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Tour 2014: First Stage

June 29, 2013 Leave a comment
The Orica GreenEdge team bus became stuck at the finish line with riders ten kilometers from downtown Bastia.

The Orica GreenEdge team bus became stuck at the finish line with riders ten kilometers from downtown Bastia.

[Jeff Pachoud/Agence France-Presse]

It’s that time of year again, the time when I devote several posts to the great Manxman Mark Cavendish and his thrilling exploits at the Tour de France. Usually it takes a few days before he charges through to win a flat sprinter’s stage. But this year’s tour is different. There’s no short opening prologue through some major European city. The tour has come to Corsica for its initial stages, the first time on the island. (Corsica!) To make sure to get around much of the island, tour officials decided to skip a prologue and begin with a flat stage along the east coast, to be followed tomorrow by a mountainous stage.

This meant that today set up perfectly for sprinting royalty: Cavendish and his two principal challengers last year, André Greipel and Peter Sagan. No way I was going to miss that. Indeed, I got up way early and watched the last two-and-a-half hours.

It’s always a pleasure to be back in the company of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin, our indefatigable commentators. Even when nothing’s happening, I love listening to them while watching the scenery (which was spectacular at times; maybe a trip to Corsica is in order). As the kilometers counted down, I got ready for the stars’ teams to set up for the finish.

But then chaos, as depicted in the photo at the top. A team bus got jammed under the finish line banner. People scurried around. The bemused driver stayed seated. Word eventually came that the stage would be truncated, with a finish at the 3k-to-go point. As teams changed tactics, a major crash occurred. Sagan went down. Cavendish just barely avoided the same fate, but came to a complete stop behind downed cyclists. Greipel rode through, only to have his bike malfunction a short ways down the road.

Just then, the bus problem was solved. The officials decided to have the driver back up maybe 30 meters or so, then turn off through a gap in the barriers, toward the beach. But the damage was done. The three stars were deprived of any chance for stage victory. Everyone was granted the same finishing time under the rule that provides for this when there’s a crash within 3k of the finish. (The crash was more than 3k away, but was 3k away from the temporarily presumed finish, and so the rule was invoked.)

A sprinter on the rise, Marcel Kittel, escaped damage in the crash and won the stage in a classic sprint, thereby earning the opening day trifecta of stage victory, the yellow jersey of overall leader, and the green jersey of points leader.

Marcel Kittel winning today's stage in Bastia, Corsica

Marcel Kittel winning today’s stage in Bastia, Corsica

[Jeff Pachoud/Agence France-Presse]

Cavendish had hoped to use stage victory to earn his own yellow jersey, which would have been a first, and which he has no hope of earning in any Tour except by taking the opening stage. Oh well. No post today on his greatness. Perhaps later in the week.

Nonetheless, any day with a Tour stage is a good day. Three weeks of good days lie ahead. The best sporting days of the year.

Categories: Cycling

The Great Inbee Park

June 29, 2013 Leave a comment
Inbee Park putting on 25 today

Inbee Park putting on 25 today

[John Mummert, USGA]

Inbee Park is poised to win the US Women’s Open golf championship tomorrow and make history. Alas, few are paying attention. I went to the NYT sports section online and couldn’t even find an article about it, despite the tournament being played in Southampton. There’s an AP article, here, which will turn up in a search. And unlike most women’s golf tournaments, whose broadcasts are relegated to the Golf Channel or invisible altogether, this one is on NBC. Yet, there’s little coverage.

We have had the great fortune over the last fifteen years to have a succession of great players on the women’s tour: Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb, Se Ri Pak, Julie Inkster. Since Sorenstam’s retirement, Lorena Ochoa and Yani Tseng. And now Inbee Park.

Park was the surprise winner of the US Open in 2008 at the age of 19. Her promise went unfulfilled for several years. But for the last year she has dominated. This season, she has ascended to a rare level of excellence, having won the year’s first two majors, the Kraft Nabisco and the LPGA, and three other tournaments.

No tournament is as prized in women’s golf as the US Open, which she now has firmly in her grasp. Through three rounds, she is ten under par, four strokes ahead of I.K. Kim, seven ahead of Jodi Ewart Shadoff, and nine or more ahead of the rest of the field.

Only Inbee has shot under par in all three rounds. Only Inbee shot under par today, an extraordinary demonstration of rising to the occasion, despite the pressure of trying to win the Open and the parallel pressure of making history.

What history? From the AP article:

A win on Sunday would give Park:

    • Four major championships, when you add her 2008 U.S. Women’s Open victory to the three she will have won this year. With four majors, Park would join a sorority that includes Americans Susie Maxwell Berning, Donna Caponi, Sandra Haynie, Meg Mallon and Hollis Stacy, and Laura Davies of England. Only 15 players in history have won more than four.
    • Wins in the first three majors of 2013, making her the second player in LPGA Tour history to win the first three majors in a season. In 1950, Mildred (Babe) Didrikson Zaharias won all three majors played that year – the Titleholders Championship, the Women’s Western Open and the U.S. Women’s Open.
    • Three majors in a season, making her one of four women to win three majors in a calendar year, joining Zaharias (1950), Mickey Wright (1961) and Pat Bradley (1986).
  • Women’s golf struggles for attention. Tomorrow would be a good day to change that. Watch Inbee play. Watch as she shows us how the greats do it.

    Categories: Golf

    Future Beauty

    June 26, 2013 Leave a comment
    Comme des Garçons, Spring/Summer 1997, Rei Kawakubo

    Comme des Garçons, Spring/Summer 1997, Rei Kawakubo

    A new exhibition—Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion—opens at the Seattle Art Museum tomorrow. Catharina Manchanda, SAM’s curator of modern and contemporary art, offers the following description:

    The tremendous innovation of Japanese fashion designers who have revolutionized the way we think of fashion today will be shown for the first time in Seattle at SAM. The leading Japanese designers who initially gained recognition in the West were Kenzo Takada and Issey Miyake in the 1970s, but it is in the 1980s that Japanese designers emerged with an entirely new aesthetic. In the summer of 1983, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto launched a stark new aesthetic at the Paris runway shows. Based on monochrome black and white, they presented asymmetric and at times artfully perforated designs, which loosely skimmed the female silhouette. Recognized as a radical counterproposal to Western notions of the fitted gown, their designs gained instant notoriety.

    This was the beginning of what is now three decades of innovative design that has in turn influenced and reshaped our Western aesthetics of dress. Curated by Akiko Fukai, director of the Kyoto Costume Institute, the exhibition showcases the early emphasis on light and shadow, and the increasingly diverse ultramodern designs that range from the deconstruction and reinvention of Western couture models to wildly revolutionary designs that draw from contemporary street fashion.

    Nearly 100 gowns will be featured, ranging from the classic and elegant to outrageous, by celebrated designers such as Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake, Kenzo Takada, Junya Watanabe, Jun Takahashi and others, videos of runway shows, artist photographs, magazines and ephemera designed by renowned international artists like Gilbert and George and Cindy Sherman. This exhibition promises to be a fascinating experience and rare opportunity to view these unique creations firsthand.

    We attended a preview and opening celebration last night, arriving with minimal expectations but finding ourselves delighted.

    The evening began with a reception outside the auditorium. We drank, had hors d’oeuvres, mingled, then went into the auditorium at 7:00 and took our seats. Fifteen minutes later, the formal program began with remarks by the SAM board president. Then Kim Rorschach, the SAM director, said a small amount about the show, thanked various exhibition sponsors, and introduced Tomoko Dodo, Japan’s acting consul general here in Seattle. Consul General Dodo’s remarks amounted to a benediction of sorts, as she spoke about the joining of east and west.

    Next up was Catharina Manchanda, who despite serving as local curator for the exhibition, deferred to Akiko Fukai, the primary curator (and director of the Kyoto Costume Institute, as noted above). Manchanda listed for us some of Fukai’s publications and work around the world, from which it became evident that Ms Fukai is greatly distinguished indeed.

    Doing a search just now, I see that the NYT had a piece about Fukai two Februarys ago. The piece mentions this very show in its first manifestation, at the Barbican Centre in London in 2010. We learn about both Fukai and the Institute:

    From the exterior, no one would expect that the nondescript industrial building, owned by the Japanese lingerie giant Wacoal, contains one of the world’s most prestigious clothing collections.

    Or that the building, a stark contrast to the city’s Buddhist temples, gorgeous gardens and mild-mannered monks, serves as headquarters for Akiko Fukai, Japan’s leading fashion historian.

    But then, the chief curator and director of the Kyoto Costume Institute has spent much of her career staging exhibitions overseas — from Musée des Arts Décoratifs at the Louvre in Paris to the Barbican in London, which played host to her landmark “Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion.”

    That 2010 show, scheduled to open in Tokyo this summer, is a high point in Mrs. Fukai’s storied career, which spans a seven-page résumé.

    “I have watched the steps of 30 years of Japanese fashion as a contemporary,” said Mrs. Fukai, 68. “I have been walking along with it. I think to realize the exhibition of this theme is my role, as the testimony of the time.”

    From a colleague’s eyes, the description is only slightly different. “She has brought the Japanese public a knowledge of Western fashion and the Europeans, an inside view of Japanese fashion. These are her most important contributions as a fashion curator,” said Valerie Steele, director and chief curator at The Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

    [snip]

    The “Future Beauty” exhibit has been one of Mrs. Fukai’s main focuses since she retired as a professor four years ago from the Shizuoka University of Art and Culture, where she served as the dean of the graduate school of art management and a professor of art history and modality.

    Between traveling the world for symposiums and lecture engagements like the one on Diana Vreeland scheduled in March in Venice, she has been searching for new contemporary Japanese designers to grow the “Future Beauty” display for its opening July 28 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo. It is to move to Seattle in 2013.

    Suitably prepped, I was eager to hear from Ms Fukai. Unfortunately, something got lost in her oral delivery, between her accent and the placement of the microphone. I wish a written version had been available.

    The program over, it was time to go up to the main lobby for food and entertainment or two floors higher for the exhibition itself. We made a brief stop for food, provided by Taste, the restaurant that sits within the museum building. Noodles, flatbread, mini-burgers. Then on to the show.

    I assume that with the official opening tomorrow, SAM will offer more information and images at their website. At the moment there’s just the basic information page. The exhibition is divided into four spaces. I wish I could list their names. The first has to do with black, and with the choice of Japanese designers to use black. Then there’s a space with clothing and photos, a wonderful mix. Each dress is flattened in a photographic image that looks so textured it takes a while to realize it is just a photo, not the fabric itself put in a frame. This illusion is all the more pronounced because the first framed piece is in fact a dress, emerging out of a flat piece of fabric.

    A third room has some dresses that fold out from flattened objects by design, like origami, such as folded squares that, when lifted up, pull into three-dimensional clothing. Most striking were the books of clothing. One opens the two book covers like the outside of a fan, pulls them back to back, and a skirt or top emerges. A mannequin wears two such pieces, top and bottom, with the book covers hanging behind her.

    The fourth room has a “cool” theme, with street fashion meeting high fashion. Hello Kitty and her ilk.

    A second suite of rooms follows, each devoted to an individual designer: Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo, and so on. At the reception earlier, we had seen an older woman in a dramatic outfit, richly colored and unusually shaped. In contrast to the kimonos worn by a few young women, this item didn’t appear to be specifically Japanese. We didn’t know what it was. We knew, though, once we we arrived at the Rei Kawakubo room, for there it was. And there she was, standing just in front of her mannequin twin while people took photos.

    On finishing our walk-through, we returned to the lobby, sampled some more food, then headed down to the car and drove home. Good fun. And, we will return for a closer look.

    I wish I could show more images from the exhibition. What I can offer instead is a youtube video made when the initial version of the exhibition appeared at the Barbican. I leave you with it.

    Categories: Museums

    Empowering Women

    June 25, 2013 Leave a comment

    empoweringwomen

    A new exhibition opened at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture earlier this month—Empowering Women: Artisan Cooperatives that Transform Communities. We attended the member’s opening last Friday evening. The exhibition originated at Santa Fe’s Museum of International Folk Art. Here is the description from the Burke’s website:

    One Moroccan artist teaches a village of women to read. An embroiderer from India takes out her first loan. A Hutu woman from war-torn Rwanda works with a Tutsi to make “peace” baskets. And a soup kitchen for AIDS orphans delivers meals because of a folk art cooperative’s success in Swaziland. From Africa to Asia to the Americas, female artisans are creating grassroots cooperatives to reach new markets, raise living standards, and transform lives.

    Empowering Women provides an intimate view of the work of ten such enterprises in ten countries. This exhibition illustrates the power of grassroots collaborations to transform women’s lives, through inspiring personal stories, stellar photographs and stunning examples of the cooperatives’ handmade traditional arts.

    We attended the members’ opening last Friday, heard remarks by sponsors, listened to Latin American music by the duo Correo Aereo, and viewed the exhibition. With so much going on, and so many people in attendance, we weren’t as focused on the exhibition as we would have wished. We will return at a quieter time for a more leisurely look.

    Keep in mind (if you’re in the Seattle area) the supplemental event Empowering Women Artisan Market that will take place next month.

    On July 20-21, come to the Burke’s Empowering Women Artisan Market, open both Saturday and Sunday from 10 am – 3 pm. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to meet artists from across the globe, purchase a wide variety of artisan-made goods, and get insider knowledge on the Empowering Women exhibit. Expect this market to spill outside the museum, in true street-market style!

    Six of the women-run artist cooperatives featured in the Empowering Women exhibit demonstrate their skills in basketry, printing, weaving, and more. Their beautiful pieces will be available for purchase this weekend only. Artisan cooperatives from Rwanda, Morocco, Lao PDR, Nepal, India, and Bolivia are represented.

    But you don’t have to wait a month to buy the work of the cooperatives. Some are already available in the museum store. We came home Friday with a woven disk, about 15 inches in diameter, that now sits on our dining table.

    Also at the opening was the 314Pie food truck, which we hadn’t previously encountered. It was parked below the museum entrance, where Deke Kotrla served 120 of their delicious pies. Gail had the lamb pie. I took the ground beef pie, which he calls the 4’n 20, as in 4 and 20 blackbirds. Unfortunately, the truck doesn’t generally park anywhere near us. The Delridge neighborhood in West Seattle and South Lake Union appear to be regular weekly sites. Microsoft too. I hope to stumble on it again.

    3145pie

    Categories: Museums

    Ronald S’s View

    June 25, 2013 Leave a comment

    at&t

    I’m thinking of changing the name of the blog, thanks to AT&T.

    I received a letter in today’s mail from the Vice President and General Manager of AT&T in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska with news of improvements to the wireless experience. They’ve been building and growing their 4G LTE Network (which I use for the internet connection on my iPhone). They’re developing sustainable business practices, promoting education, upholding human rights. (Hmm. Does that include not handing over my cell phone data to the NSA?)

    And then Mike began the concluding paragraph with unexpected intimacy.

    In all, I truly appreciate you being our customer, Ronald S.

    How did he know that that’s what my closest friends call me? Now that the word is out, I may as well adopt the moniker for the blog.

    I would infer that the algorithm used for this line in the letter is to take my account name—which is used in the postal address at the top and in the salutation—and truncate the last name. Thus, when the time comes for intimacy, Bobby Joe Smith would be addressed as Bobby Joe, and Leigh Anne Jones as Leigh Anne. You wouldn’t want to err by calling Bobby Joe just plain old Bobby, or Leigh Anne just Leigh.

    Perhaps AT&T should revise the algorithm to drop penultimate names that are one character long. That would save some tone-deaf intimacies. Better yet, of course, would be to omit the phony intimacy altogether.

    What do you think, Mike?

    Categories: Language, Stupidity

    Obama Channels Nixon

    June 23, 2013 Leave a comment

    offwithheads

    And here I thought President Obama was merely institutionalizing the domestic spying that the Bush administration introduced in the name of the War on Terror. Who knew Obama has been upping the ante, introducing Stasi-style spying on colleagues? Thanks to the piece by Marisa Taylor and Jonathan S. Landay of the McClatchy Washington Bureau, we now know better. Read it and weep.

    The opening:

    Even before a former U.S. intelligence contractor exposed the secret collection of Americans’ phone records, the Obama administration was pressing a government-wide crackdown on security threats that requires federal employees to keep closer tabs on their co-workers and exhorts managers to punish those who fail to report their suspicions.

    President Barack Obama’s unprecedented initiative, known as the Insider Threat Program, is sweeping in its reach. It has received scant public attention even though it extends beyond the U.S. national security bureaucracies to most federal departments and agencies nationwide, including the Peace Corps, the Social Security Administration and the Education and Agriculture departments. It emphasizes leaks of classified material, but catchall definitions of “insider threat” give agencies latitude to pursue and penalize a range of other conduct.

    Government documents reviewed by McClatchy illustrate how some agencies are using that latitude to pursue unauthorized disclosures of any information, not just classified material. They also show how millions of federal employees and contractors must watch for “high-risk persons or behaviors” among co-workers and could face penalties, including criminal charges, for failing to report them. Leaks to the media are equated with espionage.

    “Hammer this fact home . . . leaking is tantamount to aiding the enemies of the United States,” says a June 1, 2012, Defense Department strategy for the program that was obtained by McClatchy.

    Yes, even the Education and Agriculture departments, those hotbeds of information on which our national security depends.

    And check this out:

    The program could make it easier for the government to stifle the flow of unclassified and potentially vital information to the public, while creating toxic work environments poisoned by unfounded suspicions and spurious investigations of loyal Americans, according to these current and former officials and experts. Some non-intelligence agencies already are urging employees to watch their co-workers for “indicators” that include stress, divorce and financial problems.

    That’s right—you better not be thinking of divorce, or falling into debt. That might be cause to be reported.

    The article continues:

    “It was just a matter of time before the Department of Agriculture or the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) started implementing, ‘Hey, let’s get people to snitch on their friends.’ The only thing they haven’t done here is reward it,” said Kel McClanahan, a Washington lawyer who specializes in national security law. “I’m waiting for the time when you turn in a friend and you get a $50 reward.”

    The Defense Department anti-leak strategy obtained by McClatchy spells out a zero-tolerance policy. Security managers, it says, “must” reprimand or revoke the security clearances – a career-killing penalty – of workers who commit a single severe infraction or multiple lesser breaches “as an unavoidable negative personnel action.”

    Employees must turn themselves and others in for failing to report breaches. “Penalize clearly identifiable failures to report security infractions and violations, including any lack of self-reporting,” the strategic plan says.

    And then there’s this:

    Obama in November approved “minimum standards” giving departments and agencies considerable leeway in developing their insider threat programs, leading to a potential hodgepodge of interpretations. He instructed them to not only root out leakers but people who might be prone to “violent acts against the government or the nation” and “potential espionage.”

    [snip]

    The Department of Education, meanwhile, informs employees that co-workers going through “certain life experiences . . . might turn a trusted user into an insider threat.” Those experiences, the department says in a computer training manual, include “stress, divorce, financial problems” or “frustrations with co-workers or the organization.”

    As Charles Pierce observed in a rare weekend post that the McClatchy news moved him to write, Obama isn’t merely formalizing Bush programs.

    This, right here, this is Nixonian, if Nixon had grown up in East Germany. You’ve got the entire federal bureaucracy looking for signs of “high-risk persons or behaviors” the way Nixon sent Fred Malek out to count the Jews. You’ve got created within the entire federal bureaucracy a culture of spies and informers, which will inevitably breed fear and deceit and countless acts of interoffice treachery. (Don’t like your boss at the Bureau Of Land Management? Hmm, he looks like a high-risk person. Tell someone.)

    [snip]

    I especially don’t want to hear about how all the administration’s really done is “formalize” programs that were already in place, as though giving the creation of a culture of informers the imprimatur of the presidency makes it better. … No, Mr. Current President, this is not business as usual. This is not even the NSA sifting through e-mails and phone calls. This is giving Big Brother a desk in every federal agency and telling him to go to work.

    It’s too bad Obama didn’t level with us in his two election campaigns.

    Categories: Law

    Anniversary Dinner, 2

    June 23, 2013 Leave a comment

    georgianview

    We were married 28 years ago today at the Olympic Hotel in downtown Seattle. As I wrote last year, “we therefore make it a habit to return to the Olympic for our anniversary dinner. Not every year, but many, including this one. We eat in their Georgian Room, one of the most beautiful dining spaces in the city, and with excellent food too.” The Georgian Room is closed on Sundays and Mondays. That’s the main reason that we sometimes celebrate elsewhere. This year, we decided instead to stick with the Georgian Room but eat a day early, i.e., last night.

    In reviewing last year’s post on our anniversary dinner, I see that this year wasn’t much different. Nearly the same menu; nearly the same choices. I’ll write about the meal anyway.

    As has become my custom, I had called Topper’s, the excellent florist that resides in the basement level of the hotel, ahead of time to arrange for flowers to be delivered to our table. I had also called the restaurant to request one of the two-tops spread throughout the room that has a banquette on one side for side-by-side seating (and no chairs on the other side). I particularly like the table by the rear window toward the right that affords a view into the entire room, and I successfully explained to the host which table I meant. When we arrived last night, all was in place. We were led to the desired table, and a floral arrangement of modest size—so as not to overwhelm the space—was there.

    We had decided before arriving that we would follow last year’s plan and start with glasses of Prosecco, to be followed later by a half-bottle of red. As we studied the menus, we ordered the Prosecco from our waiter. We’re especially fond of the Georgian Room’s long-time sommelier, an Austrian gentleman named Joseph, and were pleased that he came by to pour the Prosecco. This offered us the first of what would be many occasions to chat with him. (You can learn more about him here and click on the embedded links that take you to youtube videos featuring him.) His own anniversary is near ours, a fact we keep re-learning each year. He has two older stepsons and two teenage sons.

    The menu presented us with some familiar choices. For instance, which salad to start with? The Young Spinach Salad with truffled quail egg, bacon lardons, and white balsamic, or the Olympic Caesar Salad with aged pecorino and toasted crouton? I asked the waiter’s advice and he said he loves both, but maybe I’d enjoy the Caesar more with the Prosecco. That decided it.

    Looking back now at my post a year ago, I see that I went then with the spinach salad. And I see that Gail repeated last year’s order, described on the menu as Dungeness Crab Bisque, Tarragon Infused Mini Crab Cakes. The bowl comes with two stacked crab cakes and, above them, two pieces of crab meat, over which the soup is poured. The Caesar has a long, thin-sliced piece of pecorino, above which is an equally long lettuce wedge, with dressing and some shaved cheese pieces on top. And to the side is a long, thin, crisp “crouton”. No, it must have been served on top of the rest. I simply removed it first thing. Great presentation.

    I enjoyed the salad. The dressing was applied lightly. Perhaps a little too light for me to appreciate how well it matched the Prosecco. And Gail enjoyed the soup.

    On the entree choice, this is what I wrote last year:

    For our main dishes, I was leaning toward the rack of lamb, but when Gail ordered it, I went for the T-bone steak. Hers was listed on the menu with four accompaniments. Each was prepared in a block about one-and-a-half inch square and maybe three-fourths of an inch high, the four squares laid out in the center of the plate to form a three-inch square with the lamb on top. It looked beautiful. One of the squares was a mashed pea concoction with tomato jam on top. I ate some of it at the end. It was sublime. Another was spinach, another lamb shank, and I don’t remember the fourth. Gail chose well.

    This year was a near repeat. Perhaps I should have read last year’s post before we went. Once again, I was tempted by the lamb, totally forgetting last year’s experience, and once again, when Gail told me she planned to order it, I decided I would have steak instead. Here’s the menu description of the lamb: Roasted Rack of Lamb, Herbs of the Garden Crust, Quadrant of Flavors & Textures: Crushed Peas, Braised Shank, Spinach Gratin, Crispy Prosciutto-Whipped Potato. Once it came to the table, I knew I really wanted those peas. Oh well.

    Last year’s T-bone came with three sauces—béarnaise, peppercorn, cabernet jus—each in its own small square plate. This year’s menu has in its place a Black Pepper-Crusted Bone-In Ribeye Steak, Bacon Whipped Potato, Roasted Bone Marrow, Truffle White Asparagus. The steak comes in a large metal plate with handles on left and right, as if straight from the oven, with asparagus below. Also on the plate is the potato, in a miniature metal pot about two inches in diameter, and the bone marrow, in a deep cup. I’ll confess that I didn’t eat much of the bone marrow. Everything else was superb.

    Oh, the wine. Well, when you go with a half-bottle of red, your choices are constrained, and there’s not a lot of advice for Joseph to offer. In recent visits, we’ve chosen the Chateauneuf-du-Pape from Domaine Vieux Télégraphe. Not a novel choice, but we love it, so much so that we have several bottles in the basement waiting for suitable occasions. Also available was the Pirouette from Long Shadows, a Walla Walla winery whose wines we have been trying in recent months. The (sold out) current release is a 2009, a classic Bordeaux blend: 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec. We had never tried a Pirouette of any vintage, but do have a bottle of the 2009 downstairs, also awaiting a suitable meal. On the menu was a 2007. We conferred with Joseph, who agreed that it would be a good option, so we chose it. And we weren’t disappointed, though Gail did admit at the end of the meal that she might have preferred the Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

    Pirouette

    As with the rest of the meal, dessert presented another opportunity to do what we always do, which in this case means ordering the soufflés. (Can you blame us?) There is always a fixed option on the menu, black and white chocolate, and a nightly special, which last night was white chocolate and strawberry. Gail chose the classic black and white; I went with the special. And they were perfect. I couldn’t have been happier, except that mine didn’t look as cool as Gail’s, with its split down the middle into black and white halves.

    We paid, had a farewell conversation with Joseph, asked our waiter for the box our flowers came in, had him pour some water out of the vase, carried the box and vase out, then had yet another conversation with Joseph, just outside the Georgian Room entry at the top of the lobby.

    But wait. The amuse-bouche. I forgot about that. Back when Joseph was pouring our Prosecco, the amuse-bouche arrived. A custardy concoction with a poached cherry on top, served on a spoon as a single bite. My custard stuck to the spoon, so I didn’t quite get it all out as intended. Maybe it had sat too long.

    No matter. It was a beautiful evening. Food, presentation, wine, service, flowers, setting, and most of all, Gail. Happy Anniversary.

    Categories: Family, Restaurants

    Nocera on Obama

    June 22, 2013 Leave a comment
    President Obama delivering speech on national security, May 23, 2013

    President Obama delivering speech on national security, May 23, 2013

    [Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP]

    I keep my quoting of NYT columnists to a minimum. Their work is easy to find. Their views are widely distributed. I don’t need to provide a clipping service that serves up their content. Not to mention that some of them should have retired long ago. They are an embarrassment with their pronouncements from on high on cultural trends and the future. (Yes, David and Tom, I’m talking about you.)

    I have also been keeping my criticisms of the Obama administration to a minimum. Words fail on a day when officials confirm that the

    State Department has asked Hong Kong to extradite Edward J. Snowden to face espionage and theft charges in the United States.

    Espionage? Geez.

    The NYT article goes on to note that “Mr. Snowden is the seventh person to be accused by the Obama administration of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 by leaking secrets to the news media, compared with three such cases under all previous presidents.” So much for Obama’s commitment to transparency and openness.

    Anyway, I will now depart from my minimization efforts, turning the remainder of the post over to NYT columnist Joe Nocera. In his Saturday column four weeks ago, just after Obama reiterated his vow to close Guantánamo, Nocera wrote:

    Late Wednesday afternoon, less than 24 hours before President Obama made his big national security speech — in which he said, for the umpteenth time, that the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, should be closed — a group of American lawyers representing Guantánamo detainees filed an emergency motion with the Federal District Court in the District of Columbia. The motion asked the court to order the removal of “unjustified burdens” that the military command at Guantánamo has placed on the detainees, making it nearly impossible for them to meet with their lawyers.

    [snip]

    The detainees are all in solitary confinement. They are shackled when they are taken to the shower. They cannot speak to their families unless they submit to that same repugnant body search. In other words, an already inhumane situation has become even worse on the watch of the president who claims to want to shut down the prison.

    In his speech on Thursday, Obama hit all the right notes. He talked about how holding detainees for an indefinite period without charging them with any crime has made the prison “a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law.” He noted that it has hurt us with our allies. He even mentioned how absurdly expensive the prison is — nearly $1 million per prisoner per year. “Is this who we are?” he asked.

    “History,” he concluded, “will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism.” He’s right about that. But he will hardly be immune from that judgment.

    [snip]

    It is my belief, shared by many lawyers who have followed the legal battles over Guantánamo, that the president could have shut down the prison if he had really been determined to do so. One reason innocent detainees can’t get out is that the courts have essentially ruled that a president has an absolute right to imprison anyone he wants during a time of war — with no second-guessing from either of the other two branches of government. By the same legal logic, a president can also free any prisoner in a time of war. Had the president taken that stance, there would undoubtedly have been a court fight. But so what? Aren’t some things worth fighting for?

    Whenever he talks about Guantánamo, the president gives the impression that that’s what he believes. The shame — his shame — is that, for all his soaring rhetoric, he has yet to show that he is willing to act on that belief.

    And a week ago, after Snowden’s revelations of the NSA’s PRISM project, Nocera wrote in another Saturday column:

    I don’t know whether Prism and the other programs truly stop terrorists. I have my doubts. What I do know is that if you are going to lecture the world about right and wrong — and if you’re trying to stop bad behavior — perhaps you shouldn’t be engaging in a version of that behavior yourself.

    Instead, this has become one of the trademarks of the Obama administration: decry human rights abuses abroad, but hold men in prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, who have never been accused of a crime. Say all the right things about freedom of the press — even as you’re subpoenaing reporters’ phone records. And express outrage over Chinese hacking while carrying on a sophisticated spying operation of your own citizens. It may seem to us a false equivalence, but the existence of Prism will make it far more difficult to force the Chinese to get serious about stopping their own hacking.

    Maybe America’s new motto should be: Do As We Say, Not As We Do.

    I have nothing to add.

    Categories: Law, Politics

    The Blackhouse

    June 22, 2013 Leave a comment

    blackhouse

    I’m about 120 pages into The Blackhouse, the first book in Peter May’s Lewis Trilogy. I’ve intended to read it since Marilyn Stasio’s short review in her regular Sunday NYT crime novel roundup last November. She opens with:

    Peter May is a writer I’d follow to the ends of the earth — which is where he takes us in THE BLACKHOUSE, the first novel in a projected trilogy featuring Detective Sergeant Finlay (Fin) Macleod of the Edinburgh police force. The setting is the windswept terrain of the Isle of Lewis, the northernmost of the Outer Hebrides, “a brooding landscape that in a moment of sunlight could be unexpectedly transformed.” Not a pretty place to be romanticized, given its foul weather, stagnant economy, rampant alcoholism and high suicide rate, but a “godforsaken bloody place” that deserves respect and even awe.

    This is the same Isle of Lewis famed for its wondrous twelfth-century chessmen, who now reside at the British Museum and the National Museum of Scotland.

    lewischessmen

    [From the British Museum website]

    I can’t resist a tangent on them. The British Museum website informs us that

    they were found in the vicinity of Uig on the Isle of Lewis in mysterious circumstances. Various stories have evolved to explain why they were concealed there, and how they were discovered. All that is certain is that they were found some time before 11 April 1831, when they were exhibited in Edinburgh at the Society of Antiquaries for Scotland. The precise findspot seems to have been a sand dune where they may have been placed in a small, drystone chamber.

    Who owned the chess pieces? Why were they hidden? While there are no firm answers to these questions, it is possible that they belonged to a merchant travelling from Norway to Ireland. This seems likely since there are constituent pieces – though with some elements missing – for four distinct sets. Their general condition is excellent and they do not seem to have been used much, if at all.

    By the end of the eleventh century, chess was a very popular game among the aristocracy throughout Europe. The Lewis chess pieces form the largest single surviving group of objects from the period that were made purely for recreational purposes. The question of precisely where they were made is a difficult one to resolve.

    When Sir Frederic Madden first published the finds in 1832, he considered them to be Icelandic in origin. This argument has been repeated recently by Icelandic commentators on the subject. Other authorities have thought them to be Irish, Scottish or English. Each of these attributions is possible.

    What is known with certainty is that the chessmen are vigorously northern in their character and are strongly influenced by Norse culture. This is most evident in the figures of the warders or rooks which take the form of Berserkers, fierce mythical warriors drawn directly from the Sagas. The historic political, economic and cultural links between the Outer Hebrides and Norway and its dominance of the Norse world might suggest that Norway is the most likely place to have produced these high status, luxury commodities.

    I’ve never been to Lewis, but Peter May has me believing that I have, thanks to his superb descriptions of the landscape and skyscape. A quick look at the map of the UK will show you, as May repeatedly reminds us, that the weather comes straight in from the Atlantic, with no land in the way to soften the blow. The average high temperature in summer is 60 degrees, and the wind blows and blows. A review in the Scotsman two years ago notes that “award-winning Glasgow-born author Peter May is no stranger to the Isle of Lewis, and it shows in every thrilling chapter of this bleak, wild, atmospheric novel.”

    Fin, our protagonist, grew up on Lewis, but went to school in Glasgow and became a cop in Edinburgh. Details of his life are emerging slowly, as he is asked to return to Lewis to help in the investigation of a murder. The first and third chapters are told in third person, at the present time. In contrast, the second and fourth chapters are told by Fin in first person, treating his first day of school as a young child and an incident in his teenage years. These portraits of island life are marvelously rendered gems, lifting the book well above whatever expectations one may have of crime novels. This is suggested as well in the conclusion to the review two years ago in The Independent.

    A beautifully written, haunting and powerful examination of the darkness of men’s souls and how hard it can be to bury the past, The Blackhouse is also an outstanding page-turning murder mystery originally published in French.

    Yes, it seems that May couldn’t get the book published in the UK, so turned to publishers in France, where he lives, succeeding in having it appear in French translation in 2009. It came out in the original English in the UK only in February 2011, and here in the US last fall. By now, volumes two and three of the trilogy—The Lewis Man and The Chessmen—have appeared in the UK.

    Having had The Blackhouse on my reading list for so long, and on my Kindle since Joel bought it for me in December, I was pleased to finally get involved in it. But now that I’m enjoying it so much, I realize that on completing it, I won’t get to shorten my reading list. Instead, I will have to add its two successors. But that’s for another day. For now, I couldn’t be happier with the book I have.

    Categories: Books

    Alden Mason Retrospective

    June 22, 2013 Leave a comment
    Home Free Jamboree, Alden Mason, 1991

    Home Free Jamboree, Alden Mason, 1991

    Two days ago, we went down to the Wright Exhibition Space* to see their latest show, Alden Mason: In Memoriam 1919-2013. It consists of 35 of Mason’s paintings ranging from 1970 to 2008. On walking in, you pick up a foldout six-page card stock pamphlet containing photos of paintings, photos of Mason himself, and fifteen notes written by painters, art dealers, art critics, and the exhibition curators. The same texts are on the walls, in lieu of details about the individual paintings themselves.

    *I have explained in previous posts on the Wright Exhibition Space—for instance, this one—that it “is a small gallery that mounts shows from time to time drawn largely, or entirely, from the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, the largest collection of contemporary art in the Pacific Northwest. I highly recommend going, whatever the show, because the art is superb, the mix of art is interesting, you often have the space to yourself or nearly to yourself, there’s an informative little printed guide, and there’s often a docent to introduce you to the show and chat with. The gallery is open Thursdays and Saturday, with free admission.”

    Perhaps I should have made it a point to read the curator’s note, written by Phen Huang of the Foster/White Gallery and Greg Kucera, the eponym of his own gallery. I’m reading it only now. But Sylvia, the docent, urged us to save the texts for when we got home, enjoying the paintings while there, and we followed her advice. Plus, she gave us her own helpful overview about Mason and the different phases of his career. As for the curator’s note, we learn that

    late in his life, Alden Mason hoped for a retrospective museum show to define the phases of his career. His seventy years of painting revealed a range of media from watercolor to oil paint, then to acrylic paints, and finally back to ink and watercolor. He wanted major works from each series to represent his artistic oeuvre. Moving through these unique styles proved Mason’s ability to innovate and resonate with all audiences over an extended period of time.

    In curating this exhibition, we aimed at fulfilling his request.

    Sunshine Strip, 1979

    Sunshine Strip, 1979

    Mason grew up about sixty miles north of Seattle. As critic Sheila Farr explains,

    the fields of the Skagit Valley were Alden Mason’s playground and the wild cratures and farm animals his friends. Born July 14, 1919 in Everett, Washington [about 20 miles north of Seattle], Mason grew up on a Fir Island farm near the banks of the Skagit River. Alden was just five years old when his father, a house painter, died of lead poisoning after years of working with lead paints.

    A slight, precocious child, prone to illness, Alden attended the Skagit City School, a two-room country schoolhouse, where he skipped second grade and forever felt he was struggling to catch up with others. But in the natural world, he was at ease: he built birdhouses, went fly-fishing, collected butterflies, experimented with taxidermy and never forgot the thrill of having a tiny swallow land on his finger for a few moments and gaze into his eyes. His first drawing instruction came from a mail order cartoon class and he recalled his love of those images, “with figures jumping, hopping and smooching. They were having more fun than I was. They lived in a brighter world.”

    Golden Burpee, 1973

    Golden Burpee, 1973

    Mason spent decades on the faculty at the University of Washington, retiring just as I arrived. Chuck Close, surely his most famous student, writes:

    Alden Mason was my teacher, my mentor and my friend. He has probably had more impact on my work and my career than any other person. I wouldn’t be who I am today—or as successful—if it weren’t for Alden.

    I consider him the greatest painter to come out of the Pacific Northwest—for me even greater than Mark Tobey or Morris Graves. I studied with him from 1960-1962. He was encouraging, inspiring and often tough on me—probably when I needed it. … Luckily, we talked a week before he died and I was able to tell him about the impact he had on me, my life and my work, and that I loved him like a father.

    Black Tulip, 1997

    Black Tulip, 1997

    Several people address Mason’s interest in birds, and his wide-ranging travels—the Mexican coast, the southern highlands of Papua New Guinea, and so on—to see them. Gerald Nordland talks about Mason’s technique:

    Images of the exotic birds and characters he encountered entered into his art making. The paint body of these works is fiercely manipulated with a very personal sense of touch; colors are worked directly into one another. … The ground establishes an active but thoroughly consistent environment for the figures, fish animals, birds, and hybrid forms which Mason conjures up with the eloquence of a shaman.

    Ambassador to Birdland, 1987

    Ambassador to Birdland, 1987

    The exhibition closes a week from today. I highly recommend going, if you’re in the Seattle area.

    Categories: Art