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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

No Servicio

I'm taking off for a few weeks to explore Thailand and Cambodia.  I should have some decent stories to post when I return.

Cheers

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Monday, November 23, 2009

"Blood Meridian," by Cormac McCarthy

McCarthy writes some dark and twisted stories.  "Blood Meridian" has to be the darkest and most twisted of them all.

Follows the adventures of "the kid" and "the judge" over the course of their marauding and terrorizing reign through the western frontier of the 19th century.  They have been contracted to protect the different Mexican settlements from Apache war parties, and they do so with an iron fist.  Since they are paid by the scalp, they make no differentiation between indian tribes that are peaceful or those that are warlike, and there are several massacres of entire villages.  Some of the descriptions are the bloodiest and most brutal that I have ever read.

Underlying all of that murder and violence is the theme that McCarthy presents of redemption and justice.  "The Judge" is basically evil incarnate, and there are few protagonists in the history of literature as chilling as this character.  "The Kid" is something slightly more human, and he makes some effort near the end to make amends for all of the "meanness" that he has been involved in. 

Like all of McCarthy's work, the prose is set in a very flowing and non-punctuated style.  Sentences can run on for half a page or longer.  This can be distracting at times, but the writing is so beautiful that it makes up for it.  I did find myself having to re-read certain sections.  This is not an easy book, but it is a rewarding one. 

Friday, November 20, 2009

"Ernest Hemingway - A Life Story" Book Review

This is not only the best biography I have read, it's the best that I can imagine being written.  The amount of detail is stunning.  It's really a testament to the strength of the author and the force of character of the subject that such a long and detailed life story can be so interesting.  Topping out over 700 pages of tiny print, Carlos Baker analayzes Mr. Hemingway's life from start to dramatic finish.  Mr. Baker dedicated over 7 years to the task, and it shows.  Personal quotes, letters, and interviews with a virtual who's who of the generation, from Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Joyce and others are littered throughout.  I don't know as much about my own life as Baker knows about Hemingway's.

The overall picture of the man is one who was able to craft himself into exactly what he wanted to be.  No easy task.  He also comes across as highly sensitive, a womanizer who cheated on every woman he ever cared about, and something of a bully.  He could also be kind and generous, but it was virtually a crapshoot of which of his personalities would show up.

His favorite subjects by far were of personal courage, stoicisim and physical endurance.  He was at his best on the hunt, in war, fishing, hiking, and any situation where his physical well-being was at risk. 

Courage, he believed, was a matter of dignity and pride.  "A coward said that this pride was of no importance.  Perhaps it wasn't, but it was of great importance to whoever had it."
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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Andre Ward vs. Mikkel Kessler Preview

Round 2 of Showtime's heavily promoted "Super Six" tournament is descending on Oakland, California this weekend.  The last American Gold Medalist, Oakland's own, Andre Ward (20(13)-0) will square off against the current Super Middleweight champion, Mikkel Kessler (42(32)-1) at the Oracle Arena.


This should prove to be one of the most intriguing match-ups of the tournament.  Ward is a very smart, fast and disciplined fighter who uses angles and ring savvy to confuse and bewilder his opponents.  At only 25 years of age, his command of the ring belies his relative lack of experience.  Despite his gaudy record, Mikkel Kessler's level of competition can be questioned, as he has faced quite a few limited fighters in his Denmark homeland.  Still, the two best fighters Kessler has been in the ring with are much better than anyone Ward has fought thus far, including a 12 round decision loss to Joe Calzaghe and a unanimous decision victory over Librado Andrade.


Kessler is a very fundamentally sound and crisp boxer with good power in his orthodox jab and straight right hand.  These two weapons are world-class, and are usually enough to beat his opponents with by themselves.  What we haven't yet seen from Kessler is the ability to "go downstairs" and work the body well or consistently.  He also rarely deviates from his tried and true, and well-loved combination of the left jab, followed by his right cross.  He will have to vary his attack a bit more to get by Ward this Saturday night.


Ward does a little bit of everything.  He has decent power, although he won't be scoring any single-punch knockouts.  He has good speed, excellent ring generalship, good smarts, and is a disciplined fighter.  Raised in the tough city of Oakland, Ward has been well-schooled by local trainer, Virgil Hunter out of the venerable Kings Gym.  After winning gold in the Athens Olympics of 2004, many observers felt that the talented Ward was being pushed too slowly.  Despite the criticism, it seems to have been a good decision.  Ward stepped up the level of his competition this year to win a unanimous decision against the always-dangerous Edision Miranda, in a fight that saw the Puerto Rican-based brawler confused and sloppy in the face of a very composed Ward.


Andre Ward will need to use his superior movement and speed to throw Kessler off of his game-plan.  Look for Andre to circle to Kessler's left, avoiding the dangerous right hand, and winning a tight but unanimous 12 round decision. 


For fans in the Bay Area, make sure to check out Comcast's Bay Area Sports website and channel for interviews and discussion on the fighters, trainers and promoters.  My buddy Rich is putting in some great work over there and we finally have combat sports getting some attention in the Bay Area again.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Child of God" by Cormac McCarthy

Reading his interview in the WSJ put me in a mood for some of McCarthy's dark, murderous and usually disturbing prose.

"Child of God" fits the bill. One of his shorter stories at about 200 pages, I went through it in a day. It reads a bit easier than some of his longer novels, with a bit less of a focus on describing every detail of each and every scene.

Lester Ballard is a man alone. He has been banished and cut off from society, and that frees him to explore all the darkest passions of his mind. Ballard is far from a sympathetic character, but there is an underlying message that judges society for ignoring those that live on the very fringes of a community.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

In Praise of Miguel Cotto

Miguel Cotto has taken a lot of punishment during his 8 year career, possibly too much. In an age where long-time boxing fans bemoan a newer and lesser generation of fighters, Cotto is a throwback. He approaches his craft with a blue-collar and workmanlike mentality, takes his work seriously, and is as tough as they come.

Unfortunately, Cotto isn't appreciated as much as he should be. The man has put together a tremendous body of work against the best fighters of his generation, and he has often taken a horrific beating in both wins and losses. And yet, we still have the usual internet crowd of experts questioning his heart, chin, grit and toughness for his performances against Margarito, Clottey and Pacquiao. Many never forgave him for his taking a knee in his final round against Margarito, and those same brave individuals in front of their TV's will never forgive him for backpedaling much of the last rounds in the Clottey and Pacquiao fights. In truth, Cotto is too tough for his own good.

Unlike some other fighters of recent year who have earned prestige for toughness in the ring, Cotto's skill-set puts him in the squared circle with only the most elite of fighters. Guys like Arturo Gatti, tough and game as any fighter who ever lived, took their punishment from much more limited fighters than Cotto's opponents. When Gatti stepped up in class to fight Floyd Mayweather Jr., he was simply annihilated within a few rounds. Stopping that fight was an easy decision to make. The decision to stop a Cotto fight is much more difficult due to his superior talent. Cotto always has enough good moments to dissuade his corner, the ref or the ringside doctor from stopping the abuse. He is excellent at fighting off the back foot, throwing a stiff jab or double jab, and then countering with fast and hard combinations when his opponent overextends himself. His ability to do that earned him an extra 3 rounds of bludgeoning last night against the buzz-saw that is Manny Pacquiao.

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It has been established that a quick and sudden knockout is far less punishing over the long-term than the cumulative damage that is dished out over the course of a 12 round championship fight. Cotto's fights against Margarito and Pacquaio have most likely taken years off of the fighter's life.


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At one point, the beating was so conclusive that Cotto's wife was forced to leave the arena with their young son. On that note, shame on the man who's decision it was to continuously pan to Mrs. Cotto and their son's face during a break in the action. It was reminiscent of Mayweather's fight against British boxer, Ricky Hatton, where Hatton was splattered in the 10th round. The cameraman found it necessary to focus on Hatton's screaming wife for what felt like minutes as her husband was quickly surrounded by his doctors and cornermen. Boxing has always produced more drama and action than any other sport, and it's an unnecessary and distasteful trick to try to engender more by focusing on these personal tragedies.

Cotto is still a skilled and dangerous fighter, and would most likely beat all but the very top 2 or 3 welterweights in the world. That being said, he may want to consider winding down. At only 29 years old, he is a young man, but people age differently in boxing. That was clearly shown when Joe Calzaghe met Roy Jones Jr. last year. While nearly the same age in years, Jones Jr.'s career had been far more damaging after concussive knockouts at the hands of Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson. There was no question of who was the "younger" man that night. So it is with Cotto. He has given us amazing fights in victories over "Chop-Chop" Corley, Zab Judah, Shane Mosley, Josh Clottey and Carlos Quintana, while taking tremendous punishment in losses to Margarito and Pacquiao. As Antonio Margarito was later caught trying to enter the ring with loaded handwraps, one has to consider the possibility that Cotto went nearly 11 rounds with a man who was using bricks instead of fists.

Sometimes it takes a fighter to retire before he gets the respect that he deserves, and so it may be with Miguel Cotto. The man is a pro's pro and has never ducked a fighter in his life. He has always been calm, polite and respectful towards the press and his opponents. He works hard and trains hard. In this "bling" generation, Miguel Cotto is an old-school type of fighter and an old-school type of man.

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Wall Street Journal Interview with Cormac McCarthy

One of my favorite authors is Cormac McCarthy, creator of "The Road," "No Country for Old Men," "Cities of the Plains," "Blood Meridian," and others. While I typically prefer authors who write short and sparse sentences in the Hemingway mold, McCarthy is far from that. Some people find his books too wordy, and he does make a point of being very descriptive, but I just find his work incredible. Everything is dark, from the setting of his stories to the characters. I have heard his style described as "Southern Gothic," drawing comparisons to William Faulkner, and that sounds pretty accurate.

McCarthy is something of a recluse, and usually shuns interviews. I won't type out the whole discussion from the Wall Street Journal, but I did find some of his answers to be very interesting.

WSJ: How does the notion of aging and death affect the work that you do? Has it become more urgent?

CM: Your future gets shorter and you recognize that. In recent years, I have had no desire to do anything but work and be with my son. I hear people talking about going on a vacation or something and I think, what is that about? I have no desire to go on a trip. My perfect day is sitting in a room with some blank paper. That's heaven. That's gold and anything else is a waste of time.

WSJ: How does that ticking clock affect your work? Does it make you want to write more shorter pieces, or to cap things off with a large, all-encompassing work?


CM: I'm not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn't take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.

WSJ: The last five years of your life have seemed very productive for you. Have there been fallow periods in your writing?


CM: I don't think there's any rich period or fallow period. That's just a perception that you get from what's published. Your busiest day might be watching some ants carrying bread crumbs. Someone asked Flannery O'Connor why she wrote, and she said, "Because I'm good at it." And I think that's the right answer. If you're good at something it's very hard not to do it. In talking to older people who have had good lives, inevitably half of them will say, "the most significant thing in my life is that I have been extraordinarily lucky." And when you hear that you know you're hearing the truth. It doesn't diminish their talent or industry. You can have all that and fail.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

#88 of my 101 in 1001 Days - Watch the Sun Come Up

Back in January of 2009, I made a list of 101 goals and tasks that I wanted to complete in 1001 days. The purpose was mostly to make sure I was doing enough random kickass stuff to justify being here.

While reaching the summit of Mt. San Jacinto was not part of that original list, I did get to accomplish one of my goals that weekend. Since we hit the trail in pitch-black darkness at 3am, we were lucky enough to watch the sun rise over the desert. Quite pretty, I must say.

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Nomad

While traveling in Southern California for work last week, I found myself in my old stomping grounds of Newport Beach. I parked on 35th and Balboa Boulevard, three blocks from the house I once lived in, and a block from the basketball courts that I had spent so many hundreds of hours at.

I walked over to the beach and went for a 5 mile run along the boardwalk, dodging foo-foo dogs and bikini-clad roller-bladers. Fog rolled in from the ocean, cooling the air, and driving the bikini girls back inside. Conditioned by a few years of Bay Area living, the weather was pleasant to me. I finished the run with a sprint over the last few blocks, legs and lungs burning from a few weeks of alcohol saturation and inactivity.

I cooled off by jumping in the ocean, and my contempt for the bikini girls vanished. The water was cold. I dunked my head twice in the on-coming waves, and then made a quick exit, trading the salt from my sweat for the salt of the Pacific.

I dried off and made a short drive to one of my favorite places, Alta Cafe. I had a chai tea, a tuna melt, and then a slice of the best carrot cake in the world. All of these different activities brought back warm memories. Orange County had been good to me. While it made me a bit nostalgic, I feel no desire to move back. At least not to Orange County, that is. I am considering a move back to Southern California, but a return to Orange County is not in the cards. Everything seems small, quiet, suburban after downtown San Francisco.

On top of that, moving back would feel like I am going backwards. The times I have grown the most is when my life and travels have brought me to new and diverse places, away from the familiar. I want to continue that pattern.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Cactus to Clouds

"The view from San Jacinto is the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth!" - John Muir

I was being driven to the airport by my Mom after a nice visit in Palm Springs when I noticed the mountain for the first time. Fueled by a weekend of reading "Backpacker" magazine and possibly too much caffeine, I said to myself, "I should climb that." I almost immediately let everyone know that I was going to do just that.

After basking in the glow and warmth of everyone's praises, I decided it would be a good idea to look into the logistics of the expedition. I was greeted with the following:

Missing Hiker
Outdoor Guide Killed
Mountain rescue unit helps dehydrated Marines

Disheartening. To make sure that I didn't die alone, I enlisted the company of my friends, Will and Kalvin. I made sure to tell them about the beautiful views and pleasant scenery that were sure to await us. As far as the dangers, why worry them needlessly?

Unfortunately, Will was unable to make this particular adventure, so I picked up Kalvin around noon on Friday. We employed full use of the carpool lane and mocked the commuters stuck on the 91 freeway.

My Mom, Grandmas, and Aunt Dory welcomed us with steak, salad and other goodies. Other goodies like beer.

The Cactus to Clouds trail begins in Palm Springs on the desert floor. The main problem that befalls many people aiming for the summit is the punishing heat of the Palm Springs desert. To avoid this, one needs to hit the trail early enough to climb several thousand feet of elevation before the sun comes up. Kal and I woke at 2am on Saturday morning. My Grandma Bev had prepared the coffee for us, and it turned out to be the equivalent of rocket fuel. Tasted like it too. With approximately 18 times the caffeine content of a mere mortal's coffee, Grandma's concoction had Kal and I babbling like school girls on the ride to the trail head.

The first step was near vertical, and the trend continued like that for the rest of the day. We had close to 3 hours of hiking in almost complete darkness. Fortunately, we were armed with head-lamps and a near-full moon. The little light that we had made the cliffs and peaks seem like we were on another planet.

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The sun rose over the horizon around 5:30am. It was stunning.

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It was pretty, but it also increased the sweat factor considerably. We were lucky that it wasn't one of the 100+ degree days that Palm Springs was famous for, but it was definitely hot enough. That reminded me to be on the look out for rattle snakes. Several had been spotted on the trail in the last few weeks, another detail I didn't share with Kalvin. (I later found out that Kalvin used to trap and play with rattle snakes as a kid in Texas, so it wouldn't have mattered anyway.)

Up, Up, and Up. The vertical climb of the Skyline Trail is one of the steepest in the United States, and we, well, we noticed that.

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The thing about mountains is that every time you get to the top of a ledge or peak, there is another one just beyond that. Several times, we thought we were staring at the peak that would mark 8,000 feet and the end of the Skyline trail. We were wrong about this a lot. Actually, we took several wrong turns, scrambling up loose rocks and shale, and generally doing quite a bit of backtracking. Kal injured his knee on one such occasion, and basically toughed out the rest of the trip with a makeshift walking stick and a large dose of testicular fortitude.

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Whenever I got tired and wanted to rest, I would tell Kal that I wanted to take a picture. We got some good shots in this way.

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The lack of oxygen at high elevations affects different people differently. It obviously affected the two of us with delirium and idiocy. We decided that marine-style chants would make us feel better.

Martin: "When I say 'aint no, you say THANG, 'aint NO!"
Kal: "THANG!"
Martin: "AINT NO!"
Kal: "Thaaaannnng!"

This continued on for far longer than I would like to admit.

After 11 miles and 8,000 feet of elevation gain, we completed the Skyline Trail of the desert to the Aerial Tram Station. Exhausted, we feasted on beef jerky, a granola bar and water, staring enviously at everyone else's superior rations. I considered murdering two friendly guys who we met on the trail for their burritos.

After about a half hour of procrastination, we continued on. Another 5.5 miles would take us to the summit. We met some really nice folks on this part of the trail, including Dave G, Florian and Hikin' Jim from the Mt. San Jacinto message board.

After one last hard push, we scrambled up the last cliff to get to the summit. The view was amazing, and lived up to Muir's praises.

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The 5.5 miles back to the tram station sucked. No other comments really necessary on that. The beers and buffalo wings at the tram restaurant restored our good humor. After a good 14 hours on the trail, we arrived back at our car, and I managed to get us home without running into anything solid enough to cause damage.

Asleep by 8pm, we both slept like the dead.

I'll do this again...maybe.

We left the next day, making sure to give a final salute to the mountain on the way out.

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Monday, November 2, 2009

NaNoWriMo - Day 8

The writing is coming easier. About to head to the airport, but knocked out a quick 800 words before the taxi comes to pick me up. Will try to get another 1000 or so in tonight after I check into the hotel.

Writing about specific scenes is making all the difference in the world. When I was writing in chronological order, I felt the need to rush to get to the next scene. Now that I am writing individual episodes, I am able to give each part the attention it deserves. I am adding more description and back-up to each section, and I think that I am doing it without adding much filler.

While I plan on getting the whole 50,000 words on paper before the 30 days are over, I am starting to think the novel might be better as a short story after I go through as an editor. Right now, I think the best length might be 75-125 pages, rather than the 350-500 that a full-length novel would require.

Word Count (Expected): 7,511
Word Count (Actual): 13,328

Sunday, November 1, 2009

NaNoWriMo - Day 7

I'm still behind, but today was some of my best writing so far. Not that it matters really, since the important thing is volume, but I was able to focus more deeply on the story today than any other day prior. I think what helped is my decision to just write about different episodes or scenes of the story instead of going through it chronologically. It seemed to help a lot with writer's block.

Word Count (Expected): 11,662
Word Count (Actual): 6,717
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