Archive for June, 2011

Pacific Northwest Hockey

June 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Tonight the Boston Bruins return to Vancouver, BC, for the seventh and final game of the Stanley Cup against the Vancouver Canucks. It’s been a wild series, as all hockey fans know, with the Canucks winning three painfully close games in Vancouver (1-0 with the goal scored in the final seconds, 3-2 in overtime, 1-0), while the Bruins have won three blowouts in Boston (8-1, 4-0, 5-2 and not as close as that suggests).

It’s not that often that the hockey world focuses its attention on this part of the continent. But there was a time when the world did so routinely. Before attention shifts again, let me recall those days of Pacific Northwest hockey glory.

We’re talking about 1915 to 1922, when the Stanley Cup was a competition between the champion of the Pacific Coast Hockey League and the champion of the National Hockey Association (which in 1918 became the National Hockey League). Under this arrangement, a team here in the northwest played for the Cup every year.

Reviewing the data, which you can find here, we see that Vancouver was the Stanley Cup champion in 1915. That would be the Vancouver Millionaires, who defeated the Ottawa Senators. The Portland Rosebuds lost the next year to Montreal, and then in 1917 our very own Seattle Metropolitans beat Montreal for the cup, bringing the cup to the US for the first time. We missed out in 1918, when Vancouver lost to Toronto, but we were back in the cup competition in 1919. Alas, the series was cancelled midway through because of the flu epidemic, with Seattle and Montreal tied. A year later, we were in it again, but lost to Ottawa.

That’s three cup appearances in four years for Seattle!

Then it was Vancouver’s turn, losing in successive years to Ottawa and to Toronto. By this point, a third league had entered the fray, the Western Canada Hockey League, soon to become the Western Hockey League. Soon thereafter, the PCHA folded, with the WHL absorbing the Vancouver and Victoria teams. In 1925, the Victoria team, the Cougars, beat the Montreal Canadiens for the Cup, and in 1926, they lost it to the Montreal Maroons.

With that, the WHL folded, bringing Pacific Northwest Stanley Cup hockey to an end, at least until the NHL added the Vancouver Canucks in 1970. Since 1927, the Stanley Cup has been an NHL-only competition.

Will the Cup return to the northwest? We’ll soon know. But how about returning a team to Seattle? It’s a continuing joke that the NHL has teams in some of the most unlikely southern outposts, but none in this historic hockey hotbed. We’re ready and willing. And imagine the rivalry with Vancouver.

Categories: History, Hockey

Today’s Crossword Delight

June 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Swiss 10-franc banknote

I had a happy surprise last night when I did today’s NYT crossword. (If you haven’t done it yet but anticipate getting to it later, read no further until you’re done.)  The clue for 5-across is “Subject with limits and functions, informally,” with the not-so interesting answer ‘calc’.  But this set up up 45-across:  “Swiss 5-across pioneer,”  the answer (of course) being my favorite mathematician, Euler.  How can I not love a crossword with Euler in it?

It’s a continuing source of wonder and sadness to us mathematicians that geniuses such as Euler are largely unknown.  If he were a composer, he would be Bach. If he were a baseball player, he would be Cobb.  But he’s a mathematician, and a cipher, except at least in Switzerland, where he is a familiar figure.  (See above.)

This short biography gives some sense of his greatness. Have a look. And next time you see mention in a crossword of a Swiss mathematician, remember Euler.

Categories: Crosswords, Math

Normalizing the National Surveillance State

June 13, 2011 Leave a comment

This is a post I started three weeks ago, in the wake of Jane Mayer’s widely discussed New Yorker article on the US Justice Department’s prosecution of Thomas Drake, the former National Security Agency employee accused of disclosing top-secret defense documents. Events have overtaken me, most notably the government’s abandonment of its overblown case and agreement to a plea bargain with Drake.

Mayer’s article is still very much to the point in its depiction of the Obama administration’s over-reach in its zeal to bring whistleblowers to their knees. It’s essential reading. For now, let me settle on making just one point, by quoting from Mayer’s article her own quote of Yale law professor Jack Balkin:

Jack Balkin, a liberal law professor at Yale, agrees that the increase in leak prosecutions is part of a larger transformation. “We are witnessing the bipartisan normalization and legitimization of a national-surveillance state,” he says. In his view, zealous leak prosecutions are consonant with other political shifts since 9/11: the emergence of a vast new security bureaucracy, in which at least two and a half million people hold confidential, secret, or top-secret clearances; huge expenditures on electronic monitoring, along with a reinterpretation of the law in order to sanction it; and corporate partnerships with the government that have transformed the counterterrorism industry into a powerful lobbying force. Obama, Balkin says, has “systematically adopted policies consistent with the second term of the Bush Administration.”

There is little more troubling about the Obama administration than its continuation of Bush’s national security state. At least in the Bush years we could see what he was doing as an aberration and anticipate that his successor would return us to the rule of law. Had McCain been elected and continued these policies, we might still view them as an aberration. But for Obama, who spoke out against these measures as a senator and campaigned against them, to not just continue them but vigorously argue for their necessity indeed enshrines them as bipartisan national policy. (See the cartoon at the top of this post for Tom Tomorrow’s take on this issue.)

Which brings us to Charlie Savage’s front-page article in today’s NYT, whose title speaks for itself: “F.B.I. Agents Get Leeway to Push Privacy Bounds.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is giving significant new powers to its roughly 14,000 agents, allowing them more leeway to search databases, go through household trash or use surveillance teams to scrutinize the lives of people who have attracted their attention.

The F.B.I. soon plans to issue a new edition of its manual, called the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, according to an official who has worked on the draft document and several others who have been briefed on its contents. The new rules add to several measures taken over the past decade to give agents more latitude as they search for signs of criminal or terrorist activity.


Some of the most notable changes apply to the lowest category of investigations, called an “assessment.” The category, created in December 2008, allows agents to look into people and organizations “proactively” and without firm evidence for suspecting criminal or terrorist activity.

Under current rules, agents must open such an inquiry before they can search for information about a person in a commercial or law enforcement database. Under the new rules, agents will be allowed to search such databases without making a record about their decision.

In other words, the FBI can spy on us for just about any reason, or no reason at all.

I feel safer already.

Categories: Government, Law

Bruni on Seattle Restaurants

June 10, 2011 Leave a comment

The travel section of this Sunday’s NYT will have a lengthy piece by former NYT restaurant critic Frank Bruni on Seattle. It’s on-line now. I saw the link at the NYT home page earlier today and wasted no time having a look. The more I read, the more I thought Seattle sounds like a great place to live. I didn’t entirely recognize it. Obviously I need to get out more.

Bruni opens with an encounter at The Walrus and the Carpenter, which leads into the paeanful passage below:

To eat in and around Seattle, which I did recently and recommend heartily, isn’t merely to eat well. It is to experience something that even many larger, more gastronomically celebrated cities and regions can’t offer, not to this degree: a profound and exhilarating sense of place.

I’m hard-pressed to think of another corner or patch of the United States where the locavore sensibilities of the moment are on such florid (and often sweetly funny) display, or where they pay richer dividends, at least if you’re a lover of fish. You could, I guess, make a case for the southern stretch of the Pacific Northwest around Portland, Ore., a city honored by its own cable television show, “Portlandia,” which pokes fun at its artisanal obsessions, epicurean and otherwise. But Portland isn’t as connected to and intimate with the sea and tides as Seattle. It’s not as wondrously watery.

In greater Seattle and the San Juan Islands you get a lineup and caliber of local oysters that aren’t easily matched, in addition to superb spot prawns, salmon, black cod and halibut.

Did I mention Dungeness crab? The region is lousy with Dungeness crab. It came at me in more ways than I could keep track of. At Seatown, an enticing new restaurant near the Pike Place Market, it formed a snowy layer in a colorful, carefully molded puck with pale green avocado and glittering orange tobiko, which is flying fish roe. Seatown further used it with bacon in an unconventional B.L.T. For its part, the restaurant Madison Park Conservatory, an excellent recent arrival to the shores of Lake Washington, served Dungeness crab deviled eggs at brunch. Somewhere around Seattle, I’m certain, Dungeness crab gelato is being made. I simply didn’t have the good (or ill?) fortune to find it.

The region provides a natural theater for this feast that’s just as inimitable, a thrilling topography of steeply pitched hills and gently sloped mountains. Snowcaps shimmer on the horizon. Evergreens are everywhere — gargantuan and piney and so very, very pointy. The tree line has jags, edges. It looks as if it’s serrated.

The Madison Park Conservatory, mentioned above in passing, is in our neighborhood. I’m embarrassed to say we have yet to eat there. On the other hand, it’s still new, and we did eat in the restaurants that preceded it on the same site. Indeed, Gail and I had our second date there when it was Crêpe de Paris.

See also the slideshow that accompanies Bruni’s article.

Categories: Restaurants

Sentence of the Week, 7

June 8, 2011 Leave a comment

My favorite source of sentences of the week has been the NYT’s weekly Vows column, which is so good at glorifying the mundane. (See this post for example.) Yesterday, the glorifying was being performed on the NYT sports pages, where Richard Sandomir and Ken Belson’s puff piece on hedge fund manager and potential Mets buyer David Einhorn appeared. Sandomir is usually a hard-nosed writer on the business of sports and sports broadcasting. Yesterday he adopted a breezier, less critical style.

The background, as you may know, is that Mets principal owner Fred Wilpon has become ensnared in the Bernie Madoff scandal. He is being sued for a billion dollars by Irving Picard, the trustee for the victims of Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, and has been under pressure to sell some of his stake in the Mets to prepare for a settlement. (See Jeffrey Toobin’s recent New Yorker article for details.) Einhorn has stepped in and offered to buy one-third of the team for $200 million.

What’s my choice for sentence of the week? It’s hard. Here, have a look at this passage from yesterday’s Sandomir-Benson article and see what you think.

Einhorn’s father, Stephen, a banker who specializes in mergers, and his mother, Nancy, a bookkeeper, have been active in the arts and charities. Through the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust, they donate to educational, religious, medical, youth service and antibigotry causes; the trust also provided money to produce “The Bully Project,” a documentary.

Stephen Einhorn, who spent six years on the board of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, paid to overhaul its Web site so customers could pick the seats they want. “They make sure their dollars are being used well,” said Annie Jansen Jurczyk, the theater’s development director.

She added, “It puts them in a different category of donor, and they do it without any fanfare.”

David Einhorn, whose grandfather had Parkinson’s disease, is on the board of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, and the Robin Hood Foundation, which fights poverty.

“He’s modestly and quietly trying to make a difference in the world, with the simple thread of trying to help people get along, whether it’s in Jerusalem or downtown New York,” said Mary Gordon, the president of Roots of Empathy, a charity that tries to imbue children with kindness and acceptance of others.

Einhorn, who was a co-founder of the hedge fund known as Greenlight Capital when he was 27 and who declined to speak for this article, quickly built a reputation as a thoughtful and astute investor.

Tom Zucosky, the chief executive of Discovery Capital Management, remembers interviewing Einhorn in the late 1990s when his company invested in Greenlight. Einhorn’s presentations, he said, were lucid and inventive and the hallmarks of a rising star.

Zucosky said that Einhorn could read deeply into balance sheets to understand what makes companies — and teams — tick. “If you’re a hedge fund manager, you understand how to manage risk,” Zucosky said, and added: “He’s not stupid. He’s not going to flush his money down the toilet.”

My favorites are the quotes rather than the Sandomir-Benson writing itself. But they chose the quotes, so I want them to share in the credit. There are some gems. I think I have to go with this: “He’s modestly and quietly trying to make a difference in the world, with the simple thread of trying to help people get along, whether it’s in Jerusalem or downtown New York.” What would the world do without New York hedge fund managers? They aren’t just smart. And wealthy. They are generous and modest beyond compare.

As for the smartness of hedge fund managers, that would appear to be a given. And here I thought mathematicians are the smartest people in the world. I suppose the fact that we make so little money is proof that we aren’t, whereas the fact that hedge fund managers make so much is proof that they are. (Then there’s the example of Jim Simons.) I love the observation that “If you’re a hedge fund manager, you understand how to manage risk. He’s not stupid. He’s not going to flush his money down the toilet.” I’m guessing there are a few exceptions to this assertion.

Categories: Journalism, Language

The Conscientious Gardener

June 8, 2011 Leave a comment

I know, this is a first — a post about a gardening book. But not just any gardening book. This one is written by a friend of mine, and it just had a rave mini-review in the Sunday NYT.

As you can see above, the book is The Conscientious Gardener: Cultivating a Garden Ethic, The author is University of Washington plant and garden expert Sarah Reichard, who recently became the director of the UW Botanic Gardens. One component of the UWBG is the Washington Park Arboretum. As some of you know, the arboretum is our neighbor. We see it out our back windows.

The NYT review was part of a summer reading roundup of gardening books. Sarah’s was the second book treated. Reviewer Dominque Browning writes:

Sarah Hayden Reichard has written a modest and unassuming but powerful book, THE CONSCIENTIOUS GARDENER: Cultivating a Garden Ethic (University of California Press, $27.50), arguing that gardeners should be on the front line when it comes to recognizing the interconnection of mankind and nature. “Practices and products,” she writes, have crept into the craft of gardening “that decrease its long-term sustainability.” I, for one, will never again resort to pesticides or peat moss after reading her book. Reichard’s chapter on soil, “the skin of the earth,” is an excellent refresher for any gardener.

Sarah had alerted her facebook friends a month ago that her book was slated to be reviewed on an upcoming Sunday, and I’ve been checking. Finally, she wrote last week that it was online. On reading the review, I went to Amazon, examined the contents in more detail, and ordered it. It arrived Monday afternoon. I got some ways into it that night, but then lent it to Joel. He has raised concerns for a couple of years about the nature of our garden. I figure the book will provide more concrete arguments for what we should change and why, and I look forward to the conversations we’ll have, once all three of us have read it.

Below is the blurb about the book at UC Press. Have a look at the book yourself. You’ll surely find it interesting, however engaged you are in gardening.

In his influential A Sand County Almanac, published at the beginning of the environmental movement in 1949, Aldo Leopold proposed a new ecological ethic to guide our stewardship of the planet. In this inspiring book, Sarah Hayden Reichard tells how we can bring Leopold’s far-reaching vision to our gardens to make them more sustainable, lively, and healthy places. Today, gardening practices too often damage the environment: we deplete resources in our own soil while mining for soil amendments in far away places, or use water and pesticides in ways that can pollute lakes and rivers. Drawing from cutting edge research on urban horticulture, Reichard explores the many benefits of sustainable gardening and gives straightforward, practical advice on topics such as pest control, water conservation, living with native animals, mulching, and invasive species.

The book includes a scorecard that allows readers to quickly evaluate the sustainability of their current practices, as well as an extensive list of garden plants that are invasive, what they do, and where they should be avoided.

Categories: Books, Garden

Rude Residents

June 8, 2011 Leave a comment

In my post a week ago about Spring Visitors, I mentioned in passing the Stellar’s Jays who have been spending a lot of time at our bird feeder. They’re lovely to look at, but since I mentioned them, they’ve shown their true colors. They’re pleasant enough when we’re around. But poor Emma. If she heads out the back door in mid-day, within seconds one of the jays flies down to our patio chairs or the low branches of the giant maple tree and squawks like crazy. The jay may fly from branch to chair to chair to table to chair to branch to branch, squawking incessantly. I keep telling the jay that Emma has rights too, but to no avail.

So what do you think? Are they nesting in the maple? I’m thinking so. It’s fascinating that they instantaneously identify Emma as a threat, but allow us to go about our business. They might have been right once, but now she’s just a slow-moving 15-year-old heading outside for sun, warmth, fresh air, and a taste of the old days. Her running, chasing, hunting days are past. The jays are most unkind.

Categories: Birds, Cats

Catch Up

June 8, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve been a little out of it for the last week. Sorry about that. Thanks to antibiotics, I’m on the mend, with lots to catch up on. I’ll see how far I can get tonight. Stay tuned.

Categories: Health

Memorial Weekend Addenda

June 1, 2011 Leave a comment

1. In my post last night about A Day in Portland, I mentioned our visit to the Japanese American Historical Plaza along the Willamette River and included a photo I found online. Gail reminded me that she took photos, which I have now put on my computer. Above you can see, in the foreground, one of the sculptural columns made by Jim Gion. In the background are some of the plaza stones with poetry on them.

2. In that same post, I described our visit to Portland’s Japanese Garden and inserted a photo from their website. Below, another photo, taken by Gail on Saturday.

3. I wrote earlier today about the rabbit who paid us a visit Monday during our holiday barbecue dinner and included two photos I took. Below is one that Gail took, with the rabbit sitting under our cherry tree.

4. In that same post, I wrote about the mallard couple that has been paying us regular visits this spring. Below, a photo of Gail’s:

5. My Portland posts covered Friday and Saturday. What about Sunday? We didn’t go anywhere, so there’s not a lot to tell. Our nephew DJ came by the hotel with his two children and we had breakfast downstairs in the Heathman Restaurant. After a leisurely meal, we all went up to our hotel room to chat some more. I can now refer to a couple of photos I took through the hotel room window.

As I explained in my post about the Tony Bennett concert on Friday night, our hotel is next to the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. The hotel runs north-south along the west side of Broadway. At it south end, again on the west side of Broadway, is the entry to the hall. One heads westward through the entryway/lobby to the hall itself, which proceeds to run northwards parallel to the hotel. So, if one looks down on the block, one sees two parallel structures, the hotel and the hall, with some space in-between. From the room, we look straight out west, over the space, into the facade of the hall. As you can see, it has a huge mural on it to make the view less painful. And at our height on the 8th floor, we could even see over it to the southwest, with hills rising just on the edge of downtown Portland.

We had looked out at this view many times since our arrival on Friday. And I had seen as well a little landing to the right, with a stairway leading up to the roof and down below. What I hadn’t seen until we were back in the room with DJ and his family on Sunday was what sat on the landing — a giant crow’s nest. It turns out that as obvious as the nest should have been, it’s a lot more obvious when the mother crow is sitting in it. Sunday morning, I saw the crow sitting on the edge taking care of some sort of business, whether nest construction or baby feeding I couldn’t see. Then she flew away, then she came back and sat down. She’s a bit hard to make out, but she’s in the photo below.

6. Once our guests left, we packed up, checked out, got in our car, and headed north to Seattle. We would have been home in 3 hours, but as we hit Federal Way, Gail suggested I see if Jessica and Joel, whom we understood were planning to see a movie together, were out of the movie and wanted to meet us in Tukwila for a very early dinner. I texted Joel, without even mentioning where we might meet, and he texted back right away suggesting the very place we had in mind, Bahama Breeze. For reasons I can’t explain, I love eating there. Not enough to drive all the way down from home, but enough to think of stopping in when we have business down by the airport or environs. And I hadn’t been since Gail had to go down to adjacent Southcenter Mall last August to pick something up. So that’s what we did.

My affection for Bahama Breeze is part of my larger fascination with the Darden family of restaurants, which I wrote about a long time ago. Red Lobster. Olive Garden. Bahama Breeze. Capital Grille. And then there are two that have yet to make it out this way: LongHorn Steakhouse and Seasons 52. Some day we’ll try them.

7. You may be wondering how the NCAA men’s lacrosse championship ended up. I suspect not. But having described or at least stated the result of every game in the tournament other than Monday’s championship, I should perhaps close the loop. It was an exciting game. Maryland scored first, then Virginia came back with two goals, then Maryland with 2, then Virginia with 2, making the score 4-3 in favor of Viriginia. But then the alternating pattern came to an end, as Virginia scored two more goals to take a 6-3 lead early in the third quarter. They seemed to have the game in hand. Maryland had other ideas though and scored 3 goals of their own while holding Virginia scoreless over the next 15 1/2 minutes to tie the score at 6-6. Virginia came back with goals 1:30 later, about 5 minutes later, and again with just under 2 minutes left in the game, taking an insurmountable 9-6 lead. Maryland scored again with 16 seconds left, but that was it. 9-7 Virginia for their 5th national championship, the 4th under coach Dom Starsia. This after needing a furious comeback for their overtime victory over Bucknell in the first round, and after turning around a season that seemed headed to mediocrity halfway through.

With this, I will bring my discussion of the Portland trip, the neighborhood animals, and 2011 men’s lacrosse to a close.

Categories: Animals, Restaurants, Travel

Spring Visitors

June 1, 2011 Leave a comment

We’ve had some unexpected guests this spring. They’re pretty much in the mainstream as far as wild animals go. They just don’t happen to be the sort of animals that drop in on us.

One morning in mid April, Emma was outside on the back patio, tail twitching, on alert for something. I went around to the kitchen, looked out the window, and there was a mallard couple, just sitting on the lawn. They seemed content, but Emma wasn’t. They soon stood up and waddled around, covering a fair bit of the backyard before flying off. I thought that was that, but they’ve since been regular guests. Above is a video I took on my iPhone one afternoon in late April, after having to drive around them to pull into the driveway. For the next few weeks, they would hang out in the backyard every day.

Thanks to the bird feeder Jessica got me for my birthday, we’ve also had a steady stream of other commonplace birds visiting. Most notable are the Stellar’s Jays, who are too big to sit on the feeder perches. Instead, they hang out in our cherry tree preparing for the attack, then fly over and grab onto the bottom of the feeder, hanging upside down and rocking it to spill seed onto the ground.

Two days ago, after our Memorial Day barbecue, I was stunned to see a rabbit in the backyard. I know, rabbits are as commonplace a mammal as there is. But not in our yard. Squirrels, sure. Raccoons. Coyotes. But not rabbits. Yet, there he was, sitting out there. Gail and I both grabbed cameras. He fled to the edge of the yard. I shuffled out to meet him, one small slide step at a time, taking a sequence of photos in which he got bigger and bigger, culminating in the one below.

Another step and he took off across the yard, back towards our patio, as you can see in the next photo.

Emma was upstairs taking her afternoon doze, so she missed out on all the fun. The rabbit hasn’t returned.

Categories: Animals, House