[From Live Yachting]
It’s been a busy two weeks, with travel and major events getting in the way of blogging. Had I written one more post two weeks ago, it would have been about the news of Larry Ellison’s basketball interest.
Ellison, co-founder of Oracle, has been among the three or four wealthiest Americans for years. In sports, he is best known for his America’s Cup yachts that have won the last two competitions. A little over two weeks ago, in the aftermath of the NBA’s decision to ban LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life, the WSJ reported that “Oprah Winfrey is joining with entertainment mogul David Geffen and Oracle Corp. Chief Executive Larry Ellison with an eye to buying the National Basketball Association’s Los Angeles Clippers.”
We learn further down that in 2010,
Mr. Ellison unsuccessfully tried to purchase the Golden State Warriors, which are based near software maker Oracle in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Warriors were eventually sold for $450 million.
“Although I was the highest bidder, [former Warriors owner] Chris Cohan decided to sell to someone else,” Mr. Ellison said in a statement at the time. “In my experience, this is a bit unusual.”
Mr. Ellison, who routinely ditched schoolwork for basketball practice during his high-school years in Chicago, has yet to break into a major American sport.
His top sporting accomplishment has come in the America’s Cup, the world’s most famous yachting competition. He owns Oracle Team USA, the racing squad that lost the contest in 2003 and 2007 before winning in 2010 and 2013. Mr. Ellison, with an estimated wealth of more than $40 billion, lavished his own money on those campaigns; the head of Oracle Team USA estimated last year that the sailing squad’s budget for the 2013 America’s Cup was at least $115 million, though part of that came from corporate sponsors.
The Oracle chief has had basketball courts on at least two of his yachts, said Tom Ehman, who handles America’s Cup matters for Mr. Ellison. He said Mr. Ellison liked to relax by shooting hoops on these courts, and has had someone in a powerboat following the yacht to retrieve balls that go overboard.
How about that last detail? It got a fair bit of attention in the press, best of all in a piece the next day from the WSJ’s own sportswriter, Jason Gay, who imagines the powerboat pilot’s tale. Here’s an excerpt, starting with the tryout for the not-yet-explained job:
A couple of days later they brought me out to the Embarcadero. Put me in a powerboat, had me take the wheel and put a 12-foot net in my hand. Then they sent another boat out before me with a couple of dudes; told me to follow it.
All of a sudden, these guys just start chucking basketballs off the boat, right into the wake. They howled at me on a bullhorn to grab the basketballs with the net. It was completely bizarre. Here we are in San Francisco and I am reaching out with this net, grabbing Spalding basketballs and chucking them into the back of a boat. And it was tricky. If you know the water there, it’s windy as hell. They had the America’s Cup there for a reason.
The whole thing took about a half-hour. I guess I did OK. Something like 48 basketballs went into the ocean. I got 46. I heard nobody else got more than 30.
An hour after we returned to the dock, they told me I got the job. I still wasn’t sure what the job was. OWBR, they said. “Official Waterborne Basketball Retriever.” The pay was right. They wanted me to start immediately.
Mind you I still had no idea who I was doing this for, but the next week I’m flying first-class to Nice, and then a car picks me up to go to the Mediterranean. We pull into the harbor and I’m given the keys to a 44-foot powerboat.
“This is yours,” the guy said. “Go to that.” He points out into the sea.
And I look out and there is just the craziest and most blinged-out super yacht I’d ever seen. I mean, it looks like the Houston skyline. The guy tells me to keep the radio on channel 7 and wait for instructions.
“Instructions on what?” I ask.
It is an Amazon tradition for selected items to attract a commentary stream of ironic praise. David Pogue writes about this from time to time, for instance, here and here. And who can forget Playmobil’s Security Check Point, pictured at the bottom? This warranted a NYT article four years ago with the headline, “Playmobil Finds Fun in the Police State.” Be sure to read the Amazon comments.
You’ve had a busy play day – You’ve wiretapped Mom’s cell phone and e-mail without a warrant, you’ve indefinitely detained your little brother Timmy in the linen closet without trial, and you’ve confiscated all the Super-Soakers from the neighborhood children (after all, why does any kid – besides you, of course – even NEED a Super-Soaker for self-defense? A regular water pistol should be enough). What do you do for an encore?
That’s where the US Air Force Medium Altitude, Long Endurance, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) RQ-1 Predator from Maisto comes in. Let’s say that Dad has been labeled a terrorist in secret through your disposition matrix. Rather than just arrest him and go through the hassle of trying and convicting him in a court of law, and having to fool with all those terrorist-loving Constitutional protections, you can just use one of these flying death robots to assassinate him! … Show him who’s boss, whether he’s at a wedding, a funeral, or just having his morning coffee. Sow fear and carnage in your wake! Win a Nobel Peace Prize and be declared Time Magazine’s Person of the Year – Twice!
This goes well with the Maisto Extraordinary Rendition playset, by the way – which gives you all the tools you need to kidnap the family pet and take him for interrogation at a neighbor’s house, where the rules of the Geneva Convention may not apply. Loads of fun!
And, more concisely, but with much the same point:
This is the best toy ever. Finally, I can pretend that I’m a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize! It’s like I’m sitting right there in the White House with my very own kill list!
[Tom Jenkins for The Guardian]
Guardian columnist Marina Hyde had a hilarious piece yesterday from the Olympic equestrian venue in Greenwich. Mind you, I understood only about half of it, between obscure references best understood by residents of the UK and obscure references best understood by the horse set. At least I know that wellies are Wellingtons, the famed rubber boot of British country life, and that Hunter has made them for decades. That got me started in the passage below. You’ll find my chosen line of the day in the third paragraph, but it’s all well done. (Hat tip: Geoff Shackelford.)
To Greenwich Park, home of the prime meridian line, where it was officially Country O’Clock for the equestrianism on Monday. To give you a handle on the crowd, no one was wearing the wrong shoes. During Sunday’s rains at the Olympic Park, all manner of error-strewn urban footwear planning was on show, with punters slipping and slopping around in sandals and flip flops.
At Greenwich, despite the sunny skies, there were innumerable pairs of Hunter wellies, for the simple reason that you never know how it’s going to turn out. Empty seats scandal in the morning, shepherd’s warning.
Even more clearly in evidence were the hundreds wearing riding boots – a bit like those spectators who wear golf shoes to championships, giving them the air of people who imagine they might be called on to the greens at any time and asked to replace Tiger Woods if he goes to pieces.
Then again, Greenwich feels like a more-than-usually expert crowd. “Those surface changes made a big difference to the arena at the weekend,” one man was observing to his neighbour as they watched the cross country, which saw horses clearing jumps shaped like tractors, in a park from which you can see the City of London.
Where many 2012 venues give the impression of a mixed crowd of sport-watching novices, dedicated tourists, and diehard fans, much of Monday’s Greenwich bunch seemed like they knew each other instinctively – and possibly socially.
And speaking of the equestrian events, the hurdles for the jumping competition are a wonderful bit of whimsy. Be sure to see the Guardian’s slide show here.
[Andrew Boyers/Action Images]
I’ve been a long-time fan of the NYT’s weekly Metropolitan Diary feature. Fellow readers will know that each Diary consists of four to six short tales sent in by readers, each showing the human side of life in New York: conversations overheard on the bus; unexpected encounters on the street; clever remarks by storekeepers or taxi drivers; an appreciative note from a tourist. In recent years, the Diary has been a Monday staple. In the national edition, one would find it by turning a page or two forward from the editorial page.
As I began to move more of my NYT reading from the printed paper to the internet, I found that I would sometimes forget to read the Diary. Having already scanned the website Sunday night for most of the items of interest, I would take a quick look at the paper Monday morning and miss the Diary. Thanks to OmniFocus, I solved that problem — I added a weekly reminder that appears each Sunday telling me to read the Diary. Come evening, I do a search at the NYT website for Met Diary, find it, and read it. I no longer worry that the Diary will go unread.
Last night, though, something strange happened. I searched and searched without finding the Diary. Finally, I discovered that starting two days ago, the Metropolitan Diary has been converted from a weekly feature to a daily one. Online anyway. The weekly format will continue in the print edition, but each day a single Diary entry will appear online. Here is the explanation of the new system (along with perhaps a better description of the Diary than the one I attempted above):
For nearly 36 years, Metropolitan Diary has been a place for New Yorkers, past and present, to share odd fleeting moments at Bloomingdale’s, at the deli around the corner, in the elevator or at the movies. Since its debut, overheard conversations have shifted from the backseat of Checker cabs to Crown Vics, from pay-phone booths to cellphones and from the IRT to the JMZ. Still, punch lines delivered by surly waiters, witty train conductors, lively bus drivers, erudite window washers and adult children facing off with an overbearing parent continue to surprise us.
Glenn Collins, the third editor of the column, one of nearly a dozen diary editors, called it an “elegant cocktail of the city.”
While it’s hard to imagine a 20-pound mailbag as “interactive,” back in 1976, when Metropolitan Diary first appeared in The New York Times, a letterbox was the only inbox that existed. Predating the Internet and fax machines, the diary was an early example of a user-generated feature at the newspaper and served as a constant dialogue between readers and editors that captured the zeitgeist.
Taking this concept into the age of the Internet, we aim to make Metropolitan Diary even more interactive on City Room. For our dedicated newspaper readers, not to worry. You’ll still be able to read items in print on Mondays; but online, you can now share and comment on your favorite entries.
Published contributors were once rewarded with a Champagne delivery, but today’s reward is a bylined entry into New York’s story canon, an ingredient of this “elegant cocktail of the city.”
Sometimes it takes readers years to gather the courage to submit, while others offer these New York moments unabashedly. Whatever your speed, whatever your medium, we hope you’ll share your tale with us.
You can read the initial four entries here. Plus, you can subscribe to the RSS feed. I did last night. No need anymore for my elaborate Sunday reminder and search system. I can instead await the new one each day in my newsreader.
I do have one beef with the Diary: the tradition too many entrants follow of concluding their tales with “Only in New York.” Geez. Really? If you’re standing on 34th Street, you look up, and you see a gorilla atop the Empire State Building, fine, submit a piece to Metropolitan Diary and say “Only in New York.” I get that. But otherwise, spare me. It just ruins the story.
After finishing Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin two Friday nights ago, I thought about turning at long last to Tony Judt’s Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, a natural successor, as I mentioned in writing about Bloodlands. More natural, indeed, than I even realized, what with the publication last week of Judt and Snyder’s joint enterprise, Thinking the Twentieth Century, which was reviewed in the Sunday NYT Book Review yesterday by Francis Fukuyama. (The book is based on conversations between Judt and Snyder before Judt’s death two summers ago.)
Instead, the next morning I found myself downloading Robert Crais’ new crime novel, Taken. I was a fifth of the way through when I stopped to write about it a day later, a week ago yesterday. By last Wednesday, the momentum was too much. I got home late that evening from the department’s annual dinner, read another 50 pages before going to sleep, then awoke at 4:30 Thursday morning and read the last 115 pages. Pretty good. Crais’ best in a while.
Once again, I had to figure out what to read next. Judt’s Postwar? Friday night, I paged through it, then saw the Fukuyama’s review on-line of the Judt-Snyder book and considered that. But I was leaning toward a novel, and at the top of my list has been Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding. I wasn’t feeling ready for a 500+ page commitment just yet, so I returned to my list of books to keep in mind, explored a few, then reminded myself of why Mat Johnson’s Pym was on the list. The reason was Adam Mansbach’s review in the Sunday NYT a year ago today, in which Mansbach begins:
“If we can identify how the pathology of Whiteness was constructed,” the narrator, Chris Jaynes, proposes early in “Pym,” Mat Johnson’s relentlessly entertaining new novel, “then we can learn how to dismantle it.” For Jaynes, the only black male professor at an “intimate, good but not great” college, the project of making whiteness visible has led to an obsession with “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket,” the only novel by Edgar Allan Poe.
It’s as good a place as any to begin. Toni Morrison has written that “no early American writer is more important to the concept of American Africanism than Poe,” and his single work of long fiction is a simmering trove of racial terror. Poe’s protagonist, Pym, is a hapless seafarer whose adventures culminate in the discovery and exploitation of Tsalal, a tropical island located improbably close to Antarctica and populated by primitive natives so dark even their teeth are black. “Horrors from the pit of the antebellum subconscious,” Jaynes calls them.
I was ready for an adventure. I downloaded it, began reading, and now I’m some 90 pages in. It’s fascinating, constantly surprising, with a passage every few pages that is completely captivating. For instance, early on, the protagonist discusses the Diversity Committee at Bard College, the small school (a real school) on the Hudson River in New York where, as part of the novel’s plot he has been denied tenure by the president. Talking with a new colleague, Jaynes explains that
“the Diversity Committee has one primary purpose: so that the school can say it has a diversity committee. They need that for when students get upset about race issues or general ethnic stuff. It allows the faculty and administration to point to it and go, ‘Everything’s going to be okay, we have formed a committee.’ People find that very relaxing. It’s sort of like, if you had a fire, and instead of putting it out, you formed a fire committee. But none of the ideas that come out of all that committeeing will ever be implemented, see? Nothing the committee has suggested in thirty years has ever been funded. It’s a gerbil wheel, meant to ‘Keep this nigger boy running.'”
Coincidentally, Improv Everywhere, which has been re-mastering and re-releasing videos of some of their old missions, today put out a new version of Meet a Black Person, in which comedian Colton Dunn went to Aspen in 2006 to offer just that service.
In Pym‘s world, one where dozens of African-Americans in Gary, Indiana, can believe that their background is more Native American than African-American until, to their dismay, DNA testing by a University of Chicago proves otherwise, a “Meet a Black Person” stand sounds entirely believable.
Watch the video. Read the book.
[Cy Cyr, Golf Digest, December 2011]
This may be of limited interest, but I got a kick out of Golf Digest’s slideshow of The 18 Most Annoying Golf Partners, so I’m passing it on. (HT: Geoff Shackelford.) Pictured above is Cell Phone Guy. Defining characteristics: Considers golf course an extension of his office, home, therapist’s couch, etc. Has perfected the balancing-phone-on-the-shoulder wedge shot. Favorite expression: “You guys hit. I gotta take this.” The Parking Lot Pro is good too. And The Air Counter. Have a look.
I don’t anticipate that this will turn into a new Ron’s View feature. I’m trying it out in honor of my friend Paul, who dropped by my office Friday to chat before heading off for a conference in Stony Brook followed by holiday in his native New Zealand. In our conversation, it came up that Paul wanted to pass some information on to his father while they were on the phone, but his father didn’t have a pen at hand. This prompted Paul to tell his father a joke, which Paul then told me and which I am about to tell you. After delivering the joke, Paul suggested I put it on Ron’s View, but quickly had second thoughts, realizing it might not be classy enough for the neighborhood. Just this once, I will allow a lowering of the standards.
The joke is all about the punchline, so even if you forget the setup, you can create your own. With that in mind, and not entirely remembering Paul’s setup, I looked online last night and found many versions. As anticipated, the setup varies, but the punchline remains constant. Here’s my telling:
A busy doctor, nearing the end of a full day of appointments, is discussing a course of treatment with one of his patients. They agree to start the patient on a new medication and the doctor reaches into his jacket pocket for a pen. As he begins to write the script, he discovers that he is holding an anal thermometer.
“Damn,” the doctor exclaims, “some asshole has my pen!”
If you don’t like my setup, feel free to make up your own. Or do a search on “asshole has my pen” and study the many versions online. Some make the doctor a proctologist, which strikes me as overkill.
Thanks, Paul. Safe travels.