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Cafe Juanita

March 31, 2013 Leave a comment

juanita

In 2000, Holly Smith took over Cafe Juanita, a highly regarded restaurant on the east side (the descriptor for the Seattle suburbs on the other side of Lake Washington). It’s in a former house a short walk from the lake, surrounded now by an urban village that appears to be of recent vintage, with five- or six-story mixed-use buildings, residential above and retail on the main floor. Smith had been sous chef at Dahlia Lounge, an early restaurant in Tom Douglas’s ever-growing empire and a place that we love. She then, well, I suppose I should let her tell her own story. From the website:

Holly Smith grew up in Monkton, Maryland in a food loving family. Holly studied political science at both Colby College and Washington College later attending the Baltimore International Culinary College. Holly completed an externship in Ireland with Master Chef Peter Timmins while at BICC.

In 1993 Holly moved to Seattle and accepted a position with Tom Douglas at the Dahlia Lounge. Holly was the sous chef of the Dahlia Lounge for 4 years. In 1999, Chef Tamara Murphy encouraged Holly to become a part of the opening of Brasa. She spent that year as sous chef, leaving to open Cafe Juanita in April of 2000.

Cafe Juanita has been a labor of love, allowing Holly to express her passion for Northern Italian food and wine; a commitment to organics and sustainability and a holistic approach to the dining experience. Holly hopes to showcase local products while serving modern Northern Italian inspired cuisine.

And here is the website’s restaurant description:

Chef Holly Smith opened Cafe Juanita in April of 2000, driven by her interest to have creative control in her own restaurant and a strong passion for the foods of Northern Italy. Her hallmark rests with the special care she takes to cook seasonally with the finest local produce and artisan products available from Italy and the Pacific Northwest.

The menu at Cafe Juanita changes frequently, but always includes an eclectic mix of meats and seafood, illustrating the commitment to fresh, bold dishes that most often utilize organic products. As a member of the food community, Holly believes in sustainable agriculture, supporting growers whose outstanding quality is tantamount to their long-term commitment to the land. In addition to nurturing the farm industry, Cafe Juanita is committed to offering great wine. The menu is complemented by an award-winning wine list with primary focus on Northern Italian producers and rounded-out with outstanding Northwest wines.

From the beginning, Cafe Juanita has received rave reviews, such as Nancy Leson‘s in the Seattle Times in July 2000.

Make reservations now. Because once Peter Dow’s old customers get hip to the new Cafe Juanita, and once newcomers get their first taste of Holly Smith’s restaurant revitalization, this Eastsider is going to be booked solid – with both siders.

[snip]

Today, supple leathery banquettes line the L-shaped room’s perimeter, whose oversized windows provide a bucolic view of the new kitchen garden, a gorgeous old apple tree, and lush lawns leading to Juanita Creek. Indoors, the white linen/votive candle/Diana Krall-crooning atmosphere conspires to arouse sensual excitement. That excitement extends to the oft-changing menu, which is informed by seasonality and inspired by Smith’s passion for Northern Italy.

[snip]

Ribbons of fresh tagliatelle tossed with sauteed porcini mushrooms and crowned with shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano ($10/$19), are an Italian understatement, though I can’t possibly overstate this pasta’s appeal. Even more alluring is the risotto mantacato ($8/$15), hinting of Marsala and caramelized shallots and lavishly laced with a double chicken stock. Each of the four pastas offered is available as a first, second or main course.

Innovation, artistry, and superior ingredients are key to the kitchen’s success, particularly where the short roster of meat, fish and fowl are concerned. Two elegant, rosy-centered filets of lamb tenderloin are a rustic revelation when sauced with tomatoes, capers, Lucques olives and fresh artichokes. Grouse if you must (we did) at the use of the word “gnocchi” to describe the cake-like square of creamy semolina attending the lamb ($24). We were silenced once this side dish met our mouths.

Despite all the praise, we had never made it over the bridge to eat there. Last May, we committed ourselves to doing so by buying dinner for two as an auction item at a fundraiser for Seattle Central Community College’s scholarship fund. Given our interest in and support of SCCC’s Seattle Culinary Academy, this was a natural item to spend our money on. And we had a year to fit in a visit. But that year comes to an end in a month, and our last-minute efforts a couple of months ago to book a table failed. We realized that serious advance planning would be necessary.

A month ago, we agreed to have dinner out four weeks later with our friends Brooke and Robin. This was our chance. We checked and, yes, a table was available. Two nights ago, we went.

Befitting its origins as a house, Cafe Juanita has limited parking on site. Perhaps eight spots. On our arrival, Gail ran in and learned that they have auxiliary parking rights at a retirement home just down the street. We parked, called B&R, and told them to head there. As we spoke, they drove by, so everything worked out well.

Cafe Juanita has a large open kitchen, divided from the seating space by an attractive display of wines. We sat at a table along the wall with the “oversized windows” that Leson described, above the “lush lawns” that sit a floor below. Gail and I took the banquette seats on the window side, giving us a view of the wine storage and, above that, a glimpse of the kitchen. B&R faced us with a view through the windows.

As has become our custom when we dine together, we studied the appetizers at length in order to arrive at four that we would collectively enjoy. The pastas come in two sizes, so we couldn’t choose appetizers without each of us first deciding whether we wanted any of the pastas as a main dish or a starter. I always struggle with this decision. A small pasta portion and a meat or fish entree? Or a lovely salad of foraged greens followed by a full-sized pasta portion?

The waiter, who was outstanding, described the specials, which included a cured salmon antipasto with crème fraîche. Also on the menu is a small selection of specialty cocktails, each paired with a morsel. Prosecco with Parmigiano Reggiano. The Velluto with Castelvetrano Olives. The Negociant with Fried Rabbit Liver. While we struggled with appetizers, Gail ordered the Prosecco and Brooke the Negociant, but with olives in place of rabbit liver.

Eventually we each selected an appetizer. Gail went with the Barbera Risotto Mantecato, which presumably is much like what Nancy Leson described in 2000, but with the change in wine from Marsala to Barbera. I chose the Local Watercress with Cherry Vinaigrette, Robin the salmon special, and Brooke the Shaved Beets and Cara Cara with Walnut Oil and Watercress.

I’m relying on the menu that is currently available online for these descriptions. Some details may differ from what we had. I do know the beets had Cara Cara, which Gail had to explain is a navel orange.

We all tried all four dishes. I don’t know how to choose a favorite. Probably the risotto and the watercress. I’m not a beet lover, usually, but I’ll admit to really liking that too.

For a main dish, I chose the full portion of Maltagliati with Jones Family Pork Sugo, Honey Ricotta, and Black Pepper. Here, as elsewhere on the menu, we needed our waiter to explain what words meant. It was obvious enough that maltagliata is a pasta, but I had no idea what type. The essential information is that all their pasta is homemade and “badly cut”. I can’t remember what he said about the shape, but it was a wide noodle. Gail chose the fish special, a striped bass with various accompaniments that I no longer remember, except that one of them was fresh chick peas. Robin chose the lamb dish, which may or may not be exactly what’s now on the online menu: Saddle of Lamb with Confit of Baby Artichokes, Fresh Chickpeas, Taggia Croccantini and Yogurt. And Brooke chose the lone pasta dish that came only in a small size, and that has dropped off the menu, so I can’t find the menu description. The three key words were mortadella, tortellini, and brodo. But was the tortellini stuffed with mortadella? Or was the dish a soup with both tortellini and pieces of mortadella floating around? We asked. The waiter confirmed that the mortadella was inside the pasta, along with other meats, and that the dish was more a pasta than a soup.

juanita2

Oh, speaking of fresh chickpeas, Gail recalled the great ones we had a few years ago at Cyrus during our trip to Healdsburg. I asked our waiter, when we were discussing appetizers, if we could order a small dish of fresh chickpeas for all of us to try. He said sure, and talked about how much work is involved in peeling them. And also, the menu has some side vegetable dishes. We ordered the Roasted Spicy Cauliflower with Cumin, Lime and Pinenuts.

We were all thrilled with our entrees, and we all got to taste the others, though we hesitated to taste Brooke’s. Small order that it was, it had a limited amount of tortellini. We would have been happy if they had a larger version, allowing the other three of us to try one or two. (Gail and I were content to cut one in half to split, although that meant all the stuffing fell out.) Robin’s lamb was perfect. If I were to go again with it on the menu, I’d have it. Maybe it’s a menu constant. What Leson described in 2000 sounds like much the same dish. My pasta was great too, but awfully rich. Of course, I couldn’t resist finishing it. However, a little less of that and a little more vegetable might have been a more suitable combination. Speaking of which, the cauliflower was spectacularly good.

We required some waiter assistance to sort through the dessert options. The first, Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Cardoon Blossom Honey and Vanilla Salt, was clear enough. So was Torta di Mousse al Cioccolato with Olive Oil, Earl Grey Crumb, Bittersweet Chocolate Sorbetto. Piccoli Pasticcini Ginger Biscotti, Hazelnut Baci di Dama, Chocolate Bon Bons, Scorze di Agrumi turned out to be a cookie platter, though in retrospect that seems obvious too. I had the panna cotta, Gail and Robin the mousse, Brooke the cookies. Everyone appeared to be happy.

This being the sort of restaurant people dine at for special occasions, we were asked both by the hostess and our waiter if we were celebrating anything. The first time we said no, but then I remembered that Gail and I met 30 years ago this week, so the second time, I told the waiter that. (Looking back at a 1983 calendar now, I’m guessing we met on March 28, which means we were just a day late.) Good thing I told him—in our our honor, he surprised us with four glasses of muscat before dessert came.

Which reminds me, I didn’t mention our wine selection. We made a traditional choice, a chianti classico. It was interesting to see that many of the Washington State wineries we’ve been favoring lately made their wine list: Quilceda Creek, Long Shadows, Waters, Buty, Pepper Bridge, Leonetti. We must be doing something right.

That pretty well covers it. We left a little after 10:00, not quite 3 1/2 hours after we arrived. It was a great evening.

Categories: Restaurants

A World on Fire

March 30, 2013 Leave a comment

worldonfire

I read James Cobb’s Georgia Odyssey—a short history of the state—earlier in the month in preparation for our upcoming visit. Then I read Ron Rapoport’s The Immortal Bobby: Bobby Jones and the Golden Age of Golf, hoping it would give me some background both on life in Georgia and on the history of the Masters golf tournament. Not so much, but it was informative, at least regarding Jones’ highs and lows at the major tournaments of the 1920s and 1930. I also looked around for books that would have more to say about post-Civil-War economic life in the South, one of Cobb’s principal themes.

Among the books I considered was A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration, the book for which Steven Hahn received both the Bancroft Prize and the Pulitzer Prize in History in 2004. Not only that, Steve’s an old friend from long ago, a classmate in junior high and high school. I’ll get to it some day.

Eventually I settled on a book that has long been on my list, Amanda Foreman’s A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War. (It was published originally in the UK in 2010 with the alternative subtitle “An Epic History of Two Nations Divided.”) It got rave reviews on its US appearance, ultimately making the NYT’s 10 best books list of 2011 with the blurb: “Which side would Great Britain support during the Civil War? Foreman gives us an enormous cast of characters and a wealth of vivid description in her lavish examination of a second battle between North and South, the trans-Atlantic one waged for British hearts and minds.”

In his long review in the New Yorker, Rick Hertzberg called the book

an immensely ambitious and immensely accomplished—and just plain immense—work of narrative art. At a third of a million words sprawled over nearly a thousand pages, “A World on Fire” is not far south of “War and Peace.” Yet the pages fly like the wind—like “Gone with the Wind”—because there’s so much life, so much action, and so many vivid people in them.

This pretty much says it all: both why I’ve been tempted to read it and why I’ve shied away. How could I resist a work of narrative art? Yet, did I really want to tackle a thousand-page book on the Civil War?

One thing for sure, I didn’t want to read another straightforward Civil War history. I’ve read plenty, including James McPherson’s own immense and sprawling Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. But Foreman’s book comes at the war from a different angle, and there was that promise of its being a page turner.

In his WSJ review, Michael Burlingame echoed Hertzberg, calling Foreman “such an engaging writer that readers may find this 958-page volume too short” and going on to explain that “she supplements the traditional scholarly approach to British-American relations with an array of testimony from dozens of British witnesses to and participants in the Civil War. Their diaries, letters, reminiscences and newspaper reports provide insights into the war that differ from similar accounts by Americans, who perforce could not achieve the detached perspective of foreigners.”

I took the plunge. I’m 200 pages in. Not racing through exactly—it’s been too busy a week for that—but I’m finding it absorbing.

We’re in December 1861 now, with the focus on diplomatic relations between the US and Britain following the illegal seizure by US Captain Charles Wilkes of two Confederate diplomats on their way to London, James Mason and John Slidell, from the British mail packet Trent. Will Britain declare war? The time lag in communication between the two countries makes the situation especially problematic. The leading characters to this point have been William Seward (the US Secretary of State), Charles Francis Adams (the US ambassador to Britain), and their British counterparts, John Russell and Richard Lyons.

There’s been one battle scene—the first battle of Bull Run, or Manassas—brilliantly told from the vantage of William Howard Russell, famed war correspondent for The Times (of London), and Frank Vizetelly, war artist and correspondent for Illustrated London News. (A special pleasure of the book is the inclusion of many of Vizetelly’s illustrations.) Although the great battles of the war aren’t the book’s focus, I’m looking forward to Foreman’s treatment of the ones to come. And to much more, though it may take a while.

Categories: Books, History

Mathematics in Ancient Iraq

March 30, 2013 Leave a comment

robsoniraqmath

I started Eleanor Robson’s 2008 Mathematics in Ancient Iraq: A Social History two days ago. Not my usual reading. I needed to find out what she had to say on certain issues, but the book was checked out of the library, so I decided, what the heck, I’ll just buy it and give it a try. Through the wonders of Amazon, I had a copy 48 hours later, and I’m glad.

From the book jacket:

This monumental book traces the origins and development of mathematics in the ancient Middle East, from its earliest beginnings in the fourth millennium BCE to the end of indigenous intellectual culture in the second century BCE when cuneiform writing was gradually abandoned. Eleanor Robson offers a history like no other, examining ancient mathematics within its broader social, political, economic, and religious contexts, and showing that mathematics was not just an abstract discipline for elites but a key component in ordering society and understanding the world.

The region of modern-day Iraq is uniquely rich in evidence for ancient mathematics because its prehistoric inhabitants wrote on clay tablets, many hundreds of thousands of which have been archaeologically excavated, deciphered, and translated. Drawing from these and a wealth of other textual and archaeological evidence, Robson gives an extraordinarily detailed picture of how mathematical ideas and practices were conceived, used, and taught during this period. She challenges the prevailing view that they were merely the simplistic precursors of classical Greek mathematics, and explains how the prevailing view came to be. Robson reveals the true sophistication and beauty of ancient Middle Eastern mathematics as it evolved over three thousand years, from the earliest beginnings of recorded accounting to complex mathematical astronomy.

The study of Babylonian mathematics is generally associated with Otto Neugebauer, an Austrian who began studying mathematics in the early 1920s in Göttingen, then one of the great centers of mathematics in the world. Soon his interests changed to history, and he wrote his doctoral thesis on Egyptian mathematics. The work on Babylonian mathematics that occupied him next led to the truly monumental three-volume work Mathematische Keilschrift-Texte (or Mathematical Cuneiform Texts), in which he analyzed cuneiform tablets from museums throughout the world, translating and interpreting their texts. Neugebauer’s work (partly in collaboration with Abraham Sachs; see their book Mathematical Cuneiform Texts) would have enormous influence on subsequent studies in the history of ancient mathematics and science. He eventually came to the US, where he worked at Brown University and then at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, dying in 1990. (I must add to my ever growing list of missed opportunities that I succeeded in spending a year at the IAS, near the end of his life, without doing anything to take advantage of his presence.)

In recent years, some of Neugebauer’s analyses and conclusions have been re-examined, with new interpretations given for individual tablets and, more broadly, the purpose of the entire enterprise. This is what I have been learning about in the last week, most notably through the writings of Jens Høyrup and Eleanor Robson.

Unfortunately—missed opportunities again—I’m way too late to go back to New York and see an exhibition that was put on a little over two years ago at NYU’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, called Before Pythagoras: The Culture of Old Babylonian Mathematics. Here’s the website description of the show:

Since the nineteenth century, thousands of cuneiform tablets dating to the Old Babylonian Period (c. 1900-1700 BCE) have come to light at various sites in ancient Mesopotamia (modern Iraq). A significant number record mathematical tables, problems, and calculations. In the 1920s these tablets began to be systematically studied by Otto Neugebauer, who spent two decades transcribing and interpreting tablets housed in European and American museums. His labors, and those of his associates, rivals, and successors, have revealed a rich culture of mathematical practice and education that flourished more than a thousand years before the Greek sages Thales and Pythagoras with whom histories of mathematics used to begin.

This exhibition is the first to explore the world of Old Babylonian mathematics through cuneiform tablets covering the full spectrum of mathematical activity, from arithmetical tables copied out by young scribes-in-training to sophisticated work on topics that would now be classified as number theory and algebra. The pioneering research of Neugebauer and his contemporaries concentrated on the mathematical content of the advanced texts; a selection of archival manuscripts and correspondence offers a glimpse of Neugebauer’s research methods and his central role in this “heroic age.”

Edward Rothstein reviewed it in the NYT, writing that the institute

has gathered together a remarkable selection of Old Babylonian tablets from the collections of three universities — Columbia, Yale and the University of Pennsylvania — that cover a wide mathematical range. Made between 1900 and 1700 B.C., they include student exercises, word problems and calculation tables, as well as more abstract demonstrations. Under the curatorship of Alexander Jones, a professor at N.Y.U., and Christine Proust, a historian of mathematics, the tablets are used to give a quick survey of Babylonian mathematical enterprise, while also paying tribute to Neugebauer, the Austrian-born scholar who spent the last half of his career teaching at Brown University and almost single-handedly created a new discipline of study through his analysis of these neglected sources.

Only about 950 mathematically oriented tablets survived two millenniums of Babylonian history, and since their discovery, debate has raged over what they show us about that lost world. Every major history of Western mathematics written during the last 70 years has at least started to take Babylonians into account.

Rothstein even mentions Robson’s book:

In a fascinating 2008 book, “Mathematics in Ancient Iraq: A Social History” (Princeton), Eleanor Robson even suggests that many tablets like these of the second millennium B.C. “were essentially ephemera, created to aid and demonstrate recall, destined almost immediately for the recycling bin.”

But as Ms. Robson also points out, these tablets’ word problems about digging and construction, their use in teaching record keeping and calculation, and their implicit affirmation of the importance of scribes and teachers, also reveal a highly organized, bureaucratic society, an “ordered urban state, with god, king and scribe at its center.”

Among the tablets on view was Plimpton 322, the most famous of all the mathematical tablets. Here it is, as photographed by co-curator Christine Proust:

plimpton322

Why is it of such interest? From the website again:

Plimpton 322 reveals that the Babylonians discovered a method of finding Pythagorean triples, that is, sets of three whole numbers such that the square of one of them is the sum of the squares of the other two. By Pythagoras’ Theorem, a triangle whose three sides are proportional to a Pythagorean triple is a right-angled triangle. Right-angled triangles with sides proportional to the simplest Pythagorean triples turn up frequently in Babylonian problem texts; but if this tablet had not come to light, we would have had no reason to suspect that a general method capable of generating an unlimited number of distinct Pythagorean triples was known a millennium and a half before Euclid.

Plimpton 322 has excited much debate centering on two questions. First, what was the method by which the numbers in the table were calculated? And secondly, what were the purpose and the intellectual context of the tablet?

I sure wish I took an interest in this subject three years ago. I could have read Robson’s book, then arranged for us to be in New York during the exhibition.

Anyway, I’m reading the book now, and Robson concludes (I don’t usually jump to the end, but I did this time) with a compelling argument for taking an interest in the subject:

Compared to the difficulties of grappling with fragmentary and meagre nth-generation sources from other ancient cultures the cuneiform evidence is concrete, immediate, and richly contextualised. We can often name and date individuals precisely; we have their autograph manuscripts, their libraries and household objects. This opens a unique window onto the material, social, and intellectual world of the mathematics of ancient Iraq that historians of other ancient cultures can only dream of.

Categories: Books, History, Math

Anthony Lewis

March 28, 2013 Leave a comment
Anthony Lewis, 2003

Anthony Lewis, 2003

[Matthew Peyton/Getty Images]

I’ve wanted to write about Anthony Lewis since learning of his death three days ago. He was my favorite New York Times columnist for many years. More recently, I’ve enjoyed his pieces in the New York Review of Books. But I don’t have anything specific to say. Let me turn instead to a few of the (many) remembrances of him.

First, basic facts from Adam Liptak’s NYT obituary.

Anthony Lewis, a former New York Times reporter and columnist whose work won two Pulitzer Prizes and transformed American legal journalism, died on Monday at his home in Cambridge, Mass. He was 85. …

Mr. Lewis brought passionate engagement to his two great themes: justice and the role of the press in a democracy. His column, called “At Home Abroad” or “Abroad at Home” depending on where he was writing from, appeared on the Op-Ed page of The Times for more than 30 years, until 2001. His voice was liberal, learned, conversational and direct.

As a reporter, Mr. Lewis brought an entirely new approach to coverage of the Supreme Court, for which he won his second Pulitzer, in 1963.

“He brought context to the law,” said Ronald K. L. Collins, a scholar at the University of Washington who compiled a bibliography of Mr. Lewis’s work. “He had an incredible talent in making the law not only intelligible but also in making it compelling.”

Before Mr. Lewis started covering the Supreme Court, press reports on its decisions were apt to be pedestrian recitations by journalists without legal training, rarely examining the court’s reasoning or grappling with the context and consequences of particular rulings. Mr. Lewis’s thorough knowledge of the court’s work changed that. His articles were virtual tutorials about currents in legal thinking, written with ease and sweep and an ability to render complex matters accessible.

[snip]

Mr. Lewis’s coverage of the court impressed Justice Felix Frankfurter, who called Mr. Reston. “I can’t believe what this young man achieved,” Justice Frankfurter said, as Mr. Reston recalled in his memoir, “Deadline.” “There are not two justices of this court who have such a grasp of these cases.”

Lincoln Caplan, writing at The American Scholar:

“The Constitution remains our fundamental law,” Anthony Lewis wrote, “because great judges have read it in that spirit.” Covering the Supreme Court for The New York Times in the 1960s, he was on hand when justices on the Warren Court did just that. Simply and eloquently, he explained how they made the court a central arbiter in American life and shaped the country’s march toward equality.

Lewis, who died Monday at 85, played an extraordinary role in that shaping. The court’s landmark decisions about racial justice, one person-one vote, and other deeply destabilizing social issues took hold because of the trust of the American people. Lewis helped foster that trust, through the authority and humane intelligence of his reporting and writing.

[snip]

He possessed a vivid, passionate intellect, and had the moral focus of a rabbi. He worked intensely in the texts, the talk, and the traditions of the Court, but that effort appeared to be an immersion more than work. The lesson I drew from his model was that, even for someone as gifted as he, hard work was essential to giving the Court its due—especially so for those of us following the Court who don’t have the exceptional gifts he had.

Because he had extraordinary access to justices and his writing helped elevate the stature of the Supreme Court, he was sometimes criticized as an insider and, in some sense, a captive of the institution. But when it let him down, as it did dramatically in Bush v. Gore, making a political ruling to throw the 2000 election to George W. Bush, he reminded readers of his uncompromising independence.

He loved the Supreme Court as an American institution, but loved the Constitution more. Another lesson I drew from his model was that, while the Court always deserves the respect of anyone covering it, that respect sometimes requires saying sharply why you think a ruling it makes is wrong. …

Anthony Lewis’s voice was from the Old Testament as well—awe-inspiring, judgmental, and righteous.

And Christopher Lydon, earlier today at Radio Open Source:

The best fun of being president of the US, I often thought, would be appointing Anthony Lewis to the Supreme Court. He was a non-lawyer with a persuasive understanding of the gift and genius of the Constitution. He had a historian’s grasp on how the law evolved. Justice Frankfurter said Tony knew the cases before the Court better than most of the sitting judges. And he could unfold the issues in lucid prose that grabbed me as a teen-age reader of the New York Times.

[snip]

Tony leaves us, I’d say, a memorable model for the best and broadest idea of a liberal at work. It wasn’t about dogma, much less radicalism. It was temperament as much as politics. It was about a modest optimism, a belief that institutions, even societies, could work on their flaws and get better. He was the human embodiment of the Warren Court, in that sense. He made a pair with his friend Justice William Brennan, who stood also for civility, compromise, persistence on an upward course. They stood for that era of reform in civil rights, in one-man-one-vote political representation, in the protection of defendants’ rights and the expansion of free speech and expression. Tony goaded the country with columns and landmark books on those central subjects, and by gum, the country got better. It can sound almost quaint, but he knew for certain that there were remedies for real ills in patient, hard-working devotion to our ideals in the Constitution and the law. So he never let up, and he never despaired.

One more quote, from Lydon again:

My favorite Tony Lewis columns – oddly unmentioned in the Times obit – might have been his answer to the Christmas bombing of North Vietnam in 1972, the Nixon-Kissinger “terror bombing” of Hanoi – with no measurable purpose or benefit. Peace was at hand, they had said, the war all but over, but American B-52s poured it on: 2000 strikes over 11 days. “An episode that will live in infamy,” Tony Lewis wrote. And lest we forget he kept rewriting that column every Christmas for a decade. The lessons for Americans were still: “Beware obsession. Beware secrecy. Beware concentrated power. Beware men untouched by concern for the moral consequences of their acts.”

To read that Lewis column, from December 23, 1972, click here. And do read it. It’s as powerful today as it was forty-one years ago.

Categories: Journalism, Law, Obituary

The Immortal Bobby

March 24, 2013 Leave a comment

immortalbobby

I wrote twice last week (here and here) about Georgia Odyssey, James Cobb’s short history of the state, which I was reading in preparation for our upcoming trip. On finishing it Tuesday, I had two ideas for further reading directions: a book on the history of the Masters golf tournament, or a book on some aspect of the South’s economic history.

There’s no shortage of books on either subject. For southern history, I eventually settled on three candidates, which I’ll discuss in a separate post. More difficult was coming up with candidates for Masters history, especially given my fear that many would be of pedestrian writing quality.

A search at Amazon yields, just as a start, Steve Eubanks’ Augusta: Home of the Masters Tournament, Curt Sampson’s The Masters: Golf, Money, and Power in Augusta, Georgia, and David Owen’s The Making of the Masters: Clifford Roberts, Augusta National, and Golf’s Most Prestigious Tournament, all from around 1998. Of more recent vintage is last year’s Making the Masters: Bobby Jones and the Birth of America’s Greatest Golf Tournament, by David Barrett.

How is one supposed to choose?

I decided on a different tack. Why not a biography of Bobby Jones, golfing great, Atlanta native, and Masters co-founder? That might give me a better combination of golf history, Masters history specifically, and Georgia history. Alas, perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s an inexhaustible supply of Jones biographies as well. A more recent one is Ron Rapoport’s The Immortal Bobby: Bobby Jones and the Golden Age of Golf, from 2005.

Rapoport’s website offers reviews by two prominent sportswriters, the Washington Post’s Leonard Shapiro and then-Kansas City Star columnist Joe Posnanski. Shapiro writes, “There’s a fabulous new biography out on Bobby Jones, “The Immortal Bobby,” by Chicago Sun-Times sports columnist Ron Rapoport. The author conducted scores of interviews and had access to previously undiscovered correspondence between Jones and some of his friends and acquaintances, … .” And Posnanski:

Bobby Jones turned a small Southern town into the home of golf. And yet, even here, he remains a mystery. He was the greatest golfer of his time, perhaps all time. He was once as famous as Babe Ruth. He remained an amateur when there was money to be had. He was a lawyer, he loved opera, he earned a degree in engineering from Georgia Tech and a degree in literature from Harvard, he made movies in Hollywood, and he designed America’s favorite golf clubs for 40 years.

And yet, in a way, Jones remained unknowable.

This is best seen in Rapoport’s chapter on Bobby Jones’ views on race and the Masters, the biggest issue this golf tournament has faced through the years (in 1996, when the Olympics were in Atlanta, they were going to play the first Olympic golf tournament at Augusta. The tournament was eventually pulled because of what were called Augusta’s “discriminatory policies”).

There are those who say that Jones was a racist – the Masters, after all, did not invite a black man until after his death. There are others who say that he was a man of his time and place, a man who grew up in the American South just after the turn of the century. And there are still others who will say that Jones was ahead of his time, a good man who was always, as Rapoport says, “fair and honorable to the many black people he knew.”

The truth is, we don’t have any idea.

Rapoport interviewed dozens of people for his book. He scoured more than 100 golf books. He read an uncountable number of magazine and newspaper articles and letters Jones had written. And he never once heard or read a single clue about how Jones felt about race issues.

“I just find that remarkable for a guy who was so political and such a prolific letter writer,” Rapoport says.

These reviews appeared to confirm my impression that Rapoport’s book would simultaneously enhance my knowledge of golf history, inform me on the early days of the Masters, and provide background on race history in Georgia. I downloaded it and began reading, reaching the end this morning. Though mistaken in my expectations, I was thoroughly entertained.

The book has three parts. The first two, which occupy 260 of the book’s 320 pages, offer a close account of Jones’ career, from his stunning 1916 appearance in the US Amateur at suburban Philadelphia’s Merion as a 14-year-old to his dramatic return fourteen years later—when Merion once again hosted the US Amateur—to complete his Grand Slam: a sweep of the year’s four major national championships (the British Amateur and Open, followed by the US Open and Amateur).

The focus is narrow: golf, golf, golf, and the psychological toll the pressure takes on Jones. Yes, Jones studies engineering at Georgia Tech, literature at Harvard, law at Emory, ultimately joining his father’s law firm, but Rapoport mentions this only in passing. The book is not a biography, as it turns out, so much as a you-are-there report on the drama of Jones’ golfing career. Which is pretty darned exciting, so no complaints.

Only in the final 60 pages—Jones having retired from competitive golf after his 1930 victory at Merion—does Rapoport broaden the book’s scope. Jones may have been an amateur, and a practicing lawyer, but golf remained his love and became the primary source of his income. He goes to Hollywood to make instructional videos with the stars. He contracts to make golf clubs with Spalding and become a member of their board. He writes golf books. And he oversees the construction of a new golf course in Augusta.

Rapoport treats all this in one chapter, then devotes the next chapter to the desegregation of Atlanta’s public golf courses including the eponymous Bobby Jones course. (This would go to the US Supreme Court, which decided the case in 1955 in favor of desegregation.) This, too, is the chapter in which Rapoport discusses Jones’ attitude toward race and the long contentious issue of allowing a black golfer to play in the Masters.

Next comes comes a chapter on Jones’ crippling spinal problems, the exact nature of which remains a mystery today. Rapoport has done some excellent research here, tracking down doctors and addressing the issue of whether Jones suffered, as he claimed, from a particular kind of spinal cord illness or whether, instead, his wondrous golf swing was the source of long-term damage. A final chapter brings Jones’ life to a close, way too soon and with way too much physical pain.

Let me mention two unexpected cameos. Prescott Bush* shows up at the 1929 US Open as the United States Golf Association official who makes a crucial rules decision on the final day at the 17th hole, a decision that saves Jones a lost ball and seals his victory. And Charles Seaver, one of the top amateur golfers in California, appears at Merion in that 1930 US Amateur, where he makes the semi-finals, with Jones playing in the other semi. Seaver leads or is even with his opponent throughout, until the 36th and final hole, which he loses, ending the match one down. Had he won, he would have faced Jones in the final, representing the last obstacle between Jones and his Grand Slam.

*Bush’s father-in-law, George Herbert Walker, lent his name to the Walker Cup, which is awarded to the champion in the biannual competition between a US amateur team and an amateur team representing Great Britain and Ireland. Jones’ Walker Cup matches are a central part of Rapoport’s story. Bush would go on to success on Wall Street, in business, and in the US Senate, stepping down in 1962, only to regret it when political ally Nelson Rockefeller’s case as 1964 Republican presidential candidate was weakened due to divorce. Who knows? Perhaps Bush might have got the nomination over Goldwater and run for president. Instead, he left presidential politics for his son and grandson. (See Richard Ben Cramer’s What It Takes: The Way to the White House for more on these fine fellows.) Seaver’s son would go on to have a pretty good sports career of his own, as a professional baseball pitcher.

The book could have used some additional editing. Seaver is such an important character that it’s jarring, having read about him earlier, to be introduced to him anew at Merion. And there’s one passage in which Rapoport appears to forget that he’s writing about match play, not medal play, and talks about someone being seven strokes down rather than seven holes down. Still, and even though I would have enjoyed more insight into the world of Atlanta in the first half of the twentieth century, I’m happy with what I learned instead.

Categories: Biography, Books, Golf

Quote of the Day

March 23, 2013 Leave a comment

gingrichsantorum

[Illustration by 731, in BloomsbergBusinessweek]

In BloombergBusinessweek yesterday, Joshua Green broke the news that as “Mitt Romney struggled in the weeks leading up to the Michigan primary, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum nearly agreed to form a joint “Unity Ticket” to consolidate conservative support and topple Romney.” Green continues:

“We were close,” former Representative Bob Walker, a Gingrich ally, says. “Everybody thought there was an opportunity.” “It would have sent shock waves through the establishment and the Romney campaign,” says John Brabender, Santorum’s chief strategist.

But the negotiations collapsed in acrimony because Gingrich and Santorum could not agree on who would get to be president. “In the end,” Gingrich says, “it was just too hard to negotiate.”

Romney eked out a three-point win in Michigan on Feb. 28 and was never seriously threatened again. While this type of elaborate scheming is more typical of political thrillers, it was real this time. A year later, many of those who worked to build the Unity Ticket still believe it could have been decisive.

My award for quote of the day goes to Esquire’s Charlie Pierce, who had this to say on learning the news (using his standard sobriquets for Santorum and Gingrich):

OK, I was around in February of last year. I saw the Santorum and Gingrich campaigns. And the idea that you could put together a Unity Ticket composed of a colossal dick — and have I mentioned lately what a colossal dick Rick Santorum is? — and the Definer Of Civilization’s rules and Leader (perhaps) of the civilizing forces without throwing the universe over the event horizon of megalomania, never thence to return, is the funniest damn thing I’ve heard about since I watched Michele Bachmann win the Iowa Straw Poll. Not even the way America runs its elections should be this funny.

Really, now. A guy who thinks he speaks God’s will on earth and a guy who thinks He’s the one giving dictation? What could possibly go wrong there?

Yes, it is difficult to build a national ticket when both prospective members are delusional enough to believe they should be president, despite the fact that one of them is a god-bothering nuisance who’d lost his last Senate race to an ice-sculpture by 15 points, and the other guy is on what appears to be an extended vanity exercise cum home-shopping enterprise.

Categories: Politics

2013 Abel Prize

March 20, 2013 Leave a comment

deligne

[Cliff Moore]

The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters this morning announced the recipient of its 2013 Abel Prize, the eleventh one awarded. With mathematicians so rarely in the news, I have made it a point here at Ron’s View each year to write a post about the award. (Click on the following links for 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.) This year’s recipient is Pierre Deligne, professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

As I explain each year, the Abel Prize was established in 2001 by the Norwegian government to be the counterpart in mathematics to the Nobel Prizes in other disciplines. It has been awarded by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters each year since 2003 to one or two outstanding mathematicians and honors the great, early-nineteenth-century Norwegian mathematician Niels Abel.

Regarding Deligne, here is a passage from the announcement of the award:

Pierre Deligne is a research mathematician who has excelled in finding connections between various fields of mathematics. His research has led to several important discoveries. Deligne’s best known achievement is his spectacular solution of the last and deepest of the Weil conjectures. This earned him both the Fields Medal (1978) and the Crafoord Prize (1988), the latter jointly with Alexandre Grothendieck.

Deligne’s brilliant proof of the Weil conjecture made him famous in the mathematical world at an early age. This first achievement was followed by several others that demonstrate the extreme variety as well as the difficulty of the techniques involved and the inventiveness of the methods. He is best known for his work in algebraic geometry and number theory, but he has also made major contributions to several other domains of mathematics.

The Abel Committee says: “Deligne’s powerful concepts, ideas, results and methods continue to influence the development of algebraic geometry, as well as mathematics as a whole”.

[snip]

Deligne was only 12 when he started to read his brother’s university math books. His interest prompted a high-school math teacher, J. Nijs, to lend him several volumes of “Éléments de mathématique” by Nicolas Bourbaki, the pseudonymous grey eminence of French mathematics. For the 14-year old Deligne this became a life changing experience. His father wanted him to become an engineer and to pursue a career that would afford him a good living. But Deligne knew early on that he should do what he loved, and what he loved was mathematics. He went to the University of Brussels with the ambition of becoming a high school teacher, and of pursuing mathematics as a hobby for his own personal enjoyment. There, as a student of Jacques Tits, Deligne was pleased to discover that, as he says, “one could earn one’s living by playing, i.e. by doing research in mathematics”.

Deligne announced the proof of the last and most difficult part of the Weil Conjectures when I was a graduate student. His work was well over my head, but everyone was talking about it. I had friends who were algebraic geometers, my advisor was himself a leading algebraic geometer, I was taking courses in the field. And one thing was clear, that Deligne was one of the great mathematical geniuses of our time. Just over a dozen years later, I would spend the year at the Institute, with Pierre a constant and inspiring presence. His selection enhances the prize as much as it honors him.

Categories: Math