Wednesday, July 25, 2001

University of Virginia

As part of my continuing goal of visiting World Heritage sites, before meeting my friends, I headed to the University of Virginia, one-half of a World Heritage site. OK, maybe less than one-half, but I would have had to get up earlier in the day to visit Monticello. That, as well as counting the site as visited, will have to wait for a later visit. Which will definitely come this winter during ski season. (I did visit Monticello during 8th grade, but I'm not counting that, mostly as incentive to make another visit.)

I got to UVa right after the 11 am tour was to begin, but I had some amount of difficulty finding the Rotunda. So I fell in with a tour that was transpiring on the Lawn. At first, I thought the tour guide needed more education, as she referred to the "Academical Village", but I eventually realized that this must be the term that Jefferson, for whatever reason must have used. Unfortunately, shortly into the tour, I realized that this was a tour for prospective students and their families, and when the tour became less interesting that the cement some construction workers were pouring, it was time to jump ship.

So back to the Rotunda. Entering the Rotunda at roughly 11:30, there was a tour just beginning (which is not what the schedule indicated). Anyway, it was a pretty cool tour. The Rotunda was originally the library, and I don't know how many times I heard about the significance of Jefferson's making the library the center of his university (as opposed to the chapel). I also learned that after a fire, the interior (which did not survive the fire) was substantially rebuilt to accomodate more books. After the library moved out in the 1930s, the Rotunda was mostly empty until the 1970s when it was restored. So now it mostly holds meetings, such as their equivalent of a board of regents, or dissertation defenses. I don't know what it says that a building with mostly ceremonial function is now the center of the university. But I do know that it would have been cool having a dissertation defense in such a historical building, as opposed to the one I had mine in at an older university.

Anyway, it was interesting seeing what Jefferson wanted in a university, especially after my recent reading of that John Adams biography. The tour guide spoke with reverence about Jefferson's designs for the Rotunda, but I started to imagine him yelling at the construction workers (slaves?) if the crenellations weren't done just right. Hmm.

Sunday, July 22, 2001

Traveling Uncle John

[I went to Charlottesville yesterday to visit friends from grad school. The following story was written in honor of my visit by their 2 3/4 year old daughter and her grandmother. I have preserved the original spelling to maintain the artistic integrity of the piece. -- Jon]


By Amelia Clark and her grandmother JO

Uncle John is tall and has dark hair. He lives in Washington, D.C. Uncle John works for Uncle Sam and he does a lot of traveling.

One day Uncle John had a very busy day traveling. He flew in a plane from Washington to New York City. When he arrived, he was very hungry so Uncle John had a hot dog with mustard and catsup. When he finished his work, he flew from New York City to Miami, Florida.

When he arrived, he was very hungry so Uncle John had a hot dog with mustard and catsup. That made TWO hot dogs. When he finished his work, he flew from Miami to Valdosta, Georgia. That man does a lot of traveling, doesn't he?

When he arrived, he was very hungry so Uncle John had a hot dog with mustard and catsup. That made THREE hot dogs. When he finished his work, he flew from Valdosta back to his home in Washington, D.C.

When he arrived home, Uncle John was very, very tired and hungry. But, he was happy, happy to be home. He took off his shoes and went to his kitchen at home. "I am sooooo hungry, but I do NOT want another hot dog." So, he had a can of soup with some crackers.

Uncle John then put on his pajamas. His pajamas had little red and blue planes all over them. Uncle John then went to bed because had had a long day and was very tired.

Where do you think Uncle John will travel tomorrow? Do you think he will eat more hot dogs?

July 2001

Thursday, July 19, 2001

The Running Mate

I recently finished Joe Klein's The Running Mate. This is the sequel to Primary Colors, which I read during my trip to Belgium last year.

The Running Mate never quite made the splash that Primary Colors did. It's easy to see why. Primary Colors was a roman à clef about the 1992 Clinton campaign. To my mind, it captured the strengths and weaknesses of Bill and Hillary Clinton in a way that led more insight than a stack of newspaper and magazine profiles. The Running Mate is about a different cast of characters, primarily a Senator who is a Vietnam Veteran. Klein says at the end that Charlie Martin is inspired by the six Vietnam veterans who serve in the Senate. But it's not just one -- though you can see a lot of John McCain in Martin, this book doesn't give you a lot of insight into McCain. Primary Colors was a novel about politics. This is a love story with a political setting. Joe Klein's strengths lie in writing about politics.

One thing that struck me while reading the book was how scandal in Washington has become a routine thing. The many fictional scandals in the book all seemed familiar -- everybody has particular roles to play; there are pre-set means of spinning facts, managing the press, etc. I guess with Chandra Levy in the news, this fact stares us in the face. But it's amazing how much of what goes on in politics is completely orthogonal to the task of governing the country.

Saturday, July 14, 2001


We went to Broomes Island to Stoney's for crabs and other seafood last night. Winter, normally a hard season for me to put up with, went easier this year, due to my newfound enthusiasm for skiing. Now it's summer, and I find myself looking forward to ski season. How, then, to get through the summer?

Crabs, of course! A few weeks ago, we went to Cantler's Riverside Inn in Annapolis. In the past few years, I've generally eaten steamed crabs maybe once or twice a year. That means that when I eat them, I sort of recall how to do so, but not really. So I expend a lot of effort for a little bit of crab meat, and by the last crab I've sort of got the hang of it. Well, this year I determined to eat more crabs and develop my crab-cracking skills. (Such a noble pursuit!)

Unfortunately, this is one of the worst seasons for crabs in memory. Stoney's was selling medium crabs for $36/dozen. We ordered half a dozen, and thankfully, they messed up and brought us a dozen (while charging for half). There's not a lot of meat on the mediums (compounding the work/meat ratio problem), but I could feel my skills picking up as I enjoyed the crab meat. Then I had Stoney's enormous crab cake sandwich. It's recommended as the best in the area by The Washington Post. The only place I've had better crab cakes is the Captain's Galley in Crisfield -- and that's quite a drive for some crab cakes.

By the way, directions were hard to find on-line, so if you ever find yourself looking to get some good crabs and/or crab cakes in a scenic waterfront location in Southern Maryland, here's what you do. Take Route 2 South or Route 4 South (they merge). Make a right on Broomes Island Road (MD-264), and follow that practically to the end before making a left on Oyster House Road (it's a loop). Stoney's should be hard to miss.

Tuesday, July 10, 2001

John Adams

I finished reading David McCullough's new biography of John Adams. I enjoyed it greatly, and it's helped solidify where my sympathies in early American history lie.

I had never really liked American history growing up, and as a consequence I hadn't really studied it that much beyond what was required of me. In particular, I took no American history in college. As I've grown a little older (and perhaps wiser), I've become more interested in my country's history. I've tried to remedy my gap in knowledge by going back and reading books, specifically biographies, relating to American history. Originally the plan had me moving roughly chronologically through American history, but I got stuck somewhere near the Civil War -- there was that biography of Grant I never finished. As it turned out, the readings I did about early American statesmen -- Washington, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Daniel Webster and more -- developed in me an interest in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in America independent of my original study plan.

So I picked up this latest biography. McCullough devotes some amount of effort to puffing up Adams at the expense of Jefferson. In many cases, he scores good points. Particularly devastating, in my mind, are the reactions the two of them to the French Revolution. Adams, quite early on, realized, "This is going to get out of hand." Jefferson, by contrast, was still cheering it on while the streets of Paris were running red with blood.

It is popular to avoid taking sides in historical disputes of long ago. After all, the people of two hundred years ago lived in an age with its own set of values. Their quarrels are not ours. Some of them may hold views that we find abhorrent today, but we must judge them in the context of their era. True. But some of them were, so to speak, on the right side of history. Jefferson, Jackson, and many of the anti-Federalists were slaveholders. Jefferson famously wrote against slavery ("I tremble from my country when I reflect that God is just."), yet continued to practice it. John and Abagail Adams did not own slaves, and their son John Quincy became an ardent abolitionist.

The Federalists had the foresight to see what a strong national government (as opposed to a collection of strong state governments) could do. If the anti-Federalists had won the historical battle of ideas, we could forget about a Federal Reserve, an Interstate Highway System, and possibly even a strong military. Granted, the Federalists had their flaws. They could be elitists, and Jefferson and Jackson played a great role in making American a more egalitarian society. But I think the next time someone asks me which political party I favor, I'll tell them I vote Whig.

Monday, July 09, 2001

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

I may have only been to 7 World Heritage sites, but I've now been to baseball games in 8 of the 30 major league parks. Baltimore, Cincinnati, Oakland, San Diego, Boston, Minnesota, Toronto, and now Arizona. I like to attend sporting events as part of my tourism. It's fun, and it gives me the chance to see how people in a particular area enjoy their sports.

Well, in Arizona they enjoy it in a brand-new baseball stadium with a retractable roof. You might think the roof was there to keep out the heat. Maybe it does keep out the worst of the summer sun in the day, but at night they are generally content to put the top down and run the air conditioning full blast. Generally. But last night was during monsoon season, so they kept the roof closed up just in case. The windows, though, were a nice touch and gave the place less of a closed-in feeling than other domed stadia I've been to. Before the sun set, I could see the mountains in the distance; that was pretty cool.

Other than that, though it was a nice stadium, I didn't get the sense of a lot of character. It had the famous swimming pool, but we were on the opposite side, and it looked smaller than I'm used to seeing it on TV. It had all sorts of special sections -- restaurants, picnic areas, etc. Each had its own corporate sponsor. We were seated in the "Infiniti Diamond" section. To get to your seats, you went through a special restaurant area -- which held no great attraction for us, as we stuffed ourselves with Indian food at my aunt and uncle's prior to the game. Once seated, we were not beset by vendors, but rather had a chance to order food from the restaurant from our seats -- with a 18% service charge included.

The game itself was entertaining. The Diamondbacks were fairly hapless, not scoring until the bottom of the 9th. (Good thing we stayed.) The Athletics put together a reasonable offensive performance, and there was a nice mixture of entertaining hits and skilled defense. And so after 2 hours and 45 minutes, we headed back to my aunt and uncle's to pick up my parents' dog, and started back through the desert home.

Friday, July 06, 2001

Casa Grande

It's not every day in this country that you get to see the ruins of a 700-year-old building. But today was one of those days. We were supposed to go to Kitt Peak National Observatory last night to take part in their Nightly Observing Program. But monsoon season came early, so they canceled on us.

I still felt a need to get in a certain amount of tourism on this visit, however, so I selected Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, and my parents and I drove there today. Casa Grande was built by the Hohokam people, who occupied this area for almost two millenia before fading away around 1450. Nobody is quite sure what happened to them, but I was personally relieved that the white man can't be blamed for this one.

In 1694, Father Eusebio Kino passed by and named the ruins "Casa Grande." According to the Pima Indians who lived nearby, the people who used to live there were "all used up" or "ho-ho-kam". And thus the Hohokam got their name. Over the next couple of centuries, travelers drew closer to the ruins, with a rail line within 20 miles and a stagecoach path practically bumping up against it. However, it appears that there were only about a dozen years of serious danger (and some vandalism) for the ruins before Benjamin Harrison issued an executive order making it a National Monument. In the intervening years, they've built a canopy to protect it from the elements.

There's not a lot to see. The Park Service web site says that you should allow about an hour to look through the visitor center and to walk around the ruins, and that seems about right. The building is a shell, with detailed features hard to make out. You can see the holes in the walls that allow the sun to shine through exactly on the summer solstice (or mark other astronomical events). But the main thing to do is wander around marveling at the fact that there were people building multi-story buildings, playing ball games and building irrigation canals many, many years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue. And, of course, enjoy the desert vistas.

World Heritage Update

  • Casa Grande is not a World Heritage site (yet), but it is on the U.S.' provisional list.
  • Martin has been to 9 World Heritage sites. Ken writes that he's been to 4, but his wife has made it to 12.
  • The 13 sites that Bryson mentioned as meeting all 4 of UNESCO's criteria for inclusion as natural World Heritage sites are the Great Barrier Reef (Australia), the Tasmanian Wilderness (Australia), the Wet Tropics of Queensland (Australia), Shark Bay (Australia), Talamanca Range-La Amistad Reserves/ La Amistad National Park (Costa Rica/Panama), Galapagos (Ecuador), Te Wahipounamu (New Zealand), Lake Baikal (Russia), Vallée de Mai (Seychelles), Yellowstone (USA), the Grand Canyon (USA), the Great Smoky Mountains (USA), and Canaima (Venezuela). Since his book was published, Gunung Mulu National Park (Malaysia) has also been added. Pretty impressive list.

Thursday, July 05, 2001

World Heritage

"Of the five hundred or so sites on the planet that qualify for World Heritage status (that is, a site of global historical or biological significance), only thirteen satisfy all four of UNESCO's criteria for listing, and of those special thirteen places, four--almost a third--are to be found in Australia."
--Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country, pp. 204-5.

I came across this sentence in my reading yesterday, and it has intrigued me. For one thing, how many World Heritage sites have I been to? I took a look at the list and counted. I've been quite the world traveler of late, so I thought I'd accumulate a pretty fair total.

Seven. That's all. (I'm only counting ones I've been to since I graduated from college. If I counted back to eighth grade and before, I might be able to add one or two others.) They are Brugge (Belgium), Paphos (Cyprus), Suomenlinna (Finland), Durham Cathedral (UK), Fountains Abbey (UK), Hadrian's Wall (UK), Edinburgh (UK).

Any notion of using this as a tourism checklist is scotched by a number of factors: the size of the list (690 properties), the rate at which new properties are added to the list (61 last year), and the location of some of them (e.g., Iran, Iraq, Libya). Still, it helps identify places of universally recognized interest, and I probably will make an effort to see more and more of them in my travels.

I find it somewhat funny that none of the places I've been is in the US. The National Park Service does maintain a list of places it would like to have as World Heritage sites; I've been to a handful of those.

Let's get interactive for a change. How many World Heritage sites have you been to? I'm curious. Drop me an e-mail and let me know. (It's not too hard to go through the list, since you can skip over countries you've never been to.)

As for the original Bryson quote that led me down this path, I think it's in error. There are 4 criteria for being named as natural sites. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the Australian sites he describes as meeting all 4 criteria. But of the 690 sites, 529 are cultural, 138 are natural and 23 are mixed. So I think it would be closer to say that of the 138 natural ones, only thirteen satisfy all 4 criteria (though even that I haven't verified).

Wednesday, July 04, 2001


Greetings from Arizona, where I'm spending the 4th with my parents. The flights out were amazingly uneventful. Amazing to me, at least, after I almost got stranded overnight in Minneapolis -- or Chicago -- a couple of weeks ago.

My flight from BWI to O'Hare went fine. The plane was full -- I guess a lot of leisure travelers, like me, are taking advantage of the holiday to get in an extra day of vacation without using up annual leave at work. The flight took off on time, and landed with half an hour to go before boarding was supposed to begin for the flight to Phoenix.

When about 45 minutes passed, I was a little nervous. But then they started to board. I was able to get on right away, by virtue of an upgrade to First Class. United gives its Premier frequent fliers 4 500-mile upgrade coupons for every 10000 miles we fly. You redeem enough coupons to cover your flight and hope there are seats left. As "Bill" has pointed out, that means that if you play your cards right, you fly in first class roughly 1 out of every 5 flights. Playing your cards right, for me, meant not being willing to use 1000 upgrade miles for the 621 mile flight from Baltimore to Chicago, but using 1500 miles for the 1440 mile trip from Chicago to Phoenix. Apparently, a mere Premier member often has difficulty using the upgrades, but I think most of the high-miles road warrior were at home for the holiday.

When I sat down in 1st class, it was next to an 11-ish-year-old boy. Pretty soon a woman came up to me and asked if I would change seats so they could sit together. Ordinary, I'm extremely accomodating to such requests but I looked at my window seat, and the aisle seat she was offering me. I said that I'd really had my heart set on the window seat, but if she couldn't find somebody else, I'd make the switch. She soon came back to tell the boy that the guy next to her was willing to trade seats with him. At this point, however, he decided that life was good where he was, so he stayed put. Which made me all the happier I hadn't agreed to switch.

On the way out here, I read In A Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson. I'm planning to be in Australia a year from now for a conference, so I've decide to start learning more about the Land Down Under in order to plan my stay there. I'll probably take a week or so off before or after the conference to travel around, and a travelogue seemed more promising a way of learning what parts of this vast country are worth visiting than merely perusing a guidebook. This book certainly helped me get a feel for the country and its sights. Bryson's writing style is interesting...wry and thoughtful.

Monday, July 02, 2001


We saw A.I. at the Rio in Gaithersburg yesterday after lunch at the Hamburger Hamlet. I had never been to the HH before, and they did produce a fine hamburger. After living in University Park for 3 years, Gaithersburg's sort of jarringly outer-suburban. But it's pleasant, I'll give it that.

In general, I enjoyed A.I., though it wasn't spectacularly good. I wonder what Kubrick would have done with it. (Though after having seen Eyes Wide Shut, I no longer believe in his infallibility. Oh, yeah, and Barry Lyndon, too.)

Warning, a spoiler or two in the review ahead.

In a word, I found the whole thing pretty creepy...can you imagine having Haley Joel Osment as your kid? I would have dumped him in the woods even if he were the real one. Cree-py.

The plot ambles on, exploring this 21st (?) century post-global-warming society. It will from time to time take big leaps. Sometimes those leaps require a certain suspension of disbelief. (Don't the future police choppers have LoJack?) But mostly it's just a fairly interesting story with fairly distant characters and pretty cool special effects.

The original story upon which this is based is on-line here. Apparently there are two other sequel stories which also figure into the plotting of the movie, but I haven't seen them. Although Kubrick and Spielberg changed a number of things from the story (I'm disappointed that they got rid of the tapeworm -- that was one of the more believable parts of the story), the movie did have the feel of a science fiction story. Most SF movies feel to me more like some other genre -- typically western or thriller -- transplated into "the future." A.I. fell more into the speculative fiction genre I'm used to reading.

Anyway, 3 stars out of 5.

There is an interesting Washington Post article about Osment today. He sounds like a bright, interesting kid. But creepy.

Sunday, July 01, 2001


I have seen the future and it doesn't work

Take Sean Connery. Put him in a ponytail, sideburns, a fu manchu mustache, and...oh, yes, a loincloth. Add a giant flying stone head. Make 2293 look strikingly like 1974 (when the movie was made). You probably couldn't get anything as messed up as Zardoz, the movie we watched last night.

The year is 2293. This giant stone head (Zardoz) tells people (Brutals) that guns are good and penises are bad. The people go out at kill other Brutals who have been reproducing. But lately, Zardoz has been getting his Exterminators to make the Brutals agricultural workers. Why is this? Well, you see, Zardoz is actually the creation of an Eternal who lives in a Vortex (where the women often frolic topless), and you see, some of the Eternals have become Apathetics, and the Eternals need food for them.

All this was going well and good (huh? it was? what?), until Zed (Sean Connery) enters the picture. An Exterminator, he kills the guy behind Zardoz (don't worry; he's an Eternal, he'll be back) and rides the giant stone head to a Vortex. Well, once that happens, life in the Vortex will never be the same, as Eternals alternately employ Zed as their flunky, lover, and executioner. There's also some trippy stuff with crystals. Who am I kidding? It's all trippy.

It's worth seeing if only for the overwhelming feeling of, "What is Sean Connery doing in this movie?" and "Why didn't Mystery Science Theater 3000 ever do this movie?" Oy. According to something Fox Movie Channel scrolled across the screen, Stanley Kubrick served as an advisor on this film. You think between him and Sean Connery, they could have prevented it from seeing the light of day again...