Archive for April, 2011

Emma at 15

April 30, 2011 1 comment

Emma turned 15 last Sunday. We had some guests over to celebrate, though they might have thought they were here for Easter. She was content to avoid them, not coming downstairs even for a minute until they left.

I don’t want this milestone to pass without any mention here at Ron’s View. So, even though I’m six days late: Happy Birthday, Emma. You’re as pretty as ever. (See below, from 10 minutes ago.)

Categories: Cats, Family

Grace Slick Interview

April 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Just a guess, but I’m thinking some of you might have missed the Wall Street Journal’s Grace Slick interview in yesterday’s paper. As a service to the Ron’s View readership, here is the link.

The interview is short, so I don’t want to quote much from it. Here’s one excerpt:

What happened at the White House in the early ’70s?

Tricia Nixon went to the same New York girls’ finishing school [Finch College, now defunct] that I did, but 10 years later. When I attended, my maiden name was Wing. Tricia invited all the graduates, including me, to a White House tea party. Her people didn’t know that Grace Wing was Grace Slick [her first husband was Jerry Slick]. So I called Abbie Hoffman and said, “Guess where we’re going.” I had planned to spike Richard Nixon’s tea with acid. But when Abbie and I were on line, a security guard wouldn’t let me in. He said, “We checked and you’re a security risk.”

The Airplane was my favorite group through my late high school and early college years. When in high school, I saw them perform at nearby Westbury Music Fair. And I spent my first fall in Cambridge making fruitless daily walks to The Coop to see if their soon-to-be-released album Volunteers had arrived. Fifteen years later, just before Gail and I married, she and Jessica had a roommate whose brother played in Jefferson Starship. Which is as close as I got to Grace.

Categories: Music, Newspapers

Harry Jackson

April 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Harry Jackson, 2006, Cody, Wyoming

[Chris Gimmeson/Buffalo Bill Historical Center]

The artist Harry Jackson died on Monday. William Grimes gives an overview of his rich life and career in today’s NYT obituary. Jackson’s art and friends ranged widely, from Abstract Expressionism and Jackson Pollock to cowboys and John Wayne. Check out the obit for more details.

As a footnote, I’ll point out one error. The obituary concludes with mention of six marriages, all ending in divorce. There were, in fact, just four marriages. Harry’s fourth wife, Tina, is immensely talented in her own right, as a singer-songwriter and, more recently, a composer for the musical theater. The oldest of their three children, Jesse, was a classmate of Jessica’s years back at the Hyde School, in Bath, Maine, as a result of which we got to know Harry (a little) and Tina (well).

Categories: Art, Obituary

Nutcase of the Week

April 28, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s hard to out-do Donald Trump. He seemed to have this category all sewn up for the week. How can one top his pronouncement yesterday, in the wake of the release of President Obama’s long-form birth certificate, that “I’m very proud of myself because I’ve accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish”?

Pat Robertson found a way. (Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan.) Watch the video above. It will take only a minute. You will learn that the far left favors abortion — “killing babies” — as a way to create a “level playing field” for lesbians. Really. You see, lesbians can’t have children. Married women can. But if married women don’t have babies, we get the level playing field. That’s what he says.

What’s that? Lesbians can have babies? And sometimes they do? No. You’re joking, right?

Well, at least they can’t get married.

Categories: Media, Politics

Sentence of the Week, 5

April 28, 2011 Leave a comment

I haven’t run this feature for a while, but I knew the time had come for a return appearance when I couldn’t parse a sentence in the NYT this morning after several attempts. The sentence was from a short AP piece, with no author attribution, following up on an incident at the San Francisco Giants ballpark last Saturday involving a fan and the pitching coach of the Atlanta Braves, former pitcher Roger McDowell. The gist of the article was that McDowell apologized yesterday for his actions. Here is the one-sentence review of the incident:

A fan, Justin Quinn of Fresno, Calif, said McDowell made homophobic comments and crude sexual gestures and threatened to knock out his teeth with a bat when he complained about them during batting practice.

Quinn complained about his teeth, eliciting McDowell’s threat to knock them out? That doesn’t make sense. Or maybe the teeth are McDowell’s, not that that makes any more sense.

This was in this morning’s print edition. Looking online now, I see that the text has been revised:

A California man said Wednesday that Atlanta’s pitching coach, Roger McDowell, spewed homophobic comments, made crude sexual gestures and threatened to knock out his teeth with a bat before the Braves played the San Francisco Giants over the weekend.

McDowell apologized Wednesday in a statement released by the Braves: “I am deeply sorry that I responded to the heckling fans in San Francisco on Saturday. I apologize to everyone for my actions.”

Justin Quinn, 33, of Fresno said he was in the stands at AT&T Park during pregame batting practice with his wife and 9-year-old twin daughters when he noticed McDowell hectoring three men and making crude sexual gestures with his hips and a bat. Quinn shouted, “Hey there are kids out here,” he said at a news conference at the Los Angeles office of the lawyer Gloria Allred. Quinn said McDowell replied that children do not belong at a baseball park, picked up a bat, walked up to Quinn and asked him, “How much are your teeth worth?”

That makes sense, though it replaces one puzzle by another — what’s up with McDowell? Maybe he should find another line of work.

Categories: Language

Change We Can Believe In, XVIII

April 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Change We Can Believe In: We’re A Nation of Laws He’s Guilty If I Say So

It was good to learn last Tuesday that “Pfc. Bradley E. Manning, the Army intelligence analyst accused of leaking classified government documents to the Web site WikiLeaks, will be moved from near-solitary confinement at the Marine brig in Quantico, Va., to another prison [Fort Leavenworth] under conditions that may be less restrictive.

What a puzzle, then, that on Friday, President Obama told Manning supporter Logan Price that

if you’re in the military… And I have to abide by certain rules of classified information. If I were to release material I weren’t allowed to, I’d be breaking the law.

We’re a nation of laws! We don’t let individuals make their own decisions about how the laws operate. He broke the law.

He broke the law? No need for a trial, then? Last I knew, he was merely being detained while awaiting trial. Now I’m really puzzled.

What makes Obama’s comments especialluy unfortunate is that if Manning ever is tried, it will be in a military court with judges who are under Obama’s command. As Greenwald observed two days ago,

It may be that Obama spoke extemporaneously and without sufficient forethought, but it is — at best — reckless in the extreme for him to go around decreeing people guilty who have not been tried: especially members of the military who are under his command and who will be adjudged by other members of the military under his command. Moreover, as a self-proclaimed Constitutional Law professor, he ought to have an instinctive aversion when speaking as a public official to assuming someone’s guilt who has been convicted of nothing. It’s little wonder that he’s so comfortable with Manning’s punitive detention since he already perceives Manning as a convicted criminal. “Sentence first – verdict afterward,” said the Queen of Hearts to Alice in Wonderland.

Meanwhile, we can thank WikiLeaks (whatever role Manning played in providing documents) for our best look yet into the travesty of justice that was, and continues to be, Guantánamo. Instead of going after whistleblowers, Obama might better spend his time cleaning up the mess, as he once promised.

Categories: Law, Politics

Manny, Beginning to End

April 25, 2011 Leave a comment

[Sara Krulwich/The New York Times]

I have long had a soft spot in my heart for Manny Ramirez, despite his at-times-inexcusable behavior, most notably when he gave up on the Red Sox during the 2008 season, only to come alive for the last two months of the season once he was traded to the Dodgers. However selfish, childish, immature, baffling, and mysterious, he was an extraordinary hitter. I have written about him several times. He was, in fact, the subject of my seventh blog post, written on the second day of Ron’s View.

How long have I had a soft spot for Manny? That’s easy to answer. Ever since March 1991, when he was an 18-year-old high school baseball player in Washington Heights and Sara Rimer started writing about him in the New York Times. Rimer no longer works for the NYT, but she has returned for a guest appearance in honor of Manny’s recent retirement. Tomorrow, the NYT publishes her final reflections</a, which are worth a look. See the slideshow too.

Here is her opening:

When I heard that Manny Ramirez had retired, the first person I called was his high school coach, Steve Mandl. I reached him at George Washington High School in Upper Manhattan, where he has coached varsity baseball for 27 years.

He was sad and stunned. I pictured him at the dented metal desk in his cramped office, where a 20-something Manny Ramirez in his Cleveland Indians uniform looms from the autographed poster that hangs on the wall.

“Steve,” I said, “that was real, wasn’t it — the Manny in high school, that swing, his work ethic, all that pure talent?”

“Oh, yeah,” Mandl said, “that was real.”

And then the coach had to run.

I stumbled upon the George Washington Trojans of Washington Heights in the spring of 1991. The high school was bursting with new immigrants, and the 25 varsity baseball players were all Dominican.

Mandl invited me to spend the season following the team. He told me he had a great hitter, an 18-year-old from Santo Domingo who got the bat around faster than any other high school player he had seen.

I knew next to nothing about baseball, but even someone with the scantest technical knowledge of the game or the mechanics of hitting could recognize that Ramirez was a star in the making.

I don’t remember the first time I saw that quicksilver swing. What I remember is what it felt like to be there on that rock-hard artificial surface atop the hill next to the high school, among his euphoric teammates and fans shouting his name, merengue blasting from someone’s boom box in the concrete bleachers behind the third-base line, the major league scouts lined up behind home plate as Manny came up to bat in his baggy black-and-orange secondhand uniform and red cleats and slammed one home run after another, day after day.

Up in the stands Manny’s beautiful 16-year-old girlfriend, Kathy Guzman, would practically be swooning. A vendor in a Yankees cap would push a grocery cart serving pastelitos and the sweet, blended orange juice and milk concoction known as a morir soñando: to die dreaming.

Manny, batting .650, walloped 14 home runs in 22 games. Not one of those home runs was on television or saved on videotape. Mandl could barely keep the team in baseballs and gloves let alone think about videotaping his future major leaguer.

But maybe it’s better that way. Those home runs, the memory of them, are part of the Manny that belongs to Washington Heights. He was the shy, happy-go-lucky boy with the perfect swing who everyone knew was going to the major leagues. The boy who loved to hit more than anything else. The boy who worked harder than anyone else. The baby-faced boy who never drank anything stronger than the nonalcoholic Puerto Rican eggnog from the corner bodega he chugged to bulk up.

That was the Manny who at least seemed knowable, before he disappeared behind the wall of all that surreal major league fame and money. Who is the real Manny? The 18-year-old prospect with everything ahead of him, or the 38-year-old major leaguer who walked away from baseball rather than face a 100-game suspension after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs for the second time in two years? Who knows?

Categories: Baseball, Journalism

Mexican Delights

April 21, 2011 Leave a comment

This morning, I picked up the current issue of The New York Review of Books and discovered Alma Guillermoprieto’s The High Art of the Tamale, as fine a piece of food writing as one could ask for. In reviewing Diana Kennedy’s Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy , Guillermoprieto tempts the reader to book flights southward immediately, out of excitement for the described delights.

[Kennedy] was coming from the drab kitchens of postwar England, and in Mexico City just a short walk through any neighborhood market was enough to make her swoon: armfuls of blossoms the color of gold, the smoky perfume of dried chiles gusting through the corridors, the racket of a dozen vendors vying for her attention, waist-high pyramids of unheard-of vegetables, pumpkins of every description, gourds, melons, purple amaranth plants, shocking-pink cactus fruit, blood-red hibiscus flowers, and, above the general din, the metallic cries of the vendors…¡cómpreme, marchantita! Buy here! Buy here!

And then to huddle at a market stall and wait for an industrious woman in braids to chop up some barbacoa and onion and cilantro and spoon it all over a tortilla and hand the steaming morsel into her eager hands…Heaven.

And Guillermoprieto tempts the reader to book flights southward immediately, also, in fear that these delights won’t last long.

. . . the ecological and cultural devastation Mexico has been undergoing. I could go on at some length about our garbage-lined highways, the almost daily loss of native species, the forests logged by lumber black marketeers, drug traffickers, and landless settlers, the slow attrition of our beautiful markets thanks to the likes of Wal-Mart, and the takeover in local Wal-Marts of everything fresh by everything processed—for one small example, the replacement of locally grown raisins by imported dried cranberries—but I won’t.

Read it all. And book your flights.

Categories: Culture, Food, Writing

Deliberate Practice

April 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Thanks to a post two days ago Geoff Shackelford’s golf blog , I learned two days ago about Golfer in Training Dan McLaughlin and The Dan Plan. Shackelford linked to an article by Michael Kruse three weeks ago in the St. Petersburg Times. As Kruse explains:

On his 30th birthday, June 27, 2009, Dan had decided to quit his job to become a professional golfer.

He had almost no experience and even less interest in the sport.

What he really wanted to do was test the 10,000-hour theory he read about in the Malcolm Gladwell bestseller Outliers. That, Gladwell wrote, is the amount of time it takes to get really good at anything — “the magic number of greatness.”

The idea appealed to Dan. His 9-to-5 job as a commercial photographer had become unfulfilling. He didn’t want just to pay his bills. He wanted to make a change.

Could he stop being one thing and start being another? Could he, an average man, 5 feet 9 and 155 pounds, become a pro golfer, just by trying? Dan’s not doing an experiment. He is the experiment.

The Dan Plan will take six hours a day, six days a week, for six years. He is keeping diligent records of his practice and progress. People who study expertise say no one has done quite what Dan is doing right now.

Dan spent last month in St. Petersburg because winters are winters in the Pacific Northwest. “If I could become a professional golfer,” he said one afternoon, “the world is literally open to any options for anybody.”

According to Dan, “talent has little to do with success.” He elaborates at his website:

According to research conducted by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, Professor of Psychology at Florida State University, “Elite performers engage in ‘deliberate practice’–an effortful activity designed to improve target performance.” Dr. Ericsson’s studies, made popular through Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers and Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated, have found that in order to excel in a field, roughly 10,000 hours of “stretching yourself beyond what you can currently do” is required. “I think you’re the right astronaut for this mission,” Dr. Ericsson said about The Dan Plan.

I once enjoyed Gladwell’s articles in The New Yorker. He is, after all, such a talented writer. But I’ve tired more recently of his continuing quest to find explanations for assorted phenomena that are simultaneously novel and all-encompassing. I haven’t read Ericsson’s work, but I can’t imagine he intended for it to be applied, as Gladwell does, to explain Bill Gates’ success as resulting from the 10,000 hours he spent programming computers while in high school.

Nonetheless, I love the Dan Plan. Dan expects to “hit the 10,000 hour milestone by November of 2015. During this time, Dan plans to develop his skills through deliberate practice, eventually winning amateur events and obtaining his PGA Tour card through a successful appearance in the PGA Tour’s Qualifying School, or ‘Q-School’. I’ll be watching.

In the meantime, I have my own plan to attend to. This is blog post number 792. Just 9208 more before I hit my own 10,000 milestone and become a professional writer. Watch out, Malcolm. The New Yorker may not have room for both of us.

Categories: Golf, Life, Writing

Nature’s Metropolis

April 17, 2011 Leave a comment

I explained three weeks ago how political developments in Wisconsin led me to download and start reading William Cronon‘s 1992 study Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West. As I mentioned then, Paul Krugman wrote a post at the end of January in which he spoke of rereading the book, adding that

everyone with any interest in economics should read [Cronon’s] 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.

I almost bought Cronon’s book at the time. With his appearance in the news last month as a victim of the McCarthy-style tactics of Wisconsin’s Republican party, I delayed no longer. Four days ago, I finished it.

Reading the book was a thrilling experience. It is the most astonishing blend of history, geography, economics, and ecology that I can imagine. You will surely realize that I don’t exactly read a lot of history, geography, economics, or ecology. Perhaps my assessment shouldn’t carry a lot of weight. But let me say this. Find the book, read Part II, and tell me if you disagree.

The book has three parts. The first introduces some of the book’s themes, with a focus on how water, then rails, gave Chicago its central role in the economy of the west over the nineteenth century. Just a few miles up the Chicago River, one reaches a high point whose other side drains into the Illinois River and on into the Mississippi. Thus, Chicago lies virtually at the divide between waterways that take you, in one direction, via the lakes and the Erie Canal, to New York City (or via the lakes to the St. Lawrence, Montreal, and beyond to the Atlantic), and in the other direction, via rivers, to St. Louis, New Orleans, and the Gulf. No sooner did Chicago begin to benefit from this prime location than railways changed everything. But yet again — and Cronon takes pains to point out that this was not inevitable — Chicago found itself in the key location between railways that supplied and brought goods from the great west and railways that sent the west’s produce to the major cities of the east while shipping the east’s manufactured goods back west.

Part II, building on this, is the heart of the book, and a must-read. Titled Nature to Market, it has three chapters: Pricing the Future: Grain, The Wealth of Nature: Lumber, and Annihilating Space: Meat. Each is a gem. I can think of no better microeconomics primer, as we watch capitalism take root and transform the western regions of the country along with the way of life of its population and the land itself. Prairie makes way for farming, the white pine of the north woods makes way to fence the prairie and house its inhabitants, and plains buffalo make way for cattle range land. People’s lives improve, but at a cost, which Cronon always keeps in our field of view.

Part III zooms out a bit, with a broader look at what has been gained and lost. It contains yet another gem, the chapter The Busy Hive, in which we watch Montgomery Ward become a retail force much like Wal-Mart or Costco today. But really, the entire book is a gem.

Categories: Books, Economics, History