First Round of the Year

I played my first round of golf at Wakonda for 2012 yesterday. I was in fact the first one to play at 8am -usually there is a morning crew on Saturdays that plays early despite the elements but none were present. I suspect that they like everyone else, was waiting on the 60+ degree weather later in the day. It was around 40 degrees when I teed off, but I was inspired. I parred the first hole which leaves me generally happy if nothing else happens during the round. It was the perfect drive that faded ever so slightly away from the blocking tree on the left and landed 170 yards away from the green. With the pin forward and middle and green elevated about 20 feet, with an aggressive 1-2 club wind cutting left to right, I barrel rolled a slightly drawn 5 iron that lifted into the cross wind and straigtened out, landing hard on the front slope and rolling without momentum onto the green, ending up 8 feet away from the hole. Missing the birdie, I made a 4 footer for par.

The rest of the round was a story of trying to trick the wind, but I got handsy and it showed. The 9th hole capped a decent round for me with a par -an 8 iron sent 165 yards with a stiff wind at the back, landing on the fringe, a running chip to 4 feet, and putt for par. This leaves me with a great deal of hope for this year, my final year at Wakonda to hit par. And that is bittersweet because my favorite place to be in Iowa is at the Wakonda Club on a Saturday morning before sun up, when the pro shop and first tee are shrouded in blue twilight. May the ball ever find the hole for you.

Our Jackie Robinson

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Jeremy Lin is not basketball’s Tebow. He’s a barrier breaking Jackie Robinson for Asian- and Harvard-Americans. For years, all they thought we could do was be attorneys or urologists, but this shows there is more than one way to pass the rock. Now scouts will have to notice that non-black, non-Croatian dude dribbling the ball so well with the four color pen in his short pocket. Asian Harvard-Americans from Orange County to Westchester County are rejoicing. Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, free at last.

Living Fossils

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This rock on a Pacific coast beach was weathered over thousands of years, and revealed within its sandstone this harder rock which is likely the fossilized remnant of an ancient coral or related creature. It reminded me that we have these fossils within our own DNA.

It was recently revealed that up to 2-3 percent of the genome of non-Africans have Neanderthal genes and a third human species, the Denisovans were found to be lurking. But this is just the recent past, being merely 20-50,000 year distant.

I was reviewing the lymphatic system in our bodies –it is the often overlooked third blood vessel system after arteries and veins, and its roots are older than either being present in our distant relations, the tunicates. Where arteries and veins are connected in a closed loop, the lymphatics are open to the extracellular space, and once in the past, to the ocean. This link to primitive chordates goes back nearly half a billion years.

They are now saying that there may be millions if not billions of earth like planets around middle aged stars, even in just this galaxy alone. Over cosmic time, and given those numbers of planets, it is a statistical certainty that life is common and not rare.

This feeling that life is a rare circumstance in an otherwise sterile universe has its roots in the narcissism of an idiot. The assumption that our clever ideas, petty jealousies, and unending appetites are unique is from the cosmic hayseed’s provincialism that gives certainty to the notion that a hundred years is a long time and that the universe disappears when you shut your eyes.

Starting from a single cell, our complexity is layered on like a gobstopper. Our DNA is not just a blueprint, but also a blog of life over three billion years. We are living fossils.

Addendum:

The fossil pictured above is Tiktaalik, a lobed finned fish from the Devonian. What it has that is unique is that it has a humerus, radius, and ulna along with shoulder, elbow and wrist that is the rubrik for all land vertebrates. The pattern of one bone with two distal bones are what we experience every time we eat chicken wings, and we owe  it to this class of fish which may be a direct ancestor or closely related to it.

Tilted Sideways, a Colander of Death

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The tragedy in Italy comes so soon after our cruise vacation that I felt compelled to comment. We were passengers aboard the Ruby Princess over Christmas. It is in many respects a sister ship to the unfortunate Costa Concordia, built by the same ship builder with similar tonnage and sibling like launch dates (2006 and 2008). The thing that struck me about our voyage was this: it was very clear that the ship was well run. The ship’s commander was Commodore Giuseppe Romano, whom we briefly met. The whole ship ran with obvious discipline with the first order of business on leaving Ft. Lauderdale being an evacuation drill where we understood the series of events in the event of a disaster before the first shrimp cocktail was served. During the cruise, there were several crew based drills, and I could appreciate the importance of top down leadership.

This is further contrasted by the events last week in Italy, which will be studied extensively, not just in a court of law, but in business schools as a case study of poor leadership. Bad decisions and bad discipline compounded by the elements made this the perfect example of why we have rules and expectations about professionals and their behavior. It also is a sobering reminder of how far we’ve strayed from chivalric ideals of women and children first. In a classroom, the idea of chivalry can be seen as revanchist, antiquarian, vestigial, and oppressive, but in the scrum of a mob climbing towards a lifeboat, the reports of grown men cutting in line, stripping life jackets from pregnant women, and abandoning the disabled all headed by this captain illustrates something.

It’s the death of honor.

Egg in a Basket -from V is for Vendetta movie

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Inspired by the egg dish in V is for Vendetta, it was called eggy in a basket. The circular toast that comes out of the center is fun for eating yourself or for toddlers. Want to know from my UK friends if this actually exists as a breakfast dish.

The Holiday Cruise in 30 Tweets

Thoughts before a holiday cruise.
1. If I don’t pay enough for my tickets will I be Irish dancing day and night in steerage.
2. Will there be a series of unsolved murders and will I have to solve them?
3. As we sail into the Bermuda triangle, will there be wifi?
4. If we land on a lost continent, will dinosaur taste like chicken.
5. Will there be monsters?
6. If I ever have to man an oar, will I be man enough?
7. Would the food charge on the lifeboats include tip.
8. Does the rule women and children first include man-children?
9. Does our fare include tribute for harpies, sirens, and cyclops?
10. What is the dollar to doubloon exchange rate?

 

Thoughts during a cruise

  1. Some non-Titanic cruise movies they should screen at Movies Under the Stars: The 5th Element, Steve Zissou and the Life Aquatic, Battlestar Galactica, but they don’t take requests.
  2. Back is aft, forward is forward, right is starboard, left is port, and the bathroom is the head. Kind of funny that left is port.
  3. Nobody shouts “land-ho!” when land is clearly ho.
  4. Our steward has better manners than any of us.
  5. The tropical paradise of Eleuthera is a dollop of sand in the middle of the ocean –if it wasn’t for the concession stand, I’d say two weeks tops before the party descends into cannibalism and Lord of the Flies worship.
  6. Trying to figure out what is the real reason behind the all you can eat policy.
  7. Sea Law implies that the captain is a benevolent despot and we are his happy children. Surprisingly, I sleep well.
  8. Man Overboard! Don’t yell that.
  9. Vomiting toddlers are treated like infected zombies.
  10. There is no poop deck, just a walking track.

 

 

Thoughts After A Cruise

  1. Grateful that there were no Kraken, Cyclops, or carnivorous Mermaids showing up asking for tips.
  2. No icebergs.
  3. Gastroenteritis outbreak averted by 36 hour quarantine of 2 year old in a 8×10 cell.
  4. Scopalamine patch effective in creating zombie red eye, furry dry mouth, and Cross Bronx traffic jam constipation.
  5. Baristas no longer hassling me over my morning precoffee aphasia.
  6. Income inequality’s logical end point is well illustrated by the juxtaposition of Paradise Island and the slums over the hill from Nassau.
  7. All you can eat does not mean all you can digest.
  8. They gouge you with the Wifi, the drinks, the tips, and the duty free stuff that is not profit free.
  9. Our particular cruise had the ambience of an over the top Bar Mitzvah that would not end.
  10. Ship’s doctor thankfully didn’t want a tip

    The Only Fellow Who Didn't Want a Tip

    .

 

One percent of the 1%

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From Evernote:

One percent of the 1%

The recent focus on Kim Jong Il’s lifestyle brought gasps of astonishment -he sent his sushi chef on a private jet to Japan to shop for rice cakes while his country was starving. Fact is, among the wealthy, there are the über wealthy, and among the über wealthy are the super duper wealthy whose daily budget would feed maybe a thousand families. While we do not begrudge anyone success -as this is the cornerstone of America, even the most callous person has to admit there is some injustice in North Korean society. It does not come from a lack of guns -the noncoms always outnumber the officers, and the fact that people can bribe border guards to escape means that some independent thinking occurs. The fact is that a religion, a cult of personality, sustains the vast inequality of North Korean society. Religions demand faith over logic. Directing the resources of a nation to the sustenance of a few humans at the top defies logic. It is a religious-type faith and fear of retribution, fear of apostasy and heresy, and fear of change that causes this gangrene to linger. What are the idols that drive injustice here at home? It is the belief that success comes from being favored by God and that lack of success comes from sin. It is the belief in absolutes that define religion. This idea afflicts our politics as much as the cult of personality afflicts North Korea.

The subordination of logic to dogma and its use in organizing societies is a old tradition. It gets people across desserts, oceans, and helps individuals process grief and the unfathomable concept of infinity. It is a human trait as ingrained as circling three times before bedding in a dog. Yet this kind of thinking is also used to demonize the poor, write off the sick, and rationalize the unemployed. It is extended into contempt for anything for the public good that comes from taxes -clean water, safe roads, national rail, public health, education and safety. It sanctifies success defined as wealth and therefore denigrates anything that might take away from that wealth.

In our still free society, one’s success is the result of not only hard work, but favorable circumstances, good health, and the support of people who were midwives to the success -the family and community that nurtured the individual and the society that provided the fertile ground for success. It’s the good plumbing that provided fresh water for excellent development. It’s the public safety provided community police and fire departments. It is the critical mass of excellent citizens that allow for success and justice. I think that is the message of the OWS protesters, that the people who get tasty morsels flown in for them not get protections at the cost of the people making it possible.

I wish for the new year the restoration of reason and clear thinking guided not by desire for retribution or a return to a past that never really was. I want an America where everyone has available all the opportunities while being good citizens and supporting the community, state, and country that allowed that to happen.

Social Animal Network

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We’re inherently social. It is imprinted in our nature to bond, communicated, and organize as packs. This trait, the instinct to gather, seek out each other’s company, to seek approval, to argue, I would argue, is as much a distinguishing species characteristic as spots on a Dalmatian, and is one of the reasons for the explosive growth of Facebook. We, each of us, need to be part of a tribe, and when the tribes were destroyed by the onset of modernity, they awaited a mechanism to be reunited. Think about it –up to the 2000’s, people had to rely on the usual methods of connecting with their old tribe –telephone, email, actual contact which relied on deliberately remembering to keep in touch which none of us were really good at. The casual intimacy of living in a village with a commons, of having a favorite popular coffee shop, a dorm common room, when you move on the people you said hello to moved on as well. Now they follow you forever in Facebook.

It may or may not be a good thing, because if you have a village, even a virtual one, there will be a village idiot or two (I may be the village idiot). I have become reintroduced to my best friend from kindergarten and there are eerily similar things that we are passionate for –coffee, scatological extraversion, and Apple worship, that brings daily a smile. The shy quiet girl who sat in the back corner of high school English class turns out to be a world class smarty pants –a nicely maturing red wine with a kick in the middle and a lingering finish. I’ve even made new dear friends among friends of friends. They occupy my particular village, some I speak to every day, some every once in a while. It’s the tribe I’ve accumulated over the decades.

It also has implications beyond the sharing of holiday pictures and links to funny cat videos. It returns us to a kind of social organization that was only possible when people physically lived in villages and neighborhoods. The outside world is invited in by the denizens of these villages, but the human tendency is to be insular within the family, the tribe, the village. It may not seem like a big deal to us living in a constitutional republic, but when Facebook is available to those living in places less free, their time amongst their friends must be as important as air and water. Facebook has created a virtual planet for us to inhabit, a brave new world.

Hunger Games -Apocalypse by Reality Show

The YA category has always been a repository of anxiety and zeitgeist. Now that the age of wizards is officially over, popular literature and Scholastic Publishing need a new hero and that comes in the form of Katniss, the heroine of the Hunger Games trilogy. This past several years, we have been visited by the end of the world in various forms -robots, zombies, flu, tidal waves, asteroids, and the old standby, nuclear annihilation. The last has been updated and promoted by candidate Newt Gingrich in the form of a high altitude EMP blast -a monstrous static discharge that will fry anything silicon, but I digress. The Hunger Games posits a dystopian future where the US is no more, and ruled by a west coast totalitarian state subjugating 12 districts of North America, enslaving the population and stripping their labor and resources. To remind them of their subjugation, the 12 districts are expected to submit annually a boy and a girl as tribute for the Hunger Games -a gladiatorial survival game to the death, televised in reality show style to the entire nation.

This current generation of youth does not know a time when 1984 was both a year and a warning, and I’m glad that totalitarianism is being reintroduced through literature and not the end of a gun. The brilliant thing about Hunger Games is the marriage of fascism and mass media, and in the the world of the Hunger Games, this exists in a vacuum of the internet. When televisions have only one channel and only the nomenclatura have access to telephones, when minor infractions are punished by death, and everyone is kept pliant through hunger, control is easier and really harks back to a time before the internet and reality TV which had its final days during the Reagan administration. It was a time when everyone watched network television and the population hadn’t balkanized into special interest groups. In fact, the Balkans had yet to balkanize.

The warning then is twofold -the hazards of resource depletion and collapse, and the loss of freedoms. We are being challenged at this time with the loss of habeus corpus for American citizens and the erosion of freedom represented by various efforts of telecommunication and entertainment providers to throttle non-commercial internet traffic. These things are happening and bring us a bit closer to the world of the Hunger Games.

I highly recommend the series -it’s mesmerizingly addictive, and my 9 year old, my wife, and I are all obsessively reading it this holiday season.

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