Sunday, June 26, 2011

The weird and the wonderful

This week, with the football lockout still, uh, fully locked, I thought I would do some heavy research and find some of the manliest sports played on Planet Earth, kind of like stumbling off the Starship Enterprise armed with testosterone and without ever leaving orbit.  It took less than 3 seconds to find stuff aplenty; amazingly, NASCAR is nowhere on those lists.

The Highland Games are sports for the manliest and strongest of men with massive upper body strength and incredible concentration and also some pretty strong women who could beat the crap out of me with no difficulty.  I detail:
     1.  Caber toss:  The caber, a big old piece of wood closely resembling a tapered telephone pole, is balanced vertically on one end and the person doing the tossing runs forward and attempts to toss the pole end over end, having said wood and land facing away from the person doing the toss.  No, the cabers don't need to be a uniform size; scoring depends on the degree of difficulty as the cabers vary in length, weight, degree of taper, and balance. 
     2.  Sheaf toss:  A bundle of hay weighing 20 lbs. for men and 10 lbs. for women is wrapped in burlap and then tossed over a raised bar -- much like a pole vaulting bar -- using a pitchfork.
     3.  Stone put:  Like shot put but with a big old rock.
     4.  Scottish hammer throw:   Yes, like modern Olympic hammer throw with different weights for men and women.
     5.  Weight throw:  Toss a really heavy metal weight attached to a chain and p.s. you can only use one hand.  The idea is to send it far, really far, super far.  One hand.  Also called "weight for distance."
     6.  Weight over the bar:  Toss a 56-pound stone with an attached handle over a horizontal bar.  This is also called "weight for height."  Think of a curling stone but you don't slide it on the ice (which is incredibly difficult as you have to be accurate in addition to sliding this big ass rock) but instead throw it over a bar.  The one time I tried to move a curling stone on ice it didn't go very far and I immediately fell onto the ice.  Fortunately, the area of contact is well padded and no, not on my head.  Weight over the bar would probably be followed by my family members planning my memorial service as I would surely drop that sucker onto my head.  Oh!  P.S.  One hand only!

Buzkashi is the national sport of Afghanistan.  A player is called a Chapandaz.  A goat calf is beheaded, disemboweled, has its legs cut off at the knees, then soaked in water for 24 hours to toughen it up.  There are 10 Chapandaz on each team but only Chapandaz from each team can play in a half that lasts 45 minutes.  There is a single 15-minute break.  The playing field is a square that measures 400 meters on each side.  The goal is to grab the carcass with your hand and then throw it across a goal line.

No lizards are harmed in Goanna-Pulling,  a sport from the Outback of Australia.  Two people face each other with leather straps around their necks that are joined in the middle (which looks like a goanna if you have been in the heat of the Outback for too long and have a very good imagination).  The joined competitors do a tug-of-war with their necks.

I could go on but after that last one, I have to say that the NFL is a bunch of millionaire little girls in party dresses at Sunday tea parties.  In Buzkashi, a great Chapandaz is in his forties; in the NFL, if he's in his forties, he's an oddity, Brett Favre, or both.  I still worry about the greed of the NFL owners, the health of the players, and myself because what is UP with me and football?  Of course, saying the NFL is filled with girls at a pretty little picnic playing dress-ups and combing their My Little Ponys does pretty much guarantees no one from an NFL team will talk to me ever, but dang, I could not imagine Mr. Brian Urlacher strapping on the leathers for a nice Goanna-Pull with Mr. Jay Cutler and my imagination is stinking good.

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This past Friday night, June 24, 2011, New York, the Empire State, voted to allow same-sex marriage.  Equality is what America is about, y'all.  If you are in love in New York, you can marry your beloved.  You can celebrate your union with those dearest to you -- with cake! -- and you can spend your days building a life together, raising a family, sharing every ordinary day that creates an amazing existence with the person you love.  Congratulations to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the State of NY legislature, and to the Empire State Building for providing a building covered in a rainbow.  Love is never a bad idea.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

To each his own taste

I have discovered that my client has an administrative assistant who is a huge NASCAR fan.  I found this out when she was sending her boss to North Carolina and mentioned the track in Winston-Salem.

I know this person to be extremely bright and well educated.  She has an advanced degree in science.   She said she loves NASCAR so much if she could have she'd have gotten a Bachelor of Science and a Masters in NASCAR but the latter wasn't offered anywhere.  She said she considered getting a Masters in Physics so she could work in NASCAR but was afraid she'd have to be an engineer and didn't want that at all, so she married an engineer who also loves NASCAR.

I asked her my question:  how is NASCAR a sport?

She explained how going around the track pulled 3Gs or three times gravity which, at such high speeds, was a constant assault of Gs on the body.  The aerodynamics required to stay on the heavily-banked track, the lightning fast reflexes required, the peak physical condition someone has to be in to complete a race in high heat with no air conditioning can only be done by an athlete.  She also pointed out that if there is are winners and losers, then it is a sport.

According to that last criterion, I suggested that Ballroom Dancing is a sport.  I said that to me, sport is the triumph of person over the physical self in conjunction with an external apparatus that is powered by strength, talent, years of training, stamina, and the determination of the athlete using the established guidlines of a governing body, like 300-pound Julius Peppers of the Bears running fast with the agility of a much smaller, thinner man.  (Like the professionals on "Dancing with the Stars," really.)  She said, "Hmph.  Football.  That's not a sport."  I pointed out to her what she'd said about there being winners and losers, lightning fast reflexes, and peak physical condition, and she changed the subject.

In the days since our conversation, I have given careful consideration to what she said, and using all her criteria, somebody riding one of the more intense rollercoasters at Six Flags Great America is an athlete because they are pulling 3Gs at several points in the ride where aerodynamics are employed to stay put and require lightning fast reflexes in order to grab their heads and scream like girls.  The rides are not air conditioned.  Does this mean those riders are athletes?   Nope, nor are they part of the other group that sustains Gs:  astronauts. 

While I enjoyed this person's perspective, and certainly appreciated it because I know no one else who gives any sort of car-racing a second thought, I twirl off into the night still thinking that NASCAR is expensive and loud entertainment.

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One of the wackier things done by Mayor Richard M. Daley while in office was turning Meigs Field, the almost downtown small airport, into a park.  Wacky because he did it overnight.  Really.  He was tired of screwing around with the committees and the protests and the "Friends of," and at midnight on a Sunday night, sent in some very large machinery and had the massive machines punch larges Xs into the runway.  Yes, of course he'd ordered the equipment in advance (and probably shelled out triple overtime to union Teamsters).  Yes, of course there were planes parked there.  They were given enough fuel to get to the Gary Airport and only the pilot could be on board.  Came with your family?  Oh, sorry, they need to take a cab or rent a car or hitch a ride to Gary. 


I feel ex-Mayor Daley is responsible for having the vision to turn Chicago into the world-class destination it has become and not simply an urban locale that is wonderful alongside its chief geographic defining point, i.e. Lake Michigan, but otherwise plenty seedy just a block or two off the lakefront, which it was for a long while.   (It's still great here but an edge is returning so, hey, if you live here or just visit here, please be aware of your surroundings.)  Anyway, I was a very vocal supporter of Mayor Daley until we woke up on a Monday and heard this news.  Even I had to admit that I thought this was the turning point for him:  sane to crazy, measured decision-making to in-spite-of-the-law choices, mayor to emperor.  The result of this is Northerly Island Park.

There is a fairly large outdoor concert venue at Northerly Island called Charter One Pavilion.   I understand it is a cool place to see a show, being right on the lake with that gorgeous Chicago skyline backdrop.  I also understand there are spiders and small bugs which like to visit patrons during the show.  We move on to the real reason to visit.

No golfing allowed
There is a paved trail that loops to the farther accessible part of the island (which should be categorized "peninsula," but no one much cares about what I think).  See the view at the left?  Looks like a golf course, right?  There are many birds in residence including swallows that hover and skate on the wind, Canada geese with their determination and large poop, red-winged blackbirds clinging to bare branches.  There are killdeer and robins, two birds I can actually recognize as "killdeer" or "robin."  When you get to the south end of the island, you turn and see Chicago from yet another wonderful vantage point.  It is every bit as magical a view as you could hope to see of our kind of town.  Consider a visit to Northerly Island but expect to pay for parking near Adler Planetarium.  Be tidy!  I picked up a stray plastic shopping bag, just to take it from the scene, and within 10 minutes it was filled with other trash.  The three of us -- my sister, brother-in-law, and me -- picked up a lot of stuff that people left behind.  If you were among those people, please be tidier next time.  Your reward for your neatness is this view.

Enjoy the view and pick up your darn garbage.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

The mystery of ownership

As you may or may not have heard, the NFL lockout continues.  Were this a normal year, fans, owners, and players would be getting all itchy and excited about trades and the upcoming season.  Participants and observers of the game would be looking forward to training camps, exhibition games, pre-season games, and actual games.  Players would be giving interviews about how excited they are to be back and how this is the year and how they are in great shape and want to prove themselves.  There would be sound bytes and snippets of video where the face of the coach or player fills a TV screen (my TV is just 19 inches and it frightens me to think of 52+ inches of Jay Cutler in high def and plasma).  There would be plans for season-long pools, per-game pools, and Fantasy Football teams.  Instead, we are looking forward to a whole lot of nothing.

I have admitted that I don't know why I now like NFL football but I do and there we have it.  Since I like it, I want to have it around.  Yes, the massive hits taken by the players can be the root cause of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).  Yes, the price of tickets are prohibitively expensive.  Indeed, the NFL-approved gear is too costly for most NFL fans to afford.  Intellectually, I understand all that, but I get a kick out of it all the same.  There are 16 games per season (not counting exhibition games and those counted as pre-season) and there is where a lot of difference happens.  Those wacky owners want 18 games.

When I attended the Bears Expo, an ex-Bear (and I can't name him because I am not positive of the exact quote) said there was indeed a way for the players to play 18 games and not be at increased risk of injury.  How?  How exactly could that happen?  How could two more games not increase one's risk of injury?  If I went on the field just once, I would instantly be at risk of injury and probably death as I am a large, middle-aged woman with no speed or strength to speak of.  Should I survive, two more times on the field increases the risk of my ending up concussed or in traction, assuming I am put in a game and play in a sane, well-prepared manner.  Two more games just seems unnecessarily risky.  They are football players, not Roman Gladiators.

The owners want more money.  The owners are probably sorry they didn't buy NHL or NBA teams with long seasons; NFL owners want their oversized piece of pie, too.  It boils down to giving the players less money as they would play more for the same money and the owners getting more because ticket sales are increased.

Let's forget the wacky, greedy owners (owners are often wacky and greedy regardless of what they own).  Let's forget the players.  We will even forgot about the fans.  Let's think about the food vendors, the parking attendants, the Bears community-relations personnel, the coaches (not the main coaches, but the low-level guys), and season-only custiodial staff.  These people have, no doubt, been looking forward to the football season so they could make some nice loot.  Maybe it's a second job and they use the money to pay for next summer's vacation, Christmas gifts, braces for their kids, tuition money for an MBA so they won't have to be on the season-only custodial staff forever, or paying off a bill from some of life's crap that just happens.  Regardless, it was money that was going to be relied on and now it's in question.

I readily admit my ignorance but my ignorance doesn't blind me to greed and the lockout is aggravating and just too much.

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Photo courtesy of the NY Times
HAHAHAHAHAHA!  LeBron James is TANKING in the every fourth quarter, y'all, and the Dallas Mavericks may finish spanking the bottoms of the Miami Heat tonight.  I won't be watching, however, because the Tony Awards are on, Neil Patrick Harris is host, and long before I had an appreciation for sporting events, I was a teenager in Detroit who enjoyed Broadway cast albums, learning every song, and singing along with them (complete with mental choreography where I was always the star) until even I was sick of them.  Fingers crossed that LeBron and the Heat LOSE in a spectacular fashion.  (Photo from the opening song of the Tonys.)

LATE-BREAKING NEWS:  LeBron TANKED!  Bosh did NOTHING!  Wade did what he could but the Heat LOST!  The Mavericks are the NBA Champs.  To paraphrase Edward G. Robinson in "The Ten Commandments," where are your talents now, LeBron?  HAHAHAHAHAHA!  And "War Horse" won Best Play with "The Book of Mormon" winning for Best Musical.  And Mr. NPH ruled!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

And you say this is sport?

During the Winter Olympics a few years ago, I recall one of the women skiers on Team USA going to watch the qualifying performances of Ice Dancing --  when each and every pair performs the same choreography that's been used for decades with everyone using same piece of music -- and marching out, declaring in annoyance, "This is not sport!"  Yet this was the Olympics and the ice dancers were, like the skiers and the snowboarders, in supreme physical condition, performing at a world-class level, except they were doing it to music.

The same could be said of the figure skating singles and pairs -- that what they did was simply not sport.  In the Summer Olympics, synchronized swimming might be called into question as it is for women only, the performance begins the moment they are introduced,  and even their approach to the pool is judged.  These women are athletes in supreme physical condition, performing at a world-class level to music.

And then there is the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing or NASCAR.

People are insane about NASCAR which is a bunch of people who seem in pretty good shape racing around and around a track for a long period of time.  There is also Formula One racing where, again, people in cars are going around a track many times for long periods of time.  People love Formula One too but they love NASCAR most.  What's the difference between the two?

Formula One (F1) is open-wheel racing which means the cars' wheels are open, i.e. not covered by the skin of a vehicle. It's driven by technology with manufacturers spending time and money to make their cars faster than the others. The courses are generally road courses, meaning the course consists of left and right turns as well as straightaways.  This is good reasoning for races on courses made of blocked off city streets, like the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.  F1 races go regardless of weather and are held all over the world.

NASCAR is stock-car racing which means the cars are based on current-production 4-door sedans from Chevrolet, Ford, Dodge, and Toyota.  The cars use older, existing technology and emulate hot rods.  With NASCAR, the car is taken and modified to, fingers crossed, beat the others, meeting certain NASCAR standards and rules.  There are different racetracks but most are oval with variations on the oval theme -- ovoid, tri-ovoid, quad-ovoid -- plus rectangular, triangular, and even egg-shaped (which is, dare I say, ovoid) -- and, twice each season, they race on actual roads.  The oval tracks are FURTHER categorized by length:  short tracks, intermediate, and super speedways, all with varying degrees of banking which contribute to attainable speeds.  If it rains, the race is called and nowhere but here in the USA are there NASCAR races.

NASCAR is thought more exciting than F1 because of the crashes and the potential for crashes but F1 is considered the highest class of auto racing in the world.  Both are a bunch of people in expensive cars on some sort of track at high speeds hoping to pass each other and win.

For me, sport boils down to the triumph of person over the physical self in conjunction with an external apparatus that is powered by strength, talent, years of training, stamina, and the determination of the athlete using the established guidlines of a governing body.  Cars are powered by gas and/or racing fuel.  People sit in said cars and manipulate them, i.e. drive.  They do nothing but drive them.  Yes, it gets hot and unpleasant in the car.  Yes, there are certainly governing bodies. The races last for hours and the drivers don't have nice air conditioning like we might have in our cars and a race requires rigorous attention to detail, stamina, rugged determination, years of experience, and ability and is a triumph of person over other persons similarly outfitted, i.e. other people in well maintained cars who like going fast and winning.

Watching a bunch of people zip around a track in a car much like their own seems like vicarious couch-potato driving.  I have to think some people leaving a NASCAR race drive like sons of guns to prove their own driving worth to their passengers and, of course, to themselves.  Those people probably are sons of guns behind the wheel regardless, like at an outlet mall at dinnertime when their wives made them go shopping and the only way they can demonstrate their self worth is by driving like sons of guns as they leave the parking lot often including the Offering of the Single Digit.

NASCAR, with its sound like a million bumble bees harnessed under each car hood is, yes, a sport for most people, even though I just don't get it (it's entertainment but the more burly among you might take exception to this description).  Why would you want to sit in front of a TV and watch a bunch of people a thousand miles away propel a car around an oval?  I'm just askin'; don't take offense.  Gee, you are so testy.

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Photo courtesy of OK! Magazine

I neglected to report that Hines Ward and his professional partner, Kym Johnson, won the Mirrorball Trophy on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" on May 24th.  Kirstie Alley and her partner, Maksim Chmerkovskiy, came in second place, and Chelsea Kane and partner Mark Ballas were third.  Congratulations to Hines and Kym but I will admit I would have been been satisfied if Kirstie Alley had been victorious.  At age 60 and very large indeed, Kirstie Alley danced her ass off in every way.  I've not read how much weight she lost, but she lost 38 inches overall.  She also made Maks smile and Maks never smiles, not ever.  My theory is when he set eyes on his newest partner, he thought, "We are so gonna lose so we might as well have fun," then relaxed.  Kirstie is bright and funny, and after years in show business she knows how to be focused and work on a performance.  Having had starring roles on at least two sitcoms, she knows how to work with an artistic temperament.  Kirstie and Maks were a very enjoyable pairing.  What great lessons she gave to women who are neither young nor skinny:  Don't give up; work through your physical self; things can be accomplished with determination, a good teacher, and brains; you don't have to be young and reed thin to win everyone's admiration.

Might we agree that if NASCAR is a sport, then ballroom dancing is, too?  I'm just askin'; don't take offense.  Gee, you are so testy.