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Archive for November, 2008

As a long-suffering Seattle sports fan, I can say without hesitation or debate that 2008 was the worst year in history for Seattle sports.

Let’s look at the performance of the professional and collegiate teams that get the most interest in Seattle:

Seattle SuperSonics (NBA – basketball)

With a record of 20-62, the 2007-08 season was the worst in the franchise’s 41 year history. The Sonics hadn’t played well lately, only make the playoffs once in six years, but this drop-off in performance (11 games from the previous year) was staggering even by those lowered standards. Bad trades and a squabble about the owner moving the team probably contributed. They did have the rookie of the year, in Kevin Durant, foretelling hope in building the team back up, but this season was a complete failure.

Failure Indicator: 10 out of 10

Seattle Mariners (MLB – baseball)

With a record of 61-101, the 2008 season was the 4th worst in the team’s history. It marked the 4th time that they had lost 100 games in a season (a very dubious distinction), the last time being 1983 when the team was still young and terrible. In 2007 the Mariners were close to making the playoffs, but in 2008 they won 27 fewer games – an epic drop-off in baseball terms. There was high expectation to make the playoffs in 2008; in the other three 100 loss seasons, there were no expectations. That the manager quit in the middle of the season and that there was a glut of injuries did not help the situation.

Failure Indicator: 10/10

Seattle Seahawks (NFL – football)

Currently at 2-10, the Seahawks are in danger of one of their worst seasons ever. Even if they were to magically win the rest of their games (they play three playoff contending teams), 6-10 would still rank as a complete bust of a season. After five consecutive years of making the playoffs (no other NFC team has done that, not even the Giants) and a Super Bowl appearance, the Seahawks have fallen into the ranks of the worst teams this season. Naming a coach-in-waiting during Mike Holmgren’s last season is a complete crock and very likely contributed to the terrible season. Injuries to almost all wide receivers and losing Matt Hasselbeck for 5 games only added fuel to the fire of their craptasticness.

Failure Indicator: 10/10

University of Washington Huskies (College Football)

At 0-11, with one game left to play (and not winnable), the Huskies are in the nightmare state of complete and utter failure. No Huskies team in its 100 + year history has ever been this bad. Losing in double overtime to the supposedly worse Washington State Cougars only drives this point home. None of the other 119 BCS eligible schools are winless. No Pac-10 team has ever gone 0-12. Outscored 152-415, they didn’t just lose, they got destroyed by an average of 38-14. Tyrone Willingham, you’ve been served. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Failure Indicator: 12/10

University of Washington Huskies (College Basketball – Men’s and Women’s)

The men’s team went 16-17 (7-11 Pac-10) and missed the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year.

The women’s team went 13-18 (8-10 Pac-10), missed the NCAA Tournament and did nothing worth noting.

Failure Indicator: 7/10

As performance is not the only indicator, let’s look at some intangibles:

The Seattle SuperSonics are stolen from Seattle by greed and a declining and increasingly irrelevant league and re-located to Oklahoma City. The NBA is dead to me.

Worst. Year. Ever.

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I wanted to bring you a well researched, thoughtful exposé on climate change and the green revolution, but I realised that would involve more then five minutes of effort. So instead, let’s talk wiener dogs:

http://www.showusyourwiener.com/

 

http://www.wienertakesall.com/

 

 

Wiener Dog Chasing a Rottwieler

 

 

Wiener Dog Races

 

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Quotes for the Random Person

Only boring people are brilliant in the morning. – Oscar Wilde

Call someplace paradise; kiss it goodbye. – The Eagles, from the song “The Last Resort

There is no correlation at all between success and hours worked. – Seth Godin, from the book “Small is the New Big

It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission. – Grace Murray Hopper

Despite of my rage, I’m still just a rat in a cage. – Smashing Pumpkins, from the song “Bullet With Butterfly Wings

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Tackling the Big One

Elevation 14,411: Part 1

On my ‘bucket list’ or ‘life to do list’, or whatever you want to call it, the eighth item scrawled on my scrape of paper is “Climb Mt. Rainer”. At 14,411 feet, it is not necessarily the easiest thing to have on such a list.

I’m sure many people have proclaimed climbing a mountain as something to be done before the coffin lid slams shut or the urn stopper is corked, but they may not care about which mountain. Any mountain will do. For me too, I’d be interested in climbing a few different mountains, including Mt. Fuji and Mt. Kilimanjaro, neither of which are technical climbs. You basically hike to the top; not easy, but not technical.

But those mountains aren’t bucket listed, they are just things to do if the opportunity were to present itself. Not Mt. Rainer, it’s both technical and hard, and it’s the only mountain on my list.

Tackling this big one may be particular to only those that grew up in Washington State. Mt. Rainer towers above us at all times. It’s something we’ve hiked on, camped on, road tripped on, explored, photographed, built igloos and shelters on, had snowball fights on, sledded on, and generally became one with nature on. There is something ingrained deeply within us to try, not to conquer – that would be impossible, but to at least tame, if only for a brief moment, the big one that is never far from our minds.

I’ll be climbing Mt. Rainer in 2009 and as that fateful trip draws nearer, I’ll be talking about it some more. Stay tuned. (Not completed yet!)

For anyone that is considering climbing a mountain and needs convincing, have a listen:

http://www.theonion.com/content/radio_news/area_man_goaded_into_0

The Wordle Version

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Fugu for Fuji

(Note: I have updated this post, including reformatting the photos and adding in new ones.)

Part 2 of 2

So concludes this sweeping, thrilling tale of an elegantly described vision of Japan. Part 2 finishes the best of Japan. The details are so vivid, only a Jackson Pollock or a Wordle could divert your attention. Let’s get started and finish this.

Fugu

A poisonous puffer fish deserves a modicum of respect in that it has the ability to strike you dead in an instant. Prepared by only the most skilled and trained chefs, fugu cut wrong will end both your culinary and life experiences. A mere nick of an internal organ and the deadly poison seeps into the flesh. Our fugu arrived first as thin slices of sashimi, then as a still writhing plate of fish cuts (no organs). These cuts are cooked at your table in a boiling hot pot with veggies and noodles and then eaten directly from the pot. Tasty yes, but surviving was the best part.

Sashimi

Writhing Fugu

Himeji-jo

One of Japan’s ‘three famous castles,’ sometimes called the White Heron Castle because it’s… well, white. It was used in the The Last Samurai and a few other films. Aside from all that, this castle is every bit the iconic showcase of Japan’s feudal history of shoguns, samurai and battle. You can walk (take off your shoes, put on slippers) past the collection of weapons, over hardwood floors designed to expose creeping ninjas, past hidden compartments for stealth attacks on intruders, all the way to the top and feel almost like you’ve been transported back 400 years. (Heroes joke here.)

Himeji Castle

 

Battle stance

 

Vending machines

Japan has just the right combination of societal conditions that allows such things as vending machines to be integral to its very existence. You can find a random (yes, still working) vending machine on a sleepy, residential street far away from anything. They are found in train stations, malls, bowling alleys, on sidewalks, in parks, in gardens, near temples. There are almost 5.6 million vending machines, or one for every 23 people. In fact, if you go more than two minutes without spotting a vending machine you are no longer in Japan. The most common items are drinks, which includes beer. My favorite was the coffee in a can, your choice of hot or cold.

 

Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki basically means ‘grill what you like’. So, as with all Japanese food, eating it is an experience unto itself. It is essentially pancakes filled and covered with all kinds of ingredients; especially veggies, seafood, meat and sometimes noodles, usually with a special sauce. (Some Japanese put mayonnaise on it. Then again those same people put mayonnaise on everything.) Most of the time you get the ingredients and you cook them on the grill at your table, but other times a chef will walk out with a huge sizzling pile of goodness. There are two regional styles vying for your palette’s attention, one from Hiroshima and one from the Osaka area. We tried both styles and they were both damn tasty.

Eating what we like

Osaka style

Hiroshima style

 

Umbrella ella ella ella

At the ‘Karaoke Bar’ in Kobe, Rihanna belted out her velvety smooth rendition of Umbrella in a sound proof room. Oh wait, it was actually three drunken dudes and a Japanese chick singing this, and the dudes sucked. Karaoke bars are the scourge of Japan, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get in there and destroy ear drums!

Karaoke booth

 

Philosopher’s Path, Kyoto

As a learned philosopher myself, I was eager to trek along the same canal that Kitaro Nishida (this is his path after all) would walk on and meditate in its calming solitude. Known as the Tetsugaku-no-michi (philosopher’s walk), it meanders through the northwestern part of Kyoto. The path is lined with cherry trees that snow pink blossoms and a brook that gushes through the stone canal while koi swim about. The two kilometer journey on a crisp April day brings out the zen-like peace only nature and beauty can elicit. Whatever.

Find the path

Sake

You sip it repeatedly from a small choko (cup) or masu (wooden cup) and it will bring you a long ways towards drunk in a hurry. Generally it is rice wine, but as with both beer and wine, this isn’t completely accurate as there are a lot of varieties and ways to brew sake. We visited a sake brewery and had our fair share of samples. Get your own!

Wiener dogs

The Japanese have an unhealthy fascination with miniature dachshunds. Nothing wrong with that per se. It seems everybody has one, usually the long-haired kind, and walks them here or there. We stepped into a pet store and lo and behold! six wiener puppies. All so damn cute!  As a wiener dog owner, this is my kind of place! Yet the situation deteriorated into chaos when a big screen at a train station plaza revealed a frenzy of ads (product still a mystery) with dancing and singing cartoon wiener dogs. You had me at wiener.

Mt. Fuji

As an iconic tribute to the splendor of Japan, Mt. Fuji’s grandeur towers over the landscape with majesty and vigor as its snowy spectacle glistens from the luster of sunbeams. (sigh, did I actually write this tripe? Or even worse, did you actually read it?). We arrived at Lake Kawaguchi one evening and checked into a small, clean hostel with anticipation of great views and photo ops. As we walked around town, took the scenic boat ride, all while fidgeting with our cameras, Mt. Fuji refused to show itself from behind its mask of clouds. The coy bastard. As the afternoon wore on, we were resigned to the reality of a wasted trip. Suddenly just at our lowest, the clouds dissipated and Mt. Fuji stood before us. Quickly we added another 1000 or so postcardesque photos to the world. Oh wait, I feel like I’ve seen this mountain before.

Yes, Mt. Fuji

 

fin

Wordle version

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Where Your Dreams Blow Bigger and Bigger

(Note: I have made some updates to this post, including reformatting the existing photos and adding in some new ones.)

Blow Larger and Larger

Part 1 of 2

Japan holds promise to entertain, enthrall, and overwhelm the senses. From the jostling commuters squeezing on over packed trains, to the memorizing neon lights and TV screens of Shibuya and Ginza, to the temples and grand castles, to the forests and coastlines, to the history and the culture, to the imposing sentinel, Mt. Fuji, standing guard over everything.

I give you the good, the weird and the delicious.

Miyajima

You arrive by ferry and as the island draws near, a tiny, red torii gate grows bigger and bigger beckoning you to enter its rugged land of temples, forests and mountains. Built in the sea, this floating gate and its tableau of the Itsukushima Shrine and pagodas, is considered one of Japan’s top three most scenic sites. Exploring the island leads you to trek around the shops, the cherry trees and the deer that snatch paper from your hands (hide your return ticket!) until you decide to start an ascent on Mt. Misen. The two kilometer path up is two-thirds steps, it is not for the faint of heart, but the view at the top, of the surrounding islands and even the faintly distant torii gate below, is worth every minute of the arduous climb. In all of this, you lose sight of how impressive the torii gate is until the tide goes out and you can muck your way through the sand and brine and experience its sheer mammoth size. It would take four or more people to wrap their arms entirely around one of its red, sea-weed encrusted pillars.

Toilets

If you’re looking to partake in space travel, you could do no worse than a hotel toilet. Much like the cockpit of a space shuttle, they have a mind-boggling array of buttons and gadgets. The sole function of which seems to allow you to adjust the ways and angles to shoot jets of water on (in?) your anus. You could spend your entire lifetime fiddling with the knobs to get the right angle. And frankly, I won’t begrudge you for trying.

Tsujiki fish market, Tokyo

The only accurate word for Tokyo’s largest fish market (and likely the world) is ‘carnage’. Row after row after row of tuna, fugu, sardines, octopus and whatever kind of seafood you can possibly think of, is on display and ready for slicing, dicing and buying. Giant tuna heads are cast off in large metal buckets, while the rest of their frozen carcasses get sawed up for shipping around the city. Motorized carts flit to and fro loading and moving fish around in a mad dash. To not scamper out of the way every few seconds will result in your untimely demise. The sushi in the nearby shops is as fresh as you can get anywhere in the world. Get there early enough (we didn’t) and you can witness the auction where the buyers bid on the freshest and best fish available. It is both overwhelming that that much fish and seafood even exists on earth, but that it happens every day!

Fish heads

Fishy

Somebody’s crabby

Cherry blossoms

If you have ever been to the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. during the cherry blossom season, then you may have an inkling of just how beautiful a country is when blanketed in cherry trees inflamed in these pink, rosy flowers. The first couple weeks of April is your only window of opportunity to witness such spectacle. And people come out in droves. Every city has its share of trees, but sections of Tokyo and Kyoto especially stagger the mind. Every temple and garden seems to be designed to flaunt the maximum allowable amount of blossoms.

Nikko in the snow

Nikko, an hour or so by train from Tokyo, has a picturesque and peaceful quality that even postcards cannot capture. It is home to numerous temples and the Shinkyo, a red bridge spanning a frothy river. Most famous for the Toshu-go Shrine, a ridiculously ornate mausoleum, where Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first true shogun, is buried. The shrine’s wood carvings are so detailed and colorful that the monkeys, peacocks and flowers look like they are literally alive. We also hiked all around the city and the temples, in the falling snow, including a random foray to the top of a wooded, snow-covered hill and another hill that offered a waterfall called Jakko Falls, that was so far out-of-the-way, we thought we had found the true end of the world.

Nikko

Snowing!

Colorful

Choco Cro

Light, flakey croissants with different flavors of chocolate bars baked inside, these are simply the start of the crack addiction you always wanted. You cannot eat just one, be it the dark, green tea or banana chocolate flavored. Choco Cro is the name of both the mascot (a dog) and the chain of shops (created at a café called St. Mark’s). If you go to Japan and fail to devour multiple of these addictive and delicious croissants, you have failed. In life and possibly beyond.

Tasty Choco Cro!

Kobe steak, Kobe

Thick and juicy and smothered in grilled onions served on a sizzling platter. Your knife cuts the tender meat like butter and a small taste simply melts on your tongue. Seared and prepared by truly iron chefs, you will not regret spending $70 for this hunk of marbled Kobe beef. Oishii desune! Then open the huge jar on your table and chew on a few antacid tablets they provide so you’ll live to eat another day.

Kobe steak

Biiru

Asahi black beer. Yebisu black beer. Kirin Ichiban beer. Suntory Malt’s beer. True.

Biiru

to be continued…under ‘Fugu for Fuji’

More photos:

Nikko

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