Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Transit Strike Journal - 2

As promised, I'm continuing my story of day one of the strike with an account of my walk home. I got an early start, so it was still quite light when I left 52nd and 5th. By the time I crossed 14th Street at Union Square, it was twilight. Walking down Lafayette Street just above Bleecker, I noticed some delicate looking pink clouds over the buildings to the southeast.

The big glass of Stella painted on the side of the building looked inviting, but I resisted the temptation to rest my legs while perching on the nearest available barstool.

When I got to Canal Street, the sky was quite dark. Just below Canal, I faced another temptation.
Is "healthy dessert" an oxymoron? I hadn't eaten dinner yet, and could have used a sugar rush (if a healthy dessert can indeed deliver one). Nevertheless, I pressed on.

Approaching Foley Square on Centre Street, I had a good view of "Civic Fame," the gilded statue atop McKim, Mead & White's ponderous Municipal Building, described as "the finest example of Stalinist Gothic architecture in America."

She seemed an angel from another age, standing guard over a city that had undergone enormous change since she assumed her perch. Her eyes would have looked right at the World Trade Center towers as they were built over several years, stood for nearly thirty, then were brought down in one terrible hour.
Perhaps now she was looking down at the swarm of pedestrians heading onto the Brooklyn Bridge walkway, wondering what madness had possessed her polis.

Approaching the bridge, I was drawn into a surge of bodies being funneled onto the narrow walkway. Looking down, I could see a swarm of traffic clogging Water Street below.

On reaching the far side of the Bridge, I found our ebullient Borough President, Marty Markowitz, greeting returning Brooklynites.
In a fit of either historical amnesia or secessionist defiance, he was shouting, "Welcome to the City of Brooklyn!"

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Transit Strike Journal

News junkie that I am, I stayed up until midnight to see if there was going to be a transit strike. There was no point in turning the TV on before then; the kabuki of public employee labor negotiations in New York is such that nothing can ever be resolved until the last possible minute. The first word I got was that TWU President Roger Toussaint had rejected the MTA's "final" offer (its second such, or perhaps third) at 11:30 p.m., and left the negotiations to meet with the Union's board. The trains and buses were still running, pending the board's decision. I watched for a while as Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers' Campaign and others speculated on the likely outcome and its conse quences. When no decision had been announced by 12:45, I decided that I'd better get to bed, as I almost surely had a long walk ahead of me in the morning. This theory was confirmed at 6:00 a.m. by the WQXR newscaster. I rolled over to get a bit more sleep, and wasn't able to rouse myself before 7:30. I figured it would take about an hour and a half to get from where I live, Brooklyn Heights, to midtown Manhattan, where I work. I didn't feel any pressure to be in early, so I had a leisurely shower and breakfast, and kissed my wife and daughter goodbye at 8:45. It was a great day for walking, cold, but with little wind, and perfectly clear. I felt cheerful, with a spring in my step as I walked across Montague Street and down Henry towards the pedestrian entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge. As I crossed Cadman Plaza, I looked over at the bridge approach to see how crowded the walkway was. People were going by at a good clip, and it wasn't packed:

I climbed the stairs to the walkway, and headed toward Manhattan, feeling the exhiliration I hadn't felt for the few years since I'd last crossed the Brooklyn Bridge on foot.

When I got to the Manhattan side, I headed north past the courthouses on Foley Square and just beyond on Centre Street. As I went past the huge Art Deco Criminal Court building, I noticed a new (to me, who hadn't walked here in some years) addition just to its north. I relaized this was the new jail that replaced the ancient and storied "Tombs." Then, from the corner of my eye, I noticed a brightly colored sign affixed to the elevated walkway connecting the jail to the courthouse:

Given recent revelations, I'm surprised this sign is still there. At least it's fun to speculate as to what behaviors might be symptomatic of a "Bernard B. Kerik Complex."

Going up Lafayette Street, I walked past a bicycle store, noticing a beautiful, chrome yellow bike in the window. Then I saw several men inside, all positioned near the door, willing me in with their eyes. They seemed hopeful of doing a lot of business because of the strike. For a moment, I thought how nice it would be to go in, buy a bike, and ride it the rest of the way. But then, there was the question of what to do with it once I got there. New York doesn't have lots of public bike racks, and surely the staff of the building where I work wouldn't allow one to be brought inside.

When I got to Lafayette and Houston, the light was against me, so I went left towards Broadway. I decide to cross at Crosby, however, because it afforded a view of the exquisite Bayard-Condict Building, the only New York example of the art of Chicago's great Louis Sullivan:

Heading up Broadway, I heard the bells of Grace Chuch (not to be confused with my own beloved Grace Church, Brooklyn Heights) chime ten times. I knew I was taking more time than I should, but I was still enjoying the walk. I went past Union Square onto Park Avenue South, and, by 23rd Street, was feeling the effects of age and lack of serious exercise. A little further, and Grand Central beckoned:

The clock on the Terminal's facade said 10:30, and I still had about twelve blocks to go. I plunged into the Terminal, hoping the ceiling laser show would be going so I could photograph it, but it wasn't. I went across 43rd to Madison, then headed up to 52nd Street. At 51st, I paused to take this shot of St. Patrick's Cathedral from the rear, with Rockefeller Center beyond, and Olympic Tower, site of my office, the brownish International style slab to its right:

When I entered the office of the firm where I work, the first thing I noticed was a bike standing near the door of the senior partner's office. He got up to greet me, dressed in an outfit not unlike that worn by Tour de France contestants.

I have more tales and photos from my journey home, but will save them for tomorrow.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

I did say to look out for Vandy, didn't I?

I'm beginning to think I could make money calling Gator games. What was the spread? Had to be at least seven.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Spillage at World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.

Gators 14, Dawgs 10.

Georgia used to have Florida's number in the worst kind of way. Seems like it's the other way around, now.

Meyer can breathe a little easier. A win over Georgia washes away many sins.

Next weekend, though, his team faces Vandy. A lark, you say? If you're a Gator fan, you'd better hope the team doesn't think that way.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Wot, no curse?

White Sox win, for the first time since 1917. This, despite my favor (see my "I give the kiss of death" post below). So, the teams that hadn't won since the administration of Woodrow Wilson have both done it in the administration of the single W. Can the team that hasn't done it since the administration of William Howard Taft (yes, Joe Queenan, I stole that from you) be next?

Actually, I hope the 2006 champ will be a team that last won it during the second Reagan administration, just in time for the twentieth anniversary of their last World Series triumph.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Gators and Seminoles

Fray friend Hipparchia responded to my last post by recalling a party she gave for the Florida-Florida State game, to which she invited an equal number of fans for each team, and divided them by duct tape on the floor. She says her team won, but is coy about which team that was. She probably told me when I met her at the New York Fray gathering a few weeks ago, but I've forgotten. I'll be bold enough to guess it's FSU, because (1) Hipparchia lives in Pensacola, which is a lot closer to Tallahassee than to Gainesville, and (2) the 'Noles have beaten the Gators more often than not in recent years.

"[I]n recent years": therein hangs a tale I promised to tell in my last post.

First, a bit of history. Until 1947, what is now Florida State University was the Florida State College for Women. In that year, both it and the University of Florida (formerly exclusively male) were made coeducational. Sometime after that Florida State began fielding a football team. (Personal sidebar: The first time I ever saw a college football team on the field was in 1957, when I saw the FSU freshmen team play the Eglin Air Force Base, where my father was then stationed, Eagles. The Eagles won handily, largely on the strength of their running back - old Baltimore Colts fans take note - Lenny Moore.) Anyway, as the story goes, FSU longed to play the Florida Gators, but the Gators, then in what later became known ironically as their "golden era", and fearing embarrassment, refused to schedule them. Finally, the Florida Legislature passed an act, signed by the governor, that compelled the two teams to play each other each season.

For a number of years, despite the fears that kept them from scheduling them, the Gators routinely beat the 'Noles, while Florida fans taunted the FSU contingent by yelling "Girls' school!". If you've read my earlier posts about the Brooklyn Dodgers, you know that I favor underdogs. So, though I rooted for the Gators in every other game, through many years I rooted for FSU to beat them. It finally happened in 1964 (they managed a 3-3 tie in 1961) when I was in college at South Florida (which didn't have a football team in those days). Then, it was back to frustration, particularly in 1966, when a disputed call ('Noles receiver Lane Fenner was called out of bounds on a catch that would have won the game) decided things. So I was still backing State in '67, when I was in law school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and despairing of getting any news of the game on local radio, when, to my amazement, the WRKO Boston late evening DJ said, "I've got to hand it to my old Florida State team. They beat Florida today, 21-16."

But a funny thing happened. FSU got a coach named Bobby Bowden who turned the 'Noles into uberhunden. So, now, when they play each other, I usually root for the Gators, unless the 'Noles have a shot at the national championship and the Gators don't, which, of course, is when the Gators usually beat them. Appropriately, the Gators' only national championship came when their only regular season loss was to FSU, then they turned around and beat the 'Noles in the Sugar Bowl.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Perhaps my last college football rant.

This weekend, like the one just past, usually comes about mid-season. I mean the one when absolutely every game I care about goes the wrong way. The one where all my favorites - the Gators, the Seminoles (yeah, love 'em both - there's a story I'll tell some other time), Penn State (my mom grew up near State College, and I was born in Altoona, where PSU has a branch that hosts a summer fling for railroad buffs that I attend whenever I can) - get eliminated from national title consideration. The one where my alma mater loses one it could have, and needed to, win. The one where the Big Upset I wanted doesn't happen - yeah, I was rooting for Notre Dame over USC, and the only satisfaction I get is that the Irish got dealt the same fate they visited upon my beloved 'Noles and Gators, i.e. seeing a fourth quarter lead erased in the final seconds.

So, who's left to pin my hopes on? Could I learn to love the Horned Frogs?

Friday, October 14, 2005

Thank you, Mickey!

Blogspot should pay the prevailing wage, as determined by DOL, don't you think?

-Kausfiles, October 13, 2005

Of course, if it's hourly, I wouldn't be making much lately.

Monday, October 10, 2005

I give the kiss of death; or, why I want the White Sox to win the championship.

In an earlier post, I told how I became a Brooklyn Dodger fan at age nine, so you know I have a thing for underdogs. Now that the Red Sox are out of it, the bonds of spousal loyalty have been cut, and now that the Braves are gone, only one team that I loathe (the one I loathe maximally) is still in the chase. (As I write this, the Angels cling to a two run lead over said loathed team in the bottom of the seventh, having survived an onslaught by the cream of said team's order in the top of the inning, yielding only a solo homer to Jeter. So there's hope.)

Assuming the Angels succeed in driving a stake through the Steinbrennerian heart tonight, that leaves Angels vs. White Sox, Astros vs. Cards. I was glad when the Angels got it a couple of years ago. They were classic underdogs. But since their ridiculous name change - why couldn't they just call themselves Los Angeles de Anaheim? - I can no longer take them seriously. Normally, I would root for the National League team in any event, out of loyalty to my Mets and disdain for the AL game. (What's good about the designated hitter rule? Oh, yeah. It extends the careers of great old warhorses like Rafael Palmiero.) And the Cards, everyone's favorite to win the NLCS, happen to be the team I admire most on purely aesthetic grounds.

But the Chisox haven't won it since 1917, and there would be something nice about their winning it the year after the team that hadn't since 1918. That, and getting over the Black Sox thing, just like getting past the Curse. And Chicago's a great town.

Sorry, guys. Teams I root for have about the same success ratio as politicians I back. But, go Sox!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Apology, and fearless prediction.

I know my hundreds (tens?) of faithful readers have been waiting eagerly for my next submission here. Real life has interfered, in a good way for me, in the form of a substantial increase in work. So, I'm going to have to budget my blogging time.

Meanwhile, I'll continue in the sports rut I seem to have fallen into lately, by noting that I saw a headline on MSNBC's sports page a few days ago, something like "Florida swaggers into Alabama game." Seeing anything about the Gators swaggering leads me to one inescapable conclusion: the Tide will roll this afternoon.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Fifty years ago today, ...

... I sat in the "cafetorium" of the Eglin Air Force Base Elementary School, in the pine woods of the Florida Panhandle, along with the rest of the students, teachers and administrators, to watch the opening game of the World Series between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees. A little over a year before, I had returned from England, where my father had been stationed for three years. I also watched the 1954 Series (Giants and Indians) but don't remember anything about it except for a vague memory of the Giants' Willie Mays making a spectacular catch. I was still unlearning cricket and rounders and learning baseball and American style football.

At the outset of the '55 Series, everyone expected the Yankees to win. Since I have a propensity to identify with underdogs, and since Brooklyn was the first place where I touched U.S. concrete after returning from overseas, I decided to root for the Dodgers. My faith was rewarded. When the Dodgers left Brooklyn my loyalty shifted to the Pittsburgh Pirates (I was born near there), who thrilled me with victory over the Yanks in 1960, and, later, to the Dodgers' natural successors, the Mets.

Has Testaverde gone to seed?

Gang Green is about to find out.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Weekly college football rave.

Mixed feelings going into the LSU-Tennessee game. My Gators already beat the Vols, and LSU was still ranked ahead of Florida, so a Tennessee victory would be good for the Gators. But there was the whole hurricane thing, as well as an admiration I've had for the Bayou Bengals since the days of Billy Cannon and the Chinese Bandits. So, I'm left with nothing more to say than the Vols reminded me of the Fighting Irish on so many occasions when I was rooting for them to lose, and they overcame what seemed to be an insurmountable deficit.

Friday night I was making one of my now infrequent appearances at the Kettle of Fish. Patrick, the owner, comes from a place called Wauwautosa, just outside Milwaukee, so there were lots of people in red shirts there, watching the Michigan-Wisconsin game. During a break in the action, I glanced up at the screen as a highlight from another game was being shown. There was a guy in a green and gold uniform dashing through a defense wearing red and white, and scoring. Then I saw at the bottom of the screen, "South Florida 14, #9 Louisville 0, 1st". My amygdala lit up like a Roman candle: "My alma mater is beating a top ten team!" "Inconceivable!" replied my cerebrum, doing its best imitation of Wallace Shawn in The Princess Bride. "This won't last. Remember Scales' first rule of college football (born of years following the Florida Gators): 'The upsets you want hardly ever happen; those you don't want happen more often than not.'"

The noise of the Badger fans became unbearable, so I took the subway home. The USF-Louisville game wasn't on any locally available channel, so I had to follow it on line. I was sure by the time I boooted up that the Cardinals would have restored Beano Cook-ish sanity to the gridiron world. The screen came up and said, "South Florida 24, #9 Louisville 7, 3rd". Still plenty of time for the Card defense to stiffen, and the offense to score the two TD's and one FG needed to send it into overtime, in which the team with momentum almost always prevails.

Not wishing to watch this painful process play itself out, I went elsewhere on the web. When I finally looked back in, I saw "South Florida 38, #9 Louisville 7", with something like eight minutes left in the game. Not only that, but the Bulls had the ball, and were in Cards territory. A minute later they scored, got the PAT, and it was 45-7. "Inconceivable", I said to myself, as I clicked the refresh button through a final Louisville TD, and then victory for South Florida.

Next Saturday the Bulls play Miami. The Canes started their season with a rare loss to archrival Florida State, but have since won a tough one from Clemson, and a surprisingly easy one from Colorado. Their next two games after USF are Duke and Temple, so they're not going to be looking ahead to anything big. Having seen what the Bulls did to a ranked team (indeed, Miami has now inherited the #9 spot previously held by the Cards), they won't be complacent. So, can USF beat Miami? At the Orange Bowl?


Rasputin is dying.

Mets get another improbable victory, but St. Louis j.v. doesn't look up to defeating Astros.

Wait 'til next year.

Mathematical elimination fever update 2

Getting the Mets out of the wild card race is sort of like trying to kill Rasputin.

They'll stay in for another day, if (1) they beat the Phils in Philly again tonight, using Zambrano, not Martinez, against Lieber; and (2) Morris and the Cards' junior varsity, playing at home, beat Oswalt and the Astros.

Monday, September 26, 2005

"We never much thought we could get very old": a boomer tale, part 1

I've just watched Scorsese's No Direction Home, and I'm all verklempt. David Greenberg's take in Slate was that the piece was a boomer scrapbook, ignoring Dylan's later career. Well, I've got to admit, I pretty much ignored everything after Blood on the Tracks, mostly because I'd found other stuff to follow, but also because I was convinced nothing he could do could possibly equal what he did in my student days. Kinda like the realization I had at about age thirteen, when I concluded that the kiss of death, from my viewpoint, at least, for a singer was the album with liner notes that said, "This represents X's development as an artist", which translated as, "S/he's given up that immature rock'n'roll stuff to do show tunes and pop standards, and hopes to be playing Vegas soon."

Not that I ever feared Dylan becoming a lounge act (well, yeah, I sort of did). I've got a lot to write about this, which is why I've captioned this "Part 1", so, since it's late, I'm running out of Cognac, and I have to work tomorrow, I'll conclude with a few odd obsevations.

When I first read about the young singer from Minnesota named Bob Dylan, I assumed his name was pronounced "DIE-lan" and that he was a muscular Norwegian-American lad in the grand old Midwestern-Scandinavian social-democratic farmers' and laborers' tradition.

I joined the Columbia Record Club during my freshman year of college, which meant I got to order six albums from their catalog for the price of one. One of the six I chose (along with Surfing by the Ventures and Hey, Little Cobra by the Rip Chords) was The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. I hadn't heard him yet, but I knew he'd written "Blowin' in the Wind", and was curious. When my records came, I found that I'd gotten everything I'd ordered except the Dylan album. Instead of that, I'd received Theresa Brewer's Greatest Hits. A friend congratulated me on my good fortune.

I did get Freewheelin' shortly after that, and, like lots of people, mistook Suze Rotolo for Joan Baez. Soon after that, I got Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A'Changin', and Another Side of Bob Dylan. The last of these quickly became my favorite album, supplying an appropriate soundtrack for my sophomore angst.

During my sophomore year, I returned to my dorm room one night to find a sign taped to the door: "Available Free! (1) portable stereo, (2) innumerable Bob Dylan albums. Come by anytime when Scales isn't in." The roommate who posted this would, whenever he heard "Chimes of Freedom", shout "Chimes don't flash, Bob!" He later dropped out of school to join the Marines.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Mathematical elimination fever update.

The Mets are one away from falling out of the wild-card race. Of course, they're giving fans a great tease, going on a bit of a tear as the season winds down.

Realistic goals:

1. Finish above .500.

2. Finish 4th, not 5th in division (may need to sweep this series with the Nats to accomplish).

Meanwhile, with a Yank loss and a Red Sox win today, the AL East is tied going into the stretch.

In the immortal words of Louise Day Hicks: "You know weah I stand!"

9/25 update: Mets swept Nats, so hope remains they won't finish in the cellar. Nevertheless, while their elimination number remains at one, they're effectively out of wild card contention. Being thus relieved of expectations, they'll probably do well over their few remaining games, and finish above .500. A three game series in Philly starting tonight means they may also affect the outcome of the NL wild card race.

Red Sox and Yanks both won, and so stay tied in the AL East.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

"Floating Island"

No, it isn't a dessert. It's a water-borne work of art. (Click on photo for enlargement.)

Since they're now effectively out of contention, ...

... the Mets have come back to life, winning a series from the Braves and assuring themselves of another from the Marlins.

Perhaps they'll get the satisfaction of helping to deny Carlos Delgado the post-season action for which he spurned them.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Update on slur against Katrina victims. now has an update on this story, including the doctor's statement disavowing the contents of the piece and pointing out that he was not at the convention center in Houston where these alleged incidents occurred. The Snopes piece also quotes relief volunteers from that site and others to the effect that evacuees did not behave in the manner described. You can find it here .

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Don't be fooled by "doctor's" slur on Katrina victims.

There's a blatantly racist rant about the "arrogance" of Katrina victims, allegedly by an M.D. affiliated with the Mississippi university system, that's been circulating by e-mail. A couple of right wing websites have picked it up, but a British conservative site has questioned its provenance and accuracy. Someone also posted it on the Denver Craigslist, but it has since been removed. The good folks at tracked down the truth, which is that the piece was not written by the doctor. It was instead posted on the website of an unnamed 23 year old male Texan, the doctor saw it and forwarded it to some friends (why isn't clear, but his subsequent reaction indicates it was likely because he didn't agree with it), and at least one of those friends sent it on with the doctor's name attached, though probably inadvertently. The doctor is now appalled by what has happened. You can find the discussion here.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Cynicism analyzed.

Tyler Cowen, in Marginal Revolution, finds gold in Robin Hanson's The Cynic's Conundrum. Here's a choice nugget:

Interpreted as extreme claims, such as that people only care about low motives, or that high functions have no influence on social institutions, cynicism is clearly false. But interpreted in a more graded fashion, such as the fraction of behavior explained by low motives or functions, or the difference between claimed motives and real motives, cynical beliefs clearly tend to contain a lot of truth.

The conclusion:

... while hypocrisy and low motives probably are in fact much more widespread than most people acknowledge, most people are well-advised to pretend that they believe otherwise.

Taking what satisfaction we can.

A colleague, who is a Yankee fan but a thoroughly decent fellow nevertheless, expressed his wonderment about a group of Mets fans he had seen late yesterday, apparently enjoying themselves very much despite their team's being effectively out of contention. I explained that they were celebrating two events: a series victory over the Braves, and Tom Glavine's first victory over his old team this season (and only his second since becoming a Met). Sparkling defensive play by recently called-up second baseman Anderson Hernandez aided Glavine's cause, and gave more reason to hope for better things in 2006.

Addendum 9/20: Today's NYT has a piece on Carlos Beltran, in which Ben Shpigel quotes him as saying he regards Roberto Alomar as a model for his offensive game. Of course, he means the Cleveland Alomar, not the Mets Alomar ... we hope.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Has anyone noticed ...

... that Paul Simon, at least in a baseball cap, has come to resemble Michael Bloomberg?

9/20 Addendum: For proof, go to, and scroll to the right of the row of photographs at the top of the page.

Sir Hermann Bondi, 1919-2005

I first read of Hermann Bondi when I was about twelve, probably in George Gamow's One, Two, Three ... Infinity, a book that helped to convince me I wanted to be an astrophysicist. (It took Jane Reed, my Calculus I instructor, to dissuade me from this ambition.) Bondi, I learned, was one of a triumvirate of cosmologists (the others were Thomas Gold and Fred Hoyle) who championed the "steady state" theory of the universe. I later wondered how it came to be that a beach in Australia was named for him.

"Steady state" was posited in 1948 as an explanation for the condition of the universe as it was known at that time. Some years earlier, Edwin Hubble had shown that the universe is expanding. One possible reason was that it had started out very small, and exploded outward. This became known as the "big bang" theory. It implied that there was a finite amount of matter in the universe, and that, if the universe continued expanding, eventually it would become mostly empty, and dead. Alternatively, if there was sufficient matter that gravity would eventually overcome the expansive force, the universe would ultimately collapse back to the point from which it originated. Bondi, Gold and Hoyle, however, argued that, while the universe was expanding from a single point, matter is continuously being created at that point and expanding outward to replenish the void left behind earlier matter that had gone before it. Always has been, and always will.

Given that comparison, it seems that steady state is a much more optimistic theory than big bang. It's interesting, however, to consider that, in a way, steady state, which, according to the New York Times' obituary of Bondi today, "still has its adherents" (although evidence of residual microwave radiation from the big bang led Bondi himself to renounce it) is much more of a challenge to Biblical literalism even than Darwin's theory of evolution. After all, it squarely contradicts the first three words of Genesis, "In the beginning", positing, instead, that there was no beginning.

Bondi, who was born an Austrian Jew and emigrated to Britain when the Nazis occupied his homeland, had in common with many great British scientists a commitment to practical affairs along with theoretical work. He was among those who designed the Thames Barrier, which is meant to protect London from a disaster like that of New Orleans.

Will the Vols give Meyer's tailor some business?

The NYT's Pete Thamel tells us, on page one of today's sports section, that Florida's new coach, Urban Meyer, loses ten pounds after every loss. So far this season, his girth has faced no challenge, as the Gators easily beat Wyoming and Louisiana Tech. Tonight they face their first serious challenge, Tennessee. These teams have a history. Back in the mid 1960's, Florida snatched Steve Spurrier, then the nation's top high school QB prospect, from Johnson City, barely a stone's throw from the UT campus. They later lured Tennessee coach Doug Dickey south, where he went from kudos in Knoxville to groans in Gainesville. In recent years, they've usually been the top contenders for the SEC East title.

It's hard to call this one. The Vols had trouble with Alabama-Birmingham, but Fullmer is the kind of coach who can build off of trouble. The Gators have a history of going belly-up in big games with lots of attention focused on them. But we haven't seen a Meyer-coached team in the Swamp in a big one yet. Meyer's tailor should be looking for his measuring tape, but not counting on the cash yet.


The Mets still have a pulse, and it's propelled by Pedro.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Postscript on culture war.

It's not the big one I promised earlier - I'll try to get that done this weekend - but Meghan O'Rourke thinks reading Faulkner can help.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

This blog needs more of these.

According to the plaque on the sidewalk, this is "Eyes", by Louise Bourgeois.

Oh, give me a break!

Braves Cited For Abuse Of Mets. Y'all just love kicking us when we're down, don'tcha?

"Mathematical elimination fever: Catch it!"

Someone suggested that as a slogan for the Atlanta Braves, back in the early 1990's, not too long before they were transformed into the beast of the N.L. East. So, with a bit of hopefulness, I offer it to my beloved Mets, described in a headline in today's New York Times as "flatlining".

A sharp-eyed colleague called my attention to an item in the fine print near the bottom of today's Times sports section, under the heading "this date in baseball":

1946 - The Brooklyn Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 2-0 in five innings when the game was called because of gnats.

Would that the Mets could catch such a break now and then.

Will Weiner's class act be nullified by bureaucracy?

Magnanimity and self-sacrifice aren't words usually associated with New York City politics, on either the Democratic or GOP side. So it comes as a pleasant surprise to see Representative Anthony Weiner conceding the Democratic mayoral primary to Fernando Ferrer, despite Ferrer's falling just short, before absentee ballots have been counted, of the required forty per cent of the vote needed to avoid a run-off. Weiner cited the need for party unity in the face of a re-election campaign by a fabulously wealthy incumbent. A cynic might argue that, since Weiner retains his seat in Congress, his "gracious" concession enhances his prospects for re-election (though I suspect that the odds of his being unseated, like those of most Congressional incumbents, are slim in any event), that it may help his chances of some day attaining higher office, and that it is therefore a worthwhile trade-off for an uncertain one-on-one shot at Ferrer. Nevertheless, one must recall that in the last mayoral election, Ferrer lost a Democratic primary run-off to Mark Green (who then went on to lose to Bloomberg in an election overshadowed by the attack on the World Trade Center).

Another nice thing about Wiener's concession is that it stands to eliminate the need for any city-wide run-off, as the only other candidate for city-wide office, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, cleared the forty per cent margin (as did Manhattan Borough President candidate Scott Stringer and the incumbent Manhattan and Brooklyn District Attorneys, the only borough-wide candidates facing primary challenges). This would, I heared on WQXR this morning, probably save the City something on the order of $10 million. Not a huge amount, as compared to the overall City budget, but not exactly chump change, either. But wait! According to New York 1,

Election officials say after all the absentee ballots are calculated, which could take until next week, there may still be a runoff by law if Ferrer does not get that 40 percent.

In other words, we must continue counting those absentee ballots and, should Ferrer not reach the magic number, blow a big wad of cash to learn the answer to the question, "What if they had an election and nobody came?" (The prospect of die-hard Weiner loyalists trooping to the polls despite his wishes seems slim, especially as the unions supporting him in the primary have endorsed his withdrawal and thrown their support to Ferrer).

I'm all for the rule of law, but, sometimes, adherence to rules becomes nonsensical. What dread precedent would be established by ignoring the forty per cent rule when the second place candidate willingly concedes?

9/21 addendum: The ballots have all been counted, and Ferrer has his 40%. Joel Kotkin has a piece on today's NYT op-ed page arguing that this is a Bad Thing, because it lets the Democrats escape a needed fight between what he sees as Ferrer's old school tax-and-spend, identity politics liberalism, and Weiner's more centrist approch that seeks to "cut taxes and streamline bureaucracy". Of course, if this is an accurate description of Weiner's policies, it's hard to see how he's much different from Bloomberg.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Can the culture war end in anything but scorched earth?

Digby has a scary take (these posts are from November, 2004, but are linked to a recent post of his; follow my link and scroll down to the posts headed "More Culture War" dated November 10 and "It Won't Work" dated November 9) on the origin and nature of the "culture war". It's not just a reaction to the sexual and pharmaceutical excesses of my generation in the 1960's. It's not, as one Ralph Keyes argued in his book, published in the 1970's, Is There Life After High School?, about whether we were "innies" or "outies" (in the social, not the navel, sense) in our teens. It's not even, as I've suspected, mostly about parents fearing baleful cultural influnces that will lead their children to grow up (in the words of the Austin Lounge Lizards) "stoned, left-leaning and gay."

No, according to Digby, its origins are pre-Revolutionary and rooted in slavery and race. It began with prickly defensiveness on the part of Southerners, that led to bellicose defiance and secession, and, following defeat on the battlefield, morphed into resentful vengefulness that "metastasized" throughout middle America. It can't be mollified, he argues, by any concessions on the issues of the day (abortion, school prayer, gay marriage and so on), because it can only be satisfied by a total victory that would entail trashing the Bill of Rights and instituting a theocracy.

But this won't happen, he argues, because the real (as opposed to the liberal, intellectual, academic and media) elite, which Digby identifies with "the church, the government and the corporations" will, much as Tom Frank contends, use these issues to manipulate the electorate for its own ends (presumably ever-lower taxes, leading to more money in collection plates, re-election for incumbents, and free rein for usurers, polluters and purveyors of unsafe products).

I think that, like many over-arching explanations, this has some truth to it, but fails to explain everything. I have my own overly-ambitious theory, which I'll set out in a later post. For now, as Samuel Pepys was wont to say, "and so to bed."

Monday, September 12, 2005

Targeted Katrina relief.

In a post below ("Sometimes, bureaucracy works"), I mentioned a friend who is working with the Louisiana Insurance Department and others to provide targeted, cost-effective relief to those displaced by Katrina. Her name is Mary Lanning, and she has been providing assistance to the homeless, the home-bound and the gravely ill for many years through a non-profit organization called YES! Solutions, Inc., which is qualified under I.R.C. Section 501(C)3.

At present, Mary has positioned YES! to link donors directly to those who are providing housing and board to people displaced by the hurricane. If you contact YES!, you will be provided with the name of a host, the address of the household, and a list of items needed by those being sheltered by the host. You may then send a box of needed items directly to the host. As an option, of course, you may choose simply to make a cash donation to YES!

If interested, please contact:

Mary Lanning
YES! Solutions, Inc.
549 West 123rd Street, Suite MF
New York, NY 10027

Phone: 212-866-5500

Alas, it's too late for Gate.

Following up on my post below about aid for musicians, I'm saddened to pass on this report of the death of Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown. He had been ill for some time, but if his death wasn't caused, it was at least hastened by the effects of Katrina.

I had the pleasure of hearing Gate perform, and of meeting him after the show, about ten years ago at Blues Harbor, in Atlanta. He was an artist blessed with the ability to meld many styles and produce something of surpassing impact.

"So Long For Now", Gate. You'll be missed.

Help for New Orleans and Gulf Coast musicians

Those of you, who, like me, are music buffs, and want to help the many musicians whose lives and art have been uprooted by Katrina should go to The Jazz Foundation of America - Helping Musicians In Need.

Shades of Grantland Rice.

Ray Glier of the New York Times uses "albeit" in his Sunday sports section story about Saturday's gridiron clash between Georgia and South Carolina, won narrowly by the Dawgs only after they "resorted to rock-'em, sock-'em football." No mention of Spurrier visor tosses.

The big story, of course, is Notre Dame's upset of Michigan. I used to dislike the Irish with almost the intensity with which I loathe the Yankees, and for pretty much the same reason: they were the "establishment" team, about whom the Beano Cooks of the world would blather like a minyan of Reb Tevyes, "Knut Rockne, tradition! Four Horsemen, tradition! The Gippah, tradition! Subway alumni, tradition!" Their recent travails made me re-evaluate my position. So long as they only upend other establishment teams, I'll root for them.

A view from afar.

Here's more from our man in Beijing . Well worth reading, it includes helpful links to another expat blog and, for hard-core Sinophiles (or -phobes), a site that gives translations of Chinese news articles.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Sometimes, bureaucracy works.

We've all read and heard much in the past week about the failures of bureaucracy in the face, and aftemath, of Katrina. So it's good to know about one agency, the Louisiana Insurance Department, that is performing admirably. A few days ago, the New York Times reported on Commissioner Robetrt Wooley's convocation of a meeting in Atlanta with representatives of insurance companies that covered properties affected by the storm. Now I've heard from a friend who has had extensive dealings with the Department over the years, and who is helping to coordinate a partnership with Department personnel to provide direct relief for displaced hurricane victims. Here's the story, in her own words:

We're launching a Katrina relief partnership with host families in Baton Rouge and outer-New Orleans and surrounding parishes who have taken-in displaced families ... working directly with 270 members of the Louisiana Insurance Department to provide customized parcels of needed personal hygiene items, towels, sheets, toilet paper to help host families stretch their household budgets for the duration. Our ... donors will send these goods at intervals directly to the homes of host families who sign up. Host families are not in line for any help at all from the major relief agencies, and the many truckloads of clothing and household furnishings that arrive daily exceed the capacity of local people to unload, warehouse, and redistribute. Basic comforts and necessities such as toilet paper and shampoo, however, are a manageable and appreciated support that self-depletes, so recurring gifts are appropriate, allowing supportive relationships to grow between donor and host that could extend to other exchanges of help. ... Meantime, Commissioner Robert Wooley has invited me to come to Baton Rouge to help his department coordinate their own internal relief efforts. Everyone wants to help; they just need someone to organize their effort. His staff already has identified 50+ of their colleagues who lost family, or property, or are housing displaced elders from nursing homes and hospices, or otherwise housing evacuees. One secretary has 32 people living in her 3-bedroom home!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Ship watching from Brooklyn Heights

When I moved to Brooklyn Heights in 1983, one of the principal attractions the neighborhood held for me was that it sat atop a bluff overlooking what were then working piers serving breakbulk cargo ships, mostly in the South American trade, where ports were just beginning to develop container facilities. At the crest of the bluff, cantilevered over the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, is the Promenade, a walkway extending for about half a mile, shown below.

The Promenade commands a view of the piers below, the East River (actually a strait connecting upper New York harbor to Long Island Sound), and beyond, the Statue of Liberty, Lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge. Here is a view from the Promenade looking toward the South Street Seaport on the Manhattan side, with the Woolworth Building on the left and the Municipal Building (once described as "the most outstanding example of Stalinist Gothic architecture in America") to the right. Note the Danish sail training ship docked at the end of Pier 17.

Unfortunately, shipping economics scotched my dream of living in a place overlooking working docks, as, shortly after I moved, the neighborhood paper announced the closing of the piers below the Heights. The triumph of containerization meant that piers without many acres of storage space in front of them were obsolete. For several years, the piers were used as parking spaces for ships awaiting sale to new owners or for scrap, including a former Matson liner that ended its years of service as part of the Chandris cruise fleet, a World War II vintage C-4 type freighter that had been converted to a container ship, and the battleship Iowa, which had been reactivated and was awaiting permanent port facilities on Staten Island (Iowa was later withdrawn from service and the Staten Island base canceled). After a few years, buildup of silt around the piers precluded even their being used for this purpose. The City now intends to turn the piers, and the land between them and the Heights, into a waterfront park.

Despite the loss of the piers, the Promenade is still a good location for ship watching. On Saturday mornings and evenings through late spring, summer and early fall, a parade of cruise ships can be seen entering and leaving port. On occasion, cargo vessels sail right by the Heights, entering or leaving the East River en route to docks at the former Brooklyn Navy Yard, or to ports on Long Island Sound. A couple of mornings ago, I rose early and decided to walk on the Promenade before breakfast. As I was returning, I spotted a small cruise ship emerging from behind Governors Island, which lies below the tip of Manhattan, preparing to sail up the Hudson.

This vessel has the typically motor yacht-like look of today's cruise ships, but is trimmer and more attractive to my eye than the much larger vessels that now dominate that trade. After getting this photo, I returned to my apartment and was just sitting down for breakfast when I glanced out the window and saw something that made me dash out the door, camera in hand, and back down to the Promenade. Another small cruiser was coming in, but this was a much older vessel, of a type seldom seen here.

Note the much more "shipshape" lines of this vessel, which I would guess to be of late 1950's or early '60's vintage. Alas, most of its kind are now gone. Update: I now know she was either Saga Rose or Saga Ruby.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Another blog worth visiting.

This time, it's an Englishman living in semi-retirement in France. I discovered him because Blogger identified us as the only two users of their service with an interest in "ships and the sea". On going to his site, I found we had much else in the way of common interests. His thoughts and poetry can be found at A Layman's Analyses in France.

Do I have a particular affinity for blogs by expatriates? Perhaps it's because I was one during several very formative years.

A visit to Beijing

I've discovered an excellent blog by an American living in Beijing. A fascinating account of life in that city, with incisive views on the Chinese legal system and reflections on the status of foreigners there, can be found at Two Wheels Bad, Four Wheels Good?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Back to things nautical, ...

... or, at least, riverine. Another Fray friend, Raprap, with whom I share (at least on my father's side) an Ohio valley heritage, has posted a comment in response to my initial "Welcome" post below, in which he gives the happy news that at least twenty old-style tall stack sternwheel river boats still are in sailing condition. He also quotes one of my favorite musicians:

John Hartford, in a river song, once described a riverboat as an engine surrounded by someone with a fetish for a scroll saw. He was right. It isn’t unusual to see a new hull built around 75 year old engines. A hull with these beautiful Victorian filigreed scroll sawn gussets on all three decks.

Despite my paternal connection to the river, I've not spent enough time along the banks of the O-hi-o (as the old song goes, which I first heard at about age ten on the radio in my parents' Chevy while riding across southern Ohio en route from my mother's home in Pennsylvania to my dad's in Indiana) to see one of the grand old boats steam by. I have seen many a stick of barges pushed by a massive diesel-powered towboat. So, tell me, Rap, or anybody, why is it called a "towboat" if all it does is push, not pull?

Monday, September 05, 2005

More on Katrina, and a note on the Fray

As the enormity of the tragedy has become apparent, I've felt compelled to add to my earlier, brief comments. However, as so often happens, I find that my Fray friend Demosthenes2 has said pretty much what I would have, but more eloquently, and probably more succinctly, at .

For anyone reading this who's unfamiliar with the Fray (which I've now referred to in two posts, and certainly will again), there's a good description in Wikipedia at , written, I believe, largely by Fray stalwarts Deej and Betty the Crow.

I don't mean for this Blog to be a site exclusively for Fraysters. To the contrary, I encourage participation by everyone. If you're unfamiliar with the Fray, or with Slate Magazine, and decide to join in there, too, then so much the better. But, if you don't, that's fine by me, too.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Ship watching at Eisenhower Lock

One of Massena's fine points is that it's located close to the Eisenhower Lock on the St. Lawrence Seaway. The Seaway is a system of canals, locks and dams that allows ships of up to almost 700' length to traverse the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes, from the Atlantic to Lake Superior. The Seaway was built in the 1950's, and replaced an older system of smaller locks and narrower, shallower canals that limited navigation to uneconomically small vessels.

When completed, the Seaway locks were large enough to accomodate most cargo ships, excepting the largest tankers and bulk carriers. Today, many container ships and bulkers are too large for it, but it still carries an impressive amount of ocean-borne cargo to and from ports ranging from Ogdensburg, New York west to Duluth, Minnesota. An even greater volume consists of cargo carried to and from U.S. and Canadian ports along the Lakes and the St. Lawrence to other such ports. Most of this cargo is carried on "lakers", specialized vessels built for Great Lakes navigation. The classic laker design had the wheelhouse atop a tall superstructure at the bow of the ship, and the engine room and funnel at the stern, leaving a long open deck with cargo hatches between. Recently, lakers have tended toward the arrangement standard for oceangoing freighters of having both the wheelhouse and engine aft. Still, they can usually be distinguished from "salties" by an overall blunter, more bargelike hull shape.

Whenever we visit Massena, I get on line and visit the Seaway's web site, which provides a handy map showing the location of ships on the Seaway. From this, I can tell when to drive up to the Eisenhower Lock visitor center, which has a platform overlooking the lock, and see a ship or two locking through. This past Friday, I saw that two ships, one a laker and the other a salty, were due to lock through in the late afternoon. The first through was the Frontenac, of Canada Steamship Lines (note that, despite the company name, this vessel, as almost all now active, is diesel powered), a laker built to the maximum dimesions allowing transit of the Seaway locks. Here is Frontenac entering the lock.

You can see the classic, wheelhouse-forward laker design. Below is Frontenac in the lock, looking aft from behind her wheelhouse. The enormous boom is for unloading cargo (typically grain or pelletized ore) at ports that lack unloading facilities.

Finally, we see Frontenac, having locked through, heading downstream toward her home port of Montreal.

By the time Frontenac was gone, and the lock refilled, the Russian freighter Aleksandr Suvorov was waiting its turn. Here's the Suvorov entering the lock.

Unfortunately, after this shot the batteries in my camera expired, preventing me from recording the Russian vessel's progress through the lock. A very tanned, weather-beaten looking man and a woman with coppery red hair were lounging atop the wheelhouse. From the stern, I read Suvorov's hailing port as Murmansk, on Russia's north coast. This explained the logo of a white polar bear emblazoned on the ship's black funnel.

Update: For more photos and text about Eisenhower Lock, see here and here. For more about classic lake boats, see here.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

A Postcard from Massena

Last year my in-laws moved from Vermont to Massena, on the northern edge of New York State, where the St. Lawrence River defines the border between the U.S. and Canada. Massena is very much an industrial town, with two Alcoa plants, a G.M. powertrain plant, and a large hydroelectric dam. I don't doubt that, during the Cold War, Massenans bragged about their prominence on the Soviet target list.

Like many small cities, Massena's downtown is largely deserted, most retail having relocated to the St. Lawrence Center mall on the eastern edge of town. Here's a view of downtown (note the desperate-seeming "open" banners on the establishment at right), with Fiona the Pink Toyota, who brought us here, parked in front of the dashing, copper-toned "Z" car. (Someone in this town is prospering.)

Massena does still have some little shops with charm, and sometimes charming names, like Alkie’s Liquor Store, where I was able to find a bottle of quite good, and inexpensive, V.S.O.P. Cognac. The proprietor told me she usually charged fifty dollars for a photo, but waived it for me because I bought a bottle, and I promised to publish the picture on my blog.

Here’s Alkie’s next-door neighbor, Booter’s Country Bar.

Later in the afternoon, I rode with my step-father in law to a nearby farm stand to buy what proved at dinner to be remarkably tasty corn and tomatoes. On our way, we had to drive through a brief but heavy rain shower that, mercifully, stopped just before we got to the farm. On the way back, I regretted not having my camera, but rushed to get it as soon as we got home. I summoned my daughter outside, we both took shots, and Liz got the better one of this symbol of hope in a time of flood and tribulation.

Keepin’ my eye on the Massena rainbow (apologies to John Stewart).

Friday, September 02, 2005

A recommendation.

For a gripping account of riding out the storm, and continuing updates, with photographs, from the Gulf coast of Mississippi, go to

Wednesday, August 31, 2005


The fact that the engine that creates my profile chooses to take my birthdate and, from it, determine and show my (Greek) astrological (sun) sign, and my (Chinese) zodiac year, which data I cannot delete from my profile without also deleting my age (which I choose to show), should not be construed as an endorsement by me of any system of astrology.

Bad news from New Orleans

A city that I love lies mostly deserted and gravely wounded. No speculation or pontification here. I'll do what I can for relief efforts, and hope you do, too.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Here begins our adventure in blogging. If you know me from the Fray, or from some other context, you pretty much know what to expect. I've nothing more to say for now, except thanks for looking in, and please check in again soon. Any suggested topics for discussion are welcome.

I hope to be posting some stuff for the Fray writers' group here soon. That will be clearly marked as such. Your comments are also eagerly awaited on anything else I post here.