Milestones and Millstones

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The top ten list from iTunes shows Taylor, Kanye, and Bieber just who’s boss.

When I was a kid in the 70’s, mentioning that you were Korean-American got at best a shrug, maybe a laughing reference to the backdrop people on MASH, or a punch in the face. This began to change in the 80’s as more stuff started coming from Korea -people forget that for a time, Korea was to cheap stuff what China is now, but the first real milestone was the arrival of Hyundai automobiles in the mid eighties. No question, the car they sent over was a cheap POS, but it was a sign that we were arriving. The Olympics in ’88 in Seoul further confirmed this, and capped off a run that while sputtering in the late ’90s with a debt crisis, was balanced by real democratic transfers of power between competing parties, and the rise of Korean popular culture in the 00’s. K-POP, a genre that mixes commercialism (think Monkees perpetrated by a Zenith/IBM/NBC conglomerate if it had existed in the late 60’s) with world youth culture, has exploded first in Asia, then Europe, now the rest of the world. PSY’s viral Youtube video (http://youtu.be/9bZkp7q19f0) is just establishing a beachhead for the rest of KPOP which is already here in the US among pockets of youth who like to be different.

If you check out other KPOP groups like 2NE1 or BigBang, you’ll see that it’s only a matter of time -a few months I bet, before their supermegahits from Asia/Europe/Latin America will hit the US with English lyrics which these groups sing without an accent. The difference between now and the 1970’s when Pink Lady showed up on US airwaves with a variety show (with Jeff!) is the weight of social media which clearly outweighs the effect of traditional media which would never have seen/featured/mentioned/played PSY.

What does it mean to have PSY dancing with Al Roker on the Today Show at 30 Rock? What does it mean to have a Korean-American Jersey Shore-type reality show (Ktown – http://youtu.be/2rhDjxDLyjk)? What does it mean to have K-Drama and K-Movies on Hulu and Netflix? Not a clue, but the sudden urge to get my weight down to 150lbs, bleach my hair platinum blond, and go and wear Prada has hit me because I want some of that Gangnam style, and that is the real deal -getting into my head and programming me is something The Killers, Jay-Z, Eminem, Coldplay, Lady Gaga, and Nicky Minaj haven’t been able to do as well as PSY has with the opening scene of his music video (is that a short person or a really talented toddler?).

Now, I must go and dance.

The Millstone:

The Metro Municipal -Highland Park GC

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One of the things about the USGA and GHIN is that you have to be part of a club to register your golf scores. I could join the several Northeast Ohio based golf associations, but it would be nice to just join a club. The problem is that a private club is a considerable commitment of time and money.Image So it was with some joy that I found Highland GC, which is a large 36 hole municipal course. The Red Course is two traditional nine holes that go out and back into the clubhouse, while the Blue Course is an 18 hole track that does not come back for a breather between nines. They are about ten minutes from my driveway, and there is hardly ever a line.

That kind of convenience comes with some compromises. There is no pro shop. There is no driving range. And finally, there is no club for affiliation and registering of scores. It is a municipal golf course and there is a golf egalitarianism that is lost in the rarefied districts of private club golf. In the parking lot, there is an eclectic mix of luxury sedans, beaters, and even a loaded pickup truck. At one time in America, all the different classes mixed in the public sphere, at school, work, and play. This has eroded and you can see it in the economic gerrymandering of neighborhoods and suburbs reflected in their anchor malls and grocery stores. The municipal golf course is the last preserve of the public commons. On the first tee this morning, I saw three groups lined up, Asians, African-Americans, and whites.

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Sadly, they were segregated and rather prickly, being all men of a certain age. If you are in the late fifties and are playing golf on a municipal course with swings that could be good for tree chopping, you worked hard all your life, never got handed anything, and have generally skeptical view of the world. On line, the reviews complain of lack of services, poor conditions, and discrimination (both forward and reverse). Yet even with the apparent race relations of a prison yard, and stiff necked, flinty eyed glare of blue collar pride, golf etiquette prevailed and all the groups let me play through with courtesy and even a little banter about the good weather. And that is the lesson for us all. In golf there is hope.

The African American twosome were the first to let me through. Both had the mien of philosopher kings, ancient wise men, spiritual healers. They clearly enjoyed each other’s company and were in no hurray, and shooed me onwards. The Caucasian twosome were clearly betting on everything that could be bet upon during a round of golf, and seemed to be making bets about me as I played through. They were congenial and courteous. The foursome of Koreans were the most fearsome. They didn’t smile at me when I asked to play through, and I held off speaking in Korean because I thought it might trigger some kind of outburst that could only come from 4 Korean dads, but I overheard them their captain say, let him through in Korean. They watched me tee off in silence and I bid them adieu.

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On the fairway!

The course had its problems -I suspect from lean budgets and a very hot and dry summer. There were dead patches on the greens and fairways, and uneven mowing on both. That said, from the tips, the course was a lot more fun than I could usually expect to get for 35 bucks.

Addendum: found out they mow on Monday. Once mowed, the fairways and greens are very nice. This place is growing on me. Plus, the starter asked me if I was a golf pro or golf writer, which really made my day.

Etiquette–Doing is Being

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When my son turned 8, we enrolled him in an etiquette course at our country club. He was one of only two boys in that class, which had four times as many girls. Etiquette is as popular among boys, it seems, as ballet or gymnastics. So how is it that we teach our children, especially our boys, manners? In my experience in the Midwestern suburbs, for the presumptive future alpha males, it is through football that parents teach their boys how to behave in society.

The cult of football, which recently took a hit in the Penn State scandal, is very much the secular religion in the US, and its principles of individual sacrifice, self improvement, and group effort are laudable. The American ideals are poured into the public ethos of football. Much of America’s recent history can be viewed in a football context, explained in football metaphor, and historical events remembered like games and seasons. If you are a space alien needing education in American culture, you need only to review the past five Super Bowls’ worth of half-time shows and commercials. Football is America’s vernacular.

In watching an etiquette class, I realized that the forms and routines –how a table is laid out, how you approach the chair, which side the drinks are, which side is the meal served, what the utensils are for, etc., create the physical input to dial in behavior and ultimately etiquette. Dressing and behaving like a gentleman makes you a gentle man. Let me explain. The mind can be changed based on what you do physically. It has been shown that simply smiling increases the dopamine levels and changes your brain patterns to one that matches happiness. Yes. Smiling can make you happy.

The mind can be changed based on what you do physically… Smiling can make you happy.

Martial arts like Tae Kwon Do or Kung Fu focus a lot on forms –series of rote maneuvers that are memorized which to me as a student seemed tedious but retrospect have the effect of shaping the mind. Focusing on the forms of courtesy eventually makes you courteous. So where does football and football parenting leave us?

As far as I can tell, it teaches impressionable young boys how to dominate the weak. It confuses narcissism as self-esteem. By its nature, football cannot teach empathy, courtesy, or thoughtfulness. There is nothing wrong with this if your goals for a society are to create a core group of warrior that will fight wars, conquer nations, and pull down an eight figure salary in free agency. The unintended side effect is that you readily miss the opportunity to prevent the development of psychopathic bullies and date rapists. You only have to watch parents at football practice to understand why this is so. It is why figures like Tim Tebow are such an anomaly not only because he seems to outwardly practice courtesy, respect, and reverence. It is why Penn State was allowed to happen, because football is more important that a few little boys.

If you want to teach your child how to compete while being civilized, you can try etiquette lessons, but more practically, you can do no better than golf. The first section of the USGA Rules of Golf is focused on etiquette, but in fact, you teach your child important lessons by having them accompany you for a round on the cart. You learn to wait your turn staying respectfully silent. You learn to be timely and considerate of others in your group and in the groups ahead and behind you. You learn to be honest and to be your own referee. You learn to impose penalties on yourself for transgressions and be transparent about it. You learn to post your scores (like submitting tax returns when running for president). You learn to behave in a way that would make you proud and not ashamed.

As a nation, we need more mediocre golfers than we do washed out football players. We will be far better off for it.

Samsung Galaxy Tablet 2 7.0 -brief review

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The annoyingly named Samsung Galaxy Tablet 2 7.0 came out last month and I couldn’t hold off picking it up because my other 7 inch Android tablet has been appropriated by my 3 year old for video watching. Turns out, while traveling, the 7inch tablet is easier to hold than an iPad. I have become a fan of the 7 inch form factor, and because most of my work is done in email, Evernote, and Dropbox, across multiple platforms, it really doesn’t matter what gadget I’m on, as long as these cloud services and apps are available.

I was first struck by this device as being more business oriented than previous tablets, having charcoal grays that would look good in a boardroom. The front is Gorilla glass, the back is a high quality plastic that feels good in the hands. There are front and back cameras and Instagram works fine from either sides. It is thin enough. The 7 inch tablets work well for me in the hospital because it fits in my pocket. All the medical apps work, and in a pinch, Citrix is usable for accessing the hospital and office data. I can also read my Kindle books and watch Netflix and Hulu, listen to Pandora and Spotify, and via Google Play can cloud base my iTunes for my Android devices, or as I have done, park the non-DRM files on a 64 gigabyte microSD card with room left for over 25 feature length films.

It runs well, has between 6-8 hrs of battery life. It is much more user friendly that it used to be, but really, if you can’t set up your own email account, you shouldn’t be given a computer. Amazon sells a faux leather book cover which works and keeps things corporate.

It will run Amazon media via Flash, but who has time to watch Downtown Abbey when you have four seasons of Mad Men to catch up on? Flash kills your battery life (we know, we know), but there are times that it is convenient although every year it is less so as Apple and Microsoft have abandoned Flash.

Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) is much more touch friendly than Honeycomb which killed the 10inch Android Tablet in the crib. The Tablet 2 designation is correct in that Samsung is positioning itself as an Apple alternative in the post PC world. I like ICS because you can customize. The problems Android had when I had my Droid 2 from Motorola/Verizon are note apparent -contacts come up fast on emails, and Facebook and Twitter are laced into the OS. It doesn’t crash. Individual apps may but the whole OS no longer dies. I see no need for a task killer so far.

Why did Steve Jobs hate the 7 inch form factor? It didn’t jibe with his four square grids on his keynote presentation. As he said, you’d have to file your fingers down to nubbins to reach the right size – this is not true. I think it was a mistake on his part. The fact is that industrial gadgetry is market begging to be filled by the void being left by BlackBerry. Doctors want a tablet, but one that doesn’t need a murse or a satchel to carry.

This tablet at 249.99 at Best Buy is more expensive than the Fire, but I think it does more. Even if you are wed to iOS, the fact that most of the big apps like Instagram and Angry Birds are available means that it doesn’t matter which one you have. I am preferring subscription services like Netflix and Spotify because of their ubiquity on multiple devices. Subscriptions make more sense because you don’t need to take up precious storage space for media when you can have it in the cloud -the tradeoff being the need for a broadband connection.

Other neat stuff -it features a universal remote and IR blaster, letting you turn it into a very cool feature rich remote. The app also tells what’s on TV -it would be wonderfully convenient if it just displayed the TV as well, no?

It’s a good time to be into tech. You have options. When Apple does come it with a 7inch iPad, you’ll have even more.

Golf is a Confidence Game

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In this my last year of golf at Wakonda as a member and resident of Iowa, I had hoped to make a splash by taking a winning turn at the Wakonda Club’s annual Blazer Days tournament. Blazer Days is a member-guest best ball tournament played out over 5 nine hole matches. There are 6 teams in a flight, and this year, there were ten flights (the tournament was oversubscribed). USGA rules apply and it is organized in such a tight manner that not a single player among the gathered type A personalities (120 in all!) could complain about a single blade of grass being out of turn. The success of this tournament reflects the success of the Wakonda Club in weathering the trends of the past two decades without losing its soul as a private country club, and it has to do with three key factors. First, the golf course is kept up to world class conditions with a fierce determination. Second, aggressive marketing to the future of the club, young families, is done both loudly and quietly. Third, and finally, the club is endowed with a critical mass of Iowans who by and large are the most reasonable, generous, and sweet-minded people on this earth.

My Blazer Days started auspiciously with a practice round skins game that delivered to me a skin on the first hole with a par -the only one scored that day, and ended with a 2nd place finish in the Derby -the highlight of which was my draining a 5 footer for par in front of a crowd of about a hundred of my golfing peers. The day of the tournament started with a terrible accident. I had laid my driver on the ground carelessly and hit it with a shanked ball off a 7 iron, cracking the carbon shaft at the grip. This took out the driver which I had been nailing above 50% onto fairways within 15 minutes of starting play. I swapped out for a loaner, but largely it sealed my fate. You see, golf is a confidence game. When I stood over that 5 footer for par the previous day, I had no fear. I had been practicing 5 footers relentlessly the past two weeks and it felt like I was all alone on the green. I was only aware of the sweetness of the air I was breathing and easy sound of the putter hitting the ball on the sweet spot. The clatter of the ball falling was a prophecy come true. What is amazing is how it can all be undone with something as trivial as a broken driver. I was able to hit 5 practice balls with the loaner and got the last two drives not to slice by making small adjustments. Without good drives, it doesn’t matter that you just drained a twenty foot putt for bogey to push -you can’t make miracle shots all day against a field as good as this. With confidence gone, the tournament was largely done.

Even so, there was no question of walking off. Here was a golf obligation. Despite the heat, the dyspepsia of a 9am beer and foul balls launched off the course, I was signed on to the end -barring a calamity. I sometimes wish I could teach my sons this absolutism of golfing duty, but then again, I think that they may have too much common sense to put themselves into this situation. I then noticed something that took my mind off my personal misery -the greens were the slickest I have ever seen in my life but they were at the same time lush and green. The putted balls rolled as if on smooth marble, but the grass was soft and would stop balls on a dime if they had back spin. The rough, no deeper than 2-3 inches on the cut areas, was tenacious as velcro. The fairways were like greens on lesser courses. On certain holes where the fairways ended on greens without false fronts, it was possible to putt on from 5 to ten feet off. The pristine fairways made the course gaudy. The course may never be able to host a US Open because it is land locked and unable to be extended to 10,000 yards, but it was Olympic’s equal in my eye because it was all mine for a time.

The supremacy of the golf experience has been the first key to Wakonda’s success. Four years ago, Wakonda decided to cut down over a 150 trees, scrape off the fairways and greens, and start over because the grass was inconsistent, and in parts frankly ugly with patches of Poa and old legacy Bent grass, each having sunshine requirements and water needs not met by a course that had aged since its inception with majestic but sometimes senile oaks (never mind the climate change, cough, cough). In the setting of the worst economic crisis of a generation, when the average age of members was rising, and when most of the membership was generally satisfied with the course, the leadership shut down the golf course for a year in the pursuit of perfect, unblemished, uniformly green grass. It was a huge gamble but in retrospect, the right move. Now, several years out, the grass is not only consistently great, it is resilient. The greens staff works tireless to create a premier golf experience and the avid golfer is immediately attracted to the logic of joining a club close to work with fellow members obsessed about golf perfection and excellent golf fellowship. Wakonda is full to the brim of avid golf amateurs -people who love and respect the sport and its traditions, golfists all.

The two days of straight golf competition were gruelling but a fitting valediction to my time in Des Moines. It was beautiful and the people were great.

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Plague, Inc. A Review

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This is an addictive game that takes macroeconomics, epidemiology, and microbiology, and creates an ultimately bittersweet game out of human extinction. I called my first plague Paltrow, and it defeated humanity by taking advantage of human behavior -why let a “cold” epidemic derail the London games which can spread disease to the four corners? If you make the disease a tropical one, the “developed world” ignores it. Make it go to the first world by conferring cold resistance and interest spikes in a cure. Remember not to make it too deadly at first or it won’t leave the country.

I remember in the 80’s playing blue and red team games for the government interested in seeing how some Ivy Leaguers would play out a Kobayashi Maru type WWWIII scenario. This is a red team scenario and it proves one thing -an extinction level event needs a steady hand to guide it.

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Hilton Head, o beautiful muddy island.

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Hilton Head is in the news this time of year because of the golf tournament on the Harbour Town course with the iconic light house on the 18th green. It made the news yesterday because an alligator interfered with play -the golfer unfortunately didn’t take the free drop being ignorant of Hilton Head and alligator rules.

The gators on Hilton Head are hogs -fat, mean, and not shy. All the courses have gator rules as well as poisonous snake rules, and the smart golfer takes the free drop. Hilton Head is not the place where you let your toddlers roam free or they might end up free lunch. It’s only a few steps from being a malarial swamp, but it’s blessed with a strange lack of flying vermin. Few mosquitos is very nice, but the island has hedge fund managers infesting the palmettos like velociraptors clad in Tommy Hilfiger. New Yorkers it has in spades like bed bugs on a transient’s hairy knee. It’s Aspen on the tidewater, the Hamptons unburdened by its Long Island umbilical to Manhattan, a New Yorker’s semitropical Hong Kong on the South Carolina/Georgia sea coast. Hilton Head, like Boca Raton, Austin, and Charlotte, is in the South but not of it.

Hilton Head’s isolation proffers it automatic business class status compared to the economy class experience of jitney creeping to the Hamptons on a Friday evening, but really it takes about the same amount of time to get to either place from midtown. Once you arrive, you will notice that Hilton Head is culturally indistinguishable from 78th and Lexington. Sunday mornings, you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between Harbor Town and Southhampton as you hunt and gather for coffee, bagels, and the New York Times.

The sea air is a hint saltier off Montauk and Southampton. The terroir of Hilton Head is a twee riper with more ferment of low tide than is available in Long Island. The aborigines on both islands have been pushed out -on Hilton Head, the once Gullah speaking inhabitants and their white confreres commute from the mainland, unable to afford their island and its taxes. In the Hamptons, the aborigines are long gone, and the more recent inhabitants, the establishment WASP -an endangered species, survives by intermarrying with the new money like the English did with the Normans, only the invading hordes today sport last names like Cohen, Freeman, Chen, and O’Hanlon (the ethnic stereotypes, not the law firm).

When you see Harbour Town on the TV, you think about some kind of tradition, a deep south Cape Cod, but it’s all a pleasant sham. Look hard as you want for the humble shacks out of Conrack -they’re buried beneath the rusticated mini mall around Publix. You might even think the Harbour Town course is super exclusive like Augusta, but au contraire, you just need enough bank. The irony of the Masters getting annually harangued for their peculiar institutions is in the fact that Shinnecock out on Long Island, while no less exclusive and hidebound, gets off the hook because the USGA moves the target around like a 3 card Monte dealer. While it is unlikely that I will get to play on either Augusta or Shinnecock in this life, I can swing Harbour Town once every few years. That is great.

And I’ll finish with this. The Ayn Rand/Gordon Gekko creed of “Greed is good” does work in America because we lack the education and sophistication to dedicate ourselves to political ideals more sophisticated than “less taxes, less government, more God,” but once you get there, once you have arrived, after all the striving and self improving which can take generations from broken English immigrant green grocers to graduate school educated doctors and lawyers, to pretensions to establishment, you are equally bound by the other great American rule voiced by Marx (Groucho, not Karl), “I would never join a club that would have me as its member.” We’re happy to be on Hilton Head, but we know there is something better. Specifically, it’s a helicopter ride to Fisher’s Island.