just the two of us

We said goodbye to Tasha on February 8. It was a Monday. The vet was busy, but they fit us in because they understood the circumstances. So it’s been over five months, and both of us still miss our child.

TashaRecently I asked Terry if we couldn’t get a new set of bath towels. The ones we had were old and were starting to feel like sandpaper. Terry agreed and bought us a nice new set of plush, luxurious towels at Kohl’s. She then took the old towels to the animal shelter. I knew the residents there would appreciate them and that for them the towels wouldn’t feel at all like sandpaper.

Terry said she went back to where the dogs were, but they were all big ones. There was no small dog shouting, “Hey you! Over here. Pay attention,” as Tasha did to Terry back in the fall of 2005 at the San Martin animal shelter just north of Gilroy.

For now that’s OK. We know that we’ll never find another Tasha, and we’re not ready for another dog. Not now. Not yet.

Right now it’s just the two of us. And that’s fine.

The Disordered Cosmos

Disordered Cosmos coverThe Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred
Chanda Prescod-Weinstein
Bold Type Books (March 9, 2021), 244 pages
Kindle edition $16.99, Amazon hardcover $21.49

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is an angry woman. And justifiably so.

The author is the daughter of a Jewish father and a Black mother. She identifies as Black. Prescod-Weinstein grew up in East Los Angeles, with all the challenges that implies, yet earned acceptance into Harvard. She got her PhD and engaged in research in particle physics. She has studied dark matter, focusing her work on a theoretical particle called the axion.

The first part of the book is about physics and her research. She then talks about the biases in physics and science in general. She writes about melanin and points out that genetics and biochemistry have shown that skin color is an arbitrary construct, not tied to race.

Prescod-Weinstein segues from her discussion of dark matter to a commentary on how Black people are dark, that is invisible, in society, and all the entailed risks. She then spends a lot of space discussing how we decide where we build our telescopes. She explains how the volcano Mauna Kea in Hawaii is sacred to the indigenous Hawaiians, yet we built our telescopes there anyway. She recounts encountering the wrath of her science colleagues when she joined the native Hawaiians in opposing the latest addition, the Thirty Meter Telescope.

Gender plays an important role in this book as well. Prescod-Weinstein devotes several pages to the challenges that trans people face. She refers to herself as both “agender” and “queer.” In the acknowledgements she mentions her “spouse and political partner” whom she identifies as “Mr-ProfChandra.” Though some don’t like to admit it, gender is a fluid thing.

The author candidly describes her own experience of rape at the hands of a male in a position of power in her field. She describes the event in some detail, making clear that what happened was at the very least non-consensual sex, and was for all intents and purposes rape. Prescod-Weinstein concludes the book with a heartfelt letter to her mother, a civil rights activist, which recounts all that her mother did for her.

Much of The Disordered Cosmos is not easy to read, but it is a reminder of how far we have to go in the work of social and racial justice.

Two Video Courses on Physics

Don Lincoln CoursesThe Evidence for Modern Physics: How We Know What We Know (2021)
The Theory of Everything: The Quest to Explain All Reality (2017)
Don Lincoln, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab)
streaming video purchased as a set on sale for $97.90

I’m not sure what motivated me to buy this set. There is a lot of duplication in these two video courses. They do take different approaches, however. The newer course is a general overview of physics and focuses on how we know what we know, as the subtitle indicates. Dr. Lincoln focuses the older course on the quest for a “theory of everything” in physics, and he describes what we know and where the gaps in our knowledge are.

Both courses discuss the classical physics of Isaac Newton, Einstein’s theories of special and general relativity, quantum mechanics, subatomic particles, the big bang, gravitational waves, and what we know and don’t know about dark matter and dark energy. Lincoln does a good job of making complex concepts clear, although there is a lot more math in the older course than there is in the new one.

The older course offers a lot more in the way of graphics and enhanced production values. In that course Lincoln changes his position and looks at the two different cameras. In the new course he is always looking at the same spot, though there are two camera angles. I attribute all of this to the fact that the second course was obviously taped during the pandemic, with its staffing and social distancing limitations. In Evidence For Dr. Lincoln gets tickled by his lame attempts at humor just a little too often, something that occurs far less frequently in The Theory of Everything.

This is all fascinating stuff, and I enjoy learning about quantum mechanics from different experts in the field, as you may have noticed from my Kindle and audio book reviews. In this case, however, the two courses are too similar for me to recommend both. There have been no major breakthroughs in quantum mechanics since 2017, but of the two I’d recommend The Evidence for Modern Physics, despite the couple of drawbacks I’ve mentioned. On the other hand, if you find that the older course on sale and that the new one isn’t, the go for The Theory of Everything.

baseball has (in my opinion) crossed a line

baseballBaseball teams exist to make a profit. They always have. I get that. When the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles and the Giants to San Francisco in 1958 it was about heading to wide open markets without competition. Legendary San Francisco Giants play-by-play broadcaster Hank Greenwald published a memoir entitled This Copyrighted Broadcast in 1999, near the end of his career. In it he laments the increasing commercialization of the sport, saying that it was coming close to the point where announcers would have to say, “This next pitch is brought to you by…” Beginning last year the Nike swoosh started appearing on all major league baseball uniforms. All of that.

Recently, however, Major League Baseball entered into an agreement that I find troubling. They developed a marketing arrangement with a company known as FTX. The firm is a cryptocurrency exchange, facilitating transactions in tender such as Bitcoin. Starting with the All Star game this year all umpires are wearing an FTX patch on their uniforms.

I have a couple of problems with this. First, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are on the fringes of legality. They’re not illegal, but the federal government hasn’t figured out how to regulate them. Traders use cryptocurrencies in questionable activities and in transactions where those involved want to keep their identities secret. It’s not something that baseball should involve itself with, particularly when the television viewer can clearly see the patch on the umpire’s shirt throughout the game.

My other problem is that umpires are supposed to be the very model of objectivity. Commercializing their uniforms is damages their credibility.

This is almost enough to get me to stop watching baseball. Not quite, but almost.

B-Side Books

B-side Books coverB-Side Books: Essays on Forgotten Favorites
John Plotz, editor
Public Books Series
Columbia University Press (June 1, 2021), 271 pages
Kindle edition $11.99, Amazon paperback $26.00

I suppose you need to be of a certain age to get the “B-side” reference in the title unless, as a post-baby boomer, you’re familiar with how popular music was recorded and distributed in the fifties and sixties. I shudder to think that I am of a certain age, but if the shoe fits…

I remember well going to the local record store to buy the latest hit on a 45 RPM single vinyl record. You bought the record for the hit on the A side, but there was, of course, always a song on the flip side. Sometimes the B-side song became a hit as well, especially for artists like the Beatles. Other times it was a good song that never became a hit. Sometimes it was simply forgettable.

The reference in the title of the present book is to that second type of B-side song, as the subtitle suggests. The book groups its essays by genre, for example, Childhood, Other Worlds (science fiction and fantasy), Comedy, Battle and Strife, etc. The book selection is rather odd, with a disproportionate number of the books including either weird supernatural phenomena or heavy violence.

The only book in the collection that I have read is An American Childhood by Annie Dillard. What this book is doing as part of a B-side collection I have no idea. The book was well covered and well received when it was first published in 1989. It is currently available in hardcover, paperback, a Kindle edition, and as an audiobook. It is a delightful memoir in which Dillard, among other topics, lovingly recalls how her mother (very much alive and well at the time of publication) took delight in playing practical jokes and in cheating at board and card games.

The bottom line for me is that if you enjoy the weird, offbeat, and slightly warped you might take a look at B-Side Books. Otherwise, you will have lost nothing by skipping it.

Everybody Behaves Badly

Everybody Behaves Badly coverEverybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises
Lesley M. M. Blume
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (June 7, 2016), 373 pages
Kindle edition $10.16, Amazon paperback $10.69
Kindle edition purchased on sale for $1.99

I am not a big Hemingway fan, and I didn’t especially enjoy reading The Sun Also Rises for my American Novel class in high school. However, I am always interested in reading about the American expatriates in Paris in the 1920s and I very much liked A Moveable Feast, a collection of Hemingway’s recollection about those years that was published posthumously. And I also enjoy behind-the-scenes narratives. So when this book showed up in one of my e-book sale emails for $1.99, I decided it would be well worth the price.

Blume does a thorough job of portraying Hemingway’s early career starting with his days as a newspaper reporter and takes us through the publication of The Sun Also Rises and up to the stock market crash of 1929, when the Americans headed home.

What is noteworthy about The Sun Also Rises is that the characters are drawn from Hemingway’s crowd in Paris, and many of them are so thinly disguised as to be entirely transparent to anyone knowledgeable about that scene. In more that one case Hemingway infuriated those so portrayed. In particular, Hemingway based much of the novel on a trip the group took one year to Pamplona for the running of the bulls and the bullfight festival there, an event that Hemingway loved. The subjects, however, rarely appreciated the way in which Hemmingway portrayed them.

The author provides a detailed portrayal of the life Hemingway and his wife Hadley’s lived before the publication of the book, and how they survived on very little money, much of what was available coming from Hadley’s trust fund. Blume portrays Hemingway as being interested in promoting his own brand (long before that phrase came into use) and in ensuring his circle was well aware of his machismo. He also was not particularly interested in being faithful to Hadley, something she tolerated until they finally agreed to divorce around the time The Sun Also Rises was published.

If you’re interested in the story behind what went into the creation of at least one novel, Everybody Behaves Badly is good reading.

The End of the Golden Gate

End of the Golden Gate coverThe End of the Golden Gate: Writers on Loving and (Sometimes) Leaving San Francisco
introduction by Gary Kamiya
Chronicle Prism (May 25, 2021), 203 pages
Kindle edition $8.99, Amazon paperback $14.46

It should be no secret that I love San Francisco. Having said that, I have not spent as much time there as one might expect. Most of my time in The City has been on 19th Avenue, from the end of Interstate 280 to Park Presidio, and then across the Golden Gate Bridge to U.S. 101, heading to points north. Still, I have been to Golden Gate Park a handful of times, visited the Convention Center, and Terry and I have seen Phantom of the Opera (three times) and the revival of A Chorus Line at the Curran Theater while staying across the street at our favorite hotel, the Westin St. Francis. And I have worshipped at Grace Cathedral one time (or perhaps twice). Still, of all the trips I have made and the places I have stayed, San Francisco represents only a small percentage.

That does nothing to diminish my love for the city, of course, so when I read about the publication of The End of the Golden Gate it immediately popped to the top of my reading list. The subtitle accurately depicts that content of the book. These essays, well written, all of them, are about coming to San Francisco, living there, often leaving the city, and sometimes returning. There is a lot of reflection about how the place has changed.

One writer recalls people telling him how he arrived in San Francisco, too late. How it is no longer the same:

quote“I once did a show at Vesuvio Cafe with Allen Ginsberg opening with a new poem. Margaret Cho dropped in to try out some new material. Kirk Hammett from Metallica and Jerry Garcia played folk songs on acoustic guitars. Annie Sprinkle did a visual history of porn, and wow, was it visual! Armistead Maupin sat in the back writing a book that ended up being Tales of the City. And unbeknownst to all of us, Willie Mays and Rick Barry were in there the whole time.”

Me: “Um, I don’t think that timeline works.” Them: “You missed it, man. It was so cool.”

While a couple of the essays are written by people of an earlier generation, many of the pieces are written by millennials. They see San Francisco differently than I do. For me high tech was rooted in Silicon Valley and only much later started sprouting up in San Francisco. For many of these writers San Francisco was made less livable by gentrification, by the arrival of tech start-ups, and yes, by buses transporting high workers (in part responsible for the gentrification) to firms like Google in Silicon Valley, all of which helped contribute to less affordable housing and a higher cost of living. But even those who moved on loved the city they left.

These essays portray San Francisco with all of its faults. One Black author writes angrily about the subtle racism there, and how she felt compelled to do her grocery shopping at the Sprouts in Daly City to avoid suspicious stares at an upscale grocer in The City. Still, for these writers there is plenty to love about San Francisco, and I enjoyed sharing their experience.

our new grilling utensil

Terry and I both enjoy The Kitchen on Food Network and watch it regularly. During the pandemic the hosts initially shot their segments from home, but they eventually returned to the studio. When they did so they maintained social distancing, and Sunny Anderson regularly took up duty outside on the patio. (Apparently Sunny likes it outside. When the hosts were doing the show from home we saw in inside of everyone’s house except for Sunny’s. She was always outside preparing dishes that could be cooked on a grill.)

seafood grill basketOne week (back in the studio) Sunny was preparing a shrimp dish on the grill. She wanted a way to make sure she didn’t lose any shrimp when she turned them over. So she put the shrimp between two wire racks which she secured with thin wire off a roll from the hardware store. That struck me as rather kludgy and Terry asked why she didn’t just use a grill basket. And what was odd was that we never did see her turn the contraption over on camera, even after all the trouble she took to put the thing together. I suspect that an attempt to flip the homemade basket may have gone awry and been cut from the broadcast version.

That got me thinking, however, that we ought to have a basket for grilling seafood. I found exactly what we were looking for on Amazon. Our plan for its first use to be with shrimp didn’t work out, but I tried it out on the grill with some cod and it worked great. I learned that the inside needs to be sprayed with some non-stick spray or the safflower oil we keep in a spray bottle, but I consider the first use a success.

Terry then used the basket for shrimp. I have to say I’m a bit disappointed with the quality of manufacturing in the basket. After simply putting it in the drawer and storing it between uses, Terry had problems moving the bracket into place to lock the basket closed. I gave the top portion a twist to the right to enable the bracket to slip into place. That was annoying.

Still. it’s a useful addition to our set of grilling tools.