Sunday, April 30, 2006

National Poetry Month

On this last day of National Poetry Month, Poetry Super Highway has something special for you. Beginning at midnight EST, you may download any of 70 e-books as part of the Great Poetry E-Book Free-for-All. There will be a link on the front page of Poetry Super Highway that will lead you to the e-books.

Also, Billy the Blogging Poet is in charge of the 2nd Annual Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere election. Here is a list of nominees, and you may vote here.

This is also a good time to remind everyone that Billy the Blogging Poet has a very nice children's' poetry site,

Speaking of children...most of us were first introduced to poetry as children. Nursery rhymes, jump rope rhymes, and street chants and burned into our minds forever. That is how we learn the rhythm of words. I remember this rhyme and this rhyme. Most of us were also required to memorize some poems in school. I do not recall which ones I was told to memorize, however.

Little children are introduced to poetry through rhyme because rhyme is pleasing to the ear and easy to memorize. I am searching my memory for poems I was required to study as an adolescent and college student, and the one that comes to mind immediately is Matthew Arnold's "To Marguerite: Continued." I had an English professor with a rich, deep voice, and he read it to us aloud. It remains a poem of which I am especially fond. Most of us also studied Arnold's "Dover Beach," too. And the famous rondeau, "In Flanders Fields," by John McCrae.

I recall being excited when I first discovered Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, W.H. Auden, and Robert Frost. Once, at some type of leadership conference, I was involved in a group reading of Carl Sandburg's poetry. It was actually more like performance art (a term I did not know at the time).

In the 80's, I wrote a poem for the first time in my life. I no longer have it, but I recall that it was a decent poem. I then fell back into my belief that I was not capable of writing poetry, and I remained there until the turn of the century, at which time I took a brief poetry-writing course to get me started. I now concentrate more on poetry than I do short fiction and essays, although that situation is likely to change, as I tend to go throuh phases with my writing. I enjoy writing in both free verse and forms, though I find formal poetry more difficult to write.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Bush administration discloses spying information

Now comes news that the FBI secretly sought information on 3,501 U.S. citizens and legal residents last year via their bank, telephone, and Internet accounts without the approval of courts.

Cleveland mall pulls plug on band wearing anti-Bush T-shirts

A downtown mall in Cleveland pulled the plug on a band that was performing yesterday during a jazz festival because the band members were wearing anti-Bush T-shirts. The shirts displayed a picture of Bush with a line through it. Tower City Center officials told the band members to take off their shirts or turn them inside out if they intended to keep performing. The band refused, and mall officials cut the mikes off. Tower City general manager Lisa Krieger said that the band's shirts were "distracting and inappropriate."

The audience booed when it became clear why the sound was shut off. The band leader's father spoke up that it was wrong to cut the mikes off, and a security guard told him to shut up. The father reminded the policeman that he had a right to free speech, and the policeman said "Not in here you don't."

You may express yourself to Lisa Krieger at this address:

Our garden is sick

'Seven Sisters' blooms just once a year, but what a show!

'Seven Sisters' in a vase (which has since been broken by Roxie)

'Mermaid' blooms on interlocking trellises

A few years ago, our crinum stopped blooming. A year or so later, our Formosa lilies stopped blooming. I didn't think too much of it; things like that happen in gardens from time to time. Last year, our spider lily also looked bad and failed to make a full bloom stalk, a condition I passed off as having been caused by pests (the year before, someone had eaten the flowers). Then, last year, our beautiful peach-colored miniature daylilies looked really sick and did not bloom. I dug them up, isolated them, and inspected them, and they seemed fine. Perhaps I should have bleached the crowns, but they looked so healthy in their nursery pots, I replanted them just as they were.

The peach-colored daylilies look bad again, and are not going to bloom. The daylilies around them are going to bloom, but their leaves look really bad. And in another bed across the yard, the daylilies look sick, and they have produced short bloom spikes with only two or three buds instead of the usual eight or nine. They are not overcrowded, so they do not need dividing. They are just sick.

Now we have to get soil samples tested for at least two of beds. We had planned to obtain the soil this weekend, but it looks like it is going to rain. This is all very depressing, since we have put so much work into the garden.

In the meantime, the roses are blooming very nicely, the hydrangeas are making many buds, the salvia is blooming like mad, and a couple of cannas and one of the gingers have already begun blooming.

Because of Hurricane Katrina, we have an abunance of 'Mermaid' blooms this year. We had 'Mermaid' climbing up a crape myrtle tree, and it never got much sun, so the bloom was spare. After the hurricane, we had to take the tree down. 'Mermaid' was unharmed, so we put it on interlocking trellises, and once it saw the sun, it began to bloom profusely. It is probably my favorite of all the roses in our garden.

National Poetry Month

Yesterday, I wrote a bit about poetic forms, and will continue that today. One of the most popular forms is the Japanese haiku, which, unfortunately, has been distorted by Westerners so that it is often not really haiku at all. Other Japanese forms include the tanka and the senryu.

There are several types of sonnets, but the two most common are the Shakespearian and the Petrarchan. Forms we do not hear much about include the quaterne, the terzanelle, and the rondelet, and there are also forms even rarer than these. An especially interesting form is the ghazal, which contains, among other things, a couplet involving the poet's signature.

A very good book on forms is The Making Of a Poem, edited by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland. Another good one is All the Fun In How You Say A Thing: An Explanation of Meter & Versification, by Timothy Steele.

Forms evolve with a culture. The sestina was invented by 12th Century troubadours, who entertained by singing strictly formed poems which repeated key words. The sonnet originated in the courts of Sicily. Francesco Petrarca, a Tuscan poet, strung together a sequence of these short poems, which were extremely popular. Blank verse, which people identify with Shakespeare and therefore assume to be English, also originated in Italy. The conversational meter of blank verse made it a natural form for Shakespeare to use in his plays. Likewise, the villanelle was created in Italian harvest fields. Most of the forms with which we are familiar, however, came to us directly from France, regardless of where they originated.

Today's popular hip hop poetry (sometimes called slam poetry because it is often read at poetry slams), a derivative of jazz poetry--though not a form in the structured sense of the word--is nevertheless a style of poetry that has evolved with our American culture.

Here is a quaterne, originally published by Poets Against War:

History Lesson
By Diane E. Dees

Ancient heads of stone have fallen,
shattered by the desperate mobs
who, for decades starved and battered,
took no comfort in their relics.

Liberators ignore the past;
ancient heads of stone have fallen.
The book that tells of Babylon
is missing pages forever.

Gone the Korans, gone the tablets--
taken quickly in broad daylight.
Ancient heads of stone have fallen;
history no longer matters.

Our oldest civilization
now a mass of shards and rubble;
those who clean up take no notice.
Ancient heads of stone have fallen.

The Sibel Edmonds case--forgotten, but still vitally important

It has now been a year and nine months since Senators Charles Grassley and Patrick Leahy sent their letter to John Ashcroft, Robert Mueller, and Glenn Fine, asking that retroactively-declared classified documents be made available to the public. Both of Bush's Attorneys General have used the little-known States Secrets law to keep former FBI translater Sibel Edmonds from revealing what she knows.

(Continue reading at MoJo Blog)

Friday, April 28, 2006

Bush wants you to sing the National Anthem in English, damn it

George W. Bush said today that the National Anthem should be sung in English, not Spanish. ae of arse poetica justifiably says she thinks it would be a nice start if Bush spoke English. Putting the obvious (to us) irony aside, Bush also said that, sung in Spanish, the National Anthem does have the same value it has when sung in English.

Perhaps this would be a good time to remember that it was immigrants who founded the thirteen colonies, on which the rest of our American character is based. The native Americans were already here, but instead of asking them to help write an anthem, we killed them. A small thing, perhaps, but it does represent reality.

"The Star-Spangled Banner" is an offensive song, as far as I'm concerned, because it glorifies bombing. Other Americans are offended by it, too, and many of them want to replace it with "America the Beautiful," which has a much nicer message, but which also offends me because it insists that God is male. It also presumes the existence of God, which probably makes it offensive to a great number of Americans.

Anyway, to spit in the faces of Spanish-speaking immigrants who wish to sing their loyalty to this country strikes me as tacky, at the least.

An offensive commercial, and a great one

I went to the movies today (Friends With Money), and before the feature, there were some commercials. One, for Vault, was all about killing animals with a robot, and apparently, there have been multiple complaints about it. The other was the new American Express commercial featuring Kate Winslett, which--though not as wonderful as the one for Martin Scorsese--was nevertheless delightful.

National Poetry Month

Last year I wrote a few words about formal poetry, and I feel compelled to write about it again. For the most part, formal poetry is "out"--that is, most of the poetry we see is free verse. But there are still poets writing formal verse, thank goodness, and some say it is making a comeback. Many journals treat formal verse with contempt, but then many journal editors do not even appear to understand what it is, with their warnings that they accept free verse but no rhymed verse (what about all of the formal poetry that does not rhyme?).

I had an instructor who described the form as "a kind of stand-in for inspiration," and that is a beautiful description, and one I have found to be true in writing my own formal verse. To me, there is nothing more satisfying than completing a sestina or a pantoum or a sonnet. Any of these forms or any of the other forms--rondeau, villanelle, triolet, etc.--is difficult to write.

Here is a sestina. And a pantoum. A piece of blank verse. A Petrarchan sonnet. And here is a rondeau, originally published in the 2005 issue of Manorborn:

Rose Culture
By Diane E. Dees

Old garden roses ramble, climb and spread
in shades of amber, apricot and red;
while nearby, stiff and fussy hybrid teas
stand rigid and impossible to please,
which makes them look a trifle overbred.

These modern roses in their formal beds
must constantly be sprayed, pruned back and fed;
and while they pose there, looking ill at ease,
Old garden roses ramble.

'Belinda' scrambles up the potting shed
while 'Mermaid' climbs a tree that--although dead--
now shimmers cream and gold with every breeze,
and steals the show from all the greening trees.
While hybrid teas, erect, look straight ahead,
old garden roses ramble.

Friday cat blogging--portrait edition

Thursday, April 27, 2006

How to spot a terrorist

I really had no idea how to spot a terrorist until I studied the manuals published by the Phoenix FBI, the state employees of Virginia, and the Texas Department of Public Safety. Now that I have absorbed these manuals, I not only know how to spot a terrorist, but I have discovered that I probably am a terrorist.

(Continue reading at MoJo Blog)

On the subject of multiple rape reports

Now that the news is out that one of the Duke lacrosse team accusers made a similar allegation ten years ago (saying she had been raped by three men was she was fourteen), bloggers are rushing to comment that her credibility is now very much in question.

I do not know whether the lacrosse team members are innocent or guilty; that is for a jury to decide. But I do know a thing or two about rape and sexual assault, and a woman making more than one claim of being raped by a group of men is not unusual. Perhaps this woman is not telling the truth now or was not telling the truth then. Perhaps she was just unlucky enough to be raped twice. But a more likely scenario involves the syndrome of childhood sex abuse, especially incest.

Little girls who are raped by adults, especially adult family members (who are supposed to be protecting them) develop all kinds of problems. Their sense of personal boundaries collapses, and they are likely to do inappropriate things for the rest of their lives if there is no intervention. In an incest home, people tend to read each other's mail, enter rooms without knocking, and say things with adult content to children and adolescents.

Once their own boundaries have been violated in these ways and in the ultimate way--through sexual assault and rape--they tend to lose any sense of personal and social boundaries, which means that they are frequently in the wrong place at the wrong time.

They also become unconsciously seductive, and sex offenders easily find them. And they frequently believe they have no use in society other than as sexual objects.

Many of these girls, when they enter adolescence and adulthood, become the victims of multiple rapes. I do not know anything about the Duke lacrosse accuser, but she could easily fit this category. My point is that claiming to have been gang-raped more than once is not at all unbelievable. And no matter how poor a woman's boundaries may be, or how programmed she may be to be a sexual assault victim, rape is still rape.

Explaining a complex issue

Ethanol has got the largest potential for immediate growth. Most people may not know this, but today most of ethanol produced in America today is from corn....And so, we're strongly committed to corn-based ethanol produced in America. Yet you've got to recognize there are limits to how much corn can be used for ethanol. I mean, after all, we got to eat some. And animals have got to eat.

Who will sue to ban "Sleeping Beauty"?

Because the prince kissed all of those princesses, which makes the reading of "Sleeping Beauty" sex education, according to the parents who have filed a suit in Massachusetts. You may recall that recenty, a teacher read King and King to a group of seven-year-olds with--gasp!--warning their parents first. King and King is a fairy tale about a same-gender relationship, and the litigious parents maintain that reading the book violates a 1996 Massachusetts law requiring parents to be notified of sex education lessons.

So if King and King is sex ed, so are "Sleeping Beauty," "Cinderella" (think of all that business with the feet), "Rapunzel" (all about attempting to get pregnant), and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (pregnancy, and a prince who believes he must possess a woman). Will someone in Massachusetts please come forward and sue a kindergarten?

Why Bush doesn't need anyone to handle the news media

It handles itself. I suspect much of the fake "news" reporting is caused in part by conservative loyalty and in equal part by ignorance of the mechanics of critical thinking. Media Matters has an excellent analysis of how members of the news media "fill in the blanks" for Bush, delivering to hundreds of thousands of Americans attributions that are not at all grounded in fact.

Paying for health insurance means little for New Orleans teachers

Anyone who has lived in New Orleans would agree with me that the Orleans Parish School Board is one of the most corrupt and incompetent institutions in the United States. Here is just one more example of the damage it has done.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Chicago bans foie gras

In a major victory for farm animals, the Chicago City Council has voted to ban the sale of foie gras with Chicago city limits.

Chicago now joins the state of California (sort of) and the European Union (with a huge protest from France) in banning production and/or sale of foie gras.

Wounded soldiers return home to another fight--bill collectors

The Government Accountability Office is releasing a report tomrorrow that hundreds of American soldiers wounded in Iraq have had their debts turned over to collection agencies.

ABC News tells the story of Army specialist Tyson Johnson, who had just been promoted when a a mortar round exploded outside his tent, wounding him in the left kidney and the head. The injuries forced him out of the Army, which then demanded he repay an enlistment bonus of $2,700 because he had served only two-thirds of his tour. Johnson was unable to return the money, his account was turned over to a collection agency, and he ended up living in his car because of his bad credit record.

(Continue reading at MoJo Blog)

The latest piece of Hollywood evil

Roseanne is doing stand-up again. All of the profit from the tour will go to victims of Hurricane Katrina. Oh, the immorality!

National Day of Silence

This is the one day of the year when kids really do need to shut up. Teachers, too, except when they are actively teaching.

If you are gay, bisexual, transgendered, or concerned about the civil rights of gay, bisexual, and transgendered people, now is the time not to speak up.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

I read a good story the other day

On a message board, someone recounted his/her encounter with a middle aged conservative couple at a restaurant. Seeing that the person who told this story was in a military uniform, they stopped by his (I think it was a man) table and said "We totally support our military; of course, we're Republicans."

To which our soldier replied, "That's nice. I'm a Democrat."

To cover the embarrassed silence, he then said "Do you have children?"

Oh yes, they assured him--a son and a daughter.

"Where are they serving?" he asked.

They looked at the floor, mumbled "They're in school," and walked out.

Teenage girl promotes peace and is bombarded with obscenities

Ava Lowrey is an extraordinary 15-year-old girl who lives in Alabama. For the past year, she has been producing animations on her website that support peace. Ava has produced about seventy pieces, all of them in opposition to the war in Iraq.

As you may imagine, Ava has been repeatedly verbally attacked for her work. She has been told she is a traitor and should be executed for treason, and she has been invited to leave the country. She has also been asked if she is a terrorist.

And--no surprise to those who have followed the trashing of Cindy Sheehan and Margaret Cho--Ava has been assaulted with various sexual insults and threats, such as "It's people like you who need to fucking die and get raped while your corpse rots in the sun."

There is always that extra dimension present in insulting women and girls--references to their bodies and a call to violate their bodies. And it isn't a habit confined to right-wing nutcases; look at any "liberal" message board and see the invectives directed at right-wing (or perceived right-wing) women. Granted, they are not as harsh or as obscene as those found on conservative message boards, but they are nevertheless sexually based.

Criminalizing free speech

Is Wang Wenyi's criminal charge a test balloon for punishing others who speak out against, say for instance, George W. Bush? Patriot Daily makes the case that it very well may be.

Perhaps she should stop whining...

Miss Frances is 99 years old, and her hurricane story pretty much puts the icing on the cake.

A higher pie will explode in your face

New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, already in trouble for his spontaneous speech, has now incorporated Bushspeak into his lexicon: "The economic pie that is getting ready to explode right before our eyes is going to be shared."

I guess so, but what a mess.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Bush's Almighty--a fickle god

I base a lot of my foreign policy decisions on some things that I think are true. One, I believe there's an Almighty. And, secondly, I believe one of the great gifts of the Almighty is the desire in everybody's soul, regardless of what you look like or where you live, to be free.
George W. Bush

That's what Bush said today to a group of businesspeople in Irvine, California. Unfortunately, I don't think any of them asked him why the Almighty made so many exclusions with regard to the "great gift." Like those hundreds of people rounded up and placed in prisons and abused, with no legal protections, then eventually set free when it was obvious they were not terrorists or terrorist supporters. Did they not also desire in their souls to be free?

Or how about the ones who are still in prison, still not receiving any legal protection, and still not brought to trial? Do they not long to be free?

Of course, we have to remember that Bush's version of "free" is not the version most of us live by. His version does not include free speech, the right to vote in a fair election, or the right of free assembly. I think I'll pass on his god, too.

"Moral" pharmacists in Washington put women at risk

From feministing comes news of pharmacists in Washington refusing to fill prescriptions for abortion-related antibiotics. Someone at a Seattle pharmacy said she was "morally unable" to fill the prescription. In Yakima, a patient at a family planning clinic was told by a Safeway pharmacist that she didn't need her prescribed pregnancy-related vitamins "if she wasn't pregnant."

What I want to know (other than the obvious question: What the hell business is it of yours to make decisions about my body?) is what becomes of the pharmacist's "morality" if the patient does not get her antibiotics and is hospitalized for an infection? This is a strange sort of medical morality that is willing to take chances with a patient's health and safety. What pharmacy school do they teach that in? I have seen the pharmacists' code of ethics, and every one of these "moral" pharmacists is in violation of it, yet the pharmacy boards are not suspending anyone's license. I hope that--in addition to putting pressure on the stores where these episodes occur--patients will start putting pressure on licensing boards.

Women and girls missing in Iraq

According to the current issue of Time magazine, more than 2,000 Iraqi women have gone missing since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein. This estimate comes from anecdotal evidence collected by the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, and is thought to be the result of the collapse of law and order in Iraq.

(Continue reading at MoJo Blog)

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Family Circle Cup photo album

I have about a third of my Family Circle Cup photos in an album here.

National Poetry Month

Here is a poem by Joni Mitchell.

And a poem by Ricki Lee Jones.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Conchita Martinez retires from professional tennis

The long shadow of Conchita Martinez

I'm a bit late with this: Martinez officially announced her retirement in Valencia on April 15, and unofficially announced it the week before. I remember hearing her say that she considered retiring a couple of years ago, but when she saw the women playing at the academy in Spain, she realized she wanted to keep playing. Now she is the victim of a serious foot injury, and is awaiting surgery, so she decided it was time to call it quits.

Though she won only one Grand Slam (Wimbledon, 1994, on the surface on which she was expected to have the least success), Martinez's career has been an outstanding one. The holder of 33 singles titles and 13 doubles titles, Martinez also won 174 matches at Grand Slam events. She was the finalist at the 1998 Australian Open and the 2000 French Open, and she reached Grand Slam semifinals nine times. She was an integral part of Spain's Fed Cup team for many years, leading Spain to ten finals. She also won three Olympic medals, and reached a career high of world number two in 1995.

Also in 1995, Martinez won the most singles matches of any player on the WTA tour, and played a 26-match clay streak. That year, she won four straight tournaments, then made it all the way to the French Open semifinals.

Martinez says that, pending the outcome of her surgery, she may return to the tour to play doubles only.

National Poetry Month

What with going to the Family Circle Cup and getting stuck with a dial-up connection, and catching up on work, and trying to do Women's History Month, and coming down with flu, I haven't spent much time this year on National Poetry Month, which I regret. Both The Heretik and The Daily Blatt, however, have devoted much space to the month in which we honor poetry.

Here is a poem by my friend Sara Claytor.

Here is a poem by my friend David Ritchie.

And here is one of my poems.

Friday, April 21, 2006

"Flight attendants"...please

Now that Flight 93 is being discussed in a lot of blogs, I have to read the word "stewardess" over and over, rather than just seeing and hearing it every once in a while. The word is considered offensive, and here is why:

1. It implies that people hired to coordinate safety, efficiency, and comfort on flights have been hired to coordinate comfort only.

2. It is insulting to male flight attendants because it excludes them.

3. Any female derivative word is offensive on its face and is indeed intended to cheapen the original word (think "waiter" and "waitress").

4. Flight attendants asked us to stop using the word several decades ago, which is the reason that should trump all reasons.

San Diego school prohibits student from wearing flag

When Malia Fontana's friend was told that he could not wear an American flag headband at school, she protested by wearing an American flag in her back pocket. Malia was then told to remove her flag, and when she asked the security guard why she had to remove it, she was taken to the principal's office. Though not required to do detention, Malia had an incident report written that will remain in her records until six months after her graduation from Fallbrook Union High School in San Diego.

(Continue reading at MoJo Blog)

There's repugnant, and there's repugnant

Yesterday, Andrea Mitchell of NBC News quoted Fimat USA senior vice president John Kilduff, who said that China is "willing to do business with a lot of countries that the U.S. would find repugnant." Mitchell provided examples: "Hot spots like Iran, Venezuela, Nigeria, and Sudan."

The only thing wrong with that statement is that the U.S. does do business with both Venezuela and Nigeria. In January, Venezuela was the U.S.'s second largest source of imported oil, providing 48 million barrels. The U.S. also buys oil from Nigeria.

Better to win Ben Stein's money--you don't want the rest of him

For the past several weeks, there has been a nauseating email circulating whose content is credited to conservative lawyer, writer, and game show host Ben Stein. Here is the email:

Statement by Ben Stein (a must read)

If they know of him at all, many folks think Ben Stein is just a quirky actor/comedian who talks in a monotone. He's also a very intelligent attorney who knows how to put ideas and words together in such a way as to sway juries and make people think clearly.
The following was written by Ben Stein and recited by him on CBS Sunday Morning Commentary, Sunday, 12/18/05.

Herewith at this happy time of year, a few confessions from my beating heart: I have no freaking clue who Nick and Jessica are. I see them on the cover of People and Us constantly when I am buying my dog biscuits and kitty litter. I often ask the checkers at the grocery stores. Theynever know who Nick and Jessica are either. Who are they? Will it change my life if I know who they are and why they have broken up? Why are they so important?

I don't know who Lindsay Lohan is either, and I do not care at all about Tom Cruise's wife.
Am I going to be called before a Senate committee and asked if I am a subversive? Maybe, but I just have no clue who Nick and Jessica are.
If this is what it means to be no longer young. It's not so bad.

Next confession:
I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees Christmas trees. I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are: Christmas trees.

It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, "Merry Christmas" to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu.
If people want a creche, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away. I don't like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don't think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can't find it in the Constitution, and I don't like it being shoved down my throat. Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship Nick and Jessica and we aren't allowed to worship God as we understand Him?
I guess that's a sign that I'm getting old, too.
But there are a lot of us who are wondering where Nick and Jessica came from and where the America we knew went to.

In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different: This is not intended to be a joke; it's not funny, it's intended to get you thinking.
Billy Graham's daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and JaneClayson asked her "How could God let something like this Happen?" (regarding Katrina)
Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response. She said, "I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we've been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives.
And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How demand He leave us alone?"

In light of recent events...terrorists attack, school shootings, etc. I think it started when Madeleine Murray O'Hare (she was murdered, her body found recently) complained she didn't want prayer in our schools, and we said OK.

Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school . the Bible says thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself. And we said OK.

Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn't spank our children when they misbehave because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr. Spock's son committed suicide). We said an expert should know what he's talking about. And we said OK. Now we're asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don't know right from wrong, and why it doesn't bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.

Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. think it has a great deal to do with "WE REAP WHAT WE SOW." Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world's going to hell.

Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says.

I finally couldn't stand it anymore and replied to it. Here is my reply:

It does make you think...

Only a culturally isolated person wouldn't know that Lindsay Lohan--despite her undersirable personal life--is a gifted young film actor. It's not a big deal, but it also indicates that someone is out of touch with popular culture, which is nothing to brag about.

And of course it doesn't bother Stein that people call Christmas trees Christmas trees, since, duh, that is what they are. Of course, they were not always Christmas trees, since they were decorated before the birth of Christ, but they have been Christmas trees for hundreds of years. They are not, as his writing implies, some more general type of symbol that has been hijacked by Christians.

It doesn't bother Stein to see a creche on display in a public area, but Stein does not speak for all Jews, or for Muslims or Hindus or Unitarian/Universalists or Agnostics or Atheists or Christians who support separation of church and state. He wants a Menorah a few hundred yards away, which is fine, but that means he must be willing to permit symbols of all religions to be displayed in public, something the U.S. government and most state governments have fought hard to prevent. Only recently, the widow of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq had to fight to get her husband's religious symbol placed on his headstone.

"But there are a lot of us who are wondering where Nick and Jessica came from and where the America we knew went to." Does he mean the America with separate lunch counters, restrooms, and schools? The America in which wife-beating and raping were not investigated by the police because they were "domestic matters"? The America in which a woman couldn't buy property without her husband's permission? The America in which gay citizens were pulled out of private clubs and thrown into prison? Perhaps he means the America in which people of Stein's religion could not join country clubs. Or the America in which girls who attempted to enroll in law school and medical school were harrassed by faculty and students to the point of having to drop out. Or the America in which killing a black person got you an inconvenient time in court and no time in jail. Maybe he means the America in which employers were not required to have even the the most basic safety standards for their employees. Or the America in which a woman with a college degree and experience could not get a job that a man with a high school education and no experience could get. Or how about the America in which highly toxic substances could be dumped into the water system to poison our children for generations?

Saying that he cannot find where it says that America is an explicity atheist country is the absolute worst in logical fallacies because no one said it was. Prohibiting a state religion not only is not saying the U.S. is an athiest country, but rather, the opposite.

Blaming Madeleine Murray O'Hare (a loopy fundamentalist, by the way) for terrorism and school shootings is on par with blaming feminists for the September 11 attacks (which Jerry Falwell did). O'Hare, however, despite her limited cognitive abilities, still did the right thing by asking that public education not be mixed with religion. That is an American value.

Benjamin Spock's son did not kill himself. He is as alive as I am. That rumor was started by people like Ben Stein because they cannot stand to think that someone who understands child development might know more than they do about raising children. Why anyone would ever hit a child is beyond us; there is a reason America is one of the most violent countries in the world.

Children who "have no conscience" are not antisocial because their parents didn't hit them. Most of them are that way because their parents modeled it by example. Hearing parents talk about fags and niggers, seeing parents drink too much and hit each other, knowing parents cheat on taxes and steal from the workplace, finding out parents have extramarital affairs, watching parents commit insurance fraud and drive over the speed limit--that is what children learn. And then there are the sons of antisocial fathers, who have been proven to be genetically inclined to be antisocial themselves.

But most of all, children grow up to hurt others because their parents hit them, humiliated them, put them down, played head games with them, abandoned them, and molested them.

"Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says." Stein can speak for himself; we believe little of what we read in most newspapers because we know that it has been filtered and edited to death. And we defy anyone to find one single American who does not question what the Bible says. If people did not (appropriately) question what the Bible says, they would all be living like ancient Jews, and they are not. They are not obeying Jewish food and bathing laws. They are not practicing animal sacrifice. They also are not on the street giving their money to the poor; rather, the majority of them are railing against the poor.

Ben's Stein's mad ravings should indeed make you think.

Women's History Month--Honoring Lady Bird Johnson

When President Johnson was in office, people sometimes made fun of his wife, Lady Bird, whose Texas-drawled "Plant a tree or a shrub" slogan could be identified by anyone who wasn't living in a cave. It turns out that Johnson was both a naturalist and an environmentalist, and her ideas changed America for the better.

As First Lady, Johnson was involved as a goodwill ambassador, a beautification advocate, and an avid promoter of the Head Start program. Her interests ranged from business to classical literature to fighting poverty, and like Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, her involvement in her husband's presidency was a crucial one.

Though Johnson was passionate about the war on poverty, and about the rights of women and children, as she traveled through America, the cause that became her career was that of the country's fading natural beauty. She planted trees and bulbs by the roadside, and called attention to the country's waning natural habitat and subsequent loss of species. In 1965, the Highway Beautification Act was passed because of the First Lady's efforts.

Lady Bird Johnson founded the National Wildflower Research Center in 1982, and in 1998, it was renamed the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The center is dedicated to honoring the country's natural beauty and restoring wildflowers, native plants, and their habitats. Johnson's book, Wildflowers Across America, which she co-wrote with Carlton B. Lees, is a stunning tribute to one of America's greatest assets.

New man already fills Rove's wingtips

One thing we know about the new White House policy chief, Joel Kaplan, is that he uses theatre for spreading lies, just as Rove does. Kaplan was part of the "Brooks Brothers riot" in Florida in 2000. In fact, Kaplan is the one who named the fake protest the Brooks Brothers riot.

Tawana Brawley's name invoked as bigotry increases

blac (k) ademic makes an excellent point regarding one topic of trash talk in the alleged Duke rape case. Also posted in Alas, a Blog.

Dear Mr. President

Here's Pink.

Friday cat blogging--wash day edition

Thursday, April 20, 2006

National Poetry Month

Americans have a tendency to misunderstand the Japanese form of haiku, believing that it is simply 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables. It is not. A haiku must be about one of the seasons, and it must create a sensory impression.

Some of Natalie Merchant's haiku poems are not true haiku, but a few are.

So what does that make Hu Jintao?

So if you point out that the ersatz president of the country is having tea with the leader of a regime so repressive, it tortures, kills, and rapes people who practice a peaceful sitting meditation, you are a "heckler."

Remember 4/20

Today is the 7th anniversary of the Columbine shootings. This afternoon, on the news, I heard it referred to as 4/20. Isn't that cute?

Business leaders join civil rights groups in lawsuit to stop wiretaps

A group of business leaders and civil rights organizations have joined together to support a lawsuit filed against George W. Bush to stop the Natonal Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping of citizens, according to Raw Story. The suit, filed in U.S. District court in the Eastern District of Michigan, seeks a declaration that the wiretapping is illegal, and seeks a permanent halt to the wiretapping program.

(Continue reading at MoJo Blog)

Mt. Pleasant is pleasant indeed

While we were in the Charleston area to attend the Family Circle Cup, we stayed at the Old Village Post House in Mt. Pleasant. The idea of the post house is one we should never have let get away. It is reproduced wonderfully here, with a first-rate restaurant and tavern downstairs, and lodging upstairs. There is also a patio for dining, and a creaky old elevator named Myrtle that carries your luggage up and down.

This was the view when we walked to the end of the street behind our bed and breakfast.

Highway 17 is lined with stands such as this one, where the Gullah people make beautiful sweetgrass baskets and other items. This is the only area in the world where sweetgrass baskets are made, and the craft is passed on from one generation to the next.

No War armbands available

Get your No War armband from Armbands for Peace

Celebrate while you can

George W. Bush has declared April 22-30 National Park Week. There is plenty to celebrate, too: He slashed $100.5 million from the parks budget, not to mention there is a $5 billion maintenance backlog in the parks service because we have used the money for bombs and tax cuts for the wealthy.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

My week with the bigots

We had great seats at the Family Circle Cup--front row of the second tier, on the west side of the stadium. In fact, they were arguably the best seats in the house. The downside was that we sat next to two couples who, over the course of the week, wore me down, or at least the women did.

The first clue about them occurred when one of the women told us it was okay to leave some of our things behind when we left our seats. The only time she had ever had a problem, it turns out, was when "the black man who cleaned up" turned her stuff into the lost and found. I wanted very badly to ask her what on earth his color had to do with anything, but I had to sit next to her all week. (I now regret I didn't say something.)

Then there was the matter of Brokeback Mountain. During one of the matches, a player broke an opponent, and the opponent broke her back immediately. In discussing what had happened, the husband of the above referenced woman told the other woman "She broke back. That reminds me, did you see Brokeback Mountain?" The woman immediately answered: "I wouldn't waste my money on crap like that."

Of course, all week long, the mouthy woman who left her bags behind to the fate of the black man referred to the players as "little girls," though they ranged in age from 16 to 32. During one of the doubles semifinal matches, Shinobu Asagoe was putting on quite a show. Asagoe is a well known WTA player, and for the uneducated, her name was up on the scoreboard in huge letters. Nevertheless, our put-upon seat companion never referred to her as anything other than "that little Japanese girl." She called the Caucasian players by their names.

What I have described is the usual face of bigotry in America. It doesn't advocate slavery or whipping or separate bathrooms or lower pay. But the racism and sexism leaks out with every turn of phrase, poisoning the atmosphere.

If you have an overwhelming need to vomit, you should read this

Digby reports on the Father-Daughter Purity Ball, in which very young girls dance with their daddys (that part is sweet), and then the little girls read this from a pledge card:

I pledge to remain sexually pure...until the day I give myself as a wedding gift to my husband. ... I know that God requires this of me.. that he loves me. and that he will reward me for my faithfulness.

And then the fathers sign a pledge:

I, (daughter’s name)’s father, choose before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity. I will be pure in my own life as a man, husband and father. I will be a man of integrity and accountability as I lead, guide and pray over my daughter and as the high priest in my home. This covering will be used by God to influence generations to come.

Digby, in a turn of overwhelming understatement, says of this event "Girls pledging to their dads to stay virginal in ritualistic ceremonies just doesn't seem like a healthy thing to do." No kidding. It reinforces the idea that the daughter and all of her womanly goods belong to her father, but eventually, she and they will belong to another man.

Digby also had the same question I have: Where are the Mother-Son Purity Balls?

It shouldn't surprise anyone, in a "progressive" society that still asks a father to "give away" his daughter in marriage, little girls are being ask to hold back the goods until the substitute daddy comes along. This purity pledge dance thing is disgusting because it assumes that everyone but a female has authority over a female's body. But I think it is even more disgusting than that: There is a clearly incestuous flavor to holding a ceremonious dance so that men can declare their ownership of their daughters' sexuality.

I would love to know how many of these girls' mothers, deep in their hearts, are creeped out by this repulsive display.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

French Open "equal prize money" not really equal

The organizers of the French Open recently announced that they were awarding equal prize money to men and women this year. That sounds good, but it turns out that the equal purses are for the winners only, not the rest of the players. While I was in Charleston, French player Nathalie Dechy was interviewed about the deceptive language in the announcement, and she spoke of the need for the entire purse to be equal.

Family Circle Cup--some final thoughts

The Family Circle Cup, one of only two clay tournaments in the U.S., fell victim this year to the Nasdaq-100 in Miami, which is now compulsory, and the upcoming Fed Cup competition. This did not affect me: I was happy to watch Patty Schnyder, Justine Henin-Hardenne, Nadia Petrova, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Sam Stosur, Lisa Raymond, and the other top players at the tournament. I would have liked to have seen Amelie Mauresmo, Martina Hingis, and Kim Clijsters, but the tournament was great nonetheless. There were many who chose not to compete, however, and many who withdrew.

Making the Nasdaq-100 compulsory is going to continue to affect the turnout at both the Family Circle Cup and the Bausch & Lomb tournament on Amelia Island (the other clay tournament), and this is something with which the WTA must deal.

What made the 2006 Family Circle Cup great:

1. Patty Schnyder's upset of Justine Henin-Hardenne in the semifinals
2. Catalina Costano's wonderful play against Nicole Vaidisova, and her charming interview
3. The Bondarenko sisters, especially Alona's 6-0 set against Petrova
4. Nadia Petrova's consistent, clever game
5. The return of JuliaVakulenko as a viable player on the tour
6. Mara Santangelo's skillful tennis
7. The excellent coverage by the Charleston Post and Courier
8. The always-helpful Family Circle Cup staff
9. The assortment of vegetarian items at the food booths
10. Meeting Sam Stosur the morning of the finals

What made it less than great:

1. The presence of a truly obnoxious "emcee" of the Main Lawn events
2. The horrific heat
3. The downsizing of the Bell South eZone
4. Family Circle magazine's promotion of Tyson, one of the most unethical and evil companies in the world
5. The clueless clerks at the Family Circle merchandise tent
6. The absence of falafel at the Greek food booth
7. Another terrible Mariah Carey-wannabe national anthem singer
8. The usual mispronunciation of players' names by the person who is paid to pronounce them
9. The scarcity of player practice sessions
10. Patty Schnyder's loss in the finals

Monday, April 17, 2006

Family Circle Cup--the return home

We arrived at the airport in Charleston around 11:00 this morning, and were directed to the checked baggage security line. While I was standing there, I looked behind me, and there was Virginia Ruano Pascual, former doubles world number one, and half of the finalist team in Charleston. We chatted with her for a while, then had to get our baggage inspected. Ruano Pascual was on her way back to Spain before beginning the European clay court season. She is quite beautiful, though no one talks about it because she is a doubles specialist and not a long-legged blonde.

We boarded our plane around 1:00, and there, already seated, was Patty Schnyder. Normally, I wouldn't talk to a celebrity on a plane, especially one who had just suffered a heartbreaking loss. But she had waved at us every day because we had put the banner up for her, and quite a big deal had been made of the banner, so I decided to take the liberty of saying a few words to her.

The rest of the trip was a disaster. Our flight was late because of a mechanical check, but we made it, with much rushing, in time for our connecting flight. But the airline had overbooked and given our seats away. We then had to hang around a couple of hours for another flight that was going to Mobile, only it turned out to be an hour late. When we landed in Mobile, we had to jump through all kinds of hoops to get our voucher to take a taxi to Gulfport, about an hour away, and then we had more than an hour's ride home.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Family Circle Cup--the final day

World number one doubles player "Slammin' Sam" Stosur is always a crowd favorite

It was another almost unbearably hot day on Daniel Island, made worse by tension building up over the singles final. We arrived early and watched Sam Stosur and Lisa Raymond practice. Stosur signed a photograph I had taken of her, and also scooped up several practice balls and gave them to fans, who had her sign them.

Having been on the stadium grounds for over a week, it felt strange to know it was my last day there. And it was strange that my camera's memory card ran out at exactly the end of the tournament.

I will be doing an in-depth review of the tournament soon, but for now, I can say that--with a few exceptions--the Family Circle Cup was again run in a smooth, fan-friendly way by a very helpful staff. I learned this evening that most of the players have been staying in Mt. Pleasant, where we are staying, so I'm a bit surprised I haven't run into any of them here. The Charleston press has done a very good job of covering the tournament, although the Post and Courier didn't publish the supplements that it published last year. The newspaper gave us some nice tote bags, but I would rather have had the supplements.

Nadia Petrova wins 2006 Family Circle Cup

It was a sad day, not only for me, but for hundreds of people in Charleston who wanted Patty Schnyder to finally win the Family Circle Cup. Charleston fans like Schnyder because she likes the Charleston tournament so much, and because she provides them with some of the most intelligent, original tennis they are likely to see. Having taken out defending champion and clay court prodigy Justine Henin-Hardenne, Schnyder entered the finals as a giant-killer and a crowd favorite, but she was stopped by Nadia Petrova, who also won last week's green clay tournament on Amelia Island.

Petrova dominated the first set, winning it 6-3. Schnyder seemed more confident in the second set, and played it much the same way she played against Henin-Hardenne--keeping the ball in the court and using her trick serve effectively. At this point, Petrova was wilting from the heat, and at the end of the set, which Schnyder won 6-4, Petrova called for the trainer. Her legs were cramping and she was close to having heat illness. Petrova also used her medical break after the break between sets was over.

When they returned to the court, everything turned around again. Petrova broke Schnyder at her first opportunity, and when it was 3-0, we still thought Patty's chances were fairly good. But Petrova then became completely dominant, broke Schnyder again, and before we knew it, it was 5-1. To Patty's credit, she saved five match points, but the sixth one worked, and Petrova became the 2006 Family Circle Cup champion.

In her interview, Schnyder said that her serve fell apart, but I couldn't disagree more. Schnyder has always had a good second serve, and it was as strong today as it always is: When she didn't make her first serve, her second serve was often good enough to keep her out of trouble. In the final set, she seemed to try for too much, instead of just keeping the ball in the court and waiting for the error, as she did with Henin-Hardenne. In her interview, she said that her concentration was off and she wasn't seeing the ball as clearly as usual. Her leg was wrapped from an injury in the Henin-Hardenne match, and it was painful for her to do her kick serve, she said, but the injury did not inhibit her in any other way.

On most other occasions, I would have been very pleased with the outcome, since I am also a Petrova fan. But I so wanted Patty to win, especially after she did the allegedly impossible and took out Henin-Hardenne.

As bad as this loss must feel to Schnyder, it can't feel as bad as her loss in the 2002 Family Circle Cup finals. Then, an unseeded Patty Schnyder took out Amelie Mauresmo, Serena Williams, world number one Jennifer Capriati, and Mary Pierce to get the finals--a feat of almost indescribable proportions. Having done all that, she was then defeated by another unseeded player, Iva Majoli (and yes, it is highly unusual for two unseeded players to reach the finals of a Tier I tournament, or any tournament).

In the doubles final, Virginia Ruano Pascual and Meghann Shaughnessy easily took the first set against top seeds Lisa Raymond and Samantha Stosur. Raymond and Stosur had a bye and two walk-overs on their way to the finals, so they had hardly played any tennis, especially after their shocking elimination from the first round of Amelia Island. But by the second set, they figured out what was going on and were dominant from then on. They won, 3-6, 6-1, 6-1.

During the course of play, Shaughnessy managed to hit Stosur three times with the ball, and at one point toward the end of the match, Ruano Pascual had a time limit warning called on her because she and Shaughnessy were so cracked up over something that the laughter prohibited Ruano Pascual from serving.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Family Circle Cup--in and around the stadium

There were practice times posted today, for the first time. I still have not figured out what happened to all of the practice times. I watched Jill Craybas practice for a while. She is out of the tournament, but was practicing, presumably for Fed Cup. Yesterday, I watched Jamea Jackson practice; she, too, is on the U.S. Fed Cup team. I wanted to watch Sam Stosur, but her practice time coincided with the Schnyder/Henin-Hardenne match.

Today was a day of crazy loose balls. Several were hit into the stands. Patty Schnyder hit a ball straight into the body of Justine Henin-Hardenne, and Henin-Hardenne caught it with her hand. In the doubles match, Shinobu Asagoe whacked a ball that hit Virginia Ruano Pascual right around the crotch. But the biggest stray ball of the day--of the tournament, for that matter--was hit by Anna-Lena Groenefeld. A little boy was walking down the stairs to his seat in the second tier of the stadium, and Groenefeld's stray ball hit him in the head.

The wind blew so hard today that it knocked down a large planter filled with geraniums. Play had to be stopped while volunteers put the planter back together.

Belgian waffles, Schnyder finesses her way into the finals

Patty Schnyder will face Nadia Petrova in the Family Circle Cup finals

It was a sweet day for Patty Schnyder fans. In six tries, Schnyder had not been able to defeat Family Circle Cup defending champion Justine Henin-Hardenne, but today was a different story. In their semifinal match, Henin-Hardenne took the first set 6-3. But from the beginning of the second set, Schnyder took control of the match, changing her serve speeds and frequently serving out wide to throw Henin-Hardenne off. Instead of fearing the dreaded Henin-Hardenne backhand, Schnyder served right to it, over and over again, keeping the ball in the court and waiting for the error from her opponent. Eventually, it was backhand/schmackhand, as error after error came off of Henin-Hardenne's racquet.

Schnyder took the second set, 6-3, then returned to the court to do more damage in the final set. There were moments--especially when Henin-Hardenne brought it to 2-4, that it looked as though the Belgian would find a way, as she so often has, to overcome the deficit. But Schnyder stuck to her game plan--finesse the serve and keep the ball in the court--and took the third set 6-2.

Patty Schnyder has a very good serve, even though it lacks the power of a Sharapova or a Davenport. She also has a good second serve, and it is not unusual for her to follow a fault with an ace, as she did several times today. She hit six aces in the semifinal, all of them successful because of their placement, not their speed.

Schnyder will meet Nadia Petrova in the final tomorrow. Petrova defeated Anna-Lena Groenefeld 6-1, 6-3. Groenefeld had played brilliantly against Svetlana Kuznetsova, but crumbled when she played Petrova. It should be noted that Petrova and Groenefeld, who are doubles partners at this tournament, withdrew today because of Groenefeld's hamstring injury, for which she received treatment during her match with Petrova.

In the only doubles match held today, Virginia Ruano Pascual and Meghann Shaughnessy defeated Katerina Srebotnik and Shinobu Asagoe 6-3, 6-7, 6-3. I was surprised they pulled it off, since their strategy was somewhat weak throughout the match. The star of the day was definitely Asagoe, who seemed to be in three places at once, appearing out of nowhere to smash balls over the net and create winners.

Dateline Charleston: Suddenly we are media darlings

When we hung a banner to support Patty Schnyder, we didn't think we were doing anything unique; we just thought it was a good idea to give Patty encouragement. But the banner has drawn quite a bit of attention. A picture of it appears on the Family Circle Cup's website (Thursday's "off the court" photo collection), and last night, the banner appeared on the 11:00 news in Charleston. We assume ESPN has either shown it or will show it today.

Schnyder has acknowledged the banner with a wave after each match. Yesterday, after she defeated Natalie Dechy in her quarterfinal match, Patty stuck around to do the Bell South Challenge, an annual charity event. But first, Luke Jensen interviewed her. He told her he knew she was very popular in Charleston and had a lot of fans, and that--in all the years he had attended the Family Circle Cup--this was the first time he had ever seen a sign hung for a player. So there was a lot of applause, and we cheered Patty on again.

Today, we hang the banner again; she needs encouragement now, more than ever.

Family Circle Cup--in and around the stadium

Last year, times for the players' practice periods were posted, and many of us went to the various practice courts to watch the players hit, and to take photographs. Though we were told that this would happen again this year, it did not. At no time was any practice schedule posted, and at no time did I see any players on the standard practice courts, which struck me as quite odd. I did see Mara Santangelo practicing on a court behind the clubhouse, and I saw Meghann Shaughnessy and Virginia Ruano Pascual hitting on the Althea Gibson Club Court.

I am disappointed that we were not given practice schedules this year, as promised, and I am perplexed as to when and where the players practiced.

Unfortunately, one thing that was repeated from last year was the use of the same stadium music over and over every hour of every day. I like Green Day as much as the next person, but enough is enough.

I got another photo autographed today--the one I took last year of Anna-Lena Groenefeld.

This week, Mary Pierce received the first ever Meredith (Meredith Corporation publishes Family Circle magazine) Inspiration Award. There was a dinner for her, and today, she was presented with a trophy and a $5,000 check for the cause of her choice. It was nice to see Pierce in the stadium, even though an injury has kept her off the court. What wasn't so nice was when the editor of Family Circle mentioned "Wimbleton."

And of course, the tournament announcer has yet to correctly pronounce the names of Kuznetsova, Groenefeld, and Costano. I wish the players were more assertive and demanded that their names be pronounced correctly (although they might have to pay a price).

But I have saved the best for last: The tennis columnist for the Charleston newspaper says he had never heard of Mara Santangelo until this week, but that he didn't feel too bad because the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour media relations director had never heard of her, either.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Groenefeld the surprise semifinalist at Family Circle Cup

Anna-Lena Groenefeld of Germany will play her semifinal match against her doubles partner, Nadia Petrova

Until today, Anna-Lena Groenefeld had never made it to the semifinals of a Tier I tournament. She did it this afternoon by defeating Svetlana Kuznetsova in straight sets, despite committing thirteen double faults and blowing two chances to close the match. Groenefeld's stinging groundstrokes became the decisive factor in her overcoming Kuznetsova and taking control of both sets. Groenefeld's fastest good serve was 117 mph.; she also clocked a faulty serve at 120 mph.

When Groenefeld went to serve for the match in the second set at 5-3, I said she wouldn't hold, and I was right. When she served for the match at 6-5, I assumed she wouldn't hold, and I was right again. Groenefeld does not have much experience in closing at big moments, and the inexperience showed today. However, my prediction that she would win the tiebreak was also right--freed from the responsibility of closing, Groenefeld relaxed and regained dominance, defeating Kuznetsova 6-3, 7-6.

Justine Henin-Hardenne faced a spirited Dinara Safina in the first set of their quarterfinal, but by the second set, Safina was breathing hard and struggling to keep up with the rallies. A victim of Henin-Hardenne's relentless backhand, Safina just became worn down. The final score was 6-4, 6-1.

(There were some amusing moments in this quarterfinal. A couple of times, after hitting winners, Safina yelled "Allez!" And in the last half of the match, Henin-Hardenne began channeling Conchita Martinez, stalking the court to retrieve "lucky" balls with which she had hit winners.)

It was even easier for Nadia Petrova to eliminate the clever Catalina Costano, who went from 1-5 down to defeat fifth seed Nicole Vaidisova. For all her skill, Costano was no match for Petrova's mighty serve, smooth volleys, and authoritative groundstrokes: 6-2, 6-0.

Finally, Patty Schnyder showed up in fine form to defeat Nathalie Dechy, who has been recovering from a shoulder injury. Schnyder was all lobs and spins and pace-changing, and her backhand was so impressive, it brought cheers from the stands, and led her to a 6-0, 6-3 victory. This is the Patty Schnyder people love to see, not the Patty Schnyder who goes to pieces, loses her serve, and chooses the wrong shot against the wrong opponent.

Schnyder told the press yesterday that she struggled with the issue of confidence and with her feelings. Tonight, after she performed so well, in an interview with Luke Jensen, she said she was nervous and was having trouble with her feelings. Is Schnyder more anxious and self-doubting than the other players, or is she just more honest about it?

The stadium court evening doubles match put Raymond and Stosur against Dominguez Lino and Vento-Kabchi. It was over pretty fast, with Raymond and Stosur winning, 6-2, 6-1. Raymond was kind of sluggish during the first set, but picked up the pace in the second. Earlier, Petrova and Groenefeld (who will face each other in a singles semifinal) defeated Huber and Peschke, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, in an exciting doubles match that displayed the light sides of both Petrova and Groenefeld.

Friday cat blogging--tennis fan edition

Velma launches the online scoreboard to see how Patty Schnyder, Justine Henin-Hardenne, and all of her favorite Family Circle Cup players are doing in Charleston

More Family Circle Cup odds and ends

I'm sorry to report that yet another horror tennis father has emerged. Anna Tatishvili's father was so loudly critical of her during her match with Nathalie Dechy that Tatishvili's coach, John Evert, had to tell him to stop. I don't know where these fathers come from, but the abuse they perpetrate is very significant.

Pat Cash and Peter Fleming were on the grounds today, playing mixed doubles with Lisa Raymond and Rennae Stubbs, and taking questions from fans.

I didn't witness it, but I was told that the Bondarenko sisters had a fight during their doubles match today. They lost in straight sets to Dominguez Lino and Vento-Kabchi.

Patty Schnyder and Dinara Safina did autograph sessions today. I took some photos of Patty, and also got some good photos of Shinabu Asagoe and Nicole Vaidisova when they appeared on the club court, and of Mara Santangelo as she practiced on a back court.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Patty Schnyder--not for sissies

Patty Schnyder on a Family Circle Cup practice court

Anabel Medina Garrigues on a practice court

As if Patty Schnyder didn't give us enough to worry about on Tuesday, with her shaky win over Meilen Tu, today she treated us to a thrill ride in her round of 16 match with Mara Santangelo. Once again, Schnyder had trouble keeping balls inside the court, failed to serve adequately, and just seemed out of sorts again. She did manage to get a break point in the first set, but failed to convert it; Santangelo took the set, 6-3. Finally, in the 8th game of the second set, Schnyder broke Santangelo, and during the last two games of that set, she seemed to suddenly come alive and tighten up her game. That set resulted in a tiebreak, and for those of us who are big Patty Schnyder fans, it was a tense moment.

Not to worry. Patty reeled off winner after winner, and won the tiebreak 7-2. She entered the third set a different player, and easily won it, 6-3. When it was over, she looked up to our seats, where we had hung a large banner, and gave us a big smile and wave. Not too long after that, I saw her hanging out behind the club court, doing stretches and just lying in the grass, probably exhausted.

A local sports columnist calls Schnyder the Little Gun (Kuznetsova is the Big Gun). Here's hoping the Little Gun brings all of her ammunition to her quarterfinal match with Nathalie Dechy.

In a match that was much less emotionally taxing (for me), defending champion Justine Henin-Hardenne, looking fresh in her Wimbledon whites, defeated Karolina Sprem, 6-4, 6-4. The good news is that Sprem played really well, perhaps indicating a return to her form of a couple of years ago. Henin-Hardenne, on the other hand, continued to struggle with her serve. Since she returned from her long illness, she has frequently double-faulted and had trouble getting her first serves in. Things improved a bit for a while, but now she is struggling again.

Then there was Nadia Petrova, who--unlike last night--was all business today. Petrova came out swinging, and--to make matters even more one-sided--her opponent, Lucie Safarova, came out as about half of her former self. Safarova looked tired and sluggish, and her serve had lost its sting. Petrova took the match, 6-1, 6-3.

Though Safarova seemed but a shell of the player we saw throughout the week, this one down day did not change my impression of her. Having watched her all week, I still think there is something very special about her. Her focus and accuracy, and her (usually) marvelous serve add up to one solid player, and she also has that little extra something that elevates her above others her age.

Finally, the people who showed up tonight at the Family Circle Cup stadium learned why Anabel Medina Garrigues is one of my favorite players. Medina Garrigues played big hitter Anna-Lena Groenefeld, and I seemed to be the only one who wasn't surprised that the first set went to a tiebreak. Medina Garrigues, one of the scrappiest players around, went from 1-4 down to tiebreak status by doing the kinds of things that clay players do best. Observing that Groenefeld had a tendency to hit the ball out of the court, Medina Garrigues pushed her farther and farther over, and Groenefeld obliged by making the same error over and over. Medina Garrigues constantly changed the speed and style of her serve, and gave Groenefeld all kinds of trouble with it. The error off of Medina Garrigues's trick serve often occurred right away.

Groenefeld held two set points in the first set, but Medina Garrigues saved them both, then lost the tiebreak 7-3.

The second set was a different story, as Groenefeld elevated her game to another level, hitting lightning-fast passing shots past her opponent, and serving exceptionally well. Medina Garrigues did save one match point, but serving at 3-5 and deuce, after missing her chance to get the break point, she walked to the net, laid her racquet on it and hung her head. The crowd cheered her back to her service game, but it was all over in moments. Medina Garrigues exited the stadium to the sound of loud cheering and applause, and I was glad that so many people got to see what a fine player she is.

Of the eight players remaining, seven are seeded. The exception is Catalina Costano, who received a walkover today when Marion Bartoli had to retire in their match. Bartoli withdrew from doubles play last night because of an injury, and limped through most of her first set with Costano before calling it quits. Costano, who took out Nicole Vaidisova, deserves the quarterfinal slot; she will play Petrova.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Family Circle Cup--more odds and ends

If you attended the Family Circle Cup last year, you will remember how much fun it was to hang out in the Bell South eZone. There were many computers for checking email and surfing the Web, and many telephones for calling long distance. And players had a nice space to do autograph sessions, with a basket of tennis balls to sign.

No more. The eZone is now in a tiny trailer near the Althea Gibson Club Court. It has a couple of computers and a few phones, and players have to do their sessions (no tennis balls supplied) outside.

There is also no Puppy Park this year. My best guess as to why is that there are no puppies. Martina Navratilova is not here, nor are Golovin and Davenport, who brought dogs last year.

The food court is better, however, with several vegetarian offerings, but, alas, no falafel this year.

In the daytime, the sun burns right through our clothing, and at night, the wind is very cold. Tonight there was almost no wind, so it was quite comfortable. Last year, there was a cold snap throughout the entire tournament, and we froze during the night matches.

I met Nathalie Dechy today, as I mentioned in another post, and though I did not speak with her, I was able to get some nice close-up photographs of Mara Santangelo. I also met Anabel Medina Garrigues, who signed a photo I took of her last year (she really liked the photo).

My tennis outfit pick of the day is, once again, Julia Vakulenko. This time, she had on a tiered hot pink tennis dress, which looked wonderful. My other favorite today was Lucie Safarova's simple short, fitted orchid (or it may have been periwinkle) tennis skirt with a 3/4 sleeve fitted white top.

Safarova breathes, Bondarenko thrills, and Petrova knocks one out of the park

Tonight, at the Family Circle Cup, I saw Lucie Safarova play for the second time, and I was even more impressed than I was when I saw her a couple of days ago. She is a hard hitter, a quick mover, and is very focused. The most interesting thing about her is her serve. If you think Mary Pierce has a deliberate serve, wait until you see Safarova. From what I can tell, she is doing breath work with the service motion, and as she releases the breath, she releases the serve with explosive speed. She made short work of Julia Schruff, who played well, but was simply no match for Safarova's consistency and accuracy.

The hero of today--and maybe of the week, however--was Alona Bondarenko, who was involved in what turned out to be high drama on the main court this evening. Bondarenko has been playing well since she arrived in Charleston, and tonight, she played the match of her life against number 2 seed and Amelia Island champion Nadia Petrova. The strange goings-on began right away, when Petrova requested a medical break before the match began. Apparently, during the warm-up, she strained her thigh.

During the first set, Petrova played conservatively, but well enough that Bondarenko was overpowered and could barely get a foot in the door. That set went to Petrova, 6-1. The second set was from another planet, with Bondarenko playing steadily and with almost no errors, while Petrova sprayed balls out of the court, smashed them into the net, and was lucky to get her second serve in. Being Nadia Petrova, she became visibly agitated, and treated the crowd to several bashings of the racquet head onto the court. She did not appear to be struggling physically, despite the medical break, but was struggling mentally in the way we have come to expect from her now and then.

The worse Petrova played, the more confident Bondarenko became, and she increased the quality of her shots even more. The crowd went wild. There were very long rallies, with Bondarenko winning almost all of them, often by forcing the error from her opponent. And there was a bad line call in Bondarenko's favor--a ball that was clearly out was called in. By this time, the crowd was so behind Bondarenko, all they could do was get upset when Petrova questioned the call.

The chair umpire and Petrova got into it with each other, and all the while, the lineswoman who made the call never left her chair. It was a though she didn't exist. Finally, the chair umpire called her over, and they had a conference that looked like it was going to go into the next day. By this time, Petrova had had all she could take, and she picked up her racquet and hit a ball through the stands into the Charleston sky. For this she was booed, considerably and loudly. (We applauded her, I should add, because the officials were handling the matter in a ridiculous fasion.) Finally, the ball was officialy called out.

Bondarenko took the second set 6-0. Petrova disappeared from the court, and when she came back, it was a different story. For one thing, Bondarenko was flagging physically. With each shot, she grew weaker, and the errors began creeping in. At the same time, Petrova turned on the champion switch and began playing like she should have played all evening. In the end, Petrova took the match, 6-1, 0-6, 6-2. I had mixed feelings about it: I wanted Nadia to win, but by this time, we were all in love with Alona Bondarenko and her feisty resolve. When she left the court, the fans went wild. When Petrova left, they booed.

Petrova wasn't the only one who had to deal with an unexpected force. Nathalie Dechy, seeded 8th, faced young Anna Tatishvili, who burned balls down the court with both her forehand and backhand, and gave Dechy trouble from moment one of the first set. Finally, though, Dechy was able to win enough big points to take the match. I spoke with her later in the afternoon, and she said she had never heard of Tatishvili, and after a few games, was wondering "What is this?"

A lot went on today. Jill Craybas lost a close match (6-4, 7-6) against Mara Santangelo, and also lost her doubles match (with partner Laura Granville), to the disappointment of her many fans. Julia Vakulenko drove through Antonella Serra Zenetti like a freight train (6-1, 6-2), and Ashley Harkleroad and Galina Voskoboeva defeated Corina Morariu and Rennae Stubbs, 6-1, 6-2.

Family Circle Cup--odds and ends

Yesterday, I was able to take several close-up photos of Svetlana Kuznetsova, who did an autograph session in the afternoon. Vera Zvonareva did one the day before, but I did not attend that one. I did attend the interview with Catalina Castana, as noted in a prior post.

A tornado hit the Family Circle Cup facility a few days ago, just after we arrived here, and the word is that the huge blow-up photo of Justine Henin-Hardenne served as a barrier between the twister and the stadium. So now, in addition to everything else, people say she can stop a tornado!

Although it isn't really important, we all like to look at what the players are wearing. My two favorites so far are Ashley Harkleroad, who looked really nice in heather gray and pink--heather gray skirt with pink trim, and pink top--and Julia Vakulenko. For one of her matches, Vakulenko had on a pleated, tiered bright green (on the lime side) tennis outfit that was different and very attractive.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Vaidisova knocked out of second round of Family Circle Cup

Last year, in the quarterfinals at Charleston, Patty Schnyder made short work of phenom Nicole Vaidisova by doing what Schnyder does best--changing the pace, mixing up the shots, and throwing her opponent off-balance. Today, Vaidisova appeared to have forgotten the clay lessons she learned last year. Catalina Castano, down 1-5 to Vaidisova in the first set, proceeded to win ten games in a row, and eventually claimed the match at 7-5, 6-2.

Castano accomplished this feat first by believing she could, and then by using all the clay skills she had to throw Vaidisova off her rhythm. Castano played so covincingly that when Vaidisova finally held serve at 1-4 in the second set, it was hard to believe she could overcome what had happened to her game. Visibly frustrated, she was able to win only one more game before the whole thing was over.

Later, in an interview, Castano said she had played Vaidisova only one time before. Vaidisova won that time, 7-5, 6-4. Castano said she had practiced with Vaidisova, however, and felt she had a good idea of what Vaidisova's game was all about.

Schnyder, for her part, played as sloppy a match as I've seen her play. Though she possesses excellent first and second serves, she had trouble getting any serve in in today's match against qualifier Meilen Tu, and she continually sprayed balls out of the court or hit them into the net. Her opponent played solidly, but Schnyder, with all her flaws, was able to pull big winners out when she really needed them, and wound up the victor, 6-4, 7-5.

I saw the first part of the Shuai Peng/Marion Bartoli match, in which Bartoli was totally dominant. Later, I learned that Peng had lifted the level of her game, and I just happened to be walking by in time to see her save three match points. On the fourth, however, Bartoli prevailed, 6-1, 6-4.

Jill Craybas cleanly defeated Maria Elena Camerin 6-4, 6-2, defending champion Justine Henin-Hardenne defeated a skilled and determined Sybille Bammer 6-2, 6-3, and in the strangest match I saw today, Dinara Safina defeated Vera Zvonareva, 7-5, 7-5.

It had been a long time since I had seen Zvonareva play, and I had forgotten how quickly and deftly she moves on the court, what good anticipation she has, and how beautiful that stinging backhand of hers is. Zvonareva can do it all, but she is still so mentally fragile. Throughout the match, she talked animatedly to herself, whacked her racquet on the court surface, and looked as if she were going to implode. She changed her racquet so many times, we began to wonder where this endless cache of racquets was coming from.

She and Safina exchanged fast, deep groundstrokes in long rallies that were, at times, breathtaking. Both volleyed well, and both made some outstanding shots. It was steamroller tennis from the first moment to the last. Safina had chances to close both sets at 6-4, and buckled under the pressure repeatedly. Had Zvonareva just held herself together a bit better, she could have turned Safina's missed opportunities around to her own advantage. For her part, Safina was able to deliver the really big winners at crucial moments.