Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Golly, do I feel old

I regularly run into situations at work where I or another colleague make a cultural reference and are greeted by blank stares by younger members of the staff. More than once, insightful references to "The Breakfast Club," the single big hit by "a-Ha", and "Magnum P.I." have fallen flat with a portion of the conversational participants. Thankfully, references from the early 90s at least still manage to get that "oh, I understand what he's talking about" look.

Intended to help teachers understand how their students' frame of reference is dramatically different, the Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2014 just makes me realize just how much has changed from when I was in college to the students who will be working for us as interns this year (#19 "They never twisted the coiled handset wire aimlessly around their wrists while chatting on the phone."; #46 "Nirvana is on the classic oldies station.").

Geewhilickers, do I even speak the same language as them?

Monday, August 16, 2010


With a budget of $10 million dollars and 170 years of history on the line, restoration teams and shipwrights are painstakingly restoring the Charles W. Morgan, the last remaining American wooden whaling vessel, with an eye not only toward making her last for another 170 years but to take her sailing once again.

I am absolutely fascinated by this project, spotlighted in today's New York Times, as well as with the Morgan, Mystic Seaport, and wooden sailing ships in general. The breathtaking simplicity and beauty of a tall ship under sail belie the complexity of the wooden sailing machine itself. From a distance, it's all hull and masts and sails but up close, it's a fantastical maze of lines and blocks that to an untrained eye would seem impossible to decode. The idea of restoring the Morgan so she can head to sea is a wonderful one that I hope will fire the imagination of young children who watch the ship sail by or walk her decks in some port here in New England.

That's how it  happened to me though with a book rather than seeing a ship. At age 11 my father gave me my first copy of C.S. Forester's Beat to Quarters. Reading about Captain Horatio Hornblower and his battles against Napoleon's navy absolutely captured me. My dad and I played Wooden Ships & Iron Men incessantly. Then I read the now-out-of-print Eagle of the Sea by Bruce Grant and had to visit the U.S.S Constitution in Charlestown, MA. I can't get enough of the TV footage of the grand old ship whenever she is under sail as happened in 1997, just in time for her 200th birthday. I think it says something about me that my first official date with the woman who would eventually become my wife involved taking her to the U.S.S. Constitution on a late December afternoon followed by Mexican food at The Border Cafe. I think if I was going to make one entirely selfish wish, it might be to have been aboard for that 1997 sail or, since I can't go back in time, to be aboard for the annual "turnaround cruise".

As I sit here at my desk, I can glance over my shoulder to a huge framed poster of Mystic Seaport and its many vessels. Directly to my right is a vintage poster promoting visits to the H.M.S. Victory in Portsmouth, England (my visit there almost 20 years ago was something of a religious experience for me), while a calendar of sailing vessels, a large framed photo of wooden workboats in Grenada, and a photo of the light cruiser U.S.S. Montpelier all face me on the wall behind my desk. I won't bore you with the recitation of the other photos and posters of ships that I've seen and sailed upon spread throughout the house. And of course, there are the books...well, that recitation would just take far far too long.

Instead, I'll just think about seeing the Morgan under sail sometime in 2011 and while I've been on board her many times over the years at Mystic, I think it's pretty safe to say that I'll brave the lines and crowds when she sails into Newport or New Bedford to have my imagination fired up again.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Guess we'll need to buy a Blu-Ray player next year

Apparently the original Star Wars trilogy is being rereleased (again) for home viewing but this time it's on Blu-Ray and with some never-before seen scenes.

I've lost track of how many versions of the Star Wars trilogy I've owned. I think I've emptied my wallet at least for:

  • the original theatrical release on video
  • the remastered version on video
  • the Special Edition on video (I'm sorry, Mr. Lucas, but not matter how you change it, Han shot first)
  • and the official final real director's version on DVD
That doesn't even begin to take into account the number of times I paid to see the first three Star Wars movies in the theatre (both during the original releases and the 20th anniversary rerelease in 1997).

And while not everyone will agree with me, those tickets, videos, and DVDs were worth every penny.

Now, it's being reissued again and this time with deleted scenes that I don't think were ever in the theatrical cut. Plus, it's in high-def. Part of me knows it's a scam to transfer another $50 from my wallet to George Lucas' but damn if it doesn't have me thinking about upgrading to Blu-Ray sometime next year. 

I am such a dork.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

In case you were wondering...

A team of mathematicians and some massive computers loaned by Google have proven that it is possible to solve Rubik's Cube in 20 moves, no matter the starting position of those seemingly simple yet fiendishly complicated colored cubes.

And on a related note, the world record for solving the Cube is 7.08 seconds, which makes my successful 1-hour effort when I was 11 seem rather humdrum. Oh well.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Iceberg ahead!

If you're planning a leisurely cruise through the North Atlantic, keep an eye out. An ice island 4 times the size of Manhattan is adrift and heading for shipping lanes and offshore oil fields. Probably a result of global warming and too big to divert or redirect, apparently we now need to wait for it to melt. Oh, the environmental catastrophe irony!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

600 Yawns

Alex Rodriguez hit his 600th home run today.


In the years following the steroid-enhanced 80s and 90s, what would have once been a milestone for baseball fans everywhere to cheer instead carries absolutely no weight or interest for me. The spectre of the cheater looms large over all of these records. While I've never liked him as a player, I once looked forward to Rodriguez erasing that monster of all tainted records -- Barry Bonds' lifetime home run record. Now, I'll never be able to see it as anything but a record by a cheat eclipsing another record by another cheat.

It's a damn shame. I love baseball and always have but the needle and the 'roids have spoiled much of what I once cheered. Yes, I watched when Mark McGuire surpassed Roger Maris and while he was blown up like Mr. Stay Puft, I didn't know much about anabolic steroids or ever think of them being used in baseball and so was willing to cheer along with the crowds.

The revelation that David "Big Papi" Ortiz had been caught in the drug testing made me wonder about his Red Sox record for single season home runs as well as the validity of the 2004 and 2007 World Series. (The revelation that Manny Ramirez had been caught with female hormones used to mask steroids in his system didn't really surprise me...he was such a flake nothing about him surprised me.)

Now I look at records being set and amazing things in the game and always face a niggling doubt that what I'm seeing isn't real.

Hank Aaron's hallowed record is nothing but a hollow bit of fakery in the hands of these charlatans. While Major League Baseball won't admit it, Hammerin' Hank Aaron and Roger Maris are still the true home run kings.

Picture of the Day

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Annals of (in)tolerance Part 2

The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission today approved a plan that will permit a Muslim fellowship center to be built a few blocks from Ground Zero.

Good for them.

While I can't know what it feels like to have lost a friend or loved one in the events of 9/11 and respect how those families feel, it's not those individuals who scare me. It's the politicians and isolationists who are using this issue to further their political ends while promoting hatred and fear of those of the Islamic faith. After I commented (in my own personal snarky fashion) about the bigotry on display over this issue, Will Saletan at Slate.com published a scathing, outstanding rebuke to the isolationists and the threat that they pose to the values that America was founded upon and that they supposedly uphold. And if there's any doubts about the views of our Founding Fathers, I encourage you to read Matthew Duss' recent post regarding George Washington's own words on the subject of religious tolerance.

Sadly, this groundswell of xenophobia is rearing its ugly head in so many places. The recent confirmation hearings for Elena Kagan, for example, showed us Republican senators like John Kyl who declared that he's troubled by the idea of examining how other countries are coping with the legalities of a rapidly changing world because "because it suggests that you could turn to foreign law to get good ideas."

Thankfully, people are willing to stand up in the face of ignorance and bigotry and veiled hatred. The Commission in New York was no doubt under a huge amount of pressure to quash the chances of the fellowship center as was Mayor Mike Bloomberg. I hope the commission members have unlisted phone numbers because I shudder to think about the hateful rants being left on their voice mails tonight. Even if they weren't directly taking a stand on the fellowship center itself, they knew what their decision meant and went ahead with it anyway.

And I'll leave you with one final link to a excellent editorial from today's New York Times, celebrating the powerful speech by Associate Justices of the Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsberg in favor of taking an international view of the law and our place in the world.

Picture of the Day