Thursday, December 28, 2006

Put a laurel crown over Exit Nine.

As I've noted here before, Rutgers played in, and won, the first college football game ever. But it's taken them 137 years to get their first bowl game victory. The boys from New Brunswick defeated those from Manhattan (Kansas, that is) by 37-10.

Meanwhile, on a different tectonic plate, a Florida State team that only managed to break even in its regular season beat UCLA by 44-27. Recalling that the Bruins beat Southern Cal by 13-9, a four point margin, and noting the Noles 17 point advantage over UCLA, can we conclude that FSU is better than USC by 21 points? No, no, no. Football teams are not elements of a well-ordered set.

Pre-title game update: Joey Johnston seems to be rethinking his earlier diss of the Gators.

A big "Thank you!" to Josh Levin, in Slate, for agreeing with me that the college game is more fun. (Now I'm kicking myself for missing the Fiesta Bowl.)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A white post-Christmas


On Christmas day, there was no snow to be seen in far northern New York State, where we were visiting for the holiday. On the morning of the 26th, however, we woke up to find this scene.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Bulls are bowl victors.

A first for the young football program of my alma mater, South Florida: a bowl game win. They defeated East Carolina 24-7, largely by dint of a superb defense. Freshman QB Matt Grothe played very well in the first half, but was forced out by a blow to the shin late in the second quarter. Senior Pat Julmiste, whom Grothe had dislodged as starter early in the season, did yeoman service in the second half. Though the Bulls did not add to the 24 points they had gotten early, Julmiste directed an effective ball control game, relying largely on the running of Benjamin Williams. This meant the defense could get some rest, which paid off when the Pirates failed to score either, despite several incursions of the USF red zone.

One of the commentators remarked that some publication has already put together a pre-season college fotball top 25 for 2007, and that South Florida is its number 25. I probably put less stock in this than most people would. Still, it's possible to imagine them going to something a bit more prestigious than the Papa John's Bowl next year.

Update: Todd Wright of Sporting News has a piece on the "worst bowl names ever", and Papa John's is the first mentioned (though with the observation that it is far from the worst). Wright saves my favorite, the Poulan Weed-Eater Independence Bowl, for the final graf of his article.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Galactic greetings.


This Christmas tree light-like display is an image of one of our galaxy's centers of new star formation, called W3. It was made by Harvard's and NASA's orbiting Chandra X-Ray Observatory (see here) (named for the great astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar), and the image was downloaded from Alan Boyle's splendid Cosmic Log, on MSNBC.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A heartwarming holiday story.

Mr. "You're fired!" shows his forgiving side, and Tara keeps her tiara.

It's a wonderful life.

12.20 extry: The Daily News's perhaps inevitable page 2-3 banner today: "Teary Tara to Keep Her Tiara". On page one, she's called "Queen of Denial".

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Lagniappe

If you're not familiar with the word I've used to head this post, and there's no reason why you should be if you haven't spent some time on the Louisiana or Mississippi Gulf Coast, the definition is here. It's interesting to see its etymology, coming to Creole French via Spanish, but having its origin in the Native American Quechua language.

Anyway, I've used it to head this post because this is a season for gift-giving, and I'd like to use this post as a way of sharing a few things that I hope will make your season brighter. First, you may remember that, a month ago, I recommended and linked to a blog called The Goat Rope (see here). Being caught up in pre-holiday stuff, I've been neglecting my blog and failing to keep up with some of my favorites. On looking into El Cabrero's latest offerings, I was delighted to see a series of posts (here, here, here, here and here) in which, responding to a reader's challenge, he gives his vision of a just society. I find little to fault in E.C.'s prescriptions; to find areas where we disagree, you need to go back to an earlier series of posts to which he links in his discussion, particularly this one (yes, I'm sort of taking the side of Denny Dimwit). I mean to write what I hope will serve as a well-thought-out response to E.C.'s series once life calms down a bit. For now, suffice it to say I think that, in some areas, I'm a little less conservative and perhaps a bit more optimistic than he is.

I know this is a busy time of year, and I've thrust a lot of links at you. I hope you'll come back to this post at your leisure and enjoy. Before closing, though, I want to share with you the "Seasonal Mediation", as he (Freudianly) typed it, that The Rev. Stephen Muncie, Rector of Grace Church, Brooklyn Heights, had printed in the bulletin for today's services (the identity of the author is not known):

If, as Herod, we fill our lives with things,
and again with things;

if we consider ourselves so unimportant
that we must fill every moment of our
lives with action,
when will we have the time to make the
long, slow journey across the desert as did
the Magi?

Or sit and watch the stars as did
the shepherds?

Or brood over the coming of the child as
did Mary?

For each one of us, there is a desert to
travel. A star to discover. And a being
within ourselves to bring to life.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Atlantic Avenue and the Yards controversy.

Atlantic Avenue has been called the Champs-Élysées of Brooklyn, an analogy that does neither thoroughfare any good. Atlantic is a broad boulevard that traverses the width of the Borough, from west to east. It begins amid piers facing the Buttermilk Channel, the strait separating Brooklyn from Governor's Island, and extends eastward into Jamaica, Queens, not far from Kennedy Airport. It does not include any vista of Brooklyn's triumphal arch, instead passing some ways to the south of it. While portions of it, as you will see below, have become chic, most of it is still characteristic of what the name "Brooklyn" evokes in many minds: ethnically diverse and gritty.

My first view of Atlantic Avenue (a fairly comprehensive one, beginning not at the waterfront but at Boerum Place, a few blocks inland, and extending to its eastern teminus in Queens) was in the 1970s, when I was still living in Manhattan, and took a taxi to catch a flight at Kennedy. The driver knew that the quickest route from lower Manhattan to JFK at the afternoon rush was not the expressway, but straight-as-an-arrow Atlantic, which, despite the inconvenience of traffic lights, was not so heavily used. What I saw as we headed eastward was an amazing unfolding of the polyglot patchwork of Brooklyn: first Arabic, then African-Carribean, then Hispanic-Carribean, then a complex melange (on one block, I saw a social club for Cape Verde Islanders), then many blocks of grim industrial buildings with the now-elevated subway clattering overhead, followed by a semi-suburban stretch in which the names on commercial establishments were mostly Italian or Irish (Italy and Ireland are two of the "three Is" of traditional ethnic Brooklyn; the other is Israel).

Since then, Atlantic has steadily been gentrified along its western stretch, from its origin at the waterfront to Fourth Avenue, coinciding with the same trend in the adjoining neighborhoods of Boerum Hill (which you can read about in its pre-yuppified state in Jonathan Lethem's The Fortress of Solitude) and Fort Greene. Fortunately, amid the proliferation of antique shops (like that shown at right) and clothing boutiques, some of the older establisments have survived. Some of these, like Sahadi's food market and the Damascus Bakery between Clinton and Court Streets, and the Brawta Carribean Cafe at the corner of Hoyt Street, have developed a yuppie following while keeping clientele from their respective ethnic communities. There has also been (as is common throughout the more desirable parts of the City in recent years) some conversion of formerly commercial buildings to residential use. The building shown above is an example of this, but its owners have decided to highlight its original commercial use by repainting the faded sign that has adorned its facade for many years following the departure of Mr. Curtin's firm.

The dominant landmark over the western part of Atlantic Avenue is the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building, for many years Brooklyn's lone skyscraper, and described in Slate by writer Jonathan Ames as "the most obviously phallic building I've ever seen." Check these views from Bridge and Tunnel Club, and see if you agree.

I took the photo at left last Sunday, looking east from the corner of Atlantic and Hoyt. The uppermost part of the tower, including the clock face, is shrouded in scaffolding and black netting, because the Building, like so many older office buildings in New York City, is being converted to residential use. Apartments on the higher floors will afford some spectacular views. The steeple at the lower right corner of the picture belongs to a Belorussian Autocephalous Orthodox church.

Just to the right of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building, where Atlantic, Flatbush and Fourth Avenues intersect, is Brooklyn's most contested site. A branch of the Long Island Rail Road terminates here, at the underground Atlantic Terminal, where several MTA subway lines also converge and thousands of commuters change trains. To the east of the Terminal are the tracks making up the LIRR's Vanderbilt Yard, which for some distance are below ground level but uncovered. Bruce Ratner, a real estate developer who has been very active in Brooklyn, plans to use the space above the rail yard, and some neighboring space, which will necessitate the demolition of some buildings, including some former warehouses that have been converted to loft apartments, to create an enormous mixed-use complex known as Atlantic Yards. The focal point of this development, occupying the apex of the wedge formed by the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues, would be an arena for the Nets, the NBA team now playing in New Jersey, but which Ratner has bought and has said he intends to bring to Brooklyn. Coincidentally, this is the same site on which, in the early 1950s, Walter O'Malley wanted to build a new park for the Dodgers to replace Ebbets Field, a plan that was vetoed by Robert Moses, who wanted to relocate the Dodgers to Flushing Meadows, Queens, which is where Shea Stadium was eventually built for the Mets. O'Malley wouldn't take his team east to Queens, and instead took it west to Los Angeles.

The proposed Nets arena alone would be sufficient to raise controversy because of the additional traffic it will generate, although it is located on one of the best sites in the City for mass transit accessibility. It is what else Ratner proposes for the entire 22 acre site, though, that has elevated the animosity between those supporting and those opposing the project to a level that the Village Voice has characterized as a second "Battle of Brooklyn" (for details about the first one, see here). Looming above the Nets arena would be a huge office building, designed (as will be the arena and the rest of the buildings on the site) by Frank Gehry, and dubbed "Miss Brooklyn". This building would be considerably taller (though plans have recently been downsized) than the nearby Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building, thereby violating what some project opponents claim is a taboo, rather like the Philadelphia version involving Billy Penn's hat (see here), which was broken in 1984. If Miss Brooklyn is built, perhaps Priapus will put a curse on the Nets (and maybe my beloved Cyclones as well) just as Billy Penn is said by some to have done to the Eagles, Flyers, Phillies and Sixers. Below is a view, prepared by Gehry's firm and taken from the image gallery on Ratner's official Atlantic Yards website, of the arena and Miss Brooklyn, seen from the south at night. Note the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building at the far left of this view.


Note also in the view above the buildings extending beyond the arena/Miss Brooklyn complex, as well as the one to the left, west of Flatbush. In addition to office buildings and a hotel, the site is planned to include thousands of apartments, including both market rate and "affordable" units.

Opponents of Atlantic Yards have mostly united under the slogan "Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn" (see website here). They have objected to the project because of the already-mentioned traffic issue, as well as the effect the scale of the development will have on surrounding, largely low-rise residential neighborhoods. In addition, they point to the possible use of eminent domain to clear portions of the site, which would constitute a taking of private property by government to further a private development, on the theory that the development serves a public purpose. Such a taking of property was recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in its controversial 5-4 decision in Kelo v. City of New London (see here).

Those supporting the project include people who think they may benefit from the jobs it will create, sports fans excited about bringing a big league team to Brooklyn, and those who simply believe that likely benefits of the proposed development outweigh its costs. Among these last are Mayor Bloomberg, Brooklyn Borough President Markowitz and, apparently, Governor-elect Spitzer.

Both sides have employed visual propaganda to bolster their arguments. The Gehry firm has produced depictions of the public spaces within the Atlantic yards development (see example at right), which project an Edenic image of urban oases, an image made explicit by a quotation on the official website from Herbert Muschamp, architecture critic for the New York Times. An opponent of the project has done a Google Earth rendering of the proposed buildings (see below; image by John Keegan from Invisibleman; this image is licensed under Creative Commons) which produces monolithic representations lacking in architectural detail. Note also that the proposed buildings are colored an angry red, not a soothing blue or cheerful green (in the Gehry depiction above, they are a mixture of angelic white and lustrous gold).


Some of the most insightful commentary on the Atlantic Yards brouhaha, in my estimation, comes from a writer and blogger named Steven Berlin Johnson, who lives in Park Slope, and is therefore in a position to be affected by the project. In this post, he links to John Keegan's Google Earth model, shown above, but Johnson notes that he, like me, is a qualified supporter of the project. (If you scroll down into the comments, you'll find a thoughtful rejoinder from Keegan.) And here he links to an article on contemporary misunderstandings of the urbanist philosophy of Jane Jacobs, written by the unrelated Karrie Jacobs and published in Metropolis Magazine, that refers to the Atlantic Yards controversy. Johnson's commentary, as well as that in the comments following the post, is also well worth reading.

12.12.06 Update: James Gardner, in today's New York Sun, pans Gehry's first major New York City commission to be completed, the IAC Building at 11th Avenue and 18th Street, in Manhattan.

12.19.06 Update: Yesterday's Sun editorialized against approval of Atlantic Yards by the Public Authorities Control Board, cheering for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to do an encore of the "Dr. No" role he played regarding the West Side Stadium. The Sun editorialist doesn't object to the project per se, just to the use of eminent domain to condemn private property in order to build it. But, in today's Sun, columnist Nicole Gelinas attacks the Atlantic Yards proposal root and branch, on "free market" grounds, calling it "A Bit of Everything [that's] Wrong" with New York City.

12.21.06 Update: Contrary to previous reports that a vote would be delayed until January, the Public Authorities Control Board yesterday approved Atlantic Yards. This closes the regualtory process, meaning the only remaining obstacles to the project are several citizen group lawsuits. The Times article is here, but you need to register (which you can do for free) to see it; the Sun's piece is here. According to the Times story, one of the compromises made to secure approval was a reduction in the height of "Miss Brooklyn" to less than that of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building, so Priapus can relax.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Better late than never: joining the "speed of a meme" crowd.

A few days ago, I followed a link from Fray friend Hipparchia's blog Gun Tamga that led to another blog, Rough Theory, which belongs to an Australian Ph.D. candidate, N. Pepperell, who, I was glad to find, shares some interests (urban planning, cultural studies, evolution) with me. The post on Rough Theory to which Gun Tamga linked concerned plagiarism, which prompted me to post a comment to it, linking to the lyrics of Tom Lehrer's song "Lobachevsky" (to which I also had occasion to link in my college football rant directly below this post).

Rough Theory also referred to another blog called Acephalous (like the acephalous horseman who pursued poor Ichabod Crane in Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow), which I finally got around to looking at today. It's the project of one Scott Eric Kauffman, evidently an academic in California who is about to attend a meeting of the Modern Language Association. It's his intention to present to the MLA the result of an experiment in transmission of a "meme" (the brainchild of Richard Dawkins) through links between blogs. Anyway, he's asked that whoever reads his post on this meme-transmission experiment first link their blog to the post (as I've just done), ask readers to do the same (I'm asking you, please, to do so, linking directly to the post I've given you the link for just above, and not to my post), and then ping Technorati (very easy - just follow the instructions on the linked page).

Believe me, this is not a chain letter, or the moral equivalent thereof. No money or other goodies will come your way if you follow these instructions (at least I'd be surprised if it happened), and no misfortune will befall you just because you choose to ignore them (of that I'm quite sure).

Update: I may have to modify my "no ... goodies will come your way" prediction, as I've seen a large increase in hits on my site meter since I posted this morning. I can only guess that this is because I've pinged Technorati. Maybe I should do that more often.

So, anyway, if your attitude toward visitors on your blog is, "The more, the merrier" (as is mine), following the directions three paragraphs above may well be to your benefit.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

I wuz wrong! (But I'm glad.)

Gators win SEC. Meanwhile, Bruins stuff Trojans. So, will the Lords of BCS give the Gators a shot at the championship, or will Michigan (idle today) get a rematch? We'll see ...

(My guess? Big Ten centrism prevails, and Florida gets relegated to the dreaded rematch with N.D.)

Meanwhile, my other prediction does come true, as West Virginia scotches Rutgers' shot at a BCS bowl.

Update: Wrong again, glad again. The Gators go to Glendale. Every sensible cell in my brain tells me they'll lose; nay, not just lose, but lose embarassingly, like that last championship matchup in Arizona, the one against Nebraska. There's even the possibility of a dreaded pundits' Tevye dance: "Woody Hayes, Tra-di-shon!", and so on.

But given my recent record of fallibility, I'm not making any prediction now.

Upchuck: Joey Johnston has already started shaking the tambourine for the pundits' dance. And Sporting News's Chris Russell says of the Gators what Izvestia said (to paraphrase slightly) of the book by the protagonist of Tom Lehrer's Lobachevsky: Ya idu kuda sam tzar' peshkom hodil (They stink).

We'll see.

Uprarious: Russell Levine of the New York Sun analogizes Florida's selection for the BCS championship game to the role of the State of Florida in the 2000 election.

Friday, December 01, 2006

"Winter is icumen in, ...

... Lhude sing Goddam"

-Ezra Pound

This fall has been unusually mild, with temperatures here in New York typically topping off in the mid 60s, and getting no colder than the high 40s at night. Today, it's supposed to get up to near 70, but then, the storm that's now blasting western New York State and Pennsylvania will get here, heralded by winds predicted to gust as high as 60 miles per hour. Things will cool off a lot, with highs next week in the 40s and lows at night just above freezing. In other words, we're in for some weather I'd consider normal for early November in this part of the world. Global warming? Maybe.

If you're looking for some visuals and text that will really cool you down, I recommend this blog by David Ruth, a sculptor who works in glass, and who has been given a National Science Foundation grant to spend just over a month at Palmer Station, on the Ross Ice Shelf that extends from Antarctica. Ruth's mission is to study the qualities of ice and its relationship to glass, and he posts lots of pictures of fantastic ice forms, interspersed with photos of, and text about, Antarctic wildlife and the people and facilities at Palmer. Well worth a visit.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

More views from Maine.


Lobster catchers tend their pots on Casco Bay on a pleasantly brisk November afternoon.


It's been many years since the freight car on the right, now part of the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. & Museum's collection, was used to haul a Thanksgiving staple.


The Danish tanker Nordeuropa is discharging her cargo of crude oil at South Portland, southern terminus of a pipeline that serves the Montreal market.


Your guess is as good as mine.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Almost enough to make me root for Arkansas this weekend.

MSNBC's Joey Johnston tells Florida fans what Brooklyn Dodger fans used to say to their Yankee-loving counterparts: Wait 'til next year!

OK, I'm game for a wait. After all, I'm a Mets fan, too (must be something about teams that wear blue and orange). But then he raises the spectre of a Gator/Fighting Irish clash in the Sugar Bowl, assuming Florida manages to get by Arkansas in the SEC championship match. Yikes! A replay of the 1992 Cheerios Bowl, which I watched, first joyfully, then in agony, on the Lion's Head TV. Well, OK, shouldn't I want the Gators to get another shot at Notre Dame? Wouldn't victory this time be so sweet? Yeah, but all I can envision is Florida carrying another lead into the final minutes, then the great "Ol' Mo" switcheroo, with the boys from South Bend getting maybe a 45 yard go-ahead FG with seconds left on the clock. And then, the ultimate torture: the assembled commentators squatting on their heels, commencing to kick and, in Tevye mode, chant: "Golden Dome,Tra-di-shon! Joe Montana, Tra-di-shon! ..."

Better the Gators should lose in Atlanta and play Cincinnatti in the Roto-Rooter Bowl.

Addendum: I had a nagging feeling there was some connection between the Florida Gators and the Brooklyn Dodgers (besides being teams that often broke their fans' hearts). Now I remember -- it was Red Barber (see bio here). A native of Mississippi, Barber studied English in Gainesville and found a sideline as an announcer for the campus radio station, where he did live commentary on Gator football games. This started a career that took him to New York, where he became the voice of the Dodgers, and caused phrases like "sittin' in the tall cotton" and "tearin' up the pea patch" to become part of the Brooklyn patois.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Genghis Khan: the first liberal?

Yes, there are other contenders. For example, I think a strong case could be made for Cyrus the Great. Nevertheless, consider this passage from the introduction to Jack Weatherford's Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, at page xix:

As he smashed the feudal system of aristocratic privilege and birth, he built a new and unique system based on individual merit, loyalty, and achievement. He took the disjointed and langourous trading towns along the Silk Route and organized them into history's largest free-trade zone. He lowered taxes for everyone, and abolished them altogether for doctors, teachers, priests, and educational institutions. He established a regular census and created the first international postal system. His was not an empire that hoarded wealth and treasure; instead, he widely distributed the goods acquired in combat so that they could make their way back into commercial circulation. He created an international law and recognized the ultimate supreme law of the Eternal Blue Sky over all people. At a time when most rulers considered themselves to be above the law, Genghis Khan insisted on laws holding rulers as equally accountable as the lowest herder. He granted religious freedom within his realms, though he demanded total loyalty from conquered subjects of all religions. He insisted on the rule of law and abolished torture, but he mounted major campaigns to seek out and kill raiding bandits and terrorist assassins. He refused to hold hostages and, instead, instituted the novel practice of granting diplomatic immunity for all ambassadors and envoys, includng those from hostile nations with whom he was at war.
Lowered taxes? Yes, if you define liberalism as "tax and spend", that may not seem an especially liberal move. But consider that the taxes he reduced likely were not entirely devoted to paying for the functions of government, but rather largely consigned to the enrichment of the monarch's coffers. Also note that those for whom he abolished taxes are considered to be the "liberal" professions or institutions. Most of the remainder of his program: advancement by merit not birth, free trade, freedom of religion, the rule of law (including international law), and the abolition of torture, comprise a set of classically liberal principles.

Today we think of Genghis Khan primarily as a bloodthirsty conqueror and despot. Weatherford, at pages 254-260, ascribes this to Eurocentric bias arising in the Enlightenment and later used to justify colonialism as well as vigilance against "yellow peril". But can we say, taking into account all of his accomplishments as described above, that the Khan was truly "liberal"? First, what do we mean by that much-abused term? I've already alluded to the contemporary "tax and spend" usage, implying belief in the desirability of an activist government that seeks to provide services as opposed to merely maintaining internal order and defense against external enemies. From Weatherford's description of the Khan's administration of his empire -- in particular his redistribution of wealth taken in conquest, institution of a system of fiat money, improvement of communications and monitoring of statistics -- we can conclude that he did to some extent believe in government's role in advancing "positive liberty".

I've also referred to actions the Khan took that advanced the classical liberal concept of "negative liberty", that is, non-interference with individual autonomy. In particular, these include the reduction of barriers to trade, religious tolerance, the limitation of the use of coerecive measures in the administration of justice, and the subjection of the monarch himself to the rule of law. Yet it is still fair to ask whether he was himself a "liberal" in the sense of subscribing to what the political philosopher Gerald Gaus calls the "fundamental liberal principle": that the freedom of the individual is "normatively basic, and so the onus of justification is on those who would limit freedom." Here I think we have to conclude that the answer is "no", at least to the extent that the Khan demanded total loyalty, which is certainly antithetical to a primary commitment to freedom, from his subjects. He was perhaps above all a pragmatist, having learned in his rise to power that allies were indispensible. He may have shrewdly anticipated the insights of Hobbes, Locke and Adam Smith, perceiving that the best way to create and sustain alliances is to rely on appealing to the self-interest of those whose loyalty one seeks.

Although the ascendancy of the Mongol Empire had a profoundly liberatory effect on the Eurasian world, it is ironic to note that it represented the triumph of a "primitive" nomadic society over "civilized" polities characterized by settled agriculture and urban centers. As Weatherford suggests at pages 233-34, this may be explained by the Mongol religion's having lacked a thick doctrinal structure, thereby allowing greater scope for syncretism and for pragmatic approaches to governance, trade and science.

Although Genghis Khan may not have been a "liberal" as we may strictly define that term, he was certainly "progressive". As Weatherford sums it up (at page 267): "He worked to create something new and better for his people."

Postscript: Rundeep sez: Sounds more like a capitalist to me. And I ain't talkin' e.e. cummings!

Well, dear lady, the archetypal Liberal Party (British) was, in its origins, about as pro-capitalist as you can get.

As for cummings, wasn't he an anti-capitalist?

Monday, November 27, 2006

What does this blog have in common with a fan site for a three woman rock band from China?

Both include a photograph of the Merchant Marine Memorial (see here).

Free Time, who publishes the linked blog, was kind enough to quote mine and link to it. I had never heard of Hang On The Box before finding this link. I recommend going to some of the music videos linked to the site. HOTB has a very interesting sound.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

College football confusion.

I spent most of Friday watching games I didn't much care about, with the exception of Arkansas/LSU, about which I had mixed feelings. LSU is a team I like, and generally root for whenever they're not playing the Gators. This goes back to the days of Billy Cannon and three-platoon football, featuring the Chinese Bandits. Today, I still find much to admire aesthetically about LSU's game, featuring compact, agile players who execute a well-balanced offense and a quick, swarming defense. The Bayou Bengals occupy the same space for me in college football that the Cardinals do in my baseball universe.

Be that as it may, I had reason to want Arkansas to win. The Hogs are already slated to play Florida in the SEC championship game next week, and a win over a once defeated (and still theoretical title contender) team would do the Gators more good in the BCS standings than one over a twice defeated team. So I watched the game with my amygdala shouting "Geaux Tigers!" while my cerebrum whispered "Soo-ee-ee."

It was my amygdala that got to celebrate. Meanwhile, my cerebrum is forced, once again, to recalculate Florida's chances in the SEC showdown. I'm now backing off my previous waver, and am sticking with my original prediction of an upset by Arkansas. Losing to LSU will make the Hogs hungrier and more focused.

Today we were on the road, so I missed the Florida/Florida State game. The outcome, a 21-14 Gator victory over a Seminole team having a miserable season, will not do Florida's cause in the BCS any good. That, coupled with the fact that beating a twice-defeated Arkansas won't do them as much good as if the Razorbacks had beaten LSU, means the Gators' prospects of a shot at the national championship look to be pretty much obliterated. On top of that, we have the news from L.A. (Once again, I was rooting for the Irish, despite earlier animosity.)

Once again, consolation is provided by my alma mater showing, for the second consecutive year, their ability to upset a team ranked in the top ten. Their appearance in some minor bowl now seems assured. Ignore the hype about this meaning Rutgers still has a shot at the BCS. The Scarlet Knights beat an even worse than usual Syracuse team yesterday, and the Mountaineers aren't about to let themselves be upset twice in a row in Morgantown.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I break holiday radio silence briefly ...

... to note that Mickey Kaus has attempted to explain something that has long puzzled me (indeed, I've posted about it here, but am too lazy to look up the post), which is: how can an exception prove a rule? (Scroll down to his November 20 discussion of the "incumbent rule" and Menendez's victory in New Jersey, following this link.)

According to Kaus, an exception can "prove" a rule if the "exception" can be shown to be in some basic way distinguishable from other possible exceptions. Specifically, Kaus posits the "incumbent rule" in predicting election results, which holds that if the incumbent has less than 50% in the final pre-election poll, he or she will lose, because undecideds always break against the incumbent. He then says Menendez is "the exception that proves the rule .. because ... he had only been in office a few months, having been appointed in January, 2006 to the seat vacated by now-Gov. Corzine."

Well, as the nerds in my law school classes always said when the professor called on them, it seems to me that Menendez doesn't prove the "incumbent rule", he simply provides a basis for narrowing it to exclude those whose incumbency has been brief, or possibly all those whose incumbecy is a result of appointment not election. More importantly, it seems that the incumbent rule isn't a "rule" that can be proven (in the sense that a Euclidean theorem can be proven), but rather a theory that can be supported, though never "proved", by empirical means, and can be falsified by contrary evidence. What Kaus is really saying is that Menendez doesn't falsify the incumbency rule if "incumbency" is defined in a strict way. Of course, the "rule" would be falsified if, in a future election, someone who has less than 50% in the last pre-election poll and has held office for a full term or more, still manages to win.

So, I'm still looking for an exception that proves a rule. Anyone who can give me a satisfactory one may have my mid 1960s vintage edition of Copi & Gould's Introduction to Logic (provided I can find it).

Update: Keifus, helpful as always, suggests that an exception "proves" a rule in the sense that it tests it, rather as a new kind of car is put on a test track to prove its driving characteristics. So, what Kaus is saying is that Menendez's re-election "proves" the incumbency rule in this sense, which differs from my more formal definition of proof.

I think this is kind of like saying, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger", no?

Monday, November 20, 2006

A joyous Thanksgiving to all.

I'm taking a break from blogging for the next few days, in order to prepare for and enjoy the holiday (we'll be visiting friends in Maine). I'll leave you with this autumnal scene, taken the weekend before last, of an encampment of Civil War re-enactors on the lawn of Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims, here in Brooklyn Heights. The statue in the background is of Henry Ward Beecher, the fiery abolitionsist preacher who made Plymouth Church a center of opposition to slavery in the years preceding the Civil War.


The unit these re-enactors have recreated is the 14th Regiment, a New York militia unit formed in Brooklyn. Their colorful zouave uniforms, and their courage in battle, got them nicknamed the "Red Legged Devils". You can read more about the unit's history here.

Below is a closer view of the encampment.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

College football yuck!

Everything turns out as I feared it might; i.e. Rutgers falls to Cincinatti and my USF Bulls get roughed up by Louisville.

All I can hope for now is that the Gators (1) don't get upset by FSU next week (that seems reasonably safe), (2) manage to beat Arkansas in the SEC championship game (I've already predicted they won't, but I'm beginning to waver), and (3) beat the Buckeyes in the BCS championship. I know, dream on ...

Meanwhile, I'm going to my room to sulk.

Update: It now appers that, before the Gators can get a shot at the Buckeyes, not only do they have to beat FSU and Arkansas, but bad things must also happen to both Michigan (getting beaten by Ohio State once wasn't enough) and USC.

Time to focus on the Hot Stove League. The Mets are making some interesting moves.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Another loss for the dismal science.

The year 2006 has seen the passing of two towering figures in economics, one, John Kenneth Galbraith, literally so, the other, Milton Friedman, who died yesterday, having an effect on the discipline far in excess of his height. As they differed in stature, so did their views on most issues.

My friend Amity Shlaes has this appreciation of Friedman in today's Sun.

Update: In this Slate article, Michael Kinsley says Friedman was wrong, and Galbraith right, about the ability of free capital markets to price correctly publicly traded equity.

Update squared: Fray friend Rundeep has an answer for Kinsley.

Didn't get the memo?


Walking through Battery Park, at the southern tip of Manhattan, this morning, I spotted this bird calmly watching passers-by on the footpath, and evidently unaware of the impending holiday.

OK, you don't believe this is a real, live bird? Here it is a minute before the previous shot.



Update: Rundeep points out that wild turkeys are once again common in the eastern states. I know this is true, because whenever we've made a wintertime visit to my in-laws, who moved to Massena, New York a couple of years ago, we've seen a flock of turkeys traversing their back yard, heading next door to where their neighbor puts out food for them.

Several things struck me as odd about this bird. First, although it was on a bit of parkland, it was in the most densely urbanized place in North America. Second, it was alone, while wild turkeys are usually seen in flocks. Third, it displayed no wariness of the people walking by on a path only thirty or so feet away. Finally, while it had the coloration of a wild bird rather than the white plumage of most farm-raised ones, it looked very well fed.

The dark side of the Force.

A couple of years ago, NASA was ready to give up on the Hubble Space Telescope, apparently content to allow it to go dark. Now, there are plans to repair it so it can keep doing what it does so well. Its value has just been made more evident by the images it has captured of supernovae in galaxies so distant that their light has taken half the estimated age of the universe to reach earth. As related in this article, the red-shifting of the light from these supernovae shows that the expansion of the universe has been accelerating over time. This can be explained by positing the existence of a contra-gravitational force called "dark energy". Einstein, in his theoretical work, once concluded that there is such a force, but later called this his "greatest blunder". It appears now that he was right the first time.

Here is a Hubble image of a supernova remnant, the Crab Nebula, in our own galaxy.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Well worth reading.

Keifus on a great kick.

The Irish Hunger Memorial

The Irish Hunger Memorial is in Battery Park City, on the west side of lower Manhattan. Approaching it from the southeast, one gets the impression of a sod and boulder covered spaceship having crashed to earth there.


Supporting the slab that holds the stone and earth above are walls of black stone striated with white bands on which are quotations about the Irish famine and other instances of starvation or mass death caused or exacerbated by government policy.


The entrance is through a tunnel lined by the same striated walls bearing more quotations. The effect is supposed to be like entering one of the ancient Irish barrow graves; having visited Newgrange, I can attest to its success.

On entering the tunnel, one hears part of a continuous taped program that includes voices reading commentary about the famine, poetry, singers performing ballads a capella and mournful tunes played on keening tin whistle.

At the far end of the tunnel, one emerges into the roofless ruin of a typical Irish farmer's cottage of the time of the famine. This is the actual ruin of the Slack family cottage, which was taken apart, shipped to New York and reassembled.


On leaving the cottage, one steps onto a path that follows a reverse "S" shaped course to the top of the Memorial. The ground through which the path wends is covered with plants native to Ireland, grown from seeds brought from there. Strewn among the plants are large stones, each inscribed with the name of its county of origin.


Rounding the first curve of the "S", one comes to face a standing stone engraved with the cross of St. Brendan.


Brendan was a sixth century Irish monk who, according to tradition, set out on a seven year sea voyage with several other monks in a currach, a frail vessel made of oxhide stretched over a framework of sticks. Legend has it that Brendan and his companions reached a distant island, which some now believe to have been in the Canaries and others think was Newfoundland. In 1976, an adventurer named Tim Severin set out from Ireland in a currach built to the same specifications as those made in the sixth century, and did manage to reach Newfoundland in June of 1977. An account of his voyage is here.

If Brendan did land in the New World, he was four centuries ahead of Lief Ericsson, and odds on the first European to make the voyage. Perhaps more significantly, he pioneered the route taken centuries later by many thousands of his compatriots, the largest number of which left their native land because of the Great Hunger of the late 1840s, which, through starvation and emigration, reduced Ireland's poplation by one fourth, and which increased the population of New York City by an appreciable amount.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Go West, by God!

Every once in a while I find a blog that's worth special mention, and the latest is The Goat Rope. El Cabrero serves up an irresistable combination: intelligent socio-economic-political commentary accompanied by heartwarming animal pictures.

Besides, he's from West Virginia. I'm not, but I was born in central Pennsylvania, not very far away, geographically or metaphysically. Montani semper liberi!

Update: It looks like E.C. and I might lock horns on some trade issues (see my comments on "economic nationalism" below), but I still suspect we're in agreement on more things than not.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Exit Nine divine! Rutgers a BCS contender?

Read it and believe.

Well, the Scarlet Knights had tradition on their side. It's been 137 years and three days since they won the first college football game ever played.

Update: Downside, for me, is that Louisville's next game is against my alma mater, South Florida, which, you may recall, beat the Cardinals last year when Louisville was undefeated and ranked number nine. So, the Cards will be doubly primed for revenge. It could be really ugly for the Bulls.

Next week, Rutgers faces Cincinnatti. The Bearcats (who play west Virginia tomorrow, and therefore will be coming off either a great upset or an expected defeat) are a prime upset suspect, i.e. a team it's easy to underestimate. If the Knights survive that encounter undefeated, they next must beat Syracuse, which is having a bad season, but is an inconsistent team capable in any given game of puling off a surprise. It will be the Orangemen's final game of the year, which may motivate them to play above their usual level. Rutgers' final test, on December 2, is against West Virginia, in Morgantown. Even if the Knights are still undefeated going into this one, they're likely to be considered underdogs.

I'm not going to attempt an answer to the question in the caption of this post. I will predict that, if they make it to the BCS championship game, they'll lose. Cinderella teams always do.

Extra update: The Gators won, but Urban Meyer may still have lost some weight in the cliffhanger with Spurrier's Gamecocks. USF pummeled 'Cuse, thereby strengthening their case for another minor bowl bid, and the "Dump Bowden" crowd in Tallahassee got a big boost from the Demon Deacons.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Mandatory post-election comments.

The Bush press conference just ended. He handled it better than I expected. The cockiness and the smirk were gone, though the customary jocularity broke through a few times. He seemed contrite, but not by any means abject.

He was best at handling attempts to embarrass him by citing campaign rhetoric, both Democratic and his own, and asking him how he could work with the new legislative leadership based on what had been said. He was also deft in handling questions arising from his assertion to three reporters, a few days before the election, that Rumsfeld would stay at Defense.

He did artfully dodge one question, which was about disillusion on the part of religious conservatives with his administration. He pretended not to know what the questioner meant, then mumbled something about his continued commitment to "faith-based initiatives" relating to social services. He wasn't about to be drawn into a discussion about abortion, stem-cell research and gay marriage.

About the last mentioned, Glenn Reynolds and I find our libertarian instincts in agreement.

This year, it's Virginia's turn in the barrel. I hope the Old Dominion handles it better than my old home Sunshine State did in 2000.

No surprises here in New York, except maybe Hevesi's margin of victory despite his ethical lapse, which I think many viewed as simply business as usual in Albany. I was surprised, however, on scanning the voting machine, to find that an old friend I had lost touch with several years back was the Green Party candidate for Attorney General (on a ticket headed by the founder of the Bells of Hell).

Update: Jacob Weisberg, in Slate, finds a dark lining on the silver cloud: many newly-elected Democrats are economic nationalists.

Counterpoint: Kausfiles, in a critique of Weisberg's article, links to an excellent post on Real Clear Politics by former Oklahoma Democratic Congressman Brad Carson. Carson's argument is that illegal immigration (Kaus's fave hobby horse for the past several months) is greatly amplifying the negative effects of globalization on America's large body of unskilled and semi-skilled labor market participants, and making us liberals' preferred palliatives (short-term adjustment grants, minimum wage increases and, most importantly, increased funding for education and retraining) both less effective and more expensive. An unstated conclusion is that this is likely to lead to increased pressure for protectionism in markets for goods and non-labor services.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Color guard for a parade that wasn't.


This powerful Army Corps of Engineers tug, flying a plus-sized flag, was meant to lead the WW II veteran aircraft carrier Intrepid as she was towed from her berth on the West Side of Manhattan to Bayonne, New Jersey, where she is to undergo extensive repairs. Unfortunately, despite an unusually high tide in the Hudson estuary this morning, Intrepid's propellors dug into the mud that has built up around her berth over the years, and the move had to be postponed. There will be another attempt in December. (Photo taken from the Irish Hunger Memorial, about which I'll be posting in the near future.)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

QM 2 again, The Bridge again, autumn flowers and kayaks on the East River.


Queen Mary 2 was back at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal today. The late afternoon sun highlighted her British Merchant Navy "red duster", fluttering from the staff at her stern, quite nicely.


Another view of Brooklyn Bridge, from further up Old Fulton Street. The white building in the foreground, One Front Street, once was a bank. In recent years it has been home to several restaurants and night clubs. The legendary Patsy Grimaldi's pizzaria is further down Old Fulton; the entrance is, in the photo, just below the traffic light.


These flowers were blooming in the small strip of parkland that borders the Brooklyn Heights Promenade on the inland side.


The East River (actually a strait linking Upper New York Bay to Long Island Sound) used to be regarded as unfit to travel in anything smaller than a Circle Line boat; the only bodies that came in contact with it were Brooklyn Bridge jumpers and those wearing cement overshoes. Nowadays, it's becoming a popular site for kayaking, as seen in this photo.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

College football quickie.

Florida gets by Vandy (I was cautionary about this), and wins SEC East with help from former victim LSU. My out-on-a-limb prediction is that if Arkansas wins the West, the Gators will fall to the Razorbacks in the championship game. If it turns out to be a rematch against Auburn, my crystal ball is clouded.

Seminoles, looking more like Roundheads, vent their spleen on Cavaliers.

USF beats Pitt. Been there, done that before. Can they beat Syracuse next week?

Rutgers has a bye before Louisville. Scarlet Knights' glory run likely to end Thursday night.

Nos. 1 and 2 both win narrowly against lightly-regarded opponents.

Joe Paterno literally, and Penn State figuratively, take a fall. Does this make Joe's retirement more or less likely to happen soon?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill retrospective.

Another Slate link well worth pursuing takes you to this slide show, compiled by Witold Rybczynski, which documents SOM's contributions to architecture over the past sixty years. The show also includes pictures of buildings (including a tear-inducing interior shot of the original Penn Station) by SOM's predecessor as America's pre-eminent architectural firm, McKim, Mead & White.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The best cut is the cheapest.

Slate has a piece by Mark Schatzker on the searing question for us carnivores: what makes for a good steak?

There are several variables considered: breed of cattle, hormones or not, wet vs. dry aging of meat, and, perhaps most important, what the cattle are fed. Schatzker and others (he writes, "We sampled ...", and notes that, except for him, because "Someone had to keep track of things", the tasting was blind) tried five rib eye steaks from four producers (two were a wet and a dry aged cut from the same producer, who "finishes" cattle in a feedlot; these were rated fifth and fourth, respectively, in the taste test) and ranked them.

And the winner was ... grass-fed (i.e. "free range"), hormone-free, mixed-breed (mostly Red Angus), presumably (Schatzker doesn't say) dry-aged beef from the Alderspring Ranch in Idaho. Surprisingly, this was the least expensive of the five, at $21.50 per pound. By contrast, the feedlot finished dry aged beef that placed fourth costs $35 per pound.

Placing second is the second least expensive beef, at $26.70 per pound: "humanely" feedlot finished by Niman Ranch. Unlike "industrial" feedlots, Niman's are less crowded and have shade and showers. The cattle are fed a mixture of grains, instead of the pure corn (maize for readers who use the Queen's English) diet that prevails in the big lots. Moreover, the cattle are given an extra year to enjoy their comfy surroundings, as Bill Niman thinks more aging on the hoof improves the meat.

My surmise is that the relative cheapness of the grass-fed and humane feedlot beef is a temporary anomaly, reflecting consumer ignorance and reliance on USDA grades, which are based solely on the fat content, or "marbling", of the meat. The grass-fed steaks rated highest in Schlatzky's test had the least marbling. The Niman steaks rated second had the most, but Bill Niman won't put a USDA grade on his beef because he "doesn't believe in the direct correlation between marbling and eating quality." (The outcome of Schlatzky's test supports this hypothesis.)

In the long run, however, if consumers discover the superiority of grass-fed beef, its price will go up. This will be not only because of increased demand, but also because of the resulting pressure on the supply of pasture land. This will also affect the price of beef finished on larger, more humane feedlots. Perhaps the best hope for us carnivores who worry about such things is the prospect of meat grown in vitro. I suspect it will be many a year before this can approach the quality of beef raised on the hoof.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Merchant Marine Memorial.


This memorial, by the sculptor Marisol, is positioned just off the northern end of the pedestrian promenade that extends around the seaward side of Battery Park, at the southern tip of Manhattan. It depicts three members of the crew of an American merchant vessel that has fallen victim to a German U-Boat, aboard what appears to be a partly sunken lifeboat, with one of them extending a hand to a shipmate who has fallen into the water.

Some 9,300 U.S. merchant mariners are believed to have died in action in World War Two, a higher per capita death rate than for any of the uniformed services.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Monday, October 30, 2006

A good day to fly a kite.


The heavy winds that have been battering the Northeast abated some today, but there was still enough of a stout breeze this morning to keep this kite aloft in Battery Park City.

Urban daytime astronomy.

Sounds impossible? Look at today's astronomy picture for a daylight shot of a crescent moon about to eclipse a crescent Venus, taken in Budapest.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

College football bash.

Thank you, MSNBC, for defying authorities academic and municipal by continuing to call the Florida-Georgia game by its proper name, the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. The Gators came back from their defeat by Auburn, and with two weeks' rest, to continue their recent dominance of the Dawgs. They did this despite an offesnse that keeps sputtering, and a placement kicker who's now in Coach Meyer's doghouse. Next week's opponent is Vandy, which upset Georgia a couple of weeks ago. Florida needs to avoid their usual letdown after a big win (any win over Georgia is big for them), or they may find their top ten ranking scuttled by the Commodores.

FSU, which saw its ranking go a-glimmering long ago, got edged by the Terps to stay in the cellar of its division of the ACC. Mike Celizic is calling for Bobby Bowden's head. He lists several possible replacements, including USF's Jim Leavitt. Speaking of which, the Bulls have a week off to regroup from their disheartening, error-blighted loss to Cincinnatti. Next saturday, they face Pitt.

Still undefeated Rutgers puts its record and ranking at risk against Connecticut tomorrow. John Tamanaha thinks they're safe.

Beavers engulf Trojans. (Sorry, couldn't resist. Oh, and the USC QB is named Booty.)

Update: Exit nine lookin' fine. Rutgers over UConn 24-13 (very close to Tamanaha's predicted 26-14).

Friday, October 27, 2006

Real baseball wins!

The Cardinals of the RBL (Real Baseball League) defeated the Tigers of the DHL (Designated Hitter League), four games to one.

Eat crow, all you pundits who've been touting junior league supremacy.

Update: Twiff avers that crow can be "mighty palatable" so long as its served "with the right sauce". (I wonder if he means the "authorative" sauce they used to serve at Hoboken's late, lamented Clam Broth House?) He also advances the theory that "sweeping the LCS dooms you in the Series".

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The na-a-a-me game!

I'd have guessed that, since my father's death, I was the last Claude Scales left on earth, much less the U.S. Thanks to a site called "How Many of Me?", I know there are likely to be six in this country. Try it and find out how many Americans probably share your name.

(I thought I got this link off Instapundit, but now I can't find it there. If, as my wife says, it's a case of its being right in front of me and my not being able to see it, my apologies, Glenn.)

Monday, October 23, 2006

Another rousing cheer for Stephenie Hollyman

I'm very impressed by this slide show of McAllister tugs, and their crews, docking ships in the Port of New York/New Jersey.

The ship named Patagonian Mystic, seen in the slide show, brings to mind a comment by a friend who grew up in Detroit and used to watch ships sailing by on the river there. He observed that a typical name for a Greek-owned, Liberian-registered "salty" (an oceangoing ship that sails into the Great Lakes through the St. Lawrence Seaway) might be Unicorn Slaughterhouse. (Come to think of it, I've seen Beluga Indication among the names of vessels in transit on the Seaway's vessel transit map.)

Does anyone have any other amusing or interesting ship names to offer?

Slate's Green Challenge

Take it.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The walk home from the parking lot.

We park our car in a lot nestled next to the abutment of the Brooklyn Bridge. Yesterday I took a few pictures walking home from the lot, going a slightly roundabout way via Old Fulton Street and the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.

The Bridge


Great God, the only bridge of power, life and joy, the bridge that was a span, a cry, an ecstasy - that was America.

- Thomas Wolfe, Of Time and the River.

(Quote courtesy of Stephenie Hollyman's magnificent blog, Crossing Media. Groucho Marx observed of Lydia, the tattooed lady, You can loin a lot from Lydia. Just so, I think I'll probably learn much from Stephenie's blog. God bless the electronic frontier.)

Squibb Hill Dog Park


A rare urban free range for canines. The cantilevered Brooklyn-Queens Expressway is in the background.

Autumn comes to Brooklyn


It comes here late, and without the spectacle of New England or Upstate. Still, it has a subtle beauty, as seen in this view along Columbia Heights, looking toward the Harry Chapin Playground.

A harbor workhorse

Small tankers like this are common in New York Harbor, mostly carrying bunker fuel to ocean-going ships docked here. One of them, the Q Boys, was featured in the original version of Madonna's "True Blue" video (impossible to find on line now, as it's been completely supplanted by a later version). This one was headed up the East River fully loaded, probably delivering fuel from New Jersey to a ship docked somewhere upriver or on Long Island Sound, or perhaps carrying heating oil to a supplier in that direction.

How baseball history was made on my street.

Brooklyn Heights Blog ran a piece a few days ago on Jackie Robinson's signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945 at what was then Dodger headquarters, 215 Montague Street (four blocks from where I live).

I was amused by the look on Branch Rickey's face in the photograph, but then read in this bio that The Mahatma, like Tony LaRussa, was a law school grad. He's obviously taking the opportunity to give Mr. Robinson a bit of free legal advice.

Friday, October 20, 2006

"The Catch"

Endy Chavez's spectacular, leaping catch in the final NLCS game, doomed to be a footnote because of the Mets' loss, is compared in this Slate article to Willie Mays' magnificent running, reaching and pivoting catch in game one of the 1954 World Series.

I must have watched the '54 Series. My parents and I had just returned from England, where my dad had been stationed in the Air Force, and I was in third grade at Eglin Air Force Base Elementary School, where, during the World Series, we were excused from class to go to the "cafetorium" where a TV was set up (all Series games were played in the afternoon, then). However, I don't remember anything about it. I was just learning about baseball, while unlearning cricket and rounders. Neither the Giants nor the Indians captured my fancy.

The first Series I remember came the following year. By then I knew that the Yankees were the big, bad bullies, and the Dodgers the scrappy underdogs the Yanks had always slapped down. Besides, Brooklyn was the first place I'd touched U.S. soil after our return. So, I rooted for the Dodgers, and was rewarded. For me, "The Catch" will always be the one Sandy Amoros made in game seven of the '55 Series. (I love the Bob Gibson quote that starts the article.) The poet and Brooklynite Marianne Moore gave it a prominent mention in her celebratory "Hometown Piece for Messrs. Alston and Reese."

As a Mets fan - I consider them the Brooklyn Dodgers continued by other means - I am saddened that Molina's homer erased the prospect of Endy's catch becoming as iconic (if not as artful) as Sandy's.

Go Cardinals!

Not that I have anything against Detroit. It's just that they're in the league that plays a debased version of the game; one in which strategy has been sacrificed to short attention spans.

Update: The Cards got off to a good start last night, which was particularly important because they started a rookie pitcher with a questionable record, but who happened to have the only fully rested arm available.

Fray colleague JMB weighs in on my side in the DH rule contoversy, but backs the Tigers because he's Detroit born and raised. Fair enough. I give my wife a pass to support an AL team because she's from Massachusetts.

Update-update: Unfortunately, there are bad precedents concerning winning the first and losing the second game of a series in this post-season. Just ask Joe Torre and Willie Randolph. I hope Tony LaRussa's law degree will help him distinguish the Cards' case.

As for Twiff's (scroll down) arguments in favor of the DH, I have these replies: (1) it makes the game more interesting; and (2) there's something wrong with a low ERA?

Update-update-update: Twiff (scroll down s'more) comes right back at me. OK, I'll freely admit that the AL game is, as a general proposition, tougher on pitchers than the NL version. By the same token, though, it's got to be easier on batters. I haven't seen a comparison of batting averages of players who switch leagues, but I'd be willing to wager that those going American to National see their averages decline more often than not. As anecdotal evidence, I can think of Roberto Alomar, who batted in the high .200s his first three years at San Diego, then, after moving to the AL, batted .300 or better for nine of eleven seasons (the other two he batted .295 and .282), but whose average plummeted to .266 when he returned to the NL in 2001. Then there's Eddie Murray, whose average bounced around the .300 mark over his twelve years in Baltimore, then plunged to .247 his first year with the Dodgers. (He did bounce back and have a career high average of .330 his second year in LA; I guess the sunshine did him good. But the following year he was back down to .260.)

When all is said and done, I guess it comes down to whether you prefer a game with lots of hitting and scoring or one with lots of subtleties and strategy. I'm in that camp that enjoys "little ball"; for example, seeing a pitcher lay down a perfect bunt with one out (there are many pitchers who can do it), or seeing a manager having to decide whether to pinch hit for a pitcher who's been throwing well with a tie game in the sixth or seventh. I even enjoy seeing a pitcher surprise everyone by hitting a home run, as Bronson Arroyo, new to the NL, showed he could do twice this year.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The beauty of New Jersey in the morning.

A few days ago I was taking my customary weekday morning walk from my daughter's school at the south end of Battery Park City to my office at 45 Broadway, near Bowling Green, by way of the pedestrian esplanade on the Hudson River shore. There was a solid overcast of high clouds and, off to the east, the rays of the rising sun were coming through unimpeded below those clouds. They were then reflcting off the buildings in the Newport section of Jersey City, creating this striking scene.


As I walked further south, I got this view of the Statue of Liberty, with a Chandris cruise ship docked beyond her in Bayonne, the arch of the Bayonne-Staten Island bridge in the distance, and, in the foreground, a Circle Line tour boat returning from Liberty Island to her dock at the Battery.

Friday, October 13, 2006

CBGB & OMFUG, 1973-2006(?)

The name stood for "Country Blue Grass Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gourmandisers", though the music that the place helped make famous, and that made it famous, didn't fit the "CBGB" categories, and any "gourmandising" that went on there had nothing to do with food. Indeed, owner Hilly Kristal admits, in his history on the official website, that he wanted the acronym to end in "FUG" because he wanted it to be "a little uncouth, or crude".

That's how many would describe the music that came from there, especially the raw, three-chord punk of perhaps the best-known band to take its stage, the Ramones. It also hosted the more cerebral, but still aesthetically stripped-down, music of Talking Heads. (I never heard them at CBGB - indeed, I don't think I was ever in CBGB more than three times - but I did catch a Talking Heads concert around 1978 in the old Entermedia Theater on Second Avenue. I went with some British computer jocks I'd met pub-crawling in the Village. The warm-up act was the Jamaican dub artist The Mighty Dillinger. Shortly after Talking Heads took the stage, one of our group excused himself and didn't return. After the concert, we found him outside. "I just couldn't bear to listen to some young Americans singing about their head trips after hearing Dillinger," he said.)

There were thousands of bands that played CBGB during its thirty three year run (usually three every night). Most of these bands never became famous, though a few achieved a kind of second tier status, with maybe one album getting some airplay on indie stations. There's a piece in today's Slate that mentions several of these groups, including on of which I have a fond memory: the Shirts. They were playing on one of the rare nights in the late '70s that I went to CBGB. They got on stage, played one very loud, very frenetic song (which I enjoyed), then, after the applause, the singer said, "We're da Shoits." She added, as if it were necessary, "From Brooklyn." Mink DeVille was also on the bill that night; I can't remember the third act.

My most memorable performance there was when my friends Pierce Turner (now a solo artist) on synth and Larry Kirwan (who now fronts the trad-Irish techno hip-hop group Black 47) on guitar (I got to know Pierce and Larry when they were, as Turner and Kirwan of Wexford, the house band at the Bells of Hell) provided the backing music for a poetry reading by a crazy, notoriously belligerent East Village slumlord who called himself Copernicus. When Copernicus started bellowing his verse, which sounded sort of like Walt Whitman filtered through Captain Beefheart, the room quickly got less crowded. I still have, and cherish, a poster advertising this event.

I also have, buried behind my daughter's now unused toys that, on the edge of thirteen, she still can't bear to discard, a double vinyl album called Live at CBGB that includes cuts by the aforementioned Shirts, Mink deVille and a number of other second tier bands that used to perform there.

According to the home page of the official website, the last show will be this Sunday, October 15. It also says "the club will reopen soon." The question is: where? There's some speculation Hilly means to have the whole shebang recreated in Las Vegas, with perhaps some "original fabric", as my archivist wife would say. This seems appropriate. Vegas has become the ultimate adult theme park where, along with gambling, you can experience replicated and denatured versions of things that once seemed dangerous and subversive. Maybe it's the only place CBGB can go, now.

College football pre-game update.

I thought I was being bold by picking Auburn over Florida, but now I find MSNBC's John Allen in agreement.

Allen makes his call based on the Gators' relatively anemic offensive performance to date. I'm sticking with my theory of swelled heads along with Florida's historic poll acrophobia.

All you fellow Gator-choppers, please understand: I really hope I'm wrong.

Update-update: Dammit, I was right.

The Mets are going down, too. It's a very bad day for teams wearing orange and blue, Auburn excepted. (Yes, Syracuse lost, too.)

My consolation: USF Bulls beat UNC Tarheels.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Red Hook container port in Indian summer.

Not far from where I live is a small port for container ships. In an era of larger and larger cargo vessels (although this trend may have reached a limit, at least for now, with Emma Maersk and her planned sisters), little facilities like Red Hook are at some disadvantage, though there are enough smaller ships serving less heavily trafficked routes to provide a market for them. Red Hook has the additional problems of not having a vast expanse of landside storage space and lacking a direct rail connection. Trucks handle many of the containers there, though some are transshipped to barges for delivery to railheads in New Jersey or elsewhere.

Despite these handicaps, much to my delight the little port thrived for a number of years after I moved to Brooklyn. I made it an at least daily routine, weather allowing, to walk across the street and down a short path to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, from which I could (in addition to seeing the Statue of Liberty, the lower Manhattan skyline, and the Brooklyn Bridge with the Empire State Building and Midtown beyond) check on the activity at Red Hook. I even developed a private superstition: that the Mets were more likely to win if there was a ship docked at Red Hook. One night, I was watching a game in which the Mets had a one run lead going into the seventh. As the visiting team came to bat, I heard three blasts of a ship's horn. I walked outside to see the only vessel that had been docked at Red Hook pulling out into the Buttermilk Channel. When I got back to my TV, the visitors had scored a two run homer that put them ahead for good.

A couple of years ago, I noticed that the likelihood of there being a ship or two docked there when I made one of my Promenade strolls had gotten smaller. At first, I put this down to greater cargo-handling efficiency meaning shorter turn-around times. Then I began seeing hints in the local press that developers were eying this stretch of waterfront for residential development. I noted this in an earlier post; now, it seems confirmed by stories to the effect that the Port Authority, which owns the land and piers that the port uses, is encouraging shipping companies to use other facilities in New Jersey, and is preparing to evict the stevedoring firm that operates the port so as to sell the land at a considerable profit.

I was delighted, therefore, on one of my Promenade excursions a few days ago to see three ships docked at Red Hook. In the photograph to the left, taken from the Promenade, you can see the superstrucure and funnel of the nearest ship, the forecastle and prow of one docked beyond it, and, above that, the superstructure of a third vessel docked at an angle almost perpendicular to the closer two.

In the photo to the right, you see Red Hook from the vantage of the Battery Park Esplanade, at the southern tip of Manhattan, where the gull is resting on the railing. Beyond the bird is the channel between lower Manhattan and Governor's Island, and beyond it the northern tip of the Island, with the ventilating tower for the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel to the left. Beyond that is Buttermilk Channel, and on its far side is a container ship docked at Red Hook.

Below is another view from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Beyond the cargo vessel, a cruise ship is docked at the new passenger terminal just south of the container port. My consolation prize, should the container port close, is that the cruise ship terminal will remain, and even likely expand. I am no great enthusiast for contemporary cruise ships, with the exception of Queen Mary 2 and a few others, which maintain a modicum of shipshapeness and don't try to disguise themeselves as floating Morris Lapidus hotels, not that I have anything against his hotels, so long as they're on land.


At least my hypothesized connection between Red Hook traffic and the Mets' success has been disproved.

Update: Twiffer gives me a link to H.P. Lovecraft's The Horror at Red Hook, which is set in a lurid version of the neighborhood as it might have been in the early twentieth century. While I'm sure it then had the raffish character common to dockside communities, I doubt it was quite the squalid sinkhole of depravity Lovecraft depicts (and I seriously doubt it was ever likely to become a Little Kurdistan). Warning: Lovecraft's writing is permeated with the casual racism charcteristic of his time. He uses "swarthy" as a virtual synonym for "sinister", refers to "squinting Orientals", and contrasts the "squat" denizens of Red Hook (consisting of "Syrian, Spanish, Italian, and Negro elements impinging upon one another") with the "sturdy Vikings" of a nearby Norwegian neighborhood (remnants of which remain today).

I'm intrigued by the cover illustration on the issue of Weird Tales in which "The Horror" was published. It shows what looks like a giant version of one of the Wicked Witch of the West's flying monkeys swooping down on a cape-clad woman who appears to be making her way on a path through a glacier. If you click on the cover, you get a link to the table of contents; unfortunately, there's no link to to the text of instalment one of John Martin Leahy's serial novel Drome, which this is supposed to illustrate. However, a bit of Google research got me this quote:

1927 Drome by John Martin Leahy. An inner world, hideous monsters, a wicked priest, a beautiful princess and apparently, absolutely terrible writing.

The quote comes from this amusing page in an Edgar Rice Burroughs tribute site. According to the author, Drome, along with Burroughs' Pellucidar, Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth, and many others, exemplifies speculative fiction based on the "hollow earth" theory (now pretty much put paid by plate tectonics) that posited inhabited worlds in vast caverns honeycombing earth's interior.

Mets augury update: Twiffer (scroll down to second comment) may have been right about the efficacy of the augury continuing. Late yesterday afternoon, I was delighted to see three ships docked at Red Hook: a hulking, ungainly Lapidus-hotel style cruise ship; a not-so-hulking but still ungainly National Shipping Company of Saudi Arabia container ship, and a trim little tramp freighter. As game time approached, the cruiser and the Arab departed, but the little tramp remained as the Mets managed to stay alive. I just checked, and she's still there (photo taken at 3:10 PM):


The fate of the Mets' season may rest on her remaining at her berth until tonight's game is over. It's a tough, lonely job. I hope she's up to it.

Case disproved: the ship's still there, but they lost, anyway.

Congrats, Twiff. Now I get to root for the Cards.