On weekends, our Detroit NPR affiliate teases us all with what could be, by playing decent music for hours at a time. One of the afternoon hosts, acknowledging the events of last week, made the theme of his show protest songs, and played this Richie Havens cover of “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” I’d never heard it before, and it was a revelation — what a voice, what an interpreter. Havens isn’t with us anymore, but this wasn’t recorded all that long ago.
Maybe the coming darkness won’t be all bad. A lot of good music was made in 1968.
It was a Monday. That’s the best I can say about it. Swift commute in, pleasant atmosphere in Co-working space, a brown-bag lunch consisting of tri-tip leftovers between bread. But otherwise, the first steps in the five-day trudge to next weekend.
I like my job, I really do. But today, I watched a crew digging channels for some new utility lines or something. The backhoe dipped and scooped, the workers calling instruction to the operator, the dirt going from one place to another scoop by scoop. And thought: Now there’s a job. Beginning, middle, end, two beers on the way home.
Like I said, it was a Monday.
Just one bit of bloggage, then: Our own Heather interviews another Heather — Heather Havrilesky, essayist and advice columnist. It’s well-done, and I recommend it.
Let’s see if Tuesday goes any better. It’ll be 93, so I’m not getting my hopes up.
I said we weren’t going there, and then we went there: the cave where Jon Snow lost his virginity. Like losing one’s virginity itself, it was wildly overrated by its TV appearance. Pretty, sure, but very cramped, and the only surfaces for virginity-losin’ were rocks. The “Game of Thrones” wizards CGI’d a waterfall into the thing, and apparently added about 1,000 square feet to the place. But I got a snap, just the same.
It’s a natural grotto with a warm spring feeding into it. The signage said it was once quite moderate but volcanic activity in the 1970s pushed the temperature to blistering ranges. Bathing is currently forbidden, and with few other surfaces to display an actual human, this is the best I can do:
Jon Snow may know nothing, but I know Alan bonked his head on that sharp triangle of rock hanging down. That would take the wind out of your romantic sails p.d.q. (And unless I’m mistaken, that graffiti reads “Thor.”)
This is Iceland around every corner. Just one OMG sight after another.
Tomorrow is the final day — driving back south and that milky-blue tourist trap, the Blue Lagoon.
Try not to shoot each other before I get back.
You John Cheever fans who have read his great short story “The Swimmer,” or seen the pretty fair adaptation with Burt Lancaster in the title role, will know what I’m talking about when I tell you my new bucket-list vacation is this:
Swimming across Iceland. A leisurely trip around the ring road, with detours into the interior, sampling the wonders of the country’s great municipal swimming pools.
Akureyi, where we are now, is a town of about 22,000. Roughly…what? Defiance, Ohio? Auburn, Indiana? Whatever. Here’s their pool:
That’s just the outside, of course. Phones and cameras seem to be frowned upon in the pool area, so you can google it if you like. But like the one I visited in Reykjavik, it just seems to me to be the ultimate in municipal recreation — turn a few laps, then pop into the steam or one of the several hot pots, watch the towheaded toddlers squealing down the water slides, then a leisurely final shower and on with your day.
Any anxiety over the fearsome hygiene requirements — nude shower, with soap, before entering the water — melt away before the la-de-da attitudes of the natives. The showers are full of old women, tattooed women, tan women, pale women, Scandinavian goddesses and their great-great grannies, all washin’ up before they go into the beautiful, clean pools outside. A goddess took her shower next to me this morning, plopping her white-blonde toddler into a tub next to her. Later, I saw her outside with her husband and two other kids. The picture of healthy living under a blazing blue subarctic sky.
Yesterday was whale-watching. I feared we’d be skunked, but it was anything but — after a loop around a puffin nesting ground, we headed for an area where recent reports had been good. We were steering toward a place where a thar-she-blows puff of spray had just been sighted when a humpback suddenly leapt from the water, turning in midair to land in a great splash. And for about the next 40 minutes, that’s how it went, just whale after whale after whale, mostly humpbacks but also minkes. I was using my other camera, so no pix from me, but Kate captured this with her phone:
[for those with browsers that don’t support the video:
And then we came back, shucked off our overall/PDFs and checked the news of the day. Ugh.
“I don’t even want to hear about it,” said sensible Alan. But of course I’ve been reading about it for hours now. And I don’t know what to say. For whoever wondered how this was being covered overseas? Can’t say. We haven’t seen an English-language paper since Reykjavik, and that was the alt-weekly. But I’ll keep my eyes open.
Meanwhile, have a great day, all. Mine is off to a good start.
Today at Gullfoss, the Niagara Falls of Iceland. And frankly, more impressive, as it’s not used for hydroelectric power, there are no casinos rising on its shores and no Maid of the Mist taking honeymooners up close, although there are scores and scores of tourists.
This is a beautiful country. On our drive today we went past farms nestled into folds of felted green that climbed hundreds of feet up volcanic mountain faces, their sweeping flatlands dotted with sheep and horses. Not a fast-food interchange to be seen (although Subway and KFC have a foothold here, and there’s a Dunkin Donuts a block or two away from our apartment in Reykjavik). Hardly any billboards. Hardly a scrap of litter.
Coming back to the car, Kate overshot our Toyota in the lot. “Oh,” she said when I called her back. “I didn’t know our car was missing a hubcap.”
“It isn’t,” I said. It was.
We figured the item was lost on a piece of rough road we’d traveled en routed, doubled back and re-traveled it at a crawl. No hubcap. We made one final pass, what the hell. FOUND IT. That was a relief, so we celebrated with pizza lunch. Mine had Parma ham, arugula and peanuts on top. Filed under: Things That Are the Same, But Different.
Tomorrow, up to Akureyi we go, on the north coast. Hours of sunlight there: 23.5. This is disorienting, to say the least. Getting to sleep is tough enough, but can be done with an eye mask. But Iceland generally works regular hours, so after sleeping late you find yourself breakfasting at 11 am, lunching at 3:30 pm and then, at 10 p.m., saying, “Hey, anyone hungry? Let’s eat!” But everything is closed at that hour other than bars, and most bars don’t serve food. How have these socialists figured it out? Genetics, I guess.
7:55 p.m. Here. Time to consider whether dinner will even be in the picture tonight. Have a great weekend, all.
We went back to the pool today, or rather, all of us went to the pool today. We had to, because the shower in our Airbnb has fatally malfunctioned, and that was the only way we could all start the day nice and clean. Afterward, we had hot dogs, sold at a stand outside. I had the Elvis Hot Dog, seen here:
Yes, those are those little matchstick fried potatoes you buy in a can when you’re too cheap to spring for chips. (I love them; they were a preferred snack of my childhood.) What they have to do with Elvis I can’t say, as I thought he preferred fried PB&banana sandwiches, but I’m by no means an expert. However, as an American, I thought I needed to underline this little bit of overseas interpretation of US culture with an endorsement. And it was fine, although Icelanders have a strange idea of what constitutes mustard.
I think I’m done with Reykjavik, and today we picked up a car that will allow us to venture farther afield. It was cloudy today, so after the pool, we did the museums, one featuring incomprehensible modern art — my rule for these is, the longer the explanatory text on the wall placard, the worse the artistic failure — and the penis museum. Of this, I have to say: Eh. Penises, penises and more penises, and with a few exceptions, the whole thing seemed to boil down to this:
1) Penises in preservative solution inevitably end up looking like a meat accident;
2) The bigger the animal? The bigger the penis! Who knew?
But mostly I tried to sit quietly and respectfully, because I may not be a Lutheran, but I know how to behave in a church, which is more than I can say for half the tourists there.
Time to wrap and plan for tomorrow. Keep the United States warm for me, because I’m chilling at 64 degrees N.
As I think I’ve mentioned a time or ten, my link-wrangling on a day-to-day basis goes like this: When I find something interesting, I toss it into a draft post, a process that goes on all day, between other things.
I think it was the third item when I found they had a common theme today:
Honestly, though, the kickoff item is almost joyful. And it so happens that one of my Facebook friends was there when it happened: Bassist Jane Little, who only recently became the longest-serving orchestra musician in the world, collapsed on stage during a performance of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Sunday. She never regained consciousness, and died later that night. At 87, after 71 years with the ensemble.
Which would merely be sad, but not when you consider what they were playing at the moment she went down: “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” Which was their encore, in fact. And as one of her fellow players scooped her up and carried her offstage, they kept playing, so she actually left the limelight as the song reached a climax: So let’s go on with the show! A WashPost account of the incident, and her life, here.
A friend once told me he despised the platitude we so often say after someone dies: “Well, at least he died doing something he loved,” because most people don’t want to die, much less screaming toward the earth at 32 feet per second when a parachute malfunctions. In this case, though, I think we can make an exception. You couldn’t have scripted a better death; in fact, if you had scripted this, the director would have thrown it back in your face and called you Mr. Obvious.
Then, mid afternoon, I checked Twitter and found this:
— Kyle Hill (@Sci_Phile) May 16, 2016
Once you find the eyes, it’s just mesmerizing.
And on an animal theme, there are these outdoorsmen:
The weather at Yellowstone National Park on May 9 was fairly temperate: The low was 39 degrees Fahrenheit; the high was 50.
Nevertheless, when two tourists saw a baby bison, they decided it looked cold and needed to be rescued. So they loaded it in the trunk of their car and drove it to a ranger station.
Over the weekend, their action was widely mocked online as evidence of extreme anthropomorphism, not to mention stupidity. On Monday, the park revealed that it was also deadly — for the bison. The newborn calf had to be euthanized, the park said in a statement, because its mother had rejected it as a result of the “interference by people.”
My eyeballs just sprained themselves, they rolled so hard.
Finally, an astounding long-form project from the NYT, on the city’s century-old potters field on Hart Island. It’s very long, and I haven’t gotten all the way through it, but what I’ve seen is remarkable: Deep history, a slow burn of anger over the policy that dumps so many people in mass graves there, impressive enterprise (when the city wouldn’t let the media observe or photograph an interment, they hired a drone). And great writing:
New York is unique among American cities in the way it disposes of the dead it considers unclaimed: interment on a lonely island, off-limits to the public, by a crew of inmates. Buried by the score in wide, deep pits, the Hart Island dead seem to vanish — and so does any explanation for how they came to be there.
To reclaim their stories from erasure is to confront the unnoticed heartbreak inherent in a great metropolis, in the striving and missed chances of so many lives gone by. Bad childhoods, bad choices or just bad luck — the chronic calamities of the human condition figure in many of these narratives. Here are the harshest consequences of mental illness, addiction or families scattered or distracted by their own misfortunes.
But if Hart Island hides individual tragedies, it also obscures systemic failings, ones that stack the odds against people too poor, too old or too isolated to defend themselves. In the face of an end-of-life industry that can drain the resources of the most prudent, these people are especially vulnerable.
Indeed, this graveyard of last resort hides wrongdoing by some of the very individuals and institutions charged with protecting New Yorkers, including court-appointed guardians and nursing homes. And at a time when many still fear a potter’s field as the ultimate indignity, the secrecy that shrouds Hart Island’s dead also veils the city’s haphazard treatment of their remains.
The best single detail is about the AIDS row: Buried 14 feet deep, instead of the usual three. Just 16 bodies, but it brings back an era in a way few other memories do.
Have I bummed you out enough yet? Just think of Jane Little. On with the show!
If you haven’t read the link MichaelG posted in comments yesterday, from Talking Points Memo and about Trump, you should read it, if not for the analysis then for this excellent metaphor about projects and doing things the right way vs. the wrong way. (I’ve done it both ways, so I feel like I know this from experience.)
When I read the Times article (about the GOP’s failing effort to stop Trump), observe recent weeks as they’ve fluttered by and think about how things got to this point, I come back again and again to conversations I have with our chief tech, Matt Wozniak. Matt uses the metaphor of debt to describe the inevitable trade off we face building and maintaining the software that runs TPM.
If we do a project in a rough and ready way, which is often what we can manage under the time and budget constraints we face, we will build up a “debt” we’ll eventually have to pay back. Basically, if we do it fast, we’ll later have to go back and rework or even replace the code to make it robust enough for the long haul, interoperate with other code that runs our site or simply be truly functional as opposed just barely doing what we need it to. There’s no right or wrong answer; it’s simply a management challenge to know when to lean one way or the other. But if you build up too much of this debt the problem can start to grow not in a linear but an exponential fashion, until the system begins to cave in on itself with internal decay, breakdowns of interoperability and emergent failures which grow from both.
So here we are, on yet another pivotal Tuesday, and who knows? In 36 hours we may know with near certainty it’s a Trump-Clinton ticket, come fall. And then the fun really begins. As this is a politics day, and I’m getting a late start on this, a few linky hors d’oeuvres for y’all:
Nothing about this analysis, about why Ted Cruz will not drop out to save his party, surprises me. Especially this part:
It’s very possible that, if he becomes the Republican nominee, Trump would get shellacked in November, setting off a period of anguished introspection for the party. Conservatives would vow never again to nominate a non-conservative for the highest office. “This is Ted Cruz’s ace card,” says Steele. “Going back to 1996, conservatives in the party have always felt that we’ve lost these presidential contests because we’ve not been true to the cause by nominating someone who will fight for the cause.”
For a large segment of the party, the savior would be obvious. And Cruz, having never wavered, would find himself right where he wanted to be, once he realized, in March 2016, that he wouldn’t be the 2016 Republican nominee: at the front of the pack to challenge Hillary Clinton in 2020.
I hear this over and over from Republicans — don’t move to the center, move further right! And as bad as a Trump-Clinton race would be, I can’t imagine how awful a Cruz-Clinton race might play out. I may have to emigrate for 2020.
Says Slate, “To save itself, the Republican Party must finally put the working class ahead of the donor class.” Like that’s gonna happen.
Finally, here’s a Storify of David Frum tweets on the collapse of the GOP — you know, the Canadian-born RINO from the Bush administration? I think he nails it, though.
Off to work.