Archive for May, 2010

Chambers Bay

May 31, 2010 Leave a comment

Last night, I wrote about our drive down to University Place in the afternoon for a barbecue with friends Fred and Jeni. University Place is a suburb of Tacoma lying on its western edge along Puget Sound, south of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. To the southwest along the Sound is some land, now known as Chambers Creek Properties, with a complicated history:

The Chambers Creek Properties is comprised of over 950 acres located along the shores of the Puget Sound, in University Place, WA. While Pierce’s County’s ownership of the properties has been fairly recent, the making of the properties and its surrounding land uses began to take shape over 200 years ago and was influenced by not only the physical changes made, but by the people who lived and worked here.

The quarry history stems as far back as the Steilacoom Indian Tribe and the first European settlers in 1832.

Over the last 200 years, the entire Chambers Creek Properties area has been used as a location for a paper mill, a proposed match company, a major industrial center, multiple lumber companies, a railroad center, a county gravel mine, a bus barn, a regional wastewater treatment plant, a preservation and recreational area . .. .

The centerpiece of the property today is Chambers Bay golf course, a public course that opened three Junes ago and was designed by Robert Trent Jones II. It was famous the day it opened (see this article that appeared at the time), and soon was named the host course for two USGA championships: this year’s US Amateur and the 2015 US Open.

Hosting a US Open is the greatest honor a course can receive. Just look at the list of host courses for next five Opens, leading up to 2015: Pebble Beach, Congressional, Olympic, Merion, Pinehurst. If you are familiar with the country’s great courses, you’ll know that each of these courses has a long and rich history. Since bringing the Open to Bethpage Black on Long Island in 2002, the USGA has been making an effort to include great public courses in the rota — Torrey Pines two years ago, Bethpage Black again last year, and now Chambers Bay.

It would not have occurred to me to take a look at Chambers Bay yesterday but for the fact that when we drove into University Place, the sign indicating that we had entered it also noted that it’s the home of Chambers Bay. While at Fred and Jeni’s, I pulled out my iPhone and found it on the map, noting that it was just a couple of miles to the southwest. When we were ready to leave, I mentioned that we might head down there and Fred described the walking route that runs along it, which he uses for dog walking and which would give us good views. That decided it.

We drove down to Grandview Drive, a north-south street that forms the eastern edge of the property. There is plenty of parking along the drive, and from there one can walk a few feet past the trees that line the street, arriving at a parallel north-south walkway just on the east side of the fence that separates the road and walkway from the course. The course itself runs from the fence line westward to the sound, down a slope from about 200 feet in elevation on the east to sea level on the west. There are almost no trees, making for an open and dramatic view over the Sound to the Olympic Mountains. From right to left, or north to south, in the Sound, one sees the south end of Fox Island, McNeil Island (home of a federal penitentiary for a century, but more recently the site of a state prison), and Anderson Island. And at one’s feet is the golf course itself.

You can see a schematic and overhead shot of the course layout here, and a hole-by-hole description here. A not-so-good photo that I took on my iPhone is at the top of the post. It shows the fourth and fifth holes.

South of the course was what seemed — from our northeastern vantage — something of a wasteland. After our walk, we drove south and turned into the entry to the clubhouse, which is on the southeast side. A road descends from there westwards toward the wasteland. At the bottom is a parking lot, near some concrete ruins left behind from one of the old operations. We couldn’t figure out what. Pierce County’s Chambers Creek Properties website gives a sense of some of the recreational possibilities other than golf — trails, meadows, playfields, off-leash area.

It’s quite a setting. Let me quote from the article I linked to earlier, re-printed at CBS Sports’ website but appearing originally in Estates West Golf Living, written by Jeff Wallach.

Not only does the Chambers Bay Golf Course tell a triumphant reclamation story about turning a wasteland into a gorgeous asset; it also illustrates how government can actually act in the best interests of its constituents. The visionaries behind the larger Chambers Creek Project — which includes the golf course, parks and other amenities spread across 930 acres — are not real estate developers or corporate CEOs. County executives and other public servants concepted this brilliant, walking-only public golf course that locals can play at a great discount.

And in case you thought Chambers Bay might be missing any crucial angle of perfection, throw in that romance of the passing trains (which may at some future point stop at the property), boats plying the blue waters of Puget Sound (one day golfers may also be able to arrive by boat) and even ‘ancient’ ruins adjacent to the playing surfaces — in this case, the castle-like ramparts of huge sorting bins left from the land’s industrial past.

Oh, Wallach mentions those ‘ancient’ ruins that we couldn’t decipher. Ramparts of huge sorting bins.

If you’re down in Tacoma, be sure to take a detour and have a look. It’s worth it. And come the last week of August, you can guess where we’ll be.

Categories: Golf, Travel

Lacrosse, 3

May 31, 2010 Leave a comment

Duke vs. Virginia, May 29

[Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun]

Two weeks ago, I wrote a pair of posts (here and here) about the NCAA men’s lacrosse championships. Time for a quick update, with the final game three hours away.

The short version: Lacrosse history will be made today. As I wrote in the previous posts, seven schools have dominated college lacrosse over the decades: Syracuse, Johns Hopkins, Princeton, Virginia, North Carolina, Cornell, and Maryland. Each has won at least two championships (with Syracuse winning 10, Hopkins 9), each has appeared in at least five championship games (Hopkins 18, Syracuse 16), and no other school has won a championship or appeared in more than two championship games. But today an eighth team will be added to the list of champions, either Duke or Notre Dame.

Duke would be an overdue addition to the list. They made the 2005 and 2007 finals, losing each time by just a goal to Hopkins. They made the 2008 and 2009 semi-finals, losing to Hopkins and then Syracuse. They were every bit as good in 2006, but that was the year that their season ended early amidst the arrest of three of its players. Notre Dame hasn’t had Duke’s success, but they’ve been among the top teams for the last decade, making a semi-final in 2001 and going undefeated last year in regular season play, entering the tournament as the #2 seed (before being upset at home in the first round by Maryland). This year, they beat Duke to open the season and were ranked as high as #3, but went into a mid-season swoon, thanks in part to an injury to their star goalie, and were perhaps lucky to be one of the 16 teams invited to participate in the tournament.

Longer version: I left off two weeks ago after the opening round of the tournament, the round of 16. Let me review what has happened since. As you’ll recall, the round of 16 is organized around eight seeded teams hosting eight unseeded teams. The eight seeds were six of the historic super seven schools (all but Hopkins), along with Duke and Stony Brook. Two seeded teams lost, Princeton to Notre Dame and Syracuse to Army. The Syracuse-Army game was one of the greatest upsets in lacrosse history. Syracuse, the two-time defending champion, had the #2 seed and had lost only to #1 seed Virginia, at the beginning of the season. Army beat them in double overtime.

This set up the four quarter-final match-ups last weekend: #3 seed Maryland against Notre Dame and #4 seed UNC against #5 seed Duke at Princeton on Saturday; #7 seed Cornell against Army and #1 seed Virginia against #8 Stony Brook at Stony Brook on Sunday. All games were televised on ESPNU, which we don’t get, so I was reduced to following them on-line. The NCAA website has a “gametracker” feature. You click on it and get to watch several items get updated every few minutes: the time of the game, the score, a description of the last few possessions (team A clears, Team B shoots, Team A gets a ground ball — that level of detail), a list of the goals and scorers and times of goals. It’s better than nothing. That’s how I followed the games, off and on.

At Princeton on Saturday, Notre Dame avenged last year’s opening round loss to Maryland with a 7-5 victory and Duke easily beat UNC, 17-9. Sunday’s opening game was another rout, Cornell 14-5 over Army. Then came an unexpectedly close match between Virginia and Stony Brook. Virginia was the superior team, but Stony Brook (by the luck of the selection of quarter-final “neutral” sites) had the home field. Plus, there was the continuing emotional toll on the Virginia players of the murder earlier this month of one of UVA’s women’s lacrosse players (a crime for which one of their teammates was arrested and charged). Virginia took a 5-1 lead, but Stony Brook came back to tie it, as they did again after Virginia took a 7-5 lead and an 8-7 lead. Virginia opened up a 10-8 lead with 3:45 left in the game, but Stony Brook closed the gap to 10-9 with 2:11 left. They could do no more. That’s how the game ended.

The semi-finals were played two days ago in Baltimore, at the Baltimore Ravens football stadium. #7 Cornell faced off against Notre Dame to start the day, with the Virginia-Duke game to follow. Cornell came within seconds of winning the championship last year, with Syracuse tying in the closing seconds and winning in overtime. This year’s Cornell team did not come close. They attacked early, scored a goal in the second minute, but then Notre Dame’s goalie (Scott Rodgers) made several saves, Notre Dame got four straight goals, and their defense didn’t let Cornell get close again. The final score was 12-7.

Then came a classic game. Let me remind you that in my second lacrosse post, following first-round play, I wrote, “Duke looked awfully good against Hopkins. With Syracuse’s departure, the two best teams in the tournament may be Virginia and Duke. Be sure to watch them on Memorial weekend if they do meet in the semi-finals.” I was right. What a game! Here’s a summary of sorts.

Virginia scored first and took a 4-2 lead at the end of the first quarter. Duke scored quickly in the second quarter to cut the lead to 4-3, Virginia regained their two-goal margin a few minutes later, and then Duke got two goals to tie the game at 5-5 with 5:45 left in the half. Virginia responded with two goals, including a shocker with 12 seconds left, to take a 7-5 halftime lead. A goal in the second minute of the third quarter upped Virginia’s lead to 8-5.

At this point, the potent Duke offense exploded with seven straight goals, as Duke took a 12-8 lead three minutes into the fourth quarter. Virginia got back into the game with three straight goals of their own that made the score 12-11, but with 4:27 left, Duke scored again to go ahead 13-11. They appeared headed to the final. And then, bang-bang, Virginia scored with 1:50 and 1:21 left to tie the game at 13. Duke won the ensuing faceoff, waited for a final shot, and scored with 12 seconds left. They won the faceoff that followed, all but ending the game, but no, they turned the ball over! Virginia had a chance, with 8 seconds left. They called a time out to set up the final play. Star midfielder Brian Carroll took the ball and ran over the midfield line toward the Duke goal. But the whistle blew. Virginia was offsides! Duke took possession with 4 seconds left and ran out the clock. Game over.

I thought going in that this should have been the championship game, that whoever wins should go on to win the final. I still favor Duke over Notre Dame, but with three straight wins over seeded teams (Princeton, Maryland, Cornell), Notre Dame has shown that their strong defense lets them compete against anyone. Plus, of course, Notre Dame already beat Duke this season, 11-7 at Durham to open the season. But that was back in February. My pick: Duke. Either way, we will welcome an eighth team to the list of champions, the first new entry since Princeton’s win in 1992.

Categories: Sports

Soggy Doggy

May 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Despite having moved to Seattle 29 years ago, I still have moments when I feel like a stranger in a strange land. One such moment occurred this afternoon. We drove down to University Place, a suburb of Tacoma some 40 miles from here, where our friends Fred and Jeni live, so we could join them and their family for a barbecue. Their house is on a main street in a residential area that lies just past a commercial district. As we passed through the commercial strip, I noticed one of the store signs in a mini-mall to our left: Soggy Doggy.

Momentarily, I thought that was an odd name. Then I realized, “Oh, I get it, they rhyme!”

What a soggy doggy store does is a matter to which I gave no attention. I was too focused on the apparent rhyme, and on how out of place it made me feel. My vowels have shifted a bit over the years, but not to the point where ‘soggy’ and ‘doggy’ come even close to rhyming. Indeed, my pronunciation of ‘dog’ is the primary evidence for Gail of the continued existence of my New York accent, and I’m fairly confident that no store in New York would name itself “Soggy Doggy.” For a moment this afternoon, I just wanted to go back to the land where people talk normally.

This issue is not new territory for Ron’s View. Two Septembers ago, in one of my very first posts, I wrote about the apparent rhyme of ‘chocolate’ and ‘mockolate’, concluding that “maybe some day I will be able to see the rhyme immediately. And maybe some day, when [Gail] suggests that I take a walk, I won’t take a wok out of the cabinet.” I don’t think that day is going to come.

What is Soggy Doggy? From their webiste, I’ve learned that it’s self-service doggy wash with doggy boutique, doggy bakery, and washmatic hydromassage. “The Washmatic is the easiest way to get your pet clean. In only 5-6 minutes The Washmatic can wash and rinse your dog or cat and give it a soft and shiny coat. After the final rinse is completed you may either remove your pet and be on your way or allow The Washmatic 25 minutes to gently and easily dry your pet.” I can’t imagine Emma going for that. Would any cat?

Categories: Animals, Language, Life

Fiddler on the Roof

May 29, 2010 Leave a comment

[Carol Rosegg, Seattle Times]

A touring production of Fiddler on the Roof, starring Harvey Fierstein as Tevye, is in town this week at the Paramount Theatre. Yesterday morning, Gail and I decided to see it, went on-line, and were still able to buy good tickets for last night’s showing– row J, a little off center. I had been hesitant to commit earlier to going, the memory still in my memory of a negative NYT review of Fierstein’s performance a few years back. But what the heck. We both love the music, a lavish production of the show isn’t going to pass through all that often, so we went.

I believe this is the first time I’ve seen a stage production of Fiddler since its initial run on Broadway in the 1960s. I didn’t have the good fortune at the time to see Zero Mostel as Tevye. My parents did, but by the time they got tickets for us kids, Zero had been replaced by Herschel Bernardi. No complaints. It was great, or so I thought at the time, and I’m happy to remember it as such. Gail came to Fiddler as a movie; she has always identified Tevye with Topol.

We had dinner with Joel before heading downtown to the movie, and I mentioned before leaving that my one fear regarding Fierstein was the difficulty I might have seeing him (or hearing him) without thinking of his role in the 1996 space alien invasion film Independence Day. The role is a minor one, but he plays it so compellingly, or so over the top, that his character stays with me.

That turned out not to be a problem. The problem was that his voice sounded so singularly bizarre that it got in the way of his character time and again. Some words didn’t come through clearly, and there was no hope of his conveying any sort of melody. Sometimes, the quirkiness of his voice worked in his favor, and sometimes it didn’t interfere, but a lot of the time it kept me from settling into the world of the musical. I was too often aware that that was Harvey Fierstein up there, with that famously odd voice, and the voice just wasn’t working well.

Maybe Fierstein was better when he first appeared as Tevye in the Broadway Fiddler revival a few years ago. The revival opened in 2004 with Alfred Molina in the lead. Fierstein must have replaced him at the beginning of 2005. In the NYT on January 21, Ben Brantley reviewed the Fierstein version, and while his comments about Fierstein are largely negative, they are at the same time admiring: “Mr. Fierstein inflects every line with at least a touch of the grandeur of old Hollywood movies, whether he’s being husky with sentimentality, smoky with regret or growly with displeasure. This can be quite a bit of fun. Tevye’s first solo, ‘If I Were a Rich Man,’ takes on a fascinating new life, as Mr. Fierstein slides and rasps through its wordless connecting phrases. But it is sometimes hard to credit this exotic spirit as that of a tradition-bound father who has trouble making the adjustment to changing times. … As for the show’s new Tevye, it would seem that this “Fiddler” has gone from having too little of a personality at its center to having too much of one. Still, as Tevye himself might argue, better an overspiced feast than a famine.”

More to the point for me would be this earlier passage from the review:

. . . audience members . . . may find him a slightly jarring presence.

Tevye must to some degree be an everyman, albeit in exaggerated, crowd-pleasing form. And Mr. Fierstein, bless him, shakes off any semblance of ordinariness as soon as he opens his mouth. Every phrase he speaks or sings, as he shifts uncannily among registers, becomes an event. And the effect is rather as if Ms. Channing were playing one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s simple, all-American heroines in “Oklahoma!” or “Carousel.”

That uncanny shifting of registers was all I could focus on in one early song, perhaps “If I Were a Rich Man.” There was a pitch around which Fierstein appeared to drop an octave or jump up an octave, and he crossed that point repeatedly.

Nonetheless, Fiddler is Fiddler, filled with all those great songs. Golde, played by understudy Rebecca Hoodwin, was excellent. The cast members playing the various young adult roles were most engaging, with lovely voices. We were glad we went.

Time to see Independence Day again.

Categories: Theater

Stanley Cup Preview

May 29, 2010 Leave a comment

The Stanley Cup finals start tonight in Chicago, as the Blackhawks face off against the Philadelphia Flyers. A year ago, I wrote about the Blackhawks series against the Detroit Red Wings and my pleasure at seeing two of the original six National Hockey League teams playing each other. I was hoping for another classic match-up this year, if only the Canadiens were able to continue their magical run by defeating the Flyers, but that didn’t come to pass. I will content myself with the presence of the Blackhawks, for whom I’ll be rooting, while Joel roots for the Flyers. I could never bring myself to support the Flyers, not since they beat the more-talented Boston Bruins in 1974 for the cup. (That was, of course, the first time an NHL team from outside the original six won the cup. I’m ignoring the pre-NHL history of the cup, through 1926, during which time all sorts of teams won, most notably the 1916-1917 Seattle Metropolitans. They played for the cup again two years later, but that series was ended in mid-stream because of the flu epidemic.)

As for the preview promised by this post’s title, I send you to Kent Russell’s excellent on-line piece at the literary journal n+1. Here is his description of Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews:

The team itself is led by 22-year-old Jonathan Toews (pronounced “Tayves”). Toews long ago began whittling his legend: two World Junior championships for Canada, a World Championship, a gold medal, and the third-youngest captaincy in NHL history. Toews’ game is hard to describe. Like Steve Yzerman or Joe Sakic, Toews does every single thing—skate, shoot, pass, defend—with such consistent skill and poise that he seems unremarkable. He now holds a team record for scoring a point in 13-straight playoff games, one of them an assist coming on a penalty kill when he stepped in front of a Dan Boyle slapshot, blocked it, and kicked the puck to a streaking teammate while being bodychecked. To celebrate, Toews allowed himself to flare his nostrils. When he’s still before a faceoff, it’s easy to imagine steam curling out of his nose, hinting at what roils in him, like an electric teapot.

Categories: Sports

A Blow for Habeas Corpus

May 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Magna Carta, from the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, at the Morgan

I’m going to tell a little story. It’s not the best. And to the extent that it is intended to mirror a part of reality, it’s a bit of a stretch. I may need to keep working on it. But let’s have a go at it.

Imagine that a neighbor of yours — we’ll call him George — decides one day to build a small backyard cage in which he can hold the rats that have been terrorizing his house. He also goes around the neighborhood finding more rats to bring back to the cage. Now, he doesn’t always look too closely, so sometimes it’s not just rats that get locked up. A few cats here, some rabbits there, the occasional dog. Whatever. They’re surely bad or they wouldn’t have been put in the cage.

George has a friend Art on the other side of the neighborhood who is going through a nasty divorce with Tally. Tally is so upset at Art that she has been letting rats loose in their home, and perhaps in George’s too. George helps Art out by bringing Art’s rats back to his cage. And not just rats. Assorted other mammals too. But it’s safer that way.

George’s wife Sue isn’t too happy about the caging of the cats, dogs, and rabbits. She insists that George must take a close look at each mammal before putting it in the cage. He isn’t too happy, but he complies.

Sue has a friend Barry down the street who has been eyeing their house. One day, he suggests that he move in and George move out. He assures Sue that if he were to live there, he would get rid of the cage. She kicks George out. Once Barry settles in, he announces to the neighborhood that he’ll be closing the cage operations. But then he begins to worry about where the rats will go if he keeps his promise. Sixteen months later, the cage continues to function.

Meanwhile, Barry has become good friends with Art and helped Art build his own holding cage. Over at Art’s, the mammals remain unchecked before being caged. After all, Sue didn’t say they had to be checked at Art’s. Just last week, Barry got good news. Sue’s younger sister assured him that mammals don’t have to be checked at Art’s, since his cage isn’t controlled by Barry.

Barry’s been thinking. He may have a way to close his cage after all. He can just send the mammals over to Art’s cage. As more mammals get caught, they too can be sent to Art’s, continuing his operation without the need to examine the captives. Pretty cool deal for Barry!

That’s the story.

Now let’s call Barry’s cage Gitmo. Let’s call Art’s cage Bagram. Sue can be the Supreme Court, which ruled in Boumediene v. Bush two years ago that prisoners at Gitmo had a right to habeas corpus under the Constitution. And Sue’s younger sister can be the US Court of Appeals for the DC district, a three-judge panel from which ruled last Friday that three detainees at the American military prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan had no right to habeas corpus hearings. The ruling supported the position of the Obama administration, overturning a lower court judge’s ruling that the Supreme Court’s Boumediene v. Bush decision applied to Bagram. (Oh, Barry, of course, is Obama.)

Why doesn’t Boumediene v. Bush apply? Because the detainees are in a war zone. Keep in mind, many of them weren’t captured in a war zone. They were brought there. (My rat story doesn’t quite capture this perverse subtlety.) We can detain someone, move the detainee to Bagram, announce that it’s a war zone and we can’t be bothered with the niceties of habeas corpus, and with a shrug just keep the detainee there without due process for years. How about that?

How does Obama square this with his past statements? Immediately after the Boumediene v. Bush ruling was announced, Obama said, “Today’s Supreme Court decision ensures that we can protect our nation and bring terrorists to justice, while also protecting our core values. The Court’s decision is a rejection of the Bush Administration’s attempt to create a legal black hole at Guantanamo – yet another failed policy supported by John McCain. This is an important step toward reestablishing our credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law, and rejecting a false choice between fighting terrorism and respecting habeas corpus.” (See Glenn Greenwald’s post for more on Obama’s about-face. See also, among others, Amy Davidson today in the New Yorker blog.)

If you’re in New York this week, be sure to see the Magna Carta exhibit at the Morgan Library & Museum before it closes. (Edward Rothstein wrote about it the other day in the NYT.) On display is one of the earliest original manuscripts of the Magna Carta, from 1217, which came to New York from Oxford University’s Bodleian Library, but could not go back “to Britain because of the disruption to air traffic caused by the recent volcanic ash cloud. The Bodleian Library generously offered the Morgan the opportunity to exhibit Magna Carta while new arrangements were being made to transport it back to England.” Let me continue to quote from the Morgan’s website:

This particular manuscript is one of four original versions of Magna Carta held by the Bodleian Library, and it had never before left Britain since being issued almost eight hundred years ago. Magna Carta or “Great Charter of English Liberties” was signed by King John at Runnymede on June 15, 1215 and was reissued throughout the thirteenth century by England’s rulers. It is considered one of the most important legal documents in the history of democracy and includes such fundamental rights as habeas corpus.

In total, there are seventeen surviving original manuscripts of Magna Carta dating from 1215 to 1297. They are “engrossments,” not copies, meaning they bear the Royal seal. The influence of Magna Carta in America is great and can be seen in such fundamental documents as the Bill of Rights.

Read it and weep.

Categories: Law, Politics

Williams Sisters: 1-2

May 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Venus Williams, French Open opening match, May 23, 2010

This is week-old news, I know. I meant to get to it before. And if I wait much longer, as the French Opentennis championships roll onward, it may stop being true. So I better get to it now.

Eight days ago, Venus Williams was upset by Arazane Rezai in straight sets in the final of the Madrid Open. By reaching the finals, Venus ascended to #2 in the rankings behind her sister Serena, who has been #1 all year.

The Williams sisters first occupied the top two slots in the rankings in 2002, and haven’t done so since 2003. Between injuries to or lack of interest in tennis by one or the other over the years, I would never have imagined that they would return to the top. But here they are. It’s astonishing.

Venus turns 30 in just over 3 weeks. Serena is 28. I recall reading an article about them when they were 14 and 13, focusing on their father Richard’s non-traditional training methods and his bold prediction that some day they would be the top two players in the world. It was difficult to know how seriously to take him. They didn’t play in the standard youth tournaments. Mostly they played each other. Were they that good? No way to know.

In 1997, Venus burst on the scene. She lost in the 2nd round at the French Open, the first round at Wimbledon, but made the finals at the US Open, where she lost, at age 17, to the still-younger Martina Hingis. She would not return to a grand slam final for three years, having to watch her younger sister win the US Open in 1999 over Hingis (who had beaten her in the semi-final, thereby averting an all-Williams final). In 2000 and 2001, she won both Wimbledon and the US Open, reaching as high as #2 in the rankings. She didn’t get to #1 until 2002, which turned out to be not her year but Serena’s. Serena did not play in the Australian that year, but won the French, Wimbledon, and the US championships, going on to win the Australian Open in 2003. Venus, as you may recall, was the losing finalist in all four! There was no question who was #1 in the world. Serena. Or who was #2. Venus. And that’s where they were ranked once Serena won Wimbledon in July.

Venus was never the same player after that, largely due to injuries. Since the 2003 Australian, she has not gotten past the quarterfinals there or at the French, and has reached the semifinals of the US Open only once. In contrast, she has continued to shine at Wimbledon when healthy, with three more wins and two more runner-up finishes. Serena has had her own woes outside the Australian, which she has won four times since 2003. At the French, she reached the semi-finals in 2003, but hasn’t been that far since. Her win at the US Open in 2008 after several years of not getting past the quarter-finals signaled her recent return to top form. She followed it by victories at the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2009, the shocking loss to Kim Clijsters in the US semi-finals last September, and the latest Australian victory in January, securing the #1 ranking along the way.

With consistent play this season, Venus is back to #2. Based on their recent records in Paris, I won’t be surprised if neither of them reaches the finals next week. That could end their 1-2 reign, depending on how deep they go in the tournament and on how the other highly-ranked players do. (Caroline Wozniacki is #3, Jelena Jankovic #4, Elena Dementieva #5, Svetlana Kuznetsova #6.) There’s even a chance that Venus can overtake Serena at #1.

Meanwhile, a tip of my hat to Richard Williams. He was doubly right. They got to be 1-2, then fell quite low at times, but now they’re back. Whatever happens in Paris this week and next, I look forward to Wimbledon.

Categories: Sports

Martin Gardner, RIP

May 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Martin Gardner died Saturday. I wrote about him just last month, at which time I noted that although “not himself a mathematician, Gardner is one of history’s great popularizers of mathematics, through his long-running “Mathematical Games” column in Scientific American. He is as well one of the great debunkers of pseudo-science.” I own several compilations of his Scientific American columns, plus his one novel, The Flight of Peter Fromm, an odd book about religion and theology.

You can read more about Gardner in the NYT obituary, or by clicking on various links at the Scientific American website. For instance, several people pay tribute here and a 1995 Scientific American profile is republished here.

I have little I can add to what others have said. Here are some of the thoughts of Douglas Hofstadter, famed polymath in his own right:

. . . so few people today are really aware of what a giant he was in so many fields—to name some of them: the propagation of truly deep and beautiful mathematical ideas (not just “mathematical games,” far from it!); the intense battling of pseudoscience and related ideas; the invention of superb magic tricks; the love for beautiful poetry; the fascination with profound philosophical ideas (Newcomb’s paradox, free will, etcetera etcetera); the elusive border between nonsense and sense; the idea of intellectual hoaxes done in order to make serious points (for example, one time, at my instigation, he wrote a scathing review of his own book The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener in The New York Review of Books, and the idea was to talk about the ideas seriously even though he was attacking the ideas that he himself believed in); and on and on and on and on. Martin Gardner was so profoundly influential on so many top-notch thinkers in so many disciplines—just a remarkable human being—and at the same time he was so unbelievably modest and unassuming.

Categories: Math, Obituary

Ethel’s Unexpected Appearance

May 24, 2010 Leave a comment

When I’m in my car, thanks to its satellite radio, I’m able to listen to Sirius XM’s On Broadway station. This is a curious experience. Most of the time, the station provides an education in the mediocrity of so much Broadway music. I know this is an unfair judgment; much of the mediocrity surely arises from the lack of context.

Who wants to hear music from South Pacific or Guys and Dolls over and over again? Why ruin the best of Broadway by over-playing it? Sirius XM doesn’t do this, fortunately, but as a result, I frequently tune in to songs from shows I don’t know. Thus, I am the one to blame for the lack of context, for not seeing enough musical theater, and I should be grateful, which I am, that the station exposes me to so much with which I would otherwise be unfamiliar.

And then there are the times when I tune in to the sublime. Like last Wednesday morning, as I drove home from an early morning errand. I know that song! It’s from Gypsy. Another great Stephen Sondheim song.* But wait. I know that voice! Why, it’s Ethel Merman! And so it was.

I was transported to my childhood. First I thought it was the song’s doing. Small World. I do love that song. Then I realized that no, it wasn’t the song, it was Ethel. I had forgotten how much her voice had permeated my childhood years. My parents would attend Broadway musicals and bring home the cast albums, which my father would proceed to play all weekend on our living room’s monaural hi-fi. And of course there was the radio. Ethel was everywhere.

I can’t find a link on the internet to her singing the song. For a snippet, go to the Amazon listing of the 1959 cast album (pictured above), scroll down to the song samples, and click on #4. That’s her, in a duet with Jack Klugman — yes, that Jack Klugman, better known to a later generation for his TV roles in The Odd Couple and Quincy, who doesn’t actually appear on the snippet. For a full version of the song, but with Bernadette Peters rather than Merman, you can listen below:

I went to several musicals on Broadway in the ’60s, but none in the ’50s. In particular, I didn’t see the original Gypsy. Worse, I didn’t see any of the Gypsy revivals, each of which featured a great actress as Rose: Angela Lansbury in 1974, the surprising Tyne Daly in 1989, Bernadette Peters in 2003, and Patti LuPone in 2008. I need to make it a point to see the next one.

*I should be more precise. Stephen Sondheim was responsible for the lyrics. The music was composed by Jule Styne. I wrote here two months ago about my love for Sondheim, on the occasion of his 80th birthday, and here, a year ago, about seeing a production of Sunday in the Park with George. Gypsy was Sondheim’s second musical, following West Side Story by two years. How’s that for the start of a career? (Next came A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the first musical for which he wrote both the songs’ words and music.)

Categories: Music, Theater

61 Hours

May 24, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s been a while since I posted. One reason is that Lee Child’s new Jack Reacher thriller, 61 Hours, which I wrote about* ten days ago after reading Janet Maslin’s pre-publication rave review in the NYT, came last Tuesday, publication day.

I started it immediately, but read in small doses only, since I had other obligations last week and knew that if I went far enough, the obligations would end up pushed aside in favor of the book. Once an important event concluded Friday evening, I was free to lose myself in the book, but by the time I got home and caught up on sports and news, it was 10:30 and I was way too tired. Saturday was the day. I was finished by 1:00.

What should I say? I dare not say too much, in case you might read it at some point. Anyway, we’re not talking about great literature. Just a thriller. But a thriller by one of the genre’s masters, a thriller whose principal character is as brainy as he is brawny. What I most enjoy are the opportunities to watch him display deductive reasoning at its best. He could have been a mathematician, or at least a logician. 61 Hours supplies many such opportunities. As usual, Reacher stumbles into a wildly implausible, though imaginative, plot, laced with a few wonderful characters and many faceless ones.

I’m happy I read it. As always, I can’t wait for the next one, which will be out soon. (Ordinarily, Jack Reacher returns early each summer, but this time Child has produced two books at once, to be published in quick succession.) While I wait, I’m sure I’ll read one or two of the earlier ones as part of my remedial Reacher research.

I’ll conclude by noting two unusual features of the book, each frustrating in its own way. [Alert: You may not to read beyond this point.] First, Reacher takes an extraordinarily long time to figure out who the mystery bad person is, even though the person’s identity is evident early on to any reader. There is no reasonable explanation for his denseness. Second, the book’s conclusion leaves several ends untied, in anticipation of the next Jack Reacher novel. One can pretty well guess what may have happened, but I’d rather know now than wait five months.

*The book cover pictured in my first post is the wrong one. I chose it from the book’s website, but what I chose is the UK cover, not the US one. The US one is pictured above.

Categories: Books