Monday, October 20, 2014

Local Color

The other week, I picked up a copy of Short Letter, Long Farewell by Peter Handke, in part because I had him mixed up with Peter Schneider. I don't so far regret the confusion.

About sixty pages in, the narrator and a girlfriend begin a drive along the Pennsylvania Turnpike:
We entered it from State Route 100, near Downingtown, after the eighth toll station. On the seat beside her Claire  had a box full of coins; at each toll station she would toss a few of them out the window into the hopper without coming to a full stop. From there to Donora we passed another fifteen toll stations. In the course of the day, Claire tossed more than five dollars into hoppers.
There are toll roads that work this way, but the Pennsylvania Turnpike, during the period I have traveled it, has not been one. One gets a ticket when entering, and one pays when leaving, whether one has passed one exit or many. Certainly in 1972 one had to stop for the toll booth operator to examine one's ticket and collect the toll..

Two points interest me here.
  1. The error does not bother me. Similar errors and anachronisms in historical novels set my teeth on edge. I infer that Handke's mistake does not bother me in part because this is really not an historical novel: it was written in 1972 and set at about that time. It does not aim at reproducing the feel of a distant time or place. There is more to Claire than her box of coins.
  2. In how many novels set elsewhere or at other times have I noticed such bits of detail and taken them for true when they weren't?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

I Will Mention

This morning it was announced that Monsignor Ronald Jameson, rector of the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, the Roman Catholic cathedral of Washington, DC, has commenced tweeting. Those who care to can follow him at Msgr. Jameson is not one of your young and trendy clerics just out of the seminary: he was ordained in 1968. He is quite good at sermon length: at 140 characters, well, that will be for Twitter readers to judge.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


For a while in my late 20s, I found it easy to buy shoes. I would walk into the local running-goods store, or the expo before the Marine Corps Marathon, and buy a pair of Asics Excalibur GTs in my size. Never before had I found running shoes I liked as much, and never since have I found anything comparable. I have found decent enough shoes, shoes made well enough, but nothing I could count on like them. I expect that a designer could explain to me in detail why the new shoes are preferable to the Excalibur GTs, but I don't care. Of course, I have added twenty pounds, thirty years, and a size and half in the foot, meaning that a supply of the old model would not necessarily do me any good.

In those days, dress shoes didn't matter much. I wore Rockport shoes when I needed something better than running shoes. Rockports are not especially dressy--my wife once told me that many scientists seem to wear them, which I didn't and don't consider an endorsement of their fashionableness.

Much more recently, I have found that Ecco made a shoe that I like, dressy enough for work yet comfortable. The model I like has lasted me through a couple pairs each of black and brown shoes, and many heels on both.The most recent black pair lasted about three years. But when it was time for new heels, my wife, acting as my fashion conscience, suggested that they were worn out and that it was time for new shoes. We stopped by the store yesterday.

That model of Ecco is no longer made. I settled on the nearest approximation, and hope that it will work out. I am more concerned that the variations will affect my stride than I am confident that they make the shoes more handsome. It seems unfair that a model of shoe that suits one so well should disappear like that. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Pilots

In my early thirties, I traveled a good deal for work. Sometimes I traveled to large cities by jet, sometimes I traveled to small cities by jet to a hub, then turboprop to the destination. In the latter cases, I noticed that the pilots seemed to be a good deal younger than I was. Some in fact looked to me as if they were flying for regional airlines until they should be old enough to graduate from high school and join the military. I suppose that my anxieties could have contributed to this interpretation.

A high school alumni newsletter arrived in today's post. It announces, among other matters, the college graduation of a young man, and his imminent employment by a regional airline. I remember this young man as a third-grader, small for his age. Yet somehow this does not bother me. Partly this must be because all those young pilots--men who did not look old enough to shave, and women who looked like the men's younger sisters--got me to and from Springfield, Utica, Allentown, etc. in one piece. Partly it must be because even those pilots with the comforting grey around the temples, the ones who fly the big jets, are mostly younger than I am. I expect that he will do fine.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Politics on a First-Name Basis

With municipal elections approaching, there are campaign signs out in yards and on poles along the street. For many offices, there is a preponderance of first names.

Of the candidates for mayor, Muriel Bowser uses only her first name on yard signs, both names on the signs fastened to light posts and utility poles. Carol Schwartz has some with both names, some with just Carol. When questioned about this back in the 1990s, she said that signs reading "SCHWARTZ" tended to bow around the pole and read as "WAR" to a head-on view. David Catania, an independent, and Bruce Majors, a Libertarian, use only their surnames. Faith Dane, who has run for mayor in every election of at least the last two decades, gives only her first name--the picture of a woman holding a bugle is to remind those who can be reminded that she had a big number in the musical Gypsy a half century and more ago.

Of the at-large candidates,  Calvin Gurley and Anita Bonds provide their surnames in larger type than their first names. Eugene Puryear and Thomas White print both names their names in equal sizes. Elissa Silverman has her first name in a larger, bolder, serif face, her surname in smaller, thinner sans-serif: the effect is something like an eye chart with a few rows missing. Khalid Pitts gives only his first name, and picture. I had to take off my glasses and peer at the tiny "paid for" line to discover his surname.

Among the candidates for attorney general, Lorie Masters prints her surname somewhat larger, and Karl Racine prints his much larger. Edward Smith could be considered to split the difference, for his signs read "SMITTY".

I suppose that the trend has been around since the days of Honest Abe, and I expect that "I like Ike" buttons are affordable in political memorabilia stores. Still, is informality a preferred quality among candidates?

Thursday, September 25, 2014


If you have any responsibility for computers running Linux, the last couple of days have been busy. Yesterday afternoon, we all heard of an old but newly discovered vulnerability in the bash (Bourne-again shell) shell, which today is being called "Shellshock". The problem is that unpatched versions of bash accept without sufficient checking environment settings from the invoking program: environment settings can be designed to cause another program invocation.. This means, in the gravest case, that somebody with a web browser can cause your system to create an account for him, open the firewall, email passwords, etc.

If you have a Linux system or Mac at your disposal, you can test for this by entering
VAR="() { ignore; }; /bin/uname -a"; bash
You should get an error message. If you get information about your operating system, it's time to update bash. If it takes more than five minutes to do so, it is probably because you are running an obsolete version of Linux.  Figure out now how you will upgrade. It is a very bad idea to let your Linux installation get too old.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Parking Day

On Friday, out for a walk at lunchtime, I noticed a cluster of persons up about 20th and M Streets, NW. The sign said something about "National Park(ing) Day". There was a hip-high stack of two by fours, maybe a foot each way horizontally, and apparently the challenge was to extract one without causing the whole stack to fall. I thought it odd, but forgot about in a block or so.

Then on K St., there was another sign, and some chairs and a table set up in a parking space. And a bit further east on K was "Perspective Park". This had a structure of tubes about three feet high, three feet wide, and four inches through the tubes, which looked had about the circumference of mailing tubes. Some were stopped or partially stopped with small objects. The passers by were invited to peer through it. I did not.

Back at the office, Google promptly located the web site. Park(ing) Day falls on the third Friday of September, a day on which
PARK(ing) Day is an annual worldwide event where artists, designers and citizens transform metered parking spots into temporary public parks.