Saturday, May 31, 2008

Rolf at P.S. 4

Rolf was back at work in New York this last Wednesday and Thursday while we were there. He is teaching mostly Dominican - American fourth graders (roughly ten years old) in Washington Heights, in Harlem. He teaches at PS 4, the Duke Ellington School, which you can see in the picture.

On Thursday afternoon, we went to his class to talk about what college is like, what the students are like, what we teach, and what the students do. It was fun to talk to his students, who were very excited about it, partly about the college part, partly about curiosity about Rolf and his family. He seems to have a pretty good bond with them and has developed good routines for keeping them focused, which can be hard with ten year olds.

It also made me think back to when we lived in Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic in 1987, for four months. (I was on a Fulbright fellowship at the Universidad Catolica Madre e Maestra to help them start a communications grad program.) Several of our neighbors had lived in New York before. People would often go there, make some money and come back to the DR able to start a business or buy an apartment.

The area of Rolf's school is called Washington Heights because General George Washington had his headquarters there in an old mansion on the heights overlooking the rest of the city. The mansion and a little park around it are still there, a couple of blocks from the school. A nice island of green in the city.

Ghostbusters Guide to New York

Before we went to New York, a week or two ago, we were in the mood for a nice silly comedy so we watched Ghostbusters 1. Perhaps because of that, one of the things I really wanted to go see was the New York Public Library. I had gone there once a long time ago and love the feeling of the place, whether there are full torso apparitions to be seen by the card catalog or not.

The New York Public Library has a majestic feeling to it. A nice reminder of the power of books and learning. You can see Sandy and Kristy in the main reading room in this photo.

Then we walked around quite a bit through Central park. Here is a photo of Sandy and me in the Sheep Meadow, with a bit of urban skyline in back, part of the delicious contrast of the park.

We were meeting Rolf there and heading for the Mormon Temple in Manhattan. That happens to be only a couple of blocks from the building where Dana Barrett, the Sigourney Weaver character, supposedly lives in the movie. There apparently used to be tours of it, which is a bit much, but it is interesting to see it suddenly looming up, right there on Central Park West, an odd blend of real and surreal.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Coney Island

On Tuesday this week, we went out to Coney Island. Rolf seems to really like the place and I had always kind of wanted to see it, too.

Here are Rolf and Kristy romping on the beach. They are still in that very cute part of new married life where they are always poking each other and giggling.

We walked around on the beach for a bit. It seemed a little breezy to swim, especially since I was still wheezing with a cold I got in Montreal the previous week, but a few hardy souls were in the water.

We also walked around the boardwalk, which is both tacky and charming, as it ought to be, since it is sort of the Ur-Boardwalk, the platonic ideal of this kind of beach thing -- as you can see in the next photo. When we used to visit Sandy's parents in LA, we would frequently hit the beach and boardwalk in Santa Monica, which is not quite this classically cheesy, but somewhere in the running.

One of my favorite parts of Coney Island was Nathan's Famous hot dog stand. I had previously encountered a small version of Nathan's Famous hot dogs in the Newark Airport, where it was easily one of the most interesting things there (which also tells you something about the Newark Airport). I get a real kick of these kinds of traditional popular eateries, both in the USA and elsewhere. I love street food in many places for the same reason, even though I know I sometimes take a semi-serious health risk in eating some of it. (It would be nice to say that a chili cheese dog at Nathan's cured my cold, but alas it goes away very slowly.)

Monday, May 26, 2008

New York

While I was in Montreal at the ICA conference, Sandy flew to New York to see our son Rolf and his wife Kristy. Here you see Rolf rowing a boat in Central Park while Sandy looks on and Kristy is presumably taking the picture.

They also wandered around a lot. Here are Rolf and Kristy playing with several younger children on a big piano at F.A.O. Schwartz./

I flew down from Montreal today (Monday) after the ICA meeting to join them. They picked me up at the airport and later we went down to Battery Park to see the Statue of Liberty and harbor at sunset. You can see Sandy, Rolf and me in the next photo.

Sandy, the former Mariner Scout, was admiring all the sailing ships in the harbor.

So I got a shot of one, framed against the Statue of Liberty.

And who can resist a sunset over the New York harbor shot. Not I, certainly.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


I am in Montreal for the annual meeting of one of my favorite academic associations, the International Communication Association. I think I have been to all but one of their meetings for 24 years. A good annual academic meeting is sort of a cross between a stimulating intellectual exchange and an ongoing summer camp where you see your friends from last summer.

This year has been a bit less fun since I caught a cold on the plane up. Still, I am staying at an odd but fun hotel, the Hilton Bonaventure, which is the top two floors of a downtown building, sort of in the middle of the photo above. Sharing a room with my long time academic buddy and mentor, Doug Boyd.

I have had a somewhat busy schedule, three papers and three panels to comment on, so going to sleep for a couple of days to shake the cold was not really an option. So I have been sort of pacing things, semi-sensibly for a change, to stay semi-healthy for when I do need to talk or comment.

Today (Sunday) was such a pretty day, though, that I could not resist a brief walk through Chinatown and old Montreal, which are a pretty easy walk away. I walked through the place Jacques Cartier, full of jugglers, singers and a magician who also ranted about Quebec independence.
Then over by where the old city walls used to be, just up from this military parade ground (champ des mars) and back to the hotel.

In about an hour we are supposed to have a get together for current and past students and faculty from my department, Radio-TV-Film at UT. Probably in a faux Irish pub which seem to abound near the hotel.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

San Ignacio

While interviewing in Zapata, Texas, last week for a survey, we also spent a morning doing interviews in the nearby town of San Ignacio. It was founded in 1830 by people from nearby Guerrero, Mexico, and has a colorful history.

The older buildings are made of stone to be easier to defend during Comanche raids. One particularly interesting stone building in the second photo has a built in sundial over the main arch.

The town was one of the centers of the short lived Rio Grande Republic in 1839. It was used to stage attacks into Mexico by combatants in the Mexican Revolution 1910-20.

The town now seems to have a disproportionate number of elderly people, like many small rural towns. Almost everybody I found to interview was over 60.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Zapata and race

I went back to Zapata, Texas (on the border south of Laredo) last week to help finish up a survey that we are doing about the impact of broadband Internet in rural towns. Several grad students from UT went along to do interviews and help run the process. Here are Claudia, Adam and Jeremiah standing by some cactus, agave and mesquite-- all things that Zapata produces pretty well.

It doesn't seem to produce enlightened racial attitudes -- Adam got a pretty cold, even hostile reception from a lot of people there. It is too easy to forget how many people still have a pretty deep level of prejudice, just as much among Hispanics as Whites in this case, since the town is over probably at least 80 percent Latino.

Or was. Zapata is also attracting large numbers of Anglo retirees from other, usually more northerly parts of the USA. Rent is cheap -- one man I interviewed said the main reason he stays is $150 rent on a decent place near Falcon Lake with sort of a view of it. The weather is warm, which appeals to people who have seen way to0 much snow in the Mid-West. Food is cheap -- a steak dinner is about $8, as is a HUGE Tex-Mex meal.

So Zapata is being redefined ethnically now, but it still seems to effectively exclude Black people from its new definition.

It will be interesting to see how Obama does in South Texas.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Dead Parrot Joke Lives!

Maybe it is only beloved by boomers and the Straubhaar clan, but I was delighted to see a clever political revival of Monty Python's (in)famous dead parrot joke.

This Is an Ex-Candidate

Hillary Clinton, pining for the Rose Garden.
Hillary Clinton, pining for the Rose Garden.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008; Page A03

C ustomer: "Look, matey, I know a dead parrot when I see one, and I'm looking at one right now."

Pet-shop owner: "No, no he's not dead, he's -- he's resting! Remarkable bird, the Norwegian blue, isn't it, aye? Beautiful plumage!"

-- From "Monty Python's Flying Circus"

11:45 a.m., Melrose Hotel, Foggy Bottom: It's Day 7 of the Clinton Campaign Death Watch -- a full week since the official arbiter of the Democratic primary, Tim Russert, declared the campaign over and Barack Obama the nominee. Hillary Clinton's advisers continue to insist that the candidate's prospects are very much alive, but the press isn't buying it. Exhibit A: There are two press buses waiting at the hotel here for Clinton's trip to her victory rally in West Virginia, but the entire press contingent doesn't quite fill one. It isn't until the entourage arrives at Dulles Airport that Clinton aides learn that the second bus is still idling, empty, at the hotel.

For the rest, including more Monty Python quotes, go to

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

May the force be with you

Here is a great little item for anyone who enjoys Star Wars, political mash-ups or satire.

Truthiness alert. It does seem a tiny bit pro-Obama.