Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Calling a Copy Eddditor

I received this yesterday. Click on the cover to enlarge.

I like the image. It's much better than the hardback in my opinion. But...

Your thoughts?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Olympian Task

Boy, does Friedman nail this.

August 24, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist
Melting Pot Meets Great Wall

The Olympics may just be a sporting event, but it is hard not to read larger messages into the results, especially when you see how China and America have dominated the medals tally. Both countries can — and will — look at their Olympic successes as reaffirmations of their distinctly different political systems. But what strikes me is how much they could each learn from the other. This, as they say, is a teaching moment.

Call it: One Olympics — two systems.

How so? You can’t look at the U.S. Olympic team and not see the strength that comes from diversity, and you can’t look at the Chinese team and not see the strength that comes from intense focus and concentrated power.

Let’s start with us. Walking through the Olympic Village the other day, here’s what struck me most: the Russian team all looks Russian; the African team all looks African; the Chinese team all looks Chinese; and the American team looks like all of them.

This is especially true when you include the coaches. Liang Chow, the coach of the Iowa gymnast Shawn Johnson, was a popular co-caption of China’s national gymnastics team in the 1980s before he emigrated to West Des Moines. The U.S. women’s volleyball team was coached by a former Chinese player, Jenny Lang Ping, when it defeated China a few days ago. Lang, a national hero in China, led the Chinese team to a gold medal in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. It would be like Michael Jordan coaching China’s basketball team to a win over America.

The Associated Press reports that there are 33 foreign-born players on the U.S. Olympic team, including four Chinese-born table tennis players, a kayaker from Britain, seven members of the track-and-field team — as well as Lopez Lomong, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan’s civil war, who was resettled in the U.S. by Catholic Charities, and Leo Manzano, the son of an illegal immigrant Mexican laborer. He moved to the U.S. when he was 4 but didn’t gain citizenship until 2004.

It is amazing that with our Noah’s Ark of an Olympic team doing so well “that at the same time you have this rising call in America to restrict immigration,” said Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International. “Some people want to choke off the very thing that makes us strong and unique.”

China could learn something from our Olympic team as well: the power that comes from a strong society, woven together of many strands from the bottom up. For instance, it’s hard to drive around Beijing these days and not enjoy the thinned-out traffic and blue sky — which are largely the result of China ordering drivers off the roads and closing factories — and not wonder how these can be sustained after the Olympics. Many Chinese I have spoken to have asked: How can we keep this? Now that we have seen how blue the sky really can be, we don’t want to give it away.

The problem for China, though, is that environmentalism is a bottom-up movement in the rest of the world. While it requires a strong government to pass regulations from the top, it also can’t work without a strong, independent civil society acting as a watchdog, spotlighting polluters and suing businesses that do not comply. China can be green for the two weeks of the Olympics from the top down, but it can’t be green for the next 20 years without more bottom up.

That said, there are some things we could learn from China, namely the ability to focus on big, long-term, nation-building goals and see them through. A Chinese academic friend tells me that the success of the Olympics is already prompting some high officials to argue that only a strong, top-down, Communist Party-led China could have organized the stunning building projects around these Olympics and the focused performance of so many different Chinese athletes. For instance, the Chinese have no tradition of rowing teams, but at these Games, out of nowhere, Beijing fielded a women’s quadruple sculls crew that won China’s first Olympic gold medal in rowing.

The lesson for us is surely not that we need authoritarian government. The lesson is that we need to make our democracy work better. The American men’s basketball team did poorly in the last Olympics because it could not play as a team. So our stars were beaten by inferior players with better teamwork. Our basketball team learned its lesson.

Congress has gotten worse. Our democracy feels increasingly paralyzed because collaboration in Washington has become nearly impossible — whether because of money, gerrymandering, a 24-hour-news cycle or the permanent presidential campaign. And as a result, our ability to focus America’s incredible bottom-up energies — outside of sports — has diminished. You see it in our crumbling infrastructure and inability to shape a real energy program. China feels focused. We feel distracted.

So, yes, America and China should enjoy their medals — but we should each also reflect on how the other team got so many.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Poem

The Summer Day
Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Spiderman in School

Here's a poem I wrote over twenty years ago that's now anthologized in lots of text books. It's being read by an English teacher somewhere. It's kind of cool, kind of weird to hear that poem spoken by someone else in front of a bunch of students.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A couple of Maggie Moments

Here are a couple of everyday moments in Maggie's life. She's the youngest cavalier around the house, and is the most demonstrative and pleasure-seeking.

This is Maggie snuggling up in a basket of warm laundry fresh out of the dryer.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Here We Go Again

Fay doesn't seem that bad at the moment, but she sure brings it all back. The trauma of Andrew.

Our house stood up to Andrew, (just barely) though many of the houses around us were destroyed. We watched our interior walls wobble and buckle and rain pour through the roof for three hours. We lost dozens of trees, mangoes, avocadoes, and a beautiful Indian Rosewood. We didn't have power for a month afterwards. No street signs left standing, no trees anywhere for miles. Seven years without shade.

We take hurricane season pretty seriously. I'm always amazed at how people well out of the real destructive zone of Andrew or other hurricanes, believe it's all a big joke. Go windsurfing in a category 4? Yeah, right. See you in the next life.

Go for a walk on the beach? Help yourself, dude.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Wonderful Photographs--Click to Enlarge

Michael Stern, a friend of mine, has been taking some incredible Florida photographs for some time now. He's about to start his own website where you can find the photos for sale. Below are some samples to whet your appetite. Some very rare birds included here include the male Everglades Snail Kite. The charcoal gray bird.

And this is a female with a snail in her beak, landing with a scream:

When Michael's website is up and running, I'll post a link.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dead Zones

Number of Ocean 'Dead Zones' Doubling Every Decade

By Joel Achenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 14, 2008; 2:12 PM

In the latest sign of trouble in the planet's chemistry, the number of oxygen-starved "dead zones" in coastal waters around the world has roughly doubled every decade since the 1960s, killing fish, crustaceans and massive amounts of marine life at the base of the food chain, according to a study released today.

"These zones are popping up all over," said Robert Diaz, a professor at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science who led of the study published online by the journal Science.

Diaz and co-author Rutger Rosenberg of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden counted more than 400 dead zones globally, ranging from massive ones in the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Mexico to small ones that episodically appear in river estuaries. The amount of "biomass" that is missing because of low oxygen levels in the Chesapeake Bay would be enough to feed half the commercial crab harvest for a year, Diaz estimated.

Low oxygen, known as hypoxia, is a significant measure of the downstream effect of chemical fertilizers used in agriculture. Air pollution is another factor. The nitrogen from the fertilizer or pollution feeds the growth of algae in coastal waters, particularly during summer. The algae eventually dies and sinks to the bottom, where the organic matter decays in a process that robs the bottom waters of oxygen.

Hypoxia has been seen for decades in such places as the Chesapeake Bay, Lake Erie, the Gulf of Mexico and Long Island Sound, but Diaz's survey has found new zones in the Florida Keys, Puget Sound and tidal creeks in the Carolinas.

"We're saying that hypoxia is now everywhere, it seems," said Diaz. "We can say that human activities really screwed up oxygen conditions in our coastal areas."

Douglas N. Rader, chief ocean scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund, said the chaos in the planet's nitrogen cycle is not only creating dead zones but also inciting the spread of toxic algae, such as the pfiesteria that has appeared in recent years in the Chesapeake.

"The next big challenge, after global warming, is going to be addressing the massive upset of the world's nitrogen cycle," Rader said.

Natural upwellings of deep ocean water with low oxygen levels can also trigger a dead zone, as seen recently off the coast of Oregon, but most hypoxic zones are the result of human activities.

A few hypoxic ecosystems have improved in recent years due to better management of pollutants. Diaz identified the Indian River in Florida as showing signs of improvement. Dead zones in New York's Hudson River and East River have actually disappeared, the study found.

Globally, however, only 4 percent of the dead zones are recovering, the report said.

The researchers wrote that it is unrealistic to try to return to pre-industrial levels of nutrients flowing into coastal waters, but policy makers should seek ways to reduce the pollution to levels seen in the middle of the 20th century, before the dead zones began spreading.

Rust Hills

An old friend of mine died today. Former Esquire editor, Rust Hills. I knew him back in the 80's and 90's in and around Key West and Miami. Here's a picture from that time. That's Joy Williams, the wonderful writer (Rust's wife, to his right) and Monica Haskell who was then the director of the Key West Literary Seminar.

Rust was a great guy. Funny and down to earth. I remember going with him to a boxing match in Key West, in an old, tiny gym, and everyone there knew Rust and called out hello to him. He wore that dapper white suit, but he was always a blue collar guy.

A fine fine man.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Lot of Wind

August 13, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist
Eight Strikes and You’re Out
John McCain recently tried to underscore his seriousness about pushing through a new energy policy, with a strong focus on more drilling for oil, by telling a motorcycle convention that Congress needed to come back from vacation immediately and do something about America’s energy crisis. “Tell them to come back and get to work!” McCain bellowed.

Sorry, but I can’t let that one go by. McCain knows why.

It was only five days earlier, on July 30, that the Senate was voting for the eighth time in the past year on a broad, vitally important bill — S. 3335 — that would have extended the investment tax credits for installing solar energy and the production tax credits for building wind turbines and other energy-efficiency systems.

Both the wind and solar industries depend on these credits — which expire in December — to scale their businesses and become competitive with coal, oil and natural gas. Unlike offshore drilling, these credits could have an immediate impact on America’s energy profile.

Senator McCain did not show up for the crucial vote on July 30, and the renewable energy bill was defeated for the eighth time. In fact, John McCain has a perfect record on this renewable energy legislation. He has missed all eight votes over the last year — which effectively counts as a no vote each time. Once, he was even in the Senate and wouldn’t leave his office to vote.

“McCain did not show up on any votes,” said Scott Sklar, president of The Stella Group, which tracks clean-technology legislation. Despite that, McCain’s campaign commercial running during the Olympics shows a bunch of spinning wind turbines — the very wind turbines that he would not cast a vote to subsidize, even though he supports big subsidies for nuclear power.

Barack Obama did not vote on July 30 either — which is equally inexcusable in my book — but he did vote on three previous occasions in favor of the solar and wind credits.

The fact that Congress has failed eight times to renew them is largely because of a hard core of Republican senators who either don’t want to give Democrats such a victory in an election year or simply don’t believe in renewable energy.

What impact does this have? In the solar industry today there is a rush to finish any project that would be up and running by Dec. 31 — when the credits expire — and most everything beyond that is now on hold. Consider the Solana concentrated solar power plant, 70 miles southwest of Phoenix in McCain’s home state. It is the biggest proposed concentrating solar energy project ever. The farsighted local utility is ready to buy its power.

But because of the Senate’s refusal to extend the solar tax credits, “we cannot get our bank financing,” said Fred Morse, a senior adviser for the American operations of Abengoa Solar, which is building the project. “Without the credits, the numbers don’t work.” Some 2,000 construction jobs are on hold.

Roger Efird is president of Suntech America — a major Chinese-owned solar panel maker that actually wants to build a new factory in America. They’ve been scouting the country for sites, and several governors have been courting them. But Efird told me that when the solar credits failed to pass the Senate, his boss told him: “Don’t set up any more meetings with governors. It makes absolutely no sense to do this if we don’t have stability in the incentive programs.”

One of the biggest canards peddled by Big Oil is that, “Sure, we’ll need wind and solar energy, but it’s just not cost effective yet.” They’ve been saying that for 30 years. What these tax credits are designed to do is to stimulate investments by many players in solar and wind so these technologies can quickly move down the learning curve and become competitive with coal and oil — which is why some people are trying to block them.

As Richard K. Lester, an energy-innovation expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, notes, “The best chance we have — perhaps the only chance” of addressing the combined challenges of energy supply and demand, climate change and energy security “is to accelerate the introduction of new technologies for energy supply and use and deploy them on a very large scale.”

This, he argues, will take more than a Manhattan Project. It will require a fundamental reshaping by government of the prices and regulations and research-and-development budgets that shape the energy market. Without taxing fossil fuels so they become more expensive and giving subsidies to renewable fuels so they become more competitive — and changing regulations so more people and companies have an interest in energy efficiency — we will not get innovation in clean power at the scale we need.

That is what this election should be focusing on. Everything else is just bogus rhetoric designed by cynical candidates who think Americans are so stupid — so bloody stupid — that if you just show them wind turbines in your Olympics ad they’ll actually think you showed up and voted for such renewable power — when you didn’t.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Emerson and Tres Perros

Here's our niece, Emerson, upon arrival at Rancho Tres Perros.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Takes a Licking

My brother, John, gets goosechills from one of our spaniels.

Pretty Funny

Literarily Ignorant

I'm afraid I find myself agreeing with more of this than I'd like.

I've been teaching college for nearly 40 years now, and while I find many highly motivated students in every class I teach, I can't say they're as well-prepared as they used to be. It's particularly astonishing when I come across a student who wants to be a writer but can't name the last book he's read, or a book that inspires him, or even his favorite author.

I know it's fashionable, and probably partly true, to say that the poor literary habits I see in my college students is due to their bad public school training, or their attraction to the Internet or to other new media. But I think a big part of it has to do with No Child Left Behind. Clearly, public schools have been forced to squeeze out much of the curriculum (meaning novels, poems, stories in English classes) and instead to focus the teachers' valuable time and the students' time on preparing to take a standardized test.

I can mark a dramatic change in my students that coincides with Florida's use of the FCAT which was an early version of the No Child Left Behind tests. Jeb started it. Must run in the Bush family. Holding teachers accountable is a bogus justification for such a radical shift in pedagogy. There are dozens of ways to make sure teachers are doing a good job without subjecting an entire generation of students to a mindless multiple choice test.

America education has always been notable in its emphasis on originality of thought and its willingness to challenge authority. To adopt a testing system that stresses uniformity and test taking rather than more creative forms of expression inevitably generates students who lose interest in school and education.

If I had been tested in public school the way students are today, I'm sure I would have gotten out of school as quickly as possible. I hate tests, don't do well on them, never have.

Anyone else notice
the regimentation,
the worker bee,
assembly line imagery
of the Olympic Opening Ceremonies?
The way we compete with worker bees
is with creativity, not test taking.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Firetower Run in Five Parts

Here's a five mile run I do once in a while up here in North Carolina. This was shot on a particularly pretty day.

I'm usually the only person out there at 7 in the morning, so I run for about an hour thinking about what I'm going to write that day, or working on issues in the plot. Sometimes I just watch the trail a few feet in front of me and don't think about a thing. Either way, it's a great run.

Like diving on the same reef, no two days are ever the same. The light, the breeze, the wildlife, all the varying permutations of those things keep the whole experience fresh.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


RIP Solzhenitsyn (some people used to say I bore a resemblance to this great one)

Want to be a writer? Here's some numbers from Otto Penzler's mystery column in the New York Sun. (Thanks again to Ken Biz)

Here are a few statistics to mull over while you decide when to hit the keyboard, compiled in a study by the National Endowment for the Arts (the latest year of the study was 2005):

Number of authors: 185,276 (I think 90% are writing mysteries, and I read most of their manuscripts this year.)

Increase since 1990: 39%

Median income for full-time authors: $50,800

Median income for entire civilian labor force: $38,700

Female authors: 54.9%

Minority authors: 10.8%

Authors under age 35: 26.8%

Authors with at least a bachelor's degree: 83.1%

Self-employed authors: 45.9%

Number of authors living in New York and California: about 50,000

No. 1 city for authors per capita: Santa Fe, N.M.

What does it all mean? If you want to write, then get a degree, move to Santa Fe, and follow your bliss. Oh, and it wouldn't hurt to have the creativity and work ethic of James Patterson or Nora Roberts.
Mr. Penzler is the proprietor of the Mysterious Bookshop in Manhattan and the series editor of the annual Best American Mystery Stories. He can be reached at ottopenzler@mysteriousbookshop.com.