Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Epiphanies on the Range

After picking up some matzo ball soup for my ailing daughter, I stopped off at the driving range to hit a bucket of balls. I’m attempting to put into use a new move away from the ball: instead of accomplishing my weight shift onto the right side with my lower body, I’m trying to get more upper body lean in order to get a bigger arc with the club head in order to get more swing speed and therefore greater distance. After about two dozen swings with the 7-iron, I started hitting some 3-woods. I’d hit that club well my last round, and it’s one of my most consistent clubs. I was hitting the ball about 175-180 yards, which isn’t too bad with range balls. (“Real” golf balls have a lot more pop.)

Then, after about three swings with the 3-wood, I readjusted my grip, holding the club more in my fingertips (as I have been taught) and less in the palm of my hand. And then, in that moment, the grip felt right. The club felt light and balanced in my hand. I felt like I would be able to use the flex in the shaft to get more club head speed. For about six swings, I was able to do it. The ball started exploding off the club face and flying 200-215 yards. Then, as quickly as it arrived, the feeling left. But at least I now I know where to look for it.

English Usage Peeve of the Day

I realize it's slightly twisted to think this way (and probably more twisted to actually be blogging about it), but I have a hard time expressing how annoyed I get hearing so many people misuse the terms "less" and "fewer." To be fair, people generally use "fewer" correctly -- it's "less" that throws them off for some reason. "We want less troops in Iraq," you'll hear a politician say. Or on a cooking show the host might say, "If you want to put in less meatballs, it's OK." In both instances, the items to be reduced (meatballs and troops placed in harm's way) can be counted. A specific number can be assigned to them. If those sentences read "We want less violence in Iraq" or "If you want to put in less oregano, it's OK," then the usage would be correct, as one cannot assign a specific quantity to violence or herbs.

So please, help maintain the minimal level of sanity I currently enjoy and spread the word to friends and family on the proper usage of "less" and "fewer."

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Significant Stonehenge Finds Announced

Although you can read a fine overview at Time of the discovery of a relatively undisturbed collection of neolithic buildings linked to Stonehenge, this article gives some additional details that help illuminate what the findings might mean in terms of understanding how our ancestors (at least, some of mine) approached the duty of living.

Quote for the Day

"There isn't a man on this planet who wouldn't like to hole more putts."

Former PGA Golfer Graham Marsh

Sunday, January 28, 2007

It WAS Satire!

As it turns out, the gay-hating "ex-gay" Pastor Donnie Davies is in fact a Dallas area actor. You can read more here.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Was It Self-Hatred or Was It Satire?


Here is a follow-up to the "God Hates A Fag" music video, a link to which I posted earlier.

I was already beginning to think that my first response to the video -- that this guy is a twisted individual -- may be wrong. That what he is doing is in fact supporting gay rights by highlighting the ridiculous extreme of certain evangelicals' opinion. That Donnie Davies is in fact an artist, and propaganda is his medium. After all, how can one explain some of his lyrical choices?: "there's no back door to heaven" and a reference to getting on one's knees. In the new video, he thanks gay blogger Andrew Sullivan for "getting behind him."

Watch them both and see what you think.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Ultimate in Self-Hatred

This is about as scary as it gets. Not only are the words of this song filled with hate, if you listen closely, you'll hear that he's actually directing his vitriol at himself. In all the civil rights struggles in history, has any other minority been persecuted with the added force of "God's word"?

A Life of Magical Thinking

An interesting article in today's New York Times about the neurological and psychological underpinnings of magical and wishful thinking. In other words, why do some seemingly rational people cling to rituals or lucky shirts or other superstitions to try to "persuade" the universe to give them what they want?

Money quote: "The point at which the culture withdraws support for belief in Santa and the Tooth Fairy is about the same time it introduces children to prayer. The mechanism is already there, kids have already spent time believing that wishing can make things come true, and they’re just losing faith in the efficacy of that.”

Friday, January 19, 2007

We Know He Thinks He's Right

Speaker Pelosi and the White House are duking it over the President's plan to add more troops. (It's no longer being called a "surge" -- Condi Rice has offered "augmentation," according to Condi Rice, but most Democrats are sticking with the more martial "escalation." I think the Democrats are closer on this one: you escalate a conflict, you augment a breast.) Pelosi said the President "knows that because the troops are in harm's way that we won't cut off the resources. That's why he's moving so quickly to put them in harm's way."

In response, White House spokesperson Dana Perino said, "Speaker Pelosi was arguing, in essence, that the President is putting young men and women in harm's way for tactical political reasons, and she's questioning his motivations, rather than questioning his policies."

First of all, she (as well as most of Congress, or for that matter most of America) ARE questioning his policies. But second, I don't think Peroni's "in essence" was required. I think her questioning of the President's motivations was very clear. I haven't seen a response from Pelosi, but I think she'd admit to this. I think she SHOULD question his motivations. The American people quite clearly expressed their opinion about the President's performance and decision-making abilities in the mid-term election. We want a check on his powers.

Bush, stupid as he is, is not stupid enough not to use everything in his arsenal to get his way. As Peroni stated in the White House press briefing today, "The one thing you can say about President Bush is that he's not moving forward with this new plan because he thinks it is popular; he is doing it because he thinks it is right." We KNOW he thinks he's right -- that's the problem. That's why his side lost the election. We think he's wrong. So we voted in people who would start questioning his policies. But he's putting his plan into place before any real debate about the plan can really begin.

Our Attorney General vs. The Constitution

Read this. Our Attorney General believes the right of habeus corpus isn't guaranteed in the Constitution. Apparently, the only thing the Constitution guarantees is that lawmakers are not to pass laws restricting it.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Wile E. Serenade

The coyotes are out in force tonight, howling and yelping. Closer I think than I have ever heard them. I wonder if the cold is causing this?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Schoolyard Idol

Perhaps I am behind the times, never having watched "American Idol" much before, and then never during the early stages, when they apparently trot out the people who truly believe they have a great voice and depths of talent but in fact are freakishly lacking in both tune and clue. The producers search for (and clearly find) people who are either demented or lack some vital cortical structure that allows them to sense when a pitch is off. These are people who felt their voices ought to be heard, or who were encouraged to audition by cruel acquaintances.

I'm certain there are many people who show up to auditions and purposely sing badly in a quest to be on television -- but I think the producers discover them rather quickly and whisk them out the door. Fox wants no phonies -- they want people who truly believe they can be the next American Idol. The ones that come from Pleasant Fork, Utah and Salina, Kansas all the way to Seattle for the audition because they have a dream.

And then Simon Cowell crushes them. He exposes them to themselves. To see them melt when the message finally comes through: you are an AWFUL singer, one of the world's worst. Some immediately turn to denial and ask Simon what he thinks HE knows about music, that he should be judging them. Others rationalize, saying they were sick or were having an off day. Some plead, asking for second and third chances. Some just sing and continue to sing when told not to, sometimes until the bouncers escort them offstage.

Ultimately though, a few of the true believers come to understand the scale of their misunderstanding and are humiliated. While millions watch.

Imagine their journey through the world of "American Idol." 70,000 people auditioned for the most recent season. Paula, Randy and Simon saw only 1200 of them. The rest were filtered out by 12 preliminary judges. So you go into a room and you massacre a song and if you're really awful, so awful you might be funny or tragic, the judge might say, "That was amazing. Never heard anything like it. I want you to sing for Paula, Randy and Simon." You're excited -- you've made the first cut. They ask you to sing a song. What you don't know is they are asking all the tuneless and clueless to sing the same song so they can make a wacky medley of their immelodious brayings.

Then you get your big chance and you are told you are "useless at everything," "pathetic" and that "your future involves not singing." Some of them break down weeping on a parent's shoulder, sobs racking their bodies. "I could tell they hate me!"

It's like a cruel practical joke -- we'll find the delusional and the congenitally tone deaf and play into their fantasy that they can sing, until we convince them otherwise on national television.

Perhaps Simon and Randy and Paula are actually doing these people a favor, helping them wake up to reality. But the alarm they use to rouse these poor souls takes the form of some rather intense emotional convulsions. I don't know that I like it.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Jake Gyllenhall Superstar


Watch it now. NBC is removing the files as fast as they can find them. But it's pretty funny.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Head Game

As I've stated in an earlier post, golf takes place primarily between the ears. Unfortunately, it's not standard IQ that seems to dictate success over the course of 18 holes, but emotional intelligence. Perhaps it's a bit like the difference between "book smarts" and "street smarts." Call it "links smarts." Unfortunately, I don't seem to have it.

This thought comes to me because I recently had the opportunity to play a couple of rounds of golf with my older brother and his two sons, my nephews. My brother and his oldest son have played the game since they were kids. (His younger son took up the game only a few years ago, and we had never played together before.) At one time, my brother was a single digit handicap. His son is a solid mid-handicapper whom I have bested a total of one time. (And that was the most recent time we played, this past summer at the Presidio Golf Course.) I believe one is also the number of times I have scored lower than my brother. Believe me, those are both numbers I would like to see climb a touch higher.

Knowing, however, that placing too much emphasis on results is bound to affect my game, I made a conscious effort in the days leading up to our excursion to get myself in the right state of mind. I tried to remember the course we were playing was a tough one and would likely eat me up. I tried to relax and tell myself the score didn't matter. I tried to simply enjoy the beauty of the place, take a few pictures and have a good time.

As the round went on, though, and one bad shot followed another (save for the notable exceptions of a wicked 3-wood and a nearly perfect knockdown 5-iron), my attempts to maintain zen-like non-attachment were working about as well as my putter. Which is to say, not at all. I generally average 32 putts/round -- I took 41 our second day. Though I normally shoot in the mid- to low-90s, I failed to break 100 either day.

The thing that has me most in a funk is that this is almost exactly how my mind reacted when I played in my very first sanctioned tournament, almost a year ago. I told myself I didn't care about results, that I was going to enjoy myself and not worry about the score. But when I teed it up, I hit shank after shank and failed to break 100.

The worrisome part is that when I tell myself I should be caring the least, that's exactly when I care the most. My mind lets me down (or I let IT down, either way) and I find myself in a deep funk over disappointing myself -- both in terms of playing poorly and overreacting to my poor play.

The question now is, how do I prepare myself for the next time I play and really want to do well? Do I try again to put pressure out of my mind? Or do I give up on telling myself there's no pressure and accept that it's going to be there? Deep inside, in both these situations, I REALLY wanted to play well. Perhaps someone with "links smarts" would like to chime in and offer advice on how to detach myself from expectations.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Real Music from Tim Hockenberry

Go see Tim Hockenberry.

Simple as that.

Who is Tim Hockenberry? I'm tempted to say singer/songwriter, as that is where a marketing type would probably catergorize him. But you could also call him a pianist, bandleader, trombonist...I think the broader term "musician" is best. Tim Hockenberry makes great music.

Before reserving a place at his recent gig at The Empire Plush Room (which closed tonight, so unfortunately, if you want to see him, you'll have to wait), I'd never heard of him. My guess is you haven't either. But after seeing him play, I wouldn't be surprised if his name recognition skyrockets over the next year or so. Of course, the music business being what it is, I also wouldn't be surprised if he remained in relative obscurity. Given his talents and the amazing band he's put together, though, I'm rooting for the former.

It's hard to adequately describe the magic Hockenberry works. But I'll begin with the voice. A cross between Joe Cocker and Randy Newman with a soup├žon of Tom Waits, it's a voice that has real presence. A voice that has gravitas -- without seeming to be overpowering. He doesn't load his performances up with aural fireworks, but he always seems to be singing the truth. And that, I think, is very tough to come by.

Next, his amazing band. I didn't write down the names, but they could make some sounds. The guitarist did some great work, and the rhythm section could really lay down a groove. (My favorite being the foundation they laid for "Built for Comfort, Not For Speed.")

Hockenberry also has a great arranger (and if he's doing them himself, it's just too much talent in one man) that gave us incredible versions of The Beatles' "Girl" and "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."

Top that off with the fact that he has a natural stage presence, blows a mean trombone and is also undeniably handsome, I have a hard time understanding why he doesn't have a fat record contract somewhere.

Keep an eye out. Go.

Is littering no longer a ticketable offense?

Not to pile on the smokers any more than we already have (the poor junkies have fewer and fewer places to indulge in their drug of choice, and I'm all for limiting it even more than it already is), but have you looked down at your feet lately? The litter that is strewn in our gutters and sidewalks is at least 50% cigarette detritus: butts, matches, cartons of Kool. I think they might even be doing it more than any time in the past, as subtle (and perhaps subconcious) rebellion against the restrictions placed upon their habit. After all, when was the last time you saw a smoker snuff out a cig and place it in a nearby trash receptacle? Instead, the butt usually goes (still smoldering) into the gutter or in a doorway. I see signs here in California that littering is punishable by a $1000 fine. Start enforcing that (on everyone, not just smokers -- but the way smokers behave, my guess is they will bear the brunt of increased litter enforcement) and we could balance the budget before you can say "inoperable lung cancer."

Am I being harsh? Insensitive? Unnecessarily judgmental? Who cares? Put your butts in a can.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A New Front?

I've read a couple of interesting things (here is one) in the last few hours about the alleged US incursion onto Iranian soil via a raid at a building which Iran claims as an embassy in Iraq. Apparently the rumor going around Washington is that next on W's hit list are Iran and Syria. If you parse the President's speech from last night, he dropped some rather obvious hints that these two are the real troublemakers in the region. For example: "Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenges. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We'll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq."

Take that information and add it to our incursion into a building claimed by Iran as an embassy. Is the real goal there to inflame Shi'a passion and get Iran to respond militarily in some way, thereby earning a military response which Bush can justify as a reason for further attacks against Iran? I don't like where this is heading.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Ziggy (July 4, 2005 - January 7, 2007)

Our sweet boy, Ziggy, is gone. He appeared to be fine when we returned from New York, but the next day he seemed listless. On New Year's Day, he was much worse and I took him to the emergency vet, where -- after extensive testing -- it was determined he had a disease of the central nervous system. After some antibiotics, he rallied for a few days, giving us some hope he might recover. Unfortunately, he took a turn for the worse today and began to seem as though he might be in pain. He could no longer stand or move. So we made what was a tough, but we believe right, decision.

Ziggy left this world peacefully, purring to the very end.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Sometimes, all you can say is "wow"

This is an actual quote from a thread in a discussion board on TheGolfChannel.com:

"Hey, you just brought out a great idea! Force all the homosexuals into slavery and send home all the illegals."

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

About...FACE!

It looks as if the warped policy on gay and lesbian servicepeople, "don't ask, don't tell," has some momentum to be lifted. Here you can read former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff John Shalikashvili's NY Times editorial in which he claims that he has changed his position on the issue.

Of course, the general makes absolutely no mention of the moral rightness of creating greater equality. His major reason is wholly practical: "Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job."

What's more, he's not QUITE ready for it:

"As the 110th Congress opens for business, some of its most urgent priorities, like developing a more effective strategy in Iraq, share widespread support that spans political affiliations. Addressing such issues could help heal the divisions that cleave our country. Fighting early in this Congress to lift the ban on openly gay service members is not likely to add to that healing, and it risks alienating people whose support is needed to get this country on the right track."

How about a simple executive order? Have the President make it the policy of the nation and let Congress deal with issues it needs to deal with.

UFO Sighting at O'Hare

Check this out. Always a skeptic, but this sounds relatively credible.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Predictions for 2007

Since I felt I ought to have a post on the first day of the year, and since I have not made any resolutions (I already lost 25 pounds during the second half of 2006), I thought perhaps I would take a few moments and make a few predictions on what might happen in 2007.

1. Iraq remains a nightmare. As the country continues to slip into greater sectarian violence, the plan to increase troop levels is adopted -- but the extra soliders are there primarily as cover to consolidate operations and pull out fully from the country. International efforts will be applied to find a solution to Irag's political turmoil, but to no avail. If by the end of the year the country is not on track to be partitioned into Sunni, Shia and Kurdish states in a loose federation, then I fear it will take several years of civil war before Iraq stabilizes to any significant degree.

2. Hillary Clinton and John McCain, once front-runners for 2008 presidential noms, slowly slip into the background as also-rans. McCain lasts longer than Hillary, as the Dems begin to realize she is too polarizing to be electable. But McCain's willingness to sell his soul for a voting bloc will prove his undoing, as voters realize that what they loved him for (his independence) was actually an illusion.

3. Barack Obama is too young to get the traction he needs for an '08 campaign and, after exploring a run, decides to pull out of the election. He may actually cite his youth in withdrawing, saying he wants to gain the further knowledge and insight it will take to lead the country.

4. Mitt Romney pushes his credentials with the ultra-conservative right and seems like he could win the Republican nomination, until the Republicans realize he can't win, and go all out to convince Giulliani to run hard. (The GOP doesn't like that he's divorced and lived with a gay couple for a few months, but they will overlook that to retain the White House, which Giuliani can deliver -- unless there are skeletons he doesn't want seen in the light of day.)

5. Bush finally sees how tarnished is his legacy and looks for something to be remembered by, other than the fiasco in Iraq. He settles on global warming. However, he's too tight with his oil buddies and -- like everything else about his presidency -- his attempts to do something about the environment ultimately become another toxic stain on his presidency.

6. The California Supreme Court rules that the state's constitution guarantees marriage equality for all citizens, and California becomes the second state to offer full marriage equality. The right makes an attempt to amend the California constitution, but the effort fizzles.

7. The housing market in the Bay Area rebounds faster than expected, as Silicon Valley's resurgence reinvigorates the local economy. Palm Springs sputters for another season because of overbuilding.

8. "Spring Awakening" is the surprise winner of the Tony for Best Musical.

9. Tiger Woods devotes himself almost entirely to winning all four majors. He takes the Masters, loses the US Open after a very tough Friday round from which even a Sunday 64 won't help him recover, but rebounds by winning the Open Championship and running away with the PGA by a record margin.

10. I shoot another 39 on the front nine of a golf course somewhere, but can't maintain the pace on the back side and end up with an 83, which is my low round of the year.