Bye Bye Birdies

Well it snowed in Ithaca all day today. This makes painting the exterior of a house more like frosting a cake. I'm using a spatula. The good news is it's time to begin winter golf spending. If you are my wife, and you're reading this in the morning before work please do not pour freezing cold pickle juice into my ears while I am still sleeping. And if you are at work, you really shouldn't be spending your time angry at me.

The plan of attack is to first narrow down my purchases to the most important. I bought a 975J Titleist driver earlier in the spring. It's fantastic! It took me a couple of weeks to work out a hook and then a slice but towards the end of the season I implimented a strong shoulder turn that made all the difference. Since this shoulder turn I haven't been out drove and it's straight as can be. Nice low trajectory. I've marked a number of drives off at 285. There have been only a few that could have questionably been farther than that, so I'm not messing with my driver. I call her Maggie May. Maggie may go straight, Maggie may go right. I may not see Maggie again until May. This pains me so.

I bought a Cleveland BeCu Byron Nelson 56 degree wedge last year that I am entirely pleased with. It's a form of copper which is a softer metal. It allows for more spin. The low bounce feels comfortable and when I'm hitting ProV1's it affords me a good amount of spin from inside 50 yards. I chipped in only one time this season but it was with this club. I could use some work on my green side chips.

I inherited a Ping wedge that just happened to be exactly 50 degrees. I was in desperate need of a gap wedge. My Taylormade PW goes about 130 yards and the most I could get out of my Cleveland was 65 at best. This came towards the end of the season but from what I saw I liked it very much. It hits the ball very high in the air, with controlable spin.

I love my irons. I invested in my first new set two years ago. Taylormade 360's with the patented feel cartridge. They're great. I won't change these save for a miracle from the golf god's. You learn quickly to be very patient with these clowns.

My putting is amazingly bad. It blew my mind to be within 80 yds of the green after my drive and still end up with a seven. I could skull an approach shot, flip a flop shot putt off the green and then two putt back on. It doesn't seem possible. My brother-in-law bought me a putter last Christmas. it was a mallet putter, which I like, it was a Taylormade, which matched my set, it was center nozzled, which seemed cool at first, but all in all, it was bad news. It's a beautiful putter but putting is all about a personal fit and this just isn't it. A putter is the first thing on my agenda.

I really like the Odyssey two ball putter. They DFX came out last year and now they have a new putting line this year. I debated switch putting and buying a lefty but if I'm gonna drop a hundred bucks or so I should just get a right handed one. If I could find a Scotty Cameron putter for a good price I could be tempted to splurge, but they're tough to come by. I'm still debating between the mallet and the blade putter style. I have about six upstate NY winter months to decide.

I am also in need of a new bag. Probably Taylormade is the way to go. Their Taylite bag only weighs three pounds or something but I hit a Titleist driver and balls and I think they make a classy bag. That one is up in the air.

Also the Ping bag is the number one bag used in college and Ogio specializes in bag manufacturing so they may have been able to put a little more time into their design. I don't know.

I could use some new shoes as well. I knick-named myself Josh Clown Foot. The pair I bought five years ago are still a size and a half to big on me. I guess at the time I thought I still had some growing to do. My brothers are 6'4" and 6'1" respectively by age and my father is 6'2". I thought at twenty I still had a chance to break that 6'0" barrier. I suppose what I lack in height I make up for in spelling and typing skills.



Out of Plumb

In honor of the new tone here at Coney Island, I am initiating an occasional series on a non-presidential topic: science and technology. This seems especially appropriate since the blogging medium could be considered a type of technology in its own right. To set the ball rolling, below is a fairly lame essay I wrote last year that touches briefly on some pertinent issues. (Sorry, it’s pretty long.)

Among its various inscrutable hypotheses, string theory proposes a world with invisible dimensions beyond our familiar three of space and one of time. There has been considerable debate over the exact number, but it seems eleven is the current frontrunner. Yes, eleven. Clever analogies involving pool tables, donuts, and steaming loaves of bread have been offered to me in explanation, but I still don’t get it. And they say these dimensions, like the strings themselves, are completely undetectable with our existing instrumentation.

Tony “Smoothie” Stevens, a retired correctional officer from Pine Bush, New York, appears to be a step ahead of our brightest scientific minds. He has actually seen one of these extra dimensions. “One night I was out on a little country road near the Jewish cemetery,” he reports in the local newspaper. “It was a little damp with ground fog coming and going. Then the fog enveloped the truck. I started seeing silhouettes of people. At one point, a guy on a bike came right at the truck. He should have hit the windshield, but he didn’t. He just disappeared.” Smoothie watched in silence as the bucolic road turned into a bustling city street. “All kinds of pedestrian traffic was walking past the alley opening through the fog,” he says. “It was a busy, busy street in some other dimension, right there on a back country road in Pine Bush.”

For a brief period I had the good fortune of living in Pine Bush -- the self-described UFO capital of the northeastern United States. I witnessed no atmospheric anomalies myself, just a recurring procession of low-flying airplanes at evening in route to the nearby airport. But I am assured of their existence. “A lot of people in Pine Bush talk about abduction. That's real common around here,” says John DiTuro, a computer engineer from the area. “When I was taken, there were bright lights, a table. One held up a needle and I could see it glistening. He jabbed it into my head behind my ear. I blacked out. When they returned me, they put me back in bed wrong. My feet were on the pillow. I guess they didn't know the difference.”

Jim Smith is a self-described expert in extraterrestrial motion. His research, which consists chiefly of personal encounters, indicates that the majority of space aliens travel in frames, like time-lapse photography, disappearing and re-materializing in a different spot. He reports other oddities, too, such as a roving cat with a chunk of cardboard in place of its head. “In Pine Bush, you see things you don't expect,” Smith says. “But not everyone can see the cat or the beings. You have to be open to things like that.”

Not a few folks in Pine Bush are open to things like that. Our tiny municipality reports more UFO sightings and alien abductions than any other in the region, by a considerable margin. But we are not alone in our obsession with finding life beyond earth. About 100 scientific programs exist worldwide dedicated to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI. The mother of them all -- the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California -- began as a government-funded project, until the U.S. Congress cancelled it in 1993. Still, they have managed to find more than $55 million in private funding to keep the dream alive.

“Because our solar system is relatively young compared with the universe overall,” writes Paul Davies, an Australian philosopher and scientist, “any alien civilization the SETI researchers might discover is likely to be much older, and presumably wiser, than ours.” John DiTuro might disagree, since his captors could barely distinguish his head from his feet. Nonetheless, the general consensus seems to be that the aliens, when they finally reveal themselves, will put our science and technology to shame. And it follows quite naturally, according to Davies, that any scientifically superior civilization will have improved on our level of moral development: “One may even speculate that an advanced alien society would sooner or later find some way to genetically eliminate evil behavior, resulting in a race of saintly beings.”

Charles Darwin came out of the grand tradition of the Victorian naturalists, who circled the untrammeled world of the late 18th Century describing and collecting “God’s creation.” Darwin’s work may have complicated things a bit, but never mind whose creation it is. These scientists still took the same approach as Darwin: nature as a vast and splendid library, full of books to be read and savored.

Nature is an instructor without equal. It is the essence of to teleion, a thorny bit of Greek that biblical translators have rendered “perfection,” but which really corresponds to no single English word. It means doing what you were built to do, and also the fullness that comes from being in that condition. A whale’s massive swinging tail is the embodiment of power, but it does him little good on the beach; wielding it will only dig him deep into the sand. When he is in the ocean, however, he is in his element -- an ungainly behemoth gliding through the water like an eagle on an updraft.

Darwin saw to teleion in the natural world, “in the woodpecker and misseltoe; . . . in the humblest parasite which clings to the hairs of a quadruped or feathers of a bird; in the structure of the beetle which dives through the water; in the plumed seed which is wafted by the gentlest breeze.” He just called it by another name -- adaptation -- and ascribed credit to a different source.

While the naturalist’s cataloguing work is mostly done (with the notable exception of a few million microbes hanging around the oceans’ hydrothermal vents), the concept is still useful to us. No one really expects, or even wants, science to return to its technological adolescence. But perhaps a polite nod to these predecessors, naïve though they were, could help give scientists a bit of context in approaching the biggest problems of the modern world -- many of which stem from a distorted view of nature that scientists have done little to correct.

The Hudson River painters developed the first distinctly American school of art. Heeding Ralph Waldo Emerson’s call to “ignore the courtly Muses of Europe,” they threw off their Romantic roots and created a style befitting the New World. They did, however, maintain a bond with their Victorian contemporaries, the naturalists. Though the American continent lay before them vast and unexplored, they viewed it not as a land to be conquered, but as a natural resource to evoke reverence and awe.

They painted the American experience: dramatic landscapes set against vaunted skies, with the occasional person thrown in for good measure, dwarfed by the immensity of the scene. Man was merely an afterthought, but he was privileged to behold the magnificence, and given just enough of the divine spark to take it in and process it.

One of the more famous paintings -- “Kindred Spirits” by Asher B. Durand -- depicts a scene not far from where I lived in Pine Bush. It is a classic leafy gorge in the Catskill Mountains, complete with soft rounded peaks and an unearthly glow. Like most of the paintings from the Hudson River school, it is plush and overstated, bordering dangerously on kitsch.

Two men are standing on a promontory, chatting amiably, as one motions toward something in the distance. The other has his head uncovered, in an apparent gesture of respect and wonder. What are they looking at? Maybe it is the gushing stream, symbolizing the endless flow of time to eternity. Or maybe it is a soaring bird, caught up in the currents of glorious freedom. Or maybe it is a local animal they have never seen before, a creature so wholly adapted to its ecological niche as to inspire shock and disbelief -- like a cardboard-headed cat.



Ladies and Gentlemen

So I'm depressed, or I was at least. Everyone feels like shit. Frieda didn't write the comment about killing everyone, Gorss is taking heat from Cornell about Bush and I'm contributing to his shit feeling by telling him he's brainwashed, the Jets lost today...TO THE BILLS!!!, my fantasy golf team ended up with a miserable 70 points and there's rumor of snow coming to Ithaca. The once fun loving, artsy, often unintelligent and unintelligible Coney Island has become a battleground state.

Last week, I thought that if I responded in a way that equaled my sadness about the election, something would change for the better. Err, oops. That was wrong. Nothing positive came from this idea, in fact just the opposite...
Gorss writes: "My brief excursion into blogdom has done nothing but raise my blood pressure. I think I'll return to reality and let you tell me in person how brainwashed I am."

This is bad news for Cap'n Pete for a couple of reasons. One, you won't meet a nicer guy than this Gorss fella. Two, he writes great posts and comments with his heart and his head combined, something that I might be unaccustomed to. Three, he wants me to tell him how brainwashed he is in person. The dude's like 6'7"! I mean, I'm quick like a cat, but my hands are typing out checks my body can't cash. I know what’s coming to me, and I probably deserve it, but it ain't stopping me from wearing a helmet to church next week.

No one's happy about the election. Republicans are being treated like they personally began the war, and the Democrats are sulking in the reality of four more years. Us Progressives are just sitting back blasting everyone cause that’s what we do best. And don't for one second think things would be an ounce better had Kerry been elected. Ain't no Republican gonna take orders from some latte 'drinkin', gay marriage 'supportin', baby 'killin' liberal and I have a pretty good feeling that I would not have acted in a mature way had Kerry won. This might be the saddest thing of all. There wasn't an option that would have healed the polarity of the country.

Well, I'm burned out. I talked to my father on the phone. I told him how sad I felt. Something about talking to Dad's when your sad brings you so close to tears. (You think nostalgically about the times he warmed your frozen feet in sixth grade after you stood on the snow drifted sidelines of Hornell's astro-turf and waited until the end of the game to get your eight required, "everybody gets to play" plays in.) He listened to me explain my frustration and embarrassment, my feelings of responsibility for Bush's re-election and my in ablitity to comprehend what the next four years might bring. He told me to stick in there. When I got home he had e-mailed me this scripture. Try not to sing the Byrds tune to it.

3:1For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

As I read the e-mail I remember thinking..."Oh Yeah. I forgot."

So for now, I'm done. I don't want to think about it. My wife's having a baby in five months. I just saw Mel Chin speak in Cleveland. He turned it out, and even mentioned my name during his lecture given to the Cleveland Institute of Art. My 26th birthday was on Saturday and I'm still alive. Why am I making people feel shitty? Why am I feeling shitty?

Ladies and Gentlemen! The rides at Coney Island are circling again. Step right up, see the dog faced boy, hold on there little sailor hold on, have your tickets ready, You’ll see Priscilla Bajano The monkey woman, Jo Jo the dog face boy and Milton Malone, the human skeleton. See Grace McDaniel's the mule-faced woman and she's the homeliest woman in the world. Under the Big Top tonight never before seen (And if you have a heart condition, please be warned). Don't forget to visit our sister snack site, the nicest place in the world, at The Pickle, all sales are final void where prohibited by law. You'll see Johnny Eck, the man born without a body. He walks on his hands. He has his own orchestra and is an excellent pianist. And don't forget, it's ladies' night at Harvy's Harbour Bizarre you'll see Ko Ko the bird girl, Mortando, the human fountain. Step a little closer, a little closer ladies and gentlemen and don't be shy dig deep in your pockets Ladies and gentlemen, Take Me To Coney Island! A little closer.
Ladies and gentlemen!