Sports post number 2 – this one’s about golf and my favorite athlete (who happens to be a golfer)

So this is sports post number 2. The last one was about curling, and this one is going to be mostly about golf. If there is anybody reading this blog who doesn’t know me, I am American born and raised, despite my somewhat unorthodox taste in sports. As a kid, I followed all the major US sports, but over the last 30 years I have gradually distanced myself from all of them except the NFL and college hoops, although if I didn’t have strong rooting interests (Baltimore Ravens and U. of Maryland, respectively), I’m not sure that I would be following these either. The fact that my 2 daughters have also been following the Ravens (which they started certainly doing to spend more time with me, but now they are legitimate fans and know almost as much as I do) helped maintain my interest in the NFL. I also just like football. I’ll talk more about other sports in the future.

There are 3 main reasons why I like professional golf as much as I do; 1) I have played it some, and I just started playing again. Based on my own struggles and what I have read, I can appreciate how incredibly skilled the players are. Most of them are within normal physical appearance norms (height and weight, at least), and they make it look so easy that you would think anyone could do it. Way not so. 2) Each week, the winner has to beat everyone else plating in the tournament, and that’s typically 140 – 160 players. Not many other sports can claim that. Hell, only about half of the players teeing it up each week get a paycheck. After round 2 of each tournament each tournament(which usually run Thursday – Sunday), only the top 60 or 70 (plus ties) players get to play the weekend. The unfortunate others have missed “the cut” and go home. No, I’m not blind; I’m sure most of the top 200 – 300 golfers have some kind of contract(s) (equipment or logo on their outfits) that pay them, but it’s still kind of a cruel reality. 3 ) I don’t think a tournament has ever been decided by a referee’s decision. At the NCAA golf championships, the Duke team doesn’t get all the calls because there are no calls to make. You hit the fewest shots and you win. Period. Same thing for the US Open. Gary Woodland won the tournament (completed last night if you didn’t know or care) because he had the lowest score. No arguments, no complaints.

Now it also turns out that my favorite athlete is a professional golfer. His name is Harold Varner III (picture below, courtesy of Golf Digest).

Harold Varner III in action

Unless you’re pretty into golf, you probably have never heard of him. He is currently playing his fourth consecutive year on the PGA Tour, and he has probably played well enough this year that he will be playing on the tour next year (the top 125 players, according to a point system that rewards players based on results, automatically have full status for the next year. Varner has earned more points this year than the #125 ranked golfer from last year, and there are still several more events where he can earn more points). As I stated above, this means that he is a very highly skilled golfer; in fact, any golfer who has played in even one PGA/LPGA Tour event is a hell of a player. Relative to his PGA Tour peers, he is a solid player but as of yet, he hasn’t stood out as a top player yet (despite the fact that he has probably made about $5 million playing the game). He has not won on tour yet, though he did win the Australian PGA Championship in late 2016, which typically draws a strong field. So having said all of this, why am singling out a guy like this?

The first thing that got my attention happened in 2017. He was struggling to make the top 125, and in the last tournament of the year, he played well and just made it in at #123. After his round, he was interviewed briefly on TV, and when the interviewer complimented him for playing well under so much pressure, he shrugged it off and said something like (and this is a paraphrase), “Pressure? This isn’t pressure. This is fun. I’m really lucky to be able to play golf for a living.” I can honestly say that I’ve never heard a golfer at that level respond like that. I sensed he was a lot different than his PGA Tour compatriots (aside from the fact that he is African American, which, despite the success of Tiger Woods, there still are very few blacks who play golf professionally). And he’s repeated this type of statement in other interviews as well as on his Twitter feed. And that’s why I became a fan of his; he’s the rare professional athlete who doesn’t take himself too seriously. How refreshing is that? Golf is obviously very important to him, and I’m sure he works really hard at because I can’t imagine him being able to compete at this level without doing that. But it’s not the entire scope of his life. I can guarantee you that you would never hear Tiger or Rory McIlroy or Brooks Koepka or pretty much any other pro golfer say something like that. They would be thrilled when they did well and utterly dejected when they didn’t. Varner seems to have basically the same attitude whenever he’s out there, even when he’s struggling (as evidenced a few weeks ago, when he was in contention at the PGA Championship until Sunday, but the wheels came off and he shot 81, which took him from the top 5 to about 35th place. During the telecast, they showed him walking down the 10th fairway, smiling and talking to an official about music. He had to be disappointed about the outcome (he said as much), but instead of sulking, he was still being friendly with someone he didn’t even know).

I can’t tell you why Varner is the way he is; I can only guess. Maybe it’s because, unlike many if not most professional golfers, he was brought up in a middle class family and neighborhood, didn’t belong to a privileged country club and played at a public course, went to a public high school, did not go to a college which was a golfing powerhouse (he went to East Carolina University), and although he’s been very good, he’s never been a star. So maybe he has a different perspective on both golf and life compared to many of his peers. He also does a lot of charity events, makes many appearances at his alma mater, and recently purchased 15 acres of land to build his parents a new house. Hard not to be impressed.

Golf-wise, I don’t what the future will hold for Harold Varner III. He is only 28, and for most male pro golfers, the prime years occur in their 30s. He has had some near-misses, and I suspect he will continue to learn from them. I hope he is able to win on the PGA Tour and play for many years. Maybe he never will become a Top 25 player; as my best friend pointed out to me recently, to be the best at something requires almost complete commitment and focus, almost to the exclusion of most of the world around you. Varner admits that he sometimes has trouble with focus, and clearly golf is not the sole purpose of his existence. I know one thing; as long as he is out there playing, I will be rooting for him. And while he may or may not become a superstar in golf, he already is one of the finest people in the world of sports.

2 months into “retirement” … and a blurb about my grandkid (and kids in general)

To those few that follow this blog, yes it’s been too long since my last post. But this is actually a good thing. Please read below.

So, I have hit two months since I stopped working. And I can honestly say that mostly it’s been a blast. I’m doing all kinds of things that I didn’t have time for in the past (like playing golf regularly (and I’m really getting into it), learning about meteorology, writing, etc.) in addition to the things I have to do. I’ve been so busy lately that one of the things that is suffering is this blog, but I’ll try to write more often. There are so many things I want to do that sometimes I think I need to start making a daily schedule. In other words, I am anything but bored, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. But I am not complaining.

We spent this past weekend with our 2 year old granddaughter. It’s been great to be able to watch her grow and learn and be able to participate in it (even more so now that I’m not working). It’s easier to watch her develop than it was with my own kids because I don’t have so many responsibilities like I did when my daughters were growing up, so I can pay more attention (apologies to my daughters; I did the best I could, and I did notice your development and growth, too). It also helps not being the primary caregiver, though my wife and I hope to do more of that next year when we plan to move close to where my daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter live). Just sitting back and watching her figure things out is quite enjoyable. Her brainpower must be growing exponentially by the day. But her best feature is her unconditional love of her parents, her family, and (of course) Elmo. As you get older and see the craziness of the world today, it’s very refreshing to see that she (and most humans before the age of 4 or 5) love people and things for who and what they are. So what happens to kids between age 4 and adulthood? Well they change an awful lot. Part of it is probably natural and simply due to an aging brain and the need to survive. Part of it has to do with interactions with other kids, and kids can be rough on each other. But mainly ,IMO, it is once the adults start planting their worldviews into kids’ brains that they lose the capacity to love and think like they did as kids. In essence, we start (and then continue) the process of closing their once completely open minds. And it doesn’t help that many school curricula are light on teaching critical thinking skills. We need to do better. Maybe if we treat our kids better, there will be a lot less close-mindedness and division in the world. I know I will do my best (without overdoing) to help my daughters teach their kids (assuming there will be others someday) to be caring, loving, and thinking adults.

Musical taste (in general and mine)

And I was wondering if I would have enough to do once I stopped working? I’ve been so busy that I haven’t been able to keep up with everything I wanted to, including writing in this blog. But now, it’s time for a new entry.

My Guy by Mary Wells. A classic (courtesy of Bing).

Most of us listened to a lot of music when we were growing up (or if you’re young enough, listen). And most of heard (repeatedly) things like “turn it down!’ and “how can you listen to that noise!” from our parents. And maybe those of us who became parents have said those things to our kids (I probably did, but I don’t think it was too often). Anyway, where I’m going with this is that a lot of the music most of us listen to is the same music we listened to when we were young. My favorite music types are as follows (not necessarily in order):

  • R&B from the mid ’60s to the mid ’70s, including Motown (ending with the introduction of disco)
  • Jazz from the mid ’50s to the mid to late ’60s (mostly mainstream, I can’t deal with avant-garde).
  • Classic rock (’60s to about mid ’80s)
  • A fair number of ’50s and early ’60s oldies

Broad strokes, but you get the picture.

So I’m pretty consistent with my profile. However, there is a lot of music outside of the above list that I like and listen to, just not as consistently. So you might catch me listening to Peaceful by Helen Reddy or In My House, by Mary Jane Girls, or What’s My Name Again by Blink 182, or I’m not Dead Yet from Spamalot, or The Trial by Roy Hargrove. I continued to listen to music as I aged and expanded my horizons. For one thing, I was a DJ for about 2 years (1984-1986, I worked in bars and at parties for a cousin of mine to make so extra cash), so I was able to keep current for a while after I stopped listening to the radio (more on that later). When my kids were growing up, they would watch music videos, which were probably at peak popularity in the ’90s. I often watched as well, mostly to make sure they weren’t watching videos that were too explicit. But at the same time, I did get to know some of the music of the ’90s, and some of it is very good (some not so much). And my younger daughter has occasionally turned on the car radio to listen to more recent pop music. I don’t think much of that stuff (too much techno and not enough instrumentation), but I occasionally hear one that’s I like. And my younger daughter also introduced me to Broadway music. I don’t love all of it, but again, some of it is great, especially live. That’s kind of same way I feel about classical; I enjoy listening to it live much more than hearing it on a CD or the radio.

With Jazz, it was a little different. I began listening to Jazz as a teenager but really got into in my 30s. We moved to New England, and I had consistently long commutes. Combine this with the proliferation of CDs and CD players and a store, Newberry Comics, which had a great CD collection, and I began rapidly collecting Jazz CDs. I would listen to one CD on the way to work and one on the way beck. I have over 100 of them now from many different artists. I don’t listen as much as I used to, but it’s nice to have a relatively comprehensive collection.

I also think that me sharing my music with my daughters exposed them to a lot of music from the past that they now like. Each of them are big Beatles fans, they both like Motown a lot. I went to see the Temptations with one daughter and Billy Joel with the other. We’ve always bonded through music. FYI, I saw Jethro Tull last year with my sister and brother-in-law (they introduced me to lots of music, and I grew up listening to my sister’s 45s). Great show. And I have a new friend who wants to share his favorite music with me (and me with him). I can’t wait to get together.

Sadly, radio ain’t close to what it used to be. When I was young, many radio stations played a good mix of Top 40 (and beyond) music. In a given hour, you might hear songs by the Grass Roots, Wilson Pickett, and the Who. Nowadays, almost every station (including those on Sirius XM or cable TV) is specialized for a single genre of music. And lots of stations have pretty short playlists which you get tired of within a few hours (there are a few, but only a few exceptions). Some people want it that way, but I would never have been exposed to the music I love now with today’s format. My dream job, if I could get it, would be to have a 4 hour radio show every day where I could play whatever I wanted. In my dream, people would actually listen to it. Maybe in future entries, I’ll post some playlists.

Suffice it to say that music has been a very important and critical part of my life. I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels that way.

A non-economist’s interest in economics and view of the economy

This is a pretty long post and probably a bit unexpected, but this is some of what has been in my mind lately, so I thought I’d post about it.

If you happened to read my first 2 posts, then you know that I am not an economist (nor do I play one on TV). In fact, when I was growing up, I frankly could have cared less. I’ll never forget one morning when I was riding to school with my great friend (his pop owned a gas station, so he had a car). He usually had an all-news station going on the radio. When the business report came up that morning, he declared that he intended to major in economics (I don’t remember if I prompted him by saying something like, “Who cares about this stuff?”). We were probably 16 or 17 at the time, and it was the first time I recall him revealing his intended major, and I was surprised since almost all we ever talked about was sports and sometimes girls. And while me, the meteorologist to be, changed course, he went on to achieve a Masters degree in economics and used that knowledge to work as an economist for a while, then go on to have a long career in the world of sports. I gradually began to become interested at least generally in the economy, mostly due to my interest in politics and in job security. As time moved on, my interest included investing to be able to get my kids through college. And more recently, I my interest has continued to grow as I tried to prepare for life after work. In addition to my great friend the economist, I have become friends with another economist who works as a financial advisor, and I now have a (different) financial advisor my wife and I work with. I have conversations with all of these smart folks, I read anything they give me, and I pepper them with questions and some of my own comments/views. And every so often, they tell me that my thoughts/views/opinions aren’t totally bizarre. They even occasionally agree with me. I also think that my investment strategy has set us up for a comfortable retirement. I’m even reading books like The Undercover Economist (Tim Harford), The Courage to Act (Ben Bernanke), Too Big to Fail (Andrew Ross Sorkin), and several of Tom Friedman’s books and liking them (and understanding some of what they’re saying). And there’s more; I’ve been watching a lot of CNBC recently. It’s been a real education for me. Now, given all of that verbiage, here’s this pseudo-economist’s view of parts of the current economy:

Bullet point 1 below.

The positive:

  • Overall, the unemployment numbers continue to look really positive (now at ~3.6%; the chart’s a bit dated). We appear to be at, or nearly at, all-time lows in unemployment. Yes, I know there are many ways to measure this value, but the trend has been positive for almost a decade. Practically every place I shop continues to be in hiring mode, I am constantly hearing from recruiters and getting messages about job fairs, and there also appear to be lots of job openings on sites like Linked In. I’m not looking for work at the moment, but I’m pretty confident that if I either suddenly wanted to get a job in my field or just have some extra spending money in my pocket, I would be able to get employed pretty quickly. This is a good feeling to have.
  • Inflation is very low, despite the strong economy. According to what I have heard many economists say, this is surprising given the recent GDP numbers. In fact, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates thrice (I love that word) last year at least partly in anticipation of an increase in inflation that hasn’t materialized. At least that’s my understanding. The President and some pundits think they should roll it back a bit. Hell, even gas prices haven’t moved too much despite expectations that they were on the verge of a serious uptick.
  • The stock market (despite the US-China trade war jitters of the past few days) has been quite good overall since 2009. As someone who was pretty heavily invested in the market during the last 10 years, this has worked out quite well for me. Now that we have to live off the income I generated this way, we’re backing off some to help assure that our money lasts, but I still am keeping a potion of our money invested because I agree with those who say, “you can’t beat the S&P.”
  • The recession that has been predicted by a fairly large number of experts to have arrived by now still hasn’t. Many are predicting it for 2020. Maybe thy are right, and nothing lasts forever, but it’s hard for me to believe that we’re on the precipice of a serious downturn.

Having said all of this, I still am pretty uneasy about this economy, especially toward those who are middle class and/or young. Here’s why:

Bullet point 3 below.
  • Even now, many of the jobs being created are fairly low paying jobs. While certainly better than nothing, these jobs are not going to raise large numbers of people out of poverty or debt. And though it hurts to say this, for many of the newly crated high tech positions, there are not a lot of US citizens that can perform them due either to lack of education and/or desire to achieve the necessary level of education/training.
  • Although unemployment and inflation levels are both very low, wages have struggled to outpace inflation. When you achieve a certain income level, a 2-3% raise might not seem so bad (like for me in the last half-dozen years). But when you’re making, let’s say, $50,000, that kind of raise doesn’t buy you a whole lot.
  • While the tax cuts may have created some jobs, it is now clear to those of us making less than $250,000 that this legislation in fact raised our income taxes. This was intended largely for the wealthy and big business, and as with other tax cuts targeted to those groups, they will keep much more than they spend on job creation.
  • Both the US government and most of the citizens living under it are in deep debt. If my wife and I did one thing right financially, we stayed out of debt and bought what we could afford. The current pattern is not sustainable, and at some point we will have to pay the piper or risk going into deep recession (remember 2009?). Belts need to be tightened, and that includes the runaway military spending that is taking place. I don’t see it happening, nor do I see any politician with the will to realistically address it.
  • Although I agree with President Trump (something I don’t often say) with regard to the issues with China, especially pertaining to intellectual property, I don’t think we can win a trade war with them for several reason; 1) China can hold out longer than us. Because it is a dictatorship, the government can much more easily pass the pain onto the citizens, who have no power to fight back. At some point, even Trump’s most loyal supporters will lose patience if they can’t afford to buy cell phones, 2) Because of point 1, China has more time to look elsewhere and find other trade partners, who will give in to the cheaper goods. The current Administration is pissing off a lot of our usual allies, and they might not side with us if we levy tariffs on them (as we are threatening), 3) Many of those “Made in China” goods (clothes and sneakers, for example) are made in (relatively) low tech factories using cheap labor. Can we bring back those types of jobs and get US workers to do them, especially if the wages are low?
  • I won’t get into Social Security, health care, or the potential effects of global warming now.

Well, there you have it. I hope I didn’t bore you. It’s high level and simplistic, but I suspect that many politicians don’t know a lot more. And I’d love to hear from some of you, especially if you think I’m off-base.

My first sports post. And the subject is … Curling??

Everyone who knows me even a little more than casually is aware of the fact that I like sports. Like many kids in the USA in the ’60s and ’70s, I was a full-fledged sports fanatic, following all major sports closely. Luckily for me, having grown up in Baltimore during that period, we had successful baseball and football teams (Orioles and Colts (yes, young people, they originated in Baltimore)). We also had the NBA until 1973, and the Bullets (now Washington Wizards) of the late ’60s and early ’70s were also pretty good. We had the Baltimore Clippers of the AHL (top minor league hockey) and even had a very brief (half a season) trial in the WHA, where I got to see Gordie Howe play. Anyway, nowadays, though I live elsewhere, I follow the Baltimore Ravens closely and U. of Maryland Terps basketball fairly closely. I am aware of what’s going on in the other major sports, but I don’t know most of the players and rarely watch the games (maybe I’ll discuss that later). However, my interest in 2 sports has grown, those being golf (which I’ve always liked and occasionally play) and of all things, curling.

I knew of the existence of curling as early as the 1970s (thanks to a book entitled The Sports Book, which has a brief writeup about curling). Anyway, I do remember seeing curling matches during the 2014 Winter Olympics on NBCSN and being intrigued by it, although I had no idea about the rules and how it was scored. There did appear to be a lot of strategy involved, which is probably why when I saw it again in 2017, I leaned in a bit. By 2018, I was beginning to understand the game somewhat, and I watched quite a bit of it during the 2018 Winter Olympics. And I was rewarded when the US men’s team won its first ever Gold medal. I have been following it closely ever since. There is another NBC-sponsored station called The Olympic Channel which shows a good number of curling matches, both on TV and online.

I’ll try not to go too deeply into the guts of the sport, but I do believe that some information about the sport is warranted. Men’s and women’s curling matches consist of 2 four person teams competing against each other, whereas mixed doubles teams consist of 1 man and 1 woman working together. There are “ends” in curling (10 for men’s and women’s matches, 8 for mixed doubles matches) which are somewhat similar to innings in baseball. Each teams throws all of its curling stones (42 pound granite circular blocks) over the ice in each inning. The stones “curl” for 3 reasons; 1) there is a handle on each stone which allows the thrower to put spin on the stone, 2) the ice ahead of the stone is “swept” by teammates which can control both the speed and lateral movement of the stone, 3) small bumps are placed on the ice sheet which affect the movement of the stone. The objective is to place your teams stone closest to the center of 3 concentric rings, called the house (see image below). In a good end, the team with “hammer (throwing second)” will have 2 or more stones closest to the center at the end of the end. Of course, while one team tries to place its stones into the best position in the house, the other tries to prevent it and potentially score with its own stones. Thus, each end is a combination of offense and defense. In my view, curling is a lot like chess with a bit of athleticism and physical skill.

Example of the curling “house.”

A few closing thoughts

  • One of the most surprising things I discovered is that curling was invented in Scotland, not Canada. The Canadians dominated the sport for a long time (a lot more ice there than in Scotland), but now the sport is popular in many parts of Europe as well as East Asian countries (China/Japan/South Korea).
  • I have never participated in curling, though I have been interested in doing so. The nearest curling sheet to me is an hour away. But I just found out that someone I know does play the sport, so I am hoping that she will take me to play. I am sure that it’s much harder than it looks when the “pros” do it.
  • I’m not trying to convert anyone who reads this into a curling fan. But it does go to show you that sometimes when you’re not expecting it, you stumble onto something totally by accident that you become interested in. So please keep an open mind as you go through life.
  • If by chance anyone reading this wants to explore the world of curling, there is a tournament taking place this week (08 – 12 May). You can view some of the matches on The Olympic Channel or website.

The careers we choose

As I stated in my first post, I spent over 30 years in the biotech industry. OK, 2 of those 30+ years were spent at an academic institution (U Mass Lowell), but even then, most of the work I did was for biotech clients (I also taught classes as an Adjunct Professor). The funny thing is that, had I stuck with my original choice, none of this would have happened. Starting at about age 7, I became fascinated with weather, winter weather in particular. In fact, my friend and I would get on the phone pretty much every time it snowed (which isn’t all that common in Baltimore) and watch and describe it for hours (we were nerdy kids). We would also draw weather maps to try and describe various storms (especially the one that brought rain instead of snow, much to our chagrin). Our knowledge was crude, but we understood that winter storms that passed west and north of Baltimore ushered in warmer air and rain, while storms that passed south and east of Baltimore allowed colder air to flow in, and the result was snow. Yes, we were nuts, but I was mesmerized. I was convinced that I was destined to be a meteorologist. However, as I stated in my last post and the beginning of this one, it was not meant to be. Why? There were 3 main reasons that I can think of; 1) my folks (my father in particular) were vehemently opposed to it, mainly because they had no understanding of what I might do with a meteorology degree (other than become a TV weatherman), 2) as a senior in high school, the chemistry class I was taking had a semester which covered biochemistry and organic chemistry, and I found it very interesting, 3) when I saw the college course load for obtaining a BS in mete0rology (physics, geology, and astronomy with lots of complicated math, remember this was the late ’70s, pre PC age), I was very intimidated and wasn’t sure if I could do it. So I decided to try biochemistry (certainly not simple, but much lass math). And a career was born.

So what do I think about this now? Well, if I had ended up sticking with meteorology, my life of course would have been totally different. I would never have met my wife (whom I met in grad school), so my family (if I ended up having one) would have been completely different. Hey, you can’t look back though. You make your choice and move ahead. Things turned out pretty well, so I surely can’t complain. Also, I don’t feel like I settled. I enjoyed much of my work life, made some contributions, and was paid well for my services. But it does beg the question about whether I made the right career choice. I still am very interested in weather. And now that global warming is front and center (and my biotech career either on hold or over, don’t know yet), I would love to find a way to be involved with it (other than making phone calls asking for donations and licking stamps, no offense to those that do this for the cause). Having no experience, I don’t know if there is a way for me to make a contribution to the debate or the science. Something to investigate in the future.

In closing, I guess I would tell you to follow your passion if you have one. I tried to convey that message to my daughters as they were growing up. If you’re not sure what you want to do, try to get as much exposure as you can (be that in work situations, college, or both) and find something that you think you will enjoy doing. And there’s no reason to stick with something if you’re not happy. It’s a big world out there. Don’t fear moving around and trying new challenges. Most of us spend a significant portion of our time on the job, so do the most you can to make it as happy (or at least pleasant) as possible.

And away we go …

Like millions of others, I have decided to start a blog. Big news! So let’s start with an introduction (many of you will recognize this, but hopefully some new folks won’t).

Personal bio: I’m approaching 60 years old, am married to a fantastic person, have 2 awesome (and grown) daughters, one amazing granddaughter, and 2 terrific pugs. I am very lucky indeed in this regard.

I earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry and worked in the biopharmaceutical industry for 30+ years. About a year ago, I was presented with a choice; either work at least 3 days a week in another state (or move there), or take a severance package. I chose option 2. My last day of work at that company (which I won’t identify here, though again many will know) was April 05. Possibly more on this topic later. But it does leave me with time to write.

I love to read. I’m learning le francais. I like sports, meteorology, economics and economic issues, politics, music (mostly old stuff), and I hope to write a book or books eventually.

I’ll have more substantive posts in the coming days. Anything and everything is in play. Many of them will be opinions. I don’t mean to offend, so please feel free to respond and to disagree, but do it in a reasonably civil way. Let’s talk and not argue.

More to come soon.