Friday, February 24, 2017
Tomorrow they face the Washington Nationals, who won the NL East last year, leaving the Mets to fight for a wild card spot they failed to capture. The outcome won't matter much, but again I'll make what I can of it.
Sunday, February 19, 2017
John Glenn was a hero to me long before he rode Friendship 7 into orbit, circled the earth three times, and piloted the capsule to a safe landing in the Pacific. As an Air Force brat, during my childhood I read everything I could about jet pilot heroics. I knew of him as the pilot who first flew across the continental U.S. at an average speed above Mach I. I also learned of his exploits as a fighter pilot in World War II and the Korean War.
Permanently engraved on my memory is the morning of February 20, 1962. I was in tenth grade, and in Mr. Bonar's biology class at Robinson High School, in Tampa. We were excused from class and went outside--February 20 in Tampa was clear and just a bit crisp--and, looking to the east, saw the rising vapor trail that eventually curved slightly away. As the school day progressed, we got occasional updates, including the frightening news that his capsule's heat shield might have broken away. We cheered at the report of his safe splashdown.
At the age of 77, he returned to space as a member of a space shuttle crew, thereby becoming the oldest person to go beyond earth's atmosphere. I'll turn 71 one month from today. Maybe I have something to look forward to.
Sunday, February 12, 2017
Photo:Stig Ove Voll, licensed under Creative Commons.
I also noted that 2016 had taken a heavy toll, both of those close to me and those who had served as cultural icons. I'll start with four lovely women whose friendship graced my life.
Dorothy Pilch (photo, by Martha Foley) was the senior parishioner of Grace Church, and a steadfast member, along with my wife, of the church's cooking crew. With a degree from Rutgers in economics and a background in banking, she devoted many hours of her later years to helping fellow seniors with financial advice. She frequently joined us for Sunday dinner. Her birthday was two days before mine, so for some years Steve Muncie, former Rector of Grace, would host her (and me incidentally) for a celebratory dinner at the Heights Cafe.
Martha and I had the misfortune of losing our next door neighbors on both sides early this year. Dorothy Azouni and her husband, Adel, greeted me when I moved into my apartment in 1983. She was a Brooklyn native, and Jewish; he was a Palestinian Arab. They met in Paris in the time shortly after World War Two, when she was working for a United Nations agency providing relief to people in war-ravaged Europe. She and Adel were together many years, until he died several years ago. Dorothy stayed in their apartment, visited regularly by members of a nearby synagogue who would bring her pastries and other baked goods that she insisted on sharing with us. She loved Liz and our cats.
The other neighbor we lost was Lillie DeBevoise. She moved in about ten years ago, and we immediately struck up a warm friendship. She was a retired teacher, widowed, with two grown daughters, a son, and several grandchildren, all of whom were regular guests at her apartment, as were Martha, Liz, and I. Lillie would often invite us, along with some other neighbors, for cocktails on a Friday evening. She was also my "date" for the New England Society's black tie fall dinner when Martha was out of town that evening one year. Her daughter Jane, also a widow, who lives a block away on Remsen Street, owns a lovely country house in the Catskills to which Lillie took us for a couple of delightful weekends. You can read about them here and here. During our second visit, Lillie introduced us to the Dai Bosatsu Zendo.
Another woman I miss is my Lion's Head companion of some years past, with whom I remained friends following the Head's sad demise, Alice Denham. A Jacksonville native, she was an early Playboy playmate, a founder of the National Organization of Women ("NOW"), and a published novelist. Photo and more about her here.
Henrik Krogius, who died in October, was a man of many talents and accomplishments: historian, journalist, photographer, and NBC news producer. I met him once, briefly, but for many years, until his retirement at the end of 2012 from the Brooklyn Eagle and its local Brooklyn Heights Press, for which I later became an occasional free-lance contributor, I was a regular and eager reader of his columns. From them, and from his books, I learned much about the rich history of our neighborhood.
Last year saw the passing of many musicians I admired. Ones I noted here are Natalie Cole (whose death on New Year's Eve wasn't reported until New Year's Day); David Bowie; Glenn Frey; Dan Hicks; Sir George Martin (although known as a producer, I'm sure he was also a musician; besides, I think being able to handle a mixing board is a kind of musicianship); Merle Haggard; Guy Clark; and Leonard Cohen. Others--Prince, George Michael, Leon Russell--I should have noted.
One death that hit me hard was that of Sharon Jones, a fellow Brooklynite whom I heard in performance at several venues. I first posted about her in 2010. She performed with Lou Reed in 2013, but was also diagnosed with cancer that year. She continued to preform whenever she could through her courses of chemotherapy, but finally succumbed in November. A brave and very talented woman.
A non-musician I mourned is Bob Elliott, of the radio comedy team Bob and Ray. Another was physicist Tom Kibble, whose work laid the foundation for some important discoveries, including the Higgs Boson.
On a happier note, we celebrated some birthdays: Antoine "Fats" Domino (88); Ringo Starr (76); Tony Bennett (90); and Van Morrison (71).
Monday, January 16, 2017
Morehouse College, in Atlanta, is the alma mater of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose memory we honor today.
Photo: Nobel Prize Organization, via Wikimedia Commons (public domain).
Monday, January 09, 2017
This year is different, for two reasons. First, I have suffered so many losses, both of friends and of cultural icons, that I'm going to do a separate "Remembrances" post, which may take me another week or so to put together. Second, the way that I've related to my blog, and my sources of inspiration, have changed.
In 2016 I posted 43 times on Self-Absorbed Boomer. This compares to 107 times in 2015, 78 times in 2014, 97 in 2013, and 120 in 2011. The declining numbers (the bump in 2015 reflects my having instituted the "TBT" meme to force myself to post an old, favorite piece of music each week; I gave this up in 2016) reflect a couple of things. One is the Brooklyn Heights Blog, for which I've had to take on greatly increased responsibility since the sudden and unexpected death in 2015 of its founder, John "Homer Fink" Loscalzo. Fortunately, there are three very capable journalists helping me in this effort: SongBird NYC, Mary Kim, and Teresa Genaro. The other is Facebook. In the early days of the blog, before I got onto Facebook, I posted a lot of short things, like quick quotes from media with a brief observation, or photos, which I now put on Facebook instead of the blog. I also now put links to all my blog posts on Facebook, so I now get almost all comments on my blog posts on Facebook, not Blogger.
Anyway, I'd better get around to giving credit where it's due. In terms of volume of traffic on my blog, the award has to go to Russia. For reasons I don't know, my blog got thousands of hits from there late in 2016. They weren't directed at any particular post. My blog wasn't heavy on political content; this past year it's been music and baseball. I don't know what drew the attention. Whatever it was, I hope you all (I asume it was more than one of you) enjoyed it.
One friend I need to acknowledge is Michael Simmons. He's been a constant source of inspiration for the several years since we reconnected our friendship that began years ago in the Lion's Head. Back in September Michael sent me a link to an extract of a piece he'd written in MOJO about my favorite rock band of all time: the Byrds; read it here. It focuses on the song "Eight Miles High", an old favorite of mine, so here's the song:
Monday, December 26, 2016
On the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay all about,
Deep and crisp and even....
So begins what is, to most of us, a very familiar Christmas carol. What, though, is the Feast of Stephen, and who was Wenceslas?
The Feast of Stephen is, in fact, today (a day which, where I am, in Eastern Standard Time, is rapidly fading), December 26, the day after Christmas. It is the day established to celebrate Saint Stephen, reckoned to have been the first martyr for the Christian faith (his story is told in Acts of the Apostles, chapters six and seven). "Good King Wenceslas", then, is really not a Christmas carol, but a day-after-Christmas carol. Nevertheless, it expresses what those of us who celebrate Christmas consider the true spirit of the holiday: bringing comfort and joy to others, especially to those less fortunate than us.
Wenceslas, sometimes spelled Wenceslaus, wasn't a king, at least during his lifetime. He was a Duke of Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic. Emperor Otto I, of the Holy Roman Empire (later famously declared by Voltaire to be none of the above) bestowed on him the regnancy posthumously. Wenceslas was born around 908, and assumed ducal authority in 924 or 25. He was in contention with his younger brother Boreslaw (sometimes called "the Bad" or "the Cruel"), who had Wenceslas murdered in 935.
During his brief life and dukedom, Wenceslas was known for Christian piety and for deeds of kindness to the poor and unfortunate. We don't know if the words of the carol accurately reflect one of these deeds, but it seems intended to reflect his nature. Wenceslas was, like Stephen, declared a martyr for his faith and canonized as a saint.
The clip above is of a superb performance of "Good King Wenceslas" by the Roches at a Christmas concert at the long lost and lamented Bottom Line, in Greenwich Village, in 1990. Suzzy ("the Humble Servant"), on guitar, gives a long spoken introduction, evoking the sisters' late father and his love of the carol, which is well worth a listen. She's joined by sisters Maggie (the "Rich King") on keyboard, and Sarah (the "Lovely Narrator"), also on guitar.
Thursday, December 22, 2016
That a bluegrass musician should sing an Irish song is no surprise; the Appalachians and the bluegrass country to their west attracted immigrants from Ireland, most of them Ulster Scots, or "Scotch Irish", descendants of Protestant Scots whose ancestors had been "planted" in northern Ireland in an effort by the British crown to subdue the Catholic Irish.
As for Maestro Ma, listen to him in the Celtic groove with Mark O'Connor and Edgar Meyer on "The Green Groves of Erin/The Flowers of Red Hill".
Thursday, November 10, 2016
The first song of his I knew was "Suzanne", written for his friend Suzanne Verdal, a dancer who lived in a warehouse made into a studio on the bank of the St. Lawrence River. In the clip above, he sings it solo, after a spoken introduction in which he tells how he was cheated out of his rights to it.
The first version of "Suzanne" I knew was by Judy Collins, from her album In My Life. It was played on WBCN, Boston's first "underground" album oriented rock FM station in my delirious spring of 1968 when, as a Florida resident of many years, I had endured my first Massachusetts winter and, being helplessly but hopelessly in love, saw the earth come again to life. I was fortunate to find the clip above, in which Leonard and Judy joined in the song.
Erratum and addendum: when I wrote this, I assumed that the song "Suzanne" was about Suzanne Elrod, mother of Cohen's two children. Thanks to my friend Stephen Crews Wylder, I now know that it was about Suzanne Verdal, a friend from before he met Elrod, and I've corrected the post above to reflect this. Stephen gave a link to this NPR piece, which tells of the origin of "Suzanne", explains that the reference to "tea and oranges" is to Bigelow's "Constant Comment" tea, and tells the story of the tea's origin. By coincidence, the agency where I've been working keeps a supply of Bigelow teas in the break room, and of late I've become fond of Constant Comment. There's more about Cohen and Verdal here.
Sunday, October 23, 2016
Unfortunately, there is no video or audio available on line of Repast doing any of the works that were included in Friday's concert. The clip above, which gives audio along with a still image, is of them (with Claire Jolivet instead of Ms. Wenstrom as guest violinist) performing Sonata No. 6 by Carolus Hacquart, one of the two Low Country composers included in their Friday concert, although the work they played there was Hacquart's Sonata No. 3. It does give you a good sample of their sound.
Another piece I especially enjoyed was "Susana", by the Spaniard Bartolomeo de Selma y Salaverde, which featured the bassoon; de Selma was a bassoonist. There's no video of Repast doing anything by this composer, but I found the clip above of his Canzona Terza performed by a group led by Pedro Sousa Silva, who plays recorder. The bassoon plays an important role in this piece; unfortunately, the bassoonist is not identified.
After the concert, I met both Stephanie Corwin and Amelia Roosevelt, and said to both, "You rock!" In each instance, this evoked a slight wince, but I think Repast plays with something of the spirit of a rock band. They play off each other with great alacrity, and their music swings, as I believe baroque music was intended to do. I'm looking forward to the rest of their 2016-17 season performances; the schedule is here.
Saturday, October 22, 2016
Friday, October 14, 2016
Tuesday, October 04, 2016
So, tomorrow's sudden death wild card National League playoff game can be seen as a reprise of the 1951 best-of-three tiebreaker series for the NL pennant (there were no divisions back then), a mini subway series that pitted the Brooklyn Dodgers against the New York Giants. The Giants won the opening game 3-1 on Brooklyn's home turf, Ebbets Field. Game 2 was at the Giants' home, the Polo Grounds, and the Dodgers pounded their rivals 10-0. They returned to the Polo Grounds for Game 3. The Dodgers, who were the betting favorite to win the pennant, led 4-1 going into the bottom of the ninth. One run had scored when the Giants' Bobby Thompson came to bat with one out and runners on second and third.
Thompson's three run walk-off homer, known since in baseball lore as "The Shot Heard 'Round the World", gave the Giants the pennant and allowed them to advance to the World Series, where they would lose in six games to that other New York team, the Yankees.
I'm hoping that the 1951 result gets reversed tomorrow, with the "Dodgers Continued by Other Means" prevailing. There are others, though, including my friend Dermot McEvoy, whose loyalty to the Mets is based on their ties to the New York Giants. When the Mets were established as an expansion team, the owners decided to adopt the colors of both of the previous New York City NL teams. The Dodgers' colors were blue and white; the Giants' were black and orange. The Mets cap (photo above) is blue with orange lettering. For those like Dermot, tomorrow's game will be the New York Giants Continued by Other Means against the Apostate Giants, who deserted New York for San Francisco.
Update: Unfortunately, it is 1951 again, with Conor Gillespie as this year's Bobby Thompson.
Saturday, October 01, 2016
Seven years before South Street acquired Peking, it bought Wavertree, a wrought iron hulled bark built in England in 1885 that lost her topmasts in a gale while rounding Cape Horn in 1912. She then spent many years as a floating warehouse in Punta Arenas, Chile and later as a sand barge in the harbor of Buenos Aires. When she was brought to South Street her hull was sound, but her topmasts and spars were still missing, and she required extensive work to be put into condition for public touring. The Museum made her restoration a long term project, then acquired Peking which, having served as a floating school after being retired from trading, arrived in almost turnkey condition. For over forty years Peking was the centerpiece of South Street's ship collection, while Wavertree sat forlornly at a neighboring pier, off limits to all but museum workers, and still missing her topmasts and spars.
South Street's galleries, shops, and other facilities on land suffered extensive damage from Hurricane Sandy, which in turn caused complete loss of revenue from admissions and sales for a long period of time. Although the museum was able, with government assistance, to repair the physical damage, the financial damage, partially ameliorated by private contributions, remained. Because of her size, Peking is a very expensive ship to maintain. Consequently, South Street entered into discussions concerning Peking's disposition, hoping to find a new owner that would maintain her as a public museum piece. Fortunately, the German government was able to fund her return to Hamburg, and South Street was able to fund the restoration of Wavertree.
John J. Harvey, now privately owned. For my earlier encounter with Harvey see here.
Lettie G. Howard, part of South Street's ship collection but lso used as a sail training vessel by the New York Harbor School.
Friday, September 09, 2016
Peking's place at Pier 16, and as centerpiece of South Street's historic ship collection, will be taken by Wavertree, which returns to South Street on September 24 following extensive restoration and maintenance work.
I took the photo above as Peking glided past the Brooklyn Bridge Park Marina on Wednesday morning.
Sunday, September 04, 2016
In 1958 the American folk singer Pete Seeger set the words of The Bells of Rhymney to music. In the clip below he performs it live in concert, on a twelve string guitar, which gives the impression of pealing bells, rather than the six string shown in the still photo that accompanies the clip.
The best known version of the song is not the one performed by Seeger, but that by the Byrds on their 1965 debut album Mr. Tambourine Man. Jim (later a.k.a. Roger) McGuinn's jangling Rickenbacker electric guitar gives a chiming quality similar to that of Seeger's twelve string.
There's an odd thing about the Byrds' rendition: it changes one repeated word from Davies' poem. Instead of "Who robbed the miner?" it asks "Who killed the miner?" Davies was inspired to write "The Bells of Rhymney" by his experience as a participant in the 1926 strike. The liner notes to the Byrds' album say it was about a "mine disaster." I can only speculate that someone--perhaps the album's producer, Terry Melcher (son of my first childhood celebrity crush, Doris Day), or more likely someone higher up at Columbia Records (although Columbia released the earlier Seeger version)--decided that a song about a strike, accusing mine owners of robbing miners, was just a little too Bolshie for the American mass market.
Happy Labor Day!
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
In the clip below you do one of my favorites of your many great songs, "Saint Dominic's Preview":
Monday, August 29, 2016
This move was crucial to the success of our War of Independence. Two days earlier Washington's army had engaged British forces in what is now Prospect Park. Park Slope, and Green-Wood Cemetery. This was the first time regular Continental troops, under Washington, instead of local militia, had faced Royal Army troops. Despite valiant rear-guard actions, one of which, by a Maryland regiment at the Old Stone House, was especially effective though resulting in 259 casualties, the Americans were forced to retreat. They camped on Brooklyn Heights, and rainy weather protected them from a British advance while Washington planned his escape. Had they not succeeded in crossing the East River to Manhattan that night and early morning, an improvement in the weather could have allowed the British fleet, anchored off Staten Island, to sail into the East River. This would have cut off Washington's escape route, and effectively ended the colonies' bid for independence.
Friday, August 12, 2016
In my previous post I opined that the cruiser conversion was likely the Big U's last chance to avoid the fatal trip behind towboats to the beach in India where she'd be cut to bits like an enormous stranded whale. The story linked above notes that Crystal will donate $350,000 to the SS United States Conservancy as a good will gesture to help with the ship's preservation. Proposals to bring her to New York, possibly as a hotel, a museum, or just a static display, are still being considered. The cost of doing that wouldn't be nearly as great as for making her a cruise ship, but they would still be substantial. I'm hoping one or more of our local grandees will see the value of bringing back this part of our city's history, and that the fate Oliver Wendell Holmes feared for "Old Ironsides"--"The harpies of the shore shall pluck/ The eagle of the sea"--will not befall S.S. United States.
Thursday, August 04, 2016
The photo shows him in profile, in 1964 with the composer Harold Arlen.
My choice of a song to commemorate this event is perhaps a banal one, but I love the song anyway. The clip below shows him singing it at the sprightly age of 85:
Addendum: I've now learned, thanks to the Brooklyn Eagle, that the song was written right here in Brooklyn Heights by an expatriate San Franciscan gay couple who were feeling homesick. The story of how Bennett picked it up, and made the couple rich enough to move home, is wonderful.
Photo by CBS Television (eBay item photo front photo back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Thursday, July 28, 2016
Unfortunately for Kibble and his collaborators, two other papers--one by the Belgian physicists Robert Brout and François Englert; the other by Peter Higgs himself--stating essentially the same theory were published earlier that summer. Higgs also posited the existence of a mediating particle, which became known as the "Higgs boson". A boson is an elementary particle that conforms to certain requirements set out in the Standard Model physicists have developed over the past half century to explain the "fundamental structure of matter" (for a more complete explanation, see the CERN website linked immediately above).
The existence of the Higgs boson wasn't confirmed until 2012. The following year, Higgs and Englert (Brout had died, and Nobel prizes aren't awarded posthumously) shared the Nobel prize for physics. In the Guardian story linked immediately above, Kibble is quoted:
My two collaborators, Gerald Guralnik and Carl Richard Hagen, and I contributed to that discovery, but our paper was unquestionably the last of the three to be published ... and it is therefore no surprise that the Swedish Academy felt unable to include us, constrained as they are by a self-imposed rule that the prize cannot be shared by more than three people.
My sincere congratulations go to the two prizewinners, François Englert and Peter Higgs. A sad omission from the list was Englert's collaborator, Robert Brout, now deceased.The discovery of the Higgs boson wasn't the only work to which Kibble contributed that led to a Nobel Prize. The 1979 award to Abdus Salam, a fellow Imperial College faculty member, along with the Americans Steven Weinberg and Sheldon Glashow, as well as the 1999 award to Gerardus 't Hooft and Martinus J.G. Veltman, were made for work that drew on insights of Kibble's.
He was, in full, Sir Thomas Walter Bannerman Kibble, but he is almost always simply called "Tom", and that's how I'm sure this brilliant but hard-working and humble man liked it.
Thursday, July 14, 2016
At the beginning of spring training the New York Times' baseball writer Tyler Kepner wrote a piece in which he began by noting how, at that time of year, all fans can imagine their teams, no matter what problems they had the preceding season, having a shot at winning it all. He then gave a worst case forecast for each MLB team (except the Cubs, for whom he wrote, "a championship is inevitable"). I quoted his forecast for the Mets in an earlier post, but will repeat it here:
The starters try hard to keep the ball out of play -- to minimize the impact of the team's shaky defense -- but their 2015 workload wears them down. David Wright's spinal stenosis limits him again, and while Yoenis Cespedes struggles in center field, he hits well enough to exercise his opt-out clause and repeat his protracted free-agent dance.Here we are at the All-Star Break, and some of Kepner's predictions seem accurate. Wright's back and neck problems have more than limited him; they've led him to have surgery that, at best, may allow him to return to play in September. While Cespedes hasn't struggled much with fielding, he is batting well, so Kepner's prediction of another "protracted free-agent dance" may prove spot on. Indeed, the "shaky defense" prediction may be the one most off the mark, while the surmise that the starting rotation would be worn down seems an understatement. Matt Harvey, following a mostly miserable three months plus, is having surgery and will be out for the rest of the season and probably much of the next. Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz both have bone spurs in their pitching elbows. This leaves Bartolo Colon, Jacob deGrom, and the recently called-up Logan Verrett as the only completely (for now) healthy pitchers in what was, at the season's beginning, considered MLB's most fearsome starting rotation. Zach Wheeler, recovering from Tommy John surgery, was expected to rejoin the roster about now, but his return keeps getting delayed.
Following the Nationals' having taken three of a four game series just before the All Star break from the Mets, putting the Mets six games behind in the NL east and tied with the Marlins for second place in the division, Kepner wrote another Times piece, with the title "The Baseball Gods Clobber the Mets". He began by noting that Nats ace Stephen Strasburg, who pitched against and beat Syndergaard and the Mets during that series, had, along with Nats management, decided that he would not pitch in the All Star Game in view of his recently having been on the disabled list with back problems. By contrast, Kepner quoted Mets skipper Terry Collins, who would manage the NL team, as saying Syndergaard would pitch because his was "not a muscular situation", that "he deserves it", and that "I think the world needs to see him...."
As it turned out, Syndergaard didn't pitch because, as Kepner put it, "instant karma" got the Mets. In Friday's game, Syndergaard started strong but by the fifth inning his velocity had plummeted and he had given up three runs. He left the game, claiming his problem wasn't related to the bone spur but instead to shoulder fatigue. In the same inning Cespedes, also slated to appear in the All Star Game, strained a quadriceps.
Kepner quotes Syndergaard as saying after the game that this would be his first full season in the majors and that so far he had pitched more innings than any other Mets pitcher. Kepner then noted Strasburg's record to date: 12-0 following the Friday victory over the Mets, and after a year in which he was taken off duty before the playoffs "because of a post-surgery innings cap." To counter the argument that pitchers today "just break" Kepner then turned to another Nats starter, Max Scherzer, who has pitched nine seasons without missing a start because of injury, and this season tops the majors in strikeouts.
Scherzer stands out as a pitcher now benefiting from uncommon youthful maturity. He pitched many big games for the Detroit Tigers, but never allowed his competitive drive to overrule physical warnings. Scherzer cited that trait — as well as his innings program and work habits going back to the University of Missouri — as reasons for his durability.Kepner concludes:
This is not to suggest that the Mets’ pitchers are reckless, or lack the relationship with Collins that Scherzer has had with his managers. But Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz (who has a more troublesome bone spur than Syndergaard) and the slowly recovering Zack Wheeler have all had Tommy John surgery. Another major injury could be catastrophic.I have to wonder: does the Mets' status as an almost perpetual (exceptions: 1969 and 1986) second place team in New York City cause them to "try harder"? Has it inculcated a team culture that makes players extend themselves beyond reasonable limits? Are they really plagued by the "injury bug" more than most other teams? I haven't done a statistical search to see if this is true.
Thursday, July 07, 2016
The clip above shows Ringo joining country legend Buck Owens to do Ringo's song "Act Naturally".
Sunday, July 03, 2016
The photo above shows Cracker State Mariner after she left government service in 1956 and became part of the American President Lines fleet, renamed President Coolidge, She remained with APL until 1974, when she became Export Defender of American Export Lines. Four years later she reverted to government ownership and to her original name. As breakbulk freighters were quickly going out of style at that time, I suspect she went out of service and was laid up in the government's reserve fleet. In 1992, having survived a respectable 38 years, she went for scrap in India.
Sometime in the mid 1970s I was taking a mid-day stroll around Battery Park, at the southern tip of Manhattan, and saw the Thomas Jefferson, of the Waterman Steamship Corporation, heading outward through the channel between Manhattan and Governors Island. I didn't know it, but this was to be my last view of a Mariner class ship. She was originally Golden Mariner, completed, like Cracker State Mariner, in 1954, but on the opposite coast. Golden Mariner named for California, the Golden State, was built at Bethlehem's San Francisco yard; Cracker State Mariner at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia. In 1955 Golden Mariner became part of the Pacific Far East Line fleet, and in 1961 she was renamed California Bear. She was acquired by Waterman and became Thomas Jefferson in 1973, not long before I saw her. She was broken up at Kaohsiung, Republic of China, in 1980.
No doubt I'll get some disagreement with my calling the Mariners the handsomest of cargo ships. There are many rivals, American and foreign. My nominee for runner up in that category is the Victories, the war emergency class that preceded the Mariners and succeeded the "ugly duckling" but much loved Liberties. I've written before about American Victory, one of three surviving members of that class, that is now a floating, and sometimes mobile, museum in my old home city, Tampa.
Photo of President Coolidge ex Cracker State Mariner: Photographer / Collection: Bar, Marius / Boman, J. Robert – Source: Sjöhistoriska Museet, Stockholm, Sweden – (Swedish Maritime Museum), via 7seasvessels.com, from which I got historical information about the ship, as well as about Thomas Jefferson ex Golden Mariner.
Sunday, June 12, 2016
My favorite Guy Clark song, given that I'm a train buff, is "Texas 1947", which you can hear in the clip above, along with "Let Him Roll", also from his first album, Old No. 1. "Texas 1947" is autobiographical, telling of his going at the age of six to "the depot" in his hometown, Monahans, Texas, to see something new.
Saturday, May 14, 2016
Today (Saturday, May 14) is Spring Astronomy Day. I almost missed it. There's also a Fall Astronomy Day--this year it's Saturday, October 8--which makes sense because we see different nighttime skyscapes in spring and fall. I'm celebrating it by posting a photo of one of my favorite astronomical objects, the Ring Nebula, found in the constellation Lyra, which constellation can be seen in the night sky from here in spring.
The photo is by The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI/NASA),
Sunday, April 24, 2016
The Rising did not immediately stir the Irish people to resist British rule, which had been in place for many centuries. The executions, however, did have an effect. Michael Collins led a successful guerrilla campaign, which gained popular support, and which led to the treaty, negotiated by Collins with Winston Churchill, that led to the foundation of the Irish Republic. These events are well described in Dermot McEvoy's The 13th Apostle.
Perhaps the best known remembrance of the Easter Rising is William Butler Yeats' poem "Easter 1916", read in the video below by Tom O'Bedlam:
Thursday, April 07, 2016
As the Times obit tells it, he was a California native who spent his first few years living in an abandoned boxcar his father had fixed up during the depression years as a family home. His teens and early adulthood were marked by scrapes with the law, culminating in 1957 in his his being sent to San Quentin Prison for burglary.
He was paroled in 1960, and went on to become one of country music's most influential stars. Early on, he worked with Wynn Stewart, a Missouri native who moved to California and was the first exponent of what came to be called the "Bakersfield Sound", named for a city near the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley, north of Los Angeles. Country music from Bakersfield was more hard-edged than that coming from Nashville at the time, when Nashville was trying to broaden its appeal with what guitar wizard and producer Chet Atkins called "countrypolitan". Bakersfield music provided the roots for what in the late 1970s was called "outlaw" country, exemplified by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, along with Merle.
According to the Times obit, Merle included among his influences Lefty Frizzell, who gave Merle's career a boost by inviting him onstage after hearing him sing along from the audience; Elvis Presley; Jimmie "The Yodeling Brakeman" Rodgers, considered one of the founders of modern country music; Chuck Berry; and the King of Texas Swing, Bob Wills.
He influenced many, including Waylon and Willie, and my great favorite, Gram Parsons. The song in the clip above, "Sing Me Back Home", one that Merle wrote based on a prison experience, I first heard sung by Gram with the Flying Burrito Brothers.
Goodbye, Merle. I like thinking that you, Waylon, and Ol' Possum George Jones are singing great harmony now.
Photo at the top of this post is public domain: Merle Haggard dressed for Kennedy Center Honors at the White House, December 2010.
Tuesday, April 05, 2016
This year I didn't follow spring training very closely; I had a day job that was keeping me busy, along with the Brooklyn Heights Blog. It's just as well; I missed some embarrassing moments. This seemed to bear out what the New York Times' Tyler Kepner wrote back at the beginning of spring training, in his analysis of what could go wrong for each team. I quoted in an earlier post what he wrote about the Mets, but will repeat it here:
The starters try hard to keep the ball out of play -- to minimize the impact of the team's shaky defense -- but their 2015 workload wears them down. David Wright's spinal stenosis limits him again, and while Yoenis Cespedes struggles in center field, he hits well enough to exercise his opt-out clause and repeat his protracted free-agent dance.In yesterday's opening game, the Mets were fated to face the Kansas City Royals, the team that had beaten them in last year's World Series, at Royals Stadium. Hopes for revenge were high. Matt Harvey, the ace of what is regarded as the most fearsome starting rotation in the Majors, was to take the mound despite an earlier medical scare. All else seemed well.
Kepner's prediction seemed to be mostly accurate as to what happened in the opener. Perhaps it was Harvey's efforts to keep the ball out of play that contributed to his miserable start; he gave up eight hits and was tagged for three runs--a fourth was unearned because of a fielding error by, you guessed it, Cespedes--over five and two thirds innings. Wright's throws--especially one on a grounder to third with a runner headed for home and another on a bunt--seemed less than perfect. Cespedes managed one hit and drew one walk; he scored once but did not have an RBI. Most importantly, he ended the game by swinging at an outside fastball after having dueled the Royals closer, Davis, through seven pitches. He stranded runners at third and first, with the Mets down by one.
On the bright side, the Mets bullpen was perfect, allowing no runs, one hit, and no walks over three and a third innings. Conversely, Mets batters were able to mount a rally against the Royals' pen, scoring three runs on three hits and two walks.
While this game may not have been an omen for the whole season, a loss in April counts as much as one in September. As usual in season opening series, the teams had today off and will meet again tomorrow evening. The Mets will have Syndegaard on the mound. We can hope.
Update: the Mets are now a .500 team, thanks to a fine outing by Syndegaard, who had to work out of a couple of jams but allowed no runs, to a two run blast in the fourth by Neil Walker, and to another perfect showing by the bullpen. Oh, yes, and no errors. Downside: no scoring, apart from Walker's homer. In the seventh and eighth the Mets managed to mount scoring threats, only to leave runners stranded.
Sunday, March 27, 2016
Nine years ago and again eight years ago I posted at the beginning of Lent about my state of mind entering that most profound of Christian liturgical seasons. Mostly these were about the doubts I held, both about Christian doctrine and about myself. This past December I posted at the end of Advent, noting that it had seemed more like Lent to me, reflecting as I was on the loss of friends and my own advancing age, and on the disastrous turn I saw our civic discourse taking.
As in Lents before, this year I didn't undertake any traditional "discipline" in the form of giving up something. I thought that by reading the Lenten devotions supplied by Grace Church along with the scripture readings by which they were inspired, and meditating on them I would get somewhere. After two weeks, I gave up on the devotions and scripture. I put this down to the demands of my paying work and of the Brooklyn Heights Blog. The world was too much with me.
I also attended a class, given after church service by our resident seminarian, She guided us in writing a "spiritual memoir". I didn't get far. After our first session, I managed to write this, which gives a clue as to why, besides the distractions of everyday life, I stopped reading the Lenten devotions:
In the Lenten readings, there are several passages the belittle the role or efficacy of human wisdom, e.g. 1 Corinthians 3:19 ("For the wisdom of the world is as foolishness to God" and "The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise,that they are futile.") Is wisdom or intellect futile, or even an impediment, in trying to understand God?
As an extension of the thought above, a thread that runs through much of Christian teaching is paradox. One must lose one's life to gain it, the first shall be last, and, perhaps most fundamentally, the nature of Christ as fully human and fully divine.The "paradox" part didn't bother me; indeed, I rather liked it. As I acknowledged in an earlier post, I have an attraction to paradox, to the tension between the known and the unknown; between, as Steve Muncie put it, "mastery and mystery." While I prize intellect and knowledge, I also cherish the quotation Steve gave me from the "born-again paradox" Anne Lamott: "“The opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s certainty.”
Image: Locus Theologicus.