Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Zen and the Art of Skipping Stones

Kurt Steiner is the Roger Federer of skipping stones, an elegant, thoughtful artist. Russ Byars is the Rafael Nadal of the discipline, a physical force who blends technical mastery with brute strength. And this Outside Magazine article by Sean Williams about their pursuit of quirky perfection is one of the best things I've read recently. 

To hear Steiner tell it, stone-skipping (which is not at all the same thing as stone-skimming, you heretics) represents “undeveloped natural purity, a refuge against the consumerist, plutocratic, kleptocratic, fucking destroy-and-build-up-everything mentality.” He's nearly single-minded in his pursuit, telling Williams, “October through March is pretty much my psychic recovery phase. I will spend most of the next six months in super-isolation—no power, no heat, no water, no phone … getting high, maybe drunk … watching video, reading, writing, taking hikes … and crapping everyday in a bucket in the basement. All just trying to get myself centered for the next year."

Steiner holds the world record for the most stone skips with 88. (Englishman Dougie Isaacs holds the current skimming mark, the difference being that skipping focuses on the number of times the stone hits the water and skimming on distance. Isaacs' top skim spanned 399 feet - nearly a quarter of a mile.) Here's Sasquatch-quality video of Steiner's record-setter:

You might guess that a man with a nearly-singular focus on skipping stones would have taken an unconventional path through life, and Williams' story makes Steiner's eccentricities clear. But there's a purity to Steiner's intent and a clarity to his existence. I couldn't follow his footsteps, but I'm glad I know a little bit about him now. 

I'm fascinated with obsession, in particular with pursuits that offer far more psychic than financial gain. Kurt Steiner is damn near one of a kind. Hope you dig his story.

Monday, September 26, 2022

More zShazams

I haven't been carrying my weight around here lately so I'm posting the easiest schtick in my bag of tricks: zshazams.  You too can find stuff like this on WFMU, WFUV, and WBGO.  Here are a few recent gems.

"Viva Prado" by Stan Kenton

I played the trumpet in middle school and I was predictably bad at it.  I love the sound of trumpets played well, especially high notes.  They take on this weird smeary quality like magic markers or when you rub on a balloon.  You'll see what I mean around 2:45.  

"Controversy" by Prince

I saw Prince live once only because I blundered into free tickets.  He was amazing and at the time I thought about familiarizing myself with more of his catalog.  About 6 weeks later zson was born and I forgot about all that.  Maybe I will do so now--Controversy is some funky shit.

"Jackie Down the Line" by Fontaines D.C.

This sounds like a Bloc Party song.  I dig it.

"Cain's Heresy" by The Lounge Society

This sounds like a Bloc Party song until the switch at 2:40 when it becomes a psychedelic noodling guitar jam.

"Shombalor" by Sheriff & The Ravels

This is proto King Khan & the BBQ Show.  A quintessential Fool's Paradise song, except Toddophonic Todd played it.

"Hard Rock Potato" by The Cool Greenhouse

These guys are heavily influenced by Greasetruck and the Almighty Yojo, except the eschew heavy vocal distortion.

"Our Love Will Still Be There" by Big Blood

This sounds like a Troggs song because it's a cover.  I think it sounds like a Madonna song too, maybe "Ray of Light" which always reminds me of Mike Buddy because TR and I were at a Yankee game once and when he came to the mound they played "Ray of Light" and I said "Mike Buddy is like a ray of light" and TR laughed and so did I.  We were wildly overserved, it was a double-header and the first game went 18 innings or something stupid like that so we guzzled Coors Light from those flimsy wax-paper tallboy cups for 27 innings so that was a funny thing to say under those circumstances.

And those are the latest zshazams!

Friday, September 23, 2022

Expanding the Parameters

Like most of you, I learned to tie my shoes around the time I turned five. From that point forward, didn't give that particular daily chore much of a thought. 

A few weeks ago, I was told I'd been doing it wrong my entire life. And, indeed, I had. Let Terry Moore drop some science on you:

Moore is a curious fellow, his bio full of terms like 'thinker', 'business divorce attorney', and 'CEO'. He built a professional practice around the notion that people should seek to master simple skills as a building block for acquiring more sophisticated capabilities. The TED talk above fits neatly within that oeuvre. 

It was hard to get my digits to make the corrections necessary to apply this radical new method of shoe-tying, what with all the muscle memory and everything. But I haven't had a shoe come untied since I did, even the rounded, slick, nylon laces of my fancy hikers. And I discovered a different hack: I'd always gone right lace over left lace before intertwining them - when I started going left over right, the knot held much longer.

Turns out you can teach an oldish dog new tricks. Be on the lookout for my next post, featuring a whole new way of buttoning a shirt.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Assholes Gonna Asshole

I think I'm a far better man than I once was. I'm less prone to angry outbursts. I'm far more attuned to my privilege and so many others' lack thereof. I'm (a bit) less selfish. 

But I've got work to do.

I confess that I'm not above hate-rooting. The edge might've come off some of the garden-variety stuff, like the Yankees and Auburn and Manchester United. Still hate 'em, just don't get as easily exercised as I once did. But newly inflamed passion still has a way of getting into the quick of my emotional fingernails (what?), even when I really don't care all that much about the broader context.

To wit, I will root fervently against the Cleveland Browns* for as long as Deshaun Watson is on their roster. That has less to do with Watson himself (though, fuck that guy) and far more with the vocal minority (we must hope) of Browns fans who are willing to overlook the very credible allegations against the quarterback. 

Gleefully so, in the case of these fucking assholes:

We're tribal. We have a basic human need to belong. That makes us do incredibly stupid shit on occasion in the name of the group. I have personal regrets about some of that shit, as do most of us, I suspect. But when we fail the simplest test of decency, well, then we should be scorned, mocked, and cast out from the regard of polite society.

* With yet one more acknowledgement that I wish Johnny G were still alive so we could pillory him for the fuckery of his team's ownership (for signing Watson for a stupid amount of money when they were bidding against themselves) and fellow fans. His defense of the Brownies in this case would be half-hearted, like their effort in the fourth quarter against the Jets last Sunday.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Cream Rises

G:TB's been on the Becky Hammon bandwagon since 2014, when she joined the coaching staff of the San Antonio Spurs. Where others might've seen some sort of tokenism, we believed that Greg Popovich didn't play that kind of game - the best leaders seek better leaders, tradition be damned.

We were right. But more importantly, Pop was right.

Hammon's Las Vegas Aces beat the Connecticut Sun yesterday, 78-71, to win the WNBA Finals, three games to one. Hammon became the first coach in WNBA history to win the title in her/his first season as the big whistle (hat tip to OBX Dave for that sobriquet). 

The Aces were 26-10 during the regular season, winning the Commissioner's Cup along the way. Hammon was named Coach of the Year. A'ja Wilson was WNBA Player of the Year, and Kelsey Plum joined Wilson on the first-team all-WNBA roster. And with all that talent, Chelsea Gray won the Finals MVP. The Aces are deep, and talented, and it must be noted, well-coached.

In that piece about Hammon joining the Spurs, we wrote, "The NBA is a global business worth billions of dollars. Very few other global enterprises succeed without diversity of thought and innovation in leadership. This is in many ways a very natural evolution. All of this assumes, it must be said, that Hammon can actually coach."

As noted above, Pop was, and is, right. Becky Hammon is a champion. And should she want it, she'll take the lead on an NBA bench sooner rather than later. And unless I'm missing the plot, she'll be great.

Friday, September 16, 2022

It's Murder Out There for Reporters

There are numerous ways to get snuffed in Las Vegas: corruption, The Mob, questionable acquaintances, scorching heat, all the vices you can think of and some you can’t. However, I wouldn’t have guessed “being a reporter investigating a low-level bureaucrat.” 

Jeff German
As the site’s media grump, this hits close to home and troubles me. You may have heard, but Jeff
German, a Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter, was stabbed to death outside his home on Sept. 2. Robert Telles, a Clark County public administrator, is charged with murder. 

German had written several stories about Telles, detailing mismanagement of his office. Subordinates alleged that he created a toxic work environment and carried on an inappropriate relationship with a female staffer, complete with a videotape of a rendezvous between the two of them in the back seat of her car at a parking garage. He denied the allegations and tried to explain away the car meeting as innocent. 

Telles was first elected to the office in 2018, but lost his bid for re-election in a June primary. He blamed the newspaper stories for his loss. Vegas police almost immediately identified him as a “person of interest” in its investigation. Surveillance video of a car registered to his wife near German’s home on the day of the killing and DNA evidence found on German linked Telles to the scene and prompted officials to charge him with murder. 

German’s colleagues said that he didn’t view Telles as dangerous. After all, German had been with the paper for 40 years and investigated crooks and mobsters and gang members and very bad people – lots of folks more likely to threaten and harm those that got in their way – and was never deterred. 

The Telles pieces were fairly low on the investigative food chain. No crimes, no graft; just incompetence and poor management by a county administrator with no criminal record. And yet, here we are. Review-Journal executive editor Glenn Cook told the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple: “It’s terrifying for the staff to understand that this is possible, and it is alarming to journalists everywhere that the person that you would least expect to be capable of something like this actually might be.” 
Journalists are under attack around the world – 1,125 killed since 2000, and 552 in the past decade, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Most of those, though, were in war zones or authoritarian countries, where simply stating facts can get reporters threatened, jailed or killed. 

The U.S. still has among the free-est of free presses. Only 10 journalists in the U.S. have been killed since 2000, according to the CPJ. Four of those were in June 2018 during an assault at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md., that killed a total of five. 

Reuters' Danish Siddiqui was killed in
Afghanistan in 2021
However, those stats don’t begin to tell the story of reporter harassment. Shuttering newspapers and shedding staff provide those with power and status the chance to act with impunity or silence dissenting voices. Increasingly contentious social discourse fuels conflict. Social media provides a cloak of anonymity for those affected or who may simply disagree. I would argue that there’s also a through line from a certain former POTUS – Mr. Fake News and the Press is the Enemy of the People – to those who feel emboldened to attack reporters. 

German’s murder isn’t a template and that’s what makes it chilling. There’s inherent danger for reporters covering a shooting war or poking about the affairs of criminals and despots and the powerful. But a county government official seeking retribution, or an aggrieved citizen shooting up an Annapolis newsroom because of a story that described his harassment of a high school acquaintance are another level. Reporting has plenty of unique challenges in the best of times, which this isn’t. Reporters now must be even more attuned to threats and the possibility of violence from anyone who fancies themselves a victim.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

All-Black Black Day

The finals of the 2022 women's and men's Rugby Sevens World Cup played out in Cape Town, South Africa on Sunday. New Zealand competed in both matches; the women tackled Australia and the men squared off against Fiji.

Soundgarden provided the backing track for the Kiwis.

The ladies match was a doozy. The Matildas overcame an early deficit to lead, 24-10, late in the second half. The Black Ferns fought back ferociously, scoring a try and a conversion, then another try at the death. All that remained to send the match to extra time was a reasonable routine conversion. Watch from the 24:00 minute mark to see what happened, and send good thoughts to Tenika Willison.

The men's match was far less dramatic, but historic in its own way. Fiji dominated the opening half against the All-Blacks to take their first World Cup title since 2015, 29-12. There were tears down Fiji way.