Thursday, January 22, 2004

Friday again, already

The FridayFive asks:

At this moment, what is your favorite...

Brudda Iz doing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World"

warm sauteed greens and goat cheese on a toasted onion roll

3. show?
Firefly (on DVD)

4. ...scent?

5. ...quote?
"(He) began to feel the acute depression that steals over every realist in the presence of an optimist." (Terry Pratchett, Strange Gods)

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Wisdom of the Web

In this past week's issue of The New Yorker, Katha Pollitt (of Mother Jones fame) writes about tracking her ex-boyfriend online after he walked out on their seven-year relationship. She uses her personal experience to write, wonderfully non-judgmentally, about what the Web has done to enhance our ability to find out about people, and yet how unsatisfying and even surrealistic that information can be. There's plenty of humor (she unexpectedly gets an online view of his new sweetie's apartment, complete with some of their old furnishings) and wisdom. If someone asks me in 25 years what the Web was like in the "olden days," I'll pull out this article.

Friday, January 16, 2004

A belated response to the recent Friday Five

The Friday Five asks:

1. What does it say in the signature line of your emails?
Mac OS X mail lets you keep a whole library of signatures, specify defaults, and apply alternates at will. My favorite, particularly for communicating with arrogant Luddites, is:
"The question of whether computers can think is like the question of whether submarines can swim."
--Edsger Wybe Dijkstra

2. Did you have a senior quote in your high school yearbook? What was it?
We didn't have quotes in our yearbook. We did have a senior will, in which we left things to people. I'd love to find a copy of that...I remember leaving a particularly obsequious underclassman kneepads "for more comfortable groveling." Yes, I was mean.

3. If you had vanity plates on your car, what would they read?
Not sure. Nobody would notice, anyway--my 1980 Honda Civic stationwagon has so many bumperstickers.

4. Have you received any gifts with messages engraved upon them? What did the inscription say?
No engraving. Just books with autographs...

5. What would you like your epitaph to be?
"Enough, already."

Back to the wallpaper

Rant mode: ON...

Today's Wall Street Journal (sorry, paid subscription required) has a article in the Personal Journal section reporting the return of wallpaper. It's not your mom's flower-sprigged guest room wallpaper, either. This is wallpaper with glass-beaded surfaces; layers of loose, flapping paper; and even a loofah texture.

This is wallpaper for people who don't have to clean their own houses and, who, let's hope, made enough in the market this year to afford the additional cleaning staff required to keep up with these wall coverings. Ever tried to get hair out of a loofah? Now imagine cleaning a room-size, slightly humid, loofah covered with house dust. The mind boggles. The nose twitches. The allergist beams.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

The music of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole

He started out in the 1970s with a group of friends playing "Jawaiican" music--a hybrid of traditional Hawaiian folk songs with reggae. From the short monologues on his records, and his nickname ("Brudda Iz"), you immediately sense the connection of the two subcultures.

Kamakawiwo'ole's disarming medley of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World" was included on the iTunes Music Store's album of Essential Covers, and quickly became one of the top 10 downloads on the Apple site. (You might recognize the track, from his Facing Future album, from the movie Meet Joe Black or from the 2001 season finale of "E.R.")

"Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World" reached #4 on the iTunes Top 100 Downloads today. That means a Hawaiian singer/ukelele player--who died in 1997--is brushing aside the latest singles by Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake and challenging OutKast, No Doubt, and Norah Jones. How did this happen?

Give a listen; there are four of his albums in the iTunes store. I recommend the operatic track "Hawai'I '78."

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Public service announcement

You look at government these days and you have to wonder who in their right mind would want to wade into that cesspool of corruption. Some would argue that it wasn't always that way, and I suspect they're right. I grew up in a D.C. suburb in the 1960s and 70s. Many of my friends' parents were mid-level federal officials. There was a lot of wheeling and dealing (some of which caught up with them later) but even many of the wheeler-dealers were operating on the belief that the means justifies the end. I think in particular of the late Senator Vance Hartke of Indiana, who took enormous political and personal risks to get civil rights legislation enacted and who early on opposed the Vietnam War.

In the early 1990s I worked on contract for United Way of King County, organizing workplace fundraising campaigns and training volunteer campaign coordinators. As the manager of the state employees' campaign in King County, I reported to the (then) United Way Executive Director, Dick Thompson. A huge national scandal (National President William Aramony was fired in March, 1992, and convicted in 1995 of conspiracy to defraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, transportation of fraudulently acquired property, engaging in monetary transactions in unlawful activity, filing false tax returns and aiding in the filing of false tax returns) had cast a shadow over regional United Ways. Thompson, who had spent much of his career in Washington state government, came to the King County organization at a time when it was trying to distance itself from Aramony. He was a superb choice: a public sector veteran long on patience, strategy and diplomacy, and short on glitz. I remember Thompson greeting incoming staff and volunteers with a couple of stories: One was about his recent month-long volunteer stint in the crumbling capitol city of a country that was trying to establish a central government in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union; the other was about his appointment as an adjunct professor at a college in Washington state. He told how his young daughter had gone off to look up "adjunct" in the dictionary and reported back that it meant he was "not required."

Working for Thompson was a delight and a pleasure. He never ducked questions, even if the answer he gave you wasn't the one you wanted to hear.

Today I opened the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to see that
Thompson has been appointed the interim Athletic Director
at the University of Washingon,where coaches, team physicians and, now, longtime Athletic Director Barbara Hedges, have sidled out the door as part of a seemingly endless housecleaning. UW has picked the right guy for the job if they want things fixed quietly but effectively. Thompson's not the sort who gets his picture on the front page in an expensive suit (even the announcement of his appointment was on page C3), but that's just as well. As British author Terry Pratchett observed,"The people who run organizations are usually found several levels down, where it is still possible to get things done."