Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Jordan on Seaver in Calistoga

December 15, 2013 Leave a comment


I read a great piece yesterday by Pat Jordan, one-time pitching prospect turned writer, in which he describes a visit to old friend Tom Seaver, one-time pitching great turned winemaker. Seaver and his wife, Nancy, live in Calistoga, California, where they run Seaver Vineyards.

Seaver Vineyards produces Cabernet Sauvignon in limited production of between 400-500 cases per year. Grown on a south facing slope on Diamond Mountain, our wine is made from 3 different clones (a 4th clone planted in 2009 will be incorporated into the 2011 vintage) grown on our 3.5 acre vineyard.

The 2005 vintage was our inaugural vintage, released in 2008. Beginning with the ’05 vintage we have offered two bottlings of our Cabernet, GTS and Nancy’s Fancy, mainly because the characteristics of the grapes grown on the smaller hill of the vineyard have been very different than those grown on the big hill.

We were in Calistoga in October, 2008. On the last full day of our visit to Healdsburg, which lies across the mountains in Sonoma County, we decided to venture over to the Napa Valley between winery visits. It was a beautiful drive, bringing us down into Calistoga, where we ate lunch, then visited the Sharpsteen Museum of Calistoga History. (I took the photo up top as we were getting back in the car after lunch to drive around town, stumbling on the museum during the drive.) As I read Jordan’s description of the Seavers’ home on Diamond Mountain, I imagined that I had looked up at it from town.

The Jordan article has many delights, even for readers who aren’t baseball fans, though especially for those who care about baseball. Seaver’s insights are fascinating. It’s a surprise to realize that Seaver didn’t make all that much from his baseball days, despite being one of the greatest pitchers ever. He did well, of course, but an order of magnitude less well than today’s stars. He wasn’t a multimillionaire buying an existing successful venture as a hobby. Rather, he bought undeveloped land and made a go of it from scratch as a real business.

I hesitate to quote from the article, as I don’t want to spoil its pleasures. Go read it.

Categories: Sports, Wine, Writing

Apparently Not

December 1, 2013 Leave a comment


Two weeks ago tonight, in the post I’m Back, I apologized for the longest hiatus in the five years of Ron’s View.

The longer I go without writing, the larger my list of overdue items and the harder it is to get back in the rhythm. Being in San Francisco two weekends ago (for a wedding) and New York/Chicago last weekend (for family, then business) made it difficult to find time to write. Yet, the trips gave me more to write about. And this weekend had its own major event, which perhaps I’ll get to at some point.

It appears that I was premature in my announcement, in part due to the major event to which I referred, which would be my mother-in-law Bea’s death two weeks ago. That led a week ago to another eventful weekend, with pre-funeral dinner on Friday, funeral and dinner on Saturday, post-funeral immediate family dinner Sunday. And this weekend, well, Thanksgiving has brought more family events. It’s been a full month.

Tonight I’ll see if I can start catching up. I’ll begin here with a photo (up top) from our walk through Central Park three weekends ago, as we were heading to the Frick. You may recognize the remote-controlled model sailboats as the rentals available at the park’s Conservatory Water.

Categories: Life, Writing

I’m Back

November 17, 2013 Leave a comment
Golden Gate from Lincoln Park, San Francisco

Golden Gate from Lincoln Park, San Francisco

In the five years of Ron’s View, this is by far my longest hiatus. Sorry about that. The longer I go without writing, the larger my list of overdue items and the harder it is to get back in the rhythm. Being in San Francisco two weekends ago (for a wedding) and New York/Chicago last weekend (for family, then business) made it difficult to find time to write. Yet, the trips gave me more to write about. And this weekend had its own major event, which perhaps I’ll get to at some point.

In any case, here I am. Topics I may get to eventually:

1. Paul Schneider’s new book Old Man River: The Mississippi River in North American History, which I finished three nights ago.

2. John McPhee’s Encounters with the Archdruid, his classic of four decades ago, which I’ve been reading intermittently.

3. Ian Rankin’s latest John Rebus crime novel, Saints of the Shadow Bible, which was just released in the UK and arrived by post two days ago. (I couldn’t wait for its US publication in mid-January.)

4. Dinner at Cafe Tiramisu in San Francisco.

5. A visit to San Francisco’s de Young Museum the next day, with a focus on its fabulous American art collection.

6. A Sunday morning drive over the bridge to Sausalito, with an unexpected “grass is greener on the other side” tale.

7. The happy coincidence of our New York trip and the arrival at the Frick of the exhibition Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Hals: Masterpieces of Dutch Painting from the Mauritshuis, which we attended last weekend.

8. The joys of my eleventh annual November overnight trip to the O’Hare Hilton, where I was eating dinner at Andiamo a week ago now.

I will surely write more about some of these items.

Categories: Books, Travel, Writing

Nothing New Under the Sun

September 22, 2013 1 comment


The big domestic political news a few days ago was the House vote to make deep cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP (food stamps). This was a follow up to the House Republicans’ decision earlier in the summer to separate SNAP from the farm bill and approve ongoing subsidies to farmers. And this despite the fact that the cost is minimal, the benefits enormous. I mean, food!

According to the Congressional Budget Office, nearly four million people would be removed from the food stamp program under the House bill starting next year. The budget office said after that, about three million a year would be cut off from the program.

The budget office said that, left unchanged, the number of food stamp recipients would decline by about 14 million people — or 30 percent — over the next 10 years as the economy improves. A Census Bureau report released on Tuesday found that the program had kept about four million people above the poverty level and had prevented millions more from sinking further into poverty. The census data also showed nearly 47 million people living in poverty — close to the highest level in two decades.

Historically, the food stamp program has been part of the farm bill, a huge piece of legislation that had routinely been passed every five years, authorizing financing for the nation’s farm and nutrition programs. But in July, House leaders split the bill’s farm and nutrition sections into separate measures, passing the farm legislation over Democrats’ objections.

The move came after the House rejected a proposed farm bill that would have cut $20 billion from the food stamp program. Conservative lawmakers helped kill the bill, saying the program needed deeper cuts.

I don’t quote Paul Krugman often. You don’t need me to find him. But he nailed it in his blog yesterday.

The idea that food stamps represent a problem — not a small blessing that has made this ongoing economic disaster marginally less awful — represents an awesome combination of ignorance and cruelty.

See too this passage five decades ago from Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 (courtesy of Atrios in a post yesterday in which he added the comment, “Our politics never changes”).

Major Major’s father was a sober God-fearing man whose idea of a good joke was to lie about his age. He was a longlimbed farmer, a God-fearing, freedom-loving, law-abiding rugged individualist who held that federal aid to anyone but farmers was creeping socialism. He advocated thrift and hard work and disapproved of loose women who turned him down. His specialty was alfalfa, and he made a good thing out of not growing any. The government paid him well for every bushel of alfalfa he did not grow. The more alfalfa he did not grow, the more money the government gave him, and he spent every penny he didn’t earn on new land to increase the amount of alfalfa he did not produce. Major Major’s father worked without rest at not growing alfalfa. On long winter evenings he remained indoors and did not mend harness, and he sprang out of bed at the crack of noon every day just to make certain that the chores would not be done. He invested in land wisely and soon was not growing more alfalfa than any other man in the county. Neighbors sought him out for advice on all subjects, for he had made much money and was therefore wise. “As ye sow, so shall ye reap,” he counseled one and all, and everyone said, “Amen.”

Major Major’s father was an outspoken champion of economy in government, provided it did not interfere with the sacred duty of government to pay farmers as much as they could get for all the alfalfa they produced that no one else wanted or for not producing any alfalfa at all. He was a proud and independent man who was opposed to unemployment insurance and never hesitated to whine, whimper, wheedle and extort for as much as he could get from whomever he could.

Categories: Politics, Writing

Policy Change

September 22, 2013 Leave a comment


So many posts to write. So little time. I’ve been thinking for a while of a policy change here at Ron’s View: shorter posts.

I’ve generally not wanted simply to link to an article, or quote from one, though I do that from time to time. I try to add something of value. Or maybe not of value, but at least of myself. However, the posts just aren’t pouring out.

Therefore, I am announcing a change. I’m going to be writing shorter and less-thought-out posts. If I have more to say, I can always return to the topic.

Let’s see if I can turn out a few posts this evening under the new policy.

Categories: Writing

Slow Days

May 12, 2013 Leave a comment
Ohio State beating Towson today

Ohio State beating Towson today

Quiet days at Ron’s View. Sorry about that. It seems to be the unavoidable consequence of having houseguests for an extended period and starting a kitchen remodel at the same time. Tom and Carol were in from Edinburgh, Tom for 8 days and Carol for 16. And Joel made it to Seattle for a few days in the middle.

Carol, the last to leave, returned to Edinburgh Thursday, which should have freed up some time. But as I explained the other night in my NCAA men’s lacrosse preview, I had eight lacrosse games to watch yesterday and today. Plus the men’s golf Player’s Championship, which Tiger won in dramatic fashion late this afternoon.

Oh, and today’s Mother’s Day. Dinner out. A visit to Gail’s mother.

Not conducive to writing much. I’ll see what I can do about catching up in the next few days.

Categories: Writing

Angell Reflections

November 18, 2012 Leave a comment

When I got home Thursday evening, I paged through the newly arrived New Yorker and found a short piece by Roger Angell, which I immediately read. In it, Angell writes movingly about his late wife Carol, in ways I can’t intelligently capture except by quoting. And even then I would do Angell a disservice, as the piece should be read in full.

Alas, the online version is behind the New Yorker’s paywall, so the link to it won’t get you very far unless you’re a subscriber. If you are, read it. If not, though I have misgivings about quoting fragments, here’s a taste:

What the dead don’t know piles up, though we don’t notice it at first. They don’t know how we’re getting along without them, of course, dealing with the hours and days that now accrue so quickly, and, unless they divined this somehow in advance, they don’t know that we don’t want this inexorable onslaught of breakfasts and phone calls and going to the bank, all this stepping along, because we don’t want anything extraneous to get in the way of what we feel about them or the ways we want to hold them in mind. But they’re in a hurry too, or so it seems. Because nothing is happening with them, they are flying away, over that wall, while we are still chained and handcuffed to the weather and the iPhone, to the hurricane and the election and to the couple that’s recently moved in downstairs, in Apartment 2-S, with a young daughter and a new baby girl, and we’re flying off in the opposite direction at a million miles an hour. It would take many days now, just to fill Carol in.

What Carol doesn’t know now is shocking, let’s face it, and I think even her best friends must find themselves thinking about her with a certain new softness or sweetness, as if she were a bit backward. Carol, try to keep up a little, can’t you?

Categories: Life, Writing

Sentence of the Week

August 18, 2012 Leave a comment

‘View from the Dunes with Beach and Piers, Domburg’, Piet Mondrian, 1909, Museum of Modern Art

Tomorrow’s NYT travel section has a piece by Freda Moon on Domburg, the Dutch North Sea resort where Piet Mondrian once spent his summers. Or, as Moon explains,

From 1908 to 1916, Mondrian spent summers (and some winters) in Domburg, before moving to New York in 1940.

Am I missing something? I suppose something went wrong in the editing process, but this is a strange sentence, isn’t it?

It does appear that Mondrian moved to New York in 1940, and that his last year in Domburg was 1916, so the details are correct. Just juxtaposed oddly.

Categories: Art, Writing

The Dying Art of Fact Checking, II

March 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Y.A. Tittle, September 1964, against the Pittsburgh Steelers

[Morris Berman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]

In my previous post, I described an annoying error of fact in the book I am now reading, Jim Baggott’s The Quantum Story: A History in 40 Moments. Baggott’s error was to describe the great Norwegian mathematician Sophus Lie as having lived in the eighteenth century when, in fact, Lie lived entirely in the nineteenth. Baggott may make other errors in the book, but in this case he erred on a subject I know something about. I don’t know much. I do know Lie theory.

If I were to list my areas of expertise, included would also be the New York Giants professional football team of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Imagine my dismay, then, when I stumbled on an error about the Giants just minutes after the Lie biographical error.

No, not in The Quantum Story. The Lie error had so bugged me that I had put the book aside. Moments later, the mailman dropped testerday’s mail in our slot. I got up, brought it in, was delighted to find the new issue of The New York Review of Books, and began reading Nicholas Lemann’s review of Howard Cosell: The Man, The Myth, and the Transformation of American Sports, a new book by Mark Ribowsky. (If you follow the link to Lemann’s review, you’ll discover that it’s behind a paywall. Sorry.) The following passage stopped me dead.

Big-time sports is deeply woven into the texture of American society. They evolve in tandem. Can anybody name the heavyweight boxing champion of the world? Boxing still exists, but it has begun to feel like a cultural artifact from the vanished heyday of the American working class. Football is much more distinctively American than boxing—attempts to export it have mainly failed—and its triumph in popularity and commerce over all other sports is a little mysterious. The heavily armored players are hard to see, it’s violent, the action is highly sporadic, and the teams play fewer games than in any other major professional sport. Whatever the reason for its success, to maintain its position football has to absorb all the main currents of the culture as they present themselves.

David Halberstam was killed in an auto accident while on his way to interview Y.A. Tittle, the New York Giants quarterback in the 1958 National Football League` championship game against the Baltimore Colts, a muddy cliffhanger known as “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” Halberstam’s book on the game, had he lived to write it, would surely have noted that the great majority of the players were white, grimly determined, and not very well paid (their number included Howard Cosell’s future broadcasting partner Frank Gifford).

Today fewer than a third of NFL players are white, though whites still dominate some positions, like quarterback and kicker. Star quarterbacks can make more than $10 million a year. Linemen are enormous three-hundred-pounders, receivers have sculpted, tattooed bodies and do flashy little dances in the end zone when they score touchdowns, and stadiums are filled with luxurious touches like indoor box seats for high rollers. The exciting pass, not the dutiful run, dominates the game. Coaches use the latest information and communications devices to decide which plays to run and to get them to the players on the field. Everything that happens in American popular culture, marketing, ethnicity, and technology seems to manifest itself on the field.

Did you catch the error? Geez. I mean, we’re talking about one of the four or five most famous games in the history of professional football. Maybe no longer considered the greatest, but among them. I might put Super Bowl III up there with it in terms of impact on the sport’s history. Even if one wasn’t there, even if one didn’t watch it or a tape of it, even if one doesn’t even care, it wouldn’t take a lot of effort to check whether Y.A. Tittle was actually the Giants’ quarterback that day.

I can assure you that he wasn’t. In fact, he wasn’t even on the team. He played for the San Francisco 49ers through the 1960 season, joining the Giants for the 1961 season and then leading them to three consecutive championship games, losing to the Packers in 1961 and 1962, the Bears in 1963.

I don’t need to look this up. I lived it, following every moment of every Giant game in those days, glued to the radio as Marty Glickman* called them, most memorably Tittle’s seven touchdown pass game. But one doesn’t need to live it. One can look it up. Given the ordinarily reliable Lemann’s apparent ignorance of football history, he should have.

*I knew nothing then of Glickman’s own story, as a member of the US 4×100 relay team in the 1936 Berlin Olympics who the US team decided to keep out of the race to avoid offending Hitler, Glickman being Jewish.

Categories: Writing

The Dying Art of Fact Checking

March 4, 2012 Leave a comment

I mentioned last week that I had begun reading Jim Baggott’s The Quantum Story: A History in 40 Moments, inspired by Jeremy Bernstein’s WSJ review just short of a year ago. I’m on moment #25 now, having made it from Max Planck’s introduction of quantized energy in Berlin in 1900 to Sheldon Glashow’s introduction of the charm quark at Harvard in February 1970.*

*Speaking of which, I was there! February 1970 would have been the start of spring semester of my freshman year. I was taking the honors freshman physics course. No one bothered to tell me that exciting developments were going on right around me. From where I sat, physics was pretty darn boring.

The Quantum Story has been interesting, but it’s a puzzle what Baggott assumes of his readers. He doesn’t explain much. I suppose you’re actually supposed to know the physics already. It helps, for instance, to know about the strong and weak forces, which appear on the scene quite suddenly, as the book shifts from the oft-repeated history of the early days of quantum theory through World War II to quantum electrodynamics, electro-weak theory, and high energy experimental physics. I was happily reading about the good old days of Franck, Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, and Schrödinger, then the war comes and suddenly they have left the stage, supplanted by Feynman and Dyson, Weinberg and Glashow. The material on the Bohr-Einstein debates about quantum mechanics are well told. Einstein comes off as a huge pest, a meddling nay-sayer whose best days are behind him, mucking up the works by making everyone stop to listen to his latest criticisms. Also well told is the story of Heisenberg’s ambiguous allegiance to Nazi Germany and its atomic bomb effort, which he was either actively leading or discouraging. After the war, the book seems to lose its narrative thread.

But I’m here to tell a different story, the sad story of the dying art of fact checking. Moment 20 takes place in Princeton in 1954. It’s a technical tale, about the strong force, quantum field theory, and the work of Chen Ning Yang. To get there, Baggott, backs up to talk about earlier work of Hermann Weyl, one of the giants of twentieth-century mathematics and a hero of mine. Like any mathematician who has done any work in the field known as representation theory of Lie groups, I am greatly in Weyl’s debt. Lie groups are the very objects that became crucial to further developments in quantum physics. Baggott explains that

Weyl had worked on the representation theory of types of symmetry groups called Lie groups, named for the eighteenth century Norwegian mathematician Sophus Lie.

Sigh. This is mostly true. The problem is, Sophus Lie didn’t live in the eighteenth century. He was born near the end of 1842 and died in early 1899. And anyone with the slightest knowledge of the history of mathematics would know that the objects named after Lie couldn’t possibly have come into existence in the eighteenth century, unless some mathematician headed back in a time machine.

It’s discouraging. In Bernstein’s rave review of the book, he writes that Baggott “manages to get the people right. I know this because for many of the scenes he describes I was there.” I suspect Bernstein doesn’t have Lie’s time in mind.

Baggott continues, in the very next sentence, with what I consider another clunker.

These are groups of continuous symmetry transformations, involving gradual change of one or more parameters rather than an instantaneous flipping from one form to another, as in a mirror reflection.

I realize this post isn’t the place to get technical, but Baggott’s sentence seems to confuse the continuous change of parameters defining elements of the group with the actions the group elements perform on space. Baggott follows with a description of the group U(1), which plays a role in the physics to follow, describing it (correctly) as the collection of rotations of the plane (or, say, a piece of paper) through all possible angles. This is “continuous” in the sense that one can move from one rotation angle to another smoothly through all angles. In contrast, the group consisting of just the 0 degree and 180 degree rotations would not be continuous, since one can’t go smoothly from doing nothing to doing the 180 degree rotation. I suppose Baggott understands that. But it’s not at all what he says. Even in a continuous or Lie group, the individual rotations do perform what he describes as “instantaneous flipping” from one form to another.

Maybe I’m just mis-reading him in his effort to explain mathematical concepts in ordinary language. It’s difficult to do. Then again, I have no idea why he even bothers trying, given all the other language he throws around at this point in the book with no explanation at all.

I’ll keep reading. I’m eager to learn more. But I’m also eager to get on to the next book.

Categories: Books, Writing