Tuesday, November 28, 2006

More from home -- baby naming

Man, you move to China and everyone forgets to invite you to big events.

Apparently, cousin Danny and Alisa had a baby naming last weekend for their daughter, Julia Natalie Cohen... She looks to have the Danny/Uncle Ben love of a good snooze. That's Rachel hanging upside down.

Delaware Thanksgiving

These photos come to me courtesy of brother in law Jon "Wall Street" Kessler. He is very proud of his turkey fryer and I must say the bird I had out of this thing a couple of years back was delicious --surpassed only by my cayenne pepper concotion this year.

Jon's getup also deserves high praise, an unusual but highly effective outfit.

We need to get a turducken for that fryer -- first year I'm back.

Apparently, the only guests at family Thanksgiving this year were Jon, my brother Delaware Dave and the turkey.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Jacob Paul, MVP

Jacob was named MVP of his Dulwich College Football Club team last week. He was really, understandably proud. He now leads his old man in MVP Awards 1-0 and has many years left to accumulate them. I was the King of Fat Lenny's Hustle Awards.

They split the team into three and he was placed on the middle team, which honestly didn't seem right. The coaches said they needed a couple of stronger kids to anchor it and he was happy so fine. I thought he would have benefitted from being pushed more but he ended up really enjopying being the man and the award obviously has helped him feel really good.

Eli was also proud though he is sad that he doesn't have any trophies and jacob has a bunch -- they give them out to everyone in NJ soccer and baseball. Here, you just get a medal. I may get him one at the end of the year for "Most Improved Reader."

Friday, November 24, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

Anna and ladies' man mathius.

Charles M. and Samara, Kenyan natives.

B. with Ellen and Georgie

Tony and Arabella

Marcus B.

Theo and Eddie Yardley

Kristi and Angela

Maya A. and Nathan B.

Kids' table is alive and well in Beijing.

Maya Alexandri delivers turkey two from next door...we needed an extra oven.

Wyatt and Jacqui Cameron came by for a drink on their way elsewhere.

Very interested observors at our turkey bowl.

Thanksgiving two in Beijing was a lot of fun. It’s strange because it’s just another work day here.. kids go to school. Several people have told me that they find it to be the depressing time, when they feel stranded and lost. I don’t feel that way. Those people don’t host a real Thanksgiving.. they go to the clubhouse here or a few restaurants that serve meals and that does seem bleak. But we had a great day.

We hosted again and brought together a great group of people, including the Yardleys, our more-or-less American friends Kristi and Nathan (he is Ethiopian but they are basically American), our American pal Maya Alaexandri and two couple celebrating their first Thanskgivings – Tony and Georgie from Australia and Charles and Angela, from Kenya.

I stand by Thanksgiving as a great event and it is really nice to share it with people. We got two imported from America birds from Schindler’s German butcher (best meat in town) and cooked up the whole works.

I probably mentioned this last year but being here last year and this are the first times we have hosted Thanskgiving and it really makes me feel like an adult. Usually at such events, you slide back into being a kid, or at least I do. I have become pretty adept at carving a bird though I always think of Popop Rudy when I do. Great food, great company, lots of wine and homemade pumpkin pie to cap it off. Great times.

I cut out in the afternoon to play in a turkey bowl that was surprisingly serious.. 8-8 on a full soccer pitch, with flags. Remarkably, no injuries but I am still wobbly legged two days later. I scurried back to help finish preperations, which were under control thanks to Becky, Maya and Ho ayi. Funniest thing at the game was all the Chinese guys lining up to watch with great curiosity.

Tonight, we had Thanskgiving mach 2 at our friends the Poss.. lots of people here celebrate on Saturday because kids re home, no work, etc. so we got to double dip, as with Halloween. And the big news is tonight on Thanksgiving 10 or 11, Jacob finally tried turkey, under the influence of Lucas Pos – and he loved it. Ate mounds of white meat and kept asking for more.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

American Embassy visit

Note: these photos are not of the US Embassy but of others nearby, in the Embassy District. It gives you an idea what it looks like. These green-coated paramilitary police are all over the place.

I went to the American Embassy for the first time last week to renew my passport. They are building a new compound outside of downtown but for now it is located in the heart of the city in a large diplomatic area, which hosts many embassies. As such, it is old, leafy and filled with barricades and soldiers.

You have to walk the last bunch of blocks because cars are banned. As you approach the embassy, you have to show your Passport about three times just to get into the compound. Then you show it again inside a security building, where you go through a metal detector and check any electronics. You emerge form that and you are on American soil. Right in the front there is a little Starbucks of which I availed myself before heading inside. There signs up all over, “Holiday turkeys and hams can be picked up next Weds. in the Snack Bar.”

Entering the building you have to pass through one more security check ,showing the passport one more time, this time to a marine Sergeant behind a bulletproof glass. I can’t tell you how good I felt handing my passport over the African American kid back there. I felt like hugging him. It just feels nice and relaxed to be in that place. I didn’t even retch at the big pictures of Bush, Cheney and Rice.

Anna soccer

Dulwich started a toddler branch of the DCFC (Dulwich college Football Club) this year and Anna was the only female participant. She is a Natural Born Killa out there. Can't wait to coach her.

Very Nice

From Brian Ross' ABC News blog

China Admits Selling Prisoners' Organs

November 21, 2006 10:22 AM

Anna Schecter Reports:

Chinese_prisoner_nr For the first time, the Chinese government has admitted selling the organs of executed prisoners for profit, a gruesome business it had denied for years.

Speaking at a national conference of transplant surgeons in Guangzhou last week, Vice-Minister of Health Huang Jiefu admitted, "Apart from a small portion of traffic victims, most of the organs from cadavers are from executed prisoners," according to the China Daily, a state-run English-language newspaper published in Beijing.

Harry Wu, a former political prisoner in China and human rights activist, says that Huang's statement is an important admission.

"Ten years ago I talked about this, ABC and BBC reported, Congress held hearings about this, and China always denied it, saying 'No, no, no, never,'" said Wu. "And this time, they said 'Yes.'"

Wu assisted ABC News' 1997 Primetime investigation where the story, "Blood Money: Black Market for Kidneys from Chinese Prisoners," first broke.

According to the published account, the health vice-minister complained that foreigners were getting the vast majority of the organs because they could better afford to pay than Chinese citizens. The cost of a prisoner's kidney has been estimated by human rights groups at about $90,000.

Wu says that poor Chinese are selling their organs on the black market, even though it is now illegal in China to sell organs for profit.

A Ministry of Health official in Beijing declined to comment, saying that ABC News needed to submit a written application for an interview.

Sophie Richardson, an Asia expert for Human Rights Watch, says China still has a long way to go to improve its human rights standards. "This is the beginning of an effort to look like it's responding to concerns about some pretty grotesque behavior."

The Chinese government established a special committee to crack down on the organ black market earlier this year.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Saturday, November 18, 2006


Well, best I can tell the game is not on here. ESPN INtl will no doubt sowing beach volleyball or swimming or something. They don't seem to have an NCAA deal.

I will get up around 5 am (4 pm EST) and log onto ESPN.com and start hitting refresh. Phone is right by my computer so any interested parties, please call any time after 4:30 pm -- 973-761-4587.

RIP Bo 1929-2006

I interviewed Bo Schembechler 10 years ago for Blitz, Slam's football publication ,which was really good while it lasted. It follows below.

A few things to note: I did not like Bo's politics and his handling of the Tigers was a disgrace. But he was MIchigan footballa dn as far as I could ever tell was a man of integrity while there. also, you'll see where he calls Title IX absurd. At the time, my cousin amy cohen's supreme court had just been decided and I tol dhim about her and that she was related. He was very interested in hearing about her and said,"good for her. She shouldn't have taken that lying down." I thought that was interesting and admirable considering the damage he felt the law had done.

It's just bizarre that he died on the eve of the biggest game in Michigan-OSU history. Stevie G. believes he martyred himself for the cause. Not sure I buy that. But anyhow, let's all tip our hats to Bo.

Bo Schembechler, who retired in 1990 after 21 years as the University of Michigan football coach, still has an office at the U.--in Schembechler Hall. And why shouldn't Bo have a building named after himself? As coach, he awakened a sleeping giant--returning Michigan to football prominence--posted a record of 194-48-5, and retired as the fifth-winnengest coach in NCAA history. As the following conversation illustrates, he remains a straight-shooting, fiercely opinionated observor of college sports.

AP: When you came here in 1969, the football program had fallen on hard times.
BO: I came in and instituted an extremely rigorous summer training program--there had been none--and everyone told me it wouldn't work, that people wouldn't go for that in Ann Arbor. The team had a reputation for having good talent, but being soft. I did have some attrition, but the real football players stayed. I was harder on that first Michigan team--which included Dan Dierdorf--than I ever was on any other group, partly because I was so driven by my own ambition. I killed them. I ran them into the ground.

AP: And it must have worked--that year, you defeated Ohio State, a game many credit with really turning around the program, not to mention reigniting a dormant rivalry. And, of course, OSU was coached by your mentor, Woody Hayes. It's almost mythical...
BO: And you have to realize that was Woody's best team ever. They were riding a 22-game winning streak and were referred to as "the greatest team of the century." So it was just a huge win, and every game we played aganst them while Woody was still the coach [a series referred to as the 10-year war] had that type of atmosphere. It was a lot of fun.

AP: Many people think that college athletes are exploited--universities are making big money off of their skills--so they should be paid. What do you think of that?
BO: First of all, you can't pay them because the athletic departments are strapped for cash. Especially at an institution like this that is totally dedicated to gender equality. Even with all the money that our footall and basketball teams bring in and with all the licensing and the multi-millions from Nike, we can't pay the bills. So the concept that there is all this money floating around is just not true: all the revenue from football and basketball goes to subsidizing the other sports, which don't generate any revenue.

The other problem is, how would you set the pay scale? Do you pay a starter more? Does someone who scores a touchdown or makes an interception in the Rose Bowl get a bonus? Athletes are paid by receiving full scholarships and getting the chance to get a damned fine education.

AP: So you think the concept of the student-athlete is alive and well?
BO: Of course it is, for a vast majority of college athletes. But as we have put more pressure on the football and basketball teams to win and added more showbiz to the mix so we can make more money, we have in a way made a farce of the student-athlete concept. We're coming close to making the phrase a joke.

You hear the college presidents and administrators complaining about athletes not getting degrees and they're resonsible for it. They made freshman eligible and they cut the grants-in-aid [scholarships], so you had to play them. And then they milk every dollar they can get from football and basketball. And they make every single decision based on money--not on what's right for those kids. You want to see football done the way it should be done, it's simple: increase the grants-in-aid, which have been cut from 135 to 95, and make freshman ineligible. Basketball is almost absurd by now--they only have 13 grants-in-aid.

AP: Why does that make such a difference?
BO: It ratchets up the pressure on every kid and on every coach. It makes recruiting, which is a horrible process, even worse, because there is less margin for error. It puts pressure on coaches to take away the scholarships from kids who don't pan out, which is totally wrong. And by having freshman play, kids don't have any time to adjust to being students before they become athletes--which is essential if you're serious about this issue. I went over to summer practice the other day and I saw two freshman--who had not yet suited up in a game here, had not taken a class, were not really students yet--being interviewed by 12 media people. It's absurd.

Eliminating freshman eligibility will not solve all of our problems, but it is the fairest thing for the student-athlete, because right now they are thrown out there and told to be students without being shown how to do it. We need to give them a year to just be students. In order to do that, we are going to have to get rid of that ridiculous gender-equity rule. It just can't work.

BLITZ: How does that law, which states that a university has to have an equal number of male and female athletes, affect this issue?
BO: It's forced us to cut back the grants-in aid, which makes all of the other reforms impossible. Right now, men's basketball has 13 and women's has 15. Of course, none of these things that they we are talking about will ever happen because the NCAA won't let them happen.

AP: And who controls the NCAA?
BO: The university presidents. The athletic directors have no real control over anything. In fact, Penn State came into the Big Ten and not a single athletic director knew a thing about it before it was announced. And that was the end of my career as an athletic director.

AP: The most famous thing you did as atheltic director was fire Bill Frieder as basketball coach when he announced on the eve of the 1989 NCAA tournament that he was leaving to go to Arizona State, but would coach U-M through the tournament. You said, "I want a Michigan man coaching Michigan." And then you made assistant coach Steve Fisher the interim coach--and he won the national chamionship.
BO: Well that quote which everyone knows was incorrect and simplified. I said, "We will have a man who works for Michigan coaching Michigan." I wasn't going to have the Arizona State basketball coach coaching Michigan. That was no big thing. Anyone would have done the same thing I did. Imagine being the athletic director and getting a call from a newspaper reporter at 11:00 at night telling you that your basketball coach had signed a contract with someone else.

He did not tell his players. He did not tell his coaches and he did not tell me. Plus, the Athletic Director down there never called me to ask for permission to speak with Frieder. That whole thing was totally unethical. He finally called the next day and said, "Bo, it's no problem. They have a jet waiting for me. I'll fly up and coach the team through the tournament." I said, "Like hell you will. You're finished here." I made Fisher the coach that minute. I wasn't trying to win a national championship; I was just doing what was right, and I've gotten too much credit for it. It was a simple decision.

AP: After leaving Michigan, you were general manager of the Detroit Tigers for two years. How did you enjoy your brief sojourn into baseball?
BO: It was great if you like trying to rebuild a bad team with no money. [laughs] Actually, I was frustrated because I came up with a plan that I thought couldn't miss and it missed. Baseball recruits against the colleges, and I suggested that we discontinue doing that, that if a high school player says he wants to go to college, instead of trying to talk him out of it, we should say, "Great, but we're going to retain the draft rights to you and we want you to play in our summer league program with our coaches." This is essentially what hockey does and it serves everyone better--the kid gets a shot at an education and he gets better coaching than in the low minors, which helps the team. I went to the NCAA and got this approved.

You know who nixed the plan? The player's union. They have absolutely no control over these kids and do nothing to directly benefit them, but they didn't like it because the agents--who run that union--would lose power and money. So it was nixed and the system remained in place where a kid has to choose between going pro and going to college and if they go pro and don't make it, that's it, they're done.

AP: There's a quote in your book that says of your infamous tantrums, "it's not temper, it's coaching." Please explain.
BO: I really think that every great coach I've ever known has been a great actor. Sure you're really mad when you're throwing a tantrum but you're in control, you know what you're doing--you have to know when to turn it on and when to pull it back. I hate to see these coaches standing on the sidelines with their arms folded over their chest looking so calm and removed during a game. Some of these guys never even call a play; they just delegate everything and their coordinators call the plays. All they do is decide when to punt and when to kick a field goal. All of the fun of coaching would be gone if you didn't actually coach during the games.

AP: What do you think of the new bowl alliance, which will lead to a national champion being officially crowned?
BO: I think it stinks for a variety of reasons. For one thing, they prostituted the Rose Bowl to do it. I'm waiting for the day when the number one and two teams in the country are from the Big Ten and the Pac 10 and they play in the Sugar Bowl. It's absurd. We had something that everyone else wanted to be a part of and we just threw it away. In fact, Paterno wanted to become a part of the Big 10 specifically because of the Rose Bowl.

AP: How do you feel about the licensing agreement Nike has with the University of Michigan, which seems to place swoops on everything--including the sign on the street for Schembecler Hall.
BO: That doesn't bother me. It's all part of the program. At least it takes some of the pressure off of football and basketball to generate enough revenues to float the whole department.

AP: Do you miss being a coach?
BO: I don't miss fighting these battles we're talking about. I don't miss recruiting--which is just a horrible, demeaning process. But I miss the staff meeting, the games, the practices, and, most of all, the players. I think we built something really special and had a heck of a good time. In 1989, we had a big banquet celebrating my 20th year with the team and out of 650 players who had suited up for me, 400 came. I think that tells you something. I liked all the players, and I treated every third-string player or walk-on the same way I treated the stars. In fact, I had a personal feeling of tremendous respect for a guy who would come out here every day and challenge all the great players without the benefit of a grant-in-aid. They were very, very important to the success of Michigan football. I believe that all of the guys who went through here learned a lot.

I believe that I taught them how to work hard; how to be honest; how to be disciplined. I believe I taught them how to win. I believe I taught them some loyalty. And I believe those things are important. If you want to call me old-fashioned, that's fine with me.

Jimmy Rushing with Count Basie "Kansas City Blues"

That's my favorite sax player Ben Webster playing behind the vocal.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Billie Holiday

Ga Ya Ju Ancient Caves

Last Tuesday was the last of a five-day long weekend and a caravan of us headed about two hours Northeast of Beijing to the Gu Ya Ju Anicent Caves. We had 5 adults + 9 kids, including Jacob's boy Lucas P, who was with me.

These pictures will give you a sense of what the area is like. When something is called "ancient" around here, you tend to take notice.

Apparently approx 1300 years ago up to 1000 people lived in these caves and
they remained populated for several generations. There are 131 'rooms'
carved into the mountainside. The kids had fun climbing in and out of the
different caves, some two story models and even some 'luxurious' 3 bedroom
suites. Cool trip and great behavior in the car both ways. Lucas is a very positive influence.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Tale of Two Teams


Soccer has been a big part of our social life since we arrived here. Within a few weeks, we had trekked down to the Lido Holiday Inn and signed up for fall soccer with Sports Beijing. Out there, we met a bunch of new friends, Jacob finding his boys and his identity and we really began to feel a part of life here. [Note.. if you start getting bored below, skip down.. because I am taking a while to set up the interesting par, where this story starts resembling the Bad News Bears.)

I signed up to coach Jacob and got paired with Scott Kronick and that’s also been a great thing. Scott is a Jewish guy from Flint. His mother was the PR lady in Roger & Me – remember her? We had actually cyber-met before we actually met and he began helping me right away with a few things. He was theguy who hooked me up with the papa John’s softball team last year and has really been a great friend and a great professional source as well. He is the head of Ogilvy PR here and has been here for 11 years, is really plugged in and knowledgeable.

We are also in sync coaching wise and doing this thing together just makes it fun. This year, his son Samuel moved form Chinese school to Dulwich and is in jacob’s class, deepening the bond.

To make a long story short, the guy who ran the league went back to the US this year and the teams were put together in a total mismash and mess. Scott and I were separated and the kids were split up all over the place. Jacob’s very good friend and uber-soccer player Lucas, who only played this season because he wanted to be with us was put on another team, with his father signed up as coach. We get the rosters a few days early and are able to switch around and Scott and I swapped back together but we lost Lucas and then it turned out his father couldn’t really coach; it was all a misunderstanding.

So the first day Lucas was there and wanted to play with us but another kid attached himself as well and Scott kept saying “Just take them, just take them.” But I was too square, and tried to get two parents to switch. But the mothers were all Korean and Chinese and didn’t understand and thought I was firing their kids. It was really awkward so I just threw up my hands and sent Lucas and Kyle off to their assigned team.

The result of all this is we had a pretty weak squad. At this stage there are starting to be some really good players. Sports Beijing has two development teams, where kids have to try out and receive great coaching two or three times a week. Most of them are Euro and their dads are real serious and these kids are getting to be really good. Some teams had three or four of them. We had none.

We had four Asian kids (Korean and Chinese) who really hadn’t played before. Two of the Korean kids were pretty good but spoke no English or Chinese and were very hard to communicate with and were really passive as well. We did gain one great new player and much to my delight, she was a girl, the only one on the team. I think it’s cool when the best player is the only girl. (It also furthers the Bad News Bear vibe.)

Anyhow, we start the season and are basically getting thumped game after game. We had a few decent games and then the kids just seemed to lose it and basically give up. We even had the fat kid who did everything put pull a Snickers bar out of his backpocket mid game.

So about a month ago, I totally changed my usually laissez faire approach. I started yelling, stalking the sidelines, screaming at kids to run, move their legs, stay focused. Scott even ran onto the field and grabbed Brian and ran with him, steering him by the shoulders. Pregame, instead of a half hour of drills I started having them race each other, just to practice sprinting and getting competitive. And it worked. It just struck me that this group really needed to be ridden a little. They responded to it, kept their heads in the game, got aggressive and confident. When I laid back, they all spaced out, except for Cameron. Jacob is pretty good but also prone to drifting away,

So a few weeks ago, I was really going crazy and my friend Greg Madden comes strolling by, walks up to me, pats me on the chest and says, ”Take it easy coach. You look like you’re about to do a Woody Hayes here.”

Thos coming from a guy who in his 20s coached pee wee football in Moon Township (Outside Pittsburgh) and had mothers pull him over and say “coach, you’re doing a great job but could you please stop calling our 8 year old sons pussies.”

We almost won that game where I was doing a Woody running up and down the sideline with the ball, losing 2-1. And the kids were having a blast. Believe me, I don’t care about winning or losing. I only care about the kids staying involved and laying themselves out a little. And the kids were all pumped after that game. They knew they had played better, tapped into something. We all left feeling good.

The next week, we played the best team in the League, who happen to be coached by my friend Steve Barnett. To make a long story short we got sued, screwed and tattooed every which way. It got to be 5-0 quickly and our kids were deflating. Steve changed everyone around, made their hot shots defenders and goalies and their scrubs kept scoring.. soon it was 7 or 8-0. In the last few minutes, Cameron stole the ball and went full field on a breakway then slammed it past the hotshot goalie, same German kid who had scored three or four goals. That was quite satisfying, e specially when during the handshake he said to her, “I let you score because you guys were losing so badly.”

I let him know that was poor sportsmanship and a lamely blatant lie to boot.

Now skip forward two weeks.. it’s the final day of the season and we play a mini tournament… four games in 90 minutes. Jacob and I were a few minute s late and he dillydallying around and zipping his coat when I was telling him he had to just take it off, so we get up there and the game is just about to kick off and we are short a player so he runs right onto the field, no warmup and the game starts.

We were playing on a small field and I could see right away that everyone was into it, attacking, playing tough D and playing with some fire in their bellies. Jacob, whom I thought was half asleep, was playing like a whirling dervish, running midfield and seeming to be everywhere. The short game ended in a 0-0 tie.

Next, we slid over to a big field and a much tougher opponent. Scott and I called the kids together and basically said, do the same thing, that was awesome. And they did. It was really tremendous. Jacob slid back to goalie and made a couple of great saves but we were pushing the ball and in control an should have scored once ort twice. Again, a 0-0 tie and a more impressive one. Whistle blows and we slide over one field – and here comes the black team, the same squad that humiliated us two weeks prior.

Now we have played 40 minutes or so of high intensity soccer and we have no subs. I know the kids are getting tired and are intimidated. We call them together. “Play the same way you have been and you can stay with anybody. When the ball is in front of you, go get it. You have as much right to it as any of them.”

We put Jacob in the middle back on defense. Last game they killed us with passing.. ball came down, everyone ran over, they swung it to a wide open kid who blew it past the goalie, often skillfully over his head. So we tell Jacob, “You stay in the middle. No one gets a free shot on the goal. And talk toy our teammates. Tell them when you need help.”

Then we walk off, the game starts and Scott and I are just hoping that we don’t get killed so bad that they lose their confidence and their buzz from what they had already accomplished. The other team is smirking, the kids are talking shit to each other about how much we suck and who’s going to get the first goal. And I see fear in my kids’ eyes. But then the ball drops and it is like an f’in Disney movie.

They respond and play with the hearts of lions. No fear.

Every time the ball comes down towards us, our kids attack them while staying in their lanes, just like we told them to. Over and over, Jacob runs up to the Euros and puts his foot out and stops them. When they do get a shot, Samuel makes one great save after another. Our guys are starting to get confident. We are going crazy, cheering, telling them to keep it up, to stay strong, to never give an inch. I can see the faces on the other kids turn to puzzlement and some anger.

One of their stars takes off down the right sideline and feeds the ball to the hotshot kid who told Cam he let her score and he is streaking towards a breakway, but Jacob pops up, puts his foot out and strips that little dude and quickly feeds his friend Ethan on the right wing and Ethan kicks it to the middle to Cameron who takes off downfield. She has a clean breakaway and she’s controlling it beautifully, takes it right towards the goal. Goalie comes way out and I think she’s got it but she shoots and the kid makes a leap to his right and a gorgeous save.

This is unbelievable now. They get a few more shots but Sameul stops them and every other time the ball comes down, our defenders stick them hard. These two kids flanking Jacob who all year have shown great passivity despite pretty good skills are coming right up in these guys mugs and stripping them and working together.

We get another breakaway, from one of the Korean kids, a great kid with an earring named Chet who speaks no English. Again, it’s stopped. But as much as the other team tries to push it, we keep stopping them. And suddenly I have tears in my eyes on the sidelines and I only barely know why. I was just so proud of these guys. These kids were playing so far over their heads, laying it out 100 percent, altogether at the same time and I am just blown away and completely moved and inspired. Steve says to me, “what a change from two weeks ago. No one has shut us out all year. Your kids are just playing great.” But I already know that.

The mother of their star comes up to me and says something similar. “I can’t root against my son but I can’t root against your team either. They are really playing beautifully.” Their elevation was really that obvious and unexpected.

Meanwhile, the game is dragging on and on.. it was supposed to be 20- minutes but we’ve now gone almost a half an hour and I see Jacob and some of the others starting to wilt a little. We’re yelling at them to suck it up for 5 more minutes. Black is on the attack, with three or four kids in front of the goal. Jacob stops them, takes the ball and sees himself boxed in, so decides to tap the ball back to the goalie to control.. but it gets by him and goes in. And this is when the fact that this is real life 8 and 9 year old kids’ soccer and not a feel-good movie kicks in.

No one but Jacob and Sam and me realized that Jacob had kicked it in. the other team is celebrating and jumping around our guys are looking bummed. We yell at them to keep it up and they do stay on top of it but in a minute the whistle blows and the game is over.

We all shake hands and then we gather them for a huddle. “I have coached two kids for four years,” I tell them. ”And I have never, ever been prouder of a team than I am of you right now.,” I mean every word of it.

The sluggish Hong Kong kid who lives his life with a Nintendo joystick in one hand and a candy bar in the other looks downcast. “But we lost.”

“I don’t care. We’ve been telling you all season we only want you to play hard and have fun and this is what we were talking about. These guys stomped us two weeks ago and today you gave them every thing they could handle.”

The mother from the other team comes over. “You guys were super,” she said. “You should be very, very proud.”

We had one more game and the kids kept it together for another 0-0 tie.

At the end , we all felt pretty great, having played four games with a an aggregate score of 1-0 and exceeded everyone’s expectations, our own included. I mean, why do we all have our kids play sports anyhow? What are we trying to accomplish? Why is it so important, so widespread? It’s to learn the value of exercise, to have fun and to learn about teamwork and hard work. These games summed it all up. It was tough season for everyone, especially a couple of the kids who really give a shit but they grew so much and last Saturday, especially in that one game, I think every player discovered an internal fifth gear they didn’t know they had. If they can all remember that it’s there, even if the memory is deep in heir brains.. well, that’s why we want our kids to play sports.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

From the Vaults -- Albert King

I just came across this old story, one of the highlights of my years at Guitar World. I wrote the intro a few years ago when the piece was rerun in a fanzine.

Just days after I became the Guitar World Managing Editor in February, 1991, I sat at my desk listening two of my colleagues (at the time, “bosses” would have been the word I used) discussing an upcoming interview with Albert King, scheduled for the following week in Cleveland. It seemed they couldn’t think of anyone up to the task of interviewing the great and ornery bluesman. I shifted my weight, cleared my throat and waited for them to ask if I was interested. When the offer didn’t come, I piped up that King was my favorite guitarist and I would be honored to take the assignment. After a bit of back and forth, the job was mine.

As the day grew near, I became increasingly nervous. I desperately wanted to do a great job and he had a reputation as a tough, mean old man. I once saw him fire a sax player on the bandstandæsurely he’d cancel an interview without a second thought. I called his manager just before I left for the airport to verify our arrangements. “I told Albert about it,” he said. “Hopefully he’ll rememberæand feel like doing it.”

I spent the day at my cousin’s house in Cleveland, preparing for the interview and growing increasingly edgy. Some time in the evening it started to snow. Then it started to really snow, and I drove to the theater through a driving blizzard. Albert was opening for Bobby “Blue” Bland and B.B. King on a spinning theater in the round, and I fidgeted throughout his set. Following his performance, I arrived backstage at my appointed hour, praying that I would be granted an audience with the King.

I was brought to a small dressing room, crowded with band members and their lady friends. King shook my hand and pointed to a seat next to him. As we began to talk, he turned to the others and shouted, “Shut up! I’m doing an interview.” Silence fell over the room and all eyes and ears turned to me. I have never felt younger, whiter, shorter, or more insignificant in my life. Albert leaned forward and extended his long arm directly over my shoulder to get at some popcorn. Leaning close, he smiled, flashing two gold front teeth, and told me to commence my questioning.

For 45 minutes, Albert answered everything I threw at him (as the interview below indicates), though when he considered something foolish or misguided, he shot me a look that could have frozen a volcano. He was patient, professionalæand every bit as intimidating as I could have imagined, which somehow made me happy. His personality fit his music to a teeæno one has ever played the guitar with more authority or focused intent.

King, who died of a heart attack at age 69 on December 21, 1992, was a vastly influential guitarist for many reasons: He played with a raw ferocity that appealed equally to fellow bluesman and younger rockers. He was one of the first black electric bluesmen to cross over to white audiences, and one of the first to adapt his playing to Sixties funk and soul backings, on classics like “Born Under a Bad Sign.” But perhaps King’s ultimate legacy is that he embodied two of guitardom’s most sacred tenetsæwhat you don’t play counts as much as what you do, and speed can be learned, but feeling must come from within. The left-handed guitarist played “Lucy,” his upside-down flying V, with absolute conviction and economy. He could slice through a listener’s soul with a single screaming note, and play a gut-wrenching, awe-inspiring 10-minute solo without venturing above the 12th fret.

I last saw King perform about eight months before his death, at Tramp’s, a mid-sized Manhattan club. Arriving after midnight, I imagined his final set would be brief, even perfunctory, and was dismayed when he came onstage and sat downæhis towering, 6’-5” hulk was always such a large part of his stage presence. Was he feeling infirm? I was further shaken up when he began noodling leads around the band’s funky vampæin the wrong key. I began to wonder if my hero had lost it, but even before the thought could fully form, he found his footing, caught the grooveæand began to soar.

King delivered a stirring, two-and-half hour performance, seeming to gain strength as the night wore on, closing the show at 3:00 AM with a coolly passionate version of “The Sky Is Crying” that will remain forever etched in my mind. I left the club with a renewed conviction that music is not about showing off, or impressing fellow musicians, or anything else other than creating sounds that forge a mystical bond with listeners. It’s something that Albert King did with unsurpassed skill.

Blues legend has it that Mike Bloomfield, lead guitarist of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and for a time the Sixties guitar hero, once engaged Jimi Hendrix in a cutting contest before thousands of screaming fans. Hendrix drew first and unleashed a soaring, cosmic blues attack. As Bloomfield stood transfixed in awe, struggling to plot a response to Hendrix’s brilliant fury, one thought ran like a mantra through his mindæ“I wish I were Albert King... I wish I were Albert King....”

Two decades have passed, and both Bloomfield and Hendrix are gone. But King and his music remain hale and heartyæeven on a blustery Cleveland night some months ago, when brutal winds and two feet of swirling snow made the city inhospitable to man and blues alike. Inside a suburban club, however, a force of nature even more powerful than a blizzard held sway as Albert Kingæall six-feet-five inches of himæstood puffing a pipe, his upside down Flying V looking like a toy guitar in his massive hands. As clouds of smoke billowed from his snarling mouth, the left-handed King ripped off scorching, jagged blues lines.

On that wintry Ohio night it was easy to understand Bloomfield’s desperate invocation of the massive bluesman in his hour of need. And it was equally clear that King has lost little of the of the devastating blues power that has made his playing the standard of excellence for guitarists from Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton to Stevie Ray Vaughan and Gary Moore.

Several nights after the Cleveland show King, resplendent in an open-collared tuxedo, stepped from a limousine in midtown Manhattan. His pipe was still gripped tightly between his teeth, but the on stage snarl was gone. King was all smiles as he headed into a posh nightclub to receive a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation.

“I never really considered myself r&b,” King said. “I’m a bluesman. But there’s nothing like being honored by your peers. There’s also nothing like this.” His gold teeth sparkled in a broad smile as he held up a check for $15,000, his bounty for a lifetime of groundbreaking work.

While King is inarguably a bluesman, his earliest recordings for Bobbin Records (recently re-released on CD by Modern Blues as Let’s Have a Natural Ball) featured hard-swinging big band arrangements. Later, he would record his most influential workæincluding “Born Under a Bad Sign” and “Crosscut Saw”æfor Stax, backed by Booker T and the MGs, the r&b label’s famed house band.

But whatever the musical setting, King’s lead playing has always been characterized by stinging, river deep tone and a totally identifiable style, developed as a result of his unorthodox technique. The left-handed King plays with his guitar held upside down, treble strings up, which, among other things, causes him to bend his strings down.
“I learned that style myself,” King said. “And no one can duplicate it, though many have tried.”

AP: You’ve recorded a very wide variety of material, much of which has departed from the standard blues formats. How did you arrive at the appropriate approach for any given song?

King: I did that in the studio. We would come up with different styles to go behind songsæthen I’d do whatever fit. I might try three or four rhythms behind a song, find the one that feels just right and record it. I can hear real good and I never saw the point of limiting what I listened toælots of times I heard new things that surprised me. The guys at Stax [guitarist Steve Cropper, bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn, drummer Al Jackson and organist Booker T. Jones, plus the Memphis Horns] were real good for playing with different grooves and helping me find the right one. I liked playing with them because they were good idea peopleæthey’d twist things around into different grooves. It worked real good.

AP: Your guitar style changed noticeably from your early recordings with the Bobbin label to your work with Stax. You didn’t use a much vibrato originally, for instance.

King: No, I didn’t. I never made a decision to change my style. Some of it I forgot and some of it just automatically changed. Nothing can stay the same forever. I do all of the vibrato with my hand. I don’t use no gadgets or anything. I used to only use Acoustic amps, but I went to a Roland 120 because it’s easier to handle and it puts out for me.

AP: There has always been so much swing to your music. Have you listened to a lot of jazz?

King: Yes. I’ve always been a lover of jazz -- especially big band jazz. On the Bobbin stuff, I used a lot of orchestration and big band arrangements to mix the jazz with the blues. I went for the swinging jazz arrangements and the pure blues guitar.

AP: Your lead guitar has always been very lyrical. Do you think of the guitar as a second voice?

King: Yes, I do. I play the singing guitar, that’s what I’ve always called it. I also sing along with my notesæit’s how I think about where I’m going.

AP: You don’t play a lot of chords.

King: No, I play single-note. I can play chords but I don’t like ’emæI don’t have time for them. I’m paying enough people around me to play chords. [Laughs.]

AP: You’re also noted for your tendency to bend two strings at one time.

King: Yeah. Lots of times I don’t intend to do that but I’m reaching for a bend and bring another one along. My fingers get mixed up, because I don’t practice. When I get through with a concert, I don’t even want to see my guitar for a while.

AP: Have you always felt that way?

King: No, no. Just lately --in the last four or five years. Since I’ve been really feeling like I want to retire.

AP: You are one the only guitarists I’ve ever heard who will start a song with a bent noteæon “Angel of Mercy,” for instance.

King: Again, I didn’t plan that out. It’s just what I felt and the way I recorded it. The bent note is my thing, man, and I’ll put one anywhere it feels right. There are no rules.

AP: I’ve heard stories of people who tried to copy your sound but didn’t know that you were playing upside down.

King: [Laughs.] Yeah, I’ve heard that, too. And people who try to restring their guitars to get my sound, and everything else you can imagine. Jimi Hendrix used to take pictures of my fingers to try and see what I was doing. He never quite figured it out, but Jimi was a hell of guitar player, the fastest dude aroundæat the time. There’s some kids who are coming around now...Whew! Forget about it. They burn up the fretboard.

AP: Obviously, Hendrix was a great guitarist. But what do you think of him as a blues player?

King: Well, to me, he was overplaying to play the blues. He’d hit two or three good licks here and there and then speed them up and hit them over and over until he’d drown out all the good ones. The kids loved it and I liked his playing, tooæthat was his style. But don’t call him a great bluesman. I think he was going more in that direction, but we’ll never know. He didn’t take care of himself.

AP: Your tone is so tough. How do you make it so heavy?

King: For one thing, I usually keep my treble all the way up, unless I want to play real soft. Then I zip it down.

AP: You really do utilize dynamics effectively. Do you think that’s something a lot of
younger players miss the point of?

King: Definitely. Because they like to play loud and high all the time. And when you get ready to play chords, you got nothing to go to. I like to mix volumes, treble and bass. There’s a high, there’s a mid-range and there’s a bottom. If you don’t ever mix that stuff up, you’re not a complete player.

AP: What is the single most common mistake young players make with the blues?

King: Overplaying. They play too loud, scream too high, and run too fast. See, when you overplay, you get too loud and people are gonna mistake what you’re doing for a hole in the air. [Laughs.]

AP: You recently appeared on Gary Moore’s Still Got the Blues album. What did you think of Moore’s guitar work?

King: Gary’s a good player. To me, Gary and Stevie Ray Vaughan were two of our best young players. I was sure hurt when we lost Stevie. I really wanted to see him and Gary hook up together. I wanted to see that concert. I don’t care where it wasæI would have caught a plane. No doubt about it, both those guys had what it takes to really do it.

AP: Did you give Gary any pointers?

King: Yeah. I learned a few things from him, he learned a few things from me. I told him to slow it down, double up on his licksæplay every other oneæso that you could feel what he’s doing. If you play too fast or too loud, you cancel yourself out. But Gary plays a whole lot of notes and still sounds good. Every now and then you’re bound to put them in place if you play enough. [Laughs.]

AP: A lot of blues players hit the right note and play the right changes. Yet, something’s missing. What is that something?

King: I’m going to ask youæYou’re the listener. What do you hear or not hear?

AP: It’s hard to describe. It’s more of a feeling.

King: That’s it. That’s it, man. Stop right there. Don’t overthink this. I just told you: Once you lose the feeling, you ain’t got nothin’ but a show going. It’s not deep.

AP: So can you learn how to play the blues from a book or reading music?

King: No way, man. First, you got to get in your mind what you want to play. If you hear a good lic -- even if you’re just rehearsing to yoursel -- and you feel it, then hit another one and another one and another one. The next thing you know you got 15 or 20 different licks you can hit and they all feel good. But if you rush right through, hitting them all, you’re not even going to know what you did. You’ve got to take your time and learn your bag one lick at a time. And take your time in your delivery.

AP: Your first appearance at the Fillmore [1968] opened up a whole new audience for you. Were you surprised that those people were waiting to hear your music?

King: Yes, I was very surprise -- and very glad. They made me welcome, treated me nice. Bill Graham opened up a young, white crowd for me by putting me in there.

AP: Robert Cray has remarked that he had one of the biggest thrills of his life when you recorded his song, “Phone Booth.” [“I’m in a Phone Booth, Baby,” Fantasy, 1984]

King: Yeah, I did one of his songs because the groove fit and that’s what I look for. Robert is a good player and a very nice person, but I haven’t seen him in a while and I hope that success hasn’t gotten to his head. I’ve seen that happen to many, many people, and it’s one of the saddest things you’ll ever see. It matters who you are and what you’re made of. Anytime you think you’re greater than the people that buy your records, that’s when you lose it.

AP: You have such a commanding stage presence. Is there anyone who would intimidate you if they walked on stage?

King: No. If it’s my show, it’s my stage, and I won’t let anyone mess with me. Believe me.

AP: When did you start using the Flying V?

King: Oh, man. Way back around 1958. Just about every one I’ve ever had has been custom-made.

AP: Why did you name your guitar “Lucy?”

King: Lucille Ball. I loved her.

AP: It didn’t have anything to do with B.B.’s Lucille?

King: You’d have to ask B.B.-- mine was named Lucy first.
AP: Have you and B.B. always gotten along, or has there been any tension between youæfor instance over the fact that B.B. is always called “The King of the Blues?”

King: Oh God, no. Me and B.B. and Bobby [Bland] always got along great. We go all over the country and sell out every theater we go to. No misunderstandings, no arguments. I’ll open the show for anybody as long as I get paid off. I’ll be asleep in my hotel while B.B.’s still playing and that’s fine with me. B.B.’s a night owl. He closes the show because he stays up most of the night talking, anyhow. [Laughs.]

AP: Has the fact that you once played drums affected your guitar style much?

King: Not really, except that I can tell immediately if a tempo is off. Being left-handed affected my style more than anything. I started playing drums just because I got a gig with Jimmy Reed and needed the money.

AP: Why haven’t you ever used a pick?

King: I couldn’t hold one- my fingers were too big. I kept trying and the thing would fly across the house. I just always had a real hard time gripping it, so I learned to play without one.

AP: What type of music did your first band, the In the Groove Boys play?

King: We only knew three songs and we’d play them fast, medium and slowæthat made nine songs. Somehow that got over all night long.

AP: Did you play strictly by yourself when you started?

King: I rehearsed to myself for five years before I played with another soul. That may account for some of my style. I knew that playing the blues was a life I chose to lead. And when I started there were three things I decided to doæplay the blues, play ’em right, and make all the gigs. And I have.
I’ve never drank liquor in my life or used dope, and I don’t allow it around me. That has a lot to do with why I’m still doing what I’m doing, still feeling good and still in good health. It makes me sick to see the things that people do to themselves when they get all messed up.

AP: Every 10 or 15 years there seems to be a blues renaissance, and people say there’s one happening now. Is it real?

King: The blues “come back” whenever people realize that they can make money booking it. You didn’t hear about young bluesman for a while until Stevie Ray and Robert hit, but they were always around. It’s just a matter of exposure.
This interview originally appeared in Guitar World, July ’91 and was reprinted in Guitar Legends: Blues Power.

Monday, November 13, 2006

New skateboard, bike

Becky’s coming home today in just a few hours and we’re all excited to see her. It’s been fine though. Kids have been good. Yesterday got a little tired for all of us after a very long day. We ended up at Decathalon, a new huge French sporting good store. They have been in Shanghai for a while and everyone who has lived there raves about the place as do all our friends who have visited there.

We were with the Camerons and made it over there after vicious slog through traffic that left me frazzled. The store is also a little overwhelming – think Costco crossed with Modells in China. But damn it was fun. Kids were grabbing skateboards and balls and rollerblades and going crazy. I was running around in full Mr. Equipment mode gr4abbing coats, ski pants, goggles, hiking shoes, gloves, hats, long underwear…

Eli really wanted a skateboard and I got it for him. He has been pretty weak on the bike front so I thought perhaps a different form of individualized wheeled transport would be appropriate. We’ll see how it goes.

Jacob got this new Trek bike about a month ago and loves it. Helmet was new yesterday.

Indoor skiing

Last Friday, we had no school and a friend organized a trip to an indoor ski dome. About five or six cars of us trekked out there and it was really a gas. Good to be there on an uncrowded day because it would be frightening on a busy time. There were basically two rooms, with a magic carpet, or coneyer belt running up the left.. the room on the right extended further, wiht the top 100 yards being fairly steep, like a solid blue.. It had a pomma.

Kids jumped right into it and were bombing down the hill within 15 minutes. Eli and Jacob seemed to remember how to ski after not going at all ast year. Anna got on boards for the first time. i held her between my legs. No picgtures unfortuantely.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Jacob gets a viola

He brought it home yesterday and is very pleased with it, though he mostly takes it out, fiddles a note or two then leaves it lying on the ground. It will be an absolute miracle if I don't end up paying for this thing in pieces, most likely with my heel having gone through it.

He said, "do you want to hear me play?"


"Ok. Which note -- A or D?"

Thursday, November 09, 2006

I just came form a meeting with the NFL guys who are here setting up an exhibition game for next August. I am doing a story on the NFL’s push into china for the WSJ. Becky is in NYC now for a Bureau chief’s meeting – I keep imaging a meeting of the Justice League with everyone jetting inform around the globe – so making it to this 9 am meeting on the other side of Beijing – and I mean the other side – was quite a feat.

The kids have been really helpful since we’ve been alone – they do usually rise to the occasion – and some frien s came through this morning as well. I sent Jacob off on his bike at 7”:40 to his friend Edward’s house then threw Eli and Anna into the car and drove them over to the just-over-the-way-in-another-compound home of Jacqui and Wyatt Cameron, who took them into school with their own kids. Then I rushed back home, grabbed my stuff and hopped into Mr. Lu’s car for a breakneck journey.

Traffic was horrible, which was no surprise. He decided to get off the throughway and make his way through surface streets. Big mistake. We were so stuck. I said, “I’m supposed ot be there at 9.” It was 8:30. He said, “oh.”

He tried to take all kinds of crazy shortcuts, which mostly backfired. Then we finally broke free and cut through all kinds of local streets. I was eying the little dumpling stands and thinking, Homer-like, “Dumplings! MMM.”

Then he sort of admitted he didn’t know exactly where the hotel was, so we called and lo and behold there we were. The throughway we got off was right in front of u, moving alogng just fine. We pulled in at 9:02 and he said, “9 am. I tell you ok.”

Unreal. I stumbled out and the NFL guys were just arriving there to wait for me. Beautiful. Now I am downtown at the Bookworm, a really nice bookstore with excellent wireless connections. I wrote these posts in the car on the way over and now I am reading NY Times, which I oddly can't access from my home computer, savoring yesterday's result. I think I forgot how to not be miserable after an election.

Halloween, Mach 1

Eli as Dath Maul
Max Rosenblum, Anna, Darth
Wyatt and finnegan Cameron
Max and Eric Rosenblum
Race Cameron and Eli. They arelikethis.
This is a very meager set of Halloween pictures, taken at Halloween Mach 1, at River Garden, the nearby, American-heavy compound where they celebrate the holiday on the Saturday prior. We double dipped, with out own compound celebrating on Halloween Day. Those pictures are on my desktop though and I am on my laptop. I put on the captions here since some of the people pictured are folks I mention all the time.