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Antietam, Gettysburg, II

April 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Peace Eternal in a Nation United, Gettysburg

A few days ago I wrote about our just-made plan to visit Antietam National Battlefield and Gettysburg National Military Park after business in DC next week. In preparation, I had just downloaded two books for the Kindle by Civil War historian James McPherson, Antietam: the Battle That Changed the Course of the American Civil War and Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg. Getting the books electronically had some disadvantages — maps and photographs are difficult to view — but this way Gail and I could read the books in parallel on our separate Kindles. Plus, on the iPad, the maps and photos can be viewed easily, so I was able to go back and forth between the two.

Both books are slim. Very slim. I read the Antietam book two days ago, the Gettysburg book yesterday. (I preferred to read them on the Kindle rather than the iPad, mostly because the Kindle is so much smaller and lighter. And even though initially I didn’t like the Kindle’s page-turning process, clicking a button and waiting for the e-ink to refresh, I prefer that too to the swiping motion one makes in the iPad’s Kindle app in order to turn pages.)

The books are excellent, but they have left me wishing we had allowed more time for our visits. The Antietam book places the battle in context, discussing military, political, and diplomatic developments in the months leading up to it before giving a necessarily brief treatment of the battle itself. A short final chapter discusses the consequences: Emancipation Proclamation, Republican success (or limited losses) in the 1862 mid-term election just weeks later, Britain’s decision not to intervene with an offer to mediate a settlement.

The Gettysburg book, in contrast, begins with the shortest of overviews of the battle’s context and then focuses narrowly on the three days of the battle itself, taking as its basis the on-site walking tours McPherson has often given. Though the balance of the two books is different, the Antietam book leads naturally into the Gettysburg one, since its closing overview takes us essentially through the end of 1862, whereas the Gettysburg book picks up at the beginning of 1863.

What became apparent from following McPherson back and forth across the Gettysburg battlefield is that one could spend days there. And from the Antietam book I realized how close the battlefield is to Harpers Ferry, which I have also long wished to visit. (The proximity of the two is, of course, not surprising to anyone who knows anything about the battle at Antietam, but evidently that didn’t include me.) If we get out of DC early enough in the day, we could drive up the Potomac to Harpers Ferry and then on another 16 miles to the battlefield park. The only problem is, we wouldn’t have enough time to do more than run in and out of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park before moving on. I think we’ll give it a try.

One more thing. In the context of Virginia governor Bob McDonnell’s declaration earlier in the month that April is Confederate History Month, McPherson makes an important point, in passing, in the Gettysburg book. Governor McDonnell’s initial proclamation, as I noted in an earlier post, omitted any reference to slavery, leading to a revised proclamation the next day. As McPherson walks us around the battlefield, he brings us to the monument

dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to “Peace Eternal in a Nation United” on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the battle, in July 1938. Attended by more than 1,800 actual Civil War veterans (most in their nineties), this four-day event was the last reunion of Blue and Gray. It culminated a half-century in which reconciliation between old foes was the dominant theme in Civil War memory and in the numerous joint reunions of Union and Confederate veterans.

This uniting of North and South in a renewed American nationalism was a fine thing, to be sure, but all too often it was characterized by forgetting what the war had been about. Absent from these reunions were black Union veterans who, with their white brothers in arms, had fought a war not only to preserve the nation as the United States but also to give that nation a new birth of freedom.

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Categories: Books, History, Travel

Dogwood

April 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Driving home in the late afternoon two days ago, I realized that the local dogwoods were all in peak bloom, and their variety of colors made the trip down the street glorious. Our dogwood was not in full health a few years back, so I was especially delighted, as we arrived home, to see that it looked every bit as good as its neighbors. This evening, I decided to take its picture. Alas, I went out too late in the day, what with the sun low in the west and the tree on the east side of the house. You can see the result above.

Once out, I took a few more photos, moving to the backyard, where the light was better. The azaleas are in the early stages of bloom.

So too is our west-facing lilac on the western edge of the yard.

The adjacent east-facing lilacs need another week or ten days. The nearby peonies won’t flower for a while, but they are visibly preparing. Here’s an unfurling fern.

Categories: Garden, House

Biscuitbarrel

April 21, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m feeling a little foolish. Does everyone but me know of the British politician Tarquin Biscuitbarrel? I only learned about him a few hours ago, in a roundabout way.

The starting point was this Andrew Sullivan post on Sarah Palin, which linked to a review at the palingates blog of Anne Kornblut‘s recent book Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and What It Will Take for a Woman to Win. I went to the review at palingates and found that it was a guest post — which I recommend — written by Mrs. Tarquinbiscuitbarrel.

Not yet knowing of the British politician whose name the guest writer had taken as her nom de plume — and assuming it was in fact a nom de plume — I decided to investigate. Searching led to three Biscuitbarrels. A Mrs. Tarquinbiscuitbarrel, presumably the author of the review, has appeared as a commenter on several blogs and as an Amazon reviewer. (Assuming all these Mrs. Tarquinbiscuitbarrels are one and the same, I quite like her writing, and her views.) In 1981, a Tarquin Fin-tim-lin-bin-whin-bim-lim-bus-stop-F’tang-F’tang-Olé-Biscuitbarrel was one of several candidates for the British Parliament in an important by-election. And with this we get close to the original source, a 1970 Monty Python sketch parodying election night television coverage. In Luton, Silly Party candidate Tarquin Fin-tim-lin-bin-whin-bim-lim-bus-stop-F’tang-F’tang-Olé-Biscuitbarrel soundly beat Sensible Party candidate Alan Jones for a seat in Parliament (with Slightly Silly Party candidate Kevin Phillips-Bong getting no votes).

How did I not know this?

Categories: Humor, Politics

Griffey Career RBI Watch

April 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Ken Griffey, out at the plate last night

[Mark Harrison, Seattle Times]

Last August, I wrote one of the rare posts in which I had anything original to say. The subject was career RBIs. (An RBI, or run batted in, is a baseball statistic. Roughly, a batter is credited with an RBI when his action at home plate results in a baserunner scoring, whether through a hit, a walk, a sacrifice fly, or a ground ball out, but not if the run scores during a double play or through a fielder’s error.)

In my post, I wondered why baseball fans and writers don’t pay much attention to a player’s career RBI total. Traditionally, the statistics most often used in evaluating a batter’s work during a season are his batting average, home run total, and RBI total. When we pass to career evaluations, we continue to examine lifetime batting average and home runs, and these numbers are well known for the best players. But few can name a player’s career RBI total.

In fact, and this was the principal point of my post, we don’t even have a sense of what career RBI numbers would place a player among the historic leaders. In contrast, every fan can name the three players with more than 700 home runs*, the three with between 600 and 700**, and many of those in the 500-599 range. It was news last week when Alex Rodriguez hit his first home run of the season, the 584th of his career, thereby breaking his tie with Mark McGwire on the career list and moving into sole possession of 8th place. Frank Robinson lies two home runs ahead at 586. Once A-Rod passes him, it’s on to the 600 milestone, then to passing the six players just mentioned (implicitly).

In my post, I examined the standard thresholds for excellence in career home runs or, for a pitcher, career strikeouts and wins. This led to a rule of thumb that, when applied to RBIs, would suggest that a career total of 1800 might be a reasonable baseline for excellence. Comparing this to the career list, I noted that only 18 players have reached this level. It seemed like a good analogue to the 500 home run threshold.

At the time that I wrote the post, Ken Griffey was the last-ranked player in the 1800 RBI club. His 2 RBIs the night before put him at 1809. It was those RBIs that got me curious about where he stood on the career list and led to the post. I thought at the time — as did many others — that last season was likely to be Griffey’s last, and I wondered where he might ultimately end up on the career list. He would go on to get 20 more RBIs, finishing last season at 1829, passing Frank Robinson and Al Simmons and settling into 16th place.

But then Griffey decided to return for this season. And last night he got 2 RBIs again, numbers 2 and 3 for the season, putting him at 1832. Time to re-start the Griffey Career RBI Watch.

Griffey remains in 16th place, but he needs only 12 more RBIs to jump into a tie for 12th, and 16 more after that to tie for 11th. He won’t move up any higher, since yet another 43 RBIs would be needed to tie for 10th. Here are the numbers:

10. Willie Mays 1903
11. Mel Ott 1860
12. Carl Yastrzemski 1844
13. Ted Williams 1839
14. Rafael Palmeiro 1835
15. Dave Winfield 1833
16. Ken Griffey 1832

If Griffey were to suffer an injury, I suspect he would simply retire and that would be that. If his productivity remains low, he may get limited playing time. Thus, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if he doesn’t reach Mel Ott, and should injury come sooner rather than later, he might not even reach Dave Winfield. On the other hand, a repeat of last season’s 57 RBIs would put him at 1886 at season’s (career’s?) end, closer to Mays than Ott.

I just realized that I’m missing a crucial point here. Even as Griffey moves up the career RBI list, two active players are not far behind. Manny Ramirez is in 19th place at 1798, having already recorded 10 RBIs this season. He’s a good bet to pass Griffey by the end of the season. A-Rod is in 21st place at 1713, with 7 this season. A-Rod too could catch Griffey this season, though he’s more likely to do so next season. (Who’s between Manny and A-Rod on the list? Honus Wagner, at 1733.)

Of course, wherever Griffey ends up on the list won’t change the overall significance of his career. It’s just a curiosity. But as we follow A-Rod’s climb up the career HR ladder, why not follow Griffey’s (and Manny’s, and A-Rod’s) parallel climb up the career RBI ladder?***

*Bonds, Aaron, Ruth

**Mays, Griffey, Sosa

***What about Griffey’s climb up the career HR ladder? He’s fifth — as revealed in the previous footnote — at 630. Mays is fourth, at 660. Griffey hit 19 homers last season and 18 the season before. He will almost surely stay in fifth. The only question is when A-Rod will pass him. Two other active players are in the hunt, Jim Thome at 566 and Manny again at 548. They won’t reach Griffey this season, if ever.

Categories: Baseball

New Residents

April 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Pictured above is our latest house remodel, the addition of a bedroom up against the downspout that runs outside our dining room south wall. And we paid nothing for it, thanks to the efforts of two local finches. In fact, to my astonishment, I’m looking at them right now. Moments after I started the first sentence, one burst out of the nest and swooped down to the ground below our cherry tree. As I finished the sentence, the other landed on the back of one of our outdoor dining chairs (I’m sitting on another and typing on the table) before moving to the cherry tree.

I’m not overly pleased with this addition. I first noticed one of the finches a few weeks ago. It would sit for unusually long periods of time on top of the hedge that borders the patio. I had also noticed some debris at the base of the downspout, but didn’t think much of it. A week later, Joel asked me why I thought the bird was hanging out on the hedge. I remembered that the day before, the debris pile on the patio had looked quite large, and that’s when Joel and I took a closer look and put the pieces together. What we were looking at on the ground was a collapsed nest. Above, wedged between the downspout and the outdoor lighting, was a small amount of nest residue. And the bird we were looking at had some material in his mouth, perhaps eager to continue rebuilding.

My guess was that the bird would give up. Alas, I was wrong. Yesterday was a beautiful day, sunny with temperatures around 70. I sat outside in the late afternoon, maybe 10 feet from the downspout. Emma (our cat) came out too and was sitting nearby when one of the birds landed on the top of the open door that leads from the house to the patio. It’s an odd perch for a bird, who had drawn Emma’s attention as well as mine. Only after 20 seconds did I think to look over to the old nest site, with which the bird was even in elevation, but about six feet away. I beheld a completed nest. Our presence must have distracted the bird on his return to the nest. Emma eventually lost interest and wandered farther out into the yard. The bird flew onto the back of one of the dining chairs, perched there for a while, then disappeared.

Tonight was something of a repeat, with Emma and me coming out to enjoy the lovely evening, interrupting the bird at work. But this time, once Emma moved on, I saw the bird fly into the nest, my first confirmation that the nest was indeed just that. I got my camera, took some photos, and began this post. As I already noted, just as I started typing, the bird flew out of the nest.

I have no idea if the nest holds any eggs yet. If so, they surely haven’t hatched. I don’t hear anything or see any feeding activity. I’m thinking, if there are to be babies, once they move on, so does the nest. I’m willing to leave it for now, but I don’t want a permanent addition.

As for Emma, whose 14th birthday is just a week away, I suspect her hunting days are in the past. She has slowed down a lot in the last year. The birds are presumably at the height of vigilance. I don’t think I need to worry about orphans.

You know, I might be wrong about the lack of feeding activity. One of the birds, the one I’m thinking is the male, just flew into the yard from afar, landed on the chair across from me for a moment — with a little stringy object in his beak — then continued on to the nest. His partner followed three seconds later, landing on the house trim just outside the nest before joining him on the nest. I don’t hear babies, but it sure looks like the couple is in the process of feeding them. Either that or the nest is still under construction.

I’ll keep watching.

Categories: Animals, Birds, House

WSJ Wine Columnists

April 19, 2010 Leave a comment

I wasn’t much of a reader of wine writing until I discovered the Wall Street Journal’s wife-and-husband team, Dottie Gaiter and John Brecher, two of whose columns were the basis of posts of mine (here and here). Like many of their fans, I was stunned, on reading their column last December 26, to come upon their concluding note:

This is our 579th—and last—”Tastings” column. The past 12 years—a full case!—have been a joy, not because of the wine but because we had an opportunity to meet so many of you, both in person and virtually. Thank you.

Neither they nor the WSJ said more, then or since. I have missed them. What I valued wasn’t so much any congruence between their taste and mine — I hardly know my taste in any case — but rather their distinctive perspective on wine and its pleasures, the clarity with which it was expressed, and the accessibility of their writing for novices as well as experts. They felt like friends. Their avuncular advice was comforting, not patronizing.

In the months since they were dispatched, the WSJ has continued to publish wine articles in Saturday’s Weekend Journal, contributed by a variety of writers. I have taken brief looks at the articles, but left most unread. Two Saturdays ago, I saw that the wine article was by the novelist Jay McInerney, registered surprise, and moved on. Had I actually taken the trouble to read the piece, or jump to the note at the end, I would have discovered that he was being introduced as one of two new wine columnists, along with Lettie Teague. Two days ago, Teague made her debut. This time I noticed. Maybe it was the drawing of her at the top of the article that suggested to me she might be a regular. I looked for a note at the end, but there was none, such a note having already appeared a week earlier. I did a search and got the desired confirmation — not from the McInerney column of a week earlier but from the inaugural post at the new WSJ blog, “On Wine“, with the title “Introducing Jay and Lettie.”

I still miss my friends Dottie and John, but I’m looking forward to learning more about Jay’s and Lettie’s wine thoughts. The blog post introducing them is a brief conversation between the two. It concludes with Jay’s reply to Lettie’s question, “When it comes to eating, what wine do you think is impossible to match with food?” Jay says, “I can’t think of any wine which is impossible to match with food but I do think that Chateau d’Yquem probably shouldn’t be matched with food. It’s just too damn perfect on its own, and matching it with some sweet dessert is a a terrible idea.”

Gail and I will never be able to think of Chateau d’Yquem without recalling our dinner at Topper’s in Nantucket a few Septembers ago, when Gail asked as we ordered dessert if they had a Sauternes. Our waiter assured us that they did and brought a bottle of Chateau d’Yquem to the table to pour her a glass. It was the best Sauternes she ever had. We were unaware that one pays a premium for Chateau d’Yquem. Such quality doesn’t come cheaply. And since it wasn’t listed on the dessert menu, we hadn’t seen a price. We saw it soon enough, when the check came. Maybe not so much in the world of such wines. A mere $65. But it sure was a surprise to us.

Speaking of expensive glasses of wine, Roger Lowenstein’s new book The End of Wall Street has a revealing anecdote that Daniel Gross quotes in yesterday’s NYT review of the book.

Well into the crisis, with Citi’s stock price in single digits, its chief executive, Vikram Pandit, was spotted having lunch “at Le Bernardin, the top-rated restaurant in New York.” Seeing nothing he wanted by the glass, he “ordered a $350 bottle so that, as he explained, he could savor ‘a glass of wine worth drinking.’ Pandit drank just one glass.” The tableau suggests that Lowenstein’s book is misnamed. Judging by the recent bonuses; by the Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein’s declaration that investment bankers are “doing God’s work”; and by the opposition to comprehensive reform as well as by Pandit’s $350 glass of wine, Wall Street is still very much alive.

Categories: Journalism, Wine

Real Deli Again

April 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Back in October, I had a post about delis that began with reference to an article by Joan Nathan in the NYT on the lost art of Jewish deli food and the steady disappearance of the delis themselves. Last Wednesday’s lead article in the NYT food section, by Julia Moskin, again discussed the disappearance of delis, but brought good news:

At Saul’s Restaurant and Deli in Berkeley, Calif., the eggs are organic and cage free, and the ground beef in the stuffed cabbage is grass fed. Its owners, Karen Adelman and Peter Levitt, yanked salami from the menu in November, saying that they could no longer in good conscience serve commercial kosher salami.

“It’s industrially produced meat that gets blessed by a rabbi,” said Mr. Levitt, who came to Saul’s two decades ago from Chez Panisse, just down the street. “We all know that isn’t good enough.”
The two are still trying to find, or make, salami that will align with their vision of the deli of the future: individual, sustainable, affordable and ethical.

New delis, with small menus, passionate owners and excellent pickles and pastrami, are rising up and rewriting the menu of the traditional Jewish deli, saying that it must change, or die. For some of them, the main drawback is the food itself, not its ideological underpinnings.

So, places like the three-month-old Mile End in Brooklyn; Caplansky’s in Toronto; Kenny & Zuke’s in Portland, Ore.; and Neal’s Deli in Carrboro, N.C., have responded to the low standard of most deli food — huge sandwiches of indifferent meat, watery chicken soup and menus thick with shtick — by moving toward delicious handmade food with good ingredients served with respect for past and present.

The mention of Kenny & Zuke’s caught my eye, since it’s the only deli on the list that is anywhere near us. I immediately went to Kenny & Zuke’s website. One look at the photos and the menu and I was sold. (Pictured above is Ken’s Special: Pastrami, Chopped Liver, Cole Slaw & Russian Dressing.) We have to get down there, the sooner the better.

Growing up, I loved chopped liver. I didn’t actually understand that it was liver. I mean, liver was that awful food I couldn’t bear to look at. Chopped liver was, well, I didn’t know what it was, but it was this stuff my grandmother made that I loved. I didn’t eat it as a sandwich –I’d put it on Ritz crackers. And it was sublime. Later, I would have it at delis as a sandwich.

In contrast, I didn’t eat pastrami as a kid. My preferred deli meats were roast beef and salami. I didn’t fall in love with pastrami until my college yeras, when I went up to Yonkers one day to visit my friend Myriam at her father’s house. She brought out some pastrami from the local deli for lunch and I wondered why I had wasted so many years.

Then I discovered that one could put the two together: a pastrami and chopped liver combo sandwich! That became my sandwich of choice, especially at a kosher deli on Broadway in Washington Heights, a couple of blocks north of Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center.

Some kosher delis close at Passover, for all the obvious reasons — it’s way too much work to clean the restaurant of all chametz (leavened bread products) and to have kosher-for-Passover plates and utensils. Plus, if you can’t serve bread, what do you do about making sandwiches? Pastrami on matzoh doesn’t work so well.

It turns out that my Washington Heights was not one of those wimpy delis that closed on Passover. They had a solution to the sandwich problem: potato pancakes! They would slice a potato pancake in half to produce two thin pancake slivers and use these as the top and bottom halves of a sandwich. Inspired. A revelation.

And it meant that I could put three of my favorite foods together — chopped liver, pastrami, and potato pancakes. Now that was good. I bet they don’t do that at Kenny & Zuke’s. Maybe I could ask.

Categories: Food, Restaurants