?> Andy’s Ramble

The Elephant in the Room

August 18th, 2010

I sent this letter to the Op Ed dept at the New York times. I don’t expect them to print it - because there have been so many good letters and articles on it already. But it was good to collect my thoughts on the matter.

—– Forwarded Message —-
From: Andy Kessler
To: oped@nytimes.com
Sent: Wed, August 18, 2010 10:28:11 AM
Subject: The Elephant in the Room

The fiery rhetoric of Newt Gingrich this week has underscored a huge misrepresentation that is at the heart of the controversy in building an Islamic community center (the so called Mosque) at ground zero. This misrepresentation attempts to subvert the First Amendment which guarantees the free exercise of religion. We need to address this elephant in the room.

The religion of Islam did not attack the United States on 9/11 - neither did Iraq or Iran. For the record it was Al-Qaeda that attacked the United States on 9/11. They are probably best described as a group of terrorists, originally operating from Afghanistan, that distorts the principles of Islam to validate their murderous ideology.

The American military understands this point. There are thousands of devout Muslims in the American military. Many of them pray in the Religious chapel at the Pentagon - the other 9/11 ground zero site. The Pentagon Chaplain’s Office schedules weekly religious services in the chapel for Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Protestants, Episcopalians, and Catholics. Muslim worshippers can gather daily to pray and can attend a Friday Prayer Service led by an Imam.

The decision to allow an Islamic Center to be built on Park Place must be made by New Yorkers based on zoning laws and if they want to permit a house of worship to move forward on that spot. But as Americans we must support the First Amendment of the Constitution and not tolerate a decision which would allow a Church or Synagogue to be built in a specific location but not a Mosque or an Islamic community center.

Andy Kessler
San Ramon, CA

Santa Clara Broncos - July 2010

July 18th, 2010

I definitely learned a lot this weekend about being prepared
and strategizing for a tournament. It was in the high 80’s in
Santa Clara on Saturday. I had a cooler with me on court that
had cold zero calorie flavored water drinks and G2 for electrolytes.
I had a bag of ice to put on my neck, a towel I soaked with cold
water to rub on my face. I was loaded with Ibuprofen and taking
Gu on the regular intervals. The heat was not a problem.

Saturday afternoon I played Kiran from San Jose. He had a lot of
spin on his shots. It took me several games to figure out how
to respond. He had a serve that would go way outside and pull
away from me. Before I knew it I was down 4-0.

Then I figured out to stand in the doubles alley to return his
serve down the line - he was serving from partically in the
doubles alley himself so it was a good strategy. I was able
to bring the set back to 5-4 but he closed it out at 6-4.

The second set I started with a Harold Solomon/Stepanek type of
strategy. Basically returning lobs and junk to keep him off
balance. He had to run for every ball. When he was out of position
I would pull the trigger with a hard deep shot. We kept it pretty
even until 4-4. Then he stopped running. I felt fine and was
thinking he was losing steam. Then he asked for a medical time out.

His calves were cramped up like Serena in 2007 Wimbledon. He
got three minutes of ice and the offical told him that he could
not get another break. He need to play. He finished off the
last point on that game and he was ahead 5-4. In the next three
games he didn’t win more than 3 points. I finished off the set
at 7-5. He fell on the last point and the official said he would
have to play another set. He can’t tell him what to do - but said
it would not be worth getting a serious injury just to play out
the set. I was thinking that I would not let him win like
Hantuchova let Serena win. He decided to retire.

This morning I played Kevin Schlangen from Club Sport Pleasanton.
He is a good player and I also got off to a slow start - and
he wouldn’t let me back in. Throughout the match I probably had
6 break points and 4 game points that I didn’t convert. The
match was closer than the score suggests - 6-0, 6-3.

In the second set the score was 3-3 and he was making errors.
Everyone I play eventually reaches a point in which their game
falls apart. I came close to making it 4-3 and pulling ahead
but it didn’t happen.

Anyway, I am looking forward to the next tournament - I’m
planning to play in Sunnyvale in late Aug.

2009 ClubSport Fremont Tennis Tournament

December 1st, 2009

This past weekend I competed in the 3.0 Mens Singles draw at the ClubSport Fremont Tennis tournament. I had been looking forward to this event for months but was concerned about a potential conflict with our Thanksgiving plans. Once we decided that we would be in the Bay Area for Thanksgiving I went ahead and registered.

Mission Blvd and 880

I left the house at 9:30am with plenty of time to check in and stretch for my 10:30am match. But that wasn’t meant to be.

Maybe it was the craziness from the Thanksgiving weekend or my nerves about the match - but either way - for some reason I got in my head that CSF was at the intersection of 580 and 880 instead of Mission Blvd and 880.

When I didn’t see the correct exit I thought that maybe it had changed - there has been lots of construction. By the time I figured out my error I was heading south on 880 and I knew I wasn’t going to make it. I called the tournament director and he was sympathetic but told me that the USTA penalty system was in effect. If I arrived 15 minutes late I would default the match.

There was an accident on 880 - we came to a full stop. I watched the clock tick to 10:30. I have been looking forward to this tournament for months. If I got there after 10:45 I wouldn’t even get to play! I was screaming and apoplectic. I got out at the next exit, tried to get around the accident and realized that it wouldn’t be any better. I got back on 880, got to CSF and arrived 8 minutes late. I was penalized with the loss of the toss and two games.

74 Years Old

I went on to the court without any stretching or prep. Met my opponent John. John is 74 years old. I took some deep breaths and tried to put all that frustration behind me. I was glad that I was going to get a chance to play. John wanted to serve first. His serve wasn’t bad - it had some spin. I mis-hit a few returns and he held the first game. Now it is 3-0. I served my first game and was still tight and didn’t hold - 4-0. At that point I pulled it together and John didn’t win another game that set and I won the match at 6-4, 6-1. On the way home I turned around and practiced driving back to CSF so this wouldn’t happen again.

Sunday

I woke up Sunday at 6:30am, had some breakfast, and fed the kids. I got to CSF in plenty of time for my 10am match and met my opponent - Dan from Roseville. I started the match nervous and tight. I had more double faults then ever and Dan had a very good first serve. Before I knew it I was down 5-0.

At this point, I remembered to breathe, focus on the ball and stop trying to hit winners - just nice solid ground strokes. Dan started missing his first serves. His second serve was very weak. When he hit the first serve long, I stepped forward and attacked his second. I broke him for the first time and held the next game. I couldn’t break him again and he won the set 6-2. I carried the momentum into the second set. I held twice, broke him once and then got broken to make the score 4-4.

Dan was getting frustrated and tired. The more frustrated he got, the calmer and looser I felt. I absorbed his negative energy and turned it into a positive attitude. He was over reaching and hitting long and wide. I was just putting the ball back in play alternatively on the left or right side of the court.

We fought a hard game and he broke me to make it 5-4. Then he was serving at 30-30 and I missed a return to give him match point. I successfully defended the match point and went on to break him to make it 5-5 and then 6-6 for a tie break.

I have never won a tie break in a USTA singles match before - but this was the first time. I won the set at 7-6(4). Now we had a third set to play.

The Third Set

In the third set Dan was visibly tired. I just needed to keep the ball in play and move him around the court. I served one terrible game and then had to break him back to bring it to 4-4. At this point I breathed deep and popped in easy serves and won the rallies. I held and then was able to break him and win the match for a final score of 2-6, 7-6(4), 6-4. I had persevered through the match and now it was 12:30pm. We had been playing for 2.5 hours and I was scheduled to play in the Semi-finals at 2:30pm.

The Semi-finals

I ate some lean chicken, showered, sat in a hot tub, put on fresh tennis clothes and was ready at 2:30pm. The matches were running late and we didn’t start until 3:30pm.

My opponent was William from San Jose. He was a solid all around player. I was able to make lots of great returns and brought it to game point or break point many times - but William was very good and would always come up with a winner when he needed one. He won the first set 6-1.

The second set I put in everything I had. I broke him once and the score was 4-1. I ran to my left to return a backhand - and as I was striking the ball and transferring my weight from my left foot to my right - my left foot slipped on the slick Fremont court.

Injury time out

There was a loud crack, my sneaker’s left side slammed into the court and I fell on my back. In the spectator section behind me - some people screamed. The Ref yelled ‘get some ice’. The director ran off. I started to get up and realized this was going to be a problem.

I limped over to my bench. The Ref came and stood with me until the ice arrived and then told me that I have 3 minutes to ice my ankle before we need to resume play. At the end of the three minutes, I rotated my ankle and tested my weight and it felt OK. I wanted to continue. That was my first injury time out.

The funny thing is that the ball I hit landed in the court. William saw me fall and didn’t hit it back. I won that point. I went on to win that game and make it 4-2.

Further than ever before

Well, William was the better player that day and he did walk over me at 6-1, 6-2. It was my first time in a Semi-final and I learned a lot.

As I write this my ankle is black and blue and sore - but now I am looking forward to the next USTA match at my home club - ClubSport Pleasanton.

McNerney visits Beth Emek

August 27th, 2009

Tuesday my synagogue was honored by a visit from our
congressman, Jerry McNerney. The occasion for his visit
was the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)
hosted a Congressional Caucus meeting to discuss Israel/US
relations at Beth Emek.

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The meeting was very well organized. Elias Saratovsky from AIPAC
spoke about some of our goals for the meeting before the
congressman arrived.

Foreign Aid - Express our thanks for the Congressman’s support
for the Administration’s 2010 international affairs budget of
$53.8B - which included $2.2B in aid to Israel. The U.S. spends
approximately 1% of its Fiscal Budget on foreign aid and about
4% of that is for Israel.

Peace Process - Thank Congressman McNerney for signing the
Sherman/Royce letter along with 200 of his colleagues. The
letter was directed to King Abdullah to urge the Saudi Arabian
government to seize on this historical moment to engage directly
with the Israelis to foster peace in the Middle East.

When the Congressman arrived he was given a warm welcome by
Rabbi Winer and then made some general remarks.

He spoke about his trip to Israel that was funded by the American
Israel Education Foundation during his 2nd term. He said that
it gave him a profound understanding of the people and the
environment in which they live.

He met with the Palestinian Foreign Minister Salam Fayyad
and the Israeli leadership. They both seem to understand
that peace with Israel will not happen overnight. It will
require building trust over time with both sides making
concessions and working together. McNerney believes
that you cannot trade land for peace and that it is not
possible for an American official to meet with the two
parties and say something that is going to make an immediate
change.

Congressman McNerney also saw Israel through the eyes of
someone with a background in alternative energy and a member
of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. He was impressed
with many of Israel’s energy policies. He observed that most
houses in Israel have solar power for their hot water. He
also is aware of the Israeli company “Better Place” that
supplies services for electric cars around the world.

McNerney believes that we need to stop exporting money to the
oil-producing countries. Our energy policy can be a powerful
foreign policy tool and an agent of change.

Both Israel and the United States have undergone a recent
change in leadership. Israel has gone from a more liberal
leader to a more conservative one - Olmert to Netanyahu.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has gone in the other direction -
conservative to liberal with Bush to Obama.

Each of these leaders needs to deal with his own domestic support
together with their foreign policy. Bush gave unconditional
support for any Israeli policy. He was not perceived in the
Arab world as being an honest broker.

In my opinion, Obama is trying to balance that a bit. He has
publically chided Israel about the settlements in the West Bank.
He thinks this will be perceived as a more even-handed approach.

In the meantime, the media has been focusing on the settlement
issue and this has been a bit of a distraction. The fact is that
no new settlements have started since before the end of the
Olmert administration. Additionally, Israel has taken many steps
to move forward in the peace process.

Israel has removed nearly 150 roadblocks and checkpoints,
opened major crossings to spur trade and allowed many more
Palestinian businessmen and workers to enter Israel.  The
Allenby Bridge which connects the West Bank with the country
of Jordan is now open 24 hours a day to commercial traffic.
The Israeli measures have dramatically increased the West Bank
economy. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that
the West Bank economy will grow at a rate of 7% this year amid
one of the worst global recessions in decades.

U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell praised Israel’s efforts
saying that “Israel has taken meaningful steps in the West Bank”.
And Quartet envoy Tony Blair says Israel is receiving insufficient
international credit for its work to stimulate the Palestinian
economy.

President Obama has also made some bold overtures as an
American president. President Obama has reached out to the Arab
world in his Cairo speech and said “Arab states must recognize
that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning but
not the end of their responsibility”. He said that they need
“to recognize Israel’s legitimacy, and to choose progress over
a self-defeating focus on the past”.

The Arab countries are pleased to see a new face in
American leadership. They appreciate his background
considering his Kenyan birth and his Muslim upbringing
(that is a joke).

It was an interesting meeting with the Congressman and
I was very happy to hear that he recognizes the importance
to take the time to improve the security of Israel and the
entire middle east.

He said that the security of the United States is directly linked
to the security of Israel. If Israel was to fail it would not
be long after that America would fall. I’ve never heard an
American politician put it quite like that.

Spanish Perspective for AU Open

March 17th, 2009

The last week of January, I was fortunate enough to be selected to speak at Cisco Networkers in Barcelona. Besides the fantastic professional opportunity it presents, it also was a good excuse for me to play tennis with my friend Steve Simlo who was going to be there. In the past, Steve and some of my other work colleagues have taken time out to play tennis when our work schedules intersect. We’ve done it in Frankfurt, Vancouver, Orlando, Anaheim, Santa Clara, Orlando. We were looking forward to taking off at some point during the week and playing on a clay court.

Rafa-AU-Open
Rafa will win

Also, that week was the Australian Open Tennis Tournament in Melbourne. Rafa Nadal, the master of clay from Majorca, was going to be making a run at his first hard court Grand Slam victory, so I expected there to be good coverage in Spain. There was also the drama of Roger Federer pursuing his 14th Grand Slam title to tie the all time record of Pete Sampras.

When I arrived at my hotel, I asked the front desk, “What channel will be covering the Australian Open?”. The concierge looked at me insistently and said “Rafa is going to win”.

I smiled and said ‘Oh, that would be fine. I would very much like to watch it. Do you know what channel it is going to be on ?” He looked at a newspaper and told me he thought it would be on Canal Plus or Sky Sports and didn’t know the time. I decided I’d figure it out myself.

Well, it didn’t work out for me and Steve. It seemed that whenever one of us was free the other was busy. We were never able to line something up. By the end of the week I decided to make an appointment at a tennis club and at least get a lesson and hit some balls with a pro. After an exhaustive search for a club with an English speaking tennis pro I found the courts on Montjuic - a picturesque hill where the 1992 Summer Olympics were held. I made an appointment for Saturday at noon.

Nadal, Verdasco and Federer

Meanwhile, the drama at the AU Open was proceeding very nicely. Four out of the past eight Grand Slams finals featured a matchup between Roger Federer and Nadal. After Roger’s devastating defeat at Wimbledon followed by Nadal winning the Gold medal in Beijing it was a much anticipated showdown on a hard court.

Roger was playing very well down under. He put everyone away in straight sets with the exception of Tomas Berdych - who pushed Roger to 5 sets. This run included a complete blowout of Juan Martín del Potro at 6-3, 6-0, 6-0.

The only thing that was standing between a Federer/Nadal Grand Slam final re-match was Fernando Verdasco. I’ve never watched Verdasco play before this week but I was very impressed. Verdasco is a fellow Spaniard from Madrid. His rise in the tennis world was ironically linked to his victory for Spain in the Davis cup when he was asked to step up when Nadal was injured and couldn’t play. His new found confidence found him roaring into the Australian Open in which he knocked out Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga - the finalist from 2008.

verdasco
On Friday, the Nadal/Verdasco match was going to start at 9:30am Central European time. I didn’t have any meetings that day but I needed to prepare for my presentation on Monday in London. I planned to watch the match in my hotel room and work on my slides. The match was very intense with both players displaying great serving and incredible shot making. Verdasco won the first set in a tiebreaker. Into the second set Nadal rallied and won the set 6-4. It was nearly 12pm in Barcelona and I didn’t want to spend the whole day in my hotel room. I thought that I would head out for lunch and that Nadal would probably win anyway. I could check the score later on my phone.

A dark room

Even with Google maps and speaking a little Spanish I still had a hard time finding particular locations in Barcelona. I thought that it would be a good adventure for today to go find the tennis club on Montjuic where my lesson was going to be on Saturday. I took the metro to a funicular to the top of Monjuic. Once there, I walked along the ridge overlooking the city, past museums and sculptured gardens. I bought a sandwich in front of a musician playing guitar and ate my lunch.

monjuic-clay.jpg silencio.jpg
A while later I found my way to the tennis club. The courts were made of bright orange clay and built with old stone that looked like it was 100 years old. After speaking to the man at the front desk and looking around the club, I checked my phone to see the final score of the Nadal/Verdasco match. It said they were in a 5th set! They have been playing for almost 5 hours. I asked the man at the desk…

Andy: Verdasco, Nadal, cinco set, ahora, now ?

Tennis Club Guy: Oh, si. (in broken english) Would you like to watch ?

Andy: Yes, yes, mucho gracias.

Tennis Club Guy: I’ll take you to the room.

He walked me up a short flight of stairs to a dark room with a TV playing. There were 3 white haired men sitting in overstuffed chairs and a couch behind them. Some younger men were standing around the room. I looked at one of them and asked ‘Por favor’ and pointed to the couch. He shrugged his shoulders and indicated for me to sit.

It was the 5th set, 4-4. I can’t believe these guys still had this much energy. Nadal is serving - loses some points but holds. Now this can be the final game. Verdasco is serving, he needs to hold or lose the match. On the bottom of the screen it says total points - Verdasco 189, Nadal 189. At this point I think nerves got to Verdasco. He double faults and gives Nadal 3 match points. Verdasco holds off one of the match points but then sadly double faults to end the match.

The old men were gesticulating and teasing each other during the match. As soon as the all Spanish semi-final was over, they got up and left the room.

Wet Clay

On Saturday, I was looking forward to hitting some balls on a clay court - and maybe learning something from a Barcelona instructor. When I left my hotel the ground was wet from some overnight rain but it didn’t look too bad. When I got up to the club it seemed that Montjuic had received more rain and the clay courts had puddles. The instructor didn’t even show up that day. The manager was a nice guy and he walked me over to a court with a wall and said I could hit there for 15 Euros an hour. I wanted some exercise and was holding my racquet so I agreed. It was an interesting setup. There were targets on the wall and I was practicing my ground strokes on clay.

The Final

The Nadal/Federer rematch started again at 9:30am. I had a 2:30pm flight to London and I thought I would have time to watch most of the match. Then I realized that I would need to leave for the airport at noon and would only see the first half of the match.

Everyone was wondering if Nadal would be able to come back after that epic match against Verdasco. It turned out to be the longest match in AU Open history. Federer definitely was the favorite since he has never lost a Grand Slam final on a hard surface and this was the first time that Nadal has made it to a final on this surface.

The coin toss for these two is always irrelevant - Roger always prefers to serve and Nadal to receive. The match quickly gets off to a rocky start. In the first game Roger wildly double faults and then shanks one to give Nadal the first break. Roger recovers his nerve and then breaks right back in the next game to level the set. The set proceeds until 5-5 when Roger has a number of errors and is broken again. Nadal finishes the set at 7-5.

Roger seemed to get his act together in the second set and produces some amazing shots to win the set at 6-3. Now, I need to head to the airport. Maybe I’ll be able to watch it there.

After a taxi ride, checking in my bags, going through security, I make it to my gate. My plane is taking off in about an hour and will be boarding soon. I ask where there might be a bar or restaurant with a TV. They tell me at the other end of the concourse - about a 10 minute walk. I grabbed my stuff and start going. It is 10 minutes at a very quick pace. I find a bar with one big TV screen. There are a bunch of people watching the final. The crowd is made up of people from around the world. The score is 7-5, 3-6, 7-6, 0-2 in the forth set. Nadal is visibly exhausted and it almost looks like he’s given up on this set. Roger pulls it out at 6-3 to level the match at two sets a piece.

Damn, I need to catch my plane. They should be boarding by now. I’ll have to find out what happened when I arrive in London. I run back through the terminal and arrive sweating and out of breath. What ? My plane is delayed. How long ? At least 45 minutes. Great, I run back through the terminal - another 10 minutes. By now lots more people have gathered at the bar. No one is eating or drinking - they are just watching the match. I can’t get the same seat back. I can see the play but I can barely read the score. The match is very close.

Both Roger and Nadal look exhausted. Federer plays well for a few points then hits a bunch of errors. Nadal pulls ahead to 4-1. It looks like Nadal is closing in on his first hard court Grand Slam title. However, the crowd seems to be with Federer. A huge roar greets him as he comes out to serve. He is able to hold at love and brings it to 4-2. Nadal holds at 5-2 and now he is a game away from the title.

Its another game when Fed can’t get his serve together. He double faults and sets up two title points for Nadal. Federer defends the first one but in the second title point Federer hits a forehand long and Nadal falls to the ground - an Australian Open champion.

Now, I really gotta catch my plane. I run through the airport for the fourth time and this time they are boarding. I fly to London and land during the beginning of the worst snow storm in 20 years.

Aftermath

fed nadal-fed
When I arrive at my hotel there is a TV in the lobby that is running a clip of Roger crying at the award ceremony. After I get to my room I’m able to watch the whole thing on the web. Federer can’t control himself enough to speak but Nadal has a huge heart and puts his arm around him and tells him he can do it. Roger speaks for a few minutes and then Nadal accepts the trophy and tells Roger that he is “a great champion, you are one of the best in history and you’re going to improve the 14 of Sampras.”

I’m sure that Roger will meet and pass that record. I’m just not sure it will happen with Nadal in the final.

Cosmic Happy Face

December 5th, 2008

A rare celestial event on Monday saw the alignment of the two brightest planets in the sky, Jupiter and Venus, along with the crescent moon, creating the appearance of a shining happy face in the night sky.

cosmic-happy-face-5-cropped.jpg

The event, called a conjunction, was visible all over the world and occurs when two or more planets appear huddled together. But photographs shared by stargazers from around the globe show that not everyone got the same message from on high.

cosmic-happy-face-6.jpg

In Asia, India and Australia, the moon and planets formed a smiley face, while in Europe and North America it looked like a frown.

In Asia, India and Australia, the moon and planets formed a smiley face, while in Europe and North America it looked like a frown.Some historians believe a similar conjunction of Jupiter and Venus in 2 BC may be the source of the star of Bethlehem story in the Bible.

The next time the three will appear this close together in the sky is Nov. 18, 2052

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Thanksgiving 08 - Grass Valley

December 1st, 2008

 

the-spread-sm.jpg

The dinner itself is always the centerpiece of the event. This year was no exception with four different turkeys - smoked, roasted, roulade (rolled up) and confit. The other memorable times were listening to Ben on the piano, playing progressive rummy and the trip to the park.

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Next Stop: AU Open

November 23rd, 2008

We have entered the quiet period of professional tennis. The players are all home and relaxing with their families for the holidays. The next major tournament is the Australian Open which starts on Jan 19.

Nadal Under Water