Archive for January, 2012

Parks on Writing

January 19, 2012 Leave a comment

There’s a great little piece by writer and translator Tim Parks (author of the book pictured above) at the New York Review blog site today about writing within, or without, a home culture. Of particular interest are the contrasting examples he gives of students in his creative writing class — one writing a historical thriller about a culture foreign to him in time and place, another writing about a group of family and friends in England now — and the relative merits of their work. Before introducing these examples, Parks writes that

For most of us, the set of behaviors we call personality, or self, forms initially in a family of three, four, or five individuals, then develops as it is exposed to the larger worlds of school and, in our teens perhaps, our town, our country. The richness of our individual personalities is a measure of the complexity of the relations that sustain us. A word spoken at home or school can be dense with nuance and shared knowledge in a way unlikely to occur in a casual exchange at rail station or airport, however fascinating and attractive an exotic traveling companion may be. This is not an argument for staying at home, but for having a home from which to set out.

Parks’ observation is loosely connected to a claim I have often made to Joel, that I am his working definition of a normal adult. He may, over time, revise this definition, but he’s stuck with me as his initial frame of reference.

Here I am presuming to trod on Parks’ turf. Sorry about that. Let me back off.

Parks picks up his theme again later with reference to the two students:

If there is a problem with the novel … the problem is rather a slow weakening of our sense of being inside a society with related and competing visions of the world to which we make our own urgent narrative contributions; this being replaced by the author who takes courses to learn how to create a product with universal appeal, something that can float in the world mix, rather than feed into the immediate experience of people in his own culture. That package may work for some, as I believe my student’s account of dramatic upheavals in the Mongol empire will work for many readers; it has its intellectual ideas and universal issues: but it doesn’t engage us deeply, as I believe my other student’s work might if only he could get it right. And this is not simply an issue of setting the book at home or abroad, but of having it spring from matters that genuinely concern the writer and the culture he’s working in.

Parks’ article is provocative. And short. I suggest reading it in full.

Categories: Culture, Writing

Snowed In

January 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Our spruce tree

I don’t want to make too big a deal about the weather here this week. It’s not like we’ve gotten all that much snow, though other parts of western Washington did. And it’s not like getting snow is all that unusual, though some winters we don’t get any. (It’s typical when the colder winter storms move through that temperatures hover right at the rain/snow line, bringing snow to higher elevations or to areas a little outside Seattle that lack the dual moderating influences of Puget Sound and Lake Washington, with just traces of snow falling within Seattle.) But I have to say, it’s unusual to have six consecutive days of snow. And today’s sleet/ice/snow caught the forecasters by surprise.

I should explain or remind readers that snow tends to stop traffic in Seattle, especially when it turns to ice, because we’re a city of hills but not a city of plows. When I first moved here, roads just didn’t get plowed. Now the major roads do. But when snow is followed by falling temperatures and ice, the city comes to a standstill.

I wrote on Sunday about the early stages of this unexpected weather. On Saturday, it snowed briefly. I got in the car, dashed down to the local commercial neighborhood, and took care of some errands, but the snow had stopped before I got home. Sunday brought big snow in some areas, 3-4 inches here. Monday was cooler. Not too bad a day. No significant accumulations. The snow on the roads was packed hard and we kept the cars in. We walked down to the commercial neighborhood for lunch and to buy provisions. (Monday was a holiday, so getting to work wasn’t an issue.)

Tuesday was supposed to be the calm before the big storm on Wednesday. I drove to school, with temperatures in the high 30s. To my surprise, it was precipitating when I arrived, a sleety snow. By noon it was flat out snowing, and did so for a couple of hours. Very light, and with the temperatures still well above freezing, nothing stuck. From late afternoon through the evening, there was lots of melting. The drive home was easy, and at home I could hear melting water pouring through the downspouts.

The Wednesday storm (yesterday) was initially predicted, days ago, to be part of a big warm front with early snow followed by heavy rain and melting. Then it appeared that the storm would come through farther south, bringing very heavy snow here, on the order of a foot. By Tuesday night, the prediction was downgraded to 2-5 inches here, and that turned out to be about right. The big issue was whether I should get up early and walk in to school for class. Or could I drive? Or would school shut down, something it never used to do, but has in recent years in order to keep thousands of commuters off the roads? By 10:20 PM Tuesday there was no closure announcement, so I went to bed ready to get up early. But I awoke around 12:45 AM, reached for my iPad, and discovered I had missed the closure announcement, which had come through around 10:45 PM. No school. I shut the alarm.

The snow didn’t start yesterday until 4:00 AM, and never fell heavily here in Seattle, but didn’t stop until early afternoon, leaving another 3-4 inches on the ground. As predicted, snow was much heavier to the south, as much as 12-15 inches over southwest Washington. And still farther south, in Oregon, the warm front we were supposed to get had arrived, with temperatures of 50 degrees. An icy precipitation continued to fall later in the day, but nothing significant. Nonetheless, at 8:50 last night, the university announced a closure for today too. Today was supposed to be a transitional day, cold but with little precipitation, with warm air and rain finally arriving tomorrow.

Well, that didn’t happen. As local weather expert Cliff Mass explained this morning, everyone got the prediction wrong. What we got instead was an ice storm. Real bad to the south, where there are power outages. Not too bad here. But a complete surprise based on last night’s outlook. Still, as of this morning, the sleet was to stop by 1:00 PM this afternoon. Instead, it turned to snow, which is still falling. Gail and I walked down to the stores again a couple of hours ago, got some lunch, bought some food. It wasn’t too bad. Packed snow on the roads, crunchy snow where no one had driven or walked. The snow still falling is light.

We’re still supposed to get warmer weather starting tomorrow. Days of it, 40s and rain. This will all be gone quickly. The big question is whether the roads will be safe in the morning, before the warming and rain do their work. In particular, will the university close again? If it doesn’t, will anyone besides me show up to my class? It’s a disaster either way — missing yet another class, or holding a class to which few people come. With the Monday holiday, this whole week is turning into a disaster, making a mess of the start of the term.

I took the photo at the top with my iPhone on our return from this afternoon’s outing. Just for the heck of it, I offer a contrast below, a shot of Sankaty Head lighthouse in Nantucket taken last September as we cycled back from ‘Sconset to Wauwinet. I would say I’d rather be there, but, you know, it’s actually quite lovely here.

Categories: House, Weather

Forgotten Land and Bloodlands

January 16, 2012 Leave a comment

Europe in 1933

[Map credit: Mike King, in New York Review of Books]

I finished Max Egremont’s Forgotten Land: Journeys Among the Ghosts of East Prussia two Saturdays ago and have intended to write about it since, but I’m struggling with what to say. I first wrote about it at the end of November, having been inspired to order it earlier in the month because of Andrew Stuttaford’s Wall Street Journal review, in which he wrote:

Max Egremont’s idiosyncratic, disjointed and beautifully written volume makes an ideal guide to this shifting, shadowy realm. In part a piecemeal history of the final half-century of German East Prussia, in part a travelogue through what was left behind, “Forgotten Land” is gently elegiac. Shifting constantly between present and a variety of pasts, it is as wistful as a flick-through of an old photo album, as melancholy as a rain-spattered northern autumn afternoon.

I commented at the time that I was “some 70 pages into Egremont’s book and thoroughly enjoying it.” But I then became distracted by a sequence of other books, returning to it intermittently but not making further progress until late December, at which point I wrote:

I’ve been slowly working my way through Egremont’s Forgotten Land: Journeys Among the Ghosts of East Prussia in recent days, reaching not quite the halfway point yesterday. And what do you know? It’s reviewed by Richard Eder today in the NYT, not entirely flatteringly. I’ve been convincing myself that I enjoy Egremont’s meandering approach. A little World War I history here, a little World War II history there. A few words about one historical figure, then another. It’s not entirely clear why we spend so many pages in Ypres reading about British World War I war dead. Belgium’s a long way from East Prussia. But that’s the journey we sign up for when we read the book. Eder clearly has less patience for it than I do.

Will I make it to the end?

That Eder review almost stopped me in my tracks, given my eagerness to get to the books I had lined up to read next. Fortunately, I kept going — fortunately because of the astonishing tales that awaited me. In the latter stages of the book, the focus is on the lives of selected residents of East Prussia in the buildup to World War II, during the war itself, and in its immediate aftermath. We’re talking about land that passed back and forth in complicated ways between Germany, Poland, Lithuania, and the Soviet Union.

A chapter is devoted to the historic German city of Memel, now the Lithuanian city of Klaipėda. A recurring character in several chapters is Walter Frevert, an East Prussian forester who becomes the head forest master for Hermann Göring. Göring, of course, would become the head of the German Air Force, but when the Nazis initially came to power in 1933, he was put in charge of Prussia, coming often to East Prussia to hunt. As we learn, Frevert’s responsibilities grew as Göring expanded the forest holdings in Germany’s eastern lands. Expansion might mean, for instance, forcibly moving Poles from their villages to be re-settled farther east and then razing the villages, an operation Frevert oversaw. Frevert would take on forest duties in West Germany after the war and become a popular figure, through radio and TV programs and his memoir Rominten, about the hunting preserve in East Prussia that he once ran.

Egremont tells these stories in an understated manner that allows the details to speak for themselves, which they do quite powerfully. Another example is the story of the last Jews left in Königsberg in January 1945, whom the Germans decide to move westward before the inevitable arrival of the Red Army. They are forcibly marched to the Baltic town of Palmnicken. Two thousand die or are killed along the way. The survivors were driven down to the beach, into the frozen sea, and shot. The details of the march are described from the perspective of some of the East Prussian natives, some of whom would go through their own hell when the Russians arrived.

The closing chapters of the book reminded me that last year I had thought of reading Timothy Snyder’s 2010 book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, which was widely and well reviewed. Anne Applebaum’s review in the New York Review of Books (from which the map at the top is taken) had especially gotten my attention. As Applebaum explains,

Snyder’s ambition is to persuade the West—and the rest of the world—to see the war in a broader perspective. He does so by disputing popular assumptions about victims, death tolls, and killing methods—of which more in a moment—but above all about dates and geography. The title of this book, Bloodlands, is not a metaphor. Snyder’s “bloodlands,” which others have called “borderlands,” run from Poznan in the West to Smolensk in the East, encompassing modern Poland, the Baltic states, Ukraine, Belarus, and the edge of western Russia (see map [above]). This is the region that experienced not one but two—and sometimes three—wartime occupations. This is also the region that suffered the most casualties and endured the worst physical destruction.

More to the point, this is the region that experienced the worst of both Stalin’s and Hitler’s ideological madness. During the 1930s, 1940s, and early 1950s, the lethal armies and vicious secret policemen of two totalitarian states marched back and forth across these territories, each time bringing about profound ethnic and political changes. In this period, the city of Lwów was occupied twice by the Red Army and once by the Wehrmacht. After the war ended it was called L’viv, not Lwów, it was no longer in eastern Poland but in western Ukraine, and its Polish and Jewish pre-war population had been murdered or deported and replaced by ethnic Ukrainians from the surrounding countryside. In this same period, the Ukrainian city of Odessa was occupied first by the Romanian army and then by the Wehrmacht before being reoccupied by the Soviet Union. Each time power changed hands there were battles and sieges, and each time an army retreated from the city it blew up the harbor or massacred Jews. Similar stories can be told about almost any place in the region.

This region was also the site of most of the politically motivated killing in Europe—killing that began not in 1939 with the invasion of Poland, but in 1933, with the famine in Ukraine. Between 1933 and 1945, fourteen million people died there, not in combat but because someone made a deliberate decision to murder them. These deaths took place in the bloodlands, and not accidentally so: “Hitler and Stalin rose to power in Berlin and Moscow,” writes Snyder, “but their visions of transformation concerned above all the lands between.”

Egremont, of course, is not writing a comprehensive history. He is examining a handful of people who are victims, collaborators, or perpetrators in one region, East Prussia, that forms part of Snyder’s larger bloodlands story. When I set Egremont’s haunting book aside, I was tempted to turn directly to Bloodlands to better understand that larger story. I haven’t yet, for fear that it will keep me from other books and other projects. But yesterday I downloaded the opening portion that Amazon makes available as a Kindle sample. It won’t be long before I buy and download the entire book. Perhaps I’ll have more to say after reading it.

Categories: Books, History

Carmine Smeraldo

January 16, 2012 Leave a comment

[From the website]

Gail and I were sad to learn of the death of Carmine Smeraldo, the founder-owner of the Seattle restaurant Il Terrazzo Carmine. I have written about Carmine’s many times, most recently after we ate there in November to celebrate Gail’s birthday. We have celebrated many birthdays there in recent years, and always wonder why we don’t go more often. I love their cannelloni, their rigatoni, their constantly changing risotto specials, their lamb, their green peppercorn steak. Gail’s partial to their ossobuco. But more than that, it’s such a warm and welcoming place. Carmine will be greatly missed.

Here’s an excerpt from yesterday’s Seattle Times obituary.

The food is one thing at Il Terrazzo Carmine.

Then there was the man.

Carmine Smeraldo would greet customers at his Pioneer Square restaurant with warmth, offering a handshake, or oftentimes, a hug. He knew loyal crowds turned up for perfectly smoked salmon dishes and handmade ravioli stuffed with bursts of wild mushroom.

But he also knew his customers wanted more. They came for an experience, an escape, a desire to envelop their senses and return to their lives a little happier than how they felt an hour — or two, or three — before.

At this, Mr. Smeraldo was the master.


The interior summoned Mr. Smeraldo’s homeland with its terra cotta floors, rustic chandeliers and high ceilings. It conveyed a feeling of “old-school romance,” said Seattle Times restaurant critic Nancy Leson.

Categories: Obituary, Restaurants

Hall of Fame Vote

January 16, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s been a week since the National Baseball Hall of Fame announced the results of the 2012 vote by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America for Hall membership. To be elevated, a former player must receive at least 75% of the vote. Only Barry Larkin reached that level. has kindly provided complete voting details, from which I have drawn the following list of the top fourteen vote-getters, with their number of votes (out of 573 ballots, with 430 needed for election) and their vote percentage:

Barry Larkin 495 86.4%
Jack Morris 382 66.7%
Jeff Bagwell 321 56.0%
Lee Smith 290 50.6%
Tim Raines 279 48.7%
Alan Trammell 211 36.8%
Edgar Martinez 209 36.5%
Fred McGriff 137 23.9%
Larry Walker 131 22.9%
Mark McGwire 112 19.5%
Don Mattingly 102 17.8%
Dale Murphy 83 14.5%
Rafael Palmeiro 72 12.6%
Bernie Williams 55 9.6%

The significance of this subset of the full list is that these are precisely the players (besides Larkin) who earned the right to stay on next year’s ballot, while those lower in the voting will drop off. One gets fifteen cracks at election, provided one stays above the 5% minimum vote threshold and gets carried over to the next year. Dale Murphy has only one year of eligibility left, Jack Morris two, Don Mattingly three, Alan Trammell four, and Lee Smith five. The rest have many more chances, with Mark McGwire the next in seniority at nine years to go.

With all the learned commentary that appeared in the days before the voting and then just after, it is difficult to have anything useful to add to the discussion. Joe Posnanski alone has written many thousands of words (here, for one), based on years of study and data analysis.

All I can do is add a few personal thoughts, minus the analysis. Just the thoughts of a simple fan, one who detests arguments based on “I know one [a Hall of Famer] when I see one” but has not done the research to rise to a higher level. So, based on the rejected premise that I really do know one when I see one, here goes. And let me point out that I have but one dog in this hunt, as may become clear. I’ll take the players one by one.

1. Larkin. Of course. He should get in. Good thing he did.

2. Morris. The consensus seems to be that with last year’s election of Bert Blyleven, Morris’s time has come. That was quite the controversy, arguments going back and forth on why one can’t get in unless the other does first, or why one shouldn’t be in at all. Well, Blyleven’s in. Morris is next. Should he be? I’ve read the arguments. I don’t know. Or care. I do believe that he shouldn’t get in on the basis of one game, yet that one game seems to underlie many of the passionate arguments in his favor. That game being the 7th game of the 1991 World Series (box score here), the one in which Morris pitched a 1-0 ten-inning shutout over the Braves to propel the Twins to World Series victory.

I can tell you where I was. At home, with the game on on a tiny TV in the bedroom while Halloween craziness filled the rest of the house. Joel, then four years old, had said something to Gail about his vision or Halloween that she interpreted to mean he wanted his pre-school class over for a party. Something may have gotten lost in translation, but Gail ran with it, and the whole class came over, parents in tow. It was standing room only. Gail also invited our friends Cynthia and Rich over with their children. Rich, a former college baseball player and big fan, would retreat to the bedroom with me every so often to check on the score. But for the most part, we were part of the party. I missed a classic. And maybe that’s why I’m not an enthusiastic Morris backer.

3. Bagwell. Of course he’s a Hall of Famer. First ballot. He’s paying the penalty for being part of the steroids era without even being accused of being a steroids user. The suspicions are there, though, so he must spend time in purgatory.

4. Smith. I don’t see the case. Apparently, a lot of voters don’t either and he’s probably not going to make it.

5. Raines. Of course. Vote him in already.

6. Trammell. Ditto. Unfortunately, he might not make it.

7. Martinez. That’s my dog. More below.

8. McGriff. I’m thinking he’s not going to make it. But I supported Jim Rice, who finally did, and I see McGriff as a similar player. He should be in.

9. Walker. The knock is the big numbers he put up thanks to the welcoming environs of Coors Field. Maybe so, but he was a beautiful hitter. A great one. I think he should be in.

10. McGwire. How can there be a Hall of Fame without McGwire? It’s a joke. Enough with the steroids penalty already. He did nothing illegal. Blame Selig. Blame the owners. Blame the networks. Blame everyone, but let him in.

11. Mattingly. Nope. Sure, he had some great years, but not enough. He would have fallen off the ballot long ago but for the Yankee hype.

12. Murphy. Posnanski has argued for him. I didn’t follow him closely enough. No opinion.

13. Palmeiro. Another steroids case, of course. I imagine he won’t make it. And it’s still a mystery how he put up all those huge career power numbers when no one was paying attention. Funny case. I don’t know.

14. Williams. See Mattingly.

Back to Edgar Martinez. I already played the “how can there be a Hall of Fame without him” card on Mark McGwire, but this deck has two. I’m playing it again.

How can there be a Hall of Fame without Edgar Martinez? He was a great hitter, maybe the best pure hitter of his time other than Barry Bonds. Yes, that good.

I won’t make the arguments. They’ve been made elsewhere. I’ll just point out that he had his Jack Morris moment. Two of them, on successive nights.

Let’s go to game four of the Mariners-Yankees 1995 playoff series, on October 7, at the Kingdome in Seattle. I wasn’t there. I should have been. I was at home watching in the basement with Gail and Joel. The Yankees won the first two games of the series at home and were up 2-1 in games at this point, with the score tied 6-6 in the bottom of the 8th and Yankees closer John Wetteland pitching to the top of the Mariners order. A walk to Vince Coleman, Joey Cora bunts safely, Ken Griffey is hit by a pitch, and up comes Edgar. The season is on the line, and he wallops a magnificent home run. As we jumped up and down, screaming, I announced that we were going to game five the next day, whatever it took.

That wasn’t the end of the game, of course. Buhner would hit another homer two batters later, the Yankees would come back with two runs in the 9th, but the Mariners held on to win. The next morning we saw an ad in the Seattle Times for a ticket broker, made a call, Gail drove to a Bellevue hotel with Joel for a furtive meeting with the broker, and came home with three tickets for the decisive, all-or-nothing game five. Great seats, between home and third in the section where the Yankees wives and families were sitting. Some Yankee must have put the tickets up for sale.

I needn’t tell the story of game five. The greatest game in Mariners history. The greatest game in Kingdome history. The game that saved baseball in Seattle. The game that helped renew baseball’s popularity after the strike that prematurely ended the 1994 season. So many great moments in a back-and-forth game, but none greater than the end, with dual heroes. Edgar and his glorious double to left field in the bottom of the 11th, Griffey scoring from first with that electric smile peeking out as he lies on home plate at the bottom of a pile-up. The Yankees hopes dashed, though they would have the last laugh with four World Series victories in the next five years.

Edgar is a Hall of Famer. A great hitter, who proved it when the stakes were highest. The Kingdome had those crazy exterior ramps you had to walk down, back and forth and back and forth, round and round and round, to get the heck out of there. Usually a drag, as if sitting in the Kingdome itself wasn’t drag enough. Not that night. Thousands of us looped around, chanting in unison “Eeeeeeeed gaaaaaar, Eeeeeeed gaaaaar” [Short e, not long e]. Years later, Griffey has become the face of that moment, with his mad dash from first to home. That night, Edgar was our hero.

Categories: Baseball

Reacher at the Movies

January 15, 2012 Leave a comment

A week ago in the WSJ, Steve Oney had big news on the first film version of a Jack Reacher thriller. It will be a movie version of One Shot, the ninth of Lee Child’s sixteen Jack Reacher novels. There’s been a limited amount of information at the Lee Child website, which now says the release date is February 8, 2013, and whose FAQ page refers back to the WSJ article for more information.

I read One Shot at the beginning of July 2009. Looking back at the post I wrote at the time, I see that I wasn’t yet ready to give Reacher his due. Child kept me reading until 1:11 AM, but I hesitated to express admiration for the book. In retrospect, it’s one of the best in the series, a great choice for a movie — if a movie must be made.

I am sure many Reacher fans share my view that we’d be better off without Reacher movies. The character is so well conceived. Movies won’t improve him. Indeed, they are sure to mis-represent him. In the WSJ article, Lee Child gives his own take of the problem:

Hollywood storytelling typically relies on character arcs in which the hero faces a number of moral dilemmas so he can change and grow.

Reacher is the opposite of that, Mr. Child says. “His appeal is that he does not change one iota. He’s the same at the end of a novel as he was at the beginning, and he doesn’t learn anything either, because he knew it all to start with.”

Mr. Child cites another book-to-film difficulty—movies have trouble with interior monologues. “Readers like being in Reacher’s head, thinking along with him,” he says, “and my novels have a lot of long, internal passages that depend on Reacher’s thought processes, his own quirkiness, his intuition, his mental capacity. There’s no movie way of showing what an actor is thinking.”

Right. So why make the movie?

Alas, it is being filmed this moment, with the diminutive Tom Cruise playing the oversized Reacher, which is another problem altogether, one the article discusses in detail.

No doubt I’ll see the movie when it comes out. How can I resist? The more exciting news is that Reacher #17, A Wanted Man, will be out on Tuesday, September 25. Not the best timing for me, unfortunately, with the academic year starting the day before and Yom Kippur starting that evening. Can I spend Yom Kippur at home reading Reacher? I may have to wait for the weekend.

Categories: Books, Movies

Our Ten Plagues

January 15, 2012 Leave a comment


In an op-ed piece this weekend in the Washington Post, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley offers “10 reasons the US is no longer the land of the free.” It’s a handy list. You should read his article for the details. I’ll content myself with the list itself:

  • Assassination of U.S. citizens
  • Indefinite detention
  • Arbitrary justice
  • Warrantless searches
  • Secret evidence
  • War crimes
  • Secret court
  • Immunity from judicial review
  • Continual monitoring of citizens
  • Extraordinary renditions
  • Each year at the Passover Seder, we read the list of the ten plagues God visited on Egypt to persuade Pharaoh to free the Israelites. As I read Turley’s article, I wonder why the Bush and Obama administrations have seen fit to visit these on us.

    Categories: Law, Politics

    Seattle Snow

    January 15, 2012 Leave a comment

    Our backyard cherry tree

    Maybe we get a little too excited when it snows in Seattle. Several local Facebook friends were quick to post photos of today’s snow. And here I am with my own. I know, it’s not that big a deal. But today’s snow did produce some lovely scenery.

    Several fronts are moving through, and the weather conditions are just right for a potential sequence of four independent separate snowfalls, starting with a small one yesterday (Saturday) and continuing through Wednesday morning. Famed local weather expert and faculty colleague Cliff Mass has been providing details at his blog, explaining this morning that the

    situation has four stages:

    Stage 1: Snow with the front yesterday, with convergence zone snow.
    Stage 2: Today’s snow with the coastal trough
    Stage 3. Later tomorrow snow with another trough
    Stage 4: SLUSHMAGEDON on Wednesday AM.

    The current model runs suggest that the next week will bring some of the most intense and active weather in a long time…windstorms, rain, snow….the trifecta of NW weather.

    View from our yard

    The snow today began early, but was light and intermittent until noon, when things got serious. Over the next hour and a half, big flakes filled the air, leaving 3-4 inches on the ground hereabouts. We’re in a lowland part of Seattle, often the least affected by snowfall. I imagine much more fell farther from the water and at higher elevations.

    Around 2:15 this afternoon, I headed out to take some photos, three of which you see here. We’ll enjoy it while we can. It should be gone by late in the week.

    Categories: House, Weather

    The Measure of Success

    January 11, 2012 Leave a comment

    Here’s Mitt Romney talking with Matt Lauer on NBC’s Today Show this morning. You’ve probably seen the clip already. If not, check it out.

    What with all my criticisms of Obama, you may have gotten the wrong impression that my failure to comment on Romney might mean I like the guy. In fact, I despise him. I’m having trouble remembering which Republican presidential candidate I’ve despised more. But maybe I’m just forgetting how I felt about McCain three years ago or Bush seven years ago, or good old Dick Nixon.

    What’s so troubling about Romney is how comfortable he is about lying. There’s the foreign policy lie, the one about Obama apologizing for America. And the domestic lie, about Obama hating Wall Street. For someone who hates Wall Street, Obama has the odd habit of filling the White House and Cabinet with its members.

    And now we see Romney so eager to attack Obama for hating Wall Street that he spouts utter nonsense. Or worse. Listen to Romney at the 38-second mark, explaining that “those people who’ve been most successful will be in the one percent.” Here he is equating success with money. Simple as that. If you don’t have money, you’re a loser. Well, okay, I shouldn’t put words in his mouth. But then, I don’t have to. What he says is more incredible than anything I would have dreamed of putting in his mouth.

    Yet, millions of people whom he has called losers will vote for him. Unbelievable.

    Categories: Money, Politics

    American Triumvirate

    January 11, 2012 Leave a comment

    When I got my first Kindle in October 2009, I had to decide what books to put on it for our trip to France and Italy. It occurred to me that I always wanted to know more about Ben Hogan; maybe I could find a biography with a Kindle version. A search through Amazon and I found myself looking at Jim Dodson’s 2005 biography Ben Hogan: An American Life. At 500+ pages, maybe more than I had in mind, but I downloaded it and “carried” it around Europe. I didn’t get to it on that trip, or on a few more, but last March its time came, as I wrote in a post in April. Here’s what I said:

    I’ve read so much about the period from late 1930s to mid 1950s during which Hogan, Sam Snead, and Byron Nelson dominated the US golf tour. I had never, however, developed a coherent understanding of those years. In particular, I knew of Ben Hogan’s near-fatal car crash in 1949 and his miraculous return to golf in 1950 (he wasn’t even expected to walk again), culminating in his US Open victory that year at Merion. And I knew of his amazing 1953 season, winning the Masters, the US Open, then heading over to Scotland to appear for the lone time in his career at the British Open, winning at Carnoustie. But the details had eluded me. Now was my chance to learn more.

    Dodson’s book is the ultimate in breeziness, a style of writing to which I needed to adjust. Especially when I stumbled into errors such as the one early in the book in which Herbert Hoover is described, “during the long hot days of 1921″ as “Cal Coolidge’s new secretary of commerce.” Surely I’m not the only reader who knows that Coolidge was the vice-president in 1921, not the president. Warren Harding (War Harding?) would have had to do the appointing.

    No matter. Dodson has quite a story to tell, and he’s quite a storyteller. We can breeze on by such errors (Dodson also has FDR serving as president in 1932) when there’s so much else to hold our interest. If I were still reading the book rather than having finished it four weeks ago, I would have so many incidents to retell. At this point, I’ll just say that it’s a rich tale, with highlights such as Hogan’s Texas forebears, his early relationship with Byron Nelson at the club where they were both caddies, his marriage, his multiple narrow losses in major golf tournaments in the mid 1940s, his victories, the crushing playoff loss to Jack Fleck at the 1955 US Open, his battle with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus at the great 1960 US Open, his later years. And in the background, the story of the growth of Fort Worth during the twentieth century.

    Since finishing the book, I have thought that I would enjoy reading more about the golfers of that era. A biography of Byron Nelson perhaps. You can understand, then, how pleased I was to read a month or two ago (I don’t remember where) that Dodson would have a new book coming out on Hogan, Nelson, and Sam Snead.

    One of the best ways to keep up with the golf world is to listen to the incomparable Peter Kessler each weekday morning on the PGA Tour radio station on SiriusXM satellite radio. Since I have satellite radio only in my car, I tend to catch just snippets of the show, provided I’m actually in the car driving to school between 8:00 and 9:00 am. If I hear even ten minutes, it’s a good day. Kessler is an immensely talented interviewer. He has that warm voice, and the uncanny ability to make you feel like you’re at home with him listening in on a chat among friends.

    Today I got in the car, tuned in Peter’s show, and found myself listening to a guest talking about Hogan, Nelson, and Snead. It didn’t take too much imagination to guess that the guest was Jim Dodson and the topic was his forthcoming book on them. Unfortunately, I had stumbled on the end of the conversation. In another two minutes, the interview was over, with Peter identifying the guest as Dodson and urging us to read the book. I would gladly have heard more of the interview.

    From the way Peter talked, I might have imagined the book has appeared already. When I got to my office, I looked it up on Amazon. No, not yet. On March 13, American Triumvirate: Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, and the Modern Age of Golf will be published. The Random House website for the book has the following description.

    In this celebration of three legendary champions on the centennial of their birth in 1912, one of the most accomplished and successful writers about the game explains the circumstances that made each of them so singularly brilliant and how they, in turn, saved not only the professional tour but modern golf itself, thus making possible the subsequent popularity of players from Arnold Palmer to Tiger Woods.

    During the Depression, after the exploits of Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen and Bobby Jones’s triumphant Grand Slam in 1930 had faded in the public imagination, golf’s popularity fell year after year, and as a professional sport it was on the verge of extinction. This was the unhappy prospect facing two dirt-poor boys from Texas and another from Virginia who had dedicated themselves to the game yet could look forward only to eking out a subsistence living along with millions of other Americans. But then lightning struck, and from the late thirties into the fifties these three men were so thoroughly dominant—each setting a host of records–that they transformed both how the game was played and how it was regarded.

    In the interview’s tail end, Dodson spoke about Nelson’s love of life as a club pro and Snead’s never-ending pain at failing to win, by his count, the seven US Opens he could or should have won. (He never won any.) I have many wonderful stories to look forward to.

    Categories: Books, Golf