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Nicklaus and Suzuki

March 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Above, Jack Nicklaus, winning the 1986 Masters at the age of 46. Below, Shinichi Suzuki with violin students. How are they connected? Read on.

The 1986 Masters ended on April 13, so I’m jumping the gun a bit on its 25th anniversary. But that’s because Geoff Shackelford is running a contest over at his golf blog, deadline tomorrow, in which readers are invited to tell “where you were, who you were with, or of course, your horror stories about missing out on the great day.” My story is one of the “missing out” ones. I want to be sure to enter it, so I will write it tonight for Ron’s View and submit it tomorrow to Shackelford. He has a 500 word limit, which will keep this short.

Gail and I were nine and a half months into our marriage. She was not yet the devoted Masters fan she would become. Indeed, she wasn’t much of a golf fan at all. Thus, when we realized that Masters Sunday was also annual Seattle-area-Suzuki-violin-student-mass-concert Sunday, which meant eight-year-old Jessica (Gail’s daughter, my new step-daughter) would be performing at the same time that the leaders played the final round’s back nine at Augusta, Gail wasn’t too concerned.

The concert was held at Meany Hall on campus. Back then, and until recently, the Masters didn’t let CBS start TV coverage too early, and there were no cameras on the front nine. I don’t remember the details, but I imagine we left for the concert shortly after coverage started.

Golf fans know that NIcklaus’s win was one of the great surprises in golf history. Six years past his last major championship, NIcklaus could still contend, but no one expected him to win a major again, except perhaps Nicklaus himself. Then, after shooting 35 on the front nine, he exploded for a 30 on the back nine and took the lead. I missed his entire back nine, of course. I was in Meany Hall at the concert.

Suzuki fans know that all Suzuki students learn the same repertoire in the same order, starting with Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. In a carefully controlled progression, students advance from simple songs to Bach. The concert format has the most advanced student in attendance playing the latest piece he or she has mastered, then proceeds backwards through the repertoire, with students coming on stage as their latest pieces arrive, building to the climactic moment when all of the dozens or hundreds of area students are on stage playing Twinkle, Twinkle in unison. It’s wonderfully conceived, no?

Once I caught on to this conception and realized that Jessica, still a relatively new Suzukier, wouldn’t be playing for a while, I leaned over and suggested to Gail that I walk over to the HUB — the student union building — to see what was on in the TV room. It’s not that I wanted to leave the concert. The format was fun, and I enjoyed seeing students come on the stage in twos and threes. But, you know, there was golf to watch. So off I went to the HUB, and I was mighty relieved to find that the students in the TV room had indeed tuned the TV to the Masters.

It was difficult at first to make sense of what was happening. There was all this talk about Jack, but he was done playing. He was being interviewed, and he seemed pretty happy. Golfers were still on the course. Eventually I came to understand that only one golfer could still catch him: Greg Norman, who had entered the day in the lead but fallen back. Tom Kite must have finished already, one stroke back of Nicklaus. And Seve Ballesteros, two back. And Nick Price, three back. Whatever drama had taken place with these players in the hunt or falling back, however Nicklaus found himself atop the leaderboard, I knew none of it. I knew only that Norman had just birdied 17 to move into a tie with Nicklaus and was now on the 18th tee.

In fact, I probably didn’t even know that at first, but had to get caught up along the way as Norman played 18, learning of his falling out of the lead, Nicklaus’s tearing up the back nine to take the lead, Norman’s steadying himself to regain a piece of the lead, and now playing for a win or at least a playoff.

A good drive, an errant approach shot missing the green, a chip onto the green with 15 feet left for a par-saving, playoff-saving putt. A miss. Nicklaus had won! Norman was joint runner-up with Kite. What many consider the greatest golfing moment of the last 30 years was over, and I hardly knew what happened.

I returned to Meany Hall in time to see Jessica’s entrance. Just as with the golf, I missed a lot of the action on the back nine, but I did see the conclusion. And in contrast to Greg, Jessica didn’t bogey “Twinkle, Twinkle.” All went well. Except that I couldn’t get Gail to understand that I had missed history.

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Categories: Family, Golf

Nick Cave SAM Exhibition

March 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Earlier this month, a new show opened at the Seattle Art Museum, Meet Me at the Center of the Earth. It consists entirely of work of the artist Nick Cave, faculty member and director of the fashion design department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. We had intended to go to one of the opening events a few weeks ago, but it conflicted with two other activities, and we chose one of the others. Fortunately, we received an invitation to tour the exhibit this past Thursday with Derrick Cartwright, the director of the Seattle Art Museum.

We assembled with other invitees in the museum’s lobby, then were ushered up two flights to the threshold of the exhibit, where Derrick talked to us about the show and about Nick Cave, making sure we understood that this Nick Cave is not one and the same with the Australian musician Nick Cave. Evidently this has been a point of on-going confusion, and perhaps disappointment. He then brought us into the exhibit’s first room.

Cave’s principal works, as you can see above, are what he calls sound suits. The website for the show explains that “Nick Cave’s wildly improbable beings are made from unusual materials that don’t often get a second life: potholders, spinning tops, sequins, buttons and thrift store sweaters. View the work in the galleries to appreciate the exquisite detail of these opulent sculptures.” I had seen some of the pictures online, but they give no sense of how wonderfully joyous the soundsuits are, how colorful and creative, with such varied textures. The mosaic of sweaters that form the first work seen in the show, a towering polar bear, is simply marvelous.

Other than the polar bear, all the suits are made to be wearable — in particular by Cave himself. Trained as a dancer with Alvin Ailey, he doesn’t just wear them. He dances in them. In one room about halfway through the exhibit, several videos are projected on the walls showing him and others performing movement or dance in the suits and giving the viewer an entirely different sense of the suits viewed statically just before. As explained at SAM’s website, “SAM is partnering with students from the Cornish College of the Arts and dancers from Spectrum Dance Theatre to bring selected suits to life in scheduled on-site performances.” Derrick described the plan a little differently. These performances will break out in unexpected places, perhaps for instance during intermission at the opera, with hints given ahead of time at the website that may allow astute readers to guess where the performances will be.

The show runs through June 5. If you’re in the area, be sure to see it.

Categories: Art, Museums

The Low Road, Wisconsin Edition

March 27, 2011 Leave a comment

This is old news by now, and thoroughly written about elsewhere, so I won’t say much. William Cronon is a renowned historian at the University of Wisconsin, holder of the Frederick Jackson Turner professorship and the Vilas research professorship, and president-elect of the American Historical Association. As he explained in a long post at his blog Scholar as Citizen last Thursday:

Last week was quite a roller coaster for me. I spent the weekend of March 12-13 drafting an op-ed for the New York Times (published on March 22, and available at this link: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/22/opinion/22cronon.html) about the several ways in which I believe that Scott Walker and the current leadership of the Republican Party in Wisconsin have departed not just from the longstanding culture of civility and good government in this state, but in fact from important traditions of their own party. In the course of writing that op-ed, I did some research trying to figure out where the current wave of conservative legislation in Wisconsin and elsewhere might be coming from.

As a result, last Tuesday night, March 15, I launched my first-ever entry for a blog I had long been planning on the theme of “Scholar as Citizen,” about how thoughtful scholarship can contribute to better understandings of issues and debates in the public realm. In my first blog entry, I published a study guide exploring the question “Who’s Really Behind Recent Republican Legislation in Wisconsin and Elsewhere?” I by no means had all the answers to this question, but I thought I had found enough useful leads that it was worth sharing them to help others investigate the American Legislative Exchange Council further. So I posted the link for the blog on Facebook and Twitter, sat back, and hoped that viral communication would bring the blog to people who might find it useful.

My little ALEC study guide succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. …

What I did not anticipate—though I guess I should have seen it coming, given everything else that has happened in Wisconsin over the past couple months—was the communication that the University of Wisconsin-Madison received on Thursday afternoon, March 17—less than two days after I posted my blog—formally requesting under the state’s Open Records Law copies of all emails sent from or received by my University of Wisconsin—Madison email address pertaining to matters raised in my blog. (The acronym in many other states and in the Federal government for the laws under which such a request is usually made is “FOIA,” named for the federal Freedom of Information Act. …

Remarkably, the request was sent to the university’s legal office by Stephan Thompson of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, with no effort to obscure the political motivations behind it.

Josh Marshall wrote about Cronon’s story on Thursday at TPM, and then on Friday it spread across the blogosphere. I learned of it on waking up, when I turned to my RSS feed and found Jim Fallows sufficiently troubled to come out of blog hiatus and say a few words.

Cronon gives a … convincing argument about why this should be seen as a flat-out effort at personal intimidation, in the tradition of Wisconsin’s own Sen. Joe McCarthy. …

The reason this strikes me particularly hard at the moment: I am staying in a country where a lot of recent news concerns how far the government is going in electronic monitoring of email and other messages to prevent any group, notably including academics or students, from organizing in order to protest. I don’t like that any better in Madison than I do in Beijing.

Paul Krugman weighed in a little later, and the NYT has an editorial posted online, evidently scheduled to appear tomorrow, that concludes:

This is a clear attempt to punish a critic and make other academics think twice before using the freedom of the American university to conduct legitimate research.

Professors are not just ordinary state employees. As J. Harvie Wilkinson III, a conservative federal judge on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, noted in a similar case, state university faculty members are “employed professionally to test ideas and propose solutions, to deepen knowledge and refresh perspectives.” A political fishing expedition through a professor’s files would make it substantially harder to conduct research and communicate openly with colleagues. And it makes the Republican Party appear both vengeful and ridiculous.

I won’t add on. I have nothing useful to add. But I do want to point out one welcome consequence of Krugman’s post. He starts: “Regular readers may recall my praise for William Cronon’s Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West, a great book that had a big influence on my work in economic geography.” Indeed I did remember Krugman writing, at the end of January,

I’m rereading William Cronon’s Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West — yes, on my Kindle, which has made a serious improvement in my life. And everyone with any interest in economics should read his account of the rise of the Chicago Board of Trade. Railroads changed everything. It wasn’t just the fact that stuff could be shipped further, faster, cheaper; the railroad also led to the replacement of concrete with abstract forms of ownership (the farmer owned a receipt for a bushel of grain, not a particular sack), standard-setting, futures markets, and on and on. If you’ve read Marc Levinson’s The Box, about containerization (which you should), it’s startling to see how many of the themes were prefigured by the grain trade, as standard-sized rail cars replaced flatboats, as grain elevators essentially began treating grain as a fluid rather than a solid, as conveyor belts replaced stevedores toting sacks.

I almost bought Cronon’s book after reading Krugman’s recommendation, then thought better of it. With all the other books I had in the queue, when would I read this one? I didn’t have to be convinced a second time though; I wasted no time downloading it Friday. I have set other books aside and am now reading it. So far so good, and I get to support Professor Cronon as I read.

Categories: Books, Politics