Archive for January, 2011

Picasso in Seattle, II

January 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Portrait of Dora Maar, 1937

Three months ago, I wrote about our visit to the Seattle Art Museum to attend one of the opening, members-only viewings of the new show Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris. I said at the time that my visit decades ago to the Picasso Museum was a revelation, but no second revelation was forthcoming.

For one, there is only a small fraction of the works I saw in Paris years ago. For another, my long ago visit to the Musée Picasso was on a quiet weekday morning. I could go wherever I wanted, linger as long as I wished, view paintings alone, follow the chronological path and double back as often as I pleased. The Seattle exhibition is again chronological, but everything was so crowded. And then there was the curse of the audio tour. Wherever a painting was marked with a tour number, crowds would form. The problem is that people stay put for however long the audio remarks take, even if the work itself is no longer being discussed. And the auditors tend to cluster in a respectful semi-circle with a large radius, so no one can get close without getting in their way.

I closed the post by noting that we’ll “need to go back, this time sans audio tour and preferably sans people.” Well, the exhibition ends in seven hours, at midnight, and we got back just in time, two nights ago. But by waiting to make our return visit until the closing weekend, we managed to stumble into even larger crowds than awaited us the first time. And the semi-circular clustering of auditors seemed even worse than the first time, maybe because the radii of the semi-circles were larger. If one didn’t want to break the semi-circle, one was so far back that one couldn’t see the painting in any detail or read the painting’s name and year. It was an altogether frustrating experience.

Well, not altogether. For example, the Dora Maar portrait shown above, though part of the audio tour, was in a large enough room, and far enough into the show (by which point auditors’ attention seems to flag), that it was possible to get close and linger without feeling I was in some way invading the invisible semi-circular force field. And there are so many other treasures. We’re glad we went.

Categories: Art

The Sentry

January 17, 2011 Leave a comment

I finished Robert Crais’s latest crime novel last night. The Sentry. It was released last Tuesday and I had pre-ordered the Kindle version, so first thing Tuesday morning, I had a copy on my iPad. It is the 14th in Crais’s series of Elvis Cole/Joe Pike novels (see here for the complete list). As I have explained before, most of the books focus on Cole, with Pike as a secondary character. I started reading Crais in 2008 with novel #12, featuring Cole, then read #13 last May, as I wrote in a post in early June. It was the second novel featuring Joe Pike, and led me to go back to #11, the first Pike novel, which I read in Nantucket in September.

Crais wasted no time writing yet another Pike novel — The Sentry — and I wasted no time getting it. But I didn’t start it until I went to bed two nights ago. Less than 24 hours later, I had finished it.

Maybe reading three of them in 6 1/2 months wasn’t such a good idea. I didn’t enjoy this one as much. I don’t feel that I learned much more about Pike as a character, and I didn’t find him so interesting anymore. The plot drove me along. Crais is pretty good at that. But even that wasn’t so interesting. What was good was the use of the Venice area of Los Angeles, or Los Angeles as a whole, as the backdrop for the story. I wandered around Venice with Gail a little over a decade ago on a trip down there, so I had some picture in my head of the neighborhood, but now I’m curious to return and get a better sense of it.

Next up: Paul Clemens’ Punching Out: One Year in a Closing Auto Plant, which will be published tomorrow. I pre-ordered it over half a year ago for my Kindle. I must have read some short piece by Clemens at the time that mentioned the upcoming book, and ordered it immediately. I wrote two Junes ago about Clemens’ previous book, the superb Made in Detroit: A South of 8 Mile Memoir.

Maybe I should add a few words about e-readers. I started The Sentry Sunday night on my iPad, because it’s what I happened to have at hand. But yesterday, when I set about reading the book in earnest, I switched to the Kindle. It’s still my preferred e-reader, unless I actually want the distraction of being able to check my email and the blogs every few minutes. But distractions aside, it’s so much easier to hold for extended periods of reading. Holding an iPad with one hand isn’t feasible. Holding a Kindle and turning pages with one hand makes a huge difference. And just imagine how much better the experience must be with the third generation — lighter still, better contrast. In two days, I won’t have to imagine. My new Kindle will arrive.

Categories: Books

Guns, Guns, Guns

January 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Above is Tom Tomorrow’s latest cartoon, published at today. Is there a better example of the corruption of our contemporary political system than the complete collapse of any resistance in Congress and among presidential candidates to the gun lobby?

Let us contemplate the result. There is a handy Insurrection Timeline at the website of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. (Hat tip: Jim Fallows.)

Sample entries:

August 25, 2009—During a GOP barbecue in Twin Falls, Idaho, an audience member asks Rex Rammell, a candidate in the 2010 Idaho Republican Primary, a question about “Obama tags” during a discussion about state-issued tags for wolf hunting. Rammell responds, “The Obama tags? We’d buy some of those.” In a subsequent press release, he adds, “Anyone who understands the law knows I was just joking, because Idaho has no jurisdiction to issue hunting tags in Washington, D.C.”

January 2, 2010—More than 300 people attend a rally in Alamogordo, New Mexico, organized by the local Otero Tea Party Patriots and Second Amendment Task Force. The purpose of the rally is to protest health care reform, and many of the rally’s participants openly carry handguns and/or rifles. One attendee states that his handgun is a “very open threat” to the “socialist communists” in the Obama Administration. “The government fears the people, and a disarmed people are slaves,” he says. “Political power comes from the barrel of a gun … They’re pushing us to our limits.”

November 29, 2010—U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, circulates a PowerPoint presentation to his colleagues in which he compares the Obama administration to the Nazi regime in Germany and likens himself to Gen. George Patton, bragging, “Put anything in my scope and I will shoot it.”

Categories: Politics

False Equivalence, Palin, Violence

January 10, 2011 Leave a comment

My post on the Gabrielle Giffords shooting Saturday was written in haste, and with limited information. I’ve wanted to say several things since then, but of course, much of what I wanted to say has already been said better by others. Let me, nonetheless, touch on a few points.

1. The growing evidence that the shooter, Jared L. Loughner, is psychotic does not in any way excuse right-wing political and media figures from responsibility for creating conditions that promote violence. Sure, they aren’t literally responsible for arming Loughner and pointing him toward Giffords. That’s not the point. The point is that by adopting demonizing language and explicitly violent rhetoric, they increase the likelihood of such events.

2. And let’s have none of this false equivalence BS about how both extremes are equally nuts, and if only everyone would be civil. There is no equivalence of far left and far right here. None. The far left has almost no voice. The far right is a dominant force in one of the two mainstream political parties of this country. The far left is ridiculed. The far right is in control of the most powerful cable news station in the country and is taken seriously. The far right isn’t even called the far right. They are called conservatives. They are called Republicans. They are in charge of the House. And they are nuts.

3. Sarah Palin. I wrote about her a lot in the fall of 2008, in my first monthsof blogging. I have stopped. There’s no point repeating myself. But let’s be clear on this point. She is dishonest, she is a loon, she is a phony. And her rhetoric is dangerous. Let’s look again at the famous SarahPAC crosshair ad:

Shortly after the shootings Saturday, it was taken down. And Palin advisor Rebecca Mansour, in an interview by radio host Tammy Bruce, clarified:

“We never ever, ever intended it to be gun sights. It was simply cross-hairs like you’d see on maps,” said Rebecca Mansour on the Tammy Bruce radio show. Moreover, there was “nothing irresponsible” about the image, and to draw a line connecting Palin and Saturday’s shooting is “obscene” and “appalling.” … Mansour called the crosshairs “surveyor marks.”

Alas, on November 4th, immediately after the election, Palin herself tweeted:

4. Here are some links to and excerpts from others regarding false equivalency, Palin, and related matters:
Read more…

Categories: Politics

Golf is Back

January 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Jonathan Byrd

[Kohjiro Kinno, Sports Illustrated]

I realize this won’t interest many of you, but I’ve been meaning to write all week about the good news that the golf season has begun. The PGA Tour opens every year with the Tournament of Champions, which brings together the players who won PGA tournaments the previous season. Some of them anyway. Not everyone wants to start so early. Those who choose to make the trip get to hang out in Maui with their families, an attraction for some, but not all.

Unfortunately, the result is a limited-field, no-cut tournament that isn’t always especially interesting. But it’s golf, the first serious men’s tournament in months, and that means Sunday afternoons are interesting again. You can have the NFL. And the NBA. Give me golf.

Alas, this really wasn’t one of the more exciting Tournaments of Champions. I wanted to care, but I didn’t. I actually watched more football this weekend than golf. I caught the end of the tournament though. I turned it on after Graeme McDowell had shot an amazing round of 62, 11 under par, to finish at 23 under. Tied with him at 23 under and on the 18th fairway was Robert Garrigus. Back on the 17th fairway at 24 under was tournament leader Jonathan Byrd. One of the three would win.

The 18th at Kapalua is a stunning hole, a 660 yard par 5 with an enormous elevation drop, making it reachable in 2 for long hitters. As I turned on the coverage, Garrigus was preparing from 295 yards away to make his approach into the green. He hit a monster, reaching the front edge of the green and rolling down towards the flag, finishing about 10 feet away and setting him up for a potential eagle that would put him in the lead. Behind him Byrd was about 90 feet short of the flag with his approach, leaving him a long two-putt to stay at 24 under.

Garrigus would just miss his eagle putt. The ball went by 2 1/2 feet, requiring a tricky little return putt for birdie, which he sank. Byrd two-putted for par. Thus, Garrigus finished his round tied with Byrd at 24 under, eliminating McDowell from contention. Byrd would win if he could birdie 18. A par would lead to a playoff.

You can see the problem here. McDowell is now one of the glamour boys of golf. But how many people are going to seek out the Golf Channel to watch the closing moments of the tournament, eager to find out if Byrd can eke out a win over Garrigus or if instead there will be a playoff? Well, I know there’s at least one person who will. And I did.

On 18, Byrd laid up with his second shot on, hit a wedge to about 20 feet, and left his birdie putt short, settling for par and a playoff. At this point, I had tested Gail’s patience enough. We didn’t stick around for the playoff, which Byrd would go on to win on the second hole.

Three months until the Masters. Thanks to his win, Byrd will be there. Maybe this is the year that we go too. That would be something.

Categories: Golf

Willows Inn

January 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Tomorrow’s NYT travel section will have an article by Gisela Williams on 10 Restaurants Worth a Plane Ride. It turns out that for one of them, we can simply drive. And take a ferry. It’s the restaurant at The Willows Inn on Lummi Island, the final entry on the list. Here’s the description:

Willows Inn, on the tiny San Juan island of Lummi, is about two hours from Seattle by car and ferry. Yet it is about to become a destination restaurant, thanks to its new chef, Blaine Wetzel. The 24-year-old, formerly the protégé of Rene Redzepi at Noma, the Copenhagen restaurant that was ranked the “best restaurant in the world” for 2010 by S. Pellegrino, took over the kitchen at Willows last year. The restaurant itself reopens in February; expect a menu with an obsessive focus on local ingredients, in the style of Noma. Since he was hired, Mr. Wetzel has been working with a farmer and an urchin diver who work solely for him.

We’ve never been to Lummi Island. We’ll have to change that. Then again, I’m not really that eager to eat urchins. And I am having trouble with this thought exercise: “Imagine a European auberge planted amid the stunning marine views of the San Juan Islands, and you begin to experience the peace, tranquility and sustainability the Willows Inn offers.” But we better get up there before Mr. Wetzel moves on.

Here’s a sample prix fixe menu from last September , listed at the website:

beet salad with
red rhubarb and coriander

grass fed Lummi Island beef tartar with
parsley, tarragon and fall spices

Lummi Island wild spot prawns with
leeks, mussels, and toasted bread

reefnet caught Fraser River coho salmon
with Nettles Farm mustard greens and fresh potatoes

white peaches with
wild Lummi Island blackberry sorbet and buttermilk

Categories: Restaurants

Gabrielle Giffords

January 8, 2011 Leave a comment

[Joshua Lott for The New York Times]

I’ve been doing my best to find more details about today’s shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson: updating the NYT article, going to Tucson TV station websites, refreshing my RSS feeds, looking every few minutes at The Daily Dish for Andrew Sullivan’s live blogging. I suppose we’ll all know soon enough the identity and motives of the attempted (or perhaps ultimately successful) assassin.

At Sullivan’s live-blogging site now are the items on left and right from the campaign of Giffords’ opponent last year, and the item below from SarahPAC, with Giffords as one of 20 members of Congress in the crosshairs.

(Sullivan writes, “Various Palin sites are frantically removing various incendiary materials – which is both gratifying, but also, it seems to me, an acknowledgment of previous rhetorical excess.”)

How can it be that our far right wing gets to control the use of the word “terrorist”? If you’re a Moslem and you look different, you’re a terrorist, even if you’re a US citizen. But a white American who flies a plane into a federal office building, or murders a doctor who performs abortions, or — I fear — assassinates a member of Congress is … what? A patriot?

Let’s take, for instance, Peter King, himself a member of Congress, who with the change in control of the House is now the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. As reported in mid-December, he

is planning to open a Congressional inquiry into what he calls “the radicalization” of the Muslim community … responding to what he has described as frequent concerns raised by law enforcement officials that Muslim leaders have been uncooperative in terror investigations.

Yet, King was himself a long-time supporter of the IRA. As Alex Massie wrote a year ago:

King has been on a tear since the attempted Christmas Day bombing, attacking the Obama administration at every turn. Earlier this week, he was asked what more President Obama could do to reassure Americans in the aftermath of the failed Christmas Day bomb plot. King’s response? “I think one main thing would be to—just himself to use the word ‘terrorism’ more often.” Even by the standards of the House of Representatives, this is impressively bone-headed.

For decades, King was one of the keenest, most reliable American voices supporting the Irish Republican Army during its long and murderous campaign.

Still, many members of Congress are stupid and the people, bless them, seem quite unconcerned by that. What’s more galling is that King presents himself as a hawk on security issues who, like so many so-called conservatives, is an enthusiastic supporter of torture and, should it prove necessary, nuclear weapons. Listening to King talk about al Qaeda, you could be forgiven for thinking that he’s the terrorists’ most implacable enemy.

Which would be funny if it weren’t such a sour joke. For years, King, who represents a chunk of New York’s Long Island, was in fact the terrorists’ best friend. King wasn’t merely an apologist for terrorism, he was an enthusiastic supporter of terrorism.

Of course it was Irish, not Islamic terrorism that King championed. So that’s different. Right? For decades, King was one of the keenest, most reliable American voices supporting the Irish Republican Army during its long and murderous campaign.

According to King, the terrorist movement was “the legitimate voice of occupied Ireland.”

There’s terrorism, and there’s patriotism. Terrorism is what Moslems do. Patriotism is what white Christian Americans do. Or so it seems.

Categories: Life, Politics, Security

Security Theater

January 6, 2011 Leave a comment

[Photo by Patrick Smith]

I’ve written before about airport security theater, and I’ve linked before to Patrick Smith’s Ask the Pilot blog at Salon. (Smith’s latest post, from two days ago, brings news that the TSA, in a rare loosening of security rules, is allowing airlines to hand out plastic kiddie wings again.) I would like here to bring to your attention a longer piece Smith has written.

The over-riding theme of Smith’s essay is that the heightened airport security rules of the past decade have more to do with us and our fears than with heightened dangers in the sky, a point he makes by reviewing a series of pre-9/11 air crimes starting in 1970. One of the longer stories in the essay is a recounting of Smith’s experience with TSA officials when they find in his bag the standard knife that his airline distributes to first- and business-class customers on the plane itself.

Much of what Smith says will be familiar. And exasperating. Yet, it is worth reading as an excellent overview of the madness of contemporary security theater. Here’s a passage about the limits on carrying liquids through security that got my attention.

The three-once container rule is silly enough — after all, what’s to stop somebody from carrying several small bottles each full of the same substance — but consider for a moment the hypocrisy of TSA’s confiscation policy. At every concourse checkpoint you’ll see a bin or barrel brimming with contraband containers taken from passengers for having exceeded the volume limit. Now, the assumption has to be that the materials in those containers are potentially hazardous. If not, why were they seized in the first place? But if so, why are they dumped unceremoniously into the trash? They are not quarantined or handed over to the bomb squad; they are simply thrown away. The agency seems to be saying that it knows these items are harmless, but it’s going to steal them anyway and either you accept it or you don’t fly.

Yes, of course! The TSA isn’t serious. They don’t actually think your liquids are dangerous. But they’re going to mechanically apply the rule that you can’t carry too large a container on, then throw your confiscated, non-dangerous container in the trash. What better example is there that this is pure theater?

Categories: Security, Travel

Hall of Fame Vote, II

January 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven

I wrote Monday night about this year’s baseball Hall of Fame candidates, in anticipation of yesterday’s announcement of the results. You can see the complete voting here.

No surprises. As was widely expected, Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven were inducted. That Alomar wasn’t elected last year, in his initial year of eligibility, never made sense, except in the context of the famous and uncharacteristic 1996 spitting incident. But how does Alomar go from 8 votes short of induction last year to getting about 90 votes more than needed this year? How do dozens of voters come to the conclusion in parallel that as one of the three or five greatest second basemen in history, he should be inducted as soon as possible, but not too soon, so let’s make him wait a year?

Anyway, he’s in, as is Blyleven as the culmination of fourteen years of gradually building support. Alas, the two players I argued for the other night — Edgar Martinez in his second year on the ballot and Larry Walker in his first — didn’t come close. Edgar fell back a bit, named on just under a third of the ballots, a drop of a little more than 3%. Walker was named on only 20% of the ballots, not a promising start. Steroids aren’t an issue with either of them, but each has a fatal flaw: Edgar was a DH for most of his career; Walker played in Coors Field (a hitter’s paradise) during his greatest years.

At the other extreme, former Mariner Bret Boone received one vote in his first (and last) year on the ballot. I think the overly strict standards being applied by many voters are inane. But this might just be even more inane. By what possible definition of Hall of Famer can Boone make the cut?

As for applying overly strict standards, Joe Posnanski comments on the logical outcome in his latest piece, The Willie Mays Hall of Fame. I don’t want to spoil the punchline, so I won’t say more about it. I just wish we could focus on the baseball and not on so-called moral issues that voters somehow are presumed to have the ability to judge.

Categories: Baseball

Hall of Fame Vote

January 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Larry Walker

Voters for new members of the baseball Hall of Fame had to submit their ballots last week; the results will be announced on Wednesday. Recall that players become eligible for election five years after retirement and can remain on the ballot for 15 years, though they are dropped from the ballot if they get too few votes. To be inducted, a player needs 75% of the votes.

Last year, Andre Dawson was the lone player elected, in his ninth year of eligibility, with 420 votes out of 539 cast. Next was Bert Blyleven, with 400 votes, just missing election by 5 votes in his 13th year of eligibility, and then Roberto Alomar with 397 votes, missing induction by 8 votes in his first year of eligibility. It is widely anticipated that both will be elected this year.

The Hall of Fame credentials of those in the next several spots in the 2010 voting have been widely debated. They (with vote totals) are:

Jack Morris (282)
Barry Larkin (278)
Lee Smith (255)
Edgar Martinez (195)
Tim Raines (164)
Mark McGwire (128)
Alan Trammell (121)
Fred McGriff (116)
Don Mattingly (87)
Dave Parker (82)
Dale Murphy (63)

Of course, there’s a long list of former stars who are newly eligible this year, including Rafael Palmeiro, Jeff Bagwell, and Larry Walker. And each voter can vote for ten players maximum.

In recent days, various baseball writers have expressed their views on who should or shouldn’t be voted in. Among the standard debates:

1. What to do about players who were on steroids, most notably McGwire and Palmeiro.

2. And by the way, who exactly was on steroids? And does it matter if they admitted it or lied about it? And does it matter if they were on steroids at a time when players weren’t being tested (and so, in effect, were permitted to be on steroids), or after testing began?

3. Was Blyleven really a great pitcher (his amazing career totals notwithstanding)? And wasn’t Jack Morris a clutch pitcher, a sure Hall of Famer (even if his career totals aren’t as amazing)?

If you want to check the stats, start with a page from listing the players on the ballot and their career totals. Also see Sports Illustrated baseball writer Jon Heyman’s treatment two weeks ago of the Blyleven-Morris debate, followed by his review of his own voting. And, if you have a half hour to spare, preferably before the results are announced Wednesday, read Joe Posnanksi’s five-part series last week (a post a day) in which he analyzed all the players on the ballot and explained his vote. The posts are here, here, here, here, and here.

There’s little of value I can add to their posts. In case you’re wondering (and since I don’t have a vote, why would you?), I would join those voting Alomar and Blyleven into the Hall. I would vote for McGwire too. Slam dunk. Steroids? Well, no one said he wasn’t allowed to use them. And at a time when almost everyone did, he stood above his contemporaries as the era’s dominant home run hitter.

Let me focus on two players in my remaining remarks: Edgar Martinez and Larry Walker. They are, to my mind, among the greatest hitters in the history of the game. They should both be voted into the Hall, the sooner the better. Edgar fell way short last year, his first year of eligibility, receiving less than half the votes needed. The case for him will need to build over time in voters’ minds, and I hope it does. I have written about that case several times before, such as here and here prior to last year’s voting.

It’s Larry Walker’s first year on the ballot. The knock against him, I suppose, is that his hitting stats are inflated by playing at Coors Field in Denver. But what numbers they are! My gosh. See for yourself, here. In the five years from 1997 to 2001, he had a batting average of .357, an on-base percentage of .445, and a slugging percentage of .658. In 1997, those three stats were .366, .452, .720 and two years later they were .379, .458, .710. This is staggering. Plus, he was an outstanding right fielder. What’s there to debate? Vote him in!

We were fortunate to see Edgar Martinez and Larry Walker play against each other during Walker’s wondrous 1997 season. That was the first year of interleague play, and the Mariners played the Rockies, first here in Seattle in June, then in Denver at the end of August. Each team had an overwhelming offense that year, the best in its league. Having missed the Rockies here in June, and eager to see Coors Field as well as the two offensive titans, we decided to head to Denver.

This isn’t the place to write about the trip. The short version: three days staying at Estes Park and visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, followed by three days in Denver. We intended to see just the first game of the two-game series, on Thursday, August 28. (Box score here). It turned out to be a depressing experience, not so much because the Mariners lost but because of the four drunken louts behind us who knew nothing about the Mariners players other than Griffey, made fun of Edgar because he was Hispanic, said extraordinarily coarse things all night about women, and just acted cool, as they imagined cool to be. All dressed up, I should add, professionals, straight from work, stockbrokers I’d guess, late twenties or thirty. I finally turned around and asked them to shut up, what with our ten-year-old son at our side, not that that should have been relevant. But the evening was not what we were hoping for. After taking the official Coors Field tour the next day, we walked out onto quiet streets in stultifying heat and humidity, found a lone scalper, and bought three tickets for that night’s game. This time we were far, far away, the upper deck in left center, as far removed from a game as I can remember, and the louts were replaced by two families, young kids who weren’t paying attention, and mothers who weren’t either but just talked the whole time.

You can’t win. And indeed, the Mariners didn’t, giving up two runs in the bottom of the 9th to lose 6-5. (Box score here.)

Still, it was a great trip. And I haven’t even mentioned our deciding to have lunch at a pub a block from Coors Field after we bought the scalper tickets, only to find that Randy Johnson had chosen the same pub for his lunch. Randy didn’t pitch in that series. One of the big issues that week was whether he was being kept out to avoid the big-hitting Rockies. Hard to believe. That doesn’t sound like Randy, does it?

I’m straying. Let’s get back to the issue here. If you could vote, I’d say: Vote for Edgar. Vote for Larry. But you can’t vote, and the votes are in, and almost surely neither will be elected this year. Too bad.

Categories: Baseball