Monday, June 28, 2010

Cheech & Chong Live in "Concert"

Someone gave my son-in-law Chris two complimentary tickets to see the Cheech & Chong "concert" on Saturday night. Chris and Kristy weren't going to use the tickets (they also had box-seat tickets for an Isotopes baseball game that evening), so, knowing that I was a C&C fan, they gave them to me as a late Father's Day present. I invited Darren along, and we drove out to the Sandia Casino at the appointed hour, not really knowing what to expect but hoping, somewhat naively, that C&C's performance wouldn't be totally gross and obscene. Well, whereas I have what I acknowledge to be a fairly crude sense of humor (at least for an active Mormon), most of the performance was totally gross and obscene even by my standards, which reminded me (a) why I never bought any of C&C's albums beyond the first two, and (b) why I never saw any of their movies after the first two came out. Still, I enjoyed spending the evening with Darren -- I hope he wasn't too offended -- and I got a few laughs out of the show, particularly from (a) Cheech's reprise of his lip-synched performance of the "Earache My Eye" song, in a pink tutu, from the film Up In Smoke (his exit from the stage afterward, using a bright-yellow walker, was an especially funny embellishment), and (b) Chong's comment on why he decided against being homosexual ("But then I thought to myself, 'There's poop in there!'"). I remember reading somewhere, possibly in People magazine, that Tommy Chong complained for years that Cheech Marin would no longer tour with him; it's apparent that concert tours are now so lucrative -- whereas sales of CDs and other media are so depressed -- that Cheech could no longer turn him down.

Anyway, I guess I can mark "See Cheech & Chong perform live" off my list of things to do before I die -- and Darren is gone now, having left today to go back to Provo.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The U.S. at the World Cup, Part 2

Well, the U.S. lost to Ghana today in the "round of sixteen" of the World Cup finals, which is disappointing, especially after the heroic efforts the team put forth to make it out of the group stage.  In truth, the U.S. simply isn't among the elite soccer nations, nor is it poised to enter their ranks. That's probably puzzling to a lot of the world, given our population of some 300 million people, but our talent pool is overwhelmingly diluted by other sports that appeal much more to most Americans (basketball, American football, baseball, boxing, track and field, etc.). That said, the U.S. did better in the tournament than a number of inarguably "elite" soccer nations -- France and Italy being chief among them -- and it won its group over England after tying with the Brits head-to-head and scoring more goals in the three group-stage games.  (The two-goal comeback against Slovenia, and Landon Donovan's electrifying winner against Algeria in stoppage time, will be the stuff of American soccer legend.)

Here are a few observations on the tournament in general:

1. The refereeing, as usual, has left a lot to be desired -- the U.S. had to overcome two very bad calls that cost them goals, and several other nations (e.g., Chile, against Spain) received questionable "red cards" (leaving them down one player) that severely impacted the outcome of key games. Just why FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, continues to ascribe to the "multi-culti" school of thought concerning the use of relatively untested referees from third-world countries in the World Cup finals is beyond me.

2. The U.S. suffered greatly this year from the traditional flaws of past U.S. World Cup teams: an inability to finish prime goal-scoring chances, an inability to maintain possession in the midfield, a strong tendency to "go for the home run" on deep balls down the middle instead of building the attack on the wings, and a ball-watching back line that conceded early goals in three of the U.S.'s four games (and nearly did so in the other one). All of these shortcomings were on display today against Ghana, whose two goals came after (a) a bad give-away in the midfield five minutes into the game, and (b) an even worse "skinning," in extra time, of the central defense.

3. I think it's telling that all five South American teams in the tournament (Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay) made it out of the group stage and looked strong doing so. Spain may still be the top-rated team in the world (and Germany and the Netherlands have played well), but I expect a team from South America to win the World Cup.

4. As much as I like soccer, I can fully understand why a lot of Americans don't care for it. There's something about a sport characterized by the following that offends American sensibilities. One, that scoring seems to depend at least as much on the Fates (not to mention the referees) as on individual skill, team play, and execution. Two, that esoteric rules, such as the "offside" law -- the origins of which lie in outdated notions of "fair play," but which seems to be called erroneously, even by the world's top referees, at least as often as it is called correctly -- have a tremendous effect on the game. Three, that obvious time-wasting tactics, not to mention "diving" in an attempt to fool the referee into calling a foul, are not punished to any appreciable degree (see the reference above to "fair play"). And, four, that one lucky score in 90 minutes of play can determine the outcome of the game. (Americans like to root for underdogs, but we also like to see the dominant team win -- at least when our national side isn't playing -- which often isn't the case in soccer.)

What is the future of American (men's) soccer? The U.S. side has now qualified for six consecutive World Cup finals, as it benefits greatly from being located in a region consisting of North America, Central America, and the Caribbean; however, there's no telling when it will be ready to advance into the semifinals or championship of the World Cup. The current generation of players will probably not be up to the task, and Major League Soccer, the American professional league, isn't nearly on par with the top European leagues. We'll probably know America is close when it wins a U-17 or U-20 World Cup.

[Update 6/27/10: The games today, Germany vs. England and Argentina vs. Mexico, highlighted one more reason why Americans might rightfully dislike soccer: the lack of video replay to review questionable calls, or non-calls, that determine (a) whether goals are allowed or disallowed, and (b) whether penalty kicks are awarded. Considering that the laws of the sport evolved on the quaint notion of "fair play," what could be more fair than to verify the correctness of calls on which the result of a game hinges? There's simply no question that video review today would have resulted in (a) Argentina's first goal against Mexico being disallowed for an obvious offside infraction, and (b) England's being given its clear (to everyone in the world except the assistant referee) equalizing goal in the first half against Germany. One can argue that the margin of victory in each of these games made the bad non-calls moot, but it is a soccer truism that the score dictates tactics, and no one can say what might have happened if the refs hadn't screwed up. My prediction: FIFA will find itself obligated to institute video replay --
despite its being an American (ptui!) innovation, and at least at the goal line -- by the 2014 World Cup finals. "Fair play" is practically screaming for it!]

[Update 7/6/10: Okay, so I was wrong about a South American side winning the Cup; in fact, the only South American country to make it to the semi-final round, Uruguay, was the fifth-place team in the CONMEBOL region. Boy, did Brazil and Argentina crap out!]

[Update 7/13/10: Spain has defeated the Netherlands for the World Cup Championship, capping off a series of clinical, efficient (but pretty boring) 1-0 wins in the four "knock-out" stages of the tournament. Again, the refereeing became a cause for criticism and had a noticeable impact on the game. FIFA will probably keep pretending that its referees aren't a factor in the outcome of games with world-wide import -- shoot, some commentators have gone so far as to imply that blown calls are characteristic of soccer and part of its beauty as a sport -- but I think most people, not just Americans, will agree that the best-refereed game in any sport is one in which the referees are barely noticed. I'll grant that soccer, especially as played at elite levels, is particularly susceptible to game-changing intrusions by refereeing crews, but a lot of that is due to tolerance of a whole host of player shenanigans, from clutching, grabbing, gouging, punching, and kicking to diving and faking injuries. (Virtually all set pieces in this tournament made the penalty area look like a groping party; once a referee lets a hundred fouls go by, how is it possible to call one without seeming arbitrary and capricious?) Something must be done to clean up the sport -- even if it involves stopping the game several times each half for video review -- or else FIFA risks losing audience. Oh, and one more thing: I agree with American commentators that an intentional handball on the goal line to prevent what was otherwise certain to be a goal -- as happened at the end of the Uruguay-Ghana game -- should simply be counted as a goal, and should not result merely in an expulsion and a too-easily-missed penalty kick.]

Monday, June 21, 2010

Mexico Trip, June 15-20, 2010

These photos are from our trip to Puerto Pe
ñasco, Sonora, Mexico; we left Albuquerque on the evening of Tuesday the 15th, spending the night in Tucson and driving on to Puerto Peñasco the following morning, and we drove back to Albuquerque yesterday, Sunday the 20th. We stayed in the Las Conchas district in "Casa Alhaja," a beachfront home of which Easton's parents, Steve and Jeannie H______, are part owners. This trip was a striking contrast to our last (and my only previous) trip to Puerto Peñasco in 1991, when Dorine's extended family camped on the beach at Choya Bay in tents, with no shower access and only one small port-a-potty to service ~20 people. "Casa Alhaja," on the other hand, has numerous bedrooms and five bathrooms (all with showers), while still having immediate access to the beach. Here's a partial run-down of the things we enjoyed doing while in Mexico: (1) swam and body-surfed; (2) rode ATVs; (3) rowed a boat out into the waves; (4) played volleyball and tossed around a football and a Frisbee; (4) foraged around in tide pools; (5) shopped (both for food and for souvenirs); (6) went out to eat a couple of times; (7) watched World Cup soccer games and Game 7 of the NBA finals (all online); (8) played "dos huevos" (a tossing game using two golf balls on a string); (9) took long walks on the beach; and (10) went and had a huge asado at the home of the Palmas family, a family of LDS church members whom the H______s befriended years ago (and whom they helped out over time by providing them with large quantities of second-hand building materials). I was in my usual crap physical condition, but at least I was able, largely, to ignore it for several days.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Villanueva State Park, June 11-13, 2010

Dorine and I spent two nights camping at New Mexico's Villanueva State Park with family members. Both Devery and Easton and Kristy and Chris wanted to go camping with us, but Devery and Easton could only go on Friday night, whereas Kristy and Chris could only go on Saturday night. In essence it was like two camping trips in one, which was probably the only way I'd ever be able to get two nights out of a family camping trip. Dorine and I drove out to Villanueva in mid-afternoon on Friday, the 11th, in hopes that we could find an open campsite on the (Pecos) river; however, there seemed to be quite a few "parties" going on in the lower level of the park, and everything was full-up (and then some). Nonetheless, the upper ("El Cerro") campground had several open sites and in fact didn't ever fill up while we were there; given all the people in the park, and despite the steep path/road up the hill, I preferred to stay up there. We got what I now consider to be the best campsite in the upper campground, which has a great view on three sides (see the long-distance photo above of our campsite, looking east from one of the trails in the park), lots of space, and is relatively secluded.

So Devery, Easton, and Mason drove up later that evening, and we spent that night and much of the next day with them. I'd taken a couple of inner-tubes up without really knowing if we'd want to float on the river, but Devery and Easton were up for it, so I pumped up the tubes, and we floated several times from the park entrance down beyond all of the campsites. It turned out to be the most-fun thing we did during our stay at Villanueva, so I'll be certain to take inner-tubes on all future trips there. I also had a lot of fun playing with Mason, who's growing up fast and showing a lot of interest in what's going on around him.

Devery and Easton left in the early afternoon on Saturday, and Dorine and I had a few hours by ourselves before Kristy and Chris came up. (I took advantage of the "lull" and went and took a much-needed shower.) It turned out that Zach couldn't come because of a Little League all-stars practice that he needed to attend, but all the other kids came and were all a lot of fun to be with. I helped Chris put up their new tent (which, having sturdy poles, was much better-suited to the big winds we had for much of the time) while everyone else went down to the river and the playground. I slept poorly both nights, as sedation alone, without a breathing machine, no longer seems to put me out entirely; however, I felt well enough during the day to do a lot of things. (I'd say I'm encouraged, but I don't feel any less dizzy, discombobulated, and debilitated than I have felt since our cruise in January.)

On Sunday morning, Nicole and I tubed down the river a couple of times (Alexis went on the first run but insisted on being let off near the bridge half-way through). Then we packed up and came home. I had agreed to give a sacrament-meeting talk in Spanish in the Valle Vista Branch, which meets in our church building (having sacrament meeting at 2:15 pm), so I had to get home to shave, bathe, and make final preparations. I'd spent hours and hours preparing my talk, which consisted of about 20 minutes of material; however, I was the last of three speakers on the program, and as is often the case, the other speakers left me very little time. Thus I was only able to give about 25% of the talk I'd prepared, which made it seem entirely anticlimactic, relieved though I was to be done with it.

[Update 10/19/10: I found this photo of Villanueva, which I'd taken on an earlier trip there from the trail that traverses the cliff on the east side of the river.  It gives a good idea of the park layout, and you can pick out our campsite from this year's trip, which is marked by the shelter on the upper left that sits off by itself.]

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Putt-Putt - a Childhood Passion

One of the things I used to enjoy doing most as a child was playing miniature golf, especially at the Putt-Putt facility that once was located on Lomas Blvd. directly southwest of I-40 (i.e., just as Lomas crosses over the freeway). I even had my own putter, and I tried to create my own miniature-golf courses in our back yard and even inside our house. (I wonder now how my mother could stand my banging golf balls incessantly off her baseboards.) I remember that Mom paid for me to have a birthday party once at Putt-Putt; my memory is a little hazy, but I think it was my 9th birthday in May 1968. (I invited several kids from my third-grade class at school, including Brenda Burns -- see my earlier post about my fifth-grade year.) During the summers, I often went to "Dollar Day" on Mondays at Putt-Putt, which got you all-day access and a can of soda. (I also used to like to watch the PPA [Professional Putters Association] broadcasts on TV on Sunday afternoons; I think the PPA still exists in some form and may even be shown on TV on some obscure channel, although the mere notion of a person getting paid for playing miniature golf these days seems absurd.)

There was another miniature-golf facility further west on Lomas called "Twin-Putt," which I think was originally called "Putt-Putt," at least until the owner either lost his franchise or was forced to change the name due to trademark infringement. I never really liked Twin-Putt, however, as it seemed antiquated, ragged, and somber compared to the brighter atmosphere of Putt-Putt. As it turned out, both the original Putt-Putt and Twin-Putt closed down, and the respective parcels of land became part of automobile dealerships (the Twin-Putt property now consists of an extremely large, unoccupied metal pavilion). Another Putt-Putt eventually opened on Lomas northeast of I-40, this one with an arcade (a hit in the days of Donkey Kong and Pac-Man), but it too finally closed sometime, I think, in the late 1980s. There apparently still is a "Putt-Putt Golf and Games" in Albuquerque, on north San Mateo Blvd. -- the only other miniature-golf facility in town that I'm aware of is the Hinkle Family Fun Center, which is fairly close to our house and is located on the corner of Tramway Blvd. and Indian School Rd. However, miniature golf doesn't hold the same fascination for me as it once did, and so I can't really even remember the last time I did it.