Friday, October 22, 2010

the last book I ever read: Jimmy Carter's White House Diary (part four)

the fourth and final set of excerpts from Jimmy Carter's White House Diary.

November 20, 1980
“I met alone with Reagan in the Oval Office, and we had a friendly and unrestrained discussion. He listened primarily and made a few remarks, apparently excerpted from his basic campaign speech.”

December 12, 1980
“Nancy Reagan created something of a furor this morning when she said she thought it would be appropriate for me and Rosalynn to move out of the White House into Blair House early so she and Ronnie could decorate it before they move in.”

January 10, 1981
“We can’t find my two split bamboo rods – to me, two of the most valuable items I own. [They must have been stolen when our things from Camp David were repacked in the White House. The FBI helped look for them but had no success.]

January 20, 1981
“I made arrangements for the Secret Service to keep me informed on the way to the inaugural ceremonies. Reagan seemed somewhat disconcerted that no one was in the reviewing stands and there were a large number of ERA banners. He told a series of anecdotes that were remarkably pointless. The one he considered funniest was about an old man who was asked whether he slept with his beard under or over the covers, and then he couldn’t sleep. He suggested this might be a good punishment for Khomeini for seizing our hostages.
“I consider him to be affable and a decent man, remarkably old in his attitudes. His life seems to be governed by a few anecdotes and vignettes that he has memorized. He doesn’t seem to listen when anybody talks to him. He’ll have my support and my sympathy when he’s president.”

March 21, 1981
“[Egyptian] ambassador [Ashraf] Ghorbal called and wanted Jehan Sadat to visit Plains. He asked if I could arrange transportation from Robins Air Force Base to my home, and I told him I had a pickup truck. He paused several seconds and said, ‘I was really thinking more of a helicopter.’ I told him that former presidents didn’t have helicopters, but we would see what we could do.”

Thursday, October 21, 2010

the last book I ever read: Jimmy Carter's White House Diary (part three)

the third set of excerpts from Jimmy Carter's White House Diary.

SPOILER ALERT!!! we're into 1980.

February 11, 1980
“I met with Muhammad Ali, who had just returned from difficult trips to China and India. I had also asked him to go to five nations in Africa because he had decided quite early that American athletes should not go to the Soviet Union while invading troops were in the Muslim country of Afghanistan. He went to present our case, which he had done very well. Ali said it was a lot tougher to be a politician and a statesman than a boxer, but he was pleased with the outcome of his trip.”

May 21, 1980
“I decided to visit Washington and Oregon to see the damage done by the Mount Saint Helens volcanic eruption. It’s much more extensive and serious than I had thought, with the Portland harbor [reportedly] filled in with silt, several inches of silt in Spokane several hundred miles away, and serious damage to timberland, crops, and possibly to the health of the people who live there. Just six hours late, we took off. I had the secretaries of the interior, agriculture, the army, the director of FEMA, the National Institutes of Health, plus science advisor Frank Press to assess the problems with the explosion and eruption.

May 22, 1980
“Fifteen miles from the volcano the trees had been burned instantaneously with power at least equivalent to a ten-megaton nuclear explosion, leveling every tree in an area of 150 square miles. One cubic mile off the side of the mountain had been pulverized, and ash had flowed down the mountain, carrying large chunks of ice, large rocks, and molten lava. The top 1,200 feet of the mountain was missing. Spirit Lake was filled with 400 feet of this ash and lava; its level rose 150 to 200 feet.
“This is like nothing I had ever seen – much worse than any photographs of the face of the moon. It looked like a boiling cauldron; icebergs the size of houses were buried underneath hot ash and lava; the icebergs were melting, the surface of the ash was caving in, and steam from the melting ice was rising. There were a few fires about, but there was nothing much left to burn. Eighty-five or ninety people were dead or missing, including, unfortunately, some geologists who were handling the seismograph stations and inclinometers to assess the mountain’s volcanic activity before it erupted . . . . Frank Press says this if by far the biggest natural explosion ever recorded in North America in the last four thousand years.”

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

the last book I ever read: Jimmy Carter's White House Diary (part two)

the second set of excerpts from Jimmy Carter's White House Diary.

SPOILER ALERT!!! we're getting closer to 1980.

on a side note, today I surprisingly and uncharacteristically gave up, returned a book to the library that I was barely halfway finished reading.
the subject matter was right up my alley and it wasn't the worst book or even the most disappointing book I've ever read, but it just wasn't good enough to finish.
a sign of maturity?
probably not.
a new found ability to properly prioritize?
I'm not feeling Door Number Two either, Carroll Merrill.
or the churlishness that has become so much a part of my personality that there's a good chance I owe Mr. and Mrs. Churl some royalty money?
ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner.

November 18, 1978
“We had a crisis in Guyana with Congressman Leo Ryan and five other Americans being murdered by a religious sect headed by Reverend Jones, from California. Several hundred of his followers committed suicide at his urging. We helped evacuate the dead and wounded.”

June 12, 1979
“I announced a new health insurance program with Jim Corman, Charlie Rangel, Harley Staggers, Russell Long, Abe Ribicoff, Gaylord Nelson, all of whom vowed to support the proposal. Kennedy, continuing his irresponsible and abusive attitude, immediately condemned our health plan. He couldn’t get five votes for his, and I told Stu and Joe Califano to fight it out with him through the public news media. It’s really time to do something about health care, catastrophic illness, the problem of the poor not having health care at all, also prevention for children, prenatal to the one-year age level. This kind of coverage is lacking in our country, and it’s needed.”

February 3, 1980
“One [CIA] agent whom we had sent into Iran with a false German passport was questioned by customs because instead of using a full middle name, we used the initial ‘H.’ Apparently the Germans never use a middle initial. When questioned about it, the agent very quickly said, ‘I’m ashamed of my middle name, which is Hitler.’ The Iranian said, ‘Well, under those circumstances, I can understand why your passport is different from all the others in Germany.”

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

the last book I ever read: Jimmy Carter's White House Diary (part one)

I am done, finished, yea verily I have completed reading all 537 pages (I am not counting the index because I didn't read the index) of Jimmy Carter's White House Diary. and for the next few days I will be posting excerpts of interest.

SPOILER ALERT!!! 1980 wasn't a great year for our 39th President.

March 5, 1977
“Reverend James Baker from South Carolina, immediately after he talked to me, called his sister-in-law and was so excited that he died, unfortunately. I called his wife to express my regrets.”

May 21, 1977
“During the afternoon I met with Major General [John] Singlaub about his statement that if we withdrew troops from South Korea a war would result. He denied making the statement. He said he was just quoting from Korean officials. Then he said that the reporter was not given authority to quote him. I don’t think he was telling the truth, but I felt sorry for him. He emphasized over and over that he was not disloyal, that he’d meant no insubordination. So instead of reprimanding him I just told him that we would transfer him out of Korea.”

February 13, 1978
“We had a regular cabinet meeting and discussed the coal strike, which could create some serious problems if it’s not handled soon. The production of coal has dropped by 60 percent, and by early April we could have at least 5 million people unemployed. We also had a discussion about whether the percentage of incompetent lawyers was 20 percent or 50 percent. I personally sided with Chief Justice Burger, who chose the higher number.”

Monday, October 18, 2010

I really like my job

you know, the job that I gave myself that's not really a job in that there's not really a paycheck or anything else that's very steady about it.

but I do like interviewing people.

and the thing that I don't like about my job that's not really a job is the transcribing part.

don't get me wrong.
I really, really like coming up on those passages that I just know will work. they're kind of like moments of discovery and they feel great, each and every one.

but listening to yourself (if you're me) is pretty much horrible.
especially when you won't shut up.

I mean, I'm transcribing an interview now with Kevin Stallings, the head basketball coach at Vanderbilt University (pictured above). and it's a really good interview.
but there are a couple moments where I'm stumbling around like my 13 year old self is back at the junior high school dance.

(let me once again apologize to my date that evening. though my intent was to put my arm around you I'm pretty sure what actually occurred was closer to a headlock (I was pretty damn short when I was 13 years old))

and what's worse is that at one point Coach Stallings paid me a compliment.
and it kind of came out of nowhere yet sounded sincere (even on the replay), but I don't take compliments very well (not a lot of practice there) so I pretty much just stumbled around to where it kind of sounded like I was stepping on my own tongue.

and that's not fun to listen to.
especially when you have to replay it once, maybe two or three times to make sure you've transcribed the passage accurately.
and by then you're so sick of yourself that you really don't want to be transcribing any more.

but I really like my job.

*** for you latecomers, I am working on two rather extensive (read: long and involved and time-consuming) oral history projects: one with folks who have lost a job since the recession began and one with 49 year olds.
and between those two projects (and those two projects alone) I've interviewed just over 100 people (which is much more listening to myself than I want to do by a factor of about 100) in the past eight months.
so if you know of someone who is both interesting and has recently lost a job OR (not and) someone who is interesting and 49 years old, please steer them in my direction.
good night and have a pleasant tomorrow.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

everybody goes through phases

I'm going through a Frosted Flakes phase.
(it's been a very long phase, of course, but recently it's experienced what might be called an uptick (this is not the first or even second evening this week that I've enjoyed a bowl (or two)))

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I've Seen That Movie Too

yes, I'm seriously considering the appropriation of Elton John song titles for my blog entries from here on out (next up: Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting)

so here's the thing: once again (and again and again and again) I possess a New York Public Library book (NYPL rocks!) that I have not completed reading that is due and, yes, cannot be renewed.

this week's book in question: Jimmy Carter's White House Diary.
(I'm just about halfway through and while, as a man, our 39th President remains nearly celestial in my estimation, I'm beginning to remember (vividly) his failings as a politician. a vast, glaring difference, say, between him and someone as accomplished as Lyndon Johnson)

this happened, pre-Texas, with Jonathan Franzen's Freedom (one of the last books I ever read and not as stellar as The Corrections unfortunately).
we settled that one by buying a copy through Amazon, returning both copies to the library and then sharing the single copy of Freedom (which is what allowed me to read Meghan McCain's Dirty Sexy Politics on the JetBlue flight to Austin (it's a quick read) before coming back to finish Freedom within the state of Texas while my spouse began reading Christopher Isherwood's A Single Man while waiting for me to finish Freedom; got it? (there will be a quiz later) but we will not be changing partners (dosey-do) with White House Diary as half of our partnership turned up her proverbial nose at the prospect (which isn't looking like the worst decision, to tell the truth))

so the most surprising (and disturbing passage) from one of the last books (though not really the last book) I ever read:

"I wasn't sure what was normal - or supposed to happen between a president's family and a vice president's. But I know what I wanted: for everybody to get along.

"My mom had a similar impulse. She reached out to the Palins and I don't think she always felt they had reached back. Words fell through the cracks. Offers to help - and bond - went unrecognized. My mom really hit if off with Todd, and liked her time with him, and both my parents were incredibly supportive of Bristol and Levi. My mom had even suggested that she and my dad would love to be godparents to their baby, if they were interested. But she never got an answer."

- Meghan McCain's Dirty Sexy Politics

Friday, October 8, 2010

the last concert I ever saw

the hold steady
beacon theatre
new york, ny
october 7, 2010

"the hold steady meets angels in america"

(more pics (and more representational pics) at

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

more, yet non-chronological, Austin trivia

the Austin City Limits Festival is this coming weekend.
we will be long gone.

regular Austin buses (not busses, which would likely be illegal except in Nevada) cost $1 to ride and you can use a dollar bill (it doesn't have to be change).

the bat exodus from underneath the Congress Avenue Bridge is not particularly impressive, at this time of year at least (lots of bats, but hard to see (see: no dark swarm cloud) without the help of artificial light because that whole "they come out right before sundown" isn't true (unless you think "before sundown" means "too dark to really see").

not a lot of downtown restaurants open on Sunday night, even if it's early.

don't eat at the Chick-Fil-A in the Texas Union after, say, 3 p.m. unless you like your sandwich more "warmed over" (heat lamp-style) than freshly prepared.

I find it strange that the three statues closest to Main Building on campus are Jefferson Davis, George Washington and Woodrow Wilson.
am I the only one?

the Austin Museum of Art is very small and cost five dollars (but the ceramics, most notably works by James Tisdale, Billy Ray Mangham and the late Tre Arenz, are impressive).

the Blanton Museum of Art (on-campus) costs nine dollars if you're not a student or faculty member, and most of the modern art appears to have been donated by James A. Michener and his wife (but Saint Agatha, pictured above, is part of the permanent collection).

Ruby's B-B-Q at 29th and Guadalupe (right by The Spiderhouse on Fruth Street) will tell you that their brisket is their best selection. it's good and peppery, but people who aren't particularly fond of barbecue (or chuck roast) may tell you that it reminds them of chuck roast.
and their chicken very much pales in comparison to the bird served by Iron Works.

UT sorority girls like to eat at Whole Foods on Sunday night.

I still really like the fountain in front of Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum.

the poolside fountains at the Doubletree on 15th Street are a really good idea (cuts down on traffic noise).

and the housekeeping staff washed the dishes in our sink (or at least replaced them with clean dishes) two days in a row. which definitely removed any dish washing intentions I may have had.

there are so many buildings with Wells Fargo signage than at least one Austin visitor might ask if Wells Fargo owns half of downtown or just 30 percent.

foam Hook 'Em Horns fingers will cost you $10 at ONE OF THE TWO "team stores" within the football stadium. personally that's well more than I would be willing to spend, even without the packing considerations.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

the first thirty-six hours in Austin, Texas

you can stand underneath the sign that reads Taxis at the Austin airport, but that doesn't mean there will be a taxi there.
but most of the time some kind of pay to ride vehicle will show up eventually.

but if you're headed downtown or near the University area the #100 bus only costs a dollar and shouldn't take more than 30 minutes to get you at least close to where you're going. which is the way to go if you're not on an expense account.

our cab driver said that he lived in Austin for 12 years without a car.
he did not find it ironic that he now drives a taxi.

we arrived at the Doubletree on 15th Street way before check-in time but the hotel has a shuttle that will take you anywhere within a two-mile radius.
we chose Whole Foods, and the shuttle driver said that it was the biggest Whole Foods in the world (being the corporate headquarters and all).

after a bit of perusing I decided I could eat at the Whole Foods (almost never my first choice) and one of the sandwich guys (correctly I might add) assumed that I was without major funds because he recommended the tacos ("more bang for the buck").
so we both ordered the soft tacos (two, fully loaded, for $5), then took them up to the second floor patio (very warm, very sunny) to eat.

while in the neighborhood we stopped by Snap Kitchen and Waterloo Records where I bought a t-shirt as a gift (for someone else) and a boxed (as in mystery kind of surprise thing) Simpsons figurine as a gift (for myself).

we walked back to the hotel.

(one of the bellmen thought that the Texas Clocktower shooting (by Charles Whitman on August 1, 1966) occurred in 1979.)

our room wasn't exactly ready (even though it was after 3 p.m.), but once it was we got a very nice one: 14th floor in a 15 floor building, balcony overlooking a very nice Southern view (the State Capitol just to our left), a kitchen so full it has a dishwasher (though not nearly enough dishes to fill it).

walked up Guadalupe to campus, the Harry Ransom Center, over to the Texas Union where the Chick-Fil-A was closed so I asked at the Hospitality desk what the C-F-A hours of operation were.
9 to 5, the woman said.

the University Co-op (which does not have Texas Baseball hats) currently features University of Texas-themed Halloween shirts for a mere $9.99.

walked back down Lavaca, then over 15th to the 7-11 which did not have a 2-liter Dew anywhere so I settled for a 12-pack of 12 ounce cans.

down to the hotel gym (2nd floor) where I ran a mile for the first time in 20-something years (while watching 30 Rock (and the headphone jack on the treadmill is underneath the Stop button where you can't see it unless you're like three feet tall, and not anywhere near the other controls, like Volume and Channel and Power, up by the screen)).

dinner? dinner?
well, it was after 8 and we'd made no plans, had no thoughts other than not having Mexican again after the Whole Foods tacos so I brought up Iron Works (barbecue) even though there really wasn't anything there (I thought) that my beloved could eat.
but I'm a selfish bastard and was well past hungry and it turned out that they flavor with a dry rub which she could actually eat, HOWEVER they closed at 9 and it was after 8:30.
so I made an executive (though I'm not an executive) decision and we placed a phone order, ran down to the lobby to get John, one of the bellmen, to drive us up to Iron Works and back (just over a mile each way as the crow flies, but that's not the way he went) and we ate in our room.

the chicken was pretty damn good (probably the best of what we brought home).
the beef ribs were also pretty damn good.
the potato salad was acceptable.
I didn't have a lot of interest in the pickles that were included and even less interest in the raw onions.
the barbecue beans were, well, not worth eating at all. extremely bland.

curled up and watched the Daily Show when the hot tub (which we can see from our balcony) appeared occupied.

the next morning I grabbed a couple items off the free (for us as I'm a Hilton Honors bigwig) continental breakfast (just okay, primarily because it was free), fought off a sore throat and much congestion, then went down to the pool and read the last 100 pages of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom (good, but not as good as The Corrections).

showered, got Tee-Jay, another of the bellmen/shuttle drivers, to run me over to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum (on campus, but kind of tucked awkwardly between the interstate and the football stadium).

was welcomed by an elderly docent (of which there were several) who recited most of the introductory welcome material twice, including the fact that the brochures, that she soon collected for me even though I didn't need any of them (contact information for each of the Presidential libraries, for example), on the counter were all free.

watched an informative 23-minute film overview of LBJ's life and career and was reminded that I'm actually quite a fan (Vietnam was the proverbial rock and a hard place, no-win, no solution debacle and the man was arguably as well-intentioned as any President and likely unarguably the hardest-working man to ever hold the office).

exhibits may be viewed on the 3rd, 4th and 10th floors.

I skipped the kind of scene-setting, general history material on the 3rd floor and stuck with the LBJ only objects (bordered in red) such as correspondence, the suit he wore when taking the oath of office aboard Air Force One and the teletype text of his "I will not seek nor will I accept" speech.
the 10th Floor, with replica Oval Office (7/8ths scale) and Ladybird's actual Library office open for viewing, was definitely more interesting than the 4th (some poor portraits of every President (on one wall) and every First Lady (on a separate wall), gifts from other heads of state and an animatronic LBJ telling jokes (audio good but the robot looked nothing like the man).

the LBJ Museum Store: make no plans to walk out with a t-shirt or baseball cap or you will be disappointed.
but I tried to support (the Library and Museum require no paid admission) by purchasing quite a few postcards as well as LBJ's memoir, The Vantage Point.

down the stairs and by the impressive bowl of a fountain, past the north end zone of the football stadium, then up to the Main Building (no tower tours until next spring due to some kind of maintenance/repair work) and over to the Texas Union where, to my tremendous dismay, the Chick-Fil-A (the only one within walking distance, by the way) was already closed.

I returned to the Hospitality desk, reminded the workers there that I had been told that C-F-A closed at 5.
Yes, the woman said, but they didn't check the holiday schedule.
What holiday? I asked.
Well, she said, it's OU weekend.
So the Chick-Fil-A closed at 2 today because there's a football game in Dallas tomorrow?
Pretty much, she said.

I ate a roast beef sandwich at Which Wich.
which seems as good a time as any to suggest that it appears that people in Austin, or at least those working in the service sector, are genuinely nice.
or terrific actors.
the sandwich was good, though the flavor of their barbecue sauce could use some adjustments.

made dinner reservations then down to the second floor spa/gym/room where the weights and treadmills are kept to run another mile (that's two days in a row) then back up for showers.

ate at the Driskill Grill, "consistently ranked as Austin's #1 restaurant," for dinner.
a restaurant week prix fixe was still in force so the two of us enjoyed a three-course meal, with tip and drink, for about $55 each (we paid separately due to the expense accounting - one of us on and one of us (me) off).

then a lovely stroll home (if the hotel counts as home), probably a mile, on a beautiful evening, with much tarrying within the floodlit 30-acre State Capitol complex which is just around the corner from our hotel.