YOLO! Why I’m Fist Bumping the Spirit of Mark Bingham on 9/11

mark-and-me

YOLO!!!!  You Only Live Once!!

Oh do I get grief for that.  And for my obsession with the fist bump – the exploding fist bump!  So I thought I would take a moment to share with you the genesis of that.

Yep, it’s 9/11, so time for my annual homage to my great friend Mark Bingham, who was taken from us entirely too early 14 years ago today. It would almost be impossible for any of you reading this, who likely know me, to not know of Mark Bingham.  Mark was one of the heroes of United 93 who in a selfless last act of courage helped bring down the aircraft which experts believe had the US Capitol Building as its target.

Mark was one of my best friends.  Now the great thing about Mark is you could probably ask 20 people and each of them would also say about him “Mark was one of my best friends,” such was the infectious, suck-the-marrow-out-of-the-bone approach to life and friends  Mark lived.  Back in 2001 I, along with Cal Rugby Coach Jack Clark and Cal Rugby Alum Jon Beck were interviewed for a story about Mark in the Daily Cal which you can read here.

One of the tough things about losing a great friend so young is you expect a certain arc in life.  You selfishly expect to enjoy that person’s friendship and company, to experience the highs and lows, and that they will grow old with you and to share in all that life has to offer.  When that’s taken from you, you feel a loss that’s more profound… and lonelier than you imagine it’s going to be.

I am sure you all have friends with whom you share some great memory that only you share. And at the simple drop of a word will make you laugh and connect.  Mark and I had many of those but I think my favorite was bauble.  Back in 1988, there was an SNL skit of the Winter Olympics with Tom Hanks playing a very gay ice skater; it was hilarious. At one point a very excited Dick Button is gushing about Hanks taming  the ice when all of a sudden he goes stumbling because as Button exclaims “There’s a bauble!”  So whenever Mark or I would trip or stumble we would both simultaneously say “BAUBLE!!!”

So back to the exploding fist bump – because it’s really not a fist bump without the explosion at the end!  After 9/11, I made two commitments to myself to honor Mark’s memory; to let go of pettiness and to enjoy the hell out of life and make an impact.  That first one, well let’s say I struggle with that one… I mean I try, but as anyone who has argued a point with me on Cal sports blog will attest, I fail at it.  Too often.  Like I said, I’m trying!  Life is just too short to let pettiness dictate who we are or how we live.

But the exploding fist bump, often accompanied by a smile and a YOLO!   That’s my sort of daily, physical reminder that life is supposed to be fun.  It’s meant to be lived and enjoyed and laughed at and sung along to and danced with and devoured and experienced… Because I am telling you right now, not one of those victims on the planes or on the ground or in the Pentagon or the World Trade Center planned on dying that day. But they did.  And no one plans on getting killed in a car accident, or finding out they have terminal cancer, or losing a loved one to some tragic accident today.  But that will happen.  To thousands of people.

So what do we do?  We live, that’s what.  If  you’ve made it this far and will indulge me, I’d like to share with you advice that Robert Gordon Sproul, one of the great presidents of the University of California, gave to an audience in Berkeley. It’s really informed how I approach life and why I so often throw away my dignity in the moment!

If man’s brief stay on Earth may be compared to a splash on the sea of life, his circle of friends and associates is the ripple therewith set in motion.  The larger the splash, the stronger the ripple tends to be and the farther and wider it will extend.

Some men profess indifference to the ripple they create, but modesty or blindness may be suspected in that.  Few of us can turn existence into living without the inspiration and the help that comes from others. The more actively we live, the more important others become – for they are both audience and fellow actors. Among them must be sought a supporting cast for the role we dream of playing and the critics who will help us play it well.  One cannot light a torch in a vacuum.

That’s sort of how I’ve approached life.  I don’t know, maybe at the end it will have been a mistake, but I don’t think so. I jump into the water doing a great big cannon ball!!

That old photo up there of Mark and me…  17 years ago… seems impossible. Even though it’s an awful photo of me, I love it because what it represents.  It’s taken at a restaurant in Chicago during a crazy summer weekend that all started with a phone call on a Friday from Mark:  “Ken, let’s go to Chicago for the weekend,” and so we did.  Got on a plane the next morning at 6AM… Went to a Cubs game.  Had some great meals.  Went to the museums.  Went to some bars and stayed out entirely too late and were exhausted getting into the office fresh off our return flight on Monday morning.  But man, what a weekend.  And son-of-a-gun here I am today!

So that brings me back to the exploding fist bump. That simple little gesture is my tribute to Mark. It’s a reminder to not take life too seriously and to live my life to its fullest.  So the next time I fist bump you – and insist you explode the fist with me – that’s why.  And if it makes you smile – and even better laugh – despite yourself, then I’ve accomplished something that day.  So today give me that fist bump, let’s see it explode and go ahead and say it…. YOLO!!!!

If you have your own great memory of Mark I’d love to hear it.  And in honor of Mark, with all the hale and heartiness you can muster, GO BEARS!!!

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Now THIS is BEAR TERRITORY! Cal Football is back!!!

Courtesy Kelley Cox, USAToday

Means FIGHT for CALIFORNIA!

Perfection. That’s about what any Cal fan will tell you Saturday was. (Be sure to read all the way through for a raucous Bear Territory – how YOU should be doing it!)

As I’ve bored you already (and will again I am sure), it was such and awesome honor to have Coach Dykes have me speak to the team last Sunday after practice. They are a FOCUSED group. One of the things I conveyed to them is their focus is shared by the fans and they should feed off that because something special is happening. There is a sense of excitement in the Caliverse and you hear it talking with fans, alumni, past players… This doesn’t happen a lot but there are times in life where you don’t even need retrospect, you can actually sense in the moment that you are at an inflection point. 1990 was one such year for Cal football.  2003 was another. And I believe 2015 (can it REALLY  be 2015 all ready… how is that possible?) is definitely such a time.

And the proof? On the kind of spectacular Bay Area September Saturday that we all brag about and people visiting wonder “why aren’t we livingmemorial stadium view2 here,” more than 60,000 people filled into Memorial Stadium. For a game against an FCS opponent… Truth be told, also for a chance to watch the world famous Grambling State Marching Band who was kind enough to bring along their football team for the game. And while the Grambling band lived up to expectations and then some, and their football team played gamely though over-matched, it was the Cal offensive juggernaut and the rejuvenated defense that had the fans in such high spirits. It was such a sense of good feeling that the Grambling State Marching Band received a standing ovation for their scintillating halftime show… and late in the game down 73-0, when Grambling finally scored, what was left of the crowd gave the visiting team a nice round of applause.  I thought it was a terrifically gracious gesture, as if to say, way to hang in there and keep fighting (and we’ve been there before). It’s what college sports is supposed to be all about.

Speaking of what college sports is all about, a huge – HUGE – shout out to the students who filled the Student Section well before kickoff… THAT is what the team hopes for and NEEDS every week… We are ALL in this thing together… And while the “Bear Territory” got drowned out a little by the piped in music, you could see the players feeding off of you so make  it happen again next week!!  Also a massive “job well done” to everyone in Cal Marketing who worked their asses off to make that big crowd happen. These things don’t happen on accident and by themselves and as much as we’ve complained about some of the marketing in years passed, it’s great to see that group REALLY stepping  up too…

I had a chance to talk with men’s basketball coach Cuonzo Martin during the game. His #WhyNotCal brings tears to my eyes because it’s so right – WHY NOT CAL!!!!  A lot of us have been saying this for YEARS… We have the world’s greatest public University – arguably the greatest university, period – in the country’s fourth largest media market. We have tradition and pageantry that are second to none… and we have a fan base with the pent up anticipation of a 40 year old ve… well let’s just say we’re ready to EXPLODE! Yep, Cal fans have been thirsting for this mindset for years and finally we’ve got it in both Basketball (men’s AND women’s) and football!  That of course in addition to all the Olympic sports and the mightiest of Cal sports, Rugby.

Others will dissect the game. All i know is this makes me very happy.

Finally, one last word about that Grambling State Marching Band… SENSATIONAL! As I mentioned their halftime show was amazing, and man do they know show business and how to play to a crowd because the finished with California Love and as on cue, the Cal crowd showered them with California love with a standing ovation… That is the first time I have ever seen that for a visiting band – at ANY school.

After the game both bands performed a 5th quarter show for about 7,000 fans who stayed, and were all glad they did. While both bands performed well, there is little doubt it was Grambling State who stole the show.

After receiving a huge ovation the students in the band all waved back to the crowd.  I have to think as they get home, game results aside, they’re going to tell their friends and family and anyone who will listen, what a great time they had in Berkeley. In my book, that’s a pretty great thing to be a part of.

And of course the only fitting  way to end is with Daniel Lasco leading a resounding version of BEAR TERRITORY!  If you made it all this way, thanks much for reading!  GO BEARS!!!

You Know It! You Tell the Story! You Tell the WHOLE DAMN WORLD THIS IS BEAR TERRITORY!

Cal fans, this is it! The season is here and if you’re anything like me you are exploding with excitement…

I was lucky to get to address the team after their practice last Sunday. Click on the video at the top.  The thrust of the talk is that every once in a while – and they don’t happen often – you reach an inflection point in life where you can make the future happen NOW. But you have to be willing to both recognize it and then to go for  it.  It’s called grabbing the brass ring.

Too often in the past, for whatever reason, Cal has not grabbed the brass ring.  I feel this team is ready to do it.  From our reinvigorated defense with among others  Stefan McClureMike Barton and Jalen Jefferson, to our reconstituted offensive line, and of course the many play makers on offense with Goff, Lawler, Treggs, Lasco and everyone else….When I talk to players on this team just in general, I get these sense they know this season can be special.  But when I talked with them as a group on Sunday, I could see in their eyes that they KNOW the future is about them.  Their concentration while I was talking was intense, and as you see at the end, when i told  them they couldn’t sing a song or do a cheer sitting down, up with GUSTO they got to their feet and you see what they did.

And then the Coaches… I’m loving these guys… Sonny is having the players connect with the Cal community in a way we have not seen in years.  The players sing the fight song with fans after games! It’s there in the locker room for  them to see everyday and I know they are READY to sing it with us tomorrow!

The last time I saw this was in 1990 and 1991… That 1991 team by the way remains the last team to win a bowl game on New Years Day and is  the highest ranking team of the last 8 decades.  I  told these guys, and  I believe it, that can be better!

A lot of Cal fans get weighed down in history… I told this team that history is not ON their back it is AT their back… There are decades of Cal fans, you can hear the echos in the corners of the stadium, that every play are at the players’ back.  When they’re on a goal line stand, it’s those Cal fans that have  got their back… on  a deep pass play it’s that Cal history that will be at their back to get them just a little  farther and faster down the field…  As fans, as a program and as the  embodiment of the spirit of Cal we can’t be on  their back, collectively we will be at their back.  They will feel this.

So here is a call out to ALL CAL FANS!!!  Especially Students… We are going to bring back  an old  tradition… We are going to let every foe that comes into Memorial KNOW that they are in Bear Territory!!  So when the team takes the field for kickoff, they want – NO THEY EXPECT – to hear all of us chanting Bear  Territory. The Micmen will start and we want to hear it LOUD and with AUTHORITY.

I have exactly zero doubt this team can have  a phenomenal year.  12-0  is what I am thinking.  But it has to be one game at a time and  it all starts this Saturday!  ARE YOU IN WITH ME?  DO YOU BELIEVE!!!

[ PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK  LINK AT THE BOTTOM TO SHARE SO WE CAN GET THE WORD OUT ABOUT BEAR TERRITORY ]

Cal Football Women – It’s Time to HUDDLE UP!!!! THIS SATURDAY at 3PM! Event to support Oakland Boys and Girls Club

student section

ARE YOU EXCITED FOR CAL FOOTBALL!!!!

SPOILER ALERT – I AM!!!

It’s time to kick-off this humble blog for another year…  I’m going to get into all the game and spirit stuff in later blogs because i think this is going to be an amazing inflection year for Cal… but today I want to talk mainly to the women about a really cool event that’s been going on in one form or another for about 12 years, Pigskins and Pearls, previously known as The Women’s Huddle… In the last two years the event has raised $30,000 for the Boys and Girls Club of Oakland!  Thirty-thousand-dollars!  Now listen, I’ve heard from some of you that for various reasons you don’t like the name of the event, and prefer Women’s Huddle… I get it… and you know what, Kate Dykes gets it… I was talking with Kate this week and she’s totally open to changing the name, it’s just that for this year everything was set in motion for Pigskins and Pearls (it’s something she’s done for a while) so do me a favor and just for this year get over that…

P&P 2015 - Social Media Graphic

Click here to sign up for the event.

I gotta tell… I really like Kate… she is more involved in the community than I can remember any spouse of any sport in recent memory being…For me the first sign was when she and Sonny decided to locate the family on the WEST SIDE of the Caldecott Tunnel (no offense, of course, to my friends in Orinda or Lafayette or Walnut Creek or Danville… full offense intended to those living in Moraga!). It’s a small thing, but I think it sends a great signal.

So about Pigskins and Peals, in the last two years, this event has raised more than $30,000 for the Boys and Girls Club of Oakland… Read that again… $30,000!!!! That is pretty awesome and all the women who have attended the event at Memorial can be proud of themselves for helping to support such a great organization… One that a certain Beast Mode has said made a huge impact in his life.

Kate and I recently got together and I thought you’d be interested in her thoughts about Cal, Berkeley, football and most important, ICE CREAM, PIZZA and TOP DOG!!!  Although I didn’t “interview her” i thought it would be easiest to present it that way.  Kate had just got back from a cross-country drive from Texas, with a pit-stop in Disneyland and this is the first thing she told me “True story, On our road trip home, my girls saw a guy with a UCLA shirt on and said ” oh, (with a punch of potty in her voice) he has to go the that other school!” We have trained them well.”  I don’t know about you but I love when the coach’s young daughters talk smack about UCLA (or USC or Standford or….)

FiatLux: I know that a lot of Cal fans appreciate that the coaches and families are such a part of the community – including living by Campus. What it’s been like for you and the girls?

Kate: The transition has been much easier than I had anticipated. The Cal community – professors, staff, fans, students, former athletes and more –  has constantly reached out to our family and helped our move become much smoother than normal. We are a very active family and try to take advantage of all the Bay Area has to offer! There should be no complaints when you live somewhere as wonderful as the Bay Area!

FiatLux: How did you get involved with the Boys and Girls club of Oakland?

Kate: Sonny and I have both been huge advocates for any local Boys & Girls Clubs along our journey. They give unconditionally to the youth of our area that are in such need. We were both members as kids and believe in what they stand for. It is our pleasure and honor to do this event in their honor.

FiatLux : Let’s talk about this event… All the women I know love hanging out with the guys on the team… What can they expect  his year?

Kate: This event is solely to give all the incredible Cal women an opportunity to be around our program, players, staff and to raise money for a very deserving Charity. I love that the women get to meet so many of the young men who represent the school… they’re great kids.  It is a very exciting event for me, as I love meeting all the women who love sports as much as I do! These women are fun… and they are LOUD at games… I want their husbands or boyfriends or partners or kids to be as loud as they are!  I mean, if every fan brought the passion that people like Ellen Abbetecola, Linda Cogozzo and Diana George bring, Memorial would be even louder than it already is!  This will be the 6th consecutive year for our clinics and all 6 years we have given to the Boys & Girls Club!

FiatLux: College football in the Bay Area is very different than it is in Texas or the South… We think it’s better, nothing beats Strawberry Canyon after all… What’s it been like for you?

Kate:It is very different, and that’s a good thing! I appreciate that our fans are there every game wearing their Blue and Gold with pride. It’s been a tough few years before we got here and it’s great to see how much they believe in their school and want the best for the programs of Cal. The stadium is stunning and the weather is incredible!!  Trust me, I am more than happy to miss the 100 Degree games in September!

FiatLux: What’s your favorite tradition you’ve experienced at Cal?

Kate: Without a doubt The Big Game Bonfire Rally is my favorite. It encompasses everything I love about college football. Rivalry, tradition, passion and school spirit! (And of course you as the Emcee!).  Sonny’s dad was here last year for it and he said it’s as good or better as anything he’s seen in Texas.  To see the Greek just packed  – all the way up the hillside – with Cal fans means more to the players and coaches than you can imagine.

FiatLux: OK, now we get into the important stuff… favorite item at Fenton’s?

Kate: Chocolate cookie dough, hands down. I will say the girls love mint chocolate chip.  I hear that you challenge everyone to a Banana Special… we’ll definitely take you up on that.

FiatLux: Careful here… Blondies or Fat Slice?

Kate: Fat Slice (At this point I hang my head, just a bit….)

FiatLux; Now be REALLY careful…. your favorite Top Dog?

Kate: I love the hot link, but I also love the chicken Apple sausage

FiatLux: We know Stanford would top the list, but who annoys you more, UCLA or USC?

Kate: Is it OK for me to say both?! Should we even mention them….clearly we are the BEST California school! Go Bears!

Fiatlux: That was actually a trick question and you answered it perfectly!

Kate: I really want to make sure this comes across… I want to thank all the Cal fans for their support… I remember our first game against Northwestern in Memorial and we knew we had found home. It was simply breathtaking and the energy of the crowd was amazing.  The student section is hands down the best in the country… We love watching you all game… I’d love to come join you and stand but I’m afraid my student days are a bit in the past!  Hey, we do have one request – can you all get there on time before kickoff… the players appreciate that so much, coming out of the tunnel to see the student section filled… I’ll work on getting the alumni in their seats too!  But the students are simply amazing… and what can i say about the band… the absolute best… Last year all of you were great… When we played Northwestern in Chicago, we could not believe how many Cal fans were there, it really did feel like Bear Territory (by the way we LOVE LOVE LOVE that cheer!).  We can’t wait to see you all again in Texas!

So there you go Cal fans… pretty awesome if you ask me.  Don’t forget, you can click here to sign up for the event.…  This is happening right after the main event on Saturday so let’s see if we can get a huge turnout for the team.

OH MY GOD!  You realize we’re under three week ’til KICK OFF!!!!

Let there be light and

GO BEARS!!!!

Cal Football 2014 – WERE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!!!

VICTORY!

YES!!!  Cal Football 2014 was WILDLY ENTERTAINING!  Let’s put a few things in perspective… Last year our Cal Bears were 1-11.  We were blown out by historic margins in all but 2 games.  But through it all, game after game, blowout after blowout, I stayed through to the end.

Staying til the end against Oregon State

This year that all changed.  Cal quintupled its win total over last year.  The games were competitive. The games were FUN.  So you’ll forgive me for not moping over the loss on Saturday and instead being excited about what happened this year!!

You know, I realize I can be the most annoying positive person on the planet. I just hate wallowing in misery and defeat (and I’ve experience plenty). It’s just how I get through life, seems to work for me but certainly not you have to do it.  So leaving Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon,  like everyone I was disappointed in the loss.  But I certainly wasn’t disappointed in the season.  And I wasn’t upset and I wasn’t disappointed for me.  I was disappointed for the players and the coaches. I’ve seen how much they have embraced the Cal community. So I just want to share my thoughts on why I loved this season so much and why I am so excited for next year.

I’ve seen how incredibly accessible these coaches are (and their families) to the fans. I would find it hard to believe there is another coaching staff in American who is as interactive with the fans and community as this staff is. Heck even their wives – if you go to the game and you’re sitting by her, be prepared for Kate Dykes to come over and high five after every great play!

For instance, Offensive Line Coach Zach Yenser and his awesome wife Beth were nice enough to invite me (a Thanksgiving orphan) over to dinner for Thanksgiving.  Beth and Zach and his folks, sister and brother-in-law provided one of the nicest Thanksgivings possible (and son Graham provided the entertainment!).  And here’s the thing.

They’re all southerners.  And you know what they all said – THEY LOVE CALIFORNIA.  They said that the Student Section for the Big Game was better than any student section in the SEC.

And they’re not alone. Heck several of the coaches live within walking distance of Memorial Stadium including famously Tony Franklin  who has a loft in downtown Berkeley.  They have welcomed back former players.  They have our current players singing the fight song after game – when do you remember that happening?  The classroom performance is on its way up.  We have players who you should be proud are at Cal.

Adcock

Going into the season, after what can only be described as a brutal 2013 campaign,  fans were almost uniformly of the same belief; we wanted to see 3 or 4 wins, a win over a traditional  rival would be nice, and we wanted to see the team be  competitive.  Well you know what, we got two of the three.  Cal was in just about EVERY game.  3 of our losses were one possession losses, including a Hail Mary.  We fought back  HARD against USC.  We held our own against Oregon (look at how other teams not named Arizona did).  We were two awful official calls at the end of the game away from beating UCLA.

We were taken out of the Big Game game by nationally embarrassing officiating.  And through all that we got something else, some wildly entertaining football.

In fact, that  stretch of Arizona, Colorado and Wazzu was quite possible the most amazing stretch of craziness one team has ever had.  Even the national media like the New York Post were taking note:

NY POST Cal crazy

That last point can’t be glossed over.  After last year (with the exception of the Northwestern game), and 2012, and even 2011 (even though we had more wins) and 2010 it had been a while since Cal games were fun.  Honestly,  think back to those years and just how not enjoyable the games were.  Sure we won some games, but even then they never felt fun.  Did ANYBODY have fun at the Holiday Bowl against Texas? Something was wrong. Well this year, almost every game was fun.

This year started off beating beating Northwestern in Chicago with about 5K Cal fans in attendance!

And as the game came to an end the players did something no one expected… they joined the crowd in singing Fight.  Every fan there got goose bumps on that!

Heck I was even in Tucson for the Hail Mary loss, but there’s no denying that was a FUN game and even managed to lead a few cheers without pulling anything or breaking a hip !(hey once a micman always a micman!)

I was up in Corvallis for the win!

I was at SC for the loss, but was so proud  of how we fought back and was great to see old friends and meet new ones!

So I guess I ask, WERE WE NOT ENTERTAINED!!!

Cal football is amazing.  It’s a chance for all of us to come together and reunite with old friends and meet new ones as we support this most amazing of institutions!

Once  again Cal fans  came out in force for the Big Game bonfire rally!  And here’s something cool – Spike Dykes, Coach Dyke’s dad told me “This is as a good as  anything we have in Texas!”

So with all  that’s happened this year, I wondered, why were people so unhappy after Saturday’s loss. And looking at this post it dawned on my, by going to Northwestern and Oregon State, I got to experience two more wins than a lot of people who weren’t able to travel with team.  And by going to Tucson and SC i got two more losses 😉  But they were fun. Sure, there’s the absolutely understandable revised expectations.  We started out 4-1 and  suddenly a bowl seemed not only reasonable, but possible. That of course didn’t take into account our season was incredibly front loaded in terms of winnable games.

But man, this is the time to show our mettle.  Second guessing is totally understandable, and I do it. Coaches don’t care and I’m sure they do it themselves.  And I wouldn’t for a second invalidate your feelings of disappointment.   This is when we get to show the great fans we are – and we are great fans.  So as we get some time to reflect on this season, instead of proverbially stomping our feet and issuing ultimatums , how about doing something else. Spending that time  THANKING THE  TEAM for making football fun again and reminding why we love Cal Football.  #GOBEARS!!!

Don’t forget we’ve got Goff coming back as a junior.  And all those receivers.  And Lasco. And most of the Oline.  And the defense will have another year under its belt.  And so will the coaches!  I am EXCITED about 2015!

As  always if you like this please feel free to share.  And if you don’t like it feel free to share how stupid it is!

GO BEARS!!!

Happy Thanksgiving

I posted this last year, but I’d like to share again with you this year, and I’ve added in a few more photos.  I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with love from friends and family and maybe even a few strangers! I’ll put the closing thought up top because I mean it so much

With that I will close and wish all of you the very best this holiday season. Remember, life is precious so take a moment to smile at people, call an old friend, put aside petty differences with family members, make a commitment to make the world a better place, do something nice for a stranger and most importantly, be good to yourself and make life great!

tdinner malawi

A “traditiona'” Thanksgiving feast in Malawi, Central Africa!

 

I love Thanksgiving.  I think it is the ultimate American holiday where for just one day of the year almost everyone in this great big crazy spread out disparate country of ours is doing the same thing.  And while others may do it now, the idea of having a holiday where we simply give thanks for all that we have always strikes me as uniquely American (and something we should do more).

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share with you my most memorable Thanksgiving, which happened in 2001 while I was living in Malawi.  I was volunteering at theMalawi Children’s Village and was teaching, primarily math and English. The event of 9/11 were still, of course fresh.  I sent out the below dispatch and I’ll just let it speak for itself.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

With Biston, who always would grab my goatee

 

December 9, 2001

Hello and happy holidays from Africa.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season. Being literally on the other side of the world I can only imagine what things are like in the U.S. and how special these holidays must be. As I think I have said recently, it’s during these times that I really miss being home with friends and family.

Many of you have asked how I spent my Thanksgiving and I would like to devote most of this dispatch to
that.

Obviously in Malawi they don’t celebrate U.S. Thanksgiving, matter-of-fact they don’t even know what it is. Having lived in Malawi for a while now, maybe I had fooled myself into thinking that I had assimilated into the culture more than I had (well as much as a 6’4, 230 pound red-headed American can). I sometimes forget just how big the cultural divide can be, which was brought home for me in trying to explain Thanksgiving to my students.

At the Christmas party with Jonathan and his mom. Smiles.

 

To digress for just a moment, one of my biggest frustrations for the people here is the utter lack of variety that permeates almost every aspect of their lives, their diet being a perfect metaphor for this. As I have mentioned in past emails, the staple food in Malawi is nsima, which is made from corn meal that is sifted and then boiled until it takes on a consistency of overcooked Cream of Wheat, without the flavor.  You eat it communally, taking a small amount from the shared bowl, rolling it into a ball in your hand, and then dipping it in a relish – usually vegetable or fish, sometimes chicken. This is what the villagers eat for lunch and dinner, without fail, every single day. If you ask Tamanda what she had for lunch yesterday, it was nsima. Ask Mbubakar what he had for dinner last Tuesday? Nsima. Three months ago Friday for Imed? You got it, nsima.

Now, I don’t say this to sound culturally insensitive, but think about that; what if you ate the exact same thing for lunch and dinner every single day of your life? How would you feel about food? Think of the pleasure we take in food and particularly different foods from around the world. Well for the most part, folks in Malawi are never afforded that simple opportunity. A small example: a few weeks ago, I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for some of my students – none of them had ever had one – and it was like they were eating at Le Cirque.

So back to Thanksgiving: I explained how all over the country, families and friends come together to enjoy a great meal, each other’s company, and in our own different ways give thanks for what we have. I started explaining how cool I thought it was that on this one day of the year almost every American shares a common experience as almost every household has a turkey, mashed potatoes, apple or pumpkin pie and so on. And then looking at them I realized they had no idea what a turkey, mashed potatoes or pumpkin pie are.

So right there I decided that we were going to have a Thanksgiving dinner.
In case you’re wondering, making a Thanksgiving dinner in third world Africa can be a bit of a challenge (though I am sure Martha Stewart could make a beautiful centerpiece from the dead bird and hippo dropping she found by the lake). You can bet there are no turkeys, and the chickens are all pretty scrawny.

Alila carrying wood home.

 

So I decided we would have a slightly unconventional Thanksgiving dinner – pasta, mashed potatoes and gravy, garlic bread, green beans and a little cake for dessert.

I was able to get the pasta and canned green beans from the Catholic Bishop’s residence (it comes over from Italy … seriously). The tomatoes, potatoes, and onions and garlic for sauce were bought from the local marketplace. And finally from the store in town I bought some powdered mushroom soup (which by using much less water than directed would serve as the gravy), some sausages for the pasta sauce, and some flower, sugar and canned fruit for the cake.

Not quite traditional, but a Thanksgiving feast none-the-less

 

The attached pictures show the process and results; the first is cooking the pasta over an open fire – gathering the wood, lighting and stoking a fire, and then feeling like you’re in a sauna; the second is the magnificent feast; and finally everyone enjoying their first experience with pasta. We had such a fun time that evening and for me it was just so rewarding watching the expressions on their faces as they tried each of the foods and scrambled for seconds. The big
hit, as you could guess, was the cake – like everything else we had that night, none of the kids had ever had cake. Again, it’s flavors they have never tasted or knew to taste and in just a very small way, that they probably don’t even realize, just opening their eyes to other things life has to offer.

This is after the kitchen remodel!

 

The week before, our Form 4 secondary students returned from school having all graduated. They are
now waiting for the results of the national exams to see who will be afforded a place at the University.  It gets me down a little, because once again these kids have accomplished something pretty big – graduating from the equivalent of high school – and no one really recognizes their achievement. So I decided that just the six of us would have a celebration: we went to one of the local hotels where we swam, had a great lunch and I gave each of them a watch and a solar calculator (so they don’t have to try to find and buy batteries) that I had brought with me from the States. They were so excited! Every time I would see them they would be sure to tell me what time it was…

As it came time for me to leave, all the students came by to say good-bye and to thank me for what I had done. I once again told them that the pleasure has been mine, that I feel so enriched for having met all of these special people. Life is an amazing thing, and as I think about the events of September 11th, and what is going on all over the world, I can think of spending time with people from a culture so foreign to mine, and mine to theirs, and how that didn’t matter.
Although there are so many things that are different about us, we shared a commonality, that of being human beings that care about each other and at least here
with these people, that know right from wrong.

My adopted family, the Mtaulas!

On several occasions people commented to me that they just didn’t understand why Americans, who have so much, would come to a place like Malawi, and live with so little and without all the creature comforts of home, and yet actually be happy. And I would tell them if I hadn’t have done this I would have never had the opportunity to meet all of them, experience a part of their life, make these great new friends and once again I would tell them that I took way more out of it than I could have possibly given them.

As has been my norm, I would like to end this dispatch with a poem that was given to me as a Christmas gift
by one of my students.

The Jolly Maker
Samuel Aristotle Mtaula
Jolly maker, oh!
I remembered then, for a moment,
With your golden voice,
You taught students.
With wisdom of yours
You created a nice future.
Jolly maker, hmm!
I salute you!

Jolly maker,
In time of sorrow
You set them with smiles.
When they fall in trouble,
With your presence,
They were self.
Oh! A source of happiness.

Happy maker,
There you are,
Indeed you’re a jolly maker.
Let nothing trouble you,
Since you are
Jolly maker.

With your kindness they enjoyed
Enjoyed swimming
Swimming in the swimming pool

With love,
They chatted
No need to get a witness.
With your presence
Many of t hem visited
They visited many places indeed
Ho! Jolly maker!

Jolly maker,
May the almighty God,
Shower you with blessings,
Guide you,
Oh! Jolly maker.

With that I will close and wish all of you the very best this holiday season. Remember, life is precious so take a moment to smile at people, call an old friend, put aside petty differences with family members, make a commitment to make the world a better place, do something nice for a stranger and most importantly, be good to yourself and make life great!

It’s Official – @Pac12 Officially Says Officials are Incompetent

 

pac12 refs morons

(Pac12 officials being Pac12 officials.   Big Game, 2011)

Let’s begin with this.   Complaining about referees and umpires is a favorite pastime of fans around the world.  It’s fun.  It really is. And truth be told, there’s something really entertaining about it when bad calls go against a home team and the crowd gets riled up.  That sort of primal booing gets us going.

We normally hear about how “complaining about officials is for losers.”  And I sort of agree with it. But in the case of the Pac12, so often the officiating in a game is so egregious it warrants discussion and gets attention from national media.

This past Saturday in The Big Game between Stanford and Cal at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, we experienced one of the most hideous displays of officiating people can remember.  And here’s the thing… it wasn’t one call, like in Oregon v Oklahoma.  It was ongoing all game. Even rival USC conceded our game was the worst officiated game!

On the very first play of the game, Cal’s Michael Lowe was EJECTED for an alleged targeting play by umpire Rick DiBernardo.  First play of the game.  No one can ever remember seeing that.  Let’s say for the sake of argument the call was correct.  Later in the game Stanford’s Ronnie Harris takes a completely cheap shot on Cal’s Trevor Davis.  Watch the video.  A few things to note. The pass was well overthrown.  The play is done.  Davis is clearly no longer going for the ball.  And yet Stanford’s Harris hits Davis in the neck and head with his forearm.  A play that should lead to a penalty and ejection.  And here’s the kicker, the official (two in fact) ARE RIGHT THERE as the play happened in the wide open field.  No penalty.

and here’s another view.

Again, the best part is the official IS RIGHT THERE, and yet no flag.  BTW, this sort of play isn’t uncommon for Stanford in Big Games under Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football (seriously,  that’s how Stanford refers to their head football coach) David Shaw.

The personification of Stanford Football

Last year, Shane Skov, one of the dirtiest players in the conference (who was also arrested for DUI), delivered this cheap shot, where he launched himself and delivered helmet to helmet to Cal QB Jared Goff, injuring him so he had to leave the game, which prompted the national broadcasters to say he should have been ejected.  But there was no flag,  let alone ejection.

And of course, no discipline from David Shaw, he of the “Stanford way” fame. (apologies to my Stanford friends, I’m still peeved about that dirty hit)

But that was just setting the table so that the national media could join in.

Late in the 3rd quarter, Cal ran a play for an apparent touchdown as it was ruled on the field.  It was reviewed and determined tho to not be a TD.  Inexplicably the ball was placed at the 1 yard line even thought the ball was either across the endzone or inches short.

On the next play, Cal QB Luke Rubenzer ran a QB sneak and scored.  TOUCHDOWN!  But wait a second, once again the booth official wanted to review and, incredulously, said it was not a TD. You have to understand that in order to overrule a call on the field there has to be “clear and irrefutable video evidence.”

Here is what the reply official could see – there was no clear shot looking down the goal line

And then Jared Goff threw a perfect pass to Kenny Lawler, which was caught for a TD.  But once again the booth buzzed the field and overturned the call. The stadium was in an apoplectic fit with chants of “REF! YOU! SUCK!…. REF! YOU! SUCK!” raining down.

The officiating was so egregiously bad, respected former official and Vice President of Officiating for the NFL and current Fox Sports commentator Mike Pereira felt compelled to do a special commentary on just how bad it was – Bandits in the Booth Cost Cal.  Take a couple of minutes to click on that link to see him rip into the officials.  He literally calls them bandits!! When have you ever heard a commentator use such strong language?

You have to ask yourself if it was in fact corrupt?  Because here’s the sad thing, the Pac12 was embarrassed nationally in basketball last year when it was revealed that its officials were instructed to target Sean Miller, head coach of Arizona, with a technical.

I will give the Pac12 and Larry Scott credit.  Late tonight, after most deadlines, they publicly acknowledged how bad the officials were:

http://pac-12.com/article/2014/11/24/pac-12-clarifies-replay-reviews-stanford-california-game

SAN FRANCISCO – The Pac-12 Conference acknowledged that its instant replay crew made two errors in the Stanford-California game Saturday, November 22, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott announced today.

During a California possession late in the third quarter, the instant replay crew reviewed three consecutive on-field touchdown calls by the game officials on one California offensive possession.

The NCAA Playing Rules state that to reverse an on-field ruling, the replay official must be convinced beyond all doubt by indisputable video evidence.

Through the Conference’s officiating and game management review process, it was determined that there was not enough evidence through video replay for the instant replay crew to overturn the second and third touchdown calls made by the officials on the field.

The replay crew will be held accountable for the errors through the Conference’s disciplinary process.

But I don’t want to stop there because there’s one more play which absolutely must draw into question the integrity of the officials in Saturday’s game.  Here is a photo sequence of it:

Joined_Image_Onside_Kick_recovery_2

Let me explain what’s happening here. In the first frame you see Cal attempting an onside kick.  In the second frame you see the scrum for the ball and Stephen Anderson coming out with it.  In the third frame you see him running ten yards away – but the officials (unlike every other person in the stadium) don’t seem to see him.  So there is STILL no call by the officials.  Finally, in the 4th frame, you see the back judge Joe Johnston and the field judge Jeffrey Yock, who are still trying to untangle the scrum – not looking downfield to Anderson –  INEXPLICABLY signal Stanford ball.

Think about that for a second.  What is going on?  They CLEARLY cannot see a ball let alone who has possession because THE BALL IS NOT THERE.  Yet with certainty they signal, Stanford ball.  Here’s why that’s important.  Had the ball actually been there, then the call on  the field would have stood under review (I mean come on…).  HOW can the officials make such a blatantly bad call?  It honestly can only be one of two choices – inept or corrupt.  I honestly don’t know  which it is.

So what do you say?  We have official acknowledgement that Pac12 officials in multiple sports are either corrupt or incompetent.  Which do you think it is?