Monday, June 26, 2006

Katharine McPhee Tells All and Learning to Listen(American Idol)

I was standing in line at McDonald’s, my first time there since seeing Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me a few months ago, and it occurred to me that Katharine McPhee’s bulimia confession just destroyed her chances to be a spokesperson (or is it songperson) for the highest grossing restaurant chain in the world.  Think of all the ways they could have played on her last name before she revealed her Mcsickness. I made the mistake of ordering the two double cheeseburgers for a dollar special anyway and with  Morgan Spurlock and Katherine McPhee providing the the background narration and music for my digestive tract well, “I Know I’ll Never Eat This Way Again”.  

How do I say that those golden arches threatened to be the wrong-colored Rainbow?
As I mentally process my McDonald’s binge, I found myself thinking about this “intuitive eating” thing.  My body was clearly telling me not to ingest the stuff, but I simply didn’t listen. Instead, I heeded this voice that was saying “You’re hungry, you’re in a hurry to make that meeting, salty and greasy will feel good, and a double cheeseburger for a buck is really really cheap.” As I got to the register, I was already doing a karaoke version of “I Believe I Can Fry,” to which the lady at the register responded by asking “Would you like to super-size your Fry?”

Apparently, it was My Destiny to explore intuitive eating the hard way.  I still don’t want to think about Taylor Hicks having ribs for breakfast though. I’ve never thrown up after eating, but I do personally understand binge eating all too well. As my metabolism has slowed down, I occasionally fixate on things like chocolate bars in the junk drawer or bowls of pasta meant to last three days in the refrigerator.  I’ve lost count of the number of times my stomach and  mind were saying “No” and my hands and mouth we’re saying “No” really means “Yes, yes, yes” in a kind of digestive date rape. If only there had been Someone to Watch Over Me.  I know now that if I Want to Live Forever, I’ve got to stay out of places where Kellie Pickler recognizes all the items on the menu.  If Katharine can’t endorse McDonald’s, maybe Kellie can.  Barry Manilow did seem to like her and there was that persistent story that he is the guy who wrote “You Deserve a Break Today.”

I am not one of the many people who seem convinced that Katharine McPhee came forward with her story for maximum publicity effect.  I think back about moments early in the show when for instance Ryan quizzed her about the rumor that she was pregnant and was leaving the show and cringe.  So much of what seems merely gossipy can look incredibly mean once you get clued in on a key fact or two.  I would point out that Mcphee says that she informed the producers early on and I assume they had some editorial oversight over Ryan’s Wednesday night patter, unless the guy’s now that big a star.  My guess is that she quite honorably insisted on not letting anyone turn the eating disorder into a “hook” or identifying tag for her Idol run and it may explain why her comment about wanting the contestants who were selling personality instead of singing performance to finish their schtick.

I did write in one of my reviews that had she been born thirty five years later, Karen Carpenter might have made the perfect Idol contestant.  I now look back at the line and get this queasy feeling.  On Idol, there was a very fragile quality to Katharine McPhee the performer mostly because her voice seemed to have a very narrow margin for error.  She could sound great for a few bars and then very suddenly slip out of key.  In what little we saw of her in impromptu chat, she never did project the relaxed “It’s just me and  I like me, America will like me” quality that others on the show like Elliot, Kellie, and Taylor managed.  Instead, sometimes she came off giggly and other times she showed an unpredictable assertive quality that worked for many but seemed to offend some of the board crazies.  I simply don’t know how any of those qualities will serve her in a non-amateur career.  

In any case, I wish her well even if she hangs on to the geezer boyfriend ( Celine Dion’s husband is 26 years older).  I think the hard part may come if it turns out that Telegenic Sex-bomb Katharine is not the body that her eating intuition calls for her to maintain.  There’s going to be a lot of pressure on her not to listen to what she’s worked so hard to hear and heed.  Similary by going public, as many have pointed out, she now subjects herself to a kind of Oprahesque fascination with full body shots of Katharine Mcphee for at least the first few years of her career.  I hope people do ultimately hear the voice and that America comes to love the performer and not the package as she does establish her musical identity (which I would say never fully happened in the course of the show).  

If it does come down to it though, I hope she hears that voice we all need to hear that being healthy inside and out is a bigger part of happy than famous.  In the meantime, I too have decided to start listening to That Voice Within when it comes to my own eating.  In a strange way, I can thank Katharine McPhee and People Magazine for that.  Of course, what are the odds that they stick several skinny pictures of Katharine in this year’s 50 Most Beautiful Issue as part of their usual super-sized mixed message in these matters?

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Bush Condoleeza Rice Affair Refuted (Another Karl Rove story)

I was standing in line at Safeway at ten PM with about twenty other people when the computer system went down and the registers were frozen.  That means I either had to reshelve whatever I’d stuck in the cart and drive over to Albertson’s and hope that their computers weren’t down too or read tabloids.  In the old days, if the power went out, they’d check you out by hand.  Now they use the checkout system to do inventory and to track every aspect of every transaction you’ve ever had with Safeway, so they’d rather have you stuck in line for fifteen minutes.  I looked up at the tabloids and quickly realized that Albertson’s was out of the question.  People Magazine chronicled Katharine Mcphee’s battle with bulimia which was next to a photo of Mischa Barton in a bikini and a story about Kirstie Alley losing 71 pounds.  The Weekly Globe had a cover story about the president’s affair with his Secretary of State.  I stayed.

As much as a womanizer as Bill Clinton was supposed to be, no tabloid ever accused him of having an affair with Madeleine Albright, his second Secretary of State.  As with many tabloid articles,  I’m not even sure Ken Starr would have thought there was much in the way of proof. The meat of the story was pictures of W and his Secretary of State together coupled with speculation from some psychologist about the significance of their body language.  This was juxtaposed to a reference to Laura Bush spending nights at the Mayflower Hotel in a fit of jealousy over George’s relationship with Condy.  IIRC, the Mayflower was also one of the places Judith Miller would meet Scooter Libby for breakfast.

The Globe has been an equal opportunity breaker of political sex scandals.  In the past, they published the first pictures of Gary Hart and Donna Rice, had the exclusive to Gennifer Flowers’ tales of Bill Clinton, and published a story about Jesse Jackson having an illegitimate child.  I don’t necessarily believe that the President has been sexually involved with Secretary Rice.  For one, the Victor Ashe ambassador to Poland, rumors are more entertaining.  Second, the Secretary of State once referred to the President as “her husband” (she’s never been married) which isn’t the sort of gaffe that the former head of the NSA would publicly make if she really were having an affair with the guy.  
Third, the only other man whom Condoleeza Rice has ever been linked with romantically was Denver Broncos wide receiver/kick returner Rick Upchurch.  

I know that Mia Farrow married both Frank Sinatra and Woody Allen so some women can find something appealing in very different men.  Still, I just don’t see anyone in this administration say going duck hunting with a woman who’s not his wife for a weekend.  The President and the Secretary of State are both professed Christians which means that neither would kill, bear false witness, or worship false idols (even the Cleveland Browns and Rice’s long time favorite player Jim Brown) much less commit adultery.  The one thing they have in common is that Condoleeza Rice has talked about wanting to be the commissioner of the NFL after Paul Tagliabue retires and the President once wanted to be the commissioner of major league baseball.  

Okay, I did take a look at the adultery commandment and technically, if you go back to the original, many argue that it’s not necessarily a symmetrical proposition.  Biblical adultery may be when you sleep with (covet) someone else’s wife link to Hebrew definition of adultery.  Since Secretary Rice is not and never has been married, it’s arguably okay for the President to be sleeping with her even if they are having sex.  It’s a bit like Karl Rove not having outed any CIA agent “knowingly”.  

This is one smart President.  Think about this, Harriet Miers, Condoleeza Rice, and Ann Coulter have all never been married despite all that family values talk.  Should anything come of the story in the Globe, I’m sure Tony Snow will help clarify these distinctions.  Fwiw, a number of individuals in public life have already seemed to figure out this commandment loophole.  If you remember, Monica wasn’t married either.  Also, for those of you concerned about Condoleeza Rice in 2008, the ten commandments may not forbid a woman to sleep with someone else’s husband.

It does seem to me that Congress, if it wants to take on the whole homosexuality issue directly,  should really forget about amending the constitution and pass a commandment instead.  It seems that when God did his ten simple rules for not being smitten, homosexuality didn’t make the top ten ahead of say voting for Ayla Brown instead of Taylor Hicks (worshipping false Idols).  Some would argue that the tenth commandment which forbids one to covet thy neighbor’s house does include the servants, his wife, and thy neighbor’s ass, but I don’t think God meant it quite that way.  On the other hand, I haven’t looked up the traditional Hebrew definition of the term. This suggests that the whole homosexuality thing would have to be in some sort of "penumbra" of commandments otherwise reserved to the non-deities.   

In any case, the simple fact that the sexual pairing of George W. Bush and Condoleeza Rice seems to raise no eyebrows is a genuine sign of how far we’ve come as a culture in 2006.  Rice, after all, was a Democrat until 1982.  

Even if the Globe story were true, (as happened with the Gennifer Flowers stuff printed in the Globe) it’s obvious to me that there is no scandal here.  Besides, it’s clear to me that even the President’s personal life deserves some measure of privacy.  I’m sure any good conservative would agree with me.  I’m also sure that the President and the First Lady will do whatever is necessary to defend the institution of marriage.  

See what happens when you check out for more than a few minutes at a time?  I take my work with the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy so seriously, I haven’t even billed Karl Rove for helping them out on this one.

(next thoughts on Katharine Mcphee and bulimia)
Chancelucky: Katharine McPhee Tells All and Learning to Listen(American Idol)

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Would it be Wrong of Me to Ask Why Now? (Miami Terrorist Arrests)

First, I want to make clear that if there were a terrorist cell of any kind, I’m very glad and grateful that our government has the capacity to find it and break it up.  Now that I’ve said it, I have to bring up some of the peculiar aspects of this most recent arrest.  First, five of the suspects are American citizens.  Second, while they may have tried to contact Al Qaeda, it doesn’t appear that any of the seven are Moslem.  The local Mosques deny that any of these men were members of the Moslem community.  Third, they didn’t have any weapons or explosives.  

For those advocating profiling of terror suspects, these facts pose a few problems.  First, it’s one thing if those living outside the United States allegedly hate the United States and freedom and democracy so much that they want to kill us.  What am I supposed to make of the fact that five Americans are angry or crazy enough to plot to blow up the Sears Tower?  They also don’t simply appear to be thugs or at least not simple ones.  One of the reports suggests that members of this group were actively involved in providing food and clothes for the poorest people in perhaps the most impoverished area of Miami, Liberty City. I guess I shouldn't mention that Congress recently refused to raise the Federal minimum wage from 5.15/hour.   

The party line has been that terrorists are jealous of America, so they want to blow us up.  The actual terrorists who have gone to trial have tended to be individuals like Moussaoui and Richard Reid who managed in any number of ways to appear too insane to be a reliable part of an intricate plot that would call for months of secrecy, careful planning, and demand that a number of elements of the plot be executed competently.  In fact, the closest this group appears to have gotten to Al Qaeda was to contact an FBI undercover agent posing as an Al Qaeda operative.  This is the biggest domestic terrorist arrest in two years?  With all due respect to the fine agents who worked this case, if this is the most tangible evidence of the effectiveness of the Department of Homeland Security and terrorism is that real and big a threat here….well you castch my drift….

I pair this with Rick Santorum and Peter Hoekstra’s announcement of intelligence data of the 500 WMD found in Iraq.  It turns out that they were found in 2004 and it’s 500 shell casings that may have contained sarin and/or mustard gas from before the 1991 war.  In other words, they’re not proof that Saddam had an active WMD program of any kind on the eve of the war.  Or that’s the best you’ve got after three years of occupation to show that Saddam was an imminent threat?

Can I ask a question?   Why don’t either of these news items make me feel either safer or more confident in the people running this country?  

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

AVP Sacramento Qualifier (volleyball)

Beach Volleyball-The Base of the Iceberg

During the 2005 Super Bowl, a tv commercial aired with Kerri Walsh and Misty May trekking to an iceberg to play beach volleyball in their swimsuits. Eventually, the ball rolls off the court and into the ice cold water and the players ro sham bo to determine who has to go get it.  I’m not sure that the ad inspired Visa sales, but it may be the only volleyball ad ever to appear during the Super Bowl, the most-watched sportscast in America.  The iceberg though does serve as an apt metaphor for the sport. May and Walsh are certainly part of the high profile ten percent of the sport whom one gets to see above the surface, but at minimum some ninety percent of the sport can’t be seen unless you’re willing to put in considerable effort to find it.

This may be the first time that Sacramento in the middle of June and base of the iceberg have ever appeared in the same sentence, but that’s exactly what the Sacramento AVP qualifier last Thursday happened to represent. Volleyball remains a minor sport in this country (despite impressive participation levels among teenaged girls) and the Beach version has a disproportionately high profile both for the sport as a whole and relative to the indoor game.  For the last couple years, pretty much every weekend of the tour’s twenty three stops winds up on national television on weekend afternoons.  In general, you only see the final and on the women’s side one half of the final has consistently included May-Treanor and Walsh.

72 teams or 144 players entered the women’s side of the Sacramento AVP event.  Realistically none of the roughly 80 teams in the qualifier Sunday were going to make it to next weekend’s TV broadcast except in the sideline crowd shots.  Only 4 of the 40 teams from the Thursday’s women’s draw would even make it to the main draw of 32 teams on Friday.   There were 76 men’s teams in the tournament.  One of the smarter things Mr. Holly Mcpeak, Leonard Armato, the current chief operator of the AVP did  was to combine the men’s and women’s tours into a single product which means that men can pretend that they’re there to see the men play rather than to watch women in bikinis. There are always lots of people with cameras at sporting events, but it seems that beach volleyball draws more than its share of photography buffs.  

Until last week, I’d never seen an AVP event live, so it may seem  odd that I chose to go to the qualifier.  The reason is simple - I went mainly because my daughter’s high school coach, Elsa Stegemann Binder (UOP), had decided that she wasn’t done playing and wanted to give the AVP, the only professional volleyball in America, a try.  Sacramento is the tour’s only stop in Northern California.  It takes a while to get back into competitive form after not playing seriously for more than a year.  It also usually takes a while to make the transition from the indoor version to beach.  The result is that my best chance to see Elsa and her partner Charnette Fair (Minnesota)  play was to get to my home town during the qualifying rounds which started  at eight in the morning on Thursday.  

First the good news, watching the qualifying rounds is free.  The bad news is Cal Expo charges you seven dollars to park your car.  If Cal Expo and Sacramento don’t exactly conjure images of the ocean for you, you’re not alone.  Armato made the decision to promote the sport as a lifestyle.  Several years ago, I remember seeing a sand court set up for a tournament next to the University of Minnesota.

The acres of asphalt at the Expo that normally house roller coasters, water rides, and bumper cars during the fair season at the end of the summer got transformed by Teichert Construction into a chunk of Huntington Beach sans the Pacific Ocean.  This included eight railway-tie  plastic-linered boxes filled with some two thousand tons of sand, several tents, and the same stadium arrangement for the feature court that you see on tv most Sundays.   It looks from afar like the movie Gladiator with sunblock and bathing suits. Between the courts, a series of trailers sold carnival food and beach wear.   Next to the vertex, there was also a tent that lets you get photographed with the Jose Cuervo girls who for some reason decided to skip the qualifier. Women’s beach volleyball walks a not so fine line between feminism and blatant exploitation of the near-naked babes side of the sport.  (I still get a surprising number of searches on my website for pictures of Rachel Wacholder) In any case, the atmosphere between AVP matches is certainly far more pleasant than your average high school or college gym and certainly better than maneuvering the ice chest and folding chair obstacle course at the Reno Convention Center unless you’re the Church Lady.  

As it happened, the only other people in the parking lot when I got to Cal Expo happened to be the rest of the El Molino connection to Elsa Binder who coached there for four years. Bear Grassl, former El Mo coach now the coach at Sonoma State-Leslie Mckinney-Grassl (St. Mary’s) the school’s first volleyball star, its soon to be JV Coach (she used to be the co-coach of the varsity and also was Nicole Branagh’s high school coach), current math teacher there, Grassl’s wife, and Elsa Binder’s cousin by marriage- their two sons- and Crystal Matich (Santa Clara) my older daughter’s successor and my younger daughter’s predecessor on the right side for the El Molino volleyball team were unloading their van.  Most of the haul seemed to be big yellow metal Tonka trucks brought to keep the children busy.  Volleyball is a small-deeply interconnected world.  Volleyball in Sonoma County sometimes resembles marriages in the Ozarks.  Between the five of us, we accounted for some twenty years of volleyball at that one high school.

We walked into together and it seemed as if every third person at the qualifier came up to say”Hi” to someone in the group (other than me of course)  I’d have to say that’s never happened to me at a professional basketball, football, or baseball game.  

One of the challenges for the tour in all its incarnations has been to both make it more businesslike while retaining the free-spirited charm of the sport itself.  The qualifier retains the latter in many ways.  No one knows court assignments or times until they post a sheet of butcher paper with the draws for the men and women’s teams on a kiosk near the stadium court.  There are no names posted by the matches themselves.  On most of the courts, there’s no way to track the score.  The only official is whoever is in the chair.  This gives the tournament the authentic feel of two pairs of players who just picked up a ball and decided to have it out on a net hastily set up in the sand.  While there’s a certain purity to this, it also makes it really hard to figure out what’s going on and almost impossible to tell who’s playing as you wander from match to match.  

One of the surprising things about an AVP qualifier is that there are some very recognizable names playing on Thursday (at least to volleyball fans).  For instance Jose Loiola who has 55 tournament titles was qualifying with Mike Morrison, as it turns out unsuccessfully.  A couple people commented that Loiola, who used to be featured in photos in Volleyball Magazine with hands above the top of the antennae, seemed to be playing mostly backrow while Morrison did the heavy-lifting at the net.  There were a range  of standouts from the women’s indoor game from Julie Bremner Romias (UCLA) who I assume competes on the beach between shifts as a practicing physician to the fifteen year old Alexandra Jupiter who won two matches on Thursday with her partner Leilani Kamahoa Kamahoa, an assistant coach at Seattle Pacific.  In addition, I recognized April Ross, Jamie Gregory, Kaeo Burdine, Tara Conrad, Chrissie Zartman, and Stacy Rouwenhorst.

Actually, one of the fascinating things about the beach version is that success indoors doesn’t necessarily translate into success in the sand.  It’s common in the qualifiers for well known indoor players to lose to teams of players made up of individuals who had modest college careers or in some cases did not play college at all.  Like tennis doubles, the best teams tend to be the best two players together not the best two single players.  

Because there is more open space on the court, even on the short court, there also seem to be many different ways to win in beach.  The basic strategy in the indoor version, at least in America, is to hit higher, harder, and more consistently than your opponent.  In one day on the beach, I saw teams win over the top, going side to side, going short and long, and by doing any of the four at unpredictable times.  In addition, because there are just two players on the court both have to do a little bit of everything.  As a result, the range of ages, body types, and styles is much more varied than the indoor version where all but a few teams have big tall players up front who hit and block and smaller ball handling types in the back row.  Even the variety of pairings can be fascinating.  You’ll find two tall long players, Mutt and Jeff pairs, two medium-sized players, and even occasionally two small players (the Lindquists for instance) all managing to be competitive on the beach.

Binder and Fair both look like they could be bodybuilders.  Both hit extremely well,as well if not better than any of the women at the qualifier.  Fair hits high and down.  Binder hits harder and at sharper angles, occasionally making the tape marking the sideline buckle and jump.  In their first match with Chrissie Zartman (UCLA) who is one of the smallest players on the tour at what looked to be an optimistic 5’5” and Sarah White (SDSU) who at 6’3” is one of the tallest, the roles and strategy seemed clear.  Zartman and White served Fair 95% of the time which generally made Fair the passer/hitter and Binder the setter.  The only problem was that the 6’0” Fair dominated the matchup at the net with the taller White who also had problems putting the ball away consistently.  Zartman made several spectacular saves near the baseline.  Binder also made some amazing backrow plays, on two occasions diving into the sand and into the sideline to save points, enough to balance off whatever points Zartman happened to save.  On match point at 19-20 in the second game, Zartman and White rather suddenly switched strategies and Zartman wound up one on one at the net with Fair.  It didn’t work.  

I wandered over to glimpse some of the other matches and while the lack of posted scores and names made it a little hard to know who was who and what the score was at any given point, it was also clear that the overall level of play was very high indeed.  Even this, the base of the AVP iceberg is highly competitive-entertaining volleyball filled with how’d he or she do that plays.  In particular, I watched Claire Robertson (Northern Arizona) and Tiffany Rodriguez (Arizona) methodically take apart Stacy Millichap (UCLA) and Christina Hinds (Pepperdine) without either team seeming to hit a ball hard.  Since Robertson and Rodriguez were next up for Binder and Fair, I found myself seeing the matchup with an indoor mindset as I saw visions of Fair’s blocking and hitting and Binder’s hitting dominating the match.

As the second match approached, it was also getting hotter.  I noticed several players had to go from playing barefoot to “sand socks”.  Although the rallies in Beach are often shorter and fewer in number than the college women’s game, the Beach version is aerobically much more demanding because you are covering more of the court and handling at least three times as many balls.  Heat, sun, wind all become factors as the day wears on and it means that strategies change as conditions change. By the time of the second match, it was hot to the point where players kept coming up to the hose in the corner of the stadium court to rinse themselves off and none of the sparse crowd was willing to sit in the main bleachers directly in the sun.

Throughout the first game Robertson and Rodriguez dominated the match by running the same simple play.  Robertson would pass any serve and Rodriguez would bump set the ball straight up in the middle of the court about a foot off the net.  Robertson would then go up straight on with Fair then look to see which way Binder was going to move in the backrow, then drop the ball either to the right or left  just out of Fair’s very long outstretched arms.  In addition, instead of serving Fair they served Binder who passes very well and hits very well but this exposed Fair’s relative inexperience as a beach setter.  Fair is a player with a huge upside on the beach, but I suspect that she hasn’t played a lot of backrow in her career.

Whatever hitting and blocking that Binder and Fair managed in their first match basically disappeared because they simply couldn’t get the ball in positions where they could play their style.  It also helped that Robertson and Rodriguez were digging Binder’s swings enough to turn what had been an 80-20 proposition in match 1 into something like 60-40.  Robertson and Rodriguez also seemed lighter-footed in the sand which combined with Binder-Fair having to hit three balls well to score a single point and the mounting heat to give the more experienced pair the tactical high ground and an easy first game.  With a  couple notable exceptions on blocks by Rodriguez, Robertson and Rodriguez won the first game entirely by going side to side with the ball instead of over and down.  

The second game started in much the same fashion, then Binder/Fair made an adjustment on defense and came back from 9-12, without a scoreboard it was hard to tell.  Because the sides switch every seven points, one gets very good very quickly at using multiples of seven as a cue to the actual score.  At one point, the score was confusing enough that I let Leslie Grassl who was holding her younger son in her lap talk me into going up to the ref during the timeout to get the score.  Again, I’ve never talked to the ref at any other professional sports event.  Fair started  getting a hand on balls tipped to the side by Rodriguez/Robertson.  Binder also began disguising  her guess on the drop shot just a bit longer.  After Binder saved a ball diving to the left sideline then diving to the right sideline on the same point with her last dig crossing over the net and hitting the tape about six behind the net on the other side, Binder and Fair suddenly had their 19th point.  Binder then hit a low hard serve the hit the right sideline tape to give them their first game point of the match at 20-18.  

On game point, in beach the teams change sides.  With Robertson and Rodriguez both guessing right side again on the next serve, Binder got off a mirror image of her last serve to the left sideline only it went six inches wide.  The game and match went on for 18 more points that included a couple great swings by Fair, several incredible saves by Robertson and Rodriguez, Binder’s usual hard swings to the sidelines, a great kill by Rodriguez, until Binder/Fair made consecutive mistakes to end the match.

Unlike a professional league where all players are paid and travel expenses absorbed by the team owners or the league, AVP is a tour.  Teams are independent contractors who cover their airfare, food, training costs out of pocket against winnings and endorsements.  Occasionally, with  some success, they find sponsors but most who have sponsors only get a small percentage of their expenses paid. If you are not one of the three teams who win three matches in the qualifier, you make no money.  If you lose in an early round of the main draw, you might earn your motel room back.  I overheard one player looking for a place to stay in Sacramento that evening after her team had been eliminated.  One of the issues is that you buy your plane ticket to leave on Saturday night just in case you make the draw.  Just doing the math, I’d guess it costs about thirty thousand dollars a year to keep a player in 15-16 events for the year. If you look at the money list, you’ll see that only a handful of pairs are even breaking even as professionals.  Most must keep some sort of day job that can accommodate their trips to tournaments.  

That said, the fact that the 23 tour stops regularly have 30-40 pairs in the qualifiers on the men’s and women’s side testifies to how many players simply want to keep playing at the highest possible level. In the meantime, the Darwinian pressures of the tour with its premium on finding a partner who has enough points to keep you from having to deal with the extra day and risk of the qualifier make the partnerships between players very volatile. Binder and Fair did not start the season together and there were dropped balls, missed signals, and moments when they didn’t read  the other’s position, signs that this was just their fifth tournament of playing as a pair.

Although the economic structure of the AVP is similar to golf or tennis, the team sport aspect makes a difference in the way players interact.  In tennis for instance, it’s very rare for a top ten player to socialize or hit with a qualifier.  As a lone wolf sport, those at one end of the food chain try to mark their differences from those on the margins.  While some of these separations exist, Kerri Walsh was wandering the qualifier in the afternoon doing interviews but also just socializing and cheering on various friends.  The players too tend to be quite friendly with one another before and after matches and across the men’s and the women’s parts of the tour.  

At this point, I can’t honestly say if there will be an AVP on tv five years from now.  I’m  very nervous about the fact that even volleyball people don’t know the names of most of the better players on the men’s tour beyond Karch Kiraly, who is almost as old as Julio Franco, and Mike Lambert.  On the women’s side, Walsh and May are genuinely famous and McPeak, Wacholder, and Youngs have a reasonable level of name recognition, but there needs to be at least fifteen or twenty more names in the mix before the tour will have hit a “sports talk” kind of critical mass.  Try the test yourself. Ordinary folk who follow golf even a little can recognize the names of at least a dozen players beyond Tiger on the PGA tour.  On the LPGA Annika Sorenstam and Michelle Wie are actual celebrities.  In women’s tennis, at least half a dozen players have some level of recognition, though I fear that Anna Kournikova is still much better known than the bottom half of the current top ten.  Of course, AVP has Amber Willey (UNC) who paired with actress Molly Sims (Vegas and SI Swimwear Issue)  for one tournament ( one of the scores was 21-8).  One big step would be to show something other than the final on television.  I would point out that very few sports fans can name male tennis players other than Federer and Nadal, but it’s felt by many that the men’s tour is in some trouble because of it.  In the meantime, AVP has a somewhat similar profile to Arena Football, but may be on more questionable structural ground.  At the same time, I do believe that Armato has done an admirable job of both promoting the tour and identifying a marketing niche for it as a cross between a lifestyle and a sport.  

I also have no idea if Binder and Fair will get through the adjustment process to the beach.  I would guess they are a physical match for any team at the top, but it appears to be a long haul.  In some ways the beach version is familiar, in that the skills are very similar, but the game and tactics can be surprisingly different.  It’s very hard to be accomplished in one form of a sport and then start at the bottom in an incarnation that seems so similar.  One thing that is clear is that most of the players seem to be having fun even if they aren’t yet winning as often as they think they ought to be.  Imagine developing a talent and having nothing to do with it after age 21.  I suspect, many are just happy to be able to keep playing and dreaming.

I do know that it’s genuinely fun to watch beach volleyball and that the product itself is strong even with that part of the iceberg most of the public never sees.  I hope the AVP prospers and grows before Al Gore turns out to be right.

Link to my other volleyball articles


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Monday, June 19, 2006

Cornered (thoughts on Iraq)

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the literal significance of “turning corners”.  My daughter has had her learner’s permit for five months now.  As I monitor her from my passenger seat, I’m forced to remember how much goes into learning how to turn corners in a vehicle.  How fast do you go?  What do you look at?  When do you start going hand over hand with the steering wheel?  She has to learn each of these skills.  Even more interesting, it takes a while to develop a driver’s sense of direction when driving from place to place.  Early on, we were headed to the gym, a place we’ve driven her dozens of times, and she turned the wrong way onto a one way street.  Fortunately, there was no other traffic.

For the first few weeks, I had to make sure to warn her before we were turning and which direction we would be doing the turning, because she was concentrating so hard on the physical mechanics of turning the car that she couldn’t really think about where she was going.  Even then, we’d leave a little early because if you make the wrong turn once, it generally takes two more turns to get going back in the correct direction.  Fortunately, she’s getting the hang of it.

As I’ve thought about all that’s involved in literally turning a corner, I find myself even more puzzled by its figurative use, as in event X means that we’ve turned a corner in the war in Iraq.   Over the last three years, the corner turning event keeps changing.  Once it was the fall of Baghdad, another time it was the capture of Saddam, reaching agreement with Al Sadr,  passage of the Iraqi Constitution, the selection of a Prime Minister, and most recently it was the killing of Al Zarqawi.  That’s a lot of turning!

One thing that puzzled me is that the fastest way to get from point A to point B tends to be a straight line, that is unless we’re talking the general theory of relativity and we all know that conservatives aren’t comfortable with relativism.  Anyway, what’s with all these corners?  If I follow the metaphor literally, it suggests that we were either headed in the wrong direction at several points (the reason you have to turn the corner in the first place) or worse we didn’t know where we were headed at all.  In fact, when I’ve gotten lost with my daughter we turn any number of corners before we find whatever landmark or street that lets us know we’re finally headed in the right direction.

Anyway, I’ve decide that the next time someone tells me about some event that means we’ve finally “turned the corner” in this war, I’m going to have to corner that person and ask that person to show me the road map that got us there, that shows us where we’re supposed to be going, and explain to me just why we wasted so much gas getting there.  

My wife hates it when I get lost and refuse to ask for directions.  You know what I tell her when that happens.  I say “I’m the decider.  I’m driving and I’m going to get us there.  I think the last turn just another mile away.  We’re almost there, I’m sure of it.”

She never believes me, of course, because she always seems to know when I’m lost before I realize/admit it myself.  When it gets really bad, she just tells me to pull over somewhere to ask directions. Either that or she threatens to make us go home instead since she is the real decider.    

This is from Yeats, “The Second Coming”

Turning and turning
Within the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer
Things fall apart
The center cannot hold
And a blood dimmed tide
Is loosed upon the world

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Theobertarian Dictionary 8 "Priorities" (Zarqawi, Gay Marriage, Flag burning, etc)

I was thinking about a short story by Ursula Leguin, The One Who Walks Away from Omelas, which deals with the idea of social tradeoffs in the  starkly vivid way that ficition has of connecting the dots in the haze of the real world.  Leguin’s inspiration for her story was Shirley Jackson’s, The Lottery, a New Yorker story that caused hundreds of subscription cancellations.  Supposedly for the rest of her life, people pestered Shirley Jackson with the question, “Where the heck is this barbaric town?” or alternatively “Tell me where it is, so I can go watch.”

Shirley Jackson would always have to explain that there was no such real town, at least that she knew of, and she always refused to discuss any greater meaning for the story itself.  All this started me thinking which in my case usually looks a lot like day dreaming.  The difference these days is what used to be passing thoughts now wind up in this blog.  I found myself having passing thoughts about some of the following situations.

So through the magic of repeated usage,  I am learning the Theobertarian definition of “Priorities”:

What if the 500 pound bomb used to execute Zarqawi had simply been a videotaped beheading?  Not many people have mentioned that the other guy killed with Zarqawi was his “spiritual advisor”.  Imagine if someone who hated the President decided to blow him up while he happened to be in church.  Actually, that’s not as likely as most people have been led to believe.  Like Ronald Reagan, W apparently doesn’t attend church all that regularly himself.  In any case, who else would you be willing to blow up in order to get Zarqawi?  Would it have been an event worth celebrating if it were three or four little children?  What if they used stem cells from a non-approved line to make the bomb that killed the guy?  Talk about culture of life!

So, what price would you pay to get rid of a serial killer like Zarqawi (assuming he was as directly responsible for all those deaths like most seem to believe)?

How many Iraqi children would you kill to make sure that Gays aren’t allowed to marry legally?  At some point, you have  a certain amount of time to talk and get things solved.  If you spend a lot of time and resources on the one, it’s time taken away from dealing with the other.  We might have let 10-15 die in exchange for that debate.  But saving marriage is important because, well duh, family and children are fundamental institutions in our society that deserve their own constitutional amendment.  So what are family values worth?  After all, look how well prohibition worked.

Would you give up your most significant civil liberty so no one burns an American flag and gets away with it?  Truth is that many Americans believe that like all the other finest things in life, Civil Liberties aren’t just for everybody.  For example, those three guys who hung themselves at Gauntanamo didn’t deserve a trial or even charges because someone told us they were way too dangerous.  The suicides were, after all, a  publicity stunt to hurt America’s image.  Clearly, it is not the same thing as say being tortured by dogs snapping at your genitals, being jump started like a car battery, or being forced to be part of a stack of naked-hooded men (btw about that gay marriage thing?)  in that this was not an activity planned by their hosts.  How is it our fault if one of these three suicides turns out to be some guy who happened to be innocent and got stuck in Cuba indefinitely?

On the other hand, Karl Rove, got every benefit of his civil liberties when he was called to testify before the grand jury five times.  He had an attorney, he was told when and if he would be charged with a crime, he had freedom of movement in the meantime.  Need I mention that not being indicted for an act of terrorism against those who speak out against their governement is the equivalent of winning the Nobel Prize, being beatified, or being awarded with the Medal of Freedom (well maybe scratch that last one).  Not getting indicted after an extensive investigation suggests that you have behaved in exemplary fashion and is the clearest imaginable sign that you deserve your boss’s every confidence.  I know this, because the President just told me so. In the meantime, I’m waiting for Barry Bonds to get a White House appointment as head of the FDA.

We do need to understand that 9/11 changed America and makes a flag amendment more necessary than ever.  After all, the flag is now being soiled in so many other ways, we’re going to need a law to make sure that people respect it.  In fact, our government respects the flag so much that they won’t permit anyone to photograph flag-draped coffins so no one will think about people actually dying on behalf of our flag.

How much would you pay for a really good photo opportunity?  Is it worth the price of several good pre-school programs?  Maybe a couple full time researchers on alternative energy sources?  The President doesn’t have to answer that question about that shot of him shaking hands with Nouri Al-Maliki, the new Iraqi prime minister.  What better sign of the stability of the Iraqi government than the fact that this is their second prime minister in the first six months?  The President doesn’t have to answer that question because he doesn’t pay for the photo, we taxpayers do.  Don’t worry, if you make a whole lot of money, he’s already taking steps to make sure you pay less personally for that trip.  Doesn’t the White House know that you save a bunch of money if you book two weeks in advance and stay overnight on a Saturday.  One time he flew there like the day before Thanksgiving which is clearly the most expensive day of the year to book a flight on short notice.  At least if he was going to do that, they could have given him a real turkey to carve.

I still say, you want to show me a real turning point in the war, maybe you can give a speech in the middle of Baghdad.  Doesn’t the fact that they have to sneak you in suggest that things are still bad even worse than they were that Thanksgiving?   And what is this thing you have about war zones and no one knowing exactly where you are until it’s absolutely necessary?  Fwiw, I like surprise parties too, but Presidential visits in countries that are truly under control don’t looke like installments on “Punked”.  Could you see maybe Al-Maliki sitting in the bathroom with someone knocking on the door going, “Mr. Prime Minister” the President of the United States has come to visit, you need to come out right away before they helicopter him out of the green zone and you better shave cause they’ve got a bunch of photographers here too and you’re going to be in every paper in the world in the next five minutes.  Maliki, pulls up his pants, flushes, cuts himself shaving a couple times, runs to the closet for his good suit with the flattering body armor, and Ashton Kutcher pops out with a camera crew.

Next week, the Prime Minister of Iraq could be on “Pimp My Ride”  with maybe an uparmored Humvee.  Am I the only one who thinks it would be interesting to like redo a homeless person’s shopping cart on that show?

How many children’s lives would you stunt in the name of I earned it so I get to do what I want with it?  I suppose if you made the money, it is yours.  Look at Ken Lay, he built a house with the money he earned, or was that the money of the thousands of employees and shareholders he ripped off?  Gets so confusing sometimes to figure out who really earned it.  Look at Paris Hilton, Richard Mellon-Scafie, and Eddie DeBartolo.  Each of them, earned it right from the beginning.  Okay, so they inherited it, but that means someone in their family earned it so they could keep it.

You’re right, it should be their money, not the government’s money.  Okay, but what about it being money for those children who deserve decent health care, education, and social services so they have a chance to grow up and compete to earn it too?  Just because you earned it, doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t share it.  So you don’t want to give the money to the government.  May I ask what you’re really spending it on and whom it benefits?

There’s a lot of talk about eliminating the Federal inheritance tax.  I say this as someone who inherited money himself at one time.  Wouldn’t a society that believes in the invisible hand and the power of the free market have a 100% inheritance tax?  In that way, economic Darwinism would really identify the most deserving instead of those who just happened to be related by blood to say Ken Lay or paragons of free market virtue  and predatory capitalism like J.D. Rockefeller and Bill Gates.  

I actually agree with pretty much everything the Gates Foundation promotes for high school reform, but I don’t necessarily base my faith on the promise that things will get better on that lone private initiative.  Government does some things better than those who “earned it” do out of largesse.  One of those things is to ensure access to quality education for all from pre-school to the end of college or trade school.

I say we look to better examples of those who earned it that are dedicated to government service like Halliburton.  Think of the billions they generate by investing and being invested in by government.  Surely, they’ve earned those no bid contracts with the blood of thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis.  As the President says, America fights for a clear vision for the future and that’s a free enterprise system exemplified by companies like Halliburton.  The enemy in the War on Terrorism fights for nothing affirmative, which explains why they are so willing to blow themselves up on behalf of their cause while none of the Bush or Cheney family will on behalf of theirs.

The simple fact is that the Lottery is very real except in 2006 it’s millions of American children.  Welcome to Omelas, population 260 million,  Love it or Leave it!
More from the Theobertarian Dictionary


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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

NCVA Board Meeting (volleyball)

Four members of the parent group met with the NCVA board last night on June 11, 2006 for 34 minutes. The NCVA is in a warehouse style building on the south end of San Francisco. I looked to see if all the floors were sport court, which turned out to be not the case. All of the board was present with the exception of Ed Cohen who was absent on a personal matter. The five board members were very welcoming.
Our time consisted of a power point presentation, written and presented by another member of the parent group. (he did a great job btw) At the end of the presentation, the board thanked us and promised to get back to us on our proposals. I did ask if board meetings in general were open or closed and there was no direct answer. Possibly the most uncomfortable moment came with the slide that compares the NCVA's perception of itself with what's said about the NCVA. One member of the board acknowledged the perceptions, but said that he had found them not to be true in his experience on the board. The other members of the board did not respond.

I believe that one thing that may need to be sorted out once and for all is do these "perceptions of NCVA" have basis in reality as part of a clear pattern. While the perception is a problem for the organization regardless, the remedy is very different if the Perception is Reflective of real Patterns and Practices at NCVA. I also suspect that the board (quite fairly) needs to see the actual evidence. They did not (nor would I expect them to) share any evidence they may have seen in the past. The parent group is quite willing to present anything that seems credible when someone is willing to confirm it, but it can not and will not push forward concerns that other people won't stand behind.

As a group, the parents have put a great deal of work into pushing for a Region that is accountable and transparent. Certainly, progress has been made in these areas and much work remains regardless. We won't, however, do other individuals' work for them. We can, for instance, ensure that there is a forum, but at the end of the day we're just parents with limited direct experience in some of the areas that others have complained about.

I couldn't tell you what the ultimate response to this will be. There are certain things I have figured out.
1) I really did start as a parent who called the NCVA one day asking to go see a board meeting.
2) At times this process has felt like playing Texas Hold'em
3) If NCVA is to become a transparent-accountable institution for ordinary parents, this is the first of many meetings and just the beginning of a long process of engagement.
4) We have been very fortunate to have the benefit of the intensive participation of some individuals whose time as parents of Juniors is coming to an end. It's critical that more individuals with a longer-term stake in this process get involved. My own daughter has 2 years left. After that, I'd have to be an NCVA volley-grandparent.
5) For some reason I suddenly feel this stake in attending UOP Men's and Whitman College Women's volleyball matches when they come to the Bay Area. I've learned the importance and power of parents across clubs, levels, etc. to take the time to connect with one another.

The Power Point presentation is digested below.

NCVA ParentBill of Rights
We believe that parents have rights and that their concerns are reasonable and important.
What Parents Want from Their Region

* Safe, healthy playing environments for their children

* Clearly-identified procedures for dealing with problems

* Basic information about where their money is going (financial accountability)

* Governance that is open, democratic, accountable, and participatory as a model of adult life for their children.

* Most of all, Parents want to be treated and respected as constituents, not labeled as “customers.”

How is the Region Perceived?

* How NCVA sees itself…

* Dedicated

* Responsive

* Service-oriented

* Problem Solvers

* Innovative

* Expanding

* Well-organized

How is the Region Perceived?

* How others see NCVA…

* Closed

* Non-communicative

* Inefficient

* Run as a family business instead of for the benefit of the Region

* Unfriendly

* Untrustworthy

* Not Accountable

* No clear lines of authority or procedures

What We Have Seen Thus Far

* The Region Staff has been responsive and taken time to meet with us.

* It took more than two months to see bylaws.

* The Region never provided financial information on its own. (technical violation of IRS Code)

* 4 Parents were given 30 minutes to present at a board meeting which is otherwise made up entirely of closed sessions.

* Which set of perceptions from the previous slide is the better match?

Safe Physical Environment

* Problem – There are cases every season where teams are forced to compete in unsafe conditions. Parents have the right to know that their child will be physically and emotionally safe at NCVA-sanctioned events.

* Solution 1 – Assure that tournament venues meet minimum safety and human factors standards (level playing courts, no obstructions, adequate restroom facilities, etc.).

* Solution 2 – Parents have the right to know that the tournament director or another responsible person experienced and trained in first-aid will be present at all tournaments.

* Solution 3 – Prompt reviews of background checks of club coaches and chaperones.

Safe Emotional Environment

* Problem – Club tryouts occur during the high school volleyball season and provide the opportunity for ethical lapses where some coaches put undue pressure on their high school players to try out at certain clubs and vice-versa.

* Solution – Prohibit club tryouts until after the completion of the high school volleyball season marked by the State Championships. NCVA should take a strong stand against coercive behavior and should pursue reports of violations with vigor.

Parent Participation on NCVA Board

* Problem – Even though they are the source of the majority of all operating revenues for the Association, parents often feel disenfranchised and disconnected from the NCVA.

* Solution – Make sure at all times that at least 25% of voting Board members are parents of actively participating junior volleyball players, including a boy’s parent. At a minimum, there should be two Parent Reps on the Board at all times.

Improve NCVA Board openness

* Problem – Parents don’t know who their Board of Directors, or NCVA Staff members are, how they got there, or what they do.

* Solution 1 – Add Board member bios and contact info on NCVA website.

* Solution 2 – Open up more Board positions for parent reps.

* Solution 3 – Post Board meeting minutes and upcoming meeting dates and agendas on the NCVA website.

* Solution 4 – Post Staff positions, background and responsibilities on website.

* Solution 5 – Establish an Executive Committee comprised of Board of Directors, excluding any staff or management of NCVA, whose responsibility is to evaluate and report on the overall performance of the NCVA.

Sharing of Financial Health

* Problem – Parents have no idea where their money is going or if it is being spent wisely.

* Solution 1 – Present the Operating Budget and financial performance against the budget.

* Solution 2 – Share the capital investments and key balance sheet items.

* Solution 3 – Plan as a team to gain consensus on both annual and long term objectives and plans.

* Solution 4 – Conduct Periodic Independent Audits and Publish the Results.

Improve NCVA Website Communications

* Problem – NCVA website is not user-friendly. Parents have trouble accessing information on NCVA Policies and Procedures, Standards and Accountability.

* Solution – Make website more user friendly – where prominent links take the user to relevant, up-to-date information.

Improve NCVA Website Communications

* Problem – “People barrage the NCVA Staff with inappropriate questions.”

* Solution – Add a “FAQ” section to the NCVA website that links users directly to answers to their most frequently asked questions.

* Post tournament sites, team seedings, competition results in a timely manner, OR post a timely explanation for why the information is being delayed.

* Use website front page headlines to respond to "hot issues," e.g., S.J. Convention Center “tent” at 17/18 Power League Qualifier.

Clear Courteous Communication with Staff

* Problem – Many Parents and Club Directors report that they are not always treated with courtesy and respect by members of the NCVA staff.

* Solution 1 – All email communications sent to NCVA should be acknowledged immediately via autoresponder so that the sender knows their email has been received and will not be ignored. Phone calls should be promptly returned if not handled in real-time.

* Solution 2 – Possible training regarding contact with their constituency for NCVA staff.

Thank you for your time.We hope you will seriously consider these issues, and we look forward to continuing this discussion at the next Board meeting.

NCVA Parent Group

Link to my other volleyball articles


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Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Ancestor Room (fiction)

Any number of stories in my family clearly never were true. My great great grandfather never had a brown cow that produced chocolate milk. I have no ancestor who visited the moon on a giant kite pulled by geese. No family members inherited a dragon’s egg that their descendants then guarded for three continuous centuries as they waited for it to hatch in our village in Southeast China. For the most part, these were my grandfather’s stories.

It was his habit to gather his available grandchildren in what we called the “ancestor room” of the house.  The space wasn’t exactly a separate room as much as it was the smaller part of a single L-shaped space shared with the grand piano and chandelier of the living room. The ancestor room was a hundred and sixty square feet of Confucian China separated from the living room by a small stretch of hardwood floor and an archway. On the other end, a single step and a curtained-glass door separated the ancestor room from my grandfather’s office with its three telephones, swivel chair, and electric adding machine.  In this way, the living and the dead in my Grandfather’s house stayed in constant though not direct view of one another.

In the early fifties, Mao banned Confucian rituals in China. Fifteen years later, it became the policy of the Communists to replace ancestor worship with Mao worship.  During that time, traditionalist Chinese hid altars behind curtains or in closets and gave up the practice of burning incense lest the odor tip off an unsympathetic neighbor or passerby.  There are many stories from the Cultural Revolution of especially clever families simply putting a portrait of Mao up above their altars then pulling it away to reveal the portrait of their natural grandparents.

In that period, overseas Chinese had the luxury of practicing the rites of offering food, bowing, and burning incense to their grandparents openly in their homes.  Because no one could go back to China to observe the practices, the practices in each overseas household began to vary from the original with all practitioners gradually less and less certain about any shifts or changes in the rituals. Was it three sets of bows or just three bows?  Did one take the food away as the sun set or after the sun set?  Just how many sticks of incense did one have to burn at a time?

This is a  pattern in California with any peoples who stay there for any period of time.  California wineries were started with cuttings from French vineyards. Generations later a blight nearly wiped out the French wine industry which was then rescued by shipments of California vines returned to their biologically native soil and climate. It happened to all the customs and ways of people who stay in California. Mexican food added avocadoes, mounds of shredded lettuce,  snowballs of sour cream, and drinks made with tequila and crushed ice.  Guitars replaced church organs.  Cars became four-wheeled sculpture, carriages to drive around imaginary town squares in places that only had a single street to define the center of town.

After the cultural revolution, hundreds of California Chinese restored Confucius to their familial villages with pictures, banners of inspirational writings, and small statues. Like the taste of California grapes grown in French soil, no one knows what precisely may have shifted, disappeared, or been added in the exchange.

I’ve come to think of California as that place in the world that absorbs and changes its people’s histories and grafts their memories onto things that may or may not have actually happened. It’s the reason the movie industry flourished there once production moved from New York City. It had nothing to do with being able to film outdoors 365 days a year. It is the nature of this geological drifting island that belongs neither to the Western hemisphere nor the East that things be they vines, customs, memories, or dreams take root in California’s soil but never stay rooted there.

When I was a child though, Grandfather’s ancestor room seemed permanent and rooted enough to do its job of stretching across generations into the future. A thirty-inch tall bronze incense burner decorated with carved lions and dragons held the room’s center, a Confucian compass unfailingly pointing our family to its Chinese origins. A circular marble-topped table that never seemed to gather dust of any kind supported the incense burner. Out of fear that we might knock it over, our mothers insisted that we never play within two feet of the table.

The far wall held what was best described as floor to ceiling stained-teak altar that stood between two identical brass-knobbed storage cabinets. A set of metal incense burners sat alone on the highest shelf, dragons crawled up their legs and  sand filled the inside.  Three red textile banners fringed in gold thread hung above the incense. No one, even a visiting Chinese scholar, ever managed to translate the Chinese writing on the banners word for word.

To my boy cousins and myself, the most exciting object in the room sat in the highest shelf of the left-hand cabinet next to the altar.  That shelf held a cigar box with a flimsy tin latch that in turn held a revolver.  While my Grandfather looked to his ancestors to protect his household and family, that trust only went so far.  Both my Grandparents lived in constant fear that that someone would try to rob Paperson’s largest and fanciest domicle.  Their fear had basis.  In 1962 Uncle Leon, who was still living there with his wife and children, had to come out to the back porch and fire a shotgun in the air after the dog kept barking at three in the morning.  A pair of men were seen jumping off the far end of the garage into the alley behind the house.

My grandparents refused to call the sheriff . The deputies would have made the too ready connection between the owner of a household full of cash and the gambling house operating just a few blocks away.  After the robbery attempt, every member of the family went down the concrete steps in pairs to inspect the quarter inch hole just below the deadbolt drilled by the robbers.

Soon after, my grandparents proclaimed that the house was never to be left completely unoccupied.  One adult family member had to stay behind to guard it regardless of the importance of the event.  At the most literal level, my grandparents became prisoners of their own good fortune in America. The revolver was added to the household after Uncle Leon moved out a year later.  The grandchildren weren’t supposed to know about it, but of course we did.

When the adults weren’t watching, we would slip into the ancestor room, pull one of the black teak lion chairs next to the cabinets,  and  one of us would clamber to the top shelf.  That cousin, it was never me, would then bring the yellow cigar box down to the level of the lowest shelf of the cabinet so we could all stare at it.  If my older cousin Theo was the climber, he would stare at the gun while making us wait below for our turn. If we were especially brave, we would touch the black handle or the cylinders, but usually we wouldn’t dare touch the trigger or safety. Once done, we would take care to leave no evidence of our explorations of the ancestor room.

To anyone who wasn’t a young boy, the single most interesting item in the ancestor room were two black and white portraits the size of a tv tray that served as the focal point of the altar.  My grandfather hung them just high enough so that anyone looking at them always had to be looking up, but not so high that one couldn’t feel the presence of their subjects.

A man and a woman stared straight into the gunpowder flash of a tripod-mounted box camera as if they were seeing this optical miracle from the future for the first time. Both wore traditional Chinese dress. The man had on a padded jacket with cloth buttons and the woman wore a black suit of brocaded silk. Neither smiled. These were my grandfather’s parents, my great grandparents. I assume the photos were taken before my grandfather left China in the first decade of the 20th century or not long thereafter.

Neither of my great grandparents ever visited California.  Both died before my Grandfather, their fourth son, became a wealthy man. I don’t know what they did for a living. I don’t even know their names which should be a deep source of shame for anyone Chinese. I have no idea what they thought of their own son who became wealthy in California. Because all we had to go on was these two pictures, I was convinced that my greatgrandparents never smiled.

Other than that, I could tell you only two things about them for sure. They wore those Chinese version of yarmulkes and satin slippers instead of shoes. They expected us to kneel on pillows directly in front of them at least once a year, usually during Chinese New Year’s, and bow to them three times each time to assure that even descendants who knew them only as black and white photos continued to venerate them.

On these occasions, my grandmother would steam a chicken, surround it with oranges and a red ribbon, then place the chicken on the counter space below the portraits on the altar for a full afternoon. Later that evening, she would chop the chicken into two inch pieces which we would dip in oyster sauce and/or saltpeter.   As strange as it felt to eat offerings to the dead, we all had to consume at least a piece so that the family’s offering to the memory of our ancestors did not go to waste, the Confucian version of communion.
I would have preferred that my grandfather honor the memory of his own parents by telling us stories about who they were and what they did, something he always avoided. At that time, the model for ethnic family histories was Alex Haley’s  Roots, the first TV miniseries.  I even suggested it once in the ancestor room, but it horrified my grandfather who sputtered, “No one in you family was slave.  We always free.  This family not like that.”

Before I could say, “Alex Haley’s family didn’t have a choice,” my grandfather cut our ancestor session short by telling us that he had to work in his office.

There are two possibilities to explain why my Grandfather who clearly loved to tell stories never seemed to tell stories about his actual family, our ancestors. He never explained clearly what his own parents did for a living, the sorts of jokes they told, any odd habits they might have had, or things they might have done to or for one another.

My Grandfather left for California when he was seventeen years old. He may simply not have had any stories that he remembered. As Chinese as he seemed to us, the truth was that he’d spent his entire adult life in the United States. He did not marry until he was thirty two. He thus lived almost fifteen years in California with virtually no one to share his family stories. He may have substituted his more colorful lore of dragon’s eggs and magic cows  for drabber stories about generations of life as not particularly successful subsistence farmers in a river village that few family members ever left.  

Just looking at those portraits, it also seems obvious that my great grandparents weren’t much for telling stories themselves.  This is the sadder and more likely possibility. My grandfather was one of nine children of which four sons came to California. I don’t remember ever meeting any of my grandfather’s older brothers. He never spoke of them. We would occasionally meet people who would be introduced to us as my grandfather’s nephews and nieces, all of whom were extremely deferential to my grandfather and grandmother, but their level of formality always made them seem like something other than the close relatives that genealogy and custom would have implied.

Their perfunctory mention of their own parents around my grandfather suggests to me that he perhaps didn’t lack for stories as much as he simply didn’t feel comfortable sharing them with us.  How do you teach respect for elders, if say your own stories are filled with broken duties and strained family honor?  The Confucian duty was to honor one’s elders not necessarily to honor who they really were, what they did, or to specifically remember  less than honorable details. What would be the point of venerating what should best be forgotten?  

My Grandfather taught us to venerate our ancestors in the following way. He would sit on one of the black mahogany chairs that came from China in the back corner of his ancestor room that held a stout cabinet that stored  grandfather’s tobacco humidor and pipe collection. He was actually a short man, but no one ever thought of him as one.  He had a thin mustache that was always perfectly trimmed, a bald head, and eyes that suggested unusual intelligence.

In the other corner, a full-sized four band radio stood on top of the identical cabinet . The feet of the chair had paws carved into them. The back had carved dragons and flowers srouting from  its supports which might have made the chair look interesting but also made it uncomfortable.  He would beckon us to sit around him on pillows from the living room couch and he would ask us what we learned in school about history.

“Who discovered America?”

We would tell him Christopher Columbus or those of us who were more with it would say “Leif Erickson”. My grandfather would listen, take a draw from his cigar, and shake his head.

“What you teacher’s name? What grade you in?”We would tell him.“Is this a good school?”“ Of course, it’s a good school.”

“What kind of school doesn’t teach you that the Chinese discovered America?” he would ask.

We would look at him blankly. My older cousins would whisper to me that our grandfather was just having fun with us. Now and then my grandfather would catch them.

“Sure, you think about it.”

“Think about what?” we would ask.

“There were people in America already when Columbus got there,” my Grandfather would tell us.

“Yeah, there were Indians.”

“And where did the Indians come from?”

My Grandfather would ask us.

“The Bering Strait in Alaska which is part of America,” we would giggle at the end of that answer.

“Alaska’s part of the United States? When that happen?”

It didn’t occur to me then that my Grandfather knew perfectly well that Alaska had become a state in the last five years and that he may have been just hinting at the fact that territories changed masters constantly in history. He would then pause for his big question, “If the Indians came across the Bering Strait to America then wasn’t it the Chinese who discovered America?”

We would shake our heads vigorously. Even if our Grandfather’s argument, but for making it Chinese instead of say Koreans or Siberians, made perfect sense, we couldn’t get our Americanized minds around the concept.

“The Chinese weren’t discoverers and explorers, the Spanish and the English were and maybe the Vikings before them,” we told him.

He would look at us then close his eyes. I know now that he understood that it wasn’t our fault that we thought this way, but he did his best to make us feel that way.  He clicked his tongue against his teeth and shook his head and would tell us, “The Chinese do everything.  China explored the world even when the fan yin thought the world was flat.”

We would shrug back at him as he continued, “You ever look at Indian? They look like you and me.”

We would then start doing war whoops and other now politically incorrect Cowboy- movie- based gestures of Indianess. “How!” we chanted in unison.

“What you mean how? They have our hair, our faces, because they are Chinese and they came here first.”

“But we don’t live in teepees and the Chinese didn’t discover America because the Chinese didn’t discover things.”

Even if we didn’t know what self-image was yet nor was it much talked about, we had absorbed the message too well.

“Who tell you that?”

“Our teacher told us that. It’s in our history books.”

“Who writes you history book. Is it written by Chinese?”

“No, of course not.”

“Do your history book tell you who invented paper?”
He would then  instruct one of us to go get volume C of the Encylopedia Britannica that filled most of the bookshelf in the tv room in the back corner of the house. He would tell us to open the section on China and read to him from the part of the encyclopedia article that listed all the things Chinese civilization had brought to the world. As we read, he would close his eyes and smile contentedly.

Midway through the reading, he would stop us and say “How come it doesn’t say anything about the movies?”

“Because move projectors were invented by Edison.  They’re modern.  Americans invent everything modern.”

Grandfather would sigh.  “Chinese modern too.  You too young.  Someday all things modern will come from China.”

“Sure like TVs and computers,” we giggled at the image of television sets swathed in red silk and cheap plastic.

“Someday, China make the best TV’s, better than Americans.  I be gone, but you old like me, you see.”

We giggled some more and Grandfather tapped his black dress shoe on the edge of the rug exactly six times before speaking as if not to get too angry with his own grandchildren.

“No, no. the movies were invented in Shanghai four hundred years ago. Chinese movies were projected from behind the screen and show people shadows instead of bright pictures.”

“Grandfather, it doesn’t say anything here about Chinese inventing the movies.”

“The Encyclopedia doesn’t know everything.”

He had similar riffs on the origins of cars, airplanes, the Hershey Bar, and even the tv dinner, yet I only remember the details of a few of his stories of the things Chinese invented that never made it into the Encyclopedia Britannica.  One time he showed us how short the Britannica’s article was on a conflict called the “Opium War” where British cannon naturally defeated Chinese virtue. "If a British book leaves out so much about a British war," he told us, "You think about what it means that it says so much about all the things China invented. Maybe it leave out some things too."


I look back at these sessions and don’t understand why I got stuck with an image of my Grandfather as disapproving and unimaginative. By the time I was twelve, he had mostly given up trying to tell us his Ancestor Room stories.  When he was alive, I never fathomed the possibility that the stories and their teller might have much more in common than I could appreciate. As the owner of a gambling house, he couldn’t or wouldn’t let us know the details of his life or whatever embarrassed him about his life in China, yet he still wanted us to know him.

There is, of course, no ancestor room in my house.  I do have a study where I sometimes try to write.  One night at about three in the morning I was getting a little silly as my Chinese built hard drive taunted me with its whirring reminder that it could hold all the information in every Encyclopedia ever printed yet it still held so few coherent examples of my thoughts. I convinced myself that there was a portrait of my grandfather hanging on the wall there, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember how many times I was supposed to bow or whether I should light incense before or after the sun came back up.  It gave me the worst case of writer’s block to contemplate the fact that I had forgotten so much from the Ancestor room.

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Friday, June 09, 2006

NCVA 2nd Meeting Notes (volleyball)

The parent group met last night with NCVA, Regional Commissioner Donna Donaghy, Marketing Director Tom Donaghy, and Officials Coordinator David Ouhgtred (also the director of the Empower Club). My notes follow. The parent group agreed that it was a productive meeting. We thank the NCVA staff for taking the time to meet with us and the obvious preparation they put into answering our questions. We also once again thank Jeff Nelson and USF for making a room available for us to meet.

The region staff had taken the time to bring copies of the NCVA Girls Handbook with pages annotated to show us where the Region’s answers are to some of the group’s questions in the handbook.  There was a small bit of confusion at the beginning because Donna said she had not received our proposed agenda for the meeting (e-mailed on June 1 so the answer to some of the issues raised may be more technical .  She also mentioned that there were several items in the FAQ we presented that weren’t written clearly enough (ouch)  and it was mentioned that the NCVA handbook has won awards, so I would say if you’re looking for exemplary writing I would have to recommend reading the NCVA Girls Handbook.  

Ed Cohen, one of the board members, was gracious enough to make a special visit before the meeting to let us know that other matters have called him away this week and he won’t be at the June 12 board meeting, but wanted to say hi to the parents and to express his regrets for not being able to attend.  Democrats in the group all immediately concluded that they would rather have Ed running against Arnold instead of Phil Angelides, particularly when it comes to California’s seeding draw for Federal Funds.  Btw The Bill Russell Room at USF is an exceptionally nice place to meet, there are, however, no plaques dedicated to volleyball players in that room.  It’s reminder that it’s critical to the health of the sport and to someday getting the sport the recognition we all think it deserves for the junior experience to be both positive and for our kids to see processes, governance, and promotion that will make them want to get involved once they have kids of their own.  

The group of 6 parents and the NCVA staff made considerable progress (imo) and learned the following.


  1. The protocol is on page 17 of the NCVA Handbook, but once a parent determines that the club director has not been able to answer the question satisfactorily or has serious concerns about the impartiality of the club director in the matter, the stated policy is to contact NCVA.

  • Donna explained that she has always answered all e-mails in a timely fashion.  This does not necessarily include e-mails about great opportunities to refinance your house, Green Peace donation appeals, or questions about where one’s daughter’s practice or tournament is on a given day.  She stated that some emails may not be getting through to her for unknown reasons.
She did let us know that any direct e-mail from a parent or club director that is about safety, conditions, problems with NCVA itself that she has received has always been answered ( though it’s not always the answer that people want) in a prompt/cordial fashion.

If you have “legitimate” concerns that have gone through your club director or can’t go through your club director in your judgment, e-mail and she will make sure that it gets to the right person at NCVA and you will get a timely answer.  

It was pointed out by the parents that there were a couple instances where they had sent e-mails themselves and not had them answered or acknowledged.  The one that I know of was the proposed agenda that I sent on June 1 (I did find my e-mail after the meeting and it appears to have been addressed and to have left my server).  This also did not match input we had gotten from the many people who had contacted the group which included not only parents but club directors and others who deal with NCVA in other capacities.  Donna had also sent me an e-mail that I did not receive.  In the three months, I’ve been involved I’ve found Donna to be a perfectly reliable correspondent (other than the e-mail she apparently didn’t get and the one that I apparently didn’t get from her)

There is a real possibility that there is a technical glitch of some sort.  Donna was quite adamant that she does answer every e-mail she gets  and appeared quite sincere.  In any case, the group recommended that NCVA find and adopt auto-respond software to send an automatic receipt when e-mails come in and generate something that lets you know that your concern will be answered.

If you have had a different sort of experience with e-mails to the NCVA commissioner, please let the parent group know so we can all understand the problem a little better.

  • The group also discussed frustrations some have expressed with “Who takes care of what” at NCVA when trying to get problems solved.

Many, but not all, organizations use a “single point of contact”model with a clear and public list of who is responsible for what.  NCVA apparently uses a different system.  All staff are trained to handle and give a definitive answer to most any question of consequence.  Donna indicated to the group that whoever one happens to reach on the phone should be able to answer your question about an issue whether its standings, site problems, safety issues, paperwork, or calendar matters.  

If this has not been your experience, please let the parent group know so we can better understand what the problem is.  Obviously, there are certain sorts of questions that a given individual may not be able to answer.  If that comes up, one should go directly to the Regional Commissioner by e-mail.  If you have an auto-reply option in your e-mail program, make sure that you enable it.

  1. Communication about Bids and NCVA’s system

  • Because the City Beach bid issue was very recent and partly because of John Tawa’s article on Prep, we did ask what NCVA’s system was for helping to ensure that Clubs get their paperwork in.  As John pointed out, this is something where the kids pay for something adults didn’t do.  Similarly, how can a parent realistically be assured that his/her child’s club did its paperwork.

  • NCVA always sends reminders before the deadline to let clubs who may have qualified know whether or not their paperwork is complete.  This generally starts 20 days before the actual deadline.

  • While the OVR system that John identified uses a single point of contact, NCVA uses an all staff capable system.  Any person in the office can let a club know if the paperwork that gets submitted to NCVA both got there and is complete.  There is a staff procedure to log the receipt of paperwork. Donna says that NCVA routinely notifies clubs of incomplete paperwork in advance of the deadline.

  • City Beach, according to Donna, is the only club in NCVA that has ever lost an earned bid due to paperwork issues.  She did not recollect another instance.  Since City Beach took responsibility, I assume that if this is the case it’s really not that big a problem for the region.

  • Dave Oughtred assured us that the bid registration process is in fact very simple and straightforward and that proactive clubs submit as early as January to avoid any problems.

  • Esentially, NCVA has the same level of protections for bid paperwork issues as OVR.  I did point out that one of the issues in the region may be that things get done and systems exsist within the region that the volleyball public does not hear about, hence the fact that NCVA has these precautions in place and John’s article had to report that NCVA did not respond to his phone call on the subject after they promised to call him back.  

  1. The group did inquire about the end of the season points listings.  We had gotten a number of inquiries about this and members of the parent group had checked as early as the day before and encountered problems finding certain listings or corrected totals.  The staff informed us that all totals for all teams were up on the website and suggested that people were clicking in the wrong part of the website, but all the totals had in fact been posted.  They seemed to imply that this had been the case for some time.

I did go home in the evening to check and all totals were listed and the one instance of an “asked for” correction  of which I was aware had been taken care of.  It was noted that the totals appeared to have been updated on the afternoon of June 8th, the date of the meeting according to the site itself.

We did not get into the length of time since the staff appeared to take the position that the complete totals had been posted and corrected for all teams without any time issues.  

We did ask who has responsibility for doing this and learned that it’s a shared responsibility among the staff.  We were informed that when there is an allegation of a mistake, it does take a number of phone calls to confirm the error with the affected clubs.  For example, just because coach C says they beat coach B’s team, one shouldn’t assume it’s accurate.  One has to check with the tournament director and coach B to confirm the result.

The staff did not suggest there were any other difficulties involved in tallying the points or posting the standings at the end of the year.

  1. The question of area league sites got discussed.

Staff indicated that they had dealt with issues about the distance to certain tournaments extensively over the phone with the club representatives, had actively looked for new sites, and seemed to express some frustration that there was any perception that the complaints and concerns had gone unheeded in any way.

The policy is laid out in the manual.  Tournaments are not to be more than 90 miles away unless there simply isn’t a gym available that weekend in the vicinity.  The parent group suggested that NCVA post exactly that when these situations do occur and to let clubs +parents know on the website when the 90 mile rule has to be broken.  

  1. The group agreed that some of the Parent Group’s democracy issues were likely matters for the board to consider.  E.g. posting of agendas and making meetings visitor friendly.  (staff expressed concern that people would come to meetings and speak out of turn).  Donna did tell us that she routinely takes any serious concerns that have been e-mailed to her by parents to the board.  The Parent Group suggested that the posting of agendas and minutes would help to document this habit and let parents in the region know that their concerns are in fact taken seriously and brought to the board.  

The parent group believes that this practice is a good thing, but it is not the same thing as having actual representation and a direct voice in matters of consequence to parents, players, and the Region.

Digression ahead:  At one point, the Regional Commissioner referred to the board as “My Board”, I did ask to make sure that she meant “Our Board” and she did confirm that she simply misspoke.  I personally believe that this is indicative of a strength of the organization.  It’s apparent to me that the regional staff takes great pride in and strongly identifies with NCVA, hence “My Board” and this is potentially a very valuable asset.  When one considers one’s work a reflection of yourself, it’s a major event in quality control circles.  I also believe that this is part of why there is something of a gap between the way the region sees itself and the way the region’s constituents and others often see the region.  There have been instances where parents have been referred to explicitly as “customers” that suggest strongly that they are receivers of services not partners in the organization itself.  Speaking personally, I believe this is the fundamental adjustment that may have to happen if this gap between self-perception and what I would consider an unhealthy image for the organization itself (one which may not be reflective of how well things within NCVA are actually handled) with its constituents is to be healed.  

In particular, the staff do not seem particularly aware that there is any sort of problem with perceptions about NCVA.  Part of this is due to the fact that they have such a high level of pride in their work that they sometimes seem to take suggestions that anything is not working properly as a personal insult. At the same time, when one regards an organization as an extension of oneself and a reflection of oneself, there can be a downside :Digression ends

  1. Ethical conflicts for coaches who have dual roles as club and high school coaches did get raised.  Staff indicated that they have met with CIF on the matter at least twice.  The parent group suggested a code of ethics through NCVA to give parents who get trapped in these situations a confidential process for investigating abuses of this dual role.  The normal cure is to go to the school principal which sometimes presents difficulties of its own particularly when it comes to preserving the player’s anonymity.  Obviously any process would also have to be fair to the coach, but there was no closure on this particular matter.  

     NCVA will write a letter of complaint to the high school principal. This has been done in the past in extreme cases.

  1. There was extensive discussion of the website.  Staff appeared to believe that most if not all the information that the public complains about not being able to find is actually already on the website.  They were also very optimistic about a “team or club page” system within the NCVA site that promises to improve the quantity and quality of information available there.

The Parent group pointed out that when something can not be found on a site, it’s not necessarily the end user’s fault.  We discussed the need for a user friendly interface that might take the form of a Faq that starts with questions to supplement the Region’s Award Winning Manual.  (in the real world manuals are being replaced by websites with treed structures that allow one to ask a specific question)

It did come out that the NCVA’s website administrator, by his admission, knows very little about computers.  The Parent Group offered to help with the process of making the site more user friendly for volleyball parents who notoriously have a limited capacity to understand processes, structures, and websites.  Sometimes, it does take someone with training in the creation of “how to” instruction, documentation, and website design to make this possible.  NCVA did ask that we review the Girl’s Manual with the annotated answers to our FAQ questions for possible revisions or suggestions.

There was a brief discussion of the San Jose Convention Center issue that had precipitated these meetings.  The Parents mentioned that if the website had put up a notice acknowledging the problem right from the beginning and let the Region know that the issues were being worked on and out, the frustration level with NCVA would have been much lower.  Staff agreed that this would be a good idea in the future.

  1. Site clean up issues did come up.  There have been real problems with teams simply not cleaning up after themselves or abusing facilities to an extent that NCVA loses access to the site.  We mentioned that other regions have had good success with fines.  It was pointed out that NCVA has provisions for fines and does in fact enforce them from time to time.

  • suggestions were made about positive reinforcement

  • simply hiring more custodial help at problem sites and passing the cost on to the clubs

  • There was also extensive of conditions at the NCVA facility in Sacramento.  It appears to be the region staff’s position that these problems are the fault of parents and players who do not treat the bathrooms there respectfully.  It was also pointed out that sites are certified as public facilities, so the number of bathrooms for a given event should never be an issue.

  1. We did check into the First Aid capacity of Site Directors.  All have a first-aid kit at tournaments.  Site Directors do not necessarily have current CPR or first-aid training. Staff mentioned that they have offered free First-Aid classes and gotten a very disappointing response from the region.

We believe the tone of the meeting was very positive and we actually got through most of the agenda.  I would credit this both the NCVA staff and the many parents who volunteered time and effort to both come to the meeting or just share their concerns.  The Parent Group does not necessarily believe that all is perfect within the region, but the meeting was a clear step forward.  

If you have specific experiences that either support or differ from what was represented at the meeting about how things get done at NCVA, please let us know.

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