Friday, December 31, 2010

Privacy Issues

First, let me apologize for the low light level of this video. If we'd had any idea we were going to get something worth sharing out of this little venture, we would have left the lights on. We set up the laptop with a webcam to record what our hounds were doing while we were out. We did this because we worry about the new hound, Bean, getting into some mischief now that we are letting him roam free instead of putting him in his crate. When we got home we discovered that the video had stopped. We had to watch to the end to see what happened.

Turn your sound up so you can hear the snuffling and the key clicks. I love this dog.

Somehow Bean discovered the key to toggle the record function off. Hell, I don't even know where that is. I use the mouse. Now I have to believe that the dog is a technical genius - at least by canine standards. Guess we'll have to put the keyboard up higher next time, out of his reach...or not.

Maybe I should just respect his privacy issues.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

When Obsessions Collide

Some things aren't made to go together. On the other hand, sometimes seemingly incompatible items are forced together by circumstances. For example, the more you spend on your car, the less you have left to spend on your house. Or, conversely, the less you spend on your house, the more you have left over for a really nice car.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Taking Up Golf after Sixty: Soothe the Soul and Vex the Intellect

Oh dear! I seem to have shanked my last drive into Lord Vader's BMW.

I've spent most of my life avoiding golf. I've never been very sports-minded, probably because neither of my parents were. Mom thought sports were trivial, and Dad carried a pronounced and physically limiting limp, the result of being struck by anti-aircraft flak in the belly of a B-17 during World War II. My best, and perhaps only, sporting triumph was a fluke home-run during a pick-up softball game on the last day of 8th grade. As to golf, the prospect of chasing little balls around in an electric cart with a bunch of yahoos in gay-palette pants and silly shoes didn't hold a lot of appeal for me.
I have almost always worked for men who played golf. A few of them were passionate about it. Several of them cheated at it. I figured if I spent 5 days a week, and often 6, being abused and swindled by these men, why would I add a 7th day of misery to my lot by taking up their sport, which undoubtedly I would have to play with them. Sunday was sacrosanct. Sunday was my day not to be abused, cheated, or otherwise taken advantage of.
Even so I have always been interested in golf for the simple reason that golf stories are fascinating to me. At some level, all golf stories seem to stand for something larger and more significant than the mere hitting of balls, looking for balls, and hitting them again. Some of the best jokes I know are golf jokes. That golf is philosophical is evidenced by the fact that the best of the golf jokes contemplate the availability of tee times in the afterlife and the fact that God Himself is a player, although perhaps not so good a one as Tiger Woods before the fall.
Best-selling novelist and environmentalist, Carl Hiaasen's, book, Downhill Lie, an account of his year-long quest to get game, is a fascinating compendium of humor, tragedy, and Stygian complications. Hiassen gives great credence to Arnold Palmer's assertion that golf “satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect.” Golf resides somewhere between physical and mental activity. Golf's difficulty seems rooted in the inability of the mind to consistently get the body to do what it wants. Even though golfers focus relentlessly on as many of the structural components of the perfect swing as they are able to keep in mind at one time, every bad stroke seems the natural consequence of a mental deficiency and every good one seems a happy accident.
Golf is custom tailored for over-thinking. Hale Irwin once said: “Golf is the loneliest sport. You're completely alone with every conceivable opportunity to defeat yourself. Golf brings out your assets and liabilities as a person. The longer you play, the more certain you are that a man's performance is the outward manifestation of who, in his heart, he really thinks he is.” How can you help but be overwhelmed by the gravity of a belief such as that. This explains, I think, why so much has been written about golf and why so much money is spent by golfers trying to improve their games. They are not primarily interested in the golf so much as improving the inner person for which golf provides the best testimony. The problem of golf is that, when it comes to this evidentiary testimony, even incremental improvements are elusive...and maddeningly so.
I bring all this up because I went to play golf for the first time in my life last week-end. I'm not counting miniature golf, computer golf, or the two times I found myself on a par three course in my late teens. I should probably concede one round played on a full size course at Sheppard Air Force Base in 1970, but that was more than 40 years ago and I did not go willingly or happily. I took twelve strokes on the first hole, which was my best hole of the outing. Even last week-end I didn't really play golf. I went to a driving range with my brother-in-law, and hit two buckets of balls.
My wife gave me a gift certificate to the range to do this because I happened to mention in passing a couple of weeks ago that I had been thinking of taking up golf. She is a good wife to indulge me like that, although I suspected for a time that her reason for giving me the certificate was to ensure that I never actually took up golf.
It has been my fate since we met to give up the pursuit of anything for which my wife ever gives me a gift. So when she gave me a bowling ball one Christmas, I never went bowling again. When she gave me a set of panniers for my bicycle on my birthday, I never rode that bike again. When she gave me a set of stackable airfoil kites one year, just because she knew I would love them, I flew them one time. They have been in a box in the garage for the 20 years since their maiden flight.
So I suspected, quite naturally I think, as she had seemed less than enthusiastic about my announcement that I might take up golf, that she might have been taking out some insurance, as it were, against my throwing myself headlong into the misery that is the greatest game ever invented. She denies any such intent, and I'm inclined to believer her, but it would be just like her to manipulate the fates like that in order to protect me from myself. She does know a thing or two about golf after all, and its attendant sorrows, as both her dad and her ex-husband were avid duffers.
Saturday morning we packed a bag of clubs and headed out to the range. The range itself was unkempt to the point of shabbiness. The cost however was $17 for the two of us for a whole day and an unlimited number of balls. For that kind of money, a little shabbiness does not dampen the fun. My brother-in-law hit his new titanium driver. I hit his number one wood. In a short time we had whacked ourselves into a state of relative contentment.
After I got into the rhythm of it, I began to think that I was doing rather better than I had a right, given my advanced age, diminished fitness, and general lack of experience. I was consistently hitting the wood about 220 yards in the air, and a couple of balls sailed out around the 250 marker. Some of my shots were flying straight as arrows. I had a tendency to slice, but I'm told this is a common problem, and my slice was not as bad as some I’ve seen from guys who spend a lot of money and time at golf. All in all I was pretty satisfied.
After about half a bucket of balls each, we switched clubs. The driver was longer but lighter than the wood. At first I didn't like it as well. I had gotten acclimated to the wood. Its shorter shaft and heavier head felt more natural in my hands. I kept after it with the driver, and soon I was hitting it as far as the wood. No further, though, which I found curious but not unsettling.
I was still having fun. There is something innately satisfying about hitting a golf ball, repeatedly, as hard as you can. It is a calming thing. It soothes turmoil and renders one all placid within. It is meditative and relaxing. I decided, my wife's gift notwithstanding, that I wanted to do it again. That was before the pro showed up.
The pro came by to drum up a little business. He was in his seventies, a lifetime PGA member and teaching professional. He was blessed with the gift of gab. He was originally from my parents' home town in Ohio. That meant he came with a familiar way of expressing himself and a familiar set of Midwestern sensibilities. I liked him immediately—even before I knew where he was from. That was before he tried to teach me how to improve my swing.
An effective golf swing is a rare and wondrous thing. It is composed of many small bits of posture, motion, and timing—some of them physical, some of them mental, and most of them completely unnatural. Yet when they all come together properly they look to all the rest of the world like they are fluid, organic, and cohesive. For the person swinging the club, however, nothing could be further from the truth.
Some anonymous wag once remarked that a proper golf swing only requires that you keep about 300 things in mind as you perform it. My guess is that this is a very optimistic estimate as to the actual number. I say this because I have, just in the past week, noted at least that many things in Internet posts about golf that I need to adjust in order to get rid of my slice. If you need to be aware of that many things just to fix a fade, imagine how many more you need to keep in mind to perfect an entire swing over a range of clubs, lies, and circumstances.
You can find a computer that will process the millions of possible moves in a chess game to come up with the sequence to beat even pretty excellent human opponents. You cannot, however, find a proper humanoid robot that can swing a golf club with good results. The reason? You can't get enough memory into one robot to process all the things it needs to remember correct its swing. Modern science is capable of sending C-3PO into deep space, but it can't give him a 5 handicap.
The pro wanted to prove to me that it would be worth my while to take some lessons from him. To make his case that he could help me, he had me hit a ball. I actually hit a pretty good one—about 220 yards and straight as a Rotarian. He got a little twinkle in his eye.
“You sure this is you’re first day hitting a golf ball?” he asked.
I thought he was going to tell me I had the greatest untapped natural ability he had ever seen in a 62 year old fat guy, and that with a little work and some expert coaching, he could have me on the senior tour in a few months time. He didn’t tell me that.
Instead he said that he thought I had an okay backswing, but I wasn't getting any power in my drives because I was hitting flatfooted. I needed to get my hips into play, he said, and I would be hitting the ball a lot further. He stayed to work with me until we saw some results from his instruction. By this point you probably will not be surprised to hear that this took longer than either of us imagined.
Before the pro arrived, I was only thinking about one thing when I swung the club, and that was to pull the stroke through with my left arm. I don't even know where I came up with the idea that I needed to do that—probably from a magazine I picked up in a doctor's office back when I had medical insurance. I don't even know if it was sound advice. I do know that when I remembered to think about it, my slice disappeared and my drives went straight. I thought it was pretty remarkable how that one little half-remembered tip was paying off for me.
The pro started adding new things for me to think about. He wanted me to swivel my left hip forward at the end of my back-swing, and to follow it forward with the rest of my body during the swing on the ball. He wanted me to pivot on my right foot and lift my right heel in the follow-through. He wanted me to square my shoulders to the ball and keep my left arm stiff. He wanted me to allow my arms to follow my body around. He wanted me to be natural and fluid. He said that if I felt unnatural and uncomfortable, that would mean that I was finally making progress. It would mean that I had actually changed something. I made quite a bit of progress by this reckoning. By another reckoning, the less ethereal and more objective reckoning of hitting the ball further, I made no progress at all. After I started processing all this new information, my average distance diminished to the point where I was lucky to hit one out of my own shadow.
In the pro's defense, he did eliminate one thing to think about. He said I didn't need to worry about where the ball was going. The swing was the thing. The ball was meaningless. It's a good thing he told me that because, had he not, I would still be concerned about the fate of some of those balls. They disappeared off the tee as if by magic, and I have no earthly idea what direction they took. I never saw them again. My wife might as well have given them to me for Christmas.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Naming the New Dog Blues

der Beanerschnitzel

The Bloggess has a very funny post up about a new kitten they just got named Bob Barker...or Anderson Cooper...or Pterodactyl. I'm not quite sure which at this point because the cat's name seems to be in a state of flux, and understandably so, as they are letting the cat have some say in the matter.
I totally understand how this works as we also had some difficulty coming up with an appropriate name for our new dog, Bean, although after two months time Bean's name is mostly stabilized. Bean is a 5-year-old greyhound that just came off the track. When we got him his name was Blue, and therein lies the story.
Blue was supposed to be a blue fawn in color. He's registered that way. I've always wanted a blue fawn hound. Blue fawn is an unusual and striking color. In my mind anyone who has ever seen a blue fawn hound forever after covets a blue fawn hound. Blue fawn is a designer color—opulent, velveteen, subtle. It is comprised of fawn hair shafts tipped with gray. Gray greyhounds are called blue. Blue greyhounds are rare. Blue fawn greyhounds are rarer still. On balance the color of blue fawn is taupe, but there is an almost iridescent quality to it. It changes with the background and the lighting. It is silvery or bronze according to the necessity of its surroundings. It is what it needs to be. It is magical. It goes with everything.
Going with everything is a useful quality in a greyhound's coat. An adopted greyhound it is going to spend a great deal of the rest of its life curled up on your furniture in iconic repose. Once you realize that the hound has become part of your d├ęcor, you are going to have to work it into your color scheme. There are only two possible ways to do this: change the color of your dog or change the color of your rooms.
Notwithstanding the existence of neon hued poodles, you cannot change the color of a greyhound. Greyhounds are too naturally regal to tolerate this kind of foolishness. That means you are going to have to paint your walls, replace your carpeting, and buy new furniture. That means, once you have a hound, you are limited to a design palette that matches your dog. What a happy circumstance then to be blessed with a dog that goes with everything. It is for this reason that whenever a blue fawn hound comes available for adoption, it is snapped up within minutes by people in the know. This is what was supposed to happen to us.
We were in the know. We were first to find out that a blue fawn hound was coming off the track. We weren't in a very good position to take on another dog. We already had a sweet little brindle girl in our tiny house, and I was still unemployed. On the other hand we might never get another chance at a blue fawn. Most people have never even seen a blue fawn hound. We were getting first crack at taking one home. We decided to go have a look.
We took the brindle to meet the blue. She would have the final vote. If she didn't like him, he'd just have to go elsewhere. If she did, well that would just ice the cake. I already knew how it was going to go for me. I'm a sucker for greyhounds. Besides the brindle we've had for 8 years now, we've tried to foster two other greyhounds. Fostering is taking care of them in your home while the agency tries to place them in a permanent home.
I say we tried to foster because I didn't get either dog all the way home before I decided we were going to adopt them ourselves. They were just that charming. So fostering didn't work out so well for me. I needed a deeper commitment, so I made one. I figured the same thing was going to happen with Blue. Once I saw him, I was going to want to keep him. But I was really only going to look because he was a blue fawn. I may be a sucker for greyhounds, but I am a slave to fashion.
When we got to the kennel, the director came running out to meet us as we were getting out of the car.
I'm so sorry,” she said. “You're going to hate me.”
I didn't really think so at that point, but I've learned over the years never to underestimate people's capacity to piss me off.
Why is that?” I asked.
He's not a blue fawn.”
What is he then?”
Fawn. Plain old fawn.”
How did that happen?”
I don't know. All his paperwork, all the way back to his initial registration, says he's a blue fawn. He's not though. There's not a blue hair on him.”
It must be the wrong dog then,” I ventured.
No. I checked his tattoos. He's Blue, but he's not blue.”
I was thinking just then that I might be a little blue. I'd just driven two hours on the promise that I could have a blue fawn dog. I couldn't. However it came about, the promise was a sham—a trap to suck me in and dash my hopes. This was all beginning to sound familiar. It was beginning to sound just like the rest of my life. Expect one thing...get less. I knew the drill. I was going to have to figure out how to settle for what I actually had coming to me. I know how to do this. It's one of the things that makes me too wonderful to deserve the 'slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.'
They had some other dogs we could look at. I tried several. There was a big black and white spotted boy that looked like a holstein. He was missing half his tail, and he pulled on his leash like an ox. I didn't need that. We had a labrador/chow mix once that pulled on his leash. He pulled my wife's shoulder out of joint. I had to twist her arm back into its socket. I learned two things doing that. One, I can do a lot of disagreeable stuff if I really have to, and two, orthopedics can be really disagreeable.
There was another fawn boy, besides Blue, and a dark brindle girl. I considered the girl for a while. She was a pretty little thing, but she also was a little churlish to my taste. I'm the designated churl in our family. I don't need any help, and I don't need any competition. The fawn boy, the one who was neither blue nor Blue, was skittish and slovenly. I knew he would clean up, but I really didn't want a timid, fearful dog. You just never know what to expect from them, and I don't have the patience or the expertise to rehabilitate one.
the very cool scar with stitch tracks!
The best of the lot then turned out to be Blue...even though he wasn't blue. He was a little ratty looking too, and he was sporting a fresh 6 inch scar on his left flank. The stitch marks were still raw and pink. I was concerned that he might have been in a fight, but it turned out that he had torn his side on a fence at the track compound.
Greyhounds are notoriously thin-skinned. It is unusual to get one off the track that doesn't have scars or other signs of a strenuous and hazardous existence. Blue's scar was an impressive one in scale and shape. It gave him an air of danger and mystery, when in fact it was born of sheer clumsiness. It was kind of like the eye patch on that guy in the old Hathaway shirt commercials. Blue might have been a pirate in a former existence. His disposition was friendly and genteel, but the scar made him look a little dangerous. I liked him. Our brindle seemed to like him too, and that clinched the deal for me. We took Blue home.
We started thinking of new names for Blue on the way home. He'd been called Blue for five years, but near as I could tell he had never actually been blue except on paper. The obvious misnomer did not sit well with me. There was no way I was going to call a golden dog blue. The very notion offended me.
We came up with a few notable names including Old Yeller and Scarface, but neither of those was very satisfying. Old Yeller ended up sadly, and Scarface was just wrong on several levels. I thought of Schweppes, and kind of liked it, before I realized that the Schweppes tonic guy was not the guy with the eye patch. He may have had a pirate kind of look and feel, but schweppervescence is not the equal of an eye patch when it comes to commanding admiration.
Hathaway would have made a classy name, but it may have been too classy. You can't shorten Hathaway up very well, and you certainly can't call a dog by a three syllable name when you are trying to get him to stop eating your shoes or the TV remote. That's when you need a short, distinctive name that gets his attention without making him feel like he is more distinguished and better looking than you are—no matter how much he may in fact be. No, Hathaway wouldn't do either. (Besides I didn't remember that the eye patch guy was from Hathaway until I just Googled it 10 minutes ago.)
Nothing else really tripped my trigger. I was going over stuff to say about the dog in my mind, hoping that something about him would suggest a name. That's when I was suddenly overwhelmed with a foul odor from the back of the car. A green cloud of noxious gas settled over my ruminations. I knew it couldn't be our brindle because I had never fed her road kill or swamp sludge. That's when it came to me.
How about Beano?” I asked my wife.
Beano? What's that got to do with anything?”
Well, we drove down there to see a blue dog. When we saw him, we looked all over his hide and hair very carefully, and saw that there be no blue.”
That's it,” she said. “You're going to make his name a bad pun with bad grammar?”
You have a problem with that?”
I have a problem with Beano. It sounds like that gas pill.”
I know. Isn't that great?”
We started out calling him Beno, and spelling it B-E instead of B-E-A, but we were always thinking of B-E-A, so we changed the spelling to what everyone was thinking anyway, and then we shortened it to just Bean because there's so much more that you can do with Bean in terms of derivative endearments, and so far that's stuck on him pretty well. He seems to like it, and so does everyone else. Bean is a good name for a dog. It's one you don't hear very often—ever in my case—but it seems to roll off the tongue and convey a sense of casual conviviality that matches up well with our non-blue dog.
Now that we are settled on Bean for a name, we have started to expand on the theme of it. We call him Bean and Beano mostly, but also Beanie, Beanie Baby, Beanie Weenie, Mr. Bean, Beaner, and my personal favorite, der Beanerschnitzel, all interchangeably and as circumstances warrant. He answers to them all because, well, he's not blue. He's just bubbling over with schweppervescence.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A TYRANNY OF LISTS: 6 Good Reasons to Avoid Making Lists

A short list of required attributes of the ideal man.
Good luck with that.
My wife and her sisters like to make lists. They make lists for everything. The purpose of the lists is to prevent them from forgetting anything important. While lists are indeed good for just this thing, there are some important side effects of lists that ought to be considered before one embarks on a list-keeping adventure of one's own. Lists are not the nostrum against forgetfulness one might hope for. Here then is a list of 6 things that are wrong with lists.
  1. The more one relies on lists, the more one needs them. Memory is not unlike a muscle. The adage, “use it or lose it” applies. The less you challenge your capacity to remember stuff, the weaker your memory will become. Lists are a crutch that you will not be able to chuck away when you are healed—the reason being that you are not going to be healed so long as you use the crutch. Instead you will become increasingly dependent. This is not unlike the ubiquitous use of sanitizing hand cleaners. My wife washes her hands 40 or 50 times a day to keep from getting sick. Her immune system has pretty much shut down from lack of use. The result: when she is exposed to the puniest of bugs, she gets knocked down for days. Better to challenge your memory by not writing anything down. That way, when you forget something of consequence, the fear of the consequence will motivate you to remember better next time. Consequences are true memory aids. Lists are not.
  2. Lists expand to fill the space allotted, whether this space be the size of the piece of paper or the time that elapses between beginning the list and having to execute the items on it. The bigger the paper or the more time available, the bigger your list is going to grow. Lists are self-perpetuating. Our Thanksgiving menu now contains 127 dishes. New ones get added every time a new family member comes of age or someone gets married, but nothing ever comes off the list. We have to cook them all every year, even the ones nobody eats. Items on a list have a way of suggesting new items that are not yet on the list. The bigger the list grows, the easier it becomes to add new items. Before you know it, you will have so much stuff to do that you won't be able to complete your list, either making it or performing it. You will then need to make a list of personal and social obligations that are going to suffer as a direct result of your having too much stuff to do on your lists. Eventually you will be crushed under the weight of your unfinished lists.
  3. Lists are tyrannical. Once you put an item on a list, you have to do it. There is no escaping the stuff on the list. To cross off an uncompleted item is to admit your fundamental inadequacy. Bucket lists are the worst. Now they've been popularized by a pretty good movie, though, so every poor slob who passes on with an uncompleted bucket list dies unfulfilled and depressed. It's much better to forget an item that is only logged in your memory. If you just don't remember that you're supposed to do something, there is no guilt or self-loathing associated with not doing it. What you don't remember can't hurt you. Not the same for an item on a list. It's there on the list until you do it, mocking your inability to get it done, reaffirming your low self-esteem.
  4. Lists get lost. This is not the same as forgetting something you have only recorded in your memory. If you forget something, it is gone from your consciousness and no longer has any power over you. This is not the same as forgetting where you put your list. Forgetting where you put your list means you have to stop everything and find the list before you can get on with the items on the list. The list and the items on it still have power over your life. They will define your agenda (find the damn list) and your mood (foul) until you find the damn list. Nothing else will get done. Forgetting an item that is not on a list is nature's way of clearing your decks for peace and contentment. Forgetting where you put your list is a hell of your own devising.
  5. Lists are indiscriminate. If you rely on your memory, your natural tendency is to hold on to the important things and let the unimportant ones slide. Your memory is a great judge of the relative importance of the things you have to do. Memory perfoms an organic triage on the chaos of your life. Lists on the other hand just record the chaos. Lists admit every stray thought you are able to write down. Lists do not make judgments. Every item on a list has the same permanence. Sure you can rank items on a list by their relative importance. You can color code them and arrange them into some sort or order. None of this carries any real weight though when it comes to performing the list. The insignificant items nag with the same persistence as the significant ones. You will perform three unimportant tasks to avoid having to do an important one, but by the time you get around to the important one a whole host of new trivia will have been added to the list. There is a reason for this. It's easier to write stuff down than it is to do it. Making lists is easier than striking stuff off of them.
  6. Lists give us a false sense of security. When you've reduced your life to lists you are convinced that you have gained some measure of control over it. The opposite is true. You have lost control. You are now at the mercy of your lists. Your lists are in charge of everything you think, say and do, and they are feeding on your energy. No wonder you can't get anything done. There is only one thing worse than being at the mercy of your lists, and that is being at the mercy of someone else's.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

When Your Funny Bone Lacks Conviction

It's easier to spot the horny girls during the holidays.

I have occasionally considered using this pic on our Christmas cards, but, truth be known, I'm afraid that I'll offend someone with the more obvious captions that have to do with chatting up the horny bitch and so forth. I suppose this means that I am not edgy enough to be truly funny. I lack the courage of my funny bone...or maybe my funny bone lacks conviction. I don't know. If I did this, I might have more social media friends, but my family would feel compelled to pray for my immortal soul. Oh, win!