Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Thank You, Virginians!

The week-long pause in posting here was due in large part to the fact that we spent last week visiting an impressively wide array of family and friends in the lovely Commonwealth of Virginia. Many thanks are due to Megan and Jason (and Emma, George and Gracie), and Chris and Cynthia (and Rudy and Scully) for being such gracious hosts. We had a great time, soaked up a bunch of Civil War history, reveled in the fresh blooms of the Virginia springtime, and enjoyed the good company of folks we do not get to see often enough.

I did reach one inescapable conclusion: there really is nothing like a Monkburger prepared by the Master himself.

Friday, April 15, 2005

This Is Fantastic News!

. . . if you're a motor racing fan who thinks that the auto racing firmament is missing a critical star without Porsche's factory involvement.

Porsche is back, baby! And with Penske, no less.

This will instantly bring additional interest and credibility to the ALMS series, and, unfortunately, hurt the Grand Am series by further revealing the Daytona Prototypes as the ugly, compromised beasts that they are (great racing action notwithstanding).

For those of you who don't know (and care even less), throughout its history, Porsche has designed and raced the most celebrated sports of every era in which they competed. From the 904s and 908s of the 60s, through the awesome 917s of the early 70s, to the all-conquering 956/962s of the eighties, Porsche racing sports cars have always been iconic, dominant, and the true source of the company's reputation. Porsche, now the world's most profitable car maker (for interesting reasons, but not for today's discussion), has stepped away from official factory involvement in racing since the GT1 of the late 90s. Privateers run hundreds of Porsches in sports car races all over the world, however. Those cars, based upon Porsche's roadgoing 911, typically dominate their fields, in number as well as in performance.

With a return to factory involvement, however, Porsche enthusiasts are celebrating the company's return to its competitive roots (trust me on that one).

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Feelgood Baseball Story of the Year

Finally, the vagabond, orphaned Montreal Expos have found a home. After slogging through Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos' maneuvering to keep the team away from "his" market, the Washington Nationals arrived with great pomp and ceremony. The franchise has been an incubator for great players, such as Vlad Guerrero, Larry Walder, Pedro Martinez, Moises Alou, Gary Carter and many others. They now enjoy the services of Brad Wilkerson and Jose Vidro (the second baseman for my fantasy league team). Even better, the team is now 6-4 after Livan Hernandez' near gem, eight innings of one-hit shutout ball against the Arizona Diamondbacks (6-3 entering the game). This team, managed by legend Frank Robinson, has deserved a better fate than the Quebequois indifference it suffered in recent years, with a crumbling stadium, dwindling crowds and hamstrung ownership by Major League Baseball. They have some work to do to become a contender, but at least they now have some folks to cheer them on.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Check Your Facts, Please

I don't often wade into the political swamp because I don't enjoy it, and on my blog, I'll write about what I enjoy. However, every once in a while, politics swerves into the absurd, which interests me greatly.

It seems that former Presidential candidate John Kerry gave a speech this weekend lamenting the intimidation of voters in the last election. Let me be clear, I do not doubt that thuggish behavior by partisans on both sides took place, and that well-meaning people on both sides made efforts to prevent it. Nevertheless, Kerry's flacks should have looked into these issues more carefully before they allowed him to use this as an example:

"Leaflets are handed out saying Democrats vote on Wednesday, Republicans vote on Tuesday. ..." he said.

Unfortunately, this particular example came from satire publications and The Onion. Oops.

And if people really did hand out those leaflets? The world would be far more bizarre than I thought.

Hat tip: Opinion Journal.

The All-Time Best Career Change

If you were, say, a very successful lawyer in, say, Fresno, and you had a sense of adventure, how might you change the course of your career? Let's say, for the sake of argument, that you thought being a diplomat in the State Department would be just the thing. Now, assuming you survive the testing and vetting process to get into the program, and you become a junior diplomat with no experience, where do you think you might be posted? Tanzania? Chile?Afghanistan?

How about here?

Greg has earned the everlasting enmity of all of his former friends.

(psst, Greg ... you will have a spare bedroom for vistors, right? Just kidding about that "everlasting enmity" thing. It's all good, right? Buddy?)

Monday, April 11, 2005

Dan Neil, My Hero

I've mentioned Dan Neil before. He's the one-time writer for Car and Driver who landed a gig writing about cars for the LA Times, and somehow managed to snag a Pulitzer Prize for his work. Now he is giving lectures at UCLA and causing the Times to lose its $10 million account with GM. GM looks incredibly petty by pulling its advertising over Neil's cutting remarks, which have the unfortunate characteristic of being true. It is not one scribe's fault that GM's market share and consumer satisfaction ratings have shrunk year after year. GM puts out shoddy products, and has for decades now. There are certainly good engineers at GM, but they are buried somewhere under the layers upon layers of middle managers and red tape. No public spat with a media outlet will change that fact, and the celebrated Bob Lutz (who revived Dodge in the last decade) has only had a minor positive influence (see the Solstice).

Fight the Man, Dan!

Woods Emerges From Them

The Masters golf tournament has become one of my favorites, in large part because Kelly was born on Monday the week of the 1997 Masters, which was Tiger's debut as a major champion. I was home that week and was able to see nearly every televised minute. He demolished the field by 12 strokes, and it was utterly compelling to watch. After three U.S. Junior and three U.S. Amateur titles, everyone knew he was going to be a champion someday, but the way he seized control was thrilling, and a harbinger of great things to come.

This year's tournament was equally exciting, but for different reasons. Tiger's 66-65 charge in the middle two rounds felt like the old days of 2000, when all one had to do is wait patiently until he would make what became a customary and decisive charge up the leaderboard. This year, however, was the first time one of his vanquished foes chased him down Chris DeMarco has been hanging around the top of big tournaments for several years now, competing well on Ryder Cup and President's Cup teams, coming in second (albeit a distant second) in this year's Accenture Match Play tournament, and he was in the final group of last year's Masters. He tends to be timid off the tee, but his iron play was at times far better than Woods'. He showed great confidence, pumping his fist to the patrons as he left the 10th green. He saved par, but Woods had just bogeyed his lead down to two strokes. DeMarco showed he believed he was on the charge, and so he was. He birdied 11, while Tiger carelessly settled for par. DeMarco kept the hammer down, competing well through the remainder of the round. Only mediocre putting, failing to sink several birdie putts inside 10 feet in the final round, kept him from winning the tournament.

Woods, on the other hand, is not nearly the automoton he is made out to be. He is easily as susceptible to the pressure of leading as anyone else on Tour. After the emotionally-charged miracle chip on 16 (which is the only thing that could have stopped DeMarco's momentum after a great birdie at 15), Tiger did not bother to regroup for 17. Cold-blooded prudence would have dictated a three-wood or iron off the tee, play to the middle of everything, and collect that fourth green jacket without further incident. Instead, with a two-shot lead to protect over the last two holes, neither of which is considered a birdie hole, Tiger pulled out the driver, put his best spiner-twister swing on it, and blew his tee shot well right, through the pines into the adjoining fairway. A vertical wedge shot over the trees left him twenty yards short of the green, and an inexcusably indifferent chip rolled back off the green, forcing him to get up and in just to save bogey. Same story on 18: pulled driver, poor second shot into the greenside bunker, average sand shot, poor putt, bogey. Tie. Tiger finally played smart and well on the playoff hole, hitting to the middle of the fairway and the correct part of the green, then sinking a longish putt that resembled Mickelson's winner of a year ago.

Tiger still has more ability to make more kinds of shots more often than anyone else, but that is not to say he is immune to pressure. He gets keyed up and makes mistakes, sometimes big ones. He is gifted enough to recover from them most of the time, as he was on Sunday.

Incidentally, that ball hanging on the edge of the hole on 16, displaying the Nike swoosh in real-time slow motion, is a ready-made marketing campaign waiting to happen waiting to happen.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Happy Birthday, Kelly!

My little baby girl is 8 years old today. She is now well into the years for which I have clear memories of my own childhood. Life is now school, homework, church, piano, gymnastics, soccer, basketball, Barbies and Little House books. It's all good.

Eight years ago, my life changed, irrevocably and at depths of my being that I did not know existed. She did it, and does it still.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

U2, Live at Staples Center

After almost exactly half a lifetime, I've seen U2 live again. It was a very good show (here is the setlist), hampered only by the venue. Staples Center is a vast cavern of a building, constructed to maximize luxury suite space. It has a large lower bowl, above which three stories of suites go straight up. Atop the uppermost level of suites is a fringe of regular seating, no more than 15 rows deep. Other than the lowest seats in the lower bowl, none of the seats anywhere in the arena come close to the action, whether it is a sporting event or concert. The shape is akin to a large metal mixing bowl, and is acoustically just about the same. The effect of the reverberant arena is muddled acoustics, especially vocals. I knew all of the old songs, of course, but my knowledge of the newer songs was not as solid. I couldn't hope to learn the lyrics from the concert, as Bono's voice was overshadowed throughout the show by everything else.

Nevertheless, the show was a lot of fun. It started very strong, with lots of energy from two songs off the new album. My favorite song of the concert, Electric Co., came early. I loved it because of the raw energy, and because they didn't try to reinterpret it. It sounded just as it must have twenty years ago. I loved that they played some songs from Boy ... stuff I never thought I would hear in concert. New Years Day came off the same way. In fact, the old songs played better than the newer ones, perhaps in part to the fact that the older, simpler arrangements suited the space better than the more dense, complicated later songs. On that score, the songs from the last two albums played very well, but the songs from Achtung Baby, particularly Zoo Station, fared poorly. The complex sound layering and crunchy guitar works great on the album, but turned into very loud, energetic mush on this particular stage, and the vocals were totally lost. A bummer, but it didn't detract from the thrill of seeing and hearing the boys play their songs.

Don't think I didn't love the concert, though. There was a ton of energy in the arena, and as much as I enjoyed hearing the old songs, the songs from the last two albums played very, very well. Plus, it was an event. It takes a lot for LA to get excited; this was one of those times.

Cheryl and I turned it into a full evening, starting with a fantastic dinner at the Water Grill, the finest seafood restaurant in LA. The husband of one of my partners is a waiter there, and he set us up with the best private table and excellent menu recommendations. We luxuriated in two hours of wonderful food and atmosphere.

All in all, a great night. I should have my voice back by Thursday.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

It's Springtime, and You Know What That Means

Baseball, of course!

After a one-year layoff following two championship seasons, I am back in the fantasy baseball world. It's not the old league with my college buddies, which I miss, but life just became too busy for everyone to commit time to the league. This time I'm in a league set up by a guy from church who lives and breathes baseball. It's a quirkier format than I'm used to, with weekly head-to-head matchups between teams, bench players, and additional statistical categories. Another unusual feature was a completely automated draft. I never got around to organizing the stock rankings, so I my team was picked without any input from me. Oddly enough, I'm pretty pleased with the way it turned out. I have some positional flexibility problems (too many 1Bs and OFs) and I have too many mediocre starting pitchers, but otherwise it's not a bad lineup. Albert Pujols, Hideki Matsui and David Ortiz are the big boppers, but I have a bunch of scrappy, lesser-known gamers who should put up good numbers, too. And with Jason Schmidt and Roy Oswalt as my lead starters, guys I would have picked on my own, I'll have fun tracking this team. Stay tuned for weekly highlights!

Monday, April 04, 2005

Star Wars Geeks, Unite!

We are truly living in a blessed age. Not only can Boba Fett-worshipping fanboys find their soulmates at the speed of light on numerous electronic websites and bulletin boards, they can celebrate their obsession, revel in their anticipation of the not-yet-announced release of the next (and final) Star Wars film, and raise a little money for a good cause. Plus, you can call them yourself.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Smile! You're on Candid Interplanetary Camera!

Astronomers have released what they say is the first photograph of a planet outside our solar system. The planet, circling a sun-like star known as GQ Lupi, is apparently twice the size of Jupiter, with surface temperatures above 2,000 degrees Kelvin, is approximately three times farther from its star than Neptune is from the sun, and has an orbit of approximately 1,200 years. It's also about 400 light years from here.

In related news, Richard Branson will be announcing daily service to the GQ Lupi system aboard Virgin Galactic.
You may have heard that there are a lot of dramatic events occurring in the world these days. Our emotions are tugged all sorts of ways: earthquakes in Indonesia, a family tragedy in Florida, the (impending) death of a beloved Pope, a steroid crisis in American sports. Okay, maybe that last one doesn't grab you as much as me, but baseball season is about to start and I'm feeling very fragile right now.

With all of these deeply affecting issues swirling around us, it's nice to know that some folks in Wisconsin have the laser-like focus on what really matters: getting angry at someone with the temerity to rise from her wheelchair. Sit down and stay there -- you're a symbol, so act like one!