The Sorry State of the Baseball Hall of Fame

Well, that was that. Amidst barely any fanfare and mired in the depths of a downright stupid voting system, yesterday saw four new players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. The four inductees are, of course, uniformly deserving. Randy Johnson might be the greatest left-handed pitcher who ever lived, and certainly was the most terrifying. Pedro Martinez might have had the two greatest seasons by any pitcher ever, factoring in the era in which he played. John Smoltz made history as dominant starter, became a dominant closer, and then, in an outrageous third act, became a dominant starter again. And Craig Biggio, who last year was just two votes shy of being elected, will enjoy his long-awaited induction as one of the finest all-around position players of his era.

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Book Review: The Sweet Dove Died

I’ve been reading mostly Shakespeare and Harry Potter lately, so haven’t had time to catch up on many new books. But I was recently able to finish a novel by the wonderful Barbara Pym, The Sweet Dove Died. I’ve written about Pym before—author of many “ordinary sane people doing ordinary sane things”—in particular, about the pleasures of her 1952 novel, Excellent Women. But The Sweet Dove Died struck a different chord, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I put it down a week or so ago.

The title is from Keats; the book begins with the poem’s first four stanzas:

I had a dove, and the sweet dove died;
And I have thought it died of grieving;
O, what could it grieve for? its feet were tied
With a silken thread of my own hand’s weaving . . .

Unlike Excellent Women, Dove is suffused with melancholy. To be sure, there is plenty of the distinctly British banter that endears Pym to so many, and the precision and dexterity of her observations of social interaction remains very funny. But the novel’s subjects—loneliness; aging; the nature of love between people who are generations apart; the fickleness of youth—are severe, and the resolution Pym provides is far from uplifting. Continue reading

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The Last of the Shamans

The Amazon: an area of land two thirds the size of the United States, boasting 1.4 billion acres of dense forest, where the river at its widest is 300 miles across, where the tallest trees reach 200 feet, and where the majority of the world’s remaining indigenous communities live. Unsurprisingly, it’s one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

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The Amazon is home to some of the strangest and most unrecognizable (to an American) cultures in the world. Yesterday I read about an Amazon tribe whose language made linguists second-guess some of the most basic assumptions about human communication. Today, I read about Amasina, a shaman (an elder of an indigenous community) in the Trio community in Suriname. Continue reading

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The Great Norwegian Christmas Tree Fraud

It’s suddenly December, and before I was even prepared for it decorations have appeared out of nowhere, Christmas music fills the air, and we’ve all begun to be inundated with those stupid Lexus $50K-SUV-with-a-red-bow-on-top ads. Ah, yes, it’s time for that uniquely cacophonous five-week period of American culture known as the Holiday Season.

For my part, there’s a good deal to love about this time of year. Give me Nat King Cole singing the Christmas Song, a genuine blizzard, and societally enforced generosity, and I’m happy. Also, I have a soft spot for the Christmas aesthetic—what can I say? Glittering lights and Advent candles, stockings and ornaments and Nativity plays can do little but warm my heart.

The other day, while sprinting through Union Station to catch the train home from work, I spotted out of the corner of my eye a large red platform near the station entranceway, with a sign on the front which read: “Norwegian Christmas Tree: Coming Soon!” As I thought about this (after I’d made it onto the train), I became rather excited, because (1) as I mentioned, I like Christmas decorations, and (2) of all the countries you could select to provide a smashingly impressive Christmas tree, Norway would have to be at the top of the list. Seriously, when you think of Norway, don’t you think of massive pine forests covered in snow? The pungent smell of sap emanating from a pleasantly burning fire? And all of it taking place near lots and lots of fjords? With Karl Knausgaard reading quietly nearby? Doesn’t that sound idyllic???

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What We’re Cooking: Candy Onions

This Thanksgiving, my grandfather arrived at the house bearing a surprise: a half bushel of delicious cameo apples and a bunch of candy onions straight from the Amish produce auction. After gorging all day Thursday, we took more than our fair share of apples and onions, schlepping them early Friday morning from Gap, to the train station, to DC and work, back to the train station, and then finally all the way home to Baltimore. It was a long, hard, heavy journey. But in the end, it was completely worth it.

Everyone knows about apples, but I’d never tasted a candy onion until this weekend. A candy onion is a mild, sweet onion with a firm texture. The best way to bring out their sweetness is to grill or saute them and layer them on hamburgers (which will plan on doing tonight) or pizza (tomorrow).

For grilling, slice the onion in 1/2 inch thick slices. Rub olive oil, pepper, and salt onto the rings (don’t separate the rings within the slices, if that makes sense) and transfer them to the grill. Grill them for 15 to 20 minutes on medium heat until they are nicely browned and smell delicious. Pop them on top of your burger.

For sauteing, slice the onion into thick slices, but this time separate the rings. Heat a pan with olive oil over medium low heat. Pour the onions into the heated pan and cook for 30 to 50 minutes (depending on how sweet you want your onions; the longer you cook them, the sweeter they’ll get), stirring every 7 or 8 minutes. Layer them on top of your pizza. And voila!

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Shakespeare on the Train

I’ve been taking the train down to DC for work for three months now, and one of the pleasantly surprising side effects of this arrangement is the guaranteed block of reading time every morning. There’s something lovely about a good train ride-read. For one thing, I’ve found that mornings are more conducive to concentration than when, say, you’re nodding off under the covers before bed. In the mornings, my head is clear, and the gentle rumbling and shaking of the locomotive, for some reason, opens my mind to the wonder and beauty of language, especially fiction. Thus far, I’ve ambled through Charles Portis’ True Grit, some Peter De Vries novels, Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead and Home (I can’t wait to read her newest, Lila, which completes the trilogy), and a few others.

It was Carolyn’s idea to start reading Shakespeare on the train. Continue reading

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Plenty of Hygge in Baltimore

My brother, who studied abroad in Denmark last year, recently sent me an article about a word that’s become a new, personal, favorite: hygge. Hygge* is a Danish concept that, not literally translated, means “fireplace warmth with candles and family and friends and food, tucked under blankets on a snowy day, cup-of-coffee conversation, scarf-snuggle, squiggly, warm love.” In other words, slow down, stay in, and snuggle up. Sounds pretty great, right? According to the Danes, it’s their copious amount of hygge-time that make Denmark the happiest country on Earth.

The beauty of hygge is that it does not have one static meaning; it means something different to everybody. NPR accompanied its article on hygge with pilfered tweets from Danes, hashtagging hygge:

“Arrived at the cabin, sitting in front of the fireplace with a book and biscuits. #hygge.” -@JohanneBoat

“Grandmother, grandfather, mother and father for coffee and cake in an hour. #hygge.” -@NinaVindel

“Will spend as much as possible of my day off Friday under the blanket with books, magazines, movies and tea in gallons. #hygge.”-@LiseRoest

“Taking a coffee and walk with someone from work. #hygge.” -@ojholb

To each his own hygge.

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Drought in Sao Paulo

About a year ago, we wrote about the looming inevitability of a two degree global temperature increase within this century—an increase we couldn’t exceed without irreversible and catastrophic climate events.* In short, scientists have estimated that, in order to stay below the two degree Celsius increase, the atmosphere cannot hold more than 1,000 metric tons of carbon emissions. From the beginning of the Industrial Revolution until 2011, humans were responsible for adding 515 metric tons into the atmosphere—52% of our allotted carbon budget of 1,000 metric tons. This means that the clock is still ticking: from now until the end of time, we can only put 485 billion metric tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere if we want to stay below a 2 degree temp increase. Continue reading

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Feeling Green

In all of the political round-ups I’ve read in the past few days, the one headline that’s stood out (after some variation of “Democrats Got Trounced”) is the one proclaiming that the environment is the real loser of the election. Unfortunately, it’s true. Messrs Boehner and McConnell posted an Op-Ed in today’s Wall Street Journal loudly proclaiming their intention of passing the Keystone Pipeline in order to help businesses, and rescinding environmental regulations meant to curb carbon emissions. Their boasting suggests there is zero chance of passing legislation vital to waning our dependence on fossil fuels. And yes, it means the environment loses.

It seems, however, that most Americans don’t actually care. Polls indicated that climate change and the environment ranked 8th this past election. It’s enough to keep one up at night for a lot of nights in a row. Continue reading

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What We’re Cooking: Homemade Grilled Cheese

Suddenly it’s November, and temperatures are dropping all around the Northern Hemisphere. When the going gets cold, there’s nothing like a toasted, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth grilled cheese sandwich to warm your blood. This morning, as Carolyn and I awoke to a blustery fall day here in Baltimore, this very thought occurred to us, so we decided we make some grilled cheese. We were not disappointed. Here’s how we did it:

The Bread Continue reading

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