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Some of the subway tunnels in Paris are for pedestrians rather than trains.

Posted by Ellen

There was a leetle, teeny bit of snow in Seattle, and then a taste of sun. Fine winter days.

But that was then; now, the snow has melted and it's raining hard, and predictions are that it will rain forever. It's easy to see why Lewis and Clark, after they spent a long, wet winter in the Pacific Northwest, judged their entire expedition a failure; this part of the world that they'd struggled so hard to "discover" was chilly and gray and mildewy and just plain unliveable.

Posted by Ellen

Students spotted it first, early on the morning of December 2: a little ball of fur near the door outside a high school in Boca Raton, Florida.

A ball of kittens, of course, two of them, tangled together in a tabby clump and much too tiny to be out on their own. They were lucky little kittens, however; each was rescued and ultimately adopted by an English teacher at the school, and one of those English teachers just happened to be our own Officer Al of the grammar patrol (the alt-write, he tells us). Both little kitties have thrived.

But like all cats, they showed up without names. And like all cats adopted by English teachers, they needed literary names, not to mention all the other fraught sorts of names catalogued by T.S. Eliot.

Allen named his cat Scout, as in To Kill a Mockingbird. But a couple of days later, when he finally got little teeny tiny Scout to the vet for a checkup, there was a surprise: Scout was a male kitty. He would need a different name. Why? We can't know these things, but Allen was very sure of it.

He considered Travis, as in Travis McGee. He considered McGee, as in Travis McGee. But those names weren't right.

He considered Sue, as in Johnny Cash. Nope.

So he settled on Phineas, from A Separate Peace, Phinny for short. And Phinny he was, until within a couple of weeks he wasn't Phinny any longer but Phinn. No, not Phinn: he was Finn. Maybe as in Huckleberry. Or maybe as in Phineas. The ambiguity was delicious.

Meanwhile, the other kitten from the clump outside the school, also a male, was named Dante. In the photo above, Finn at left and Dante on the right are back together again for a recent brotherly meetup and play date.

We might think this name thing is all settled now, but like the poet says, we think that because we're stupid:

When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Effanineffable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name

Posted by Ellen

Seems like a good day for this picture, painted by Nathaniel Robers in 2009 as a pre-inaugural gift for the president. 

Thirty or so years ago today, over at my children's school in Tuscaloosa, the students were putting on a special program in the lunchroom. There were songs and a skit and one small boy who gave a speech about Dr. Martin Who's the King.

Obama won't always be president, but Dr. Martin will always, always be the king.

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Frank Lloyd Wright designed a gas station in 1927 for his city of the future, to be built in the Buffalo, New York, area.  The city never did get built, but the gas station became a reality in 1958, in Cloquet, Minnesota, near Duluth.

It is believed to be the only Frank Lloyd Wright–designed gas station in the world. It's still in operation today, though it was recently put up for sale.

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Norman hit the bigtime back in October of this past year, at the 40th anniversary gala of the Pension Rights Center, when he was honored as a Retirement Security Superhero. You just never know where life will take you: one day, you're catching a ride to Woodstock with your high school biology teacher, and next thing you know, you're a retirement security superhero.

Norman was selected for the award, according to Dan, the very nice man who introduced him at the gala, because he has the superpower of accomplishing work while he sleeps. That's not what Dan said in public, which is a good thing since it's not true, but it really is what he said to us after the event, when nobody was around.  What he said out loud was that Norman has devoted and is still devoting millions and bajillions of hours to Pension Rights Center projects, writing and testifying and helping to change the rules so that fewer Americans will get screwed out of their pensions and retirement savings.

Why does he do all this, on top of working his day job as a bearded professor? What motivates a person to become a retirement security superhero?

At the gala, Norman explained the roots of his "career path." Forty or so years ago, back when he was in law school, he was offered a summer job in Beckley, West Virginia, working with retired coal miners whose pension claims had been turned down. He asked his father if he should take the job.

"Definitely," his father said. "It sounds like a lot of fun."

There are people all over America now who know Norman as the guy who helped them get their pension. A lot of other people work with him as he does this stuff, especially the Karens–pretty much all the staffers at the Pension Rights Center are named Karen, and they too put in millions upon millions of hours struggling to fix our retirement system.

Norman would agree with his dad that it's fun work. Also, the Pension Rights Center party was a lot of fun, especially the part where we got to hear a superhero identify us to the world as "the owner of the spousal survivor annuity of my defined benefit plan." Aw, the way these superheroes talk.

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Posted by Ellen

She shows the shoes she chose.

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When Italian architect Renzo Picasso visited New York City in the 1920s, he correctly identified traffic and parking as bad problems that would become much worse over time.

There was no more land in Manhattan to pave over, so Picasso (no relation to that Spanish guy) took his cue from the skyscrapers and proposed to build the streets up vertically. He envisioned at least four transportation levels: trains up on top, express automobile traffic on the layer second to top, parking on the level below that, and local traffic on the bottom.

Picasso's vision for this American Multiple Highway, which he presented in 1929, was one of many utopian projects he sketched out for cities in the United States and Europe. None of them was ever built. 

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From personal experience, we can vouch for the fine customer service provided by the Siberian Husky behind the counter at Ballard Oil, a marine fueling and home heating oil terminal on the ship canal in Seattle.

The other workers in the office also seemed like good people.