Friday, October 28, 2011

Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On

Despite having lived more than 30 years in California, I have never lived someplace as seismically active as I do now. In the last six months we have had at least five earthquakes around 4.0 on the Richter scale within 5 miles of home, and a couple others of similar size and proximity in the two or three years before that. Three of those earthquakes have occurred within the last week, with an epicenter in Berkeley.

A 4.0 is not a tremendously strong earthquake, nor does it last long. However, an earthquake that size that close definitely gets your attention, and usually knocks over a picture frame or two.

Last Thursday evening, I experienced the second of two earthquakes that day while stopped at the ticket booth leaving the Oakland airport. I had missed the first earthquake earlier that day because I was out of town. (As is the new normal, I found out about the first earthquake because all of my Bay Area friends on Facebook started yammering about it. I could localize the earthquake based on which of my friends discussed it; in that instance, it was all the East Bay people. The South Bay people didn't say anything.) While waiting for my receipt at the parking lot booth, I had the sudden, queasy feeling that somebody had rolled into the back of my car. Having had that unfortunate experience several times, I checked my mirror, expecting to see headlights practically in my backseat. However, the car in line behind me was 30 feet away where it should be. I realized then that we had had another earthquake. I jabbed the radio preset button to the news station, which interrupted its regular programming a moment later to announce the earthquake, provide the preliminary strength numbers from Caltech, and offer the usual did-you-feel-it jabber. At that time, Kelly was at a choir performance, watching her high school choir try to stay focused while their risers swayed and everyone in the room got wide-eyed and whispery.

Yesterday morning at 5:35, the earth moved again. I had just awakened but had not summoned the energy to get out of bed when I heard the rumble of the earthquake approaching, which then hit with the resounding thump. I jumped out of bed, and Michael popped out of sleep and out of his room nearly in tears, afraid to go back to his bed. I don't think I have ever felt his heart hammering as fast as it was as I held him to calm him down. The moment his pulse returned to normal, though, he turned around, flipped his light on and eagerly went in search of things that had fallen down.

With all of these moderate earthquakes, we have not suffered any damage. I would like to believe that these quakes are relieving pressure on the two local faultlines so as to keep the "Big One" at bay. The many large earthquakes around the Ring of Fire over the last couple of years point in an ominous direction, though.

Time to restock the earthquake kit.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Soccer Update, Fall 2011

Here is, perhaps, the best way to understand the Michael's soccer season. After today's game, the opposing coach stopped him in the parking lot to ask, "so, are you going to sign with Barcelona?"

Through seven games, Michael has scored 16 goals. Early in the season, he scored a lot of breakaways. Lately, it seems that word has gotten out about him, and the defenses are collapsing all over him. Now, he is scoring goals on crosses or set pieces, and setting up teammates for goals with crosses.

Last week, our boys avenged their season opening loss by shutting out Germany 3-0. Michael set up the first goal on a long run to the corner, looking up to find a teammate in front of the goal, and delivering a 20-yard aerial cross for the assist. Later, he scored a goal on a free kick from just outside the penalty area, sending a hard shot high into the net above everyone, including the defenseless keeper. He scored a second goal in the second half when his strike partner sent a ball in from the side. Michael gauged the bouncing ball perfectly, sending in a one-touch volley with his left foot.

Today, our boys faced a winless Netherlands team that we had beaten 7-0 previously. Predictably, we came out flat and quickly went down 2-0. The coach had planned to play Michael in defense and goal, but as we fell behind, he kept Michael up front as usual. Late in the first half, we got a free kick on the edge of the penalty area. By now, everyone on our sideline knew what was going to happen. Even though the goal was 15 yards away with lots of players in the way, the coach called out for Michael to send it in. Sure enough, he drilled a hard swerving ball just over everybody's heads and past the frozen keeper. Early in the third quarter, one of our players took the ball down and out past the goal with Michael open in the middle. The coach told him to look for Michael the next time. Sure enough, on an identical play, our player took the ball to the side, looking to the middle the whole way. He delivered a perfect cross, which Michael again volleyed of a bounce with his left foot into the goal. Maddeningly, Netherlands went ahead again. Right at the end of the third quarter, a teammate sent a free kick to Michael in the middle. His first shot was blocked, but he stayed in and volleyed a ball out of the air into the top of the goal.

Most of the season, we have had just enough players to field the team with no substitutes. Today, a player who almost never attends practices or games showed up (late), giving us one extra player, so we had to play him. The coach picked Michael to sit out the fourth quarter, since everyone is supposed to sit out on occasion and he had not yet missed a minute. Predictably, we did not threaten to score for the rest of the game. Fortunately, we withstood a heavy assault to finish in a tie. We would have liked to play for the win, but sitting Michael was the right thing to do under the circumstances. The referee, who has seen Michael play for a couple of years now and saw what he did today, sought out our coach to praise him for sitting Michael, recognizing we were essentially conceding our chance at a win by doing so. His hat trick kept us in the game, but without him, our offense just did not work as well.

Michael will miss two of the last three games, unfortunately, but he has done plenty to distinguish himself. He says the opposing coaches have all sought him out after games, and he has gained a tremendous amount of confidence. His team, more importantly, has learned that relying on each other leads to success. Their best games have been marked with solid defense and crisp, heads-up passing that is rare at this level in a recreational league. It has been a very fun fall.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Just Respect, Baby

Oakland has its issues, but one thing that unites the city is its Raiders. The death of Al Davis, the general managing partner and longtime NFL firebrand, touched the community.

That is Oakland City Hall, across the street from my office. In the foreground, the city is flying the Raiders flag at half mast. That, folks, is civic pride.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Priorities, People!

I happened to hear the classic Harry Chapin tune "Cat's in the Cradle" the other day on the local "New Oldies" radio station that plays your favorites from the 60s, 70s and 80s (um, what?). The song is, as everyone knows, an achingly melancholy ode to fathers, sons, and life happening while we are busy making other plans. An unbridgable gap between father and son played out over a lifetime lies at the heart of the song.

Listening to the lyrics anew, I was suddenly struck by the obvious source of their problem. "My son turned ten just the other day," Chapin sings, "he said, 'thanks for the ball, Dad, come on, let's play. Can you teach me to throw?' I said 'not today. I got a lot to do.' He said, 'That's okay.'"

No, no it isn't. Why does the son turn down the father's entreaties later in life to finally spend that precious time together? It's not because of any quaint notions of the son ironically following the father's too-busy-for-family path, reversing the generational stiff-arm. No, discord is sown right in the heart of the boy's childhood, planting a demon seed that would grow into a pestilent weed in the years to come, leading the son to reject the father with malice aforethought.

The answer is right there in the lyrics. The boy turned ten, and he asked his dad to teach him to throw. (Insert screeching LP sound here.)

The boy is ten and he doesn't know how to throw? Come on. If a kid can't at least throw a circle change under the hitter's hands in a fastball count by the time he's ten, he might as well just find himself an ice floe and head on out to sea. Are you telling me this Chapin son doesn't even know how to throw a ball at ten? Everyone know he should be able to turn the double play pivot at seven, and find the receiver on an up-and-out pattern in the back of the end zone by nine. No wonder the son resents the dad, and the dad is too clueless to notice. The kid probably spent most of junior high stuffed in a locker.

Clearly, Harry Chapin didn't spend any time in our neck of the woods. Whiner.

(Or maybe having a son who actually "turned ten just the other day" caused me to pay a little closer attention to the song. I can't explain why it got so dusty in the car at that moment, though.)

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

How Many Birds Can One Stone Kill?

Some of the details of the president's plan to force the federal government to live within its means fund the federal government are coming to light. Included in the package of taxes and cuts is a proposal to increase the taxes assessed against commercial airlines. The lead of this USA Today article could not softpedal the issue more delicately:
President Obama is asking passengers to pay a few dollars more in taxes for an airline ticket...
Those "few dollars more" are actually a $100 fee per departure. I have made made numerous round trip flights between the Bay Area and Los Angeles, San Diego or Las Vegas for less than this proposed $200 tax. Those flights, which are available even now, will double in price instantly. The $450 business-ticket round trip flights I take to Las Vegas periodically will suddenly become $650 flights. This weekend our family will travel to Orange County to attend a family memorial service on round trip tickets we could afford with frequent flyer credits. Those tickets would increase by $800 under the president's proposal, which would have made them unaffordable.

Maybe it takes people who are accustomed to traveling on business class or first class tickets that cost thousands of dollars, or who always travel on expense accounts and never see what tickets cost, to conceive of a plan to increase round trip tickets by $200 that takes no account of what a shock to the system that is for the rest of us. The $200 increase will be a drop in the bucket to a traveler who is already spending $2000 or more for that ticket, or for someone who neither knows nor cares how much the ticket costs. For most people, however, the cost of an airline trip, especially if traveling as a family, already pushes personal budgets to the limit. Now comes the proposal to effectively double the cost of travel for the many who carefully plan their trips. Increasing the cost of any good or service 50-to-100% in one fell swoop simply by the imposition of a tax is unconscionable. The airlines are crying foul, and for good reason. Speaking as someone for whom airline travel is a luxury that is just barely within reach, and only for the right occasion under the right circumstances, it is an absolute certainty that airline ridership will decline. The proposed tax will damage the airlines directly, but also all of the many industries and businesses that depend on people who travel via air for vacations.

Airline travel seems poised to return to its roots, priced out of reach of the vast majority of travelers. Perhaps that is what our ruling class would prefer.