Wikipedia is cool

Lately I’ve been writing essays for a course I’m taking at Uni called “Source Reliability”. Readers of this blog will know that I’m rather keen on this subject. We get our essays accepted or not accepted – they aren’t graded. But the professor comments on them, and he liked my latest essay. It’s about Wikipedia and has a debacle between the science journal Nature and Encyclopaedia Britannica as its starting point. If you haven’t heard about the debacle, here’s what it says in Wikipedia (and it’s in fact quite a correct description):

On 14 December 2005, the scientific journal Nature reported that, within 42 randomly selected general science articles, there were 162 mistakes in Wikipedia versus 123 in Britannica. In its detailed 20-page rebuttal, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. characterized Nature’s study as flawed and misleading and called for a “prompt” retraction. It noted that two of the articles in the study were taken from a Britannica year book, and not the encyclopedia; another two were from Compton’s Encyclopedia (called the Britannica Student Encyclopedia on the company’s web site). The rebuttal went on to mention that some of the articles presented to reviewers were combinations of several articles, and that other articles were merely excerpts but were penalized for factual omissions. The company also noted that several facts classified as errors by Nature were minor spelling variations, and that several of its alleged errors were matters of interpretation. Nature defended its story and declined to retract, stating that, as it was comparing Wikipedia with the web version of Britannica, it used whatever relevant material was available on Britannica’s website.

Below find my essay – only edited slightly for use here (no footnotes etc.). If you can’t be bothered to read the whole thing – about a 1000 words – then scroll down to the bottom. There’s my tips for what to think about before you delve into a Wikipedia article.

The battle between Encyclopedia Britannica (hereafter EB) and Nature was intriguing – not least because it, in my view, is somewhat beside the point. Nature’s intentions were honourable, I believe, in letting their very informed readers know if it can be considered worthwhile – not safe – to use Wikipedia for anything. And they seemed to be rather baffled themselves at the result, that yes, it is worthwhile, also for the informed user, to consult Wikipedia. In my view the article did not try to put EB down.

One of the more interesting facts the investigation revealed was that the learned test persons were more sceptical towards the random articles than towards the articles within their fields of expertise. For reasons that I can’t quite understand, many teachers at all levels of the schooling system tell their pupils to NEVER use Wikipedia. Many times I’ve heard well educated and academically trained people say that they never use Wikipedia, because it’s completely untrustworthy. But upon inspection, they have never used it, so how is it that they know? Probably this is why the test persons were so sceptical towards the articles about subjects outside their intellectual comfort zone.

It is also interesting to notice the aggression and fervour with which EB responded to the article. A lot of their response may be correct in a narrow sense, but entirely beside the point, because the Wikipedia articles had had the exact same treatment. And the Nature article is actually quite critical about some things in Wikipedia – like the occasional rather poorly constructed articles and poor readability. This fervour may be related to the sad fact that academia frowns upon academics who choose to put their skills to use for the general public. Nature surveyed 1000 scientists, of which only 10% had ever helped updating Wikipedia. It probably doesn’t improve your academic career to invest time enlightening the public on your speciality.

And then there are all the things you can get from Wikipedia, which EB doesn’t give you. There are articles about every little town or village in the Western World, every politician, every pop group, every artist, every historical person, every technical term or gadget known to man – almost. And then there’s the freshness – the articles updated at the speed of light when events develop. Apart from the way they are created, these two factors are what really separates Wikipedia from EB. And why to some extent comparing them is a bit like comparing apples and pears. And access to EB is on subscription basis. In Denmark and here in the UK you can gain free access to EB via your local library. But unfortunately, most people don’t know this – or just can’t be bothered. In EB you cannot see when an article has been created or updated – or at least I can’t find it. And there are very few outside links and no references.

When I was a child we had two encyclopedias in the house: Lademanns and Gyldendals. I quickly discovered that Lademanns was best for looking up things to do with nature, science and geography because of the many, good colour photographs and illustrations. Whereas Gyldendal was best on history and literature, because the entries were better and longer. But, and this is the point, it never occurred to me to doubt the authenticity of any of the articles. And I wasn’t taught that at school either. I didn’t hear about source criticism (kildekritik) before high school (gymnasiet), where I had a history teacher (an elderly gentleman) who made it an issue. It was the first time I had ever heard of anyone questioning a source. Every time he gave us something to read, he asked us to consider who had written it, why he had written it and who we thought were the intended audience. This simple wisdom has stayed with me always and I try to remember to apply it to all things I read or hear.

The thing about Wikipedia, which could maybe teach many more Internet users source criticism, is exactly the knowledge of how it is written and (not) edited. One must always consider the fact that the article one’s looking at might just have been tampered with by some idiot or a person with malicious intent. Or that it’s written by somebody who has an overblown perception of her own knowledge. This is not a thought that automatically comes to mind when looking up something in EB or another “trusted source”. So I believe that the way Wikipedia is constructed actually encourages its users to be source critical. And that scepticism could even follow the user when she ventures outside Wikipedia and looks at other sources.

Quite often Wikipedia is an excellent starting point for research on a subject. Usually it becomes clear very quickly what kind of person or persons are responsible for a Wikipedia article. Some of them are clearly written by scholars or by extremely knowledgeable amateurs and their sources are often gold, when the goal is to move on to primary sources. Other articles are not so well written or edited and one instantly gets wary. That very often reflects on the sources, which will be few and erratic. And I believe this wariness and alertness to be very healthy for the users.

Setting aside the times I use Wikipedia to look up the full name of a pop star or the use of a technical gadget, I try to ask myself these questions while reading a Wikipedia article:

What kind of person wrote this?
Syntax, writing style, approach to subject. Is the faulty English because the writer doesn’t have English as her mother tongue or is it a warning sign?
Why did the person write this? Out of pride, to boast, for political/religious reasons or because the person honestly feels it is her duty to share her knowledge?
Does the article have the feel of having been worked over many times? If so, I check the history and debate pages.
What are the sources like? Are there many? Are they online, off line or a mix? How many of them are readily accessible (not necessarily online, but from a library)?
How sensitive is the subject? Can I maybe believe some parts of the article, but not other parts? This may be the case for quite a few historical articles, where basic facts are agreed on by everybody, but where historians disagree on the interpretation of certain incidents or documents. This is also the case for articles on pharmaceutical compounds.
Am I looking at a subject where recent events have led the article to be expanded or changed? The article about Sarah Palin is an obvious example. One can go back to the version of the article a couple of weeks before she was chosen as running mate for McCain and get an impression from that.

The above rules of thumb could very well be applied to most other sources as well. But with most other sources you can’t check the previous versions…

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Blog rounds

Before I start my round I want to complain! About you! I can see from my statistics that I have a steadily (okay, ever so slowly) growing group of readers. But so few of you ever bother to comment on my posts? Now, this last post about the Nobel Laureates. Honestly, a good chunk of you must be avid readers like me. So you must also have an opinion of one or more of the last 48 years of Nobel prize winners?

Anyway, that was that out of the way. Marginal Revolution points to an article in a magazine for people with excess money to spend – these guys and gals are very sorry for themselves presently, because they’ve lost money. Some of them big money. The magazine is called Portfolio and the writer Felix Salmon. There’s a great quote:

If you’re running an insolvent bank, and you get a slug of equity from Treasury, your shareholders will thank you if you use that equity to take some very large risks. If they pay off and you make lots of money, then their shares are really worth something; if they fail and you lose even more money, well, there was never really any money for them to begin with anyway.

The Chief Happiness Officer points to this job advert. One of the best I’ve ever seen!

Creative Commons photo found on Flickr.

On Squattercity we can read that the authorities’ reluctance to legalise squat dwellings can lead to uncontrollable fires, death and homelessness. When a fire starts and there are no fire hydrants, there’s not much to be done! The article is about a fire in a squatter city outside Durban, SA. 2000 people were made homeless.

Kevin Kelly, the Internet guru, writes a post that instantly got my attention. He calls it The Expansion of Ignorance. Good title, eh? It’s about how the amount of information, patents and knowledge is growing ever more rapidly. But what’s growing more than the answers is the questions! Which of course leads to his conclusion:

we have not yet reached our maximum ignorance.

And here’s something else to raise your eyebrows: Ezra Klein points to this editorial in the Los Angeles Times (a newspaper, btw, named as “liberal” by some of my Texan family). The editorial advocates a no to a proposal for a new law in the state of California, which will

“…require that calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens and pregnant pigs be confined only in ways that allow these animals to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely.”

The editorial recommends a NO. Because otherwise the state will loose its egg business…

It’s late and I’m tired, having just read a long but very rewarding article in the New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s been a while since I read anything new by him, but rumour has it that he has a new book out this autumn. The article is about prodigies vs. late bloomers. He focuses on late bloomers and explains the misconceptions we have about their lives and talent. His protagonist is the writer (who I’m afraid I’d never heard of, but who must now go on my Amazon wishlist) Ben Fountain. Gladwell writes fabulously – that alone should make you read the article. But if you’re also interested in what makes an artist an artist and why some geniuses might never bloom, you really MUST read it!

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Literature Nobel Laureates

Below are all the laureates since the year of my birth. I think I’ve read less than half of them, and some of them – like the Quasimodo guy from my yob – I’ve never even heard of. Also, I find it strange that so many of them are best known for writing drama. Except maybe for Marquez, none of them have given me one of those unforgettable literary moments we all cherish. Although a few of the ones predating 1959 have, like Pasternak, Laxness, Hemingway Mann and Lagerlöf.

Is any one of them a favourite of yours? What have you read? Why did you think it was wonderful? I’d really like to know!

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Just on the news: Literary Nobel prize

Wauw, for the first time in years I’ve not only heard about the winner of the Nobel prize in literature before, I’ve actually read him and (just went into the living room and counted) actually own three of his books. His name is J. M. G. Le Clezio – here’s the Wikipedia article and here’s the article about the prize in The Times.

His books are easy to read, dreamy and timeless. Unless you’re Danish I can’t lend them to you, because the ones I have are all in Danish translations. Le Clezio writes in French, which I don’t master to the degree of reading anything other than restaurant menus.

I’m happy that the Nobel Prize Committee has finally again chosen a writer, who’s accessible and readable to everyone.

(Picture is snatched from The Times)

Just added: Well, of course I’d read Doris Lessing too (I think most people have, if they were around in the days of apartheid). But her prize seemed to be a tribute more than a “recommendation to the world”.

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AA Gill on Ms. Palin

The Sunday Times is unbeatable. There is no better Sunday paper – at least not of all the English, Swedish and Danish language newspapers I’ve tried over the years. It’s conservative, it’s snobbish, it’s eh, for want of better word, British… But it’s wonderful! We timed it today – a very lazy day indeed. We’ve been reading for six hours! On a daily basis I prefer the Independent and sometimes the Guardian. But not on a Sunday.

One of the great things about it is one of it’s most high-profile writers, AA Gill. He writes in a style all of his own in an English so flamboyant, so flowery, so vibrant, so vitriolic! And on Wikipedia I just read that the man is so dyslectic that he literally can’t write, he dictates all of his articles and books to a copywriter. He does features, travel writing and restaurant reviews. I found an interview with him on the American food-buff site Chow. I certainly don’t agree with him on everything, but I like to have my views challenged (occasionally…).

Picture borrowed from Clive Arrowsmith

Today he writes on the subject on – yes again – the American election. The article is hilariously funny – at least if you’re no great fan of McCain & Palin. About Minnesota, where the GOP convention is held:

This is where the Swedes and Norwegians came to try to whittle Scandinavia out of the hem of Canada. Back home they grew to be the most liberal nations in the world. Here they grew silent and maudlin. There’s a Minnesotan joke – only the one. It goes like this: there was an old Norwegian man who loved his wife so much he almost told her. That was so funny I almost laughed.”

About the choice of Palin:

“Depending on how fundamentally hard right you are, Palin is either a godsend who speaks to the experience of ordinary small-town large-breasted American women and sticks two fingers in the eyes of the coastal latte liberals. Or she’s a hideously embarrassing mistake that will swamp the election in underclass redneck sexual incontinence and that everything is about damage limitation and trying not to think about what would happen if president McCain died and this was the first family. Not so much from igloo to White House as igloo to White Trailer.”

Isn’t he wonderfully vicious? (The article, Redneck Regina, is not yet available online, but I suspect that it will be made available in a few days time.)

Anyway, we discussed this at length at a dinner party last night. Most people around the table had friends, business relations or family or all three in America and several of them known Republicans. But none of them from the religious right. How are they going to vote??? McCain is 72 and looks even older, his health isn’t that good, he’s had several so-called cancer scares and has the five years in Hanoi Hilton in his baggage. And the job as president is rather demanding, isn’t it? You can’t really take a day off? So, this woman will only be the famous heartbeat away from the presidency. Are the not-so-religious, pro-choice, non-members of the NRA, polar bear-friendly Republicans just going to cross their fingers, close their eyes and vote for McCain anyway? Or what?

I’ve got friends and family of the Republican persuasion. And I know some of them occasionally read my blog. If you do, then please enlighten us Europeans on your thoughts upon the matter. We really want to hear!

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An evening traversing the World Wide Web

This picture of a very impressive hydrangea at Nyman’s in East Sussex has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of this post. I just had to show it to you, it’s so beautiful!

I have almost come to a point where I don’t want to come across any more interesting blogs. But unless I stop reading blogs, I’ll inevitably come across new and interesting ones. Like this one, named Interfluidity. The post that Marginal Revolution brought to my attention is about something I’d never heard of, but at least can understand, the paradox of thrift. Quite a brilliant piece on what happens when there’s CRISIS written all over the economy.

Marginal Revolution also reminds me of something I also thought of earlier this week. The Amazon Kindle looks more and more interesting. I’ve dismissed all earlier electronic bookreaders as just not coming anywhere near the real thing in comfort and convenience. This one just may be up there with good old paper and print. It would save us from having to buy a bigger house in a couple of years…

On a Danish website I found a solution to a Facebook problem. When you’ve just added a new friend, the feature “suggest friends” pops up and lets you suggest some of your “old” friends to your new friend. But next time you log on to your new friend’s page, this feature is nowhere to be seen – or found. However, the banal and rather old-style solution is to go to the URL and then just write “&suggestfriends” after the address and press Enter – voila! In the same ballgame I’ve found (through my very own search, no less) what may be my salvation. I’ve been struggling with updating this WordPress blog to the newest version, which will let me do a lot of things that I can’t do now. But I’ve come across several obstacles and have had to give it up when I’ve tried it. It has become almost traumatic… It’s a video which explains to dummies like me how it’s done. You’ll be able to see for yourself whether it works. Don’t expect miracles in the next few weeks though – too much holiday stuff going on. But then!

On the subject of happiness, Jonathan Mead wrote this interesting piece on Pick the Brain. I do think he could have tipped his hat to Daniel Gilbert, my happiness guru, but he doesn’t. He’s got his own blog, which also looks like it could be worthy of the occasional visit.

On the news I found a funny little story about “the first computer” – from 2.100 years ago. It apparently had several ways to compute time, one of which was Olympic Time, i.e. every fourth year. Read more on BBC Online and on the project’s homepage.

And in the Independent I read that Danes are only half as fat as the British. No, that’s doing terrible things to statistics, which I’ve promised myself never to dabble in, since I saw this video on TED. Anyway, there are 18% Brits who are obese, but only 9% Danes, or so the accompanying statistics claim. So get it together, my Danish friends, and stop eating c-r-a-p food while you can! I had actually wondered several times if there weren’t more heavily overweight people over here than back home. And sadly, I was right. 18% obese people – that’s a lot!

Oh yes, and I’ve forgotten to bring you this excellent version of The Story of the Internet and the World Wide Web. It’s from Vanity Fair.

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Links

Now, what kind of idiot does a thing like this? Thank you to Capac for the pointer.

I’m always going on about TED (Technology Entertainment Design). As the happy owner of an Iphone I have taken podcasts to a higher level and sit on buses, trains and airplanes etc. and LEARN things in a very entertaining way by watching video-podcasts from TED. If you still haven’t taken my hint and tried to watch a TED video, here’s your chance of watching some of the very best ones, picked out by really brainy people. The theme of TED is “Ideas are Everything”. And what the speakers have in common is that they have one or more original idea(s). Some speakers are world famous, some “only” famous within their field. Some of them aren’t famous at all before they appear on TED!

A spinoff of TED is this lovely online shop based in San Francisco with messenger bags made of discarded plastic bottles. I want one!

The Long Now Blog links to this very funny post about the messages that we, Earth, have sent into space since we were able to go there. It’s not uplifting reading, but it’s so funny! I’m going to keep an eye on that guy.

The Times (and most all other media) has the story this morning of an American court ruling against Google/Youtube. Viacom has sued for infringment of their copyright. Oh, I’m tired of hearing the big media companies going on about Artists’ Rights. It’s not really the artists’ rights they care about, but their own sources of income. And very often they – mysteriously – are biting the hand that feeds them. For instance, the many, many clips in Youtube from Britain’s got Talent and all the other similar shows. Do those clips give the shows more viewers or less viewers? More interest or less interest? Your guess is as good as mine… It really is worrying that Viacom can look into the viewing habits of every single Youtube user and maybe even access their IP-address. In a statement Viacom says that they are not going to do that, but only time will show. Reading about this led me on to this honourable organisation, the Electronic Frontier Foundation. How glad I am that people have the time and energy to found and run such organisations. It’s for the benefit of us all. More on this issue from Jeff Jarvis.

Also from the Long Now Blog a pointer to an article (disguised as a book review) in the New York Review of Books about global warming by British physicist and author Freeman Dyson (what I would not give to be as clearminded at the age of 84!!!). Before you roll your eyes and move on, let me tell you that this article is about the whole issue. The arguments for and against whether global warming is a serious problem or not, the economic aspects of all the different paths we could take and a very interesting finale about Environmentalism as a new religion. If you’re interested in this and want to read something that is truly unbiased, then try this. It’s not exactly an easy read and I will not claim to have understood all of it. But I understand lots more now than I did before…

The News is now Public ( a site dedicated to the publishing of news ignored or played down by other media) tells about Patrick Waller, the 31st innocent man freed by DNA in the state of Texas. The state of Texas apparently has a double record in the US. It’s the state where the most sentenced have later been found innocent based  on DNA and other evidence. And it’s the state with the highest rate of executions. That’s bone-chilling! CNN is the source of the story. An organisation called the Innocence Project are fronting and financing many of these cases. God Bless them!

As many of you will know, I’m an “Apple Person”. I love all things Apple and have much more of that “I Can’t Live Without It”-feeling in the Apple Store than in any department store. But there are things that aggravate me with Apple too. And mostly that has to do with the copyright thing. I absolutely detest that I can’t do with my own paid for CD’s and downloads exactly as I please. That absolutely INFURIATES me. And reading that I couldn’t watch Netflix films on my Mac if I so chose, infuriates me further. Give me my rights back! Why are my rights influenced by what platform I’ve chosen? Grrrr…

Jabberwock, an Indian blog, reviews the debut novel by Mohammed Hanif, which I’ve also read good things about elsewhere. He tells about the similarities to a book I read a long time ago and really, really liked: Mario Vargas Llosa‘s The Feast of the Goat. Mr. Hanif himself acknowledges the inspiration from Llosa. If you’ve never read anything by Llosa, he can be recommended as good – and very entertaining – summer reading. I’ve added the Exploding Mangoes to my Amazon wish list.

Oh, just realising I’ve been going on like this for hours and you’ve probably left this page a long time ago. Let this then be the last link. A funny post by Megan McArdle on The Atlantic about the demise of the SUV. I was never fond of SUVs in the first place, them being petrol-consuming and even more dangerous to pedestrians and bicyclists than other cars, so of course I love her little piece. Have a laugh over some of the comments as well.

No, here’s the last bit. On a very nice social outing with neighbours here in our convent, one person collected money for a “kitty”, for drinks at the pub. I did know what a kitty was, but hadn’t heard the word in many years, not having lived in England before. Asking all these knowledgeable and well educated people about the origin of the word “kitty”, they all drew a blank. But view possible explanations here, here and here.

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Link day

From Marginal Revolution this about Icelanders being the happiest people on earth.

From the New Yorker a bone-chilling recount of Nixon’s presidency and why that period is still very relevant to America today.

Kottge.org links to this incredible collection of legs as used in book- and magazine covers…

Puzzled as I am as to what this really is, animation, film, graffiti, a figment of someone’s imagination? I bring you this absolutely stunning little film. Found by Tore.

Ezra Klein has a couple of posts about Ted Kennedy. The first just a short notice about how sad it is that it is this particular senators of all senators who has to suffer from a malignant brain tumor. In the second post he quotes other mourners and reflects some more. Ezra Klein writes like he’s ancient and has studied intensely all his life. But no, here’s yet another young person who’s just immaturely brilliant! He writes for the liberal magazine American Prospect.

No Impact Man points to this funny Australian/soon-to-be-American blog about Icing. Icing as in the clothes we put on, the make-up we wear (or don’t as it is) and the outward signals we send in general. Not surprisingly, I really like her post about what to wear when you’re well past forty!

A tulip field in Holland!!! Picture snatched from a food blog on the New York Times. It was an interesting lecture on TED which directed me to Mark Bittman‘s blog. Cow farts are mentioned…

Jeff Jarvis has a funny post about our personal health in the public space. I didn’t even know such a thing existed as Google Health. But there you go. He points to this site, which looks very interesting to me, who, as many of you know, suffer from all sorts of weird little ailments…

Megan McArdle reminds us of Tom Lehrer. How can such an old clip still be so relevant. It’s just same old, same old, isn’t it? And she has this remarkable story about milk subsidising in the US. I haven’t verified it – having almost unlimited faith in The Atlantic. And as the lady says, you just can’t make these things up!

On the Danish website ComON (news about the IT world) I was astounded to find this link. It shows you how to modify your Iphone so the interface looks like Windows Vista! Who on the planet would want that, other than Bill Gates? My husband’s just got a new laptop for work and it has Vista. I find it absolutely horrible. It’s just plastered with widgets and warnings about this, that and the other and a completely useless “opening screen”. Give me XP anytime if I have to use Windows…

On the Blog with the Long Name (on anthropology) I found this interesting post: What Women Want. You just can’t help clicking, can you?

Gretchen, one of my happiness-gurus has this interesting post about how to stop a tantrum (in children, that is…). I’ll give it a shot next time Dane starts slamming doors.

You might be wondering (if you’ve made it all the way down here) why I read so many American blogs and so few British. I certainly wonder about that myself. The truth is, I don’t think much about it, I just put down the good ones I come across. As it turns out, they are mostly American. If you can point me to some exellent British ones, I’d love it! You should know my taste by now!

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My birthday

Together with a phone call from my Mom & Dad and a sweet e-mail from Emil, Dane and David made my birthday into a lovely day of indulgence, Néné style.

It was a beautiful sunny day – don’t usually have many of those back in Denmark! – and I had yummy brunch with cards and presents. From Dane the necklace he’d made out of beads we’d bought earlier in San Francisco and a pair of Merino wool extra warm and soft socks. They came in very handy when we went to Yosemite. More about that later. And from David a book that could change my life – or maybe at least make my blog posts more pleasurable to read: Read like a writer.

We went into Mill Valley so I could indulge in one of my favourite pastimes – drinking coffee and doing stuff online. In the Depot Bookstore and café you can do both – and the bookshop, though relatively modest in size, is very well stocked. Restrained myself and bought only Vanity Fair and Atlantic Monthly

Then we drove up to Sonoma County to try out some wine tasting. The previous afternoon, in the above-mentioned café, I’d talked to a young man who’d recommended a couple of smaller places for wine tasting and a restaurant. So we went along according to his instructions and found the Family Wineries where we tasted a variety of whites, reds and dessert wines. We found most of the wines a little bit “young” tasting, but loved a red dessert wine and bought a bottle for our Christmas dinner. It will go well with the Danish Christmas dessert with the French name: Ris (rice) a l’amande.

Then we drove on and saw several other alluring places to taste wine, but even if we didn’t drink all the wine, we’d really had enough. Maybe not alcohol-wise, but certainly taste-wise. Then we went in search of the restaurant, which proved as easy to find as everything else the young man had directed us to. Thanks to this young man for his great advice! The restaurant was in a little quaint looking town called Graton. Underwood turned out to be one of the best restaurants we’ve been to on our trip. Only the restaurant in New Orleans equaled it. It was a nice and cosy place full of people. The service was excellent, the menu varied and the food lovely.

A great finishing touch to my birthday.

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Vote!

Warning: This post is bordering on a lecture…

Tomorrow is election day in Denmark. We’ve had the right to vote for more than 150 years and too many Danes take that right for granted. However – it seems to me that even more Americans take it for granted. So granted that they don’t even bother to vote. Here you have to register to vote – but compared to how difficult it was for a black voter to register in the deep south of the fifties for instance, it’s not that difficult. But I guess, that when you don’t read a newspaper -and I’ve heard and read several times that many Americans have a good reason not to read a paper, the reason being that they are almost illiterate – and only watch the news, or what passes for news, on the local Fox channels, then you may easily lose any interest in voting.

And that’s so, so sad. Because it’s such a core right in a Democracy – think China, Burma, Iran etc. – and I’ve heard many people say: “Oh, I can’t be bothered, they are all corrupt anyway” or “It doesn’t make any difference to me, they are just thinking of themselves, all of them”. And both statements may have more than a little truth to them. But does not voting change that? NO NO NO!

So go and do you democratic duty: Vote!

And to my Danish friends, family and readers who happen to live in Copenhagen. If you haven’t made up your mind yet, then vote for my good friend Charlotte Fischer. She’s honest, hard working and most certainly not corrupt. So there…

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Baseball

Yesterday was about baseball. Our host Matt is a devoted fan of local team The Boston Red Sox and has been since he – like all good American litterary heroes – as a little boy was taken to the stadium on hot Saturdays by his father. Matt took us on a tour of the old (1912) stadium Fenway Park in the middle of Boston, and it was great fun to get an insight in this sport, which you invariably come across if you ever watch an American film, read an American book or browse an American newspaper.

The weather was lovely and the female guide far above average as American guides go, she clearly wasn’t paid on a words-per-minute basis. We browsed around the Red Sox merchandise shop, approximately the size of a middlesized supermarket back home. There really is no end to the fan gear you can purchase there. And there’s something in the air that really makes you want to buy the stuff, heavily overpriced as it is. We resisted the urge, having already received Red Sox-stuff as presents from Matt and Jackie and having bought a few caps and a t-shirt earlier in the day at Wal-Mart at a far lower price.

The air was heavy with anxious anticipation, because later that evening The Boston Red Sox were playing a very important game in Cleveland, Ohio, determining their fate in the series. They’d apparently done pretty badly in the previous games, so spirits were a bit low. But lo and behold if they didn’t win! For David, Dane, Emil and me it was our lives’ first baseball game and it was fun to watch it in the RV, eating crisps and drinking beer. Dane fell asleep after a while and a little later also Emil. I couldn’t fall asleep, since my seat was so bl…. uncomfortable, and I could surf a little and read a little during all the commercials (which really is what kills you) and David almost managed to sit through it, only dozing off during commercials. As David put it, half of the commentary was double dutch to us, but the general idea of the game dawned on us. And we had to admire the Red Sox pitcher who saved the game. He was SO cool! Watching him chew his gum, spit, look completely stonefaced and then throw the ball with astonishing speed and curve, so the Cleveland Indians practicallly never hit it, was absolutely worth the sore bum I had afterwards.

If any Americans with baseball knowledge read this: What is it with the spitting? They all do it – all the time. The coach more so than any of the others. What on earth is it good for?

Today it’s really warm, but raining. The boys have gone fishing again, I’ve been reading Vanity Fair, a luxury I’m warming to considerably. Compared with your average monthly fashion magazine, it certainly takes a long time to read! OK, the print is very small and clearly not intended for middle-aged women with bi-focals. And the language is not exactly easy. But, wow, it’s rewarding once you find the peace and quiet to read it. I read a hair-rising story about the involvement of a Halliburton subsidiary in the Iraq war. It was so well researched, and so disquieting! The American tax payers certainly have reasons to worry! It really doesn’t matter if you’re for the war or against it. Nobody can be in favour of private companies overcharging the American government by a routine 500-1000% for services rendered? If you have the patience to read 8 pages online, start here.

There’s also an article by Christopher Hitchens of whom I’m not usually a fan. But this one is good and strangely touching. The Shakespeare quote towards the end certainly provoked a few tears. The article is about how Hitchens finds himself partly responsible for the death of a young man in Iraq and how he deals with this emotion. Pretty good.

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I saw a black bear!

It was dusk, we were back in the RV after a 4 1/2 mile (7 km) hike down and up a mountain and heading home. And suddenly, in the ditch right by my window, he sat and stared at me. Less than 10 feet away. He was probably waiting to cross the road. Unfortunately David and Dane didn’t see him – David because he was concentrating on the road and was by the other window and Dane because he was facing away from it. I am still elated – having seen a real bear outside the zoo.

On our hike we saw a lot of deer, several hawks and numerous chipmonks. Oh, they are cute, so tiny and such swift movers. Even if we saw 25+ we never got a picture. The bear picture is obviously not taken by me, I’ve borrowed it from Wikipedia.

The goal of our hike was the Dark Hollow waterfall by the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. The Skyline Drive has been named the most beautiful stretch of road in all of America. And it truly is beautiful. We’ve stayed in the area for a couple of days, so tomorrow we’ll drive up the northern part of it, heading for Maryland.

The weather was perfect for hiking. I’m guessing it was around 24 degrees C, slightly cooler in the shade, which there was most of, the hike being in the woods. The first 2 miles was down, down, down till we reached the water. We sat by the edge of the stream and had our sandwiches. Then up, up, up for more another 2 miles. Phew, it was hard going, but since I’m convinced it’s good for me, and since it was such a beautiful trail, following the waterfall upwards, I was happy even if panting. Dane was of course jumping around like a mountain goat.

 

Larger scale pictures and a few more here.

I’m trying to read books that touch on the America we’re seing. I’ve read a couple of books by James Lee Burke. One with his Louisiana cop David Robicheaux (had read several of these years back in my crime-fiction period and been fascinated with the places he describes (Atchafalayan basin, New Orleans etc.)) and another about the civil war. I’ve just started yet another Bill Bryson book – this one about the Appalachian TrailA Walk in the Woods. David is reading The Lost Continent, also by Bryson. On a somewhat other note I’m simultaneously reading a book I stumbled over in one of the four airports I managed to visit on my way to my aunt’s funeral in Texas: Mindless Eating. Need I say more? Well, I will (you knew that, didn’t you?). It’s a book about food psychology and it’s good. In numerous studies the author and his collegues have shown that we eat according to a whole other set of parametres than we think. And that’s ALL OF US. Nut just the mindless fools out there without control of self. If we eat out of a big plate, we eat more than if we eat out of a small plate. If we drink out of a tall, slim glass, we drink less than if we drink out of a low, wide glass. If the biscuit tin is within reach, we eat more than if it’s up on the top shelf. And so on and so forth. If you’re interested in food and eating (like, if you have children…), you should at least check out the homepage.

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