goes with all kinds of food.

I drank a lot of chardonnay over the past week as Jacqueline and I visited her parents' April retreat at Amelia Island, in north Florida. The fourth-floor condo was right on the ocean, with a long balcony. Quite spectacular. But the Florida tourism people should pay me to stay away: As it has before, my arrival coincided with a surprise attack of rainy, chilly weather. I was able to frolic in the surf a few times, but the sun didn't appear until Sunday, as we packed to leave. At least I got a lot of reading done.

We had originally planned to drive, but we flew. I don't think we'll be making that mistake again for a trip of that relatively modest distance. Nothing horrible, but the usual hassles. Malcolm Gladwell, whose wonderful book The Tipping Point I finished on this trip, has a good little essay on the Slate site about the stupidity of the current state of airline security. He doesn't mention my big gripe, which is the misguided focus on whatever happened last. Because Richard Reid had a bomb in his shoe, suddenly the shoe is the most dangerous thing in the airport. If some madman packs his penile implant with plastic explosives, I guess the security folks will have us whipping out our schlongs.

I've also been reading:

  • Leonard Downie Jr. and Robert G. Kaiser, The News About the News: American Journalism in Peril
  • Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer, Washington Confidential
  • Linda Amster (editor) and Dylan Loeb McClain (editor) with Allan M. Siegal (introduction), Kill Duck Before Serving: Red Faces at The New York Times
  • Anders Henriksson (compiler), Non Campus Mentis: World History According to College Students
  • Ruth Reichl, Comfort Me With Apples: More Adventures at the Table
  • Anthony Bourdain, A Cook's Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal
  • Geoffrey Nunberg, The Way We Talk Now

  • Thursday, April 04, 2002

    LEFT-TURN ARROWS are neither universal nor pre-emptive of the usual left-turn methodology. You motorists out there do understand that, right?

    I keep getting stuck in left-turn lanes behind people who stop at a green light and just sit there, awaiting their little ultra-specific pat on the head. Let's review: Absent a "left turn on arrow only" sign, the first car waiting to turn left should pull into the intersection and turn when it becomes safe. Often this means toward the end of the yellow light. If late yellow-light runners mean it isn't safe until the light turns red, so be it — wait for the red. But you don't have to wait for the arrow.

    ON THE OTHER HAND, to go over a point I've probably made before, people also seem not to understand that a wait — at least a brief one — is required before turning right on red. The right-on-red law doesn't mean "Go ahead"; it means "Stop, then go if the coast is clear."

    If people were responsible enough and smart enough to understand that whole coast-is-clear business, perhaps a straight-on-red or even left-on-red exception would be appropriate. (Why should I have to wait at a light when I'm the only car on the fricken road?) But people are neither smart nor responsible, and so traffic laws must make things as simple and clear-cut as practical both for them and for the often-not-so-smart-themselves cops who enforce those laws. I fear that could mean the end of right turns on red before too long.

    Wednesday, April 03, 2002

    CATCHING UP. Sorry, but this might take a while.

    Saturday, March 23, to Tuesday, March 26
    A business-and-pleasure trip to Michigan, where I spent my first 17 years (I've probably mentioned my birthplace, Pottsville, Pa., here, but we left Pennsylvania before my first birthday). Don, a friend and former colleague who now works at the Kalamazoo Gazette, invited me to talk to the staff there about copy editing. So I arranged to fly to Detroit first so I could spend Saturday with Paul, a friend who I met in junior high school.

    Paul lives in Ann Arbor, so I didn't get to do the suburban-Detroit nostalgia thing — but I did get to go to Ann Arbor, which is a good thing. I make fun of Michiganders for their aversion to city life. Say the words "downtown Detroit" to a white person in Madison Heights or Warren or Troy and he'll shudder. But there's a pretty good reason for that mind-set. Detroit remains scarred from the riots of the late 1960s. It's a huge city, geographically, and there was only so much "renaissance" to go around. And while Detroit was once a thriving urban center, it was never the kind of place that today's "new urbanists" remember so fondly. The blocks were built for cars, not pedestrians (remember, it is Motor City), and that makes a big difference. On foot, homesteaders can reclaim an area block by block. Forced to travel by car, they are likely to feel as though their historic house or beautiful loft apartment is a fortress.

    But there are some great downtowns near Detroit. Royal Oak, a suburb near the suburb where I grew up, has one. And Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan, has another.

    I flex my meager public-speaking muscles once or twice a year, mainly at the annual conference of the American Copy Editors Society (ACES), but I still dread public speaking and I still suck at it. It's not so much the stage fright (though there is that). I just have no presence. I don't speak much even privately, so my already reedy little voice has to go into overdrive to "project." Not that I'm not one of those people who speak too softly in such a position; no, that would be stupid.

    Oh, the presentations usually go just fine, with one notable exception. Kalamazoo was fine; ACES in Dallas was fine — almost good, even; ACES in Long Beach was borderline. ACES in Baltimore? My apologies if you were there.

    The Kalamazoo talk went just fine, aside from a photocopying glitch that left me with the wrong props. (As if I needed another reason to never, ever let someone else do something I could do myself.) Good questions go a long way.

    The trip home was, well, a trip. I got up at 4 a.m. to make my 6 a.m. flight and return my rental car. Returning the car meant simply leaving it, as Avis doesn't get up that early in Kalamazoo. Then Delta Connection/Comair canceled my flight, which meant that instead of spending a few hours on a layover in Cincinnati, where I could have at least hunted down a "four-way" bowl of chili, I got to spend a few hours in Kalamazoo, where I was treated to a campaign rally by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.). I didn't have the heart to tell Mr. Upton that people in airports don't tend to be local constituents.

    Delta arranged to put me on American Airlines to Chicago and then United from Chicago to Washington. The connection was too tight to allow me to check my bag, I was told, so it was carry-on all the way. Carry-on on a commuter airline is quite sweet: They take the bag and put it in the hold when you get on, then give it back to you when you get off. Very nice.

    In Chicago, the carry-on situation wasn't so convenient. The monitor said my flight to Washington was already boarding when I got off the flight from Kalamazoo, so I hurried over to the new gate, where I was the last person to board. That didn't stop everyone in a half-mile radius from checking my driver's license, and then I got the full search. The searchers gave me the "Haven't you been reading the papers?" stare when they found my nail clippers, and I don't blame them. I just kept repeating robotically, "I tried to check my bag, but they wouldn't let me." At least I got to keep my shoes on; they just had me lift my feet so they could pass the wand underneath. (Speaking of not wearing shoes, on a day when snow delayed flights into and out of Chicago, a sizable proportion of the female crowd at O'Hare was wearing sandals. I have a hard time considering that a valid fashion statement even in hot weather, but has this desire to display our ugliest body parts gotten so out of hand that we're willing to risk frostbite for it? And given the close quarters of modern air travel, I think the mandate to keep one's tootsies to oneself goes double for those boarding flights.)

    I'm starting to like United Airlines, though. Half-empty plane, exit row and the extra legroom of "Economy Plus" seating!

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