Sunday, July 14, 2013

What the Quebec train wreck should and should not suggest about the larger oil discussion

The train wreck in Quebec is one of those stories that just gets sadder. I spend all day at work with my head in these things, so I have little conception how big a story it is outside of the business world.

To recap: A 73-car train carrying 72 cars full of crude oil (about 30,000 gallons each, or 715 barrels) broke loose from its braking system late last Friday night and travelled several miles as it gathered speed going downhill. It was unmanned - quite literally a runaway train - and at a bend in the track near the small town of Lac-Mégantic, it derailed. At least five cars exploded, sending a massive fireball into the night sky, and burning or smoldering for days after. This all happened in the center of the town of around 6000, right in front of a bar that was packed for the weekend. Reports said a band had just wrapped their set and people were stepping outside for a smoke break, only to see this runaway train barreling towards them. Some ran, others tried to start their cars and drive away. The explosion probably killed 50 people, but only 33 have been confirmed dead so far. Some are likely never going to be recovered or identified because they were vaporized in the blaze.

I can't imagine what this would be like for the residents of Lac-Mégantic. In a town that small, everyone is almost certain to know one of the victims, living or dead. Thirty buildings were obliterated, including the public library. It's a tragedy beyond the pale.

The implications of this catastrophe stretch far and wide, and stepping back from the devastation a bit, a vexing debate comes into focus. A massive spike in oil production in the US and Canada has strained the existing pipeline capacity, which has required companies producing oil to find new ways of getting their product to market. They have, in fact, turned to quite an old technology: rail. Crude shipments by train have shot up by more than 40% in the US from a year ago and 24% in Canada. That's good for an old school industry, but, it would seem, bad for safety.

In terms of frequency of spills and incidents per mile, transporting crude by rail is far less safe than transporting it by pipeline. In the past several months there have been at least four incidents (before the most recent) where a train carrying crude derailed and spilled. Of course, one major pipeline incident kind of wiped out a lot of the argument. ExxonMobil's Pegasus pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas, ruptured and spilled some 5000 barrels of oil and devastated a town. (There were no fatalities, however.)

Examining the worst case scenario of the two methods - Mayflower for pipelines and Lac-Mégantic for rail - the safety verdict almost has to fall on the side of pipelines. Most of the time when oil spill from a derailed train car (or a compromised bridge, which nearly happened during the recent floods in Alberta, thought it wasn't crude oil per se), it's only a few barrels, maybe a couple hundred. But it happens more frequently, and since trains run often through populated areas, the threat to human life would seem higher. Pipelines spill less frequently, but when they do, the spill volume is almost always higher, but the physical danger is less acute (natural gas pipelines or compression stations do explode more often than they should, and that's bad. I am also not including incidents like the one a few years ago in San Bruno, CA, because that would be akin to comparing Mayflower or Lac-Mégantic to a gas station blowing up while filling a car).

Both these incidents, as any disaster, come with several caveats. In Lac-Mégantic, a criminal investigation is focusing on the engineer of the train who may have not set enough hand brakes to prevent this very thing from happening before he went to bed at a nearby hotel for the night. The Pegasus pipeline that runs through Mayflower is more than 60 years old and failed due to defects in the original (outdated) welding technique. Neither of these incidents should have happened, and could have been prevented if the proper precautions were taken.

So, everyone asked in the immediate aftermath of Lac-Mégantic, what does this mean for the Keystone XL pipeline? Probably not much, in the end. It would seem to play into the rhetoric of the pro-pipeline crowd, who say Keystone will be a state-of-the-art transporter that poses no environmental or human danger (though the TransCanada CEO, to his credit, pointedly insisted that the train wreck was not good news for anybody). The anti-oil folks point to the tragedy as further evidence that all forms of oil transport and extraction are dangerous and should be abolished (in favor of what, exactly, is the tough question).

Ultimately, I think this will just go down as an utterly devastating tale of human failure. It was one of the worst transportation disasters of any kind in Canadian history. It raises impossible questions of why and how that simply will never have a satisfactory answer. I hope, if nothing else, authorities come down hard on the people and companies responsible - both in Quebec and Arkansas - and send a message that when you are handling inherently dangerous materials, failure to properly look after them will draw severe consequences. But I'm not holding my breath...

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A hot mess of music: remembrances of Summer Fest

"I remember when this shit cost $15."

So read a sign near one of the main stages at the fifth annual Free Press Summer Fest in Houston. I'm not exactly OG FPSF, and did not pay $15 my first year, but I paid far less than the $170 tickets were going for this year before they sold out (I paid about $70, having bought earlyish).

This was my third Summer Fest in as many years, and there is no doubt that it's getting huge. The big joke going around this year is that the organizers are a bunch of sellouts, literally true as tickets sold out for the first time in the event's five-year history. They supposedly sold 100,000 tickets. Wow.

I'm not sure if there were that many people there over the two days on that June weekend, but it was undoubtedly a crowded scene just a few blocks away from the towers of downtown. As the event has ballooned in size, so has the ability of the Free Press folks to deal with the hordes. Last year we waited in line more than an hour just to get in the gates. Breezed right in this time.

But who cares about all that. This is about the music, the quality of which is never in question at Summer Fest. And of course the heat. It was hot and humid as shit, but for us Summer Fest vets, you just gotta bear it and find the shade when it's there...

We rolled in on Saturday in time to see the last half of Japandroids' set. The duo from Vancouver played with happy energy and an overall exuberance that you can't help but enjoy. Nothing about them blew me away, and yet I was thoroughly entertained for the entire 25 minutes or so I watched them.

They wrapped up and I bounced over to the Neptune stage to see Paul Banks, the lead singer of Interpol who has a healthy solo catalogue under his belt (the stages were arranged, accurately, to align with the planets of the solar system, save for earth and Uranus, and of course the rock formerly known as the planet Pluto). I thought of him pretty much exactly what I think of Interpol - some very attractive, hefty riffs that can at times be well complemented and at times overshadowed by Banks' distinctive baritone drone. I really like about half of it, and find myself distracted in the other half.

Next up at the main Saturn stage was the super buzzy Alabama Shakes. It seems like this band has been all over the place, spreading their bluesy gospel rock like, well, the gospel. Early in the day, the frequent refrain was how excited everyone was to see them play, myself included. The proclaimed genre is not really my thing, but damned if I was not blown away. Lead singer and guitarist Brittany Howard is the clear attraction. Big, boisterous and every ounce a badass, she commands the stage. She starts singing and there is no fighting the urge to move. Easily the highlight of Day 1. The show was in the middle of the afternoon, and the sun was blazing. Howard was wearing a a big dress and stocking and must of been boiling up there. And yet she said "y'all are stone cold warriors" for grooving with her in the sweltering heat. I'd do it again.

That Shakes, who "really are from Alabama", marked the high point of the day. Arctic Monkeys were forgettable. Action Bronson  was abrasive and loud and just not that entertaining. He came out pulling a seemingly empty roller suitcase behind him, some kind of superfluous prop, I guess. Nearby, on a patch of grass near the stage hidden below an onramp to I-45, a victim of excess substance intake writhed in the shade. (I guess Passion Pit was in there somewhere too, but that experience has completely vacated my mind. Guess they didn't leave much of an impression. Frankly, I'm not surprised...)

It was dinner time and I was scorched and weary, so I did not pay close enough attention to the ageless wonder Iggy Pop & the Stooges, slithering shirtless, sweaty all over the Neptune Stage. I was there long enough to hear him play "I Wanna Be Your Dog" (the name of which I did not know until I looked it up just now and realized I recognize it from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Surprising since I have not seen that film in well over a decade... great track though). A friend later told me that she saw the guitarist from Japandroids standing in the rafters backstage dancing and singing all the words to every song Iggy played. That's cool. I wish I had stayed...

... but I had to go see The Postal Service, out of obligation more than anything. I have spent a fair amount of time with the duo's one and only record, the decade old Give Up. It's a pretty solid piece of music making, and is legitimized, in my mind, by the fact that the top hit, "Such Great Heights", was covered so effectively by Iron & Wine that most people think Sam Beam wrote it. Both versions are superb. Less superb, however, is the experience of watching Postal Service live. I think they made the right decision not touring initially. The music, for one thing, feels dated. I begrudgingly admit that Ben Gibbard is a fantastic lyricist and his voice is not awful. But he's so damn... Ben Gibbardy. Just very into his own vibe, kind of falsely modest and, at this point, way too fancy for himself. Death Cab For Cutie was a great band when they were young, and I still enjoy cuts from those early records. But it was so easy to lose interest; they just kinda hit the stratosphere and vanished from the realm of relevance (to me). But I digress - nothing about the Postal Service's performance moved me. (They did play a cover of "Our Secret" by Beat Happening, which was probably their best song of the night.) Indeed, it is now more than a month later and Postal Service has since appeared on The Colbert Report. It was just flat out boring. Great record though...

Day Two

The second day was hands down more enjoyable than Day One - a rainstorm had cooled the climate, the bands were way better and there were way less people.

I made it down relatively early for Baroness, a solid stoner rock foursome that just blew me away. I had listened to their recordings a few times and been a bit ambivalent. That sound is very tough to pull off on record without sounding like Creed or Staind, and while I don't equate Baroness to any of th
at drivel, it's just not my favorite thing to listen to. Live, however, they totally kill it. Intricate mathy passages and sick interplay between lead man John Baizley and lead hair guy Peter Adams - awesome. They play sensitive stoner riffs disrupted by sludgy blasts and soothed out by edgy moments of calm clapalong. Dressed in requisite all black, Baizley chugged a bottle of water and exclaimed "Wow! It's hot!" So true. Watching Baroness was the first time all weekend I got chills, and it was in the upper 90s.

Mavis Staples
Out of curiosity, I trucked over to watch Mavis Staples perform. She's been kinda the rage lately after putting out her latest record with Jeff Tweedy, and has since been all but omnipresent. But at the point of Summer Fest, she was still just a legend slumming on the Mars stage at 2pm. But man, I was transfixed. She just has that thing. I'm no gospel fan, but damned if I wasn't there clappin' and cheering at every chance. Sister's got soul, alright. It's not every day that you get to see someone who can legitimately invoke Dr. King and call for us to keep pushing until his dream is realized. Sing it! Later in the set she pulled out a cane for
some support - I think a 73-year-old woman deserves that much. "I rebuke you, Satan!" she cried. "I'm going to Houston, Texas!" And she wasn't above giving us a little ribbing (despite the adoration that was pouring forth toward her). When she asked for a cheer she told us we sounded more like Midland, Texas. Ouch. She got a big one after that. Even the police/security guy back stage was smiling and taking pictures.

Cat Power
I have, of course, known of Cat Power for years, but it kind of surprised me when I realized that I had never knowingly really listened to her music before. I was trying to explain to someone what she sounded like and discovered that I had no idea whatsoever. Whatever the case, she opened up with a track that completely took me off guard with its heaviness and angst. It was nasty, and had me spinning.   The set continued on like that, with very few lulls, just power. All the more surprising as she came out with a cup of tea, which she placed on the ground and sipped between numbers. She later revealed that her back was in a bad way, entirely evident by the way she hobbled around the stage. "Is anyone a homeopathic chiropractor?" she asked at one point, wincing in pain. "I've got a problem." What a trooper. She blew me away. (I caught part of Of Monsters and Men, heard the hits, moved on. I must say that I find the song "Little Talk" more appealing now than I did previously. I guess that says something. I also managed to catch Mackelmore and Ryan Lewis just in time for them to play "Thrift Shop". Way too crowded to get even within sight of the stage, but it's a fine song.)

The two bands I wanted to see most - indeed, the acts that convinced me to buy the tickets in the first place - were cruelly scheduled to overlap on separate stages. TV on the Radio, who was the one band I could not miss, played first. We camped out for an hour after Cat Power to get decent positioning, and it was well worth it. My notes on the performance are not good, so all I can say is that it lived up to my high expectations. They have such an unusual sound, and to see them reproduce it live is really quite something. One moment I did transcribe was when they were playing "Staring at the Sun," right at sunset, with a picture of a sunset on the backdrop. It sounds less impressive written down, but at the time it was a real Ouroboros moment.
TV on the Radio

The final act of the marathon, for me, was the last half of Gogol Bordello, the definitive gypsy punks. They were just awesome, in every meaning of the word. You've never seen an accordion rocked out so hard. With nine band members on stage (or so; I lost count), they are just, collectively, a writing ball of energy. The most memorable moment, which I gather is a fairly regular occurrence for a Gogol Bordello show, came during the song "Start Wearing Purple" where lead gypsy Eugene Hütz chugged a bottle of red win, vertically, spit some of it out in a purple spray in the direction of the audience, poured it all over his naked chest, drank some more, splashed the remaining contents onto those in the front row, and then started banging the bass drum with the empty bottle. Wild.

Life changes and new life forms may prevent me from attending Summer Fest next year, but it really does seem to get better each year. We're a far cry from when it was just 15 bones. As long as I don't get priced out - an increasingly likely scenario - I will try to be there.

Gogol Bordello

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

The Basketball Jones - bringing it for 1000 episodes and counting

I would be remiss if I did not give a shoutout to Skeets, Tas, JD and the rest of the guys at The Basketball Jones, who celebrated their staggering 1000th episode today. The Jones daily podcast is must-listen/watch material for any NBA fan.

I've been tuning in since 2008, when it was just three guys with a high-quality audio recorder in some dude's apartment in Toronto. Even then in its rawest form, The Jones delivered the most entertaining 15-20 minutes of most of my days. These days, I try to not miss an episode.

It's astounding what they have done, and what they continue to do, living the DIY success story. It so obviously took lifetimes of sweat and tears to get to the point where they are now, internationally acclaimed hoops gurus. I still remember when Tas shook of a shattered femur to bring the insight for one season. Legendary.

Congrats, fellas. Everyone should check them out. The list of videos in this post is solid.


Bidadari Disc Golf course still generating media buzz in Singapore

We've been following the development of the Bidadri Disc Golf Course on these pages, and not too long ago it got recognized by one of the media powerhouses on the island - Singapore Press Holdings, publisher of the Straits Times newspaper.

My former employer, managed through high-ranking national elites, has several media arms. One of them, Razor TV, ran a two-part 10-minute news story about this crazy new game in Singapore, and the course I threw together back in 2009.

Thanks for the shoutout, Lance!

Part 2 below the jump.

It's the second time of late that the course has gotten some public attention, having graced the pages of Timeout Singapore late last year. Sadly, Bidadari's days as a disc golf home are likely in the final stages. The development board seems to be moving fast, and already missed a deadline to break ground at the end of last year. The course will most likely be buried, where 100s of other restless souls lost their eternal home when the land was exhumed more than a decade ago...

Coincidentally, long time groundsman Isaac Souweine is on his way back to North America and should be packing it up any day now. I'm sure the course will remain in good hands until the end.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Grizzly Bear roars into Houston (belated)

Now, almost "two weeks" more than three weeks later, I wanted to jot down some thoughts from Grizzly Bear's stirring performance at the House of Blues in Houston on April 9. Yes, the band has moved on to play a couple weekends at Coachella and beyond by now, but I'm going to indulge myself all the same.

Grizzly Bear, with jelly fish
Grizzly Bear is probably my favorite band that I have started listening to in the last four years or so. Prior to the release latest record, Shields, they had played only a handful of shows and had not toured at all. I was as excited to see them as I have been for any band in recent memory.

They did not disappoint, in fact, it's one of those shows that I just can't get out of my head.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Keeping faith at the 11th hour - Sacramento vs Houston

I'm not yet ready to believe that I just saw my last Sacramento Kings game.

Jason Thompson, the consummate King.
Nothing but love, bro. Been a rough go...
It's a big week for Sacramento fans. Thursday and Friday are the days of the big NBA Board of Governors meeting, when the entire relocation fiasco should get settled. Word is that the decision is much closer than it seems in the days following the announcement that a group from Seattle was going to buy the team and move it north. Sacramento has a competitive counter-bid, and the city has proven itself far from a pushover.

Ballmer and co last week raised their bid price by $25 million to $550 million, compounding what was already the highest valuation of any NBA franchise. That complicates matters, but as the blessed homers at Sactown Royalty suggest, it could be a sign of panic. The Seattle group sees Sacramento as a real threat now, and is leaving it all out on the court, so to speak. Let's hope so.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Finding a way through the woods...

Johanna's big meeting with the doctor was today, and it sounds like it could not have gone much better, all things considered.

Obviously great to hear she is in sound spirits. And thanks to everyone who expressed support. It's much appreciated. All about chopping down those trees so you can get out the damn woods!

She's clearly the best informed, so head over to Life Meets Ministry to get up to speed on that inevitable question, "How's she doing?"

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Fuck Cancer, again

Those of you who keep an eye on this blog would probably be interested to know a rather unsavory bit of personal news.

It seems my dear sister has once again been diagnosed with cancer. She writes an excellent blog about her life, and now, her travails. It's hard to recommend it more strongly.

Johanna, of course, fought and conquered Hodgkin's lymphoma when she was a teenager, just beyond driving age. Her bravery was on full display in that battle. It was never even really a question, for her, if she would beat it. Her confidence proved not only well-founded, but immeasurably therapeutic, to her I'm sure, but most notably to those of us who watched her kick that cancer's ass.

Unfortunately, it was the more traditional therapy - the radiation to her upper chest - that would strike a blow felt after more than a decade of healthy living. Last year, in a routine check-up, they found some irregular growths in one of her breasts. They turned out to be laced with ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS. It was not full-blown cancer - and being "in situ" had no danger of spreading into her bloodstream - but it was not benign, and far enough down the road that fairly immediate action was required, especially given her history. She did a lumpectomy, removed the bad tissue and was declared cancer-free, again.

Then last week, following another routine exam, they found some more. As Johanna points out, since the original DCIS was successfully removed, and thus cured, this is now the third time she has had cancer.

The only real option right now, in terms of treatment, is a mastectomy. The only question is when, and whether she cuts off just her infected breast now or takes them both off right away rather than prolong that eventuality. The one good thing - or 12 good things, as she has so wryly observed ("Most women want perky boobs. I'd like to think instead about the perks of NO boobs!") - is that once the operation is complete, she will be cured yet again, and it really should be for good this time.

Of course, it's all complicated by a number a factors, not least of all that she's just a few months shy of 30 and wants desperately to have children and, preferably, breast feed them. (If she was 40 and in the same circumstance, she likely would have gotten the double mastectomy last year.) She's also getting married in August and obviously would prefer to fill out her wedding dress. It's awkward timing, to say the least.

I (again) strongly suggest checking out her blog, called Life Meets Ministry, both to get the technical lowdown and to immerse yourself in the raw and heartfelt musings of a woman who has faced the worst and come back smiling. It is very inspiring stuff, especially for the more religiously inclined. She's angry right now, frustrated and pissed, but never bitter. She's gracious and thoughtful and living proof that quitting is the never an option.

Here is just a small passage that kind of perfectly exemplifies Johanna's unmatched spirit in this whole ordeal:

But they still couldn't be sure, so the doctor wanted to do a biopsy - that's #5 for me, folks. Someone jokingly asked if I brought my punch card, so I could get my free one soon. While I waited, Dr. Skinner stopped by to check in with me. It was fun to see her! We gave her a save-the-date for our wedding, as well as one of the nurses - both were very touched.
Note the dramatic shifting of tone within just a couple sentences. That's Johanna in a nutshell: She gets beat down and pops right back up with selfless grace.

This all could not be happening to a less deserving person. But she's also the person I know who will be able to put this in the rear view faster than anyone else. Her story has already inspired thousands. As the plot churns on, so many more will no doubt learn life-long lessons from her tale. I just wish it didn't have to come at so grave a cost to her.

Please keep her in your thoughts and prayers.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The battle for Milby Park, Houston's next disc golf course

A couple weeks ago the Houston Flying Disc Society (HFDS) put on a "mini" tournament at a disc golf course that does not yet exist.

The venue was Milby Park, a strip of green in the far southeast corner of the 610 Loop along Sims Bayou, in the shadow of pluming refineries and surrounded by industrial wasteland. And while that doesn't sound like an idyllic setting, the park itself is quite lovely.

A player at the inaugural Milby Park mini tees off on the back 9
People organizing the tournament told me that the grounds of Milby Park comprise the old estate of Charles Milby, a hotelier and general entrepreneur who was a major figure in Houston in the early 20th century. What is presumably the estate house, constructed of stone bricks and scattered shell fossils, still stands in the center of the park. The park itself is made up of rolling hills and majestic centuries-old oak trees. In short, it's perfect for a disc golf course.

Course designers Derek Lang and Paul Williams discovered the park a few months ago and have laid out a challenging 18-hole course. Saturday, March 2 was the first time there had ever been 18 baskets out there. About 25 people showed up to play. It was a blast, even though I lost my most cherished disc  in the toxic bayou waters - an old Z-Buzzz that my wife won when she was crowned the Victorian State women's champ in Melbourne, Australia, in 2008. (I had two aces on that disc, including a $450 ace pot a couple years ago... Goodnight, sweet disc.)

The course is as shovel-ready a project as there is. The layout is just about perfect and HFDS has the funds to buy all the baskets and install them today. Once installed, it would instantly be the best disc golf course in the Loop area. But there's a catch.

Derek and Paul have gotten provisional approval from Houston Parks and Rec to build the course. But, according to them, one member on the board, once he heard there were plans afoot, announced that he had been planning to turn the unused land into soccer fields (it is located in a Hispanic part of town and soccer fields, presumably, would be popular for the local community). The board member is thus blocking full approval for the park.

According to Derek and Paul, the board member has no concrete plans, just a distant desire to build the soccer fields, unlike HFDS which is ready to build this course today. Furthermore, dude's plan would presumably require the leveling of all the hillsides and the felling of dozens of ancient trees. The City of Houston is currently spending millions of dollars to replant trees that were killed in the devastating drought of recent years. These trees survived. To spend tens of thousands of dollars to kill living, thriving trees that likely predate the city itself would not only be a colossal waste of cash, it would be a reprehensible act against nature and common decency.

It beggars belief that this could actually be true, and frankly, I don't know the whole story. But there are several indisputable facts: Milby Park indeed already has a few soccer fields (and tennis courts) that don't look like they've been used in years. The course as its laid out would not impede on those existing fields, and both sports could easily co-exist. The course layout also takes advantage of a part of the park that, judging by the lack of litter, is rarely visited (the only park-users I saw on the windy late winter day I was there were a handful of fishermen, casting reels into the bayou sludge). Disc golf may not be an economic revitalizer, but disc golfers are generally good stewards of the land. If Parks and Rec turned Milby into a disc golf course, traffic to the park would skyrocket. If nothing else, let HFDS build it's course and see what happens. If it's a dud and the soccer players revolt, bring in the bulldozers. It seems like a no brainer. (We'll ignore for now the consequences of playing an aerobic game like soccer only 1000 yards or so away from a bank of oil refineries.)

As a disc golfer and as a citizen of this city and a user of its parks, I hope Parks and Rec gets their priorities straight and lets this project go ahead.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Knowing Unknown Mortal Orchestra at Fitzgerald's

The other night we went to Fitzgerald's to check out Portland-based Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Their recorded work is solid - restrained, lo fi production of catchy riffs in airy expanses, packaged in tight digestible nuggets.

A sound like that, though, while quite appealing on record, is difficult to reproduce live, I think. Downstairs at Fitzgerald's, it's almost impossible. As Ra Ra Riot rocked upstairs, UMO tried to bring the noise to a stage that normally hosts local nu metal and talent-free punk outfits - acts that don't rely on the tender nuances of soundscapes to get their point across. In a more controlled setting, this could have been a decent show. In practice, it was just too loud.

Not that they were going for quiet, exactly. While lead man Ruban Nielson, decked out in a black skull cap and some sort of be-rosed bullfighter cloak, sung on a heavily reverbed mic, drummer Riley Geare made full use of his substantial kit. I'm usually a fan of aggressive drumming, but Geare tends to overplay and goes a bit overboard on the butt rock fills. The songs where he is the most restrained, playing a steady supportive beat, are unquestionably the strongest. Nielson, lathered up by the constant "tequila and orange juice" he kept ordering from the stage, sang his quirky melodies well and showed nimbleness on his delicate guitar riffs, but too often the drums overwhelmed.

Maybe I'm just getting old and am less tolerant of "loud" music. But I maintain, I don't mind loud if it sounds good. I wouldn't mind seeing UMO in another setting. Their fan base seems robust, judging by the capacity crowd and oozing excitement at some of the hits. But I think my days of seeing shows downstairs at Fitzgerald's might be numbered.

(Sadly, my half-asses attempt at a photo did not turn out well enough to display here. The Houston Press has a review (a much different take than mine) and a photo, if you care. And here is someone else's YouTube video from the show.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Singapore's Bidadari Disc Golf Course makes media splash

A little disc golf project I started a few years ago in Singapore is starting to gain some traction. With some major upgrades and savvy promotion, current Bidadari Disc Golf Course caretaker Isaac Souweine has considerably raised the profile of the only disc golf course in Southeast Asia. Check out Time Out Singapore's solid write-up of the course.

Isaac has done some real heavy lifting, perfecting some of the hole layouts and most notably installing PVC targets to replace the taped sticks that used to protrude from the ground. And now he has listed in on the venerable DGCourse Review. By my count, that makes it official. Check it out, wish list it.

Judging by the Facebook page, more improvements are being made all the time. Keep up the good work, fellas. Wish I could be out there with you. I spent so many hours out there when I lived in Singapore. It is undoubtedly my favorite place on the island. Check out this Leaner archive - my blog's most-read posting to date - for some reflections on the course's early years.

I hope the course can survive until the next time I make it out to Singapore, whenever that happens. It is squarely in the sights of residential developers, and it overdue for groundbreaking, apparently. It makes sense why - it's a stunningly beautiful place. But let's hope they can keep the green stretch of land truly green, and peaceful, and open for chucking plastic.

(And please, if anyone has or can solve the mystery of the disc golf basket near downtown Singapore that predated even the Bidadari course, please let me know.)

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The 49ers and the vital pain of evolution

These are dark days. The pain may subside, but the disappointment still swells. Storming all the way back from 22 points down. Four shots from seven yards out to win. It was the most exciting Super Bowl ever until... darkness.

My man Jesse - consummate party host and true Niner disciple if there ever was one - put it best on Monday: It's like a deep serotonin hangover. Even after Jacoby Jones ran back that absurd and record-setting kickoff return to open the second half, we knew we could come back. And while it didn't come as a real surprise - massive holes and bigger comebacks having been established as this young 49er team's M.O. - that comeback march was one of the most exciting series of sports moments I've witnesses in recent memory (amplified by my Niner bias, obviously). It seemed like destiny, fate, inevitable. The mind substances were pumping through our synapses, turning to satisfaction, joy, exhilaration. It swelled all through that final goal line push. Fourth down and it all still seemed so possible. Even through the (begrudgingly clever) Raven safety and the meager punt return that sealed the deal, destiny continued to beckon.

And then nothing. Only darkness. The serotonin mainline was abruptly severed, and we were left with only anger and confusion. Unanswerable questions like How? Why? The emotional roller coaster derailed and crashed into a bitter abyss.

The win seemed like a given, the appropriate cap (Kaep) to what has been nothing short of an evolutionary NFL season. This year's quarterback class represents the future of the position, and the read-option looks to be the way to win moving forward. Fragile RGIII may have brought it to the fore, but Colin Kaepernick and Russel Wilson have the bodies to make it unstoppable (Andrew Luck, a modern QB in nearly every sense, suddenly seems like a throwback). But Kaep is clearly the most dangerous weapon of them all. With the speed of a cheetah, the grace of a gazelle and an arm as powerful as an elephant gun, he is the evolution.

We were obviously anxious for the evolution to take hold immediately - and it almost, almost did. If our resident bigot Chris Culliver could have just laid a finger on the sprawled-out Jones (and not gotten his ass burned) in the first half. If Randy Moss had tried to get his own finger on a badly thrown and intercepted ball. If the refs had called Ed Reed offsides on the Niners 2-point conversion attempt. Or the holding. Or the pass interference. Or the holding. Or if we had just punched it in with Frank Gore - or at least tried - there at the end.

San Francisco simply did not play well enough to win, and a bunch of dubious records are the result: First 49er Super Bowl loss, first 49er Super Bowl interception, first 49ers coach to lose... and so on. We were so quick to jump into neo-dynasty mode that we forgot the toil necessary to evolve. Yes, a couple different bounces of the ball and the Niners could be working on their 3-peat next year. But apparently it will require more pain.

Perhaps it took those tragic blemishes on the franchise annals - a bloody break from the past - to truly begin the evolution. Nature is a violent killer and monumental changes can't happen all at once. It was never reasonable to expect a wet-behind-the-ears Kaep to find the promised land in just his 10th professional start. By next season he'll have the chops, and his team is built to win for years to come.

On paper, it seems indisputable, the Niners are the best team in football, and up until darkness fell on Sunday, just a touch too inexperienced. Shockingly, they are not the favorite to win it all next year. It's the Patriots on 7-1 odds. Niners are 8-1. I like those odds.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Kings are dead. Long live the Kings!

And so these old emotions are dragged up again. The air of inevitability lingers as it always has, with only the desperate hope that this time, once and for all, something will be settled.

Of course, the Maloof brothers - mercilessly at the center of this deeply sordid tale - will no doubt continue to squeeze every last ounce of joy out of an NBA franchise that was once such a pleasure to support. They will be waiting, grinning and greasy, at the seemingly inevitable bitter end.

To recap: Depending on whose sources you trust more, the MaGoofs are either a couple of signatures away from selling the Sacramento Kings to a group in Seattle that will uproot the team and move them north, or they have again backed out of a "handshake" commitment and are no closer to selling the team than they were when Jason Williams was dropping ridiculous behind-the-back dimes to Chris Webber in the glory days.

The smart money is on the first option, one that would net the Maloofs a tidy $500 million, give or take $25 million, and make the Kings the most expensive NBA franchise ever to be sold. (No way they deserve that title in their current state, but still.)

I know I am not alone in my deep ambivalence about these latest rumors. We've all accepted the fact that the Kings were on the move for years now. What is so awful is to have this process dragged out for so long and to see the Maloofs single-handedly disgrace the NBA while shitting all over a city that has done nothing but support their increasingly pathetic product.

I have nothing but love for the Kings, and I have no problem supporting them, even as they continue to play at the level of a mediocre Division II NCAA team. I've supported them through thick and thin, and I have only one particular reason to stop doing so - the aforementioned MaGoofs. They are despicable, disgusting. They exemplify everything that is wrong with professional sports. They are greedy and incompetent. They ran a casino that went bankrupt. How is that even possible? They are in debt to the NBA and the city of Sacramento to the tune of well over $100 million. It's not just that they're greedy fucks - they are incompetent, useless assholes, born with silver spoons, pissing away daddy's money. It seems to me that the only reason they haven't sold the Kings yet is because it's the only asset of value they have left.

It pretty much all started when the Maloofs unfairly (and, obviously, foolishly) forced out Rick Adelman, the best coach to ever sit on a Sacramento bench, and still one of my favorite coaches - of any team - of all time. The Kings made the playoffs every year he was there, and have not sniffed the postseason since. The situation has just bottomed out since then. Sure there are some good players on the roster, but it is so awkwardly put together that there is no semblance of a "team". They basically have three players in 12 bodies - a shoot-first, non-passing point guard, a non-shooter swingman, and an undersized power forward forced to play center. Individually there is a lot of talent. Together they are a (sleep) train wreck.
Stooges: the Maloof princes, who cares which is which

(One stat that seems to say it all: John Salmons averages 3.3 assist per game, the team's highest. Every other NBA team has at least one player on it averaging at least 4.4 assists. That is bad teamwork.)

And really, was there anything worse, more heartless or just outright ugly than what happened a year ago, with Joe and Gavin at center-court with Mayor Kevin Johnson, hands raised triumphantly at the news that an arena deal had been struck and the Kings would be in Sac for the next 30 years? Oh, right - a Maloof handshake is followed up by the classic pull-away, hand through hair... too cool! (That's via someone on Twitter whom I can't remember, but spot on.) Dicks.

All hope is not lost. Put Geoff Petrie out of his misery, hire a real GM, and overhaul the team. It'll be a painful few years (no more so than the last 10), but there are assets that can be turned around in the right hands (provided there are owners willing to expend the effort). Any future success, though, is predicated on the Maloofs getting the fuck out of the picture and starting from scratch.

Sadly, that future may well be in Seattle. That city got totally screwed out of their team, and I ache for them. But to 'steal' another city's team to make up for past wrongs just feels dirty. Seattle should get theirs, but they should not get ours.

On the other hand, what if the Kings did move? The truth is that back in 1985 Sacramento 'stole' the team from Kansas City, which had 'stolen' the team from Cincinnati before that. In fact, if the Kings move to King County in Washington, they will become the most nomadic franchise is US sports history. Cold comfort perhaps, but it makes me think I still might support them if they were in Seattle. (That would not be the case in Anaheim or Virginia Beach, however.)

Whatever the case, it's pretty clear that the best choice is staying in Sacramento (not that I expect the Maloofs to make the best choice). The city and the fans are doing everything they can to hold on, and more power to them. There is, of course, the petition that was put out moments after news of the move to Seattle broke last week. Please sign it here. There is also a campaign to get as many people and businesses signed up for season tickets and sponsorship for coming seasons. According to Cowbell Kingdom, that group has already raised almost $4 million in promises if the Kings stay. Cowbell Kingdom is also reporting that the NBA has given Sacramento a chance to counter any offer made by Seattle. I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens...

Whatever happens, it's already been too much, and the emotional culmination has already occurred. Everyone has seen it, but it's always worth watching again (below). I will be stoked if the Kings manage to stay in Sac, but it will be subdued joy. I have already grieved, I have already rejoiced. The Maloofs have zapped my passion, and that is the greatest sin of all. The best thing about this whole ordeal, whether it ends in Seattle or in downtown Sac or at the railyards, is that the Maloofs will be out of the NBA for good and we will never have to think about those disgusting douchebags again.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

An interview with Josh Klinghoffer

A friend of mine has recently launched a new quarterly e-mag called Gearphoira that covers all things guitar gear - pedals, amps, vintage bodies... everything. It is evolved from the website formerly known as What's That Dude Play?, which I occasionally wrote for during my interminable Leaner hiatus.

Gearphoria released its second edition last month and it features a fairly lengthy interview (and small write up) I did with Josh Klinghoffer, the most recent guitarist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. His latest effort is a side project called Dot Hacker, which is definitely worth checking out. Josh is a great guy, a friend of many of my friends, and he was very generous to lend me his time.

Check out the interview in the latest edition of Gearphoria.

I have one other piece in this edition as well, a review of a film called Apocalypse: A Bill Callahan Tour Film. I was not really familiar with Bill prior to seeing this film, but he is quite an interesting musician and the film is nothing short of captivating. (Read the review here.) It's also fun because Nevada City native Neal Morgan shows up frequently in the film since he toured with Bill as the band's drummer. What's up, Neal?

Apocalypse won't be easy to find as it is without a distributor and shows up only at film festivals for the time being. But it's a solid watch and highly recommended. Here's a trailer: