Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The World Series is underway; I'm casting my lot with the Braves


 It didn't turn out the way I wanted. My Mets had a promising start, then, as has long been their wont, imploded. That left me with two possibilities: my old home town's team (although it didn't exist until long after I left there), the Rays; and my wife's team, the Red Sox. The Sox knocked the Rays out of contention, then were knocked out by the Astros. Meanwhile the Braves won the National League pennant. 

How do I choose? Atlanta and Houston are both cities in which I've spent some time, and like. They're both islands of progressivism in otherwise mostly conservative states, although Texas has a proud liberal tradition (I remember Governor Ann Richards giving the keynote address at a convention I attended in Houston in which she suggested the insurance industry needed more effective regulation and, when only one man clapped, said, "You're a lo-o-onely feller!"). I also remember hearing some great blues at a little place called the Reddi Room on White Oak in Houston. 

I'll forgive Atlanta for having, at the height of the civil rights struggle in the 1960s adopted the most tone-deaf slogan imaginable - "The city too busy to hate." (Sorry, can't make it to the Klan rally; my company has to file a 10-K.) I have fond memories of an "Ecumenical Conference on Urbanization and Technology" I attended in 1966 at the Emory University campus, during which I met and had a short but inspiring conversation with the then head of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, a young firebrand named John Lewis. Years later, I had my blues experience at Blues Harbor in Underground Atlanta, where I heard Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and got to meet and talk with him after his set.

So, who do I pick to win the Series? I'm a Mets fan, and they're a National League team, so, despite the Braves' often having been the Mets' nemesis, I'm going with the Braves. For what it's worth (probably not much), as I write this they have a 5-0 lead in the bottom of the third in game one. Oh, and since the Braves started as a Boston team, my wife has some skin in this game, too.

Whoever wins, though, I won't be that disappointed.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Colin Powell, 1937-2021

Some years ago - probably in the fall, winter, or early spring, because I had left work and it was dark - I was walking along Madison Avenue, past the former General Motors building, when I saw a man coming out of it and walking parallel to me. He looked to be maybe five-eight; I was five-ten at the time (age has reduced me to five-seven). I wondered if he might be a partner in a law firm for which I had done some work several years before and had its offices in that building. 

When we got to the corner of 59th Street and Madison, a young cop looked at him and said, "General! I was in the Gulf War." He went on to praise his leadership and say how proud he was to have been on his team. 

I mentally slapped myself for not having recognized Colin Powell in the flesh. As, it seems, often happens, I had expected him to be much taller.

I won't try to add to all that's been written about this son of Jamaican immigrants who became a transformational leader in the military as well as in civilian politics and diplomacy. We've lost a great one.

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Some pet peeves I can't give up.

"To give" as opposed to "to gift" is still a good and useful verb. Using the past tense "gave" instead of "gifted" saves space, and avoids confusion with an adjective meaning "having great natural ability: talented" (Merriam-Webster). I know I've lost this battle; I'll never forgive you, Jerry Seinfeld.

Apostrophes belong in possessives and contractions; not in plurals. You're going to a show with the Smiths, not the Smith's. Some exceptions: (1)"its" as a possessive doesn't take an apostrophe, to avoid confusion with "it's" as a contraction of "it is"; (2) hers, his, ours, theirs, and yours don't take apostrophes. Mostly it's the misuse of apostrophes in plurals that annoys me. 

If you drop something on the sidewalk and don't pick it up, you lose it. If you deliberately let something go, you loose it. 

Tampa is a city; Tampa Bay is a body of water. If you say "I'm going to Tampa Bay" I'll advise you to pack your SCUBA gear (unless you're a pro baseball, football, or hockey player).

Friday, September 10, 2021

Twenty Years

Here's the poem I posted fifteen years ago: 

It’s five years since the turbofan clatter, 
the sudden silence, the loud report, the screams,
the gashed tower, the smoke, then the flame, 
and the realization… 

I like to imagine a time when you, George and I 
take the heavenly PATH to celestial Hoboken, 
where, at the bar of the cosmic Brass Rail, 
we’ll sip ambrosial Berliner weisse.
This time, Brando will join us.

By way of explanation, George was a friend and Yale Law classmate of Charlie's, and a friend of mine. He died of heart failure a few years before 9/11. One afternoon Charlie, George, and I were having beers at the Lion's Head, and Charlie, a great film buff, said he wanted to go to Hoboken and look for the scenes where On The Waterfront was shot. We took the Port Authority Trans-Hudson ("PATH") subway that connects Manhattan to New Jersey. When we got there, we were able to find some places Charlie recognized as having been in the movie. We then found a great old fashioned bar on Washington Street, Hoboken's main drag. The bar was called the Brass Rail and had lots of brass fixtures and wood paneling. As we took our seats we noticed a man sitting near us sipping what looked like iced tea, and asked the bartender what it was. He said it was Berliner weisse mit schuss, Berlin white  (wheat) beer, flavored with a dollop of raspberry syrup, and garnished with a lemon slice. We each had one, and loved it.

I'm adding to my post to mention two others who weren't close friends but who also perished on 9/11. I enjoyed some conversation with Kristin Gould White at the Lion's Head. She was on Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania. The story at the close of her linked tribute of how her daughter learned of her death is heart-rending. I met Joe Lostrangio at a reinsurance related event less than a week before 9/11, and we had a tentative lunch date for the week after. Having read his linked tribute, I wish I'd had the chance to get to know him better. For those of you who didn't know Charlie McCrann, here's his obituary.

Sunday, September 05, 2021

"Union Maid"; a song for Labor Day

"Union Maid" has lyrics by erstwhile Brooklynite Woody Guthrie, set to the tune of a popular song from 1907, "Red Wing," which had music by Kerry Mills which he adapted from a piano piece by Robert Schumann. This lively rendition is by Jack (guitar) and Joe Sundell (banjo), with Bill Thurman (fiddle). Happy Labor Day!

Saturday, August 07, 2021

The Mets are no longer first in their division.

 I started to write this when they were only a half game behind the Phillies. Now, with a second loss to the Phils, they are a full game and a half behind, and tied with the Braves for second place.

The Mets showed tenacity in holding on to first place through most of the season to date, although for most of the season this has been enabled by their being the only team in the NL Eastern Division with a winning record. The Phils and Braves now have records in the winning column, both thanks in part to the Mets, and the Mets are now a mere two games over .500.

As the All Star Break ended, it was widely believed that the Mets were facing bleak prospects, as both ace pitcher Jacob deGrom and hard hitting shortstop Francisco Lindor had gone onto the disabled list. Coming off the break, they lost two of three to the Pirates, then won two of three from the Reds and two of three from the Blue Jays. Things weren't looking so bad. Then they lost three out of a five game series with the Braves, two out of three to the Reds, then three out of four to the Division's bottom dwellers, the Marlins. During this unhappy period, Taijuan Walker, the pitcher who had shown early promise with seven wins, was tagged with two losses. This brought them to the series with the Phils, in which they have now lost two straight.

Mike Petriello analyzes the Mets' stats for the year, and gets rid of some theories about why they underperform on offense. I've long thought they are particularly bad in "clutch" batting situations, but he shows they aren't especially so compared to other teams this season. What he brings it down to is something that has bedeviled the Mets over the years: injuries. Why are the Mets so prone to injuries? I attempted an answer here.

What are the Mets' chances now? I think they're pretty slim. Things may improve a little when de Grom and Lindor come back. If the Braves and Phils both fade, there's even a possibility the Mets could be divisional winners. If they don't win the division, there's hardly any chance of their being a wild card team, given the records in the other divisions. If they do get to the first round of the playoffs, they will be up against a team, whoever it is, with far better statistics. Do statistics tell all? Not always. 

That all said, I gotta believe!

Update: the Mets are down 3-0 to the Phils in the bottom of the 7th, while the Braves are leading the Nats 5-1 at the top of the 7th. Barring late inning magic in both games, the Mets will be relegated to sole possession of third place in the NL East.

Image: Meet the Matts

Friday, July 30, 2021

The Economist's "Johnson" beckons me off my usage high horse.


 Well, at least a little. This week's issue of The Economist, in its "Johnson" column, a regular feature dealing with usage matters and named in honor of Dictionary of the English Language author Dr. Samuel Johnson, is captioned "Death nails and foul swoops". It so appears in the print edition; the on line edition linked above, which may be fully available only to Economist subscribers, gives the title as "Sometimes solecisms can reveal linguistic ingenuity." Merriam-Webster's first definition of "solecism" is "an ungrammatical combination of words in a sentence: also a minor blunder in speech." 

The particular solecism to which the columnist refers is the "eggcorn," defined as "a particular kind of mishearing of a word or phrase" that "has a logic that makes it alluring." The word "eggcorn," which is a mishearing of "acorn," has such a logic. "Acorns and eggs have similar shapes, and both produce life." The "Johnson" author gives several other examples of eggcorns. "Death nail" for "death knell" makes sense because nails are associated with death, being used to secure coffins. "Knell," meaning the sound of large bell, such as a church bell that would be rung for a funeral, is not now widely familiar, except perhaps to those who have memorized the opening line of Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard": "The curfew tolls the knell of parting day." Similarly, "in one foul swoop" makes more sense to contemporary readers than "fell swoop," as "fell," when used as an adjective, and the fourth entry for that word in Merriam-Webster, meaning "fierce, cruel, terrible"; or "sinister, malevolent"; or "very destructive, deadly"; or (in Scotland) "sharp, pungent"; is not much in use these days, whereas "foul," which fits all of these definitions, is. 

The author mentions several other eggcorns with approval. One is "to change tact" for "to change tack," presumably because most people don't know how to sail. Still, to me, "tact" seems questionable. Again, I resort to Merriam-Webster, which gives two definitions of "tact": the first is "a keen sense of what to do or say in order to maintain good relations with others or avoid offense"; the second is "sensitive mental or aesthetic perception." So, would a "change of tact" mean a loss of the "keen sense" or of sensitivity? That doesn't seem good. Arguably, I suppose, it could mean that the "keen sense" tells you that you should change your approach in order to "maintain good relations" or "avoid offense."

This all makes me reconsider something I posted here twelve years ago, about what I called "the rein vs. reign syndrome." My first objection in that post, to the Wall Street Journal's referring to an effort to "reign in" instead of "rein in" a jury award, is one I stand by. The intended meaning here is to check or decrease the award, as one checks the speed of a horse by pulling on a rein. The problem comes with the expression "to give [or allow] free rein." This is now frequently changed to "free reign." To give a horse free rein is to allow it to proceed at its own chosen pace. To allow a person free rein is a metaphorical way of saying they are free to do as they choose. As for "reign," I resort once again to Merriam-Webster, which gives several definitions of reign, both as a noun and as a verb. I'm more interested in the verb definition, the third of which is "to be predominant or prevalent." The question then becomes whether the giving of "free reign" refers to oneself or to another. In the contexts in which I've seen it, I think it mostly, if not entirely, means the latter. Consequently, I now believe "free reign" for "free rein" is a true eggcorn. 

It occurs to me that the tact vs. tack and rein vs. reign controversies may reflect class or geographical differences. These days, to many Americans sailing is considered an "elite" avocation, so "tack" may seem foreign to them, although I doubt this holds true in some coastal and lakes regions. Similarly, rein is an equestrian term that would be unknown to most of those in urban areas, and to many of the poor in others. It would be interesting to see how these substitutions are distributed geographically and by average income.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Another journey, to Edith Wharton's country house.

 

This past Monday and Tuesday we took another brief vacation, this one a small group tour led by our friend Louise Devenish, to the Berkshires of western Massachusetts; to the house, The Mount, that Edith Wharton and her husband, Teddy Wharton, had built as a country retreat. Above is a photo of The Mount, looking from the courtyard to its main entrance. Credit for the architecture of The Mount is given to Ogden Codman Jr. and to Francis L.V. Hoppin. Edith fired Codman as the exterior architect early on, as she didn't like his designs. He did remain to design the interior spaces. Edith herself was very involved in design decisions, following the precepts expressed her book, The Decoration of Houses, co-authored by Codman.

We spent Monday afternoon and night, and Tuesday morning, at the Seven Hills Inn, a short and walkable distance from The Mount. This is a view of Seven Hills from the grounds in back.
This is a view looking from Seven Hills' patio toward the grounds and the forest beyond.
Esther, a fellow member of our tour group, produced a hat that could come from one of Carmen Miranda's wildest dreams.
Our tour of The Mount began Tuesday morning and ended early in the afternoon. This is the drawing room. Our guide asked how many of us knew the origin of that term. A few hands, not including mine, went up. It was originally "withdrawing room", to which ladies would withdraw after dinner to socialize while men remained in the dining room to enjoy port and cigars.

None of the furniture in these rooms is original. It was chosen based on what was popular at the time, as well as by any accounts surviving of what was there.
This is the dining room. The table is small, as the Whartons preferred to have intimate dinners with close friends, such as Henry James.
This is the kitchen.
This is Edith's office, used for correspondence and conversation about business matters concerning her writing, family concerns, and the household.
According to our guide, this is where Edith did all of her creative writing; in the bed, not on the couch. The portraits above the headboard are of her father flanked by her two brothers.
This is the sewing room.
This is Edith's library. A photograph of her is at left. The Mount's librarian said that many of the books were obtained from a London book dealer who had purchased them from various sources after ascertaining their having been part of Wharton's collection. 
After a buffet lunch on the terrace we were scheduled to tour The Mount's gardens. Unfortunately, it was raining, so we stayed on the terrace, covered by a canvas awning, and heard a lecture on the gardens' design. I got this photo of the walled, or Italian garden from where I was standing on the terrace.
As we were leaving The Mount, I took this photo of the entrance hall, with its succession of arches, seen from the stairwell.

Edith and Teddy lived at The Mount for only nine years, from its completion in 1902 until 1911, when Edith separated from Teddy and later moved to Paris. They were divorced in 1913. During their time at The Mount it was hardly a House of Mirth, to refer to one of Edith's more popular novels. Teddy was subject to bouts of severe depression compounded by other health problems. As our guide put it, today he would probably be classified as "bipolar."

Kudos to Louise for putting together a most enjoyable and educational tour.

Saturday, June 05, 2021

A Finger Lakes weekend, two train journeys, and lots of wine.

Our friends Chris Bennem and Lisa Moore invited us to spend the long Memorial Day weekend at their house near Canandaigua Lake (photo above), one of New York's glacially carved Finger Lakes, so called because they are long and narrow, and all oriented north to south.
To get there we took Amtrak's Empire Service from New York City's Penn Station to Rochester. The Empire Service follows the former New York Central's "Water Level Route": north along the east bank of the Hudson River to Albany, then westward paralleling the Mohawk River and Erie Canal to Rochester and Buffalo. The scenery along the Hudson is gorgeous. The photo above shows Storm King Mountain, with some cloud cover.
The Hudson is navigable for ocean going ships as far north as Albany. Here's the small tanker Palanca Rio heading southward, having discharged her liquid cargo somewhere upstream.
There are lighthouses along the Hudson to warn navigators away from shoals. This is the Hudson Athens Lighthouse, near the town of Hudson, New York.
Past Albany, we continued on the "Water Level Route," now going westward instead of northward. The tracks paralleled the Mohawk River and Erie Canal, which for some distance, including the stretch near Herkimer shown in the photo above, share the same watercourse.
At the Utica station a New York Central (which later became part of Penn Central, then Conrail, and now CSX) 0-6-0 yard switcher was on display. A family with a very chubby Corgi were waiting to greet someone arriving on an eastbound train.
Chris and Lisa met us at the Rochester station. On the way from Rochester to their house some miles south, Chris took us on a tour of some of the spectacular houses, mostly Victorian, to the south of downtown Rochester. There was also this Frank Lloyd Wright "Prairie Style" house, built for the widower Edward E. Boynton to give to his daughter, Beulah, for a cost in 1908 of about $50,000. (Photo by Martha Foley)
On the way we passed through the small city of Canandaigua, at the north end of the lake. Just past the city's south end there's a club where people have boathouses with small living quarters above the boat storage, for use during times of serious boating. (Photo by Martha Foley)
Here is Glen Hollow, our home for the long weekend. We had the guest cottage in the back.
Here's some information about its history. Humphrey Bogart grew up on the Willowbrook Estate.
Saturday evening was chilly, so Chris lit a fire. Lisa gave us a sumptuous steak dinner.
On Sunday morning I took a walk along this inviting forest path leading westwards from the house.
To the left of the path was this stream, known as the Seneca Point Gully.
The Senecas, or as they call themselves, the Onondowaga, "People of the Great Hill," were here before any European interlopers arrived. Some years ago I did a blog post about, among other things, their creation myth, that had them emerging from Clark's Gully (not their name for it) on the opposite, eastern shore of Canandaigua Lake from where we stayed.
The Finger Lakes are now an established vinicultural region. On Sunday afternoon, we went on a wine tour. These are the Ingle vineyards at Heron Hill, our first winery stop at their satellite location near Glen Hollow. I was especially impressed by Heron Hill's Gewürztraminer, an Alsatian white varietal that does well in the cool Finger Lakes climate. I also liked their Cabernet Franc, a Bordeaux red of which I've had good examples from the North Fork of Long Island and, believe it or not, Cape Cod's Truro Vineyards.
Our second stop was Ravines Wine Cellars, near Geneva on Seneca Lake. Highlights for me were "Cerise," a blend of Pinot Noir and Blaufrankisch, a red grape from Austria and Germany, and their "Agricolae" Pinot Gris, another Alsatian white varietal. 
Our final winery visit was to Domaine Leseurre, on Keuka Lake, which can be seen in the background of the photo above, near Hammondsport. When we arrived the owner, Sebastien Leseurre, showed us into the tasting room and graciously provided us with platters of charcuterie to enjoy with our Cabernet Franc Rose. After the rose, we had glasses of their fine Dry Riesling.
Here are our favorites from the tastings, left to right: Heron Hill's 2017 Gewürztraminer and its 2017 Cabernet Franc; Ravines' 2019 Cerise and its 2017 "Agricolae" Pinot Gris; and Domaine Leseurre's 2017 Dry Riesling and its 2019 Cabernet Franc Rose.
Monday, Memorial Day, was sunny. Here's a view from the window of the guest cottage where we were staying.
Chris and Lisa treated us to a hearty lunch, with a shrimp cocktail platter from Wegman's (members of the Wegman family have houses on the lake shore near Glen Hollow), Zweigle's delicious Rochester hot dogs, and, of course, more wine.
After lunch, Lisa, Martha and I took a walk along Seneca Point Road. We passed this neighborhood amenity.
This fierce gargoyle defends the palatial garage of the estate of the one of the Sands brothers, whose wealth comes from Constellation Brands, which came from "humble beginnings in 1945 as an upstate New York wine producer" to a major consumer package goods company with a "premium portfolio of iconic brands, including Corona Extra, Modelo Especial, Kim Crawford, Meiomi, The Prisoner, SVEDKA Vodka and High West Whiskey."
Another view of Canandaigua Lake, as seen from Seneca Point Road.
Early Tuesday afternoon we boarded Amtrak's Maple Leaf (which now, because of Canada's COVID restrictions, originates in Niagara Falls, New York instead of Toronto) at Rochester station for the return journey to Penn station and New York City.
Once again we were following the course of the Mohawk River and Erie Canal; their joint waterway is seen here.
We crossed the Hudson River at Albany before turning southward towards New York City.
At the Albany/Rensselaer Station, which is across the river from Albany, another Amtrak train was waiting to head south. In the background is the Empire State Plaza's skyscraper, a monument to Governor Nelson Rockefeller's "edifice complex."
As we headed south along the Hudson I caught this view of the Catskill Mountains from near Hudson, New York.
The sun had set as we passed under this bridge at Rhinecliff, New York.
I had thought the bridge at Rhinecliff would be my final photo of the journey, but there was still enough light to get this picture, taken just south of Poughkeepsie, of a sloop anchored in the Hudson and Pollapel or Bannerman Island and Bannerman Castle beyond. 

We arrived at Penn Station on time, and were home in time to get a good night's rest after a most enjoyable short holiday.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Celebrating Mary A. Whalen's 83rd Birthday

Yesterday was the 83rd birthday of the small coastal oil tanker Mary A. Whalen (photo above). She is owned by PortSide New York, a not for profit organization that has as its purpose to demonstrate "new ways to bring urban waterways to life."
PortSide threw a birthday party for Mary, with educational events, art and activities for kids. 
Emma Garrison (photo above, holding a horseshoe crab), a graduate student in the School of Environmental and Earth Sciences at Queens College of the City University of New York, gave a lecture on marine life in the estuary that includes Mary's dock. Standing to Ms. Garrison's right (left in the photo) in a red shirt is Carolina Salguera, PortSide's founder and executive director.

Before Ms. Garrison began her talk, a large container was lowered over the ship's side down to the water's bottom. It was hauled up after some time, covered in muck and strands of seaweed. Crew members sorted through the mess, and came up with some interesting creatures.
Among them were several tunicates (photo above), "colony animals" (each spot on the surface is a separate animal) that filter their food from the water. Also found were some other tunicates called sea squirts, which were shaped like little bottles with mouths and, when squeezed, would squirt water, to the delight of the children watching.
Another creature found was this little Asian shore crab. Ms. Garrison said these arrived here in the ballast water of ships that came from Asian ports. The haul also included some marine worms, mussels, and an oyster.
After Ms. Garrison's lecture and demonstration, a woman who introduced herself as Cat, a librarian, did some songs accompanying herself on ukulele, and getting the assembled kids to join in. She then read some children's books, again inviting audience participation.
There were several other vessels docked ahead of Mary's berth. One of them was Cornell, a tug formerly owned by the Lehigh Valley Railroad and now preserved and used for excursions and training.
Your correspondent once took a ride on her and witnessed a rescue.

Although ship's cat Chiclet was named the official host of the party, she wisely remained in the cool of the warehouse adjoining the dock on a very warm afternoon.