30 October 2007

A Night At the Museum

A direct quote:

"If you work in or are passionate about the arts and haven’t read Giles Waterfield’s The Hound in the Left-hand Corner, you should. Immediately. You may not yet know it, but this is the book you have been waiting for, notwithstanding that it was first published five years ago."

Ok, I'm quoting myself -- from my new review of Mr. Waterfield's not-so-new, but thoroughly enjoyable, book. You can read the review here.

29 October 2007

Rain & Raz

Back in August, thick into summer, I was enjoying the new TV series Burn Notice - and Barry Eisler's latest book, Requiem for An Assassin. In the book, the half-Japanese / half-American hero, John Rain, gets a bit of an assist from some Israeli friends who bring along a new-ish weapon they've been field-testing: an ADS or "Active Denial System," based on "nonlethal millimeter wave technology."

At the time, I didn't think Eisler was making this up - I just didn't know how real it was.

Apparently, it's quite real, if not quite at the level of easy field deployment Eisler writes about. (Although those were Israelis in the book; perhaps they're more advanced about these things.) In any case, NPR's defense correspondent Guy Raz went to check out the system - and get zapped by it - in this story on this evening's "All Things Considered."

A Review of Reviews

I'm working on a book review, which will be done later this week. In the meantime, how about this refresher on other books I have written about over the last few years...

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22 October 2007

Frequent Flier?

If you fly even occasionally, you may have noticed that the whole process of what you need to do to get on an airplane is different - and keeps changing. And changing. And changing. (At least the makers of Ziploc bags are getting a good deal out of the current set of rules. It's now called "3-1-1," because everything is better when there's a happy, innocuous-sounding mnemonic for it, right?)

So, have you noticed the change in process for checking passengers' identification? Read more on the other side.

17 October 2007

Bullish on Moose

I have very much enjoyed my recent visits to Brunswick, Maine. The terrific, newly re-opened Bowdoin College Museum of Art is what brought me to town, but there was another reason to feel good about my visit: the excellent Bull Moose Music store.

New York City, despite being the greatest city in the country and one of the best on our planet, has not been immune to the pressures of the big box store and the surge in “retail” banking, which affects bookstores and other kinds of shops, including CDs stores. Since Tower Records went bankrupt (a small irony for a big box retailer), and NYCD closed its shop on the Upper West Side, New Yorkers are increasingly dependent on chains like Barnes & Noble or Borders, stores like J&R (which I like, but is not nearby), or on the internet.

So visiting Bull Moose in Brunswick was a real treat, and I was happy to do my part – three times now! – for the local economy by spending some time and money there. Two things made this worthwhile: the ability to browse leisurely even late at night (when many other things in Brunswick are closed, Bull Moose is still open), and the degree of variety in its stock. Much has been written about whether or why big box stores are good or bad – for consumers, communities, and other businesses – but there is no question that Bull Moose had shelves full of CDs that are harder to find at chain stores that cater to the lowest common denominator of interests. Browsing in person, instead of virtually via the internet, is also valuable; I find that the mind makes associations and connections to other interests more rapidly when I am looking at the CDs (or books) directly. Moreover, the clerk in the Brunswick store knew her store and her clientèle well enough to give me one CD for free, noting (sadly!) the otherwise-limited interest in one of my purchases. Did that encourage me to come back the next day? Yes! Bull Moose also stocks some used CDs, which most mass-retailers do not, in many cases offering the option of buying the new or used version of whatever one wants.

Although there are apparently ten Bull Moose stores around Maine, the shop I visited felt like one-of-a-kind. Alas, it only made me feel the absence of such stores here in New York that much more.

08 October 2007

Lasting Memories

A few months ago, I wrote about the challenge of identifying the value in the objects and information that wash over us every day. The volume of these “artifacts” can be overwhelming, which makes it even more important to evaluate them, to work hard to save that which should be saved, and where possible, to let go of those things that seem less relevant. Making these distinctions ourselves, in the the present, might result in a different set of artifacts preserved than if the historians of our lives were to evaluate us after the fact – but this only reminds me of how fragile our lives are in the first place.

Since the arrival of our baby this summer, the whole subject of history, memory, artifact, and ephemera has taken on new meaning. How do we attempt to capture – in word, sound, or image – the amazing milestones of our child’s firsts? Can we realistically catalog a child’s growth by taking pictures of those special moments, by marking down in a book when something happened? At times, it seems like all we have: little facts and markers defining the outline of a person, into which grows the consciousness, the spunk and spirit, that makes us human. Then we match the person to the markers, and we say “Oh, remember when you...?”


It is the unpredictability of it that both enervates and frustrates me. My father’s recent cruise through some family archives turned up a letter he sent to my grandfather almost 30 years ago – a letter that was, itself, a marker for what would have been the 50th birthday of my aunt (who was killed at Auschwitz as a teenager). The letter is beautiful, eloquent, and deeply moving because of its subject: not only the survival of our family, but its robust continuation and accommodating the memory of loss. It is a letter about parents and children, written by someone who was both a child and a parent, sent to a parent – and passed on to someone who is now also a parent, in addition to being someone’s child. It is exactly the sort of object one wants to preserve.

The letter also refers to conversations that my father and my uncle had about the subject before my dad wrote the letter; the content of those conversations is lost, otherwise unrecorded. Perhaps if there had been wide use of e-mail back in the 1970s, we would know or be able to unearth some more information – or maybe not, buried as it might be under the thousands of messages that would surely have followed. One assumes that my father, writing for both people (as his letter begins, “My brother and I have discussed...”), was reflecting their shared views, and I have no reason to think otherwise – but we will never know.


So, we do the best we can. Thus far, with our daughter, we have been good about some things, less so about others. We capture – one way or another – the things that seem to matter to us now; and we add in many others that don’t: because our judgment is fallible, or because we’ll never know, or because the whimsy of a moment might, in the end, be more valuable than the official milestone. We try also to add in the things on the margins, the letters or e-mails or other captured conversations that help define who we are, and what we were thinking and feeling. As a new parent, as the son of parents and the grandson of parents, with memories of my own, the best I can hope for is not so much that I will have made the right decisions, but that I will have made the decisions that were right at the time – and that maybe, if I am lucky, I will remember why many years later.