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Keeping Us Safe

June 13, 2013 Leave a comment

Ralltvs

As we continue to learn more about what President Obama does to keep us safe from terrorists, it may be worth reviewing Article 2, Section 1, Clause 8 of the US Constitution:

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:–“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

The president swears to protect the Constitution, not us. Yet, like so many of his predecessors, Obama violates the Constitution in the name of our security.

Ted Rall suggests where this logic leads in his latest cartoon, above. I suppose we should ban cars, too, while we’re at it. (Not guns, of course.)

I quote the Esquire’s Charles Pierce a lot. Sorry. I can’t resist. On the subject of this post, let me link to one of his pieces from two days ago, in which he asks,

Tell me what is being done in my name and I can decide on the level of my own complicity. Tell me what is being done in my name and I can decide that I don’t want to be complicit at all. Tell me what is being done in my name and I can be a citizen, in full, of a self-governing political commonwealth. That’s your job. That’s what those three words [We the people] are about. Don’t tell me it’s for my own good. I’m not 12. I know what is for my own good. Don’t tell me to trust you. That ship sailed long ago. Goddammit, tell me.

Categories: Politics, Security

Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere

June 11, 2013 Leave a comment

classabaseball

A week ago I finished Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town, Nick Reding’s account of life in Oelwein, Iowa, in the first years of this century. This morning I finished The Summer of Beer and Whiskey: How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants, and a Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America’s Game, Edward Achorn’s account of the 1883 season in the American Association.

What next? Why not combine the two themes? A book that recounts a season of baseball in Iowa in the early years of this century would be in order. And what do you know? Such a book appeared five weeks ago: Lucas Mann’s Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere. Perfect timing. I’m now a few pages into it.

I learned about the book last month at the Harper’s blog, where Jeffery Gleaves had six questions for Mann. (A week later, the NYT ran its own online Mann interview.) Of course, the book isn’t simply about baseball. It’s about life in Clinton, Iowa, and about the author’s own travails. Here’s the blurb:

An unforgettable chronicle of a year of minor-league baseball in a small Iowa town that follows not only the travails of the players of the Clinton LumberKings but also the lives of their dedicated fans and of the town itself.

Award-winning essayist Lucas Mann delivers a powerful debut in his telling of the story of the 2010 season of the Clinton LumberKings. Along the Mississippi River, in a Depression-era stadium, young prospects from all over the world compete for a chance to move up through the baseball ranks to the major leagues. Their coaches, some of whom have spent nearly half a century in the game, watch from the dugout. In the bleachers, local fans call out from the same seats they’ve occupied year after year. And in the distance, smoke rises from the largest remaining factory in a town that once had more millionaires per capita than any other in America.

Mann turns his eye on the players, the coaches, the fans, the radio announcer, the town, and finally on himself, a young man raised on baseball, driven to know what still draws him to the stadium. His voice is as fresh and funny as it is poignant, illuminating both the small triumphs and the harsh realities of minor-league ball. Part sports story, part cultural exploration, part memoir, Class A is a moving and unique study of why we play, why we watch, and why we remember.

In the Harper’s interview, Gleaves asks, “Why not write this book as pure journalism? Why insert your own story?” To which Mann replies:

So much of how I write is wrapped up in voice. I write personally; that’s how it comes out. I like essays and nonfiction that try to do a lot of things at once, that investigate and report on subjects but never shy away from showing how all that observation affects them. I’m terrified of omniscience, both as a writer and a reader. Lawrence Weschler, the great New Yorker writer, has a quote along the lines of, “I like to insert a strong I into what I’m writing not out of some sense of egomania, but precisely the opposite.” I agree with that. I don’t have the hubris to traditionally report on something, then step back, remove my personality, biases, memories, and screw-ups, and speak with authority. I’m the neurotic, often-confused dude who is trying to figure out why all this stuff is important to him, and that crucial, intimate honesty isn’t something I’d ever want to remove from the work.

Mann’s bleak description of Clinton in the opening pages is redolent of Methland‘s Oelwein and Ottumwa, Iowa.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Clinton was the center of a lumber empire. Millionaires were made here. … Though the industry and its spoils have long since disappeared, some mansions are still here. …

A lot of things are gone. Things downtown closed; some collapsed. Things burned. In 1968 the sociopathic hippie son of a local businessman set fire to nine buildings …

That hippie boy set the most famous fires, but not the last ones. Fans have told me that it feels as if something were always aflame now. When buildings are old, when nobody’s watching, anything can be tinder. Some of the fires are on YouTube. The dilapidated apartment with the mother and her two toddlers inside. The ancient white house without smoke detectors. The Lutheran church with flames dancing in the stained-glass windows. Old homes with no life in them, no care for them, so eventually they burn. …

… Allied Steel, back when steel, along with paper, along with wood, along with plastic, along with corn, catalyzed the town. But Allied left with a lot of other businesses, and left behind 100,000 tons of coal tar blocks down from the riverfront stadium, not cleaned for decades.

As for the baseball, two players have been introduced so far: shortstop Nick Franklin, of whom great things are anticipated, and Nicaraguan pitcher Erasmo Ramirez. Clinton is a Mariner farm team, and Franklin was big news here in Seattle two weeks ago when he was called up to the majors for the first time to replace one-time-can’t-miss second baseman Dustin Ackley (the second overall selection in the 2009 draft, behind Stephen Strasburg). In his fourth game, Franklin hit two home runs. Ramirez also made it to the majors, pitching in 16 games for the Mariners last year with mixed success, but is back in Triple-A Tacoma this season.

I don’t yet know what to expect from the book. And I’m not yet committed, having downloaded only the free opening pages to my Kindle. I suspect I’ll keep going. Certainly Boston Globe reviewer Adam Langer would have me do so:

Watching Clinton’s star pitcher, Erasmo Ramirez, strike out 12 on the road in Quad Cities, Mann wryly notes that the performance was watched by more people than will ever watch Mann do anything.

But he is being overly modest. For if there’s one surefire big-league prospect among the has-beens, might-bes, and never-will-bes who populate this memoir, it’s Mann himself who, in his first trip to the plate, knocks it out of the park.

[snip]

The fate of most writers may ultimately be not all that different from that of most ballplayers. Decades from now, the vast majority of the names currently seen on the spines of books will probably seem as unfamiliar as those found in a pack of random 2013 baseball cards. But I’d be willing to wager that Lucas Mann is one of the names that will endure.

Categories: Baseball, Life

The Summer of Beer and Whiskey

June 9, 2013 Leave a comment

beerandwhiskey

Three weeks ago, at the New Yorker blog, Jon Michaud wrote about a book I might otherwise have missed, Edward Achorn’s The Summer of Beer and Whiskey: How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants, and a Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America’s Game. As Michaud explains,

the dramatic 1883 pennant chase in the American Association forms the core of Edward Achorn’s newly published history, “The Summer of Beer and Whiskey,” but it is far from the only reason to read his book. The eighteen-eighties were a pivotal time for the national pastime. Baseball (or “base ball,” as it was known then) was losing fans, many of whom were disenchanted by high ticket prices, cheating scandals, and the malevolent influence of gamblers on the sport. In 1881, a newspaper editor referred to baseball as “a dead crow.” Achorn argues that the American Association did much to revive interest in the sport and propel baseball toward its place at the heart of American culture. Combining the narrative skills of a sportswriter with a historian’s depth of knowledge and stockpile of detail, Achorn has produced a book that is both entertaining and informative.

I downloaded the book’s free opening portion from Amazon and had a look, anticipating that I might turn to it on finishing Rachel Kushner’s novel The Flamethrowers. But instead I turned to Nick Reding’s Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town.

After that, I wasn’t sure I was ready for Achorn’s book. I have a long list of books that struck me as potentially more interesting. They’re not short, though, whereas The Summer of Beer and Whiskey is just 260 pages. Two nights ago I started it. I’m now about 145 pages in.

Like any good writer of history, Achorn excels at making time vanish, so that the events of the 1883 baseball season seem as real as today’s Mariner 2-1 loss to the Yankees (another wasted pitching gem by Felix Hernandez).

I had long imagined that late nineteeth-century baseball wasn’t the real thing. It was certainly different. In his blog post, Michaud touches on this:

Among the many rewards of reading Achorn’s book is learning about the ways that baseball in the nineteenth century differed from the sport we now know. Games were officiated by a single umpire. Players did not wear numbers on their uniforms, nor did they use gloves. Before they took the field, they often served as ticket-takers at the ballpark gates. The first team to bat was determined by a coin flip. But the most startling difference can be found in pitching. The pitching leaderboard for the American Association’s ninety-eight-game 1883 season would be unfathomable to the modern fan used to five-man rotations and squadrons of bullpen specialists. The Reds’ Will White led the league with forty-three wins. He pitched five hundred and seventy-seven innings, including sixty-four complete games. His earned-run average was 2.09. On the Fourth of July, 1883, Tim Keefe of the Metropolitans gave a one-man display of pitching fireworks, hurling both ends of a doubleheader, winning the first game with a one-hitter and the second with a two-hitter.

Yet, in Achorn’s hands, the differences melt away. Team owners want to control player rights. (We learn about the origin of the reserve clause, which bound a player to a team forever.) Players abuse substances to their detriment. (Alcohol.) Teams in the thick of a pennant race attract big crowds. And an upstart league competes against an established one, until the older league merges with and absorbs the more successful teams of the new league. (Think 1950 and the absorption of the All-America Football Conference with the NFL, or 1976 and the NBA-ABA merger.)

That thing about players not using gloves, though–that’s different. So too the absence of a rule that when a pitcher hits a batter with a ball, the batter goes to first base. From what I’ve read so far, these differences led to high injury rates. And no batting helmets either. This was a dangerous sport.

Again, though, it’s the similarities that come through. However dangerous professional baseball was, it sure beat working in factories or mines at a time when there wasn’t much in the way of protection or insurance for workers. The player salaries, in relative terms, were nothing like those of today. Yet, they were viewed as privileged, as this passage attests:

The Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette … found it astonishing that any professional player would squander his extraordinary good luck by becoming a drunkard. After all, many men toiled six days a week, ten hours a day, doing brutal, dangerous physical labor for a pittance. The paper noted that:

a ballplayer’s path in summer time is on beds of flowery ease. He gets a big salary, travels all over the country, stops at good hotels, and has the best of everything. He is paid by the public to furnish one hour and a half of amusement each afternoon [games weren’t dragged out by television ads between innings or players stepping out of the batter’s box to adjust their clothes], and he certainly should be able to keep clear of whiskey during the season, especially as he had all winter to get even. The great trouble with some men on the Allegheny club is that they look on base ball merely as a pretext to open their pores and enable them to sweat out the whiskey drank the night before. They regularly fill up and regularly sweat it out at the expense of the reputation of the management and the regret and sorrow of all lovers of base ball hereabouts.

Too bad Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, the heroes of the 1986 Mets, didn’t read this warning before squandering their own careers.

Another difference is worth mentioning. Not a baseball difference, but a difference in the distribution of US population between then and now. Much of the book focuses on teams in St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati. In the 1880 census, the largest eight cities, in order, were New York, Philadelphia, Brooklyn [not consolidated with New York until 1898], Chicago, Boston, St. Louis, Baltimore, and Cincinnati. In the 2010 census, Philadelphia had dropped from 2nd to 5th, St. Louis from 6th to 58th, and Cincinnati from 8th to 65th. (This is a bit deceptive, since suburbs weren’t as significant in 1880 as now, so one should compare metropolitan area populations. Doing so makes the decline of St. Louis and Cincinnati less dramatic.) It’s a very different US that the book describes.

Jumping ahead three decades to 1900, a review of the census clarifies why it is that the cities with teams in both the National and American Leagues were New York [including Brooklyn], Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Boston. They were, in that order, the five largest US cities. Which reminds me, I should explain that the 1880s St. Louis Browns team of the American Association featured in the book was not the ancestor of the later American League St. Louis Browns (still later to move to Baltimore and become the Orioles). Rather, it was the ancestor of today’s St. Louis Cardinals.

Categories: Baseball, Books, History

Edward Snowden Interview

June 9, 2013 Leave a comment

The Guardian has released an interview with Edward Snowden, the whistleblower behind the disclosures on NSA surveillance published by the Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian this past week. If you haven’t watched the interview or read portions of it, I recommend doing so. Links:

1. The Guardian article by Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, and Laura Poitras on Snowden.

2. The Guardian interview. (See also the embedded youtube video above.)

Some attention will now be devoted to attacking the messenger, just as there have been efforts this past week to marginalize or discredit Greenwald. (See below.) I hope we don’t lose sight of the message.

I’m pleased to say that I was suggesting six weeks ago what some have said this past week in light of the NSA revelations—that the government can offer the ultimate cloud service. As I wrote then, “Isn’t it great to know they’re backing up all our email? … Why don’t they offer to charge us a fee for access to old data?”

As for Greenwald, it’s fascinating to observe how the mainstream press has turned on him. Thursday’s NYT had an extraordinary profile by Noam Cohen and Leslie Kaufman identifying Greenwald as a blogger, even though all his disclosures were published in The Guardian, a newspaper founded three decades before the NYT (1821 versus 1851). Not that there’s anything wrong with bloggers, but that’s another issue. The profile ends with the following gratuitous attacks.

His writing has made him a frequent target from ideological foes who accuse him of excusing terrorism or making false comparisons between, for example, Western governments’ drone strikes, and terrorist attacks like the one in Boston.

Gabriel Schoenfeld, a national security expert and senior fellow at the Hudson Institute who is often on the opposite ends of issues from Mr. Greenwald, called him, “a highly professional apologist for any kind of anti-Americanism no matter how extreme.”

Mr. Sullivan wrote in an e-mail: “I think he has little grip on what it actually means to govern a country or run a war. He’s a purist in a way that, in my view, constrains the sophistication of his work.”

Ms. Bailey has a slightly different take. Because of his passions, she said, “he is just as willing to make enemies of anybody.”

The next day, Sullivan (the ultimate political blogger) released the exchange he had with the NYT’s Leslie Kaufman. Check it out here. She asks if they can chat, he says he has no time until Monday or Tuesday, though he can reply by email. She responds:

Needed in the next two hours, daily deadlines and whatnot.

So if you can:
1) He obviously had strong opinions, but how is he as a journalist? Reliable? Honest? Quotes you accurately? Accurately describes your positions? Or is more advocate than journalist?
2) He says you are a friend, is this so? I get the sense that he is something of a loner and has the kind of uncompromising opinions that makes it hard to keep friends, but could be wrong.

So that’s how journalism is done! Pretty revealing. Wait till we get the character assassinations of Snowden.

Categories: Journalism, Law, Politics

Scalia Dissent

June 9, 2013 Leave a comment

scaliadissent

I learned last week that like the stopped clock that’s right twice a day, Supreme Court Justice Scalia is right, too, when given the passage of sufficient time. The court decided last Monday in a 5-4 decision that

police may take DNA samples from people arrested in connection with serious crimes … .

The federal government and 28 states authorize the practice, and law enforcement officials say it is a valuable tool for investigating unsolved crimes. But the court said the testing was justified by a different reason: to identify the suspect in custody.

“When officers make an arrest supported by probable cause to hold for a serious offense and they bring the suspect to the station to be detained in custody,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority, “taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.”

Justice Antonin Scalia summarized his dissent from the bench, a rare move signaling deep disagreement. He accused the majority of an unsuccessful sleight of hand, one that “taxes the credulity of the credulous.” The point of DNA testing as it is actually practiced, he said, is to solve cold cases, not to identify the suspect in custody.

But the Fourth Amendment forbids searches without reasonable suspicion to gather evidence about an unrelated crime, he said, a point the majority did not dispute. “Make no mistake about it: because of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason,” Justice Scalia said from the bench.

Justice Kennedy’s decision and Justice Scalia’s dissent (joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan) can be found here. I’ll quote two passages from the dissent, with references removed. (The missing references can be found in the linked document.)

First, early on:

The Court alludes at several points to the fact that King was an arrestee, and arrestees may be validly searched incident to their arrest. But the Court does not really rest on this principle, and for good reason: The objects of a search incident to arrest must be either (1) weapons or evidence that might easily be destroyed, or (2) evidence relevant to the crime of arrest. Neither is the object of the search at issue here.

The Court hastens to clarify that it does not mean to approve invasive surgery on arrestees or warrantless searches of their homes. That the Court feels the need to disclaim these consequences is as damning a criticism of its suspicionless-search regime as any I can muster. And the Court’s attempt to distinguish those hypothetical searches from this real one is unconvincing. We are told that the “privacy-related concerns” in the search of a home “are weighty enough that the search may require a warrant, notwithstanding the diminished expectations of privacy of the arrestee.” But why are the “privacy-related concerns” not also “weighty” when an intrusion into the body is at stake? (The Fourth Amendment lists “persons” first among the entities protected against unreasonable searches and seizures.) And could the police engage, without any suspicion of wrongdoing, in a “brief and … minimal” intrusion into the home of an arrestee-perhaps just peeking around the curtilage a bit? Obviously not.

At any rate, all this discussion is beside the point. No matter the degree of invasiveness, suspicionless searches are never allowed if their principal end is ordinary crime-solving. A search incident to arrest either serves other ends (such as officer safety, in a search for weapons) or is not suspicionless (as when there is reason to believe the arrestee possesses evidence relevant to the crime of arrest).

Sensing (correctly) that it needs more, the Court elaborates at length the ways that the search here served the special purpose of “identifying” King. But that seems to me quite wrong-unless what one means by “identifying” someone is “searching for evidence that he has committed crimes unrelated to the crime of his arrest.” At points the Court does appear to use “identifying” in that peculiar sense-claiming, for example, that knowing “an arrestee’s past conduct is essential to an assessment of the danger he poses.” If identifying someone means finding out what unsolved crimes he has committed, then identification is indistinguishable from the ordinary law-enforcement aims that have never been thought to justify a suspicionless search. Searching every lawfully stopped car, for example, might turn up information about unsolved crimes the driver had committed, but no one would say that such a search was aimed at “identifying” him, and no court would hold such a search lawful. I will therefore assume that the Court means that the DNA search at issue here was useful to “identify” King in the normal sense of that word-in the sense that would identify the author of Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation as Jeremy Bentham.

And in conclusion:

The most regrettable aspect of the suspicionless search that occurred here is that it proved to be quite unnecessary. All parties concede that it would have been entirely permissible, as far as the Fourth Amendment is concerned, for Maryland to take a sample of King’s DNA as a consequence of his conviction for second-degree assault. So the ironic result of the Court’s error is this: The only arrestees to whom the outcome here will ever make a difference are those who have been acquitted of the crime of arrest (so that their DNA could not have been taken upon conviction). In other words, this Act manages to burden uniquely the sole group for whom the Fourth Amendment ‘s protections ought to be most jealously guarded: people who are innocent of the State’s accusations.

Today’s judgment will, to be sure, have the beneficial effect of solving more crimes; then again, so would the taking of DNA samples from anyone who flies on an airplane (surely the Transportation Security Administration needs to know the “identity” of the flying public), applies for a driver’s license, or attends a public school. Perhaps the construction of such a genetic panopticon is wise. But I doubt that the proud men who wrote the charter of our liberties would have been so eager to open their mouths for royal inspection.

What a great closing sentence!

Categories: Law

French Open Blackout

June 7, 2013 Leave a comment
Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal

A historic tennis match is taking place right now at the French Open and I’m not watching it. It’s the men’s semifinal between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, the two best players in the world. Nadal, the greatest clay court player ever, is going for his eighth French Open title, Djokovic his first in what would complete a career grand slam.

As I write, Nadal just broke Djokovic in a deuce game in the fifth set to even the set and match. Nadal served for the match twice in the fourth set, only to be broken twice and lose in a tiebreaker. It looked like Djokovic would go on to win the fifth set, but now the set is even at 4-4. All this I’m gleaning from watching the live scores.

Why am I not watching the match on TV? Because NBC are complete a–holes. They could leave ESPN to broadcast it, as ESPN broadcast the women’s semifinals yesterday. (Not that I’m capable of watching when Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka contest one of their shriek-a-thons, but that’s another matter.) Instead, as a warmup for weekend finals coverage, NBC grabs hold of the men’s semifinals and then delay it so as not to interfere with Today.

Look, if Today is so important to your financial model, fine, show it. Just let us watch the tennis on ESPN. Obviously you don’t care about it. You don’t expect people to watch it five hours later, in the middle of a workday. Tennis history is being made, and you’re content to make us watch it on our DVRs tonight. Thanks a lot.

Meanwhile, the score now is 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3), 6-6, with Nadal’s numbers first. No tiebreaker in fifth sets at Roland-Garros. This could go on a while.

Categories: Television, Tennis

Our Sweet Emma

June 4, 2013 Leave a comment
Emma, June 1, 2013

Emma, June 1, 2013

Emma turned 17 six weeks ago. As I wrote at the time, “just getting up onto the bed is chore enough … but Emma remains determined to get around. … She’s a tough old gal.”

About a week ago, getting around became even more difficult. She was spending more and more time on her heated mat. Friday night, when I watched her head out the back door to the yard, her rear legs were noticeably stiffer than usual, and the next morning, she struggled to walk down the hall to her bowls.

Thus, it was with surprise—and delight—that I watched her work her way down the stairs later in the morning and head out the back door. At which point the mean Stellar’s jay started harassing her, flying from branch to branch and screaming at her. Emma retreated under some shrubbery and hung out there for a while, then emerged, at which point Gail carried her back into the house. I opened the front door and she hobbled right out. Soon she settled into a location where we don’t usually find her, under some more shrubbery, as shown above. (Look closely and you’ll see her eyes.) There she sat in the sun and relaxed.

We had some errands to run, so we left her there, where she was a half hour later on our return, and another twenty minutes after that. Then she came in and worked her way upstairs to her mat. In late afternoon, she came down again and headed out back. There was still life in her.

The thing is, she wasn’t eating much, and on Sunday she ate nothing at all. Nor did she get off her mat. Yesterday morning, I went upstairs at one point and was surprised that she wasn’t on the mat. Gail and I searched the entire house. Then Gail went out the back door and the jay’s clicking sound was in evidence, suggesting that Emma was out there somewhere. We looked under the shrubs again, but this time she was hiding in full view on the patio, sunning herself.

Yet, she wasn’t eating, and walking was hard, so Gail made an appointment with the vet for this afternoon. I had some meetings I couldn’t re-schedule, meaning Gail had to bring Emma on her own.

Emma weighed in at 4 1/2 pounds. The kidney disease we were warned about in its early stages two Decembers ago and in a more advanced stage last December had taken its toll. I got to the vet around 5:00, an hour and a half ago. Gail and Jessica were with Emma. We spent some time saying goodbye. As I petted her, she licked my wrist and made some noises. Still engaged in life, though no longer up to living it.

And now our dear, sweet, beautiful cat is gone. We miss you so much, Emma.

Categories: Cats, Family

Antiques Roadshow at the Burke

June 2, 2013 Leave a comment
Dzoonokwa Mask, George Walkus. Wood, paint, and human hair.  From the Burke Museum.

Dzoonokwa Mask, George Walkus. Wood, paint, and human hair. From the Burke Museum.

The PBS hit series Antiques Roadshow came to Seattle recently, with an episode that aired just last week. During their visit, they stopped at my favorite museum, the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. (It’s a state museum, and it’s on the University of Washington campus. Come visit!) In hour three of the episode, as explained at the show’s website, “host Mark L. Walberg discusses Northwest Coast Indian masks with appraiser Ted Trotta at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.”

No need to watch the full show. Just click here to see the two-and-a-half-minute Burke snippet. I’m sorry I can’t embed it, but just click and enjoy. The mask pictured above is one of the two featured. You can read a little more and get additional views of the mask here.

Categories: Museums, Television

Methland

June 2, 2013 Leave a comment

methland

A few years ago, my friend Werner had just finished Nick Reding’s Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town and told me about it over lunch, urging me to read it as well. I looked at reviews, downloaded the free opening portion to my Kindle, and decided it was too bleak to jump into just yet. It sat on my reading list for a year, then fell off.

The other night, Gail and I had just watched a show on TV via Netflix and I was looking for something else to watch when I stumbled on the suggestion of Breaking Bad, the soon-to-end AMC cable series that began in 2008 but that we had never watched before. It’s about a high school chemistry teacher in Albuquerque who becomes a methamphetamine maker. I knew it was well regarded and decided to see what the fuss was about.

As we watched the pilot, the Reding book came to mind, and my curiosity was piqued anew. I downloaded the free opening portion, this time reading it in full, downloading the full book so I could keep reading.*

I’m a little past the halfway point now and the book is indeed bleak. Here is the description at its website:

Methland tells the heroic story of the small town of Oelwein, Iowa–and, through it, the story of drug abuse in Rural America. Once a railroad, meat-packing, and farming hub, Oelwein has been battered by the Farm Crisis and decimated by job losses. More recently, thanks to the lobbying of pharmaceutical companies in Washington, D.C., record amounts of methamphetamine, aka crank or crystal meth, are available on Oelwein’s streets. Like thousands of other small towns across the United States, the drug’s production has become one of Oelwein’s principal business. Now, the town doctor, the mayor, and the prosecutor are fighting back.

Journalist and native Midwesterner Nick Reding spent four years living off and on in Oelwein. Along with the book’s three principal characters, Methland follows the traffickers, addicts, federal agents, and politicians whose lives make up a uniquely contemporary American tragedy, blending sociology, history, and thousands of hours of eyewitness reporting into a real-life account that reads like a novel.

Reding is at his best in recounting the lives of Oelwein’s residents, as well as important characters from outside Oelwein. There’s many a haunting story. I’m less happy about Reding’s tendency to repeat himself when discussing his larger socio-economic themes, with insufficient detail to back up his points. But maybe the detail is still to come.

Then there’s the incredible annoyance—not Reding’s fault—of the poor Kindle rendering. What’s up with these publishers? Is it so darn hard to do this well? Especially frustrating is the recurrence of words with spaces inserted.

Try this sentence out, from the book’s first paragraph, in which the author imagines spotting Oelwein as he looks down from a plane en route from Chicago to San Francisco:

Briefly, you can look at this photographic image of a town, imagining the lives of the people there with voyeuris tic plea sure.

I spent some moments imagining that “plea sure” is some kind of legal jargon.

Or this, in an account of a meth addict living with his parents:

One night Major stole his mother’s pan ties and bras and hocked them at a bar.

I might have unwound the meaning of “pan ties” more quickly if it didn’t happen to come at the end of a line, allowing me a moment to stare at it in puzzlement before taking in the subsequent two words for context. I was going to ask Gail if we had any pan ties in the kitchen and what we used them for.

Major and his parents, by the way, live in In dependence, Iowa. Or so it says about a half dozen times.

As for Reding’s larger theme, here’s one description.

What continued to take shape for me was the portrait of a town that stood as a metaphor for all of rural America and its problems. That’s to say that the evolution of the meth epidemic had occurred in lockstep with the three separate economic trends that had contributed to the dissolution of small-town United States. By looking closely at the events of 2006, one can see the parallel trajectories of meth and small-town economics—the one rising, the other falling … . And the things that spurred this simultaneous rise and fall: the development of Big Pharmaceuticals, Big Agriculture, and the modern Mexican drug-trafficking business.

Again, I look forward to the details.

And here is the opening paragraph of Walter Kirn’s NYT book review four years ago:

Think globally, suffer locally. This could be the moral of “Methland,” Nick Reding’s unnerving investigative account of two gruesome years in the life of Oelwein, Iowa, a railroad and meatpacking town of several thousand whipped by a methamphetamine-laced panic whose origins lie outside the place itself, in forces almost too great to comprehend and too pitiless to bear. The ravages of meth, or “crank,” on Oelwein and countless forsaken locales much like it are shown to be merely superficial symptoms of a vaster social dementia caused by, among other things, the iron dominion of corporate agriculture and the slow melting of villages and families into the worldwide financial stew.

I look forward to learning more.

*Not really the full book. Boy these sorts of things are annoying. The paperback edition, which I suppose came out about a year after the hardcover, has an afterword. I know this because before I downloaded the free Kindle sample, I looked at the Table of Contents that Amazon previews at the print book webpage, in order to see how long the book was, and there was the Afterword. I imagine Reding provided an update, or a look back, before the paperback came out. But three years later, it’s beyond the power of Amazon or the publisher to offer a revised Kindle version.

Categories: Books

Safeco Diamond Club

June 2, 2013 Leave a comment

felix

I haven’t gone to many Mariners baseball games in recent years. Until last weekend, the last time I was at Safeco Field was almost two years ago. The year before, my brother-in-law Jim had won an employee contest that had allowed him to pick a game the next season for which he would have full rights to a suite. He chose a Saturday night game on July 2, to celebrate his and Tamara’s 20th anniversary, and invited the family. (I wrote about it here.) That was our lone game that season, and then we managed to let last season pass without a game.

I’ve already written about the game we went to last weekend, in the context of its being Felix Hernandez bobblehead doll night. What I didn’t explain is that we had Diamond Club tickets. This was our friend Judy’s idea.

Judy and her family have had season tickets behind home plate since 1977, the Mariners’ first season. We’ve been fortunate to join Judy for many games, both at the Kingdome and at Safeco. The seats are maybe fifteen rows back from the field. The last couple of times we went, I noticed that people seated in the first few rows had food served to them at their seats. I didn’t know what the deal was. Now I do. It’s the Diamond Club.

What Judy suggested to Gail is that we choose a game for which she had tickets and she would trade them in for Diamond Club seats. The Diamond Club consists of the first eight rows behind home plate in the two sections immediately left and right of the line that runs from the pitcher’s mound and home plate straight into the stands, as well as the first eight rows of the two sections just left and right of these two. (The outer two sections run into the sides of the dugouts, and so aren’t very wide.) But more than that, the club consists of the space under the stands in these sections, with a restaurant, a bar, and more.

One enters the club from outside by going to the ticket takers at the southwest corner of Safeco, walking through an area that leads up to the stands, and then showing tickets again at the club entrance in order to be admitted. Inside the door, you are greeted, given an overview if you haven’t been in the club before, and shown to a restaurant table. It’s buffet eating, but first you can order drinks at your table before heading to the food.

Everything, I should add, is included in the price of the ticket. And these tickets aren’t cheap, though Judy pointed out that one could pay almost as much just for the seating in the stands, so it’s a pretty good deal. One doesn’t have to eat and drink to excess to feel like one has gotten one’s money worth.

The buffet is set up in an upper level surrounding restaurant tables. Then there’s a lower level with the bar, booth seating along a wall (where we were), and still more seating down around the bend. We ordered our drinks, then took our plates and headed back up to see what our options were. At one table, a man was making crab cakes in a frying pan. At another, there was mashed potatoes, asparagus, and barbecued ribs. Maybe fish too. I have to say, I should have written this post a week ago. I’m forgetting. Next, there was a man carving turkey and slicing meatloaf. Around the bend, on another wall, was Caesar salad, an array of fresh and roast vegetables, fruit, potato chips, and lots more. Then came desserts, which we didn’t look at closely until later. One table had a chocolate fountain with bananas and strawberries for dipping or coating. And along a counter were seven or eight cakes and pies to choose from.

Hard not to eat to excess. And from our booth, we could see a large grab-and-go center for people to get food to bring to the stands, or to come in from the stands for. Bratwurst, pizza, pretzels. And about a dozen candy dispensers on the wall.

There was a refrigerator behind our booth. It took me a while to realize that this was for our use too, filled with water and soda. This is all near one of the openings to the stands. By the next opening was a popcorn station, with hot butter too. And the next opening had boxes of candy of various types along with a soft ice cream dispenser. Oh, back by the brats and pizza were bags of caramel chocolate popcorn and some other type of popcorn. It’s really too much.

Game time was 7:10, with the club opening a couple of hours ahead of time. We were there shortly after opening, and at our seats an hour ahead of game time. The seats were in the seventh of the eight Diamond Club rows, about six to eight seats in from the center line. Which means we had a pretty darned good view of everything, including all the people milling around behind home plate for the pre-game activities. A boy and his dad who would go out to centerfield to catch balls shot from a machine in order to win assorted prizes. A boy who threw a ceremonial first pitch. Later, a group of kids from some school in Federal Way who were marched out just in front to sing the Star-Spangled Banner. But before all that, we caught the tail end of Rangers batting practice, with Rangers manager Ron Washington leaning against the batting cage watching his charges.

And did I mention the food? Yes, we could go back in any time for the grab-and-go offerings. But we also had menus at our seats from which we could order burgers, hot dogs, ice cream, drinks, and more, which would be brought to us by the next half inning. The sandwich special that night was a cheesesteak that I had my heart set on when we read about it on arriving at the club. However, after the dinner we ate, it simply wasn’t possible. I did eat some of Gail’s chocolate caramel corn. And I couldn’t resist grabbing a box of gummy bears on our way to the seats. That pretty much did me in. No cheesesteak for me.

The game? Oh yeah. We didn’t pay just to eat. We paid to see baseball. And so we did. There’s Felix Hernandez, at the top of the post throwing a pitch. The photo gives a better sense of where we were seated than my words provide. Great location.

But Felix had an off night, was hit hard, and we lost. A bleak game. Plus, a totally unrelated issue arose in an early inning and I found myself distracted for about two innings in a series of texts with Joel, despite his protestations that I should just enjoy the game and get back to him afterward.

I don’t imagine we’ll be getting back to the club soon. When we do—if we do—I might go for the seats farthest away from the center, over by one or the other dugout. For one thing, they’re just far enough off center to be beyond the screen that protects us from foul balls, offering a clearer view. A first- or second-row seat there would be pretty cool. And I might space out my eating better, so I’ll have room to eat the sandwich special at my seat.

Categories: Baseball, Food