Friday, July 30, 2010

Not My Father's Blog

At a backyard barbeque I was introduced to a nervous lady this way.

"Here, if anyone can cure your blogger's block, this is the guy."

She was the typical failed blogger. One post six months ago announcing her intention to fill her generic blog with wit, humor and deep insight into the condition of humankind. One borderline interesting, if rambling post the next day. A follow-up post a week later confessing to be too busy to blog. An additional post in each of the next two months further lamenting her lack of time and suggesting that the local city council may be a nest of communists or perhaps closet anarchists -- details to follow. Eventually she delivered the stereotypical blog apology to her massive audience of one. She is shrouded in guilt for not writing and has exactly nothing to write about, save not writing.

I put on my best shrink demeanor and gave her my absolute top of the line advice:

"Don't write, don't blog, don't even open the site. Don't even think about blogging, not for one single moment."

The point is that blogging should not be about pressure. Blog writing is the furthest activity from a 'to do' list that humanoids have ever invented. If you have something to write, I told her, it will arrive fully formed and it will simply flow thru the keyboard and disgorge your wisdom to the multiverse.

She looked at me like I had made some graphic observation about her alimentary canal. Apparently she is one of those people who believe since everyone knows how to write, then it follows that everyone is a writer. I restrained an avuncular "Bite Me!" and moved on to the next gaggle of cocktail drinkers as the first round of braised cow rose from the grill.

Another guest had overheard the blog conversation and told me that not only was the reluctant blogger uptight about just about everything on the planet but her 82 yr. old father was an avid bird watcher and faithfully maintains a birders blog, which he updates several times a week. Aha! Paternal blog envy, got it.

As I drifted past the potato salad and ambrosia I wonder what my father's blog might have looked like. Reminiscences certainly would have brought up the Great Depression and later his service as a junior naval officer in the pacific during WWII. Nearly 30 years in the Dexter Pharmacy would have made for some interesting personality profiles, I know the pharmacy is still the set & setting in some of my dreams.

Politics! Now that would have been fun. We could have written dueling blogs in the late 60s and early 70s. We never saw eye to eye on anything political, but fleshing out our differences in writing would have been an interesting experience.

Late in the party the aforementioned birding father arrived home, until that time I was unaware the nervous non-blogger was also our hostess. Bird dad and I were introduced and we exchanged some thoughts on blogging, widgets and other blogger ephemera. We exchanged URLs and then he said:

"If you mention me in your blog......"

I completed his thought . . . "don't link you up."

"Exactly" he smiled.

Some bloggers like an audience. Others write for a small select group of followers, in Jack's case his birding group. Me?  I like an audience. Agree with me or disagree loudly please, but Read Me! Read Me!

p.s. for the poker boyz -- the plant's name was Audrey II not Seymour.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

One More Bit of Vegas Detritus

I am not a fan of slot machines. I will and do play some video poker when I am in Las Vegas but mostly while waiting for my poker playing friends to finish a tournament I have already busted from. However, my poker buddies have different attitudes towards the one arm bandits (none of which have arms anymore). They played a lot of Texas Tea slots, something about getting a lot of derricks and then a bonus round with a map of the Lone Star place. I sat in for Mike once and learned about all I needed to know.

But leave it to the evil temptress Amy to lead me away from the path of machine-less vacation. She introduced me to I Dream of Jeannie slots. You put in your money and Barbara Eden purrs -- "Hello Master". Yep, they got the real Jeannie to do the voice-overs and she hooks you (you being either male or a bi-sexual female). Next you spin the wheels and when a Magic Bottle (you know the one Jeannie lives in) pops up she says -- Yes! and second bottle and her voice goes up and gets faster -- Yes!! if you get the third bottle in a row, she practically comes in your lap -- YES!!!

You get a bonus pull for that third yes, but it is complete anti-climax or perhaps post-climax.

One of our buddies had not been introduced to Jeannie on our last night in town, so we sought out the bank of six machines at the Monte Carlo. Remember "The Game" from Star Trek TNG?

Anyway, when we got to the machines they were all occupied by women. I was going to do a quick anthropological survey of why only women were pulling on Barbara Eden's veil, but two side-by-side machines hit the Yes! Yes!! YES!!! bous and I had to go to my room to be alone.

That's it from the Las Vegas trip, we now return to our regular programming.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Just Because

I just wanted to post this photo because well its my blog and I can. Got back to Berkeley late on Saturday after eight days with the boyz in Las Vegas. Once again another great trip, despite the continuing slowdown in Vegas and the missing Zippy.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

eLetters to Friends

On the long drive back from Las Vegas yesterday I was pondering something I had not said to one of my poker buddies. We travel in a poker gaggle while in Vegas and I don't always get enough one-on-one time with my friends because I tend to treasure sleep over late night video poker sessions. Definitely my loss.

I was composing my thoughts to this friend, after all that's what long drives are for; when I heard a tribute to Daniel Schorr on NPR. Apparently Schorr was a proponent of letters. He wrote rather than called and definitely wrote letters over email. I pondered sending a letter. How long has it been since I mailed one of those? I know there are envelopes in the apartment left over from the big emptying. I also know I have stamps, even though they are denomination-less and I don't know if they are currently sufficient to carry a letter to its destination. A lot of fuss when email is so immediate. Does anyone still put (long) in the subject space to warn of thoughts requiring more than a nanosecond of consideration?

When my own thoughts returned to mentally composing my letter I was surprised to discover I had switched friends. Apparently I had more than one billet to turn out, long stretches of desert will do that to your focus. Are there even more languishing communications I wondered? Lo and behold just a few miles of sandy rumination produced a list of nearly ten epistles that needed attention. By this morning the roll had reached a dozen.

So, this week I will be sending eLetters to a baker's dozen or so of my friends, be warned in advance (long). I would take this moment to suggest to all of my readers that you too have thoughts unsaid, words unspoken, feelings unexpressed. Friendships deepen with shared expressions. Depth is never something to avoid, at least not in the world this blog inhabits.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Vespertine Viewing

No I did not take that picture and no I am not doing acid again. But after nearly two weeks of evening fog cover, I finally got several nighttime looks at the moon with my new big eyes. I decided I needed some geographical assistance to know what I am looking at. So I turned to NASA. Twas very kind of NASA to provide a paint-by-the-numbers guide to the lunar surface. The multi-hued photo was actually taken in 1992 by the Galileo spacecraft.

As more planets and phases of the moon drift through the western skies beyond the San Francisco peninsula I will gaze on and share with you more of the view from my perch. For now, the image below is what I saw on the first clear night.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Walk in the Neighborhood

I was out for a walk in the neighborhood the other day, not on my way to the library or Mettina for lunch, just a walk. I heard the raised voices about a block away -- a couple arguing. The tones sounded young, not unlikely living as close as I do to the university. Another eruption -- voices of vituperation, but I would be beyond their vortex in about a minute and out of earshot in one or two more. They were really no more annoying than the diesel belching recycling trucks.

Then she shot out the front door, down the steps, trailing a string of accusations. She whirled on the sidewalk and stared back at the house. He swung open they screen door and hurled a one word invective. "Bitch!"

The word must have stung, she backed across the sidewalk to the grassy apron before the street. I was only thirty feet from her and now I would be walking between the young combatants. Clearly it was just a lover's spat, no firearms, probably no real offense; but I was either going to awkwardly detour around her into the street or just walk on directly through the demilitarized zone. 

I walk straight through, only three feet from her. I felt the tension but no hate, nothing real just a lover's quarrel, they would be back in the same bed tonight or sooner. She sat down on the strip of apron grass as I passed and I heard her tears begin. A few steps later I was about to cross the property line and be officially beyond the tableau, when I sensed a question. I slowed but did not stop and turned to the young man on the porch. Certainly he could have spit out a "what are you looking at" but he quietly said: "What would you do?"

I pointed at the porch, "I'd sit down on the steps and breathe a bit."

As he folded his lanky body down, my walk continued through the neighborhood and I wondered why those recycling trucks were not converted to solar.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Early Eclipse Warning

The picture above is a shot of the solar eclipse as seen in Argentina last Sunday. Trust me -- you want to see this picture larger, here is the link.

This event segues into my second early warning reminder that on the winter solstice this year (Dec. 21, 2010) there will be a total lunar eclipse, which will be visible in all of North America and partially in Europe and northern Asia. In the U.S. the total eclipse with occur at 4:38 AM PST, 5:38 MST, 6:38 CST, unfortunately the moon sets just minutes before totality on the most eastern sections of the U.S.

The total time of the eclipse will exceed 5.5 hours, so even on the east coast you will get quite a show, the rest of the continental U.S., Canada and Central America will see the whole display. In the central time zone the moon will set still partially eclipsed but you will be going back to bed anyway. And mind you this all takes place on the Winter Solstice, start the party planning now!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Annual Poker Boyz Excursion

For the next seven days I shall be participating in our annual Poker Boyz gathering in Las Vegas. Attendance this year is nearly complete (with the exception of Zippy who is not allowed to travel west of the great oil spill). Joel is on his way from Minnesota. Mike is already here in the Bay area, he and I will be driving over today. The Bill of the wild variety will be making a slightly late arrival in Henderson to join up with the Debonair one. Randy arrives from the land of pelicans and oranges and the leader of the leaderless pack, Amy is on her way from deep in the heart of.

Over the next seven days we will play some poker tournament or another; eat at some restaurant, buffet or local favorite spot; laugh a lot and repeat. A minority contingent will make a cat run to the SPCA before heading to yet another poker tournament. I am sure we will hit Binion's at least once, since most of us are staying at Monte Carlo that room will see some action, along with MGM, Aria, Venetian, M and even one or two other random poker dens approved by our local poker pro.

The World Series of Poker finishes it's summer run today, so we can thankfully skip the Rio but there is always a chance for a tournament and a steak at the Gold Coast. Hell we might even make it to the north end for a late night tournament at Sahara. We all take a piece of all the money winners and this time we actually hope to break even as a group, something we have not done in awhile.

For my non-poker readers, I have left some thoughts moldering in the cyber stew. I would not abandon you to a full week of silence. I am not the type of guy who has his fun and then doesn't call. Enjoy those post-dated ponderings but expect no live missives from Las Vegas, I have said all that Sin City stuff before.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Agent Orange

Thirty-five years after the United States pulled out of Vietnam, the toxic chemical Agent Orange continues to kill and maim citizens of that country and U.S. veterans of that war. Recently a joint panel of U.S. and Vietnamese scientists, citizens and governmental officials released a plan that urges the U.S. government and private corporations to provide $300 million over the next decade to clean up land and water sources still contaminated with dioxin, the chemical component of the defoliant Agent Orange.

The funds would also provide medical treatment to the tens of thousands of Vietnamese and their children suffering from disabilities and deformities linked to exposure to Agent Orange.  "The war is over but the wounds from the war still remain in many areas of Vietnam," Nguyen Van Son, national assembly member and panel participant. "Many Agent Orange victims have died, but many other victims, including children with disabilities, have been fighting diseases under extreme hardship and they are in dire need of treatment and support."

The Red Cross estimates up to 3 million Vietnamese have suffered health problems related to Agent Orange exposure. During the war the U.S. military used over 20 million gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides on some 5.5 million acres of forest and crop land. The dioxin in these agents has been linked to cancers, birth defects and other serious health risks. Dioxin levels in soil, sediment and fish in some areas remains 400 times above international limits. Drinking water and consuming tainted fish and game still today transfers the dioxin and the health risks particularly to the rural population.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


There are days we will never forget where we were. Everyone in my generation knows exactly where they were when they heard: "... as the presidential motorcade moved through downtown Dallas." Lots of folks my age also know where they were when they heard Elvis had died, I don't. But I do know exactly where I was when Nixon resigned the presidency and I know where I was on April 30th 1975 -- the day the Vietnam War ended for us.

About ten years later, I picked up a tattered paperback in a used book store in West Hollywood and began a three year period where I read everything I could find on Vietnam. I finished that immersion with A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan published in 1988. I still believe that to be the best book ever written about the American involvement in Vietnam. 

Since 1988 I had not read another book about that war. Then a few months ago came the word of another great Vietnam book -- Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes. I put my name on the waiting list at the Berkeley library and waited, I was 36th in the queue. In the meantime, I decided to reread A Bright Shining Lie. After several attempts I gave up. It wasn't the same book, I wasn't the same person, it wasn't 1988 or 1975.

Last week, my name rolled to the top of the wait list and I picked up Matterhorn. Six hundred pages read as fast as had the nine hundred of A Bright Shining Lie, which remains the best book ever written about that dirty little war.

As for Matterhorn -- well one of the jacket blurbs got it right for me:

"Never have we seen the particular horrors and challenges of Vietnam so richly explored, and never have we felt the tactile experience of the war depicted with such mesmerizing force. We see the big picture, but as with all great novels, it's the tiny details--the mud, the leeches, the adrenaline-drenched dread of combat, and the tender joy of comradeship--that lingers with the reader long after the story is over."

If you want to know why I and others rage against the United States' involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, read these two books. Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Lost Vegas

Yes this post will be about Las Vegas and poker, also strippers, drugs, alcohol and lime tossing.  A friend and fellow writer has just published a book about all of those things and so much more. Paul McGuire -- Dr. Pauly to those involved in the world of professional poker -- has been writing about poker for over five years but Lost Vegas is more about the underbelly of Las Vegas than it is about playing poker. I have seen most of what Pauly describes in his book but I saw it from a safe distance. Where I protected myself with kevlar, Pauly barely had time for the latex. This book is very up close and personal with the dark side of Sin City. He has felt the breath of a coke-up stripper and had the drunken conversations with hookers as the sun came up on another heat-stoked Vegas day.

Think Leaving Las Vegas without the cinematic touchups. Yes folks, Vegas really is this nasty and dirty. No matter how many Cirque de Soleil shows you see, the raw truth is just behind that row of Wheel of Fortune slots.

I will warn you only that there may be too much poker action for my non-poker audience but if you ever wanted to see, touch, feel and smell what real Las Vegas can be like -- this book will give you a taste you will remember. Yes, I do make a few cameos but as I said, I never go as dark as Pauly. And lest you think you have heard this all before -- I offer you my favorite excerpt from Lost Vegas:

"You having a good time tonight?" she asked.

"The possible ranks higher than the actual."

"You didn't just make that shit up?" she screamed into my ear over the blaring music. "You don't think I'm that fuckin' stupid where you can pass off a second-rate quote from an out-dated philosopher like Heidegger? He's a Nazi, you know."

My bluff had been called. There's something very sexy, yet surreal, when a naked woman debates Heidegger with you while you attempt to drown out the Britney Spears song blasting in the background.

If you want to check out the unique style of the good doctor, he pens a number of blogs: Tao of Poker, Tao of Pauly, Coventry Music and Tao of Bacon. As Bill Edler would say -- well done, my friend.

Friday, July 09, 2010

A White Man

I took a phone survey today and was reminded that most multiple choice questions don't have the "correct" answer for me. I was also struck by the follow-up question when my answer to the race question was -- caucasian. The interviewer said: do you consider yourself hispanic or of hispanic origin. I responded: "I understand why you would ask that if I had said "white" but my answer was caucasian and that question immediately followed my answering "Ph.D." to the level of education question, so one might assume I actually do know what my racial origins are."

His response was: "So that would be no to the hispanic question?"

My contention for many years is that the even the caucasian label is vague bordering on useless. Here it is, by the way:

of, pertaining to, or characteristic of one of the traditional 
racial divisions of humankind, marked by fair to dark skin, 
straight to tightly curled hair, and light to very dark eyes, 
and originally inhabiting Europe, parts of North Africa, 
western Asia, and India: no longer in technical use.

In other words -- "those people", you know the rich, in control, dominant, priviledged, blah, blah, blah. But all in all, not a helpful nor descriptive category. No, this is not going to be some inane rant about reverse discrimination, I have always said that being a large, white male in America is a huge advantage. But caucasian as a descriptive category simply sucks. You see apparently I am half Italian sort of and half Irish kind of. I have no connection to either of those cultures and all of my relatives, those that were alive when I was young and those alive now are just plain white folk. 

Therefore, I now propose and will pencil in on all future applications, surveys and prying government inquiries my true racial label:

I am albus americanus!

If you are too, then stand up proud and don't forget the SPF 45 sunscreen.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

What's In a Name?

Off and on for the last couple of month's I have written quite a bit about my new place -- The Apartment I called it. Most of the words I have written recently had to with the view. Now that summer is in full swing the the sun has reversed course heading back south towards the Golden Gate and the fogs of San Francisco are around most days. So my view gets lots of natural variation. Today I wish to muse about what I call this place in Berkeley. I really thought The Apartment worked just fine with no references to the Billy Wilder, Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine academy award winning film of the same name.

But last week, someone who really knows The Apartment referred to it as The View and that got me thinking. The Eyrie came immediately to mind but that was just way too precious, it led to Roost and Perch, Promotory and Massif which allowed Amy to wonder if caves ever came with views. I growled at that suggestion, briefly considered Grizzly Peak and put the whole idea aside until last night when I wrote this line in a story -- "he lived life with a glimpse and a glance."

Seems as if there must be some ocularly infused eponym that is just right, not too hot, not too cold. So I am open to suggestions, a prize for a winning linguistic turn.

Until then, I am signing off from The Apartment - the one with The View and this my 100th blog post of 2010.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Getting a Closer Look

Even though the thumping at first reminded me of mortar fire, (I just finished a great book on the Vietnam War) I quickly realized that some community on the western side of the San Pablo Bay (that's the north end of the SF Bay to non-locals) had decided to go with fireworks on Saturday night (3rd). Since I had just set-up my new Zhumell 20x80 Super Giant Astronomical Binoculars with optional adjustable tripod, I was quickly able to zoom in on the show. I must say it was pretty cool and the big red, white & blue finish was extra super special cool. After the final flashes had gone out I was surprised by how long it took those last audio echoes to reach me in Berkeley.

I was going to get out my old slid rule and do some calculations when I decided it was better just to look up the nearest fiery attractions for Sunday night the 4th of July. I was fairly sure that San Francisco would hold it regular show from Pier 39 but I suspected that Treasure Island would block the lower part of my view but I was really more concerned with the foggy overcast that really hasn't burned off the past several days and really regroups as the solar heat decreases in the early evening.

I wondered if there were any East Bay displays, lo and behold there it was Berkeley 9:30 PM off the Berkeley Pier. That puts a big display about 2.5 miles from my elevated perch and I still have the SF fireworks in the distance.

So the new toy is fine tuned, banana bread is defrosted, Oohs and Aaaahs are at hand.

[8:30] one hour to go and the overcast (undercast?) is really coming in. I think the San Francisco fireworks will just be faint glows in the mist. As of right now I can still see the Berkeley Pier, but this is going to be an interesting pyrotechnical evening.

[10:15] Muted is seldom a word used to describe fireworks, but that is the perfect descriptor for tonight. The top third of the Berkeley display disappeared into the clouds. Many of the mid-range starbursts had their tops or bottoms dissected. Geometrically this was a display like no other I have seen but am betting those waiting in line to get out of the Marina parking lot might feel a bit dampened. Mother Nature has her way with us yet again.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Lay of the Last Minstrel

Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne'er within him burn'd,
As home his footsteps he hath turn'd,
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no Minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonour'd, and unsung.

                   -Sir Walter Scott

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Courageous Cat

Today's post is all about inter-species communication. The black feline in the picture is Vlad who resides at M's house. The picture was taken by the next-door neighbor, who is the owner of the very large twenty year old parrot. Vlad is a wise animal and is fully aware that the parrot is larger than he is and has a very sharp beak. But sometimes he just has to hop the fence and ponder the possibilities of 'what if'.

I am going to make this a long weekend, so today I leave you with other furry and feathery images.

Enjoy the weekend.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The (Poker) Shrink Speaks Again

A year ago I offered these same advisory comments to my friends in the poker media regarding the inevitable World Series of Poker burnout from long hours, bad food, poker playing and ridiculously high standards for tournament reporting that no one reads. I received several laudatory comments from my writing buddies, but no one actually took my advice. While I don't miss being in Las Vegas for six weeks in the roasting heat, I do miss my friends among the players, tournament staff and media. So, today I want to (re)remind everyone that total exhaustion is not a requirement of the impending WSOP Main Event.

Rule #1: Rest! 

Resting does not include clubs (night or gentlemen's). You might consider some exercise, again that would mean a gym not a gentlemen's club. The big parties are in full swing this week; the barbeques are fine, the all night drunken rolls with or without running Twitter commentaries are not. Those of you who will not take this advice, please do twitter away all the details, drunken tweets are always great for next day prop bets.

To the players, remember you are the one who said:

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity."

"I have been running bad the whole series, but now the main event is here."

"I am going to focus and be prepared to play" is not a line that should be followed by ". . . another round for the table."

Yes, Las Vegas is a lot of fun, lots and lots of fun. But not the night before your Super Bowl. This really is the World Series of Poker and if you are good, skillful and lucky; it will last nearly two weeks, you really think it is wise to go out and party the night before you or your backer upchucks ten thousand dollars?

Back to my buddies in the poker media. Repeat after me. Nothing happens on Day One, not Day 1A or 1B or C or D. There is no reason to further stress yourself out to report on anything but the funny hats and stupid costumes. Also no one makes the money on Day Two, not Day 2A or 2B. Lots of stuff happens but nearly none of it is worth reporting. Things get semi-serious on Day Three or maybe Four, so pace yourself and next year remember all the resolutions you made this year. You know: eat right, use the gym, don't play poker after a 12 hour writing day, finish your screen play and read that book on Omaha 8. But for now -- go to back to bed! 

Finally I would add that not hearing a single chip shuffle or someone yelling "Floor!" every five minutes is what most people call summer. 

Hang in there, it really is almost over.