Archive for Idle comments

Goodness shines through the evil

I came across this gripping video interview with a U.S. survivor of the Mumbai terrorist attack on Vijay Saraswat’s Facebook page.


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In defense of Revolutionary Road, the book

I wrote this comment in response to Lee Siegel’s review of “Revolutionary Road,” the movie, in The Wall Street Journal:

If only Lee Siegel had made a greater distinction between Revolutionary Road the book and “Revolutionary Road” the movie!

Indeed, his conclusion about the movie is, I think, what Richard Yates was saying in the novel: “[L]ife’s complexity and surprise follow you everywhere, even over the city-line, across the river and into the suburban trees.”

It’s true that Yates invents an uninspiring landscape by planting “KING KONE, MOBILGAS, SHOPORAMA, EAT” signs all along fictitious Route Twelve, but the true lack of inspiration lies inside Frank and April Wheeler. Nothing in their lives has prepared them to be anything more than dilettantes. They don’t know very much about hard work, persistence or commitment. Worst of all, they blame everybody except themselves for their failures: the community theater is cheesy; Knox Business Machines is full of do-nothings; and the Revolutionary Road community, whose members actually had the kindness to come out and support their neighbors in an amateur performance of a very average play, is nothing more than a bastion of Republican dummkopfs.

The Wheelers’ Connecticut suburb forces them to acknowledge a harsh reality about themselves and each other: They are not great actors or writers. They are ordinary people doing ordinary things — raising their children, planting gardens, taking out the trash. At some point on the evolutionary road to adulthood, most of us ordinary souls accept this ordinariness about ourselves and our social circle. The Wheelers’ tragedy lies in their belief that life owes them something “absolutely crazy, and marvelous.” When life doesn’t deliver on this wished-for scenario, the Wheelers fall apart. If you want to examine the problem of suburban America, Yates seems to be saying, look at Frank and April. Don’t blame SHOPORAMA.

Even though I was never (sad to say) a Paris Review intern, count me in as one of the puerile admirers of Yates’ wonderful old — and deeply insightful — book!

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Can I have a Wordle with you?

Who knew that Wordle was the invention of an IBM Research software engineer named Jonathan Feinberg?

I had the good fortune of interviewing Jonathan in September 2008.

Here’s Can I have a Wordle with you, the mp3 presentation I created based on my conversation with him. It’s in the IBM Computer Science Spotlight series and on the Wordle website.

And talk about being self-referential: Here’s the Wordle of this very text.

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I’m not reassured

I sent this letter to the editor of Jewish World Review:

In re: Biden, Palin take lead in clash on Mideast issues

Dear Editor:

I loved Governor Palin’s speech at the Republican National Convention, but, after all, she didn’t write it herself. She delivered a speech said to be written by Bush speechwriter Matthew Scully. Governor Palin has good instincts about national security and the need for greater energy independence, but the question still nags at me: Is she qualified to be vice president — and possibly president — of the United States?

Barack Obama has not reassured me that he understands the role Israel plays as the only reliably pro-Western country in the Middle East, nor does he seem to understand what Israel means for Jewish survival. (In all fairness, I don’t have the same apprehensions about Senator Biden.) Given Senator Obama’s lukewarm support for Israel and his own relative inexperience, I can’t see pulling the lever for the Democratic ticket.

Yet at this point, I don’t feel comfortable supporting the McCain-Palin ticket either. Despite her wonderful delivery at the RNC, Sarah Palin is a rookie. Moreover, a Time magazine article alleges that she sought to have books banned from the Wasilla, Alaska, public library. You may think that support for Israel should outweigh freedom of speech, but it’s just such unintelligent intervention in cultural affairs that makes me think that Governor Palin would do exactly what the Republican party sees as a cardinal Democratic sin: Meddle in our personal lives. Worse: Meddle in affairs she doesn’t understand.

It’s the morning after the RNC and I plan on doing something I’ve never done before: Sit this election out. 

Barbara Finkelstein

See part of this letter in Wordle

Video of Sarah Palin at the RNC

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If only we knew he was sincere

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Free Rice

Remember Free Rice? I could never figure out how people in Sudan were going to benefit from my sitting in Hawthorne, NY on the day before Thanksgiving 2007 playing this online word game.


Here’s my observation on it that I published on David Singer’s blog


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If only we knew he was sincere

How I wish I could vote for this man…

Barack Obama at Yad Vashem.

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