An Observation

It may be a curse but I have a tendency to observe my surroundings with an eye towards whether things are working well or are designed badly. Some might say it’s the engineer in me but I think it more likely derives from my training as a navy technician. On a ship or a submarine, it is imperative that things work well and if they don’t, someone needs to notice.

Or maybe I’m a touch OCD, I don’t know.

We have a Safeway grocery store here in Bend that I like to patronize. It’s big, new, not far from home and offers most of what I buy at a fair price. Like most big grocery stores, this Safeway has two entrance-exits, one at each end of the store as you walk towards it from the expansive parking lot. I use the one on the left because that’s the direction I typically enter the parking lot from. Each entrance-exit has two automatic doors for entry and two for exiting. Additionally, because Bend gets cold in the winter, they are double doors with a space in between to keep the cold air out. That is, you walk through one of the exterior doors and then though an interior door a few feet beyond with the exterior door closing behind you.

It’s a familiar and simple setup that should work well. Except it doesn’t. There is a huge flaw in the design that I have trouble grasping why the building designers didn’t recognize.

Let’s examine three key aspects of the door and building layout. First, as you walk towards the building, the entry doors are on the right, the exit doors on the left. Second, in the space between the exterior and interior doors is where the carts are kept. They are stashed to your left as you walk in. Finally, as you walk through the interior door, you’ll see the bank of checkout stations on your right.

So here’s what happens when you go in to shop. You approach the entrance doors on the right and one or both open as you get close. You walk through and turn left to grab a cart. As you’re doing that, someone exiting the store may be coming through and you’ll cross paths, either while you’re reaching for a cart or as you back one out. Also, as you go to grab a cart, because you’re stepping right past the exterior exit doors, the sensor for those doors will detect your presence and will open both doors.

Once you navigate that bit of design stupidity, you push a cart through an interior door (which is to the right of the exit doors, recall) into the store to shop. Yay! Except also recall that the checkout stations are on your right and as is typical with grocery stores, there is a alley between the stations and the back wall (where they keep various stuff like bank branches, maybe the pharmacy, a lot of vending type machines, etc.). As people complete the checkout process, they head for the door down this alley. They head for the exit doors. Which are on the other side of the door you just came in through. So more crossed paths, this time with both of you pushing carts.

Why aren’t the entrance doors on the left and the exit doors on the right? How does a building designer not think of that? I can imagine the possibility that there might be some confounding building code that demands it but I don’t think so. There’s no reason for that and I’ve seen entry-exit doors reversed in other places.

So I notice that every time I shop there. And it bugs me.

Some People

So I’m scanning the magazine rack at the local bookstore, searching for something that might be interesting in the food section. My eye catches an oddity: a car magazine, GT Porsche or some such, perched in front of – and obscuring – some of the food-related ‘zines. I scowl. What is it with some people that they are so inconsiderate. It might seem a small thing, failing to replace a magazine in its proper spot, but so is the effort to actually do that. It’s bad enough that the car magazine section becomes an unsorted mess, making it difficult to browse, but this inconsiderate Porsche-loving jerk couldn’t even be bothered to return the damn thing there. Car enthusiasts aren’t the only offenders but they’re pretty bad as a group.

So I move from Food & Wine, Cooks Illustrated and Saveur to the car section, my scowl unabated. I anticipate chaos and further scowling. Surprisingly, it’s not too messy. I pick up a front row magazine on classic motorcycles. Perhaps they will have an article on the Honda CB750, such as the one I saw at a car show this weekend. No, but they do feature an old Triumph. Nice.

While standing there, reading and slowly losing my scowl, an example of the breed comes up quickly, drops a magazine carelessly into the rack in a totally wrong spot, and scurries off. He’s done reading, so fuck everyone else.

Grrrrr  …..

My Constitutional Amendments

Or at least my ideas for amendments. Crafting any change to the constitution requires careful thought to limit unintended consequences.

1. Equal Rights Amendment. Already written but needs to be revised to include sexual orientation: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex or sexual orientation.”  In fact, why don’t we just clearly include everything: gender, race, religious affiliation, national origin.

2. Term Limits. Until recently, I’ve not been a great fan of term limits because I thought people should elect anyone they want. But recently I’ve become convinced that the power of the incumbency is too great an obstacle to proper functioning of our republic. So, 18 years in the House and Senate; 12 in the White House (yes, that adds a third term).

3. Abolish the Electoral College. The president and vice-president will be elected by popular vote. Recently, I read about a way to effectively abolish the Electoral College that doesn’t require an amendment or Congressional action. States have the right and power to apportion electoral votes as they see fit as determined by state law. So, each state could enact a law to give the entirety of the electoral college votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the popular vote.

4. Corporations Are Not People. Override Citizen’s United and any decisions in inferior courts that led to Citizen’s United.

5. Repeal the Second Amendment. I’m not proposing we ban guns. I’m proposing that owning them not be a constitutional right and thus ownership can be regulated like any other hazard.

6. Independent Redistricting. I’m not sure what system will work best – they all have pitfalls. But I propose to ban legislators picking their voters. Let’s get back to voters picking legislators.

7. Replace the 1st, 5th and 14th Amendments. Replace them with something that more clearly defines free speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, equal rights, due process. I don’t propose we restrict or expand these rights and freedoms, just make them less susceptible to bizarre Supreme Court interpretation. See Citizen’s United. All enumerated rights shall clearly state applicability. I.e., rights granted to citizens only, to legal residents, to anyone on US soil. In no case shall a US citizen be deprived of rights under the constitution including that of habeas corpus. I.e., no indefinite detentions without a prompt hearing before a judge.

8. Constitutionalize Marbury v Madison. The constitution doesn’t actually give the Supreme Court the final say on what is and what isn’t constitutional. Make it so.

9. Article III Judges. There shall be nine justices of the Supreme Court. No fewer, no greater. Justices of the Supreme Court and all inferior federal judges are limited to a single 18 year term on any particular level of court (including all justices and judges currently sitting when the amendment gets adopted). The president shall have the power to fill any Article III vacancy without Senate consent after a time period has passed and the Senate has not voted on a valid nomination. Confirmation of a Supreme Court justice shall require at least 60 votes in the Senate; all others require a majority vote. If a nominee gets a vote but fails to garner sufficient votes for confirmation, the time clock for nomination and confirmation resets. A nominee for a seat on the Supreme Court shall be limited to those judges currently sitting on one of the eleven Federal Circuit Courts of Appeals (with a new 18-year term limit). A nominee for a seat on one of the eleven circuit courts shall be limited to judges currently sitting on a federal district court or one of the state highest courts. All nominees for federal court shall be members in good standing of a state bar. The nine members of the Supreme Court shall choose one of their group to be Chief Justice for a term to be specified (i.e., someone gets to be Chief for say, two years, then goes back to being an associate justice).

10. Citizenship. Anyone born in any state of the union, or the District of Columbia, shall be a citizen at birth. Anyone born with at least one biological parent a US citizen shall be a citizen at birth. These will be defined as ‘natural-born citizens”. Anyone born in a US territory shall not be a citizen at birth unless a parent is a citizen of one of the states or DC. Note: At present, people born in Puerto Rico, Guam, the US Virgin Islands are ‘natural-born’ citizens. I propose that these territories and the other territories can decide for themselves if they want to become US states and until they do, anyone born there will not be a natural-born US citizen. Anyone who serves honorably on active duty in any of the armed forces – including the Coast Guard – for a set length of time (12 years?) shall gain citizenship, as will their spouse provided the spouse also meets the time requirement. Children born to an active-duty service-member will be granted citizenship when the parent gets it.

11. District of Columbia. DC shall gain full representation in the US House and the Senate. Citizens of the district shall have full voting rights in presidential elections.

12. Census/Representation. A census shall be conducted every ten years to count the number of citizens and permanent residents in each state. The census shall not ask nor determine any other demographic count. Someone else can determine the whole population of the US if we want that number. Representation in the US House shall be apportioned according to each state’s number of citizens at the time of census.

13. Presidential Pardons. The president shall have the power to pardon any person, with exceptions, for any criminal conviction, federal or state. The president shall not have self-pardon power, nor the power to pardon any person closely associated with the president. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia shall have original jurisdiction to determine whether a person is closely associated to the president but that group shall include all current and former members of the president’s administration.

14. Cabinet Positions. Upon resignation or removal of a Senate-confirmed member of the cabinet, the current Senate-confirmed deputy shall assume the duties and responsibilities of the office until a Senate-confirmed successor is appointed. If no Senate-confirmed deputy is currently in office, the Speaker of the House shall appoint an acting deputy who will assume the duties of the cabinet member until a Senate-confirmed successor is appointed.

15. Immigration. There shall be a statute of limitations for deportation of ten years. I.e., anyone who resides in the US illegally for ten continuous years shall be granted legal resident status regardless of their criminal status otherwise. This is not to grant immigration amnesty to ex-Nazis and other heinous criminals just because they eluded notice for ten years but to prevent people who have been here for a long time and who have done nothing wrong other than cross the border earlier in their lives from being ripped away from their families and deported to a country they don’t know. It will also encourage long-time illegals to fully become part of our society.

16. Federal Elections (President/Vice-president, US House, US Senate, US Constitutional Amendments). The US Federal Elections Commission shall conduct, regulate and monitor all federal elections. State and local elections may attach to the federal elections but in no instance will any election for federal office or amendment to the US constitution be governed by state law (note that I am also calling for getting rid of the Electoral College so state apportionment of electoral votes becomes a non-issue). A federal state-specific voter ID card will be created and administered by the US Federal Elections Commission. No one shall vote in a federal election except upon presenting a valid voter ID, except for marking a provisional ballot when there’s a dispute as to eligibility of the voter. Federal voter IDs shall be available to all citizens upon showing proof of state residency (criteria determined by the FEC) at specified federal and state offices. No undue travel or financial burden shall be imposed for obtaining an ID card or to vote. A federal voter ID card shall be valid proof of state residency and voting eligibility for state-wide offices and questions. States can still require something with proof of current address for local elections and questions. States can also set up federally approved mail-in elections, such as Oregon has.

17. Federal Elections Part II. All eligible voters are required to vote absent good excuse as determined by the FEC or Congress. Good excuses shall be very liberal. Federal election days will be state and federal holidays. All federal elections will provide for at least a two-week early voting period.

18. War Powers. The US Congress shall retain the sole power to declare war. The president shall have the power to initiate and conduct hostilities as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces pending an Act of Congress to declare war, terminate hostilities or authorize limited armed conflict. Declaration of war shall require, at a minimum, initiation of the draft. In no case shall the National Guard of any State be federalized into active duty in the US armed forces unless a declaration of war has been issued by Congress. All citizens shall register for the Selective Service upon their 18th birthday. Upon declaration of war by Congress, all permanent residents of the US between 18 and 35 years of age shall register with the Selective Service.

 

Focus: Golf’s Ultimate Lesson

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Or perhaps Patience might be the key lesson the game of golf teaches. Whichever, I’m focusing, as it were, on keeping your Focus.

As I’ve written before, and as others have written much more eloquently and authoritatively, golf is a difficult game to master. At best, most of us can only hope to play it well enough to gain more enjoyment than frustration. I have reached that plateau but maybe only because I have more patience than most. My game is still not very good.

One thing I’ve taken from playing tennis and applied to golf is a desire to learn how to play the sport properly, even if I don’t achieve great results (I was a B player at best on the tennis court). While there are obviously many variations to any particular aspect of golf (or tennis), fundamentals and basic good practices are still key elements to building a foundation to your game. Proper grip and setup, for example. If you don’t have those right, you’re unlikely to strike the ball well and even less likely to have it go where you’re aiming. Getting the ball to go where you aim it is 90% of the game. The other 10% is knowing where to aim – particularly with tennis – but that’s a different subject.

The two sports diverge when applying specifics. So I’ll leave tennis behind and focus on golf.

Recently, I played a round at one of my favorite courses in Bend. I did OK, for me, and managed to maintain my rather remarkable consistency at that course: in the six rounds I’ve played, my scores have all been within three shots of each other. I’m not sure why but that consistency plays out at other courses as well, albeit not quite so much. I’m a consistent golfer.

I played the round with a fine gentleman, older than me and apparently well off in his retirement based on what he said he did for a living. He played the game about as well as I and more importantly, played it with the same level of intensity and focus (there’s that word). Casual on the tee and while we waited, he concentrated on his shots when it was his turn. We exchanged remarks on how the greens were rolling and other aspects of the course as we played. Critically, he offered no swing advice or distracted me when it was my turn to play. In other words, a great playing partner. It is during these rounds where I have no unwanted distractions and a comfortable setting that I can focus on my shots. More so if I’m playing solo.

Specifically, I can focus on what I have learned about how to hit a particular shot and focus on the ‘swing thoughts’ that work for me. Swing thoughts are what you think about as you are executing a shot. It is important that they be few and simple – you usually won’t make a good swing if you burden your mind with half a dozen imperatives while you swing, even if all those things are important to do. One or two things only is best. Unlike a lot of physical activity, golf is not natural, so I have to remind my body and mind how to perform each time. So, focus. I need to focus on each shot.

One might think focusing on every shot is easy, no big deal. After all, golf is a game played in short spurts – most of the time you are either moving from one place to another or waiting. Sure, those times you might be thinking of your game or even the next shot but not in a way that requires focus. So why is it hard? The short answer – and probably the longer one – is I don’t know, but it is. I have yet to play a round where I focused on every shot. Inevitably, there are a few where because of whatever circumstances are present in the moment, I’ve simply gone up to the ball, gone through my usual mechanical routine and swung. Note that going through my routine is quite different from focusing. To focus, I need to concentrate on my swing thoughts.

Aside from the very relevant tennis analogy, I can’t think of a whole lot of non-emergency situations I’ve been in where focusing is so critical. Working in energized panels on the submarine and power plants is one but generally those weren’t on/off situations like a golf round. If I was elbows deep with 240 or 440 VAC around me, you bet I was focused the whole time. But it wasn’t focus on/focus off 80-100 times in the space of four hours as with a round of golf.

Driving here in Central Oregon might come close. We have a lot of critters that apparently think traffic laws don’t apply to them. Big critters like deer and elk. Driving often demands that you be prepared for a bull elk to be in your face in those stretches of road where they might pop out without warning. That’s hard to do on a longer drive. Your mind inevitably strays to other things. You lose focus.

I like to think that playing the game of golf improves my ability to focus but I’m not so sure about that, either. It might, or it might just teach my mind that focus is something required on the course (and for elk avoidance). Why do it off the course?

Anyway, that’s the meat of this blog entry. Golf – a game of focus that may or may not have lessons to apply to life in general. For those who don’t play golf or don’t particularly care how I play the game or who have lost focus while reading this, you’re excused. Thanks for reading. For those who are so bored that one might question your enthusiasm for life, the remainder of this entry comprises specifics on how I play golf, club-by-club, and what I focus on for each.

So, here’s what works for me:

Driver: The most powerful club in the bag, it is the one that can get you into the most trouble. Unless you are a tour pro, the driver is used only on the tee and even pros rarely use it off the tee (hitting the driver from the fairway is called ‘driver off the deck’). With the driver, the goal is to get the ball a good distance down the fairway. For me, accuracy is not paramount as long as I hit the fairway, so I usually aim for the middle. Missing the fairway by a little is often still OK, but a shot that veers too far off course will find landing spots that can add multiple shots to your score. Hitting out-of-bounds, for example, automatically is a two shot disaster (you have to hit the ball again from the original spot and there’s a one shot penalty). Hitting a water hazard or losing the ball in the weeds similarly add shots. So, my imperative is to hit the fairway. It doesn’t matter all that much how far I hit it. If I strike the ball well, the distance will take care of itself anyway.

Swing thoughts: For the driver, I will think of two things. One, I must shift forward on the downswing, putting more weight on my left leg. Two, I focus on swinging through the ball along the target line. If I have done my setup right, those two things will almost always result in a ball flight well into the air and close to my target line. If I lose focus and fail to do those two things, bad things can happen. Failing to move forward, I may not strike the ball with the proper upswing (the driver is the only club where you hit the ball as the club-head is going up, albeit slightly) and I may even hit the ground before the ball. If I don’t swing through the target line, the difference between club face angle at impact and the swing path will result in a slice or hook, depending on which errant path I take. Either fault may result in the ball ending up in a place I really don’t want to be. So far, I’m pretty good with the driver but only because I don’t swing very hard. I lose a lot of distance but gain accuracy.

Fairway wood: Also known as a fairway metal because golf clubs aren’t made of wood anymore. I see no reason to rename the club. For me, a fairway wood means a 3-wood but they come in different numbers (e.g. 5-wood, 7-wood) and many golfers carry more than one. A fairway wood is sort of a smaller driver – similar shape, just shorter club shaft and smaller head. On shorter holes or where the fairway doesn’t have enough room to accommodate the distance a driver will provide, golfers will use a fairway wood off the tee. Pretty much all the swing aspects applicable to the driver will apply with slight modification, such as a lower tee height.

Hitting a fairway wood when the ball is lying in the fairway is a whole ‘nother animal. If you try hitting a fairway shot using a driver swing, you will fail spectacularly every time. The reason is an obvious one: on the tee the ball is sitting up a couple of inches above the ground, allowing (mandating, if you do it properly) that slight upward path at impact. On the fairway, the ball will be sitting on grass and maybe slightly sunk into the grass. There’s no hitting up on the ball. The proper swing is one that ‘sweeps’ the grass with the club-head, achieving the low point of its arc pretty much right at impact, or maybe slightly after the ball. And that is why fairway wood shots are so hard to master. If the bottom of the arc is a little early, you’ll ground the club before impact, resulting in short, unpredictable ball flight, if not a complete duff. If the arc is too late, that’s better but won’t give you the control and distance you need from the shot.

Swing thoughts: I admit I’m not real great with this shot so I try to keep it simple by using the same thoughts as with the driver: shift weight forward and maintain proper swing path. The difference between a fairway shot and a tee shot is where the ball is in my setup (more forward on the tee). My fairway mishits usually involve hitting the ground first because I lost focus and didn’t shift weight forward.

Hybrid: A hybrid is a club that typically replaces one of the long irons in a golfer’s bag. It has a larger head designed to hit through grass without the club-head getting caught up too much. Most pros don’t carry one because they are so good with their irons, even out of the rough. I will use my 4-hybrid or 5-hybrid to get out of the rough or when a ball is sitting down in the grass too much for me to be comfortable with the 3-wood (see above). Beyond that, the hybrids replace the 4 and 5-irons in my bag, with distance somewhere between the 6-iron and the 3-wood.

Off the fairway, I will hit a hybrid the same as I would the 3-wood. If I’m using a hybrid to get out of a bad lie, I adjust my swing and try to ‘punch out’. That is, a short swing that results in a low shot that doesn’t travel as far as with a full swing. For that, I set the ball back well in my stance and swing down on it, allowing the club-head to travel though less grass before impact. Swinging down also delofts the club, resulting in a lower trajectory and avoiding any tree branches that might be in the way. Results vary wildly but that’s why they call it a ‘bad lie’.

Swing thoughts: If using the club as I would the 3-wood, see above. If using it to hit out of  bad lie, my thought is just one: solid impact on the ball. That’s it. I’m just concentrating on getting clean contact, hoping for a better lie on the next shot and hopefully a lot closer to the green.

Irons, Full Swing: Most people categorize their irons based on distance: long, mid and short, with lower numbered clubs (2, 3, 4, 5, say) being long and the wedges (pitching, gap, sand, lob) being short and the rest in the middle (mid). Me, I tend to categorize them into two bins: those I can comfortably hit off the fairway with a full swing and those I can’t. I don’t even carry a 2, 3 or 4 iron and I’ve recently given up on my 5 in favor of a hybrid. I just can’t hit long irons so I don’t even try anymore.

That said, there are two situations where you’d want to hit a full-swing iron. First, on the fairway where your target – the green or a spot further up the fairway – lies a good distance away.  Note that my target is not always the green even if it’s nominally in range of my irons. Because of my poor iron play, I usually prefer to lay up close to the green and then try to hit a half-swing wedge close to the hole. The second situation is on the tee at a par 3 hole. There, I will hit a 4, 5, 6, 7 or 8 off a tee set just above grass height. I have yet to encounter a hole short enough that I can reach it with a 9 iron off the tee.

A full-swing iron shot is a complicated matter, particularly off the grass. Unlike a fairway wood where you’re trying to ‘sweep’ the ball off the grass, with an iron you’re trying to hit down on it a bit with the low point of the swing coming just after the ball. That’s why better players take a divot with a iron. The club is literally plowing a trench behind where the ball was. You do this because it is imperative that you hit the ball first, not the ground, and the club-face design for irons really doesn’t allow it to travel along grass easily without the face being jerked off target, as a fairway wood or hybrid can do.  So, with the ball somewhere in the middle of your stance at setup – further back the shorter the iron – as you downswing, you must move your hips forward, allowing the bottom of the swing arc to be behind the ball. There’s a lot more going on as well: hip rotation, weight shift to the front leg, wrists ahead of the club-face, etc. If you get any of it wrong, if you lose your focus, you will not strike the ball solidly and may even hit the ground in front of the ball. Results are usually very poor if you do.

If I’m hitting off the tee, the swing is the same, I’m just not trying to take a divot (I rarely take divots anyway – my swing force is too low). I’m still trying to bottom out the swing arc behind the ball but not into the grass. Off the tee is a lot easier to do than a fairway iron shot. That’s why Jack Nicklaus says to always tee up a ball on the tee box*. Never hit a ball off the ground when on the tee, no matter what club you use. I have a friend who insists on hitting his par 3 irons shots off the ground. I don’t understand that – why penalize yourself? The game is already hard.

* As I write this, I realize that the ‘tee’ terminology is confusing if you don’t know the golf context. The term ‘tee’ can mean either the tee peg you use to prop a ball up, or it can mean the tee box, which is the area where you hit your first shot on each hole. ‘On the tee’ means you’re in the tee box hitting your first shot, whether you use a tee peg or not.

Swing thoughts: With all that, it’s easy to get too complicated as you swing an iron on the fairway. For me, I think of two things: weight shift forward and a sensation that I’m driving the club down from the handle as I start my downswing. If I do those two things correctly, I will probably strike the ball solidly and hopefully in the right direction. I tend to hit otherwise solid iron shots to the left, so maybe I need to add a third thought, club path through to the target. Or not. If I concentrate on that, I might botch the other two.

With tee shots, my swing thoughts are weight shift forward and club path towards the target. I’m not thinking about driving down into the ball when on the tee.

Irons, Half-Swing: Unless you hit the green from long distance, you will eventually have placed your ball relatively close to the green. From there, you generally can’t take a full swing no matter what club you use. You have to use an abbreviated swing to avoid overshooting the green. These are called pitch and chip shots. Pitch shots being used a bit further from the green and chips from right up near the green.

I’m pretty good with these shots, even granting that they are generally easier for anyone. Because I don’t hit the ball very far, I usually can’t reach the green from the fairway on my second shot (or third on a par 5). So I’ve taken to not even trying. I will lay up short of the green and try to hit a wedge close enough to make par with one putt. Most of my par scores on a hole are achieved this way and I’ve spent many hours practicing chip and pitch shots.

By now it has to be apparent that virtually all non-tee golf shots are dependent on the lie – how the ball is sitting in the grass. Pitch and chip shots are even more dependent on the lie because you are not swinging with much force. Back in the fairway, even if the ball is sitting a bit lower than you’d like, the speed of the club-head at impact can neutralize bad lies to some degree. You can drive the club through the grass and still make good contact with the ball. Not so with the more delicate short shots. A ball sitting up nicely in grass will dictate a different shot selection than will one sitting down. This is true even if you are in the fairway, which is supposed to have evenly cut grass everywhere but in reality still offers varied lies.

Pitch shots are a bit easier to describe. With a good lie, I hit a pitch shot essentially the same way as I would a mid iron but with less force, less weight transfer, less arm swing, less hip rotation. If the ball is sitting down, I will use a more lofted wedge and play the ball back a bit in my stance.

Chip shots are where the technique starts to differ, although it’s really a continuum as you get closer to the green (the further away you are the more it looks like a standard iron/pitch shot). There are two basic chip shots: one is a high shot designed to have little roll after the ball hits the green and one is lower where you want the ball to roll to the hole. The technique is quite similar, the difference being where you put the ball in your stance and what club you select. Which shot you choose mostly depends on the green in front of you. If it slopes away from you, it will be difficult to judge how much the ball will roll so you’ll want to hit the ball higher and have it drop close to the hole and not roll away. If the slope is towards you, a low, rolling shot may be best because that is more like a putt and putting always beats chipping. Or so they say. You also need to pay attention to left and right slope to determine where your target line should be. Very often, you will not hit directly towards the hole.

For a high shot, I’ll use my lob wedge or sand iron, depending on how far I want the ball to travel. Feet no more than two club-faces apart, a moderate amount of wrist action on the backswing and follow through, ball well forward of center. Most of the power is derived from the shoulders, not the hips. I will take multiple practice swings in an area where the grass is similar to my lie. It does no good to practice swings in grass higher or lower than your ball lies. You need to get a feel for how the club-face and grass are going to interact, which will dictate how hard you swing.

For a low shot, I’ll use something with less loft, maybe a 7, 8 or 9. The setup and swing are similar but the ball will be back in the stance and I won’t hit it as hard. I’m not really good at judging low running shots yet, so I tend to go for the high shot.

Some golf instructors advocate using only one club for chip shots, saying you should vary the swing tempo and ball position to get the right distance and roll. Others say you should take advantage of your bag and use whatever club will carry the right distance using the same swing. Me, I really like my Cleveland 58 degree wedge, so I use it 90% of the time for chip shots, adjusting for roll by where I put the ball in my stance. It works for me. There’s also the Matt Kuchar shot – use a fairway wood or hybrid to generate roll when you have a lot of green to cross. That takes a lot of practice. Those clubs can easily send the ball flying right through the green.

Swing thoughts: With chips and pitches, I concentrate on one thing: brush the club under the ball. In other words, don’t stub the club in the ground and don’t blade it. As I said, I will take several practice strokes. It’s then that I make sure my swing is proper in terms of hips, weight, wrist, etc. Because the shot is low force, it’s a lot easier to repeat once you’ve taken the practice swings.

Putting: If you had to divide the game of golf into two categories, it would be putting and every other shot. All non-putting strokes involve lofted clubs, body rotation, large swings, ball flight and various techniques to deal with the ground (or tee). With the putter, you’re just trying to get the ball rolling across an even surface, albeit one with considerable slopes and undulations. Your grip is different, for some golfers wildly so. The putter is much shorter than the other clubs, so you need to adjust your stance to be over the ball.

Putting also involves a skill not required for most other shots: reading the green (with chips and pitches, you need to read the green as well but it’s not as important). By reading the green, I mean getting down low and looking at the ground (grass) between the ball and the hole and imagining how the ball will break (curve) as it travels to the hole. It may break left, right, or left then right. You also need to look at the path from a side view to determine whether its uphill, downhill or both. From all that, you must judge two things: what line (direction) to start the ball off on, and how hard to hit it. The two interact: if you hit the ball harder it won’t break as much as if you hit if softly. There is no one correct combination that will get the ball to the hole. You may try for a harder shot with less break but risk hitting it well past the hole if you miss. You may hit it softly, trying to just get it to the hole but risk misjudging the break or coming up short. Even the type of grass and its condition will influence the read.

While there are techniques you can use to read the green, to be good at it requires skill and practice.  But one technique I’ve found to be invaluable and a lot of pros do it: place a line on the ball’s circumference with a black marker. This does two things. First, after you’ve done your green-reading, by placing the ball on the green with the line aimed along your intended starting path, it eliminates having to judge what that path is after you stand over the ball preparing to putt. The line tells you all you need to know. Except for getting a feel in your mind as to how hard to hit it (based also on your green-reading), you really don’t even need to look at the hole as you putt. Second, the provides visual feedback to help you align the putter face perpendicular to the path. It does no good to correctly read the green if you then hit the ball off-line. Both of these things are remarkably hard to do without the line on the ball. As you look down on the ball, it is difficult to visualize the intended path because it lies in your peripheral vision from that vantage point. And it’s harder to ensure your putter is aligned with that path.

Swings thoughts: So, after reading the green, lining up the ball, getting my putter aligned with the intended path, what’s left? Striking the ball, of course. Even after addressing the ball with the putter and ensuring it’s lined up, you might still hit it off-line during the actual stroke. Minimizing that involves good putting technique and just as with all the other golf shots, you can have too many things in your head. For me, I do two things. During my practice swings, I look at the hole and imagine hard I have to hit the ball to get to the hole. As I swing, I focus on a good pendulum action with my shoulders, keeping the rest of my body still. I’m getting to the point where putting is a strength of my game. My usual miss is short, so I’m working on that.

 

Focus. To play the game of golf at any level of proficiency, you have to focus. I don’t know anyone who can play golf well who doesn’t at least pause briefly to focus on their shots prior to swinging. Beyond scoring better, it feels great to focus on doing something right, and then having it actually happen as intended.

During a round not long ago, I had a good lie in the fairway and according to the golf GPS app that I use to judge distances, I needed to hit a 7-iron. The app is programmed with my usual distances for each club – it’s very handy.  Because I don’t hit my irons very well, my typical 7-iron shot doesn’t travel very far. In this case, I was looking to hit a shot to the front of the green and the app said my 7-iron was the right distance. Well, I hit the best 7-iron of my life. Everything worked. I made good contact, the ball flew up high and straight at the green. I think I even took a divot. Woo hoo!

And the ball landed a good ten yards over the back of the green, way beyond what I had intended. Ordinarily, that would be cause for disappointment. I just missed the green horribly and probably was looking at a double or triple bogey. But I was kind of elated. I had just hit a 7-iron well! That almost never happens. So, even though my shot didn’t produce the expected result, it felt good to focus on a proper swing and pull it off.

I still remember the feel of that shot.

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The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

A line from Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 2, oft represented as antagonistic towards lawyers. In fact – or in opinion, if you will – William Shakespeare probably meant it as a compliment to the legal profession in that they held society together through the rule of law. A bulwark against anarchy. You’ll find that a common if not popular interpretation and it’s one that was presented to us neophyte law students pretty much on the first day of orientation. Law professors love Shakespeare.

But as I said, it’s not the popular interpretation. Most non-lawyers think it suggests that lawyers are a bane of society rather than a bulwark, and should be eliminated. Personal injury lawyers are ambulance chasers and the reason we have stupid labels on virtually every product made warning us against incredibly obvious dangers is because of lawyers. Why, wasn’t it lawyers who successfully sued McDonald’s because their coffee was hot? And the US Congress is chock full of lawyers and look how well that works. We should ban lawyers from Congress!

Well, no, we shouldn’t and that brings me to my point. Rather than ban lawyers, we should require law degrees of all our Congressional Representatives and Senators. Seriously.

Why? Because Shakespeare (if you subscribe to that interpretation) was right. We as a society are held together because of our respect for and adherence to the Rule of Law. Intentional caps. Without the rule of law, we’re just a bunch of savages trying to survive as best we can, taking what we need from whomever we can. A little harsh?  You wouldn’t be like that? No, me neither. But what you and I would do is band together with like-minded folks and establish a society where the rights and liberties of all are respected. In other words, establish the rule of law.

I think – I hope – that’s a concept that most of us can agree with. The rule of law is a good thing. But that leaves us with two questions: one, what laws should we have and two, why do we need lawyers? Can’t reasonable people just agree on common sense laws that everyone can understand?

I’ll leave the first question alone – not because it isn’t as important (it is in fact much more important) but because the second one is the least understood, I think.

Let me make this statement: Law is hard. While it certainly isn’t beyond the grasp of most intelligent people, it is not a subject amenable to casual scrutiny by the even most intelligent among us. The concepts are often arcane, deriving from centuries of formulation and refinement. I reckon most people can’t so much as describe what is meant by the term Common Law much less apply it to the specific legal issues where it’s relevant. I know I couldn’t before going to law school. Yet it underpins our legal system, stemming from our country’s English heritage. And that’s just common law. Statutory law, while often easier to grasp, presents its own set of difficulties. Laws are written in a language that often defies common interpretation.

One such misinterpretation is the term ‘assault’. Ever wonder why a criminal charge is often termed ‘assault and battery’? Isn’t that redundant? No, because assault in legal terms (in most but not all jurisdictions) doesn’t mean what it does in common English. It doesn’t mean to ‘attack’ someone physically. In legal terms, it means to create an apprehension and fear of bodily harm, coupled with the apparent ability to carry out the threat immediately. Assault is the (credible) threat; battery is carrying through with the threat. The two terms are necessary because each act constitutes a crime and one doesn’t depend on the other. You can commit a battery without assault, and vice versa. Laws are written just so and, as I said, often use uncommon language. Otherwise, ambiguities may arise making it difficult to determine what crime someone may have committed or whether they committed one at all. Legal terms are far more specific and defined than those we use in everyday language, and I argue they should be. Think about, say, banking law and imagine the complexities of terminology and concepts that go well beyond the average person’s understanding. Use of proper legal terminology and phraseology help define and constrain interpretations to what was intended. Laws shouldn’t be subject to challenge because – to use a popular internet meme – “I don’t think that word means what you think it means.”

Constitutional law presents a whole different array of difficulties to casual interpretation. Not only does one have to parse what the words mean, one has to determine what they meant two hundred years ago. One might have hoped the framers of our most important legal document would have written the thing in plainer language, maybe even provided some definition of terminology. It’s hard enough to apply an 18th or 19th century standard to 21st century reality when things the framers could not have imagined are part of our world today (say, the internet or well-funded political action committees) but it’s often difficult to determine what they meant when they wrote it. Equally important, does it matter what the framers were thinking? Maybe we should just go with what the words meant when they were written without regard to intent? Just this week, a controversy erupted over the 14th Amendment’s birthright citizenship clause with some interpreting it to only apply to the recently freed slaves. That interpretation has been repeatedly tossed into the historical dust bin but here we are again. And what exactly were the framers thinking with the phrase “A well regulated Militia …”  anyway? We don’t have the sort of militias today that were in existence when the Bill of Rights was adopted. Does the 1st Amendment’s right to free speech really apply to corporate campaign contributions? Are corporations people?

These are questions the justices of the US Supreme Court grapple with in deciding cases based on constitutional law. Some prefer what is called the doctrine of ‘original intent’ and say the document doesn’t apply to issues not part of the 18th/19th century world unless they can be enveloped within the words as written back then, while some prefer to apply the constitution in the light of modern reality. There are valid arguments on both sides. But either way, the justices must interpret two documents to decide constitutionality: the constitution itself and the particular law in question. The justices, therefore, must be well-versed in the law and its terminology, roots and concepts. That’s the reason I think candidates for the Supreme Court should be required to have considerable legal and appellate judicial experience. Most do and have, but not all.

OK, but that’s the Supreme Court. What about Congress? Let me frame my answer by asking this: do you really want the Supreme Court working hard to figure out what exactly Congress meant when it drafted a law? Or would it be better if the law was well-crafted, legally speaking, in the first place? Even if it was, that doesn’t mean the law is constitutional but it would be far easier to determine constitutionality if it was written by legislators with legal training. Moreover, we need laws written by people who have at least a decent understanding of the constitution, using whichever doctrine they choose to interpret it. We need laws written in such a way that they conform to the language of our legal system and stand a better chance of not being challenged and possibly struck down by the Supreme Court. Lawyers, or at least those who have law degrees, are who we need to write laws. The idea of ‘citizen legislators’ might sound appealing, but on the national level, it often just results in having people who don’t know what they’re doing running the country. The Rule of Law only works if the laws are coherent.

One might argue that my point is invalid because Congress is already, as I implied above, ‘chock full of lawyers.’ That’s true, but it would be worse if fewer had legal training. Then not only would they pass laws that ignore or distort political, social, scientific and international realities (and they do that so often these days) but the language of the bills would more often not even carry out their intent, making a complete hash of things that the Supreme Court has to untangle.

Before anyone gets their hackles up and starts firing off inflammatory screeds in the comment section, keep in mind two other things. First, in order to get an ABA-approved law degree in this country, you must first have a bachelors degree in something. Doesn’t matter what. So all law school graduates (OK, there may be some exceptions) are also educated in some other field. That in itself considerably broadens the experience pool to virtually every academic field. Each congressional committee could comprise legislators that not only have legal acumen but relevant training in the subject matter. The Science and Technology Committees would be composed of people with science degrees who can better understand the technical issues and who have the legal training to draft coherent bills to implement the desired policy changes without stomping on people’s civil rights. So too with Banking Committees, Education Committees, Arts Committees, and so on.

Second, I’m only advocating that Congress comprise those who have law degrees, not necessarily have practiced law. I have never practiced law, for example, but I have a law degree. So I’m reasonably fluent in law and can interpret laws, the constitution and court decisions, certainly much better than I could before getting the degree (said fluency is diminishing over time, of course). Before I got the law degree, I was like you. I thought Shakespeare hated lawyers.

Not that I’m running for Congress.

It’s A Long Way Down

My last post (Forest of Death) reminded me of another memory on the submarine. But before I get to that, I’m reminded of another related concept which I only fully realized when the Russian submarine Kursk was disabled and stranded on the sea bottom, eventually with the loss of all hands. As probably with most submariners, that event struck a chord in my psyche. There but for the grace of god go I, as they say.

When it went down, the Kursk was in fairly shallow water, about 350 feet. The boat’s maximum operational depth limit is much deeper. But even that shallow, there was too much water above the boat to allow the men to escape on their own.

350 feet of water is pretty deep from the perspective of normal human experience. Scuba divers usually don’t venture past 100 feet or so and rarely will dive below 150 feet. To go further requires training and other things, such as decompression stops on the way up. To dive as far down as the Kursk sank is totally out of the question. So, 350 feet is deep.

At some point, I imagined the physical situation with the Kursk, a 500 foot sub lying 350 feet down and it became incongruous. If the boat were stood up on end, a good portion would be sticking out of the water. The men inside could walk further end to end than they were below the surface of the sea. From that perspective, to lose a submarine in merely 350 feet of water seemed ridiculous. But it happened.

My experience in submarines was in the Pacific Ocean, whose waters are considerably deeper than 350 feet over the vast majority of its extent. Much deeper, in fact, than the depth limits of a nuclear submarine, be it the USS Sam Houston, the Kursk or any modern sub. More than that, though, given we operated out of a navy base in Guam and headed more or less into the open ocean, I’m pretty sure the boat transited waters above the deepest ocean depths: the Marianas Trench. Challenger Deep, the low point in the trench and thus the world, is more than 35,000 feet below the surface. That’s one hundred times the depth where the Kursk sank.

I was a scuba diver before joining the navy and I recall being a bit freaked out when I dove into water more than a hundred feet deep. At that depth, you can’t see the bottom so you have the sensation of being at a scary height above ground. It obviously wasn’t too scary because I loved diving deep – so many interesting things to see down there.

On a submarine, you have no such sensation of scary depths. Unless you know to look for telltale clues (loss of wave action on the boat, pressure gauges on seawater intakes, temperature gauges on the same water, the hull creaking from being compressed by the weight of water and of course, the depth gauges located in the control room and maneuvering), you really have no sensation of depth at all. You’re in an enclosed, rigid steel tube.

But you know. If you cast your imagination and visualize yourself just outside the submarine and look down, you will be staring into utter blackness whose depths you cannot discern but which you know is over six miles down. You find yourself suspended six miles above ground, a ground you cannot see.

Now, that’s scary. It sort of unnerved me, at least until I got over it. You learn to get over a lot of stuff on a submarine.

Walking Through the Forest of Death

Someone recently posted a question on a submarine-related Facebook group asking that if you could name one memory or feeling from your submarine days, what would it be?

I could mention two, although the following would be my answer if restricted to one.

When I was on the submarine, going ‘to work’ for me meant walking from crew’s berthing or the crew’s mess (depending on whether I had a meal before work) back aft to the engineering spaces, either maneuvering (located in the engine room) or Auxiliary Machinery Room Two Upper Level (AMR2UL, where most of the reactor control equipment lived). It’s not a long walk – the entire boat was only a tad over 400 feet long.

Along the way, I negotiated familiar obstacles and passageways. Particularly when I was new on the boat, getting through the several bulkhead doors was always a risky endeavor if I weren’t careful – catching one of the hard steel protrusions (I forget the technical term for them) on your shoulder could render you semi-paralyzed with pain for a few minutes or longer. Experience and practice reduced the hazard considerably. AMR1 was fairly packed with all manner of mechanical and electrical stuff but it wasn’t a big space so I got through it quickly. Between AMR1 and AMR2 was the reactor compartment, a space you couldn’t enter routinely because, well, you’d die. So there was a passageway called the tunnel used to get to AMR2. Sometimes I would stop and check the steam generator sightglass levels by peering through the heavily-leaded glass portholes located on each side of the tunnel. Or not.

But one compartment I walked through was unlike any other in a key regard: it contained sixteen ballistic missiles, the submarine’s raison d’etre. We were out in this big ocean, hiding from the Soviets, because we carried these missiles and were quite prepared to launch them. While I was on the Sam Houston, I believe the missiles were Poseidon C3’s, a multiple-warhead, long range weapon each with a total warhead payload somewhere short of 500 kilotons. To use the usual comparison, the Hiroshima bomb was 15 kilotons and the Nagasaki bomb was 21. I’ve seen it written many times that a US ballistic missile submarine – and there were 41 of them during my time – carried more firepower than all that was expended in WWII. That doesn’t include our torpedoes but they were trivial compared to the missiles.

To accommodate these sixteen weapons, the missile compartment was huge, the largest in the submarine. It had three levels with the missile tubes, each containing one missile, extending from top to bottom of the boat. The tubes were about twelve feet in diameter and were arranged in two rows of eight, forward to aft. We called the arrangement ‘the forest’ because it invoked the idea of well-arranged, large trees. Their bulk took up most of the compartment, so to traverse the space on my way aft, I had to sort of shimmy past the missile tubes as I walked along the outer passageway.

So that’s my answer to the forum question: walking past a forest of death on my way to work. Thinking back, I cannot imagine how I processed it all. Not only was I living on a vessel with this awesome firepower – firepower I had to literally walk past every day – but I, along with the rest of the crew, were prepared to use it. It was what we were selected and trained for. Never mind that if the unthinkable had occurred and we received a launch order, two things were virtually certain. One, our country was under nuclear attack and probably many people have and will shortly die. And two, we ourselves would probably not survive. You see, launching sixteen missiles takes a while – the submarine couldn’t just shoot them off rapid-fire. I don’t know how long it would have taken but a guess of at least 30 minutes seems right. During that time, particularly after the first very noisy outer missile doors have been opened, a nearby Soviet submarine would probably have detected us and launched nuclear-tipped anti-submarine missiles against us. Or at least that’s what I understood and what most of my fellow nukes thought. Just as the folks in the forward part of the boat weren’t privy to the details of how the reactor operated, we nukes really didn’t know a whole lot about their stuff, including missile operations and exactly how close a Soviet sub might be.

So, what’s your daily commute to work like?