Monthly Archives: June 2010

It’s Hard Getting Excited About Soccer

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Few things are more exciting than watching several hours of soccer during which NOBODY SCORES.

Actually, more than a few things are this exciting. In fact, every conceivable human activity is more exciting. Boiling water is infinitely more exciting, because you at least know the water WILL eventually boil.

It drives me nuts to see a score from the World Cup where two teams hammered at each other, and the final score was 0-0.

Last night, I watched Paraguay vs. Japan. After either 110 or 120 minutes (I can’t remember which it was, which demonstrated my degree of rivetment), they had to do something else to determine a winner, because this could go on forever.

When this situation arises in soccer, here’s what they do to get a winner: they stop playing soccer. It would be like resolving a tied basketball game by playing H-O-R-S-E. The soccer players could do rock-paper-scissors, or arm-wrestle, or see who can kick a soccer ball the farthest. Instead, they have a shoot-out

The shootout is insidiously designed to humiliate goalies.

Yes, the goalies have played flawlessly up to this point. Their teammates are the ones falling short, just kicking the ball around rather than actually scoring, as their job description demands. But rather than reward the goalies, they are made to look silly in front of millions of people.

An opposing team member is given a free kick ridiculously close to the goal. Like moving the pitching mound forward 15 feet. All the goalie can do is take a wild guess about where the guy will kick the ball. What usually happens is the goalie dives right, and the ball goes left into the net. Or vice versa. Regardless, the goalie looks silly.

The shoot-out, at least, has some drama to it, as opposed to two hours of kicking the ball around and comically faking serious injuries.

I really WANT to be excited about soccer. But it’s SO HARD.

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Books: “Rough Weather,” “Persuader”

parker-child-250.jpgI just finished mystery/thrillers by two can’t-miss authors: Robert Parker and Lee Child.

I’ve read over 50 books by Robert Parker, and have just one vague memory of a book which seemed weak. “Rough Weather” was certainly not weak.

The book begins with Spenser getting hired as a bodyguard at a ritzy wedding on a private island. Gunmen take over the wedding during a terrible storm, kill some people, and kidnap the bride.

Rugar, AKA The Grey Man, is in charge of the kidnapping. Spenser knows him from their encounter in “Small Vices.” He’s a deadly assassin. Now Spenser, sometimes aided by Hawk, sets out to find Rugar and the missing bride. The lack of a motive, plus other twists, makes the task particularly vexing.

But, of course, the plot ultimately resolves, and in a way I didn’t see coming. Neither did Parker, I suspect. His style of writing was not to map everything out, but to just write and let the characters take control; he didn’t necessarily know where he’d end up when he started writing. “Rough Weather” has very much that feel to it.

“Persuader” is my seventh Lee Child book about Jack Reacher, the Ultimate Tough Guy (Spenser being the Number Two Ultimate Tough Guy). Seven more Reacher books are in print, so I’m halfway through.

In “Persuader” (the name refers to a type of shotgun), Reacher teams with the FBI to infiltrate a mobster’s seaside fortress. It’s a complicated plot to get him in, but it works (all in the first chapter). Once inside, he has several missions: find what happened to a previous FBI agent who infiltrated two months before and hasn’t been heard from since; get the goods on the mobster; and learn the connection to a deadly arms dealer from Reacher’s MP days.

The book actually weaves two plots together–the current one, plus the case ten years ago when he was still in the military. Child takes us back and forth, though it’s more a matter of nibbling at the older plot.

Like all Child books, “Persuader” was a very fun ride, a good escape. 

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So Long, Mr. Chipmunk. You’ll Be Missed.

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Mr. Chipmunk, who inhabits a woodpile against the north side of our house, died tragically late Wednesday or early Thursday, June 10. He was less than 5 years old. 
Pam found him Thursday morning floating in a bucket near our back door, a bucket which had filled with rainwater. Mr. Chipmunk apparently drowned after climbing into the bucket and not being able to extricate himself. However, the circumstances of his death are still under investigation.
Mr. Chipmunk had confounded our cats, Jordi and Molly, for the past ten years. They continually stalked and chased him, but the little guy was way too elusive, way too clever. He toyed with them, walking right past them to get their attention, then scampering into a bush or into one of his favorite escape hatches: a downspout or a sump pump tube. 
Just the other day–Tuesday–Mr. Chipmunk teasingly strolled past Jordi, who was then laying beside a bush out back. When Jordi arose, his ancestral hunter instincts fully aroused, Mr. Chipmunk positioned himself directly on the other side of the bush. As Jordi slowly crept around the bush, Mr. Chipmunk likewise moved, to keep the bush between them. 
Tiring of this–it was just too easy for him–Mr. Chipmunk ran around the porch, and Jordi gave distant chase. They continued playing “cat and chipmunk” for the next hour, until Mr. Chipmunk headed to the woodpile to check on the family. 
Only once was he caught–last fall by Molly, who is much faster than her lumbering brother. She trapped him just shy of a downspout…but only for a minute or so. Then Mr. Chipmunk escaped back to his woodpile, an impregnable fortress.
Since the lifespan of a chipmunk is 3-5 years, Mr. Chipmunk–like Lassie–is obviously not the original who began tormenting Molly and Jordi 10 years ago. Chipmunks give birth twice a year, so the Mr. Chipmunk in question could be the second, third, or perhaps fourth generation. Who knows how many babies lie in their woodpile nest, waiting to grow to adulthood and assume their father’s stealthy place. 
Mr. Chipmunk will be greatly missed by Jordi and Molly. But perhaps, soon, another will take his place, and the games can resume. 
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Prettying Up the Yard

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Before (top) and after.

I left town Thursday morning (June 10) to meet with a web designer in Dayton, Ohio (3 hours away). When I came back, a new house awaited me. Sort of.

The area directly in front of our house was a mess, and has been ever since we moved in 17 years ago. We’ve done lots of landscaping; nearly every bush and tree on the property was planted by us; the only remnants of the previous owners was one tree in front, one in back, and three bushes in that jungle in front of our house.

When it comes to this front jungle area, we just haven’t had any great ideas. Pam and I didn’t inherit any landscaping genes.

We’d done some work here, mainly to tear out creepy-crawly stuff we detested and plant a few new bushes, but we never liked it. A bunch of bulbs had been planted by the previous owners, and no matter what we did, they kept coming up. Bulbs from Hell can’t be killed.

I had planned to tackle it this area this spring, but two surgeries pretty much killed that idea. Which was fine.

We decided to just hire someone to make it look nice. Let professionals do it.

LawnsPlus came in yesterday morning at 9 a.m., a couple hours after I had left. They worked real fast. By the time I returned around 3:30, they were mostly cleaning up.

The place looked great. The jungle in front of our house had been dug out and totally redone. We can now see parts of the house we’ve never seen before.

They actually worked all around the house, front and back.

They planted new bushes, trimmed nearly every bush on the property, mulched everything. A front corner of the house was extended out, and new bushes planted. The huge burning bush in front of our house was transplanted to the back of our property.

One of the few plants remaining from the previous owners was a crabapple tree in the front yard. What were they thinking? I hated that tree. It was terribly difficult to mow around, and grew in a haphazard way. So we had them dig out the crabapple tree and, in a different place in the front yard, plant a new tree. A serious improvement.

Pam has always wanted to do something around the light post. Before, it was just a bare black post stuck in the ground. Now there are plants and mulch around it.

So as of yesterday, we have a brand new yard to enjoy. And this morning, a big thunderstorm came through to soak everything well and help those new plants along. Perfect.

(I put a gallery of before-and-after photos on Facebook.)

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Books: Shella, The Getaway Man, Hard Candy

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Andrew Vachss writes roman noir, in which the protagonists are criminals. Think of movies like “Bonnie & Clyde,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Last Man Standing,” and “Payback.” Or the books of Jim Thompson.

“Shella” is told in first-person by a young contract killer. We never learn his name. He kills with his hands, never with firearms. After serving several years in prison, he emerges in search of his sometime-prostitute girlfriend, whom he calls Shella. The search takes him across the midwest, to bars and pool halls and dance clubs, and into the arms of a white supremacist group bent on inciting a race war. There are no good citizens, nobody with socially redeeming qualities. It’s a dark book, told by a sociopath. Yet I liked it.

“The Getaway Man” is also told in first-person, this time by Eddie, a simple-minded young man who knows cars, and knows driving. The books tells his story, from teenagerism on. He teams up with various robbers, and does stints in prison. Finally, in prison, he catches the attention of J.C., who plans out heists meticulously. A good share of the book involves planning for one last major theft of an armored car. A very good surprise ending, which you don’t grasp until the last four words.

“The Getaway Man” isn’t nearly as dark as “Shella,” and Eddie is a more fully-drawn and interesting character. He is, in many ways, a very innocent, naive fellow. The protagonist in “Shella” is similar in ways, seemingly a bit dim-witted, but also an unfeeling killer (like Dexter, in Jeff Lindsay’s books). I liked “The Getaway Man” better.

Finally, “Hard Candy,” the 4th of the 18 Burke novels by Vachss. These novels are set in New York City, I believe, and they’ve got a very distinct feel. Burke and his fascinating assortment of friends live on the criminal side of the Citizen/Criminal line, but are mostly just trying to get by. Someone described these novels as “urban survival.” Roman noir stuff all the way. 

I’m interested in the Burke novels, and not. He writes in a somewhat cryptic way, so that sometimes you’re not sure what has just happened. The characters tend to be very sexually charged, though his writing isn’t sexually graphic; however, I could do without that. This 4th novel continually referred to events in the first three books, which I haven’t read. So if I’m going to read this series, I need to start at The Beginning. But I’m not sure if I want to start. But don’t get me wrong–these are interesting, unique books. I’ve not seen anything like Burke.

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Walk This Way

Lauren Rosenberg, a Utah woman, needed to walk from Point A to Point B, so she asked Google Maps for the best route. The walking directions included walking a half-mile along a highway which didn’t have a pedestrian walkway. She followed Google’s directions…and got hit by a car.

Now she’s suing Google for $100,000 in damages, claiming that the walking directions should have warned her that the highway lacked a sidewalk. Actually, Google Maps DOES include this warning:

“Walking directions are in beta. Use caution–This route may be missing sidewalks or pedestrian paths.”

But Rosenberg says that warning didn’t show up on her Blackberry.

Here’s a thought: couldn’t she SEE that there was no walkway?

Has Lauren Rosenberg no capacity for independent thought? Did she not “look both ways” before crossing roads, because Google didn’t specifically tell her to?

If she were to win this lawsuit, Google, Yahoo, and Mapquest would be forced to take their mapping services offline until they can be sure that all of the bases are covered. And “all” means literally trillions of combinations of potential map routes.

And then Google better start mapping all the potholes, lest someone, in following their directions, step in a pothole and twist an ankle.

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