Monday, June 30, 2008

Book Review: "The Peculiar Institution"

I recently completed what is roundly regarded as the seminal work on slavery in America, Kenneth Stampp's classic "The Peculiar Institution". I was looking for a single volume treatment of the subject because, despite being steeped in 19th century American history during my time of study at UCLA, I had never thoroughly grasped the scope of the slavery issue itself. The issues that it provoked have been well-covered in multiple texts I've read, but I wanted to get into the first principles of this unique American tragedy.
Mr Stampp is a Professor Emeritus at UC-Berkeley, with over 6 decades on the faculty, and "The Peculiar Institution" was his first major work. Published in 1956, it was groundbreaking in the way it showed slavery not as paternalistic and essentially benign, as most preceding authors would have had it, but as something alternately gruesome and tragic that was frequently actively resisted by its victims. The book also flew in the face of 1950s-era perceptions of race and slavery in the US, which was still struggling with the burden of pre-Civil Rights era racism.
The book moves systematically through its 10 chapters, with specific treatments on the role of slave labor in the Southern economy, the day to day worklife of slaves, punishment of slaves, family life, slave trading, and slave rebellion, among other things. While the style is sometimes dry, it is absolutely breathtaking in its scope of study. Meticulously footnoted with hundreds of primary sources, the presentation is incredibly compelling and lays to rest any number of long-standing and long-propagated myths about slavery.
More than this; however, is the subject itself. The chapters on the nuts and bolts of the slave economy are most enlightening, but it is the chapters that cover punishment of slaves, slave trading, slave rights (or lack thereof)and the effect all of this had on slave families that are truly staggering. Alternately enraging and tear-jerking, this text brings out the horror of slavery in remarkably vivid way.
Whether it be slaves being beaten to death on a whim, sold away from their family for no reason save financial, children and spouses being forced to watch the beating of a loved one, or slaves having absolutely no rights or protections in any court, there is no mistaking that this institution, and the millions who either participated in it or supported it, stripped entirely any vestige of humanity from those enslaved, they were implements, animals, beasts to be used and cast aside as one would an old shovel.
In contrast to the ghoulishness discussed above, the chapter on slave resistance was pretty remarkable. In the face of shoot to kill mandates, dogs, and the threat of being sold to the Deep South, not to mention the Fugitive Slave Law in the North, slaves still tried to either make good their escape or else throw a wrench in the works.
Clearly, this subject brings out tremendous emotion, and that is to be expected. What makes Mr. Stampp's effort so remarkable; however, is his completely dispassionate treatment of the subject and data. There is no judging, no editorializing, he lets the facts speak for themselves, and they speak loudly. This provides another layer of credibility that no amount of footnoting gives; there is no agenda here save for a clear discussion of fact, and in doing this, Stampp allows the institution of slavery to show its dark heart. Any embellishment on the part of the author would have been unnecessary.
When studying any aspect of the Civil War, one must be firmly grounded in the fundamentals. One cannot have a conversation about the 19th century in America without a firm and unbiased view of slavery and what it did to our country. This text provides a clear and strong interpretation of the former. We shall discuss the latter when I get to my next book reviews in the coming weeks.

Flex 'Em If You Got 'Em, I Suppose

Andy, oh Andy, why do you make it so hard to like you? Today's Richard Gasquet vs Andy Murray match will certainly join the pantheon of classic Wimbledon battles, what with the 5 set thriller, the 2 sets to love deficit overcome by Murray as the sun went down (no lights at Wimbledon), and some brilliant shotmaking by the pale Scot to make it all happen. With the entire tennis world looking proudly on, what did you choose to do, Andy? Did you run to the net to respectfully shake hands with your vanquished foe, did you smile and wave to the fans who had screamed their brains out for you?
No. You pulled up the right sleeve of your shirt, flexed your bicep, and pointed at it. No dear readers, I'm not kidding, he actually did this. When I told The Jess about this stunt she declared "I would have hit him on the head with my racket!" When she saw it herself on Sportscenter, she covered her mouth in shock while I chuckled.
The Brits are stuck with you as their solitary hope for any sort of tennis glory, but by God, I'll always think you're a clown. It's a shame too, because you are an amazingly creative and speedy player with tremendous skill. Unfortunately, you have, to paraphrase Crash Davis from Bull Durham "a million dollar game and a ten cent head".
Now, in what should have been a proud moment for you, you look like the tool that you are. Soon, you're going to see some real biceps when you face Rafa Nadal in the quarters on Wednesday. Best of luck, stringbean.

The women's draw continued its descent into almost total anarchy today as Jelena Jankovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova both lost, making this the first Grand Slam in the Open Era (40 years) where none of the top 4 seeds make the quarterfinals. Were it not for Venus and Serena Williams continuing their respective runs towards the finals, this Wimbledon would look like tennis' equivalent of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics (no links for you, you must find the answer yourself, grasshoppa).
Tomorrow is where another unique feature of Wimbledon picks up: all the women's quarterfinals are played in one day, with the men on Wed. The tourney continues in this staggered fashion through to the finals. I love this approach, each gender gets the limelight for a day.
The tournament hits high gear now, so you should update yourself on the draws and schedule of play at

Sunday, June 29, 2008

First Week Wimbledon Wrap-Up

A Few Notable Highlights and Lowlights:
-Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer playing really high-level tennis
-no American men in the second week for the first time since 1926
-upsets all over the women's draw
-Israeli woman Shahar Pe'er advancing to the 4th round with a win over Dinara Safina
-Rafa's blog
-the Wimbledon wind
-The Jess' alter ego Janko Tipsarevic advancing to the 4th round
-Bethanie Mattek emerging as a player with some skill as opposed to just goofy outfits

A Few Things To Look Out For In The Second Week
-two of the most hated personalities in the men's game squaring off in round 4: Andy Murray and Richard Gasquet
-Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer's march towards the final
-another Grand Slam for a Williams sister
-a treasure trove of sporstcaster gaffes trying to pronounce the names of the women left in the draw
-the resurgent Marat Safin finally melting down in epic fashion

A Few Words About Justin Gimelstob (because that's all he deserves)
Former ATP player and current Tennis Channel commentator Justin Gimelstob (who also went to UCLA) spewed out one of the most repellent and disgraceful interviews I've ever heard on June 18th on the radio in Washington D.C. I'm not comfortable transcribing what he said here, but I will provide a link.
I knew Justin at UCLA and, though I'm shocked by his comments, I'm not at all surprised. In response, I called Tennis Channel and spoke to the director of programming, who forwarded the link to her CEO. There has been some fallout, which you can read about here and here.

On a lighter note, play resumes tomorrow morning, with Federer facing former champ Lleyton Hewitt and Nadal facing Mikhael Youzhney, who beat Rafa at the US Open and beat his own head in a few months ago. Also look for Mattek and Serena Williams squaring off later in the day.

Lastly, some words from Tom Friedman of the NY Times.

The First Of Many Sesquicentennials

So I promise that my discussion of the Lost Cause will be carried forward to its conclusion. I've got a few drafts going, just trying to keep it organized. For those joining this discussion thread late, please click on the "Lost Cause" label on the sidebar to get caught up.

As I've been working, I've been speculating on why this material resonates so deeply for me, and it's not just for the intellectual challenge or entertainment. The Civil War and how it is remembered remains such a huge part of our society, and yet still incredibly poorly understood.

The Civil War and the way it is remembered are going to become increasingly more important and popular over the next few years, as we are reaching the 150th anniversary of some of our nation's most important events. The first of these is the sesquicentennial of the Abraham Lincoln-Stephen Douglas debates of 1858. During that summer, the two men battled across the state of Illinois in their campaign for a senatorial seat with the slavery question first and foremost on their tongues. Their series of seven debates, now remembered as the Lincoln-Douglas debates, is one of the most famous and important campaigns in our history. Though Lincoln lost, his erudition and reasoning launched him into the national spotlight, setting the stage for his victory in the 1860 presidential campaignIn fact, this past Monday, June 16th, was the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's timeless and memorable House Divided speech, which preceded the actual debates between the two men

There are, of course other issues that bring this course of study home, like the Confederate flag flying in Tampa, which motivated me to start writing these posts in the first place. But more than that is how the Civil War, the Lost Cause, and the legacy of slavery are becoming a larger and larger part of the 2008 presidential election, to whit, Jim Webb, who recently surfaced as a potential Democratic nominee for VP. As the attention around him began to grow last month, he gave an interview to an online publication called Politico where he espoused his affinity for the Confederacy . His comments were so thoroughly steeped in Lost Cause mishmosh that one can easily imagine what his high school and college lectures had on the subject.

Does this mean he is a poor politician? No, but it's discouraging that his (and so many of our) education came up short, and also that he is not able to see past this neo-confederate blather. Just like the flag, this sort of marginalization of the real issues behind the Confederacy (slavery and the maintenance and expansion of same) shows a profound lack of racial sensitivity.

Bigger still; however, is the mere possibility of a Barack Obama presidency. What a statement would it be to have an African-American president leading the ceremonies to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War? I invite you to read this excellent essay on the subject of Barack Obama and the Civil War as we consider how his (potential) presidency would help us understand race and the legacy of slavery in our country. In order for us to truly gain as much from this (again, potential) opportunity; however, we must first try to embrace and understand the facts surrounding secession, slavery, the Confederacy, and the Civil War as they occurred at the time, not as the Lost Cause mythology would have us. Thus, we will push on with our study in the next few days

Friday, June 27, 2008

Two Days of Wimbledon in 3 Acts, Act 3: The Jess in the Third Round

So if you recall in Act One, we discussed Janko Tipsarevic, the man who dispatched Andy Roddick. What few, if any people know, is that that person is actually the beloved wife of the Tipsy Historian, and here's why.
When The Jess and I first started dating, I noticed and she explained how she had an interesting and often surprising propensity to fall down. After a few tumbles and many laughs, I gave her the moniker of "Tipsy Jessie", which stuck pretty well.
Anyway, a few years later, here comes this lanky Serbian cat who starts rising up the rankings and getting himself of TV quite a bit. This coincided with The Jess' rising interest in the sport, and suddenly, we'd found her doppelganger (gender aside, of course).
Glasses? Check. Tattoos? Yup (even though Jess has one tattoo, she told me yesterday that if she were a professional tennis player "I'd have tons of tattoos!" That girl is so cool.) Cerebral approach to the game? Done.
And the name, well it was just so easy to turn Tipsy Jessie into Tipsarevic, so now anytime he's competing, I give her updates along the lines of "you just beat Andy Roddick" or "you're on ESPN tomorrow night playing Roger Federer"
So after yesterday's win, my wife is in the third round of Wimbledon, and believe me, I'll be watching!

Two Days of Wimbledon in 3 Acts, Act 2: The Ladies Crapshoot

If you don't like upsets, the women's draw is an absolute disaster. If you're a Scrabble enthusiast, it is a word and name festival!
On the first issue: Sharapova, out. Ivanovic, out. An interesting take by SI's Jon Wertheim today about how both women skipped all of the Wimbledon warmup events, then got blown out early. Lots more depth on the women's side, lots of hungry, fit, talented ladies coming out of the woodwork staking their claims. Clearly the halcyon days where Navratilova, Evert, Graf, Seles et al could coast early then turn it on in the second week of the Grand Slam are gone.
Now it's all about who got the biggest game, the fittest legs, and the stones to fight it out for two full weeks. Believe me, these upsets and the hoard of tough new female players, while irritating now (remember, I picked Sharapova to win) is going to be a boon for the health of the game.

On the second issue, here are some of the names left in the tournament:
PAVLYUCHENKOVA in the third round), and CHAKVETADZE.
Right now, sportswriters and broadcasters alike are mourning the fall of the Berlin Wall and the advancement of sports in former Eastern Bloc countries, because these names are just polysyllabic explosions! I didn't even bother trying to type them, just went with the ol' cut and paste. I may be Tipsy, but I'm not crazy.

Two Days of Wimbledon in 3 Acts, Act One: Americans, Go Home!

I am shocked, agog, and irritated at the comprehensive flop of the American men in the Wimbledon singles draw. What a revolting display this has been, five days of hearing Chris Myers say "...and American (fill in name) went down today" in a way that clearly shows he's not surprised, we shouldn't be surprised, and things are probably going to get worse in the future. Seriously, when Bobby Reynolds is your best (and last) shot to get into the 4th round, you know you're in trouble.
Chief amongst these heartless villains is James Blake, who ran out to a 2 sets-to-one lead against journeyman Rainier Schuettler, then decided to pack up his backbone, put away his heart, and lose in 5 sets.
Honestly, I'm just sick of this guy giving away matches! If it's not this one, it's losing in the finals at Delray Beach to a tour rookie. Or losing your first 20 million five set matches. All the shots, great personality, a true gentleman, and no idea what it takes to close people out.
Every time I hear his say "too good" when an opponent hits a winner, I want to scream at him! That behavior is nice on the practice court, or for me in recreational matches, but it kills me that he just acquiesces like this.
I want to root for him, I love his game, his personal story is incredibly dramatic, but I'm done. Until he shows the killer instinct needed to do all of his wonderful talent and personality justice, I'm just done. No more cheering, no more J-block, no more expecting greatness. I'm finished with James Blake.

Andy Roddick is another tricky one, after bringing his huge serve and big expectations he went down in 4 sets to Janko Tipsarevic (more on him in Act 3 in the second round.
Before I could load both barrels and let fly; however, he gave these comments in his post-match press conference, which you can read here. This guy clearly has a great sense of his own game and that of the people around him. I love his candor, his honesty, and his recognition of his capabilities. I also thoroughly appreciate and believe his intention to keep looking for that next level to help him get back into the front row (great metaphor Andy!)

Lots of other upsets, and some interesting men moving towards the second week with a fascinating mix of old (Safin, Hewitt) names and new (Ancic, Wawrinka) England's forlorn hope Andy Murray is still alive and plays his third rounder tomorrow, as does Rafa, whose blog is just a treat

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Scary Rumor for Bibliophiles

As a student of the Civil War, there is no more important resource to aid my learning than the printed word. The stories, diaries, reports, and accounts of the war are all carefully archived in the pages of many thousands of books published since the end of the war.
As a book collector, there is nothing more wonderful than browsing through a comprehensive and well-maintained bookstore, usually one that stocks used books. This sort of establishment, over the course of several hours of fun, will usually satisfy both needs quite brilliantly.
Unfortunately, this type of bookstore is slowly dying away due to multiple factors that, for the sake of brevity, I won't dissect out here. I was prompted to write this post after hearing a very concerning rumor that Green Apple Books in San Francisco, which is voted the best Bay Area bookstore every year and has been around since 1967, is closing its doors.
After a rigorous google search, I am thankfully unable to confirm this rumor, but did discover that Cody's Books in Berkeley, also a staple in the Bay Area for many decades, is shutting down.
This is a very bad thing, and is at the sharp end of a nasty trend. These stores are incredibly unique, interesting, and inexpensive ways to acquire books and knowledge, aside from being performance venues, artisan coffee shops, and always very cool. But once they're gone, they stay gone, and the community is worse off.
How to prevent this? Simple, when buying books, take a few moments to seek out the independent new and/or used bookstore in your neighborhood. None available? Try Powell's Books in Portland, which is the largest independent bookstore in the country. They've got everything and will ship anywhere.
Still no luck? Like so many of us, you're probably typing into your browser. No sweat, nearly every book there is available either new or used, just check the seller when you buy and don't buy straight from the factory.
These businesses are a treasured part of our communities and need our support. Every little bit counts, so put them to good use. Links are below, and I've installed a new sidebar with the same links for easy reference

In San Diego:
Adams Avenue Bookstore

Green Apple Books
Powell's Books

The Last Record Store

Wimbledon Early Rounds: Djokovic Get His Comeuppance

Fresh off the presses, fresh off the court, and fresh out of excuses. Novak Djokovic, he of the big game and bigger mouth, got blown off the court today by former number one Marat Safin. There is a delicious irony here, not only because Djokovic spent the run-up to Wimbledon spouting off at the mouth about Roger Federer's supposed irony, but also that the man who beat him is actually the gold standard in tennis space cadet-land, Marat Safin. Djokovic was literally blown away)(and figuratively; gusty winds today at the All-English) by the former number one, and now needs to spend some quality time figuring out what he wants to be known for; his inarguably huge talent, or his ridiculously big mouth.

After a ghastly start, American men are slowly pulling themselves together. Andy Roddick and James Blake are into the second round, and journeyman Bobby Reynolds just pushed into the third round of a Grand Slam for only the second time in his career. The player whose performance is the most concerning; however, is Sam Querrey. After washing out in the first round against Juan Carlos Ferrero, there are some serious questions about the direction his career is heading. This guy's got a game tailor made for grass; big serve and heavy groundstrokes. The thing that he's missing is a bit more intangible, he doesn't seem to have the commitment or desire to be great. Sadly, he sometimes will publicly admit this.

Nadal and Federer both are looking incredibly sharp, Federer's actually on court right now in the second round and is disposing of Robin Soderling, and Nadal plays his second round match tomorrow. Best early finding though is Rafa's blog on The Times website. Definitely check it out and add it to your blogroll, it's just a blast. Dude is in the middle of a huge tourney, and all he can talk about is Spain in the Eurocup semis.

On the women's side, top seed Ana Ivanovic just squeaked by Natalie Dechy today, winning 10-8 in the third set (remember at Wimbledon, there are no tiebreakers in final sets). She actually faced a match point in the second set, but managed to right the ship. The Williams sisters both look to be in good form early on. Serena just got off the court after winning her second round match, and Venus looked very solid yesterday. In the same vein, Maria Sharapova's first serve was clicking yesterday, and if that keeps up, she is going to be very tough to beat.
Remember, you can keep up with everything going on at Also check out ESPN 2 each morning for early round coverage.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Speak On and Speak Loud, Brother Friedman!

More wisdom from Tom Friedman, the most insightful political writer out there.
Also, a great look at how habit can dictate behavior in the world of professional tennis. Keep your eyes out for these tics during Wimbledon

A Couple of Coolers

So The Jess and I went to the Farmer's Market on Thursday, and it is most definitely stone fruit season. We came back with all sorts of plums, peaches, and cherries, all at peak perfection. This means only one thing...
Time to start muddling!
There is nothing nicer than fresh fruit, sugar, and spirits all muddled together, so I invented a couple of coolers over the past two nights, both turned out beautifully!
Plum Delicious
1 red plum, cut into small pieces
1.5 oz vodka (I used Hangar One, but any non-infused vodka will work)
2 brown sugar cubes (but simple syrup or white sugar cubes will work)
crushed ice
either lemonade or tonic water

put fruit, sugar and liquor into Collins glass and muddle vigorously until sugar dissolved and fruit well-pulped. Add ice until glass 2/3 full. Top off with either lemonade (my favorite) or tonic water (Jess' favorite) Stir well with bar spoon. Garnish with whatever you want, I didn't bother, wanted to start drinking.
This drink was fantastic, crisp and cold, sweet and sour alternating. There was more lemon up front, then tart plum at the end.

Make It Peachy
1/2 peach, cut into small pieces
1.5 oz bourbon (I used Maker's Mark, the king of all bourbons)
one brown sugar cube (again, syrup or white sugar is fine)
crushed ice

put fruit, sugar and liquor into Collins glass and muddle vigorously until sugar dissolved and fruit well-pulped. Add ice until glass 2/3 full. Top with lemonade. Stir well with bar spoon. This drink is too delicious for commentary, just make yourself one!
The muddling of the fruit with the spirits and sugar just opens it up and brings out unreal flavor. These are perfect long drinks to enjoy outside. My muddler works fine, but I'm still waiting for Captain Sizzle to get me one of his handmade speciality muddlers!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Championships, Wimbledon 2008: Previewing the Men and Women

This Monday will mark the beginning of the biggest celebration on grass east of Humboldt County, so we must all get our strawberries and cream, scones, and Pimm's Cup ready, as Wimbledon is upon us! Rest easy, your TV viewing schedule is right here, so keep it handy.
The Women's draw coming into the tourney remains as wide open as ever, with the usual cast of suspects looking to make deep runs. The one woman who reliably plays well at Wimbledon is defending champ Venus Williams; however, this year she is decidedly not on form. Likewise her sister Serena, who is having as enigmatic a year as ever. While she is always a tempting choice to make a run on any surface, I'm picking her to wash out somewhere before the quarterfinal.
French Open finalist Dinara Safina seems to still have huge momentum in the grass court season, as she got to the final of the Ordina warmup. The woman who bested her in Paris, Ana Ivanovic, is riding a huge wave of confidence and support, but will be wearing the biggest bullseye of her life as the new number one in the world. You read it here that she won't be up to the task this year. Which leaves us with Maria Sharapova. Sure it may look like a safe, even boring choice, but she does seem to thrive on grass and consistently has shown more heart and has more big match experience than most women on tour. Wimbledon always come down to those with the biggest stones (right Jana Novotna?) and Maria will be the one to rise to the occasion this year.
On the men's side, all eyes are focused on the defending champion 5 YEARS RUNNING Roger Federer and the surging Spaniard Rafael Nadal. Just like in Paris, this is the final we all want to see; will Roger claim a record 6th straight Wimbledon, or will Rafa advance his claim on the number one spot in the world?
In Rafa's corner are two items; first is his grass court confidence built both at Wimbledon last year in his classic final against Federer and this year's Artois, where he beat Novak Djokovic in the final. As covered above, you can't put a price on confidence. Or on a big serve, which is without peer as a weapon on grass and is where Nadal has made the biggest strides in his game.
For Federer, there are also two things that make him a grass-court player without parallel; his completely chock-full and unmatched toolbox of attacking options and the attitude that comes with having 5 championships next to your name.
Of course there's plenty of dudes that could make impressive runs, and no one has more riding on his ability to do so than Novak Djokovic. After spending the past few weeks shooting his mouth off about how Fed might be losing his confidence, he's going to get his shot at Roger in the semis. Lose that match, or lose early in the tournament, and Djokovic will start looking more and more like the tennis equivalent of Rory Sabbatini.
Speaking of big mouths, too bad England's best hope of ever having a Wimbledon champ again spends more time running his yap than winning matches. Don't ever ask me to root for Andy Murray, because it just won't happen. Especially in his first round match, where he will face one of the most entertaining players out there, Fabrice Santoro, who is playing in his final Wimby.
Another big mouth, but in a much more clever and entertaining way, is Andy Roddick. Coming off a sore shoulder that kept him out of the French, look for Roddick to ride his massive serve deep into the tournament.
There will of course be more storylines, and ever-growing attention on Nadal and Federer as they head towards an epic collision in the finals. Take it to the bank, Federer will quiet the skeptics and doubters en route to a 6th straight Wimbledon title.

Want another preview? Click here for more.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Cocktails and Grub Joined At The Hip

Picking up where we left off in Portland with the cocktail and food pairing phenomenon...
I was thinking about the first time I ever considered cocktails as an entity unto themselves; it was the Tom Cruise classic movie "Cocktail" How old is this flick? I have it on VHS. This movie depicted the era where testosterone fueled morons swilled crap to help them get girls.
Now, I guess the biggest difference is, we don't drink crap (and I've found my ultimate lady).
Cocktails have come an unbelievably long way from the depths of Tom Cruise hell to the front pages of foodie magazines and the forefront of palates far more distinguished and sophisticated than mine. Now they are considered and evaluated as carefully as the very finest wines and have the requisite weeklong reverential celebration called Tales of the Cocktail.
From huge Nawlins parties to your own dinner table, there has never been a better time to enjoy spirits. To help you jump on the best part of this bandwagon, the magic of pairing cocktails with your daily fare, check out this fantastic primer from

Our Trip to Portland Part II: Cocktails

OK, so we've established that Portland is a hotbed for coffee and beverages in the coffee family. It was a double delight; however, to realize that this city is also chock-full of creative and innovative bartenders!
We spent each day and each meal trying various tipples at places like Ten01, Toro Bravo, and Clyde Common, (we saved the Teardrop Lounge for our next visit) and each one was more delightful and playful than the one before. Having seen the interesting mixtures and pure craftsmanship at work, I saw a wonderful opportunity here, and not just to get elegantly drunk!
There is a growing literature about the art of pairing cocktails with meals, a la a glass of vino. Mixology is starting to push past the simple Happy Hour and periphery of meals and get right up next to the pastas, steaks, salads, and poultry dishes of the modern foodie. This allows the insightful drinker to not only get to try more cocktails, but also to accentuate and augment both food and drink. This, my friends, is synergy!
The best example came at our final dinner of our vacation at a restaurant called Park Kitchen.
The bartender clearly had a variegated and challenging menu, and my first drink was a wonderful play on the Manhattan called Battle of the Whiskies. I received two different drinks, one made with Woodford Reserve Bourbon, the other with Maker's Mark. Needless to say, the gold standard of bourbon won the day. Onward Maker's Mark!
My main course was a beautiful piece of halibut poached in a chorizo infused liquid. Nothing on the cocktail menu seemed up to the challenge, so I asked if the bartender would be up to crafting something on the spot. I am SO glad I asked!
Just as my food arrived, so too did a glimmering opaque beverage in a martini glass with a mint leaf garnish. The bartender brought it himself, and with a huge smile, said how much fun he had in the crafting. He divulged the ingredients, but I didn't have the chutzpah to ask for the actual recipe.
Hendricks gin
dry vermouth
housemade orange bitters
This was the most remarkable drink I've ever had, simply because of the way it joined hands with my meal and started to dance. This is definitely going to be the next frontier as I start to build a cocktail/food pairing repertoire.
As our amazing meal wrapped up, we had the opportunity to enjoy an after-dinner drink. Jess went with an amazing cream sherry, and I basically went off the reservation.
I am a huge fan of eaux de vie, and my eyes immediately went to that section of the drink menu, where I found eau de vie of DOUGLAS FIR!
Yup, right alongside the apple, pear, peach, and cherry brandies was a distillation of the venerable Douglas Fir tree.
The drink was a shiny green at the bottom of the glass, and the bouquet was absolutely massive! It smelled like a forest had just sprouted in my nose (spare me the nosehair comments, I trim like crazy!) The flavor was the single most unique flavor; rich, woodsy, sweet, spicy. It's a massive drink, and I coudn't finish the measure they brought me, but definitely an unforgettable experience.
Next time you stop by The Shapiro Lounge, you may just get the opportunity to try it. And please, if anyone has had profound cocktail and meal pairings, you must share in the comments section!

Wimbledon Poll, Speak Now or...

Alright friends, we are three days away from the beginning of The Championship, Wimbledon 2008 at the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Rest assured, there will be previews and thoughts abounding over the weekend, but until then, I've added a new feature: a poll question.
If you look on the right of my blog where the sidebar is, and scroll to the bottom, you'll find our first two poll questions: who will win the Men's and Women's Singles title at Wimbledon this year. You've got three days to vote, so make your opinion known!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Our Trip to Portland Part I: Coffee

Let the trumpets be sounded, let the clarion call be heard, let us all intone our best primal yell, for the greatest coffee and espresso in the world has been found.
Not only that, but is consumed by thousands of dwellers in Portland, Oregon every single day.
And I hate them for it! (not really, but I'm jealous, that's for sure)
For those of you who are devotees of this blog, you know that coffee and the rituals around it are one of my great passions, so it was truly rewarding to consort with people who not only share this affection, but are highly skilled in the preparation of coffee, espresso, and roasting coffee beans.
Portland seems to be the keeper of all things coffee, and the epicenter of this wonderfully caffeinated place is a series of establishments either called or supplied by Stumptown Roasters.
I shudder to call it a chain, because there can be a negative connotation with that word and coffee (your fault Starbucks), but there are several stores around the city along with a central location where all the roasting happens and whose beans are distributed to several other venues in the city.
These beans are, to be blunt, perfection. Perfection in color, flavor, and roast quality. Just magic, and the baristas hired by these stores are the magicians. Each person takes a particular pride in making the perfect cup of coffee (yes, they make it by the cup, to order, from 13 different varieties at Stumptown Annex, all roasted within the past 4 days) or pulling the highest standard espresso shot. If they don't like their effort, they throw it away and do it again.
I'm totally serious about that.
The drinks they turn out after steaming the milk perfectly, tamping the espresso before putting it on the machine, and making a beautiful pattern in your latte, are just sublime, and nowhere are they better than at Coffeehouse Northwest
From the minute you walk into this place, it is clear that the focus is on coffee and espresso making and nothing else. The menu is spartan, as is the layout. There are only the basic drinks to choose from, no frappes, no blends, and only a few syrups to choose from (but it's sacrilege, darling, just sacrilege).
Our baristas, Daniel and Matt, were not only congenial and interesting, but they made the two single best espresso drinks I've ever had, and spoke all about their love for the craft as they made them. The first, a cappuccino, is below, resting quietly next to my wife's iced toddy, which is the greatest iced coffee since the invention of ice.
Please look closely at the pattern that is formed in my drink. Every barista at all of these stores takes pride in generating a little piece of latte art in every drink they serve.
And oh my goodness those pastries. As I already have enough to focus on here what with tennis, the American Civil War, UCLA sports, coffee, and mixology, I will say only that the pastries at these stores are the very best, and the bakery that makes them literally fills a city block with aromas of sugar, cake, and orange zest.
For my second drink, Daniel and Matt made me an Americano. Simple, delicate, and perfect. Best of all, this sublime beverage was on the house! Find any top flight place that would do that for a customer on their first visit!
Honestly, I could watch that crema separate all day, but there was drinking to be done!
As you can clearly see, coffee drinking was a big part of our visit, and I've got the full Stumptown coffee frequent flyer card to prove it (13 coffees in 4 days, thank you very much!). But we're not done, because there was one more new experience left... cupping! This is the coffee drinkers equivalent to wine tasting, and it's even more rewarding. This process is hosted twice a day at Stumptown Annex and is free to the public. 5 fresh-roasted coffees are put out, and you just need your taste buds.
The 4 steps:
1. the dry smell: dry grounds are inhaled
2. the wet smell: coffee is poured over the grounds, and the steam is inhaled
3. breaking the crust: the layer of grounds on top of the mug is broken with a spoon after 4 minutes of brewing, with inhalation taking place at the moment the spoon breaks the surface
4. tasting: a spoon is dipped into the surface of the coffee, the sample is slurped up, tasted, then spat out (unless you want to get really wired) This final phase is repeated as many times as you like, because the coffee flavor evolves as the beverage cools.
Amidst the sound of hearty slurps filling the store was the occasional WOW! This is a special experience and something for everyone to try. Since I'm able to roast coffee at home, we'll be having a cupping soon, so get ready!
I'm still wired from all this coffee, and it's not from the caffeine. This was a seminal experience to have in the nascency of this hobby of mine. So with a more attuned palate, and fresh-roasted beans at my side, I go forth into the world of coffee drinking!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Book Review: "A Champion's Mind"

In typical understated Pete Sampras fashion, an autobiography about one of the all-time greats hit the shelves on June 10th, and I just finished reading it. I must say, it is a perfect mirror of the man's career; unclear and skeletal at first, then more robust and engaging, then a deep frankness and revealing honesty towards the end.
The way that I even found out about this book was quintessentially Sampras: low profile, minimal publicity, then BOOM, there it was on my Amazon recommended list. Anyway, this was a wonderful find, as I was 14 years old when Sampras became a household name after winning the 1990 US Open, and I actively followed his career from then on. Going back through those tennis events and memories through his eyes was a wonderful and illuminating adventure.
The book actually starts off slowly insofar as the events are laid out along a discrete timeline, but there is little commentary or analysis about them, including his US Open breakthrough in 1990. He admits that early on in his career he was immature about, and lacked insight into what was going on around him, and the paucity of insight in the first few chapters of the book really reflects that. As he matures as a person, along an arc clearly delayed by his devotion to and sacrifices for tennis, his analysis about his career ripens and sharpens.
The first glimmers of this are in his wonderful insight into his relationship with Tim Gullikson, and the way his death affected him. This carries into the famous match against Jim Courier when Sampras began to weep on court. Without spoiling the surprise, I was stunned at Sampras' reaction to Courier's comments on the court during the match.
His commitment to the game, his competitive drive, and what he terms "the Gift" really come forth in the chapter about his famous 1996 match against Alex Corretja at the US Open. His discussion about that gripping 5th set, which I remember watching live, is totally engrossing. I went straight to my computer to find a youtube clip to relive it (for your ease, here is a link. It's in two parts, and the commentary's in French, but who cares?)
Sampras' growing sense of self and his awareness of the size and import of his career really launch the final 1/3 of the book into a special place. He dissects his pursuit of the all-time Grand Slam record as well as his quest to finish number one in the world for a record 6 straight years. Sadly, this last feat is one that fell on deaf ears in the US, for as he describes being doggedly pursued by the world press, no American beat writer followed him on his epic chase around the world (thanks a bunch, Sports Illustrated!). He also devotes a great deal of attention to his biggest rivals, primarily Boris Becker, Goran Ivanisovic, and of course, Andre Agassi. His insights into their matches and relationship are just gripping, and left me wanting so much more. Thankfully Agassi's autobiography isn't far away.
We see more than just his tennis; however, as Sampras takes us into his emotions and values in a way he consciously chose not to do during his career. He voices fear, happiness, frustration, and anger in ways that have humanized him for me in a wonderful way. He candidly discussed Sally Jenkins' writing about him sleeping alone in a dark room, the imprisonment for child molestation of Pete Fischer, one of his first advisors, and the clumsy and ultimately reversed firing of his second coach Paul Annacone. He also gives an upfront analysis of his decision to retire and his final US Open in 2002.
Paired nicely with this insight are lots of wonderful vignettes, moments, and anecdotes that were entirely new to me and very entertaining. I choose not to divulge them here, and you can thank me later once you've enjoyed them for yourself.
Along with his growth as player and man, another theme that is evident throughout the book is Sampras' slavish devotion to his craft. Honestly the man puts the "ace" in ascetic (terrible pun, I know, but just too tasty to pass up!) From minimizing his high school exposures (he was known as "the tennis guy"), to rigorously following a dietary regimen, even when his body was calling out for something else, to moving to Tampa to be away from the "distraction" of family, the man was an absolute monk. He even slept in a separate bed from his new wife at Wimbledon when she was pregnant because it was a queen size, not a king!
(Interesting sidenote about his body craving different foods than what he usually ate: Sampras suffers from a condition called Beta-thalassemia, which is commonly found in people of Mediterranean descent and, because it affects a person's ability to form normal hemoglobin molecules, causes a mild anemia. When people become anemic, most frequently in anemias due to nutritional deficiencies (ie iron deficiency) they can manifest a symptom called "pica" wherein they crave large quantities of non-nutritive substances or food ingredients. When I read about Sampras' cravings for fatty foods at the 1996 French Open, this phenomenon came to mind. Anyway, now that we've finished Hematology Grand Rounds, we'll conclude this sidenote.)
His sacrifices are a perfect illustration of what it takes to get to and stay at the top, and he speaks on film about this same process in the movie "Unstrung". There is a clear acknowledgment that he missed out on a great deal, but he derives that much more satisfaction from his achievements. He also clearly seems to be relishing the more normal life that he leads now.
It is easy to see how such a career path is not for anyone but a chosen few, and then even those few still have to make a choice of their own. An interesting juxtaposition to the road Sampras walked is Mark Philippoussis, who was widely regarded as having the biggest and best all-around tennis game in the world, but focused more on the trappings of tennis fame than tennis itself (who will soon forget his turn on NBC's "Age of Love" reality show).
Pete Sampras had an amazing career, not just for the sheer magnitude of his achievements, but also for the removed and sometimes obfuscating personality he showed us during his time in the limelight. This book closes the gap between Sampras the tennis player and Sampras the person for us, his fans. By doing this with as much candor and frankness as are in these pages, we meet an entirely new person. By pouring in so many magical tennis adventures and anecdotes, we get to relive an unbelievable career all over again.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Back Next Week...

...but until then, here's two outstanding efforts from Tom Friedman of the NY Times. I'll be back writing in this space next week.
From yesterday.
From this past Sunday.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Rafa Nadal, Ascendant

A statement of fact, for once and for all: Rafael Nadal is the greatest clay-court tennis player who has ever lived.
I know that sometimes I am prone to hyperbole in my posts, which is borne of both enthusiasm and my fair share of knowledge about the sport of tennis, but the above statement of fact is nothing short of unvarnished, undebatable, empiric truth.
This morning Nadal put on one of the single-most dominant athletic performances I've ever seen, dismantling Roger Federer in the French Open final. The score reflects this; 6-1, 6-3, 6-0, a serious beatdown that is easy to see. But there is a subtext here that you had to witness to understand. Nadal didn't just beat Federer, he took away his belief that he could win.
Nadal's power, pace, spin, and court coverage had Federer totally flummoxed and left him trying all sorts of bizarre drop shots to find any sort of opening, to say nothing of taking away any opportunity for Federer to attack the net. His massive backhand and unstoppable forehand had Federer out of position and totally frustrated all morning. His uncanny movement and relentless aggressiveness shattered any game plan of Federer's, leaving him vulnerable and frustrated.
You might say, having reviewed the match summary, that Federer made an uncharacteristically high number of unforced errors, and therefore couldn't have been playing so well. This would be incorrect, because it was Nadal's shots that simply broke Federer down. He strikes the ball so cleanly and with so much spin, that it is just impossible to handle on clay. Federer's errors started and continued because Nadal drilled topspin upon topspin into his backhand, which crumbled like a house of cards.
Put simply, Nadal took a man who is one of the all-time greats and broke his spirit, which is unbelievable! Now, having packed away his 4th straight French Open title (he's now 28 for 28 at Roland Garros), Nadal heads towards Wimbledon, where it remains to be seen whether the size of his game will be enough to unseat Federer where he is most comfortable, on the grass.
Until then though, we must reflect on what happened this morning in Paris, because this sort of pure domination does not happen often.


Ana Ivanovic picked up her first Grand Slam championship yesterday, and today she starts to pick up the fat checks that come with being young, beautiful, charismatic, and the French Open women's singles champion.
She's had a champion-size game for several years now, but for the first time she showed the grit and heart that it takes to win a tournament of this magnitude. Now, she has a huge amount of momentum and confidence heading into the grass-court season and Wimbledon. Oh yeah, and she's number one in the world to boot.
And oh my God, the money! Just you watch, next year when Forbes Magazine posts its list of top earning male and female athletes, Ivanovic will be there. She's got all the features that Madison Avenue will absolutely eat up, and a childhood story of hardship in war-torn Serbia that will make anyone and everyone her fan.

Friday, June 6, 2008

French Open: We Have Our Dream Final

Quick hits, then onto the goggle-eyed, bouncing-up-and-down, anticipation
Roger Federer defeated Gael Monfils in 4 sets in one French Open semi.
Rafael Nadal beat Novak Djokovic in 3 sets in the other semi.
Which means...
Federer vs Nadal. Sunday morning 6:00 PST on NBC. French Open Men's Singles Final.
It's really important for any and all sports fans to appreciate what's happening on Sunday morning. You don't have to have any particular affinity for tennis to enjoy the magnitude of this clash. These two men squaring off in competition is the equivalent of Ali/Frazier, McEnroe/Borg, Hearns/Hagler, really any of the great mano a mano rivalries of any generation.
These sorts of rivalries don't happen often, and they should be enjoyed by all who love sports.
On the one hand is Federer, with his easy grace, #1 ranking, and 12 Grand Slam titles, but still missing the last one to complete his resume; the French Open. Oh yeah, he's lost to Nadal there three straight years! This year, after a tough winter and spring, with multiple surprising losses and voices of doubt growing louder about how long he'll be on top, his very reputation is on the line here.
On the other hand is Nadal, with his mammoth arms, unbelievable fighting spirit, and 3 straight French Open titles. In fact, he's never lost at the French Open. Let me repeat that, because it's really an unfathomable thought. He has NEVER lost at Roland Garros. 27 for 27, he is. That's just, well, crazy. However, a loss would dampen that greatness, and people would likely begin to notice his lack of success on any other Grand Slam surface aside from clay, and more and more focus would shift to the ascendant Novak Djokovic as the man to unseat Roger the Great.
When these two meet, there is great respect between them, but they both have a clear understanding of what's on the line. Not only that, but neither one shies away from their clashes, in fact, they both seem to relish it, knowing that beating the other puts them at the very highest pinnacle of tennis. Finally, they both bring their absolute A game to their battles. There is never any whining, slowing down, or backing off.
No, this rivalry gives us the very best that tennis, and all of sports, can offer. The two best at what they do battling for a title with everything on the line. Sunday morning will give us a treat, I promise you, and I'm going out on a limb, and predicting that Federer will pull off the upset and claim his first French Open title. Can't wait to find out if I'm right!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

See Jess' Comments

I got a phone call at work today from Jess, who started off by telling me her morning had been ruined! Coffee spill, burned toast, missed alarm, what was it?
She was watching the tennis, and was totally captivated by the women's semifinal match between Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic.
Now we've watched plenty of tennis together over the years, and Jess has quickly become an astute and insightful student of the game. This morning; however, was the first time she had settled into a match by herself. And that's really cool.
I didn't get to see any of what turned out to be a tremendous battle, but Jess gave me a fantastic insight into the flow, the action, and the nerves of the players. What a cool wife I have!
Turns out Ivanovic won in three sets to advance to the final against Dinara Safina (didn't some blogger predict that just last night?) She also claimed the #1 ranking from Maria Sharapova, and has a chance to cement it Saturday morning.
I'll be at work, but Jess will be watching!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Lost Cause: Ol' Jube

This post is a continuation of our discussion of the Lost Cause mythology and the Civil War. If you have not read the previous posts on this subject, I invite you to browse through the archives to get caught up as the following will make much more sense. That said, on we go!

Jubal Anderson "Ol' Jube" Early was a lawyer before the Civil War and served as a general under Robert E. Lee with the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. He rose from brigade command to division and later corps command, participating in every major campaign in the Eastern Theatre of the war, including the 1862 Shenandoah campaign under General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and the Overland Campaign.
He made his name and his legacy; however, in the 1864 Valley Campaign, where he commanded an army corps on the last Confederate invasion of the North. His force made it all the way to the outskirts of Washington D.C. before being pushed back into the Shenandoah Valley and eventually crushed out of existence in the fall of 1864.
After this campaign ended in disaster, Early was relieved of command by Gen. Lee in March of 1865. From there he fled to Texas after the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox. Next he went to Mexico, then to Canada, where in 1866-67, he got down to business.

Early was a well-educated, erudite man who understood that, at the end of the war, a struggle for control of the public memory would ensue, and he immediately went to work shaping this memory. His goal (and this is important) was , as elucidated by Prof. Gary Gallagher of the University of Virginia in his essay "Jubal A. Early, the Lost Cause, and Civil War History" to build an interpretation and written record of the war, that would, if accepted by southern survivors, as well as future generations of Americans, help restore honor, virtue, and credibility to what would otherwise be seen as the massive and complete disaster that was the true end result of secession and the Confederacy. In this effort, Early achieved a level of success that is still hard to fathom.
Prompted by a letter from General Lee in November, 1865, asking him for information and recollections about his various campaigns, Early began compiling his own memoirs and opinions about the war and how it was fought. He published the first post-war reminiscence by any Civil War officer in 1866 entitled "A Memoir of the Last Year of the War for Independence, in the Confederate States of America".
Over the last 25 years of his life, Early became the de facto expert on the Confederate war effort, and a prominent member of the Southern Historical Society. In these dual positions, Early helped supervise the publication of the Southern Historical Society Papers. This was a massive, 52-volume effort in which former Confederate officers (no Union representation) reexamined and explored old battles, at once excoriating and lauding various participants.

By compiling information in this way, Early and the Southern Historical Society began a tradition that became essential in building and propagating the Lost Cause mythology, and one that is anathema to good and accurate historiography. He began using the memories and opinions of people obtained after the fact in question, instead of looking at their writings, statements, and public records before and during the events. In addition, only side of the events in question were represented properly.
An accurate and responsible historian is trained to focus their efforts on data available as close to the time/event in question, thus assuring that the interpretations and opinions collected are as close to the real emotions of the moment. When data is collected after the fact, outside influences including self-aggrandizement or self-protection, justification, credit-hoarding, and just plain forgetfulness all begin to take root. Thus, retrospective data is nowhere near as accurate as data that is prospective. In addition, one must pay attention to both sides of an argument, and glean pertinent information on a topic from all participants, not just one side.
For Early and the SHS, this point did not matter, and was in fact, counterproductive. It was more important to have retrospective opinions from people who were desperately trying to justify the disastrous result of not just the Civil War, but of the sectional crisis and secession which had preceded it.
Early himself explained the society's goals in August, 1863 at the SHS convention. As the keynote speaker, he said "the history of our war has not yet been written, and it devolves upon the survivors of those who participated in that war, to furnish the authentic materials for that history."
These goals were roundly met, and from his efforts and the efforts of others, sprang an entirely new interpretation of important people, events, and ideas in the Southern cause and the Northern cause against which the Confederacy fought. From these efforts came a significant part of the Lost Cause mythology.
In our next section, we'll begin to look, one at a time, at the essential tenets that make up the primary interpretations and foci of the Lost Cause mythology, as well as the actual history from which they sprung.

French Open Semifinals

Tomorrow morning brings us the women's semifinals, featuring an all-Russian slugfest between the surging Dinara Safina and Svetlana Kuznetsova in the first match, followed by a pair of Serbians, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic.
All tourney, the women's draw has been wide open, and now that we're down to the final four, that is ever-more the truth. It's all going to come down to who wants it more and who is ready to step up and win break points, set points, and match points. Opportunity beckons, ladies.
I'm going with Ana Ivanovic and Dinara Safina to make it to the finals, and it'll be Safina hoisting the champion's trophy Saturday morning. She's winning tough matches and big points, and that's the kind of backbone it'll take to win.
On the men's side, there are a pair of dream semifinals for us to enjoy on Friday. Honestly, I couldn't think of two more delicious matchups.
First up is Rafa Nadal vs Novak Djokovic. This needs no embellishment from me, except DON'T MISS IT!
Second is Roger Federer vs Gael Monfils. Federer has played brilliantly all tournament, and now faces the enigmatic Monfils. This kid is long, fit, and incredibly talented. The knock on him has been his inability to put all his tools together. This tourney; however, looks quite different, as he absolutely dismantled David Ferrer today in the quarters.
Here's the X-factor, Monfils is French.
This means a wild atmosphere on Friday in Paris. It's been 25 years since a Frenchman won, and 8 years since the last French semifinalist. Federer has always had an easy time with Monfils, but this will be a different player in an entirely different setting.
Predictions: Nadal pushes past Djokovic into the finals where he will face Federer in the dream championship match.
I have my thoughts about the winner of this duel, but I don't want to jinx anything, so let's wait until the final is set.
TV times for the semifinals:
-tomorrow at 9:00AM Pacific on ESPN 2 (both women's semifinal matches)
-Friday at 7:00AM Pacific on NBC (first men's semifinal), then switching over to ESPN at either 9 or 10AM for the second semifinal
And remember that matches can be watched live online for free at

Title#103 for UCLA

NCAA title #103 was claimed by the UCLA men's golf team, and, just to make title number ONE HUNDRED THREE that much sweeter, the team bested both Stanford and USC to take the title.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Lost Cause: Definitions and Beginnings

Like many others, I'm still stunned by the brazen, disgraceful, disingenuous display of the Confederate flag in Tampa, Florida.
Words like "ignorant", "racist", and "disrespectful" leap to mind, not just when I see the flag flying, but read the words of those who planned this exhibition and those who support it.
I do not wish to give them any louder voice than they can muster themselves, so there will be no links or quotes in this space. If you want to find and read them, good hunting.
One important thing to note is the group that planned and funded this endeavor; an organization called Sons of Confederate Veterans. This point is important is because this group was and still is a cornerstone of some of the greatest mythology in the American pantheon, The Lost Cause.
Definition: The Lost Cause was and is the literary and intellectual effort of white southerners, ie Confederates,, to reconcile and explain the Confederates' shattering defeat in the Civil War. As Gaines Foster, probably the foremost historian on the subject, says, it is the "Southern interpretation" of the Civil War. Originating as it did in the South after the war, this caricature of actual events, ideas, and strategy eventually spread to the North and the rapidly developing West. Over time, this constructed memory has replaced the actual history of the war.
I want to move in a step-wise fashion through this complicated quagmire of national memory and history, so we will start with the underpinnings and beginnings of this movement here. In posts to come, we will cover the key tenets of the Lost Cause and the actual history that is being subverted, then slavery, secession and the Lost Cause, and finally how the Civil War is presented in movies and the media. This will take some time, but let's begin.
At the end of the Civil War, the southern states that made up the Confederacy (Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi) were, to be blunt, absolutely shattered. Emotionally, philosophically, financially, and physically gutted. To whit:
-25% of men aged 20-40 dead
-40% of livestock destroyed
-50% of farming supplies and equipment lost
-railroads and heavy industry completely paralyzed
-approximately 60% of total Confederate wealth lost, and...
-the complete termination of the institution which had supplied labor, lifestyle, philosophy, and financial position to the Confederacy; slavery.
The veterans coming home from combat, as well as the women, children, and elders who had lived through the darkest days of the war, were not only left with a devastated society, but without explanation for it. Throughout the nation, people were quite pious, and the belief in divine inspiration and support was rampant throughout both sides. Now the losing side had to come to grips with the disillusionment of a clear divine rejection of its philosophy and its efforts.
The spiritual aspect aside, the Confederate leadership also needed to account for themselves and their actions which had led to disaster, as did the men who fought under the (many) flags of the Confederacy.
Foster's book features a quote from Clement Evans, a veteran from Georgia who later became commander of the United Confederate Veteran's organization (from which the above-named Sons of Confederate Veterans arose). Evans stated "If we cannot justify the South in the act of Secession, we will go down in History solely as a brave, impulsive but rash people who attempted in an illegal manner to overthrow the Union of our Country."
From this nearly impossible position came an effort to recast the ideals and efforts of the Confederacy, to present secession as a heroic effort, and the war as a noble, honorable cause. This effort got started right away. Edward Pollard, previously the editor of the Richmond Examiner, both named and launched the movement in 1867 with the publication of "The Lost Cause: The Standard Southern History of the War of the Confederates." It wasn't until a former Confederate general and wholly unreconstructed secessionist started writing and publishing; however, that this movement began to pick up steam. Prepare to meet one of the most influential fathers of the Lost Cause, General Jubal A. Early.

Monday, June 2, 2008

What's Nick Bolletierri Made Of?

So we just tuned in to catch some of today's highlights and there's the ubiquitous Nick Bolletierri on TV babbling about why the French Open is so great. For those who don't know, Bolletierri runs a famous tennis academy in Florida and made a name for himself as Andre Agassi's first coach. As with any tennis coach, Bolletierri is quite tan...

Bolletierri closed his monologue by saying something like "the red clay Grand Slam is one of the best ever"
Jess, my ever-awesome wife, responded to this in perfect deadpan fashion...
"He looks like he's made of red clay!"
Had to post this immediately, because this was way too good to go under the "Why Jess is Cool" sidebar.

More Lost Cause Analysis Coming

So I've been working on posts about the Civil War and the Lost Cause, but have gotten a bit behind. However, after reading this story today, I promise I will get cranking. Of course we all have a visceral reaction when we see something like this, but hopefully I can help elucidate some foundation for that frustration.
In the meantime, here's Tom Friedman in the NY Times from yesterday.

There For The Taking, and GAAK!

So take an imaginary tennis player, give her set in the bag, up 5-2 in the second set, a match point at 5-3 in the second set, a 5-2 lead in the second set tiebreaker.
Two ways for this match to go...
1. Said player slams the door and capitalizes on one (of many) opportunities to close out the match.
2. Player gets into own head and, as the above trend demonstrates, starts letting chances slip away.
If you pick #1, you're into the French Open quarterfinals
If you pick #2, you get caught in that all too common tennis phenomenon; the choke.
Unfortunately for her current French Open and career Grand Slam aspirations, Maria Sharapova opted for the latter pathway, and like any other tennis player who has lost confidence and gained frustration, completely fell apart and lost 6-7, 7-6, 6-2 to Dinara Safina.
You can look at the score and think "what a tight match" but if you look at the above flow of events in the match, and note that Sharapova lost the final four games of the third set, the magnitude of the collapse is clear.
Now, Sharapova is no naif when it comes to winning big matches, but clearly she could see the implications of a victory: one step closer to a career Grand Slam, cementing number one ranking, tennis immortality on the horizon.
Even with her championship pedigree, those stakes were too much.
This is not to imply that the woman who beat her, Dinara Safina, is some schlub with a racket. She has actually been playing inspired tennis the last few months. However, when a match teeters on victory one way, then rapidly swings the other, that's usually because someone is collapsing above the shoulders.
As the third set got out of control, Sharapova's normally loud grunts reached epic volume, prompting some whistles and boos from the French fans. I think if they could sense the fear, frustation, and anxiety behind them as the match slipped away, it would be clear that she was yelling for help.
Safina wouldn't help her by making bad decisions or getting tight herself, her father couldn't help her with his various antics, and her game completely abandoned her. So Maria has to figure out how to move on, because Wimbledon is a few weeks away, and she'll be favored there as well.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

How To Write A Feature Article

Sportswriting, like any other writing form, has its basic articles, each with something of a set-piece format. There's the event summary piece (what it sounds like), the sidebar (commentary on the event/person), the column (opinion), notes/quick hits, and the feature article about someone or something.
I was lucky enough to spend nearly 4 years as a sportswriter for the Daily Bruin as a UCLA undergrad, and cut my teeth as a sportswriter by finding my way through these varying motifs. All allow for tremendous creativity and flexibility, and can be really fun to put together. The summary, sidebar, and notes items provided a bit less of this, but are still a blast because they are usually done during or directly after an event (usually on deadline). The opinion piece is also rewarding, because you can let your personality out a bit (and get your pic in the paper)
The feature article; however, is the one that is far and away the most challenging for a sportswriter, and therefore, the most rewarding and revealing for readers. In a feature, the idea is to take a focal point, most commonly an athlete, and dissect it along a specific theme. This allows the reader to get a unique and clear picture about a particular facet of something or someone otherwise unreachable.
Just like any other part of sportswriting, features can, and most often do, come across as rote and formulaic. It goes like this: meet athlete in context of event, quote athlete/teammates/coaches, discuss event, go back in time to childhood and upbringing, more quotes, usually from family, back to event or issue in question, wrap-up.
Next time you're reading a feature in the paper, online, or in the pages of Sports Illustrated, put this formula to the test, usually it's pretty accurate. There's nothing wrong with using this approach, because the article should give the reader some insight into the subject, and if it's a wide scope, no problem.
Example #1: this week's Sports Illustrated, with Josh Hamilton on the cover. The inside feature of this athlete by Albert Chen takes us into his current baseball heroics, then his past drug addiction, then back to his youth as a phenom, then into his spiral, then what he's doing now. A solid biographical sketch, but nothing that merits a re-read, that's for sure.
The features that truly transcend, that win awards, that demand to be reread; however, are those that don't just give the broad strokes. No, they are the pieces that take a specific, tantalizing part of an athlete and really break it down. In doing this, the reader can discover something about the athlete, good or bad, and have it presented in specific relief.
Not only does this more focused approach give a more intriguing and interesting story, but teases out much better quotes. When you ask someone the standard stuff, you get the standard platitudes, but when you're going down a certain theme, you get the true personality.
Put this in the hands of a capable writer, and you get example #2: same issue of SI, Chris Ballard's feature of Kobe Bryant. This article doesn't take a wide approach, covering the big points in his career (growing up in Italy, NBA out of high school, NBA championships, rivalry with Shaq, sexual assault charges, trade demands, etc). What this article does is, it examines his competitive nature. It takes us into what make this sports megastar click. Each piece of his life is examined, but to tell this specific story. High school teammates, scouts, rivals, coaches, they all get to tell their stories about Kobe's incredible competitive drive.
You finish the story not with the biography of Kobe Bryant, but with a new insight into what drives him and how he stays at such a high level. Most importantly, the article has such refreshing information, quotes, and perspective that it leaves you wanting more, thus the need to re-read the piece.
Pick up this week's SI, and read the articles back to back, first Hamilton, then Bryant. I think you'll see what I mean. I know Bryant better than ever, but Hamilton feels like a wikipedia entry. I wanted to know the nitty gritty about his recovery, what worked, what didn't, the lessons, the tattoos, the things he says when he speaks to recovering addicts.
I want him to be personalized, to become someone anyone can identify with, at least on some level. Ballard's Bryant piece does that with this megastar, and that's what pulls readers back for more.
Our athletes are at such a high plane in all respects that we often feel quite detached. The truly excellent feature will close that gap, and help us feel like we know the person we're rooting for (or against for that matter), and not just the larger-than-life athlete.

More French, More!

So we're at the first weekend of the French Open; the halfway point, the turn, the middle, etc. We're about to transition from rounds that begin with numbers (1st, 2nd, etc) to those beginning with fractions (quarters, semis). Basically we're getting into the heart of the tourney.
This time around, and for the first time since 2003, there's an American man still alive in the singles. Robby Ginepri, affectionately referred to in our household as "Gineps", bounced Frenchman Florent Serra today in straight sets to advance to the round of 16 (fourth round). In doing this, he also clinched himself a spot on the US Olympic Team and guaranteed plenty of questions, as well as an endorsement opportunity, about what was on his right arm.
On the women's side, this is looking more and more like Maria Sharapova's tournament to lose. Her draw is wide open and she's starting to pick up steam with a 7-6, 6-0 victory today over Karin "boy, do I need a" Knapp. Not only would a victory cement her number one ranking (as predicted here in my Aussie Open preview in Jan) but would give her a career Grand Slam at the age of 21!
Roger the Great is also in the legacy-cementing game and chasing the career Grand Slam, and he is playing like this is the year to claim it. With uber-coach Jose Higueras in his corner, it looks like Fed has finally realized that an aggressive, attacking game is the answer on clay, and he is absolutely crushing people, today being no different with an easy 3 set victory over Mario Ancic. As a lifelong Andre Agassi fan, watching others chase the career Grand Slam and come up short (McEnroe, Lendl, Becker, Edberg, Sampras, Courier and on and on) helps me appreciate what an incredible achievement it is to win one of each Slams. One day I need to write a big Agassi post... My favorite part of today's action; however, was watching the five-set battle between 4th seed Nikolay Davydenko and 28th seed Ivan Ljubicic. Anyone who says tennis is a young man's game, that players are at their best until they're in their mid twenties, need only have watched these two slug it out to be given some doubt. Seriously, I don't think there is a full head of hair between them! Check out pics here and here.
Tomorrow, the first quarterfinalists will make themselves known, with the marquee 4th round match being Novak Djokovic vs 18th seed Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu. Check your TV schedules so you don't miss any action, but if you do, know that your faithful blogger will be here with all the pertinent details!