Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Watching From Afar

June 26, 2022

I’ve been privileged now to have observed some pretty major events in recent American history while abroad. It’s a curious feeling, being physically so detached while glued to Internet news feeds. A few observations.

Of the multiple dozens of news feeds I scan daily, I have seen exactly zero headlines indicating there is a large percentage of US citizens who oppose abortion and are relieved this heinous practice is no longer federally protected. Not a single one. By just reading headlines you would be led to believe nobody in America was praying and hoping for this reversal, and that it’s a cruel and barbaric ruling imposed on a population overwhelmingly opposed to it. Although survey data is hard to analyze, what is clear is that the numbers fluctuate greatly depending on how terms are defined. Although there is a +- 10% at either end of the spectrum, who either support or oppose abortion under any circumstances, the vast majority of Americans fall somewhere in between. And somewhere in between is not what Roe v. Wade provided for.

The only headline I’ve seen all week indicating the presence of Americans who welcome the overturn of Roe v. Wade was from the British publication The Guardian.

Headlines almost universally refer to the repeal of Roe v. Wade in language that would lead the uneducated person to believe abortion is now illegal throughout our country, rather than the reality that it is no longer a federally mandated option. Abortion is not illegal in our country. It may be illegal in certain parts of the country, or may become illegal. But that’s a decision best left to more localized populations than dictated from the national level.

Much is said about the changes conservatives are bringing to American policy, but all of the extremely liberal changes that have been wrought since Roe v. Wade are depicted as de facto rights that have always existed and should be above challenge, as opposed to legislation and judicial decisions which, per our Constitution, are always open to review or revision. As amazed as many news stories sound, it is not an alien thing for the Supreme Court to reverse a previous decision. It is rare that it reverses it’s own decisions, but this should be a good thing, assuring both sides that such instances represent some very lengthy deliberation and study of the Constitution and law rather than a simple response to popular pressure. For example, the original Roe v. Wade decision is about 36 pages long. Dobbs vs. Jackson, which overturned Roe v. Wade this week, is 213 pages long. Clearly a lot of thought was given to this case.

I’ve seen stories citing cherry-picked, Western and European countries who are shell-shocked America could change it’s mind on this issue. This ignores the fact that abortion is limited in a large number of countries in the world. Again, since abortion has not been outlawed in the US, it would be more helpful if news reports compared apples to apples in their reporting.

There have also – predictably – been news stories featuring Christians lamenting this decision and asserting their support for abortion. Very little is mentioned – if at all – in such articles that probably the overwhelming majority of Christians worldwide understand abortion to be a violation of God’s Word in the Bible, and that certainly the largest Christian denomination on Earth – the Roman Catholic Church – has and does and (God-willing) will continue to oppose the practice steadfastly. I know there are Christians (some of them Catholic) who disagree with the Bible and their denominational stance, but it’s dishonest to ignore this difference of opinion simply to make it sound like all Christians everywhere support abortion (or should support it).

The (apparent) total lack of regard many lawmakers, celebrities, politicians, and other leaders in our culture have for the many, many people in America who believe abortion to be morally wrong, and who therefore believe it should not be a mandated right (paid for with tax dollars no less) or believe it should be illegal, is indicative of the growing polarization of our population and contributes directly to it. If you wish to disparage the logic or argumentation or conclusions of another citizen, all well and good. But if you simply want to insult and deride them and flip them off, you are not part of the solution to our polarization, you are part of the problem. This applies equally to people on both sides of any given issue. The unwillingness and inability to actually debate and simply scream and yell is a condemnation of our churches, our schools, and should be of utmost concern to our leaders. That they prefer to exploit it for their agendas is abysmal.

Much mockery has been made in recent years of those Americans who openly question the honesty and reliability of American media and news outlets. I suspect most of us are too jaded these days to implicitly trust much of any source (outside a sacred text). The incredibly disproportionate tone of the news media just this week alone ought to give pause for thought to whether or not the major American news outlets really are, as they claim, representing the news fairly and without bias. Not that this shouldn’t have been obvious for decades, but if anyone had any doubts about it, this week ought to make it clear.

Pool Hall – The Jointed Cue ~ Sacramento, CA

December 9, 2021

I happened to find myself near Sacramento for the second time in less than six months, definitely a record in terms of visit frequencies. This time just stopping overnight south of Sacramento in Elk Horn, home, I discovered, to The Jointed Cue which claims to be the oldest pool room in northern California. It’s good it has this claim to fame, as I confer another less pleasant one on it – the ugliest pool shirt I’ve run across in all my years of travel and this most recent couple of years of collecting.

Located on the northwest corner of Fruitridge and 24th Street, I discovered the place had only re-opened just a few weeks earlier on November 2 after nearly three years of being shuttered due to a lawsuit against the previous owners, perhaps related to an ADA issue. I was there on a Monday night and the place was packed with a beginner tournament. It’s not a small place – I counted 11 nine-foot Brunswick tables as well as two three-cushion tables. There’s a bar that served food and soft drinks when I was there, but hoped their beer and wine liquor license would be finalized just a few days after I left. I hope that came through for them!

It’s under new ownership, allegedly a coalition of long-time afficianados of the place who came together to get the financing to reopen it. With tournaments running throughout the week it looks like they stand a good chance of making it an ongoing prospect and continuing a tradition dating back to 1968.

While the play was pretty basic when I was there due to it being a tournament for beginners, it’s clearly a place where all levels of players hang out. I saw some very impressive three-cushion play and I look forward to learning more about that game in the coming months. While the area is a little rough and parking is inadequate, I’d strongly recommend this spot to anyone in the area or passing through. It’s worth the stop!

Book Review (Partial) – A History of Modern Indonesia Since c. 1200

November 1, 2021

A History of Modern Indonesia Since c. 1200, 4th Edition by M. C. Ricklefs

Another partial book review, this time because I didn’t finish it. I barely started it, but it’s obvious it’s far more detailed and in-depth than what I need right now. While I feel I have a good, broad-brushstrokes familiarity with the major eras of Indonesia’s history, I need to better cement that foundation before filling in with the detailed academic treatment Ricklefs brings to this book.

By his own admission in the introduction he prefers to provide details and allow others to draw broader conclusions, an approach I resonate with. I’m just not ready for this level of work quite yet! Once I’m a bit more conversant in the overarching history of Indonesia I’ll undoubtedly go back to this as a more detailed resource!

Book Review (Partial) – Healthy, Resilient & Effective in Cross Cultural Ministry

November 1, 2021

Healthy Resilient & Effective in Cross Cultural Ministry by Laura Mae Gardner, D.Min

I call this a partial review for two reasons. The first is the copy I was gifted from long-term overseas Bible translators is a pre-release copy that only has the first eight chapters – roughly the first half of the book. Secondly, I only really skimmed it as it’s designed for sending agencies and those who oversee overseas workers.

From that perspective it’s an amazing book, even in the unfinished form. I have no doubt that folks in our own Office of International Mission have read this or other resources like it, as I recognize some of the recommendations from the book in how OIM is structured and the interactions I’ve already had with them. A fantastic resource (and the link above is to the finished Kindle version of the book – a print version of the finished book is here) for those entrusted with the recruitment, evaluation, deployment, management and ongoing care of overseas workers!

Book Review: Serving Well

October 25, 2021

Serving Well: Help for the Wannabe, Newbie or Weary Cross-Cultural Christian Worker by Jonathan and Elizabeth Trotter

Recommended by a friend who had it recommended to him, this is not my favorite read. The style is not one I’m very fond of, overly friendly and informal with useful tips interspersed with emotional self-disclosures. I think this book probably has some very helpful advice to the various groups the title highlights, but it’s the sort of helpful advice that isn’t really useful until you’re in the midst of a situation, and then you’ve got to figure out where that particular nugget of wisdom might be. Major sections are organized by what you might want to know or think or feel before you go, as you’re leaving, once you arrive, before you leave, and as you return to your country of origin.

There’s some good advice in here, or at least it makes sense. There’s also plenty of stuff that isn’t helpful for an analytical person like me. Others may find the personal and intimate approach very appealing.

If you like relational sort of heart-to-heart writing you may love this. And those of you with overseas experience already may find it really quite helpful. But it’s not going to be helpful to me at this point, and therefore probably not the first resource I would reach for down the line.

Book Review: Introducing Indonesia

October 7, 2021

Introducing Indonesia – 3rd edition, published by the American Women’s Association, 1975

This was a short and fascinating read. Short mostly because at least half the book is a phone directory of services and businesses in Indonesia – particularly the island of Java and the city of Jakarta – that might be of use to an American moving to Indonesia. Fascinating because, published by the American Women’s Association, it’s clearly oriented to the wife/mother/homemaker who will be setting up house in a new place.

The book provides a brief bit of history but mostly to give an exceptionally broad overview of the many cultures and influences present in Jakartan society. It is the purpose of the book to inform, not to analyze or comment on that history. A similar broad treatment of culture, religion, and arts are also included. It’s clear the emphasis is on Jakarta and the island of Java – not surprising since it’s the capitol and the most likely destination of either government or industry-based relocation. There are a fair number of black and white photos to help provide context for the commentary and to give the reader a basic impression of their new home.

Perhaps the most fascinating section was the brief treatment of the issue of household workers. Like most of Southeast Asia it is assumed that at a certain economic level you will employ one or more household workers. This is an important source of income to a large section of the population. The book lists various roles household workers might have, including driver, maintenance person, cook, maid, nanny, and several others. Advice is also given as to how to best manage a household staff, clearly intended for the American unfamiliar with this situation. Advice on how to find qualified staff, how to vet them and when necessary terminate them is all very curious and undoubtedly much of it is still applicable today.

Published in 1975 this clearly is not an up-to-date snapshot of Indonesia but is interesting for what it is – a snapshot of American perspectives on life in Indonesia nearly 50 years ago.

Book Review – A Brief History of Indonesia

September 17, 2021

A Brief History of Indonesia: Sultans, Spices & Tsunamis: The Incredible Story of Southeast Asia’s Largest Nation by Tim Hannigan

How many colons are you allowed to have in a book title? I feel like Hannigan has exceeded his limit but, then again, he’s published a book and I haven’t. So I’ll just be quiet.

This is an engaging overview of Indonesia’s history going back to its earliest speculative and archaeological roots. Hannigan writes in a very readable fashion and his style is not dry or boring. It’s history – and a lot of it! But it’s also an interesting read.

One of the things I most enjoyed about this book is along the way he makes mention of key concepts that form important aspects of Indonesia’s past and current cultural identity and self-conceptions. By bookmarking these as I notice them, I hope to have good guidance on areas for future study. Ideas such as Majapahit (p.57) help me understand how past empires are called upon as current and future inspiration, similar to the semi-mythical Wali Songo, remembered as Muslim saints who helped bring Islam to Indonesia. Great food for future study and contemplation.

Because of the books’ broad scope Hannigan doesn’t spend too long in any one area. This helps the book move along quickly. I found the names of people and places to be difficult to keep track of and didn’t try overly hard. That will come in time and once we’re living there and better able to find and even visit some of these places. But the scope of the book helps me get a handle on how much history these islands hold, and how many different forces have attempted to shape, exploit or otherwise engage with these peoples.

Clocking in at just about 260 pages, and with a bibliography of sources to be used as a launch for further reading, this is a great and manageable history for those who enjoy history and are interested in the island nation of Indonesia.

Pool Hall – BCA World Pool Tournament ~ Las Vegas, NV

September 8, 2021

Since we’re planning to head overseas in the near future, it may not be possible for me to play in the BCA Pool League World Championships. I’ve been blessed to shoot in this tournament most of the last six years or so. Playing for a local BCA bar pool league qualified me, and I’ve enjoyed shooting both as part of a team as well as individually. Over the years I’ve competed in both 8-ball and 9-ball team events as well as individual 8-ball events. I decided early on that if we weren’t deployed yet, I would attend this event for perhaps the last time.

This year I didn’t have a team to play with. The one I’ve played with for the past decade has largely dissolved. One of the three core members moved to Las Vegas in early 2019. Then I moved this year. Our remaining core teammate has assembled another team to continue playing in the local league but there wasn’t enough interest in coming to Vegas to compete. So the two of us decided to head to Vegas separately and meet up with our buddy there.

All three of us competed in the individual 8-ball event. Dave and I played in the silver division – so named because of the skill level not because of our hair. Our buddy James played in the Bronze division – which he placed third in last year, completing his play just hours before Las Vegas was shut down by Covid.

We met up Friday night to watch a little of the professional player matches. The one we watched featured a young guy who is really an up-and-comer in the competitive pocket billiards world. Chris Robinson came out of Ventura, California, where I had the opportunity to play against him several years ago when he was still a minor and on the cusp of becoming old enough to start competing seriously. We shot at the only pool hall in Ventura – Stixx. At the time a former teammate of ours was giving Chris some tips on shooting. I seem to remember beating Chris, but most likely he wasn’t trying very hard and I got lucky! Now he’s in the spotlight playing with the big names in billiards.

Chris Robinson competing in Las Vegas, NV.

Saturday was a light day of play for me – just a couple of matches through the day. To my surprise, I won both matches, though they were nail-biter, come-from-behind-and-win-by-the-skin-of-my-teeth victories. That kept me in the winner’s bracket of the double-elimination tournament. My buddy Dave was bumped to the loser bracket and was out of the tournament by the end of Saturday. James stayed in the winners’ bracket in his division through Saturday as well, though he had to play several more matches than I did.

The main tournament room at the Rio, Las Vegas. 110 tables plus close to 30 vendors.

Sunday started bright and early. Matches start as early as 9 am, which is really an extremely unpleasant hour for most pool players. I’ve argued for years the matches should start much later – noon at the earliest – and then play into the early morning hours if necessary. That would be a lot more natural and comfortable for the vast majority of the players! However nobody listens and we continue to start early. Of course, the 9am start is really not the beginning. I was up at 6am to get showered and start waking up. Then it was a drive to get a bite to eat and some hot tea on my way to the Rio, the casino just off the strip where the tournament has been held at least as long as I’ve been going. Arrive by 8am, finish breakfast and tea in the car before masking up and heading in to start warming up.

This is a huge event. Thousands of competitors from around the country and North America show up for it every year. The main tournament has 110 bar-sized (7’x3.5′) Diamond tables with Simonis felt. Around the perimeter of this room the vendors set up shop, selling all sorts of billiard related merchandise from cues to apparel and everything in between. Deals are usually good and over the years I’ve picked up a case as well as a variety of tools to keep my cue tips in good condition and shape.

Additionally there is another room for tournament play with another 70 or more tables in it. And another room with about the same number of tables set up for side tournaments. This is one of the big attractions of the event – mini-tournaments. For $10 or $20 or more you can enter a small tournament pretty much from 9am to midnight. You play against 3-4 other people and if you win you win money. Quick and easy and more than a few folks show up just to play in the minis rather than the main event!

I lost this early morning match and was bumped to the losers’ bracket. In some ways, this was a relief. I don’t consider myself to be as good a player as I ought to be and playing in the losers’ bracket took some pressure off. That’s good, because I proceeded to shoot pretty much non-stop until about 10pm that evening. Win after win after win. My first one was commanding and pretty. Most of the others weren’t as pretty or commanding, but a win’s a win.

My last match started about 9pm. By this point, I knew that I was in the money. That meant that even if I lost this match and was out of the tournament, I would still get some money from the tournament. And this was the first player I’d encountered who was close to being a buzzsaw – a term for a player who’s just orders of magnitude better than you are, and therefore cuts through you pretty easily. I made several stupid mistakes and handed him the win in three of the games. I managed to win one game, and he finished up the final two.

I was out. I was also exhausted. But I had made back my entry fee money for the event, which was a lot better than I expected to do. I also am now able to claim I’ve won money in tournament competition in Las Vegas in both teams as well as individual events. Out of the 350+ competitors in my division, I placed 33. That’s not a bad feeling!

Pool Hall – Break & Run Billiards ~ Racine, WI

July 28, 2021

It was a beautiful afternoon and evening. We had some time to kill and decided to go for a nice drive. And of course, while wandering down the Wisconsin coast of Lake Michigan it’s good to have a goal in mind. And with me, goals often coincide with pocket billiards when no other weightier or more enjoyable options present themselves.

There were two pool halls to the south of us about 30 minutes I wanted to check out. The first was Outbreak Billiards in Racine. Had I been alone, I probably would have gone in and checked it out. No website, but their photos on Google maps indicate a place with some semblance of family friendliness. Besides, it was still light outside – hardly anybody gets killed in pool halls until after dark, right? But, she felt a little uncomfortable going in and I felt a little uncomfortable leaving her out in the car to go in and shoot a couple of games just to say I’ve played there.

So we moved on, and wound up at Break & Run Billiards on the south side of Racine. Located in a shabby strip mall off of 21st Street and Lathrop Avenue it’s not much to look at from the outside. On the inside, however, I was pleasantly surprised. A few Diamond tables with the felt in good condition. Both 9-foot tables as well as a few bar boxes. The bartender was congenial and helped round up a t-shirt for me, though unfortunately it was only big enough for my wife.

As a side note, my wife now has a budding collection of pool hall t-shirts from places that don’t have my size. I don’t really feel like I’m buying her gifts when she ends up with them, because I really wanted them for myself. But she doesn’t seem to mind wearing them around the house and as long as she doesn’t throw them out I suppose it’s fine. Frustrating, but fine.

I shot for about an hour. Very quiet before the after-dark crowd showed up, but a nice spot to shoot. Definitely worth stopping by if you’re in the area. It looks like the kind of place where shooters are likely to hang out, especially given the dearth of other options in the area as a whole.

Pool Hall – Cue Club of Wisconsin

July 27, 2021

With a name like the Cue Club of Wisconsin, I have big expectations.

Not named after a person. Or even a city. This place claims to be the place to shoot pool for an entire state. That’s a lot to shoulder for a pool hall. I had to check it out.

Their web site heavily features their food, which is pretty decent by bar standards. I had to try their Friday fish lunch and it was definitely acceptable as far as fried fish goes. Their website next highlights their indoor bocce ball courts, and true enough, there are two long strips of artificial turf down the center of the main room where they apparently play bocce ball. There are only a few pictures of the actual pool tables. You know. Because it’s the Cue Club of Wisconsin, after all. They do have a few tables.

The place is a little tricky to find initially as it’s behind a couple of other strip malls off of Grandview Boulevard just south of I-94. If you keep an eye out for the sign and follow the small road back you’ll find it though.

Olhausens, primarily. A few nice 9-foot Diamonds. There aren’t many pictures of the tables on the web site and some of them seem to be outdated, from before the installation of the bocce courts.

But don’t misunderstand. There are also dartboards. A shuffleboard. Cornhole accoutrements. There is far more to this place than billiards. I’ll leave it to you to decide if that’s a good thing or not.

I was able to stop in twice – once on a Friday afternoon when there wasn’t much of anyone there except the lunch rush, which was fair. I tried to get a game going with one guy but he was on his way out. C’est la vie. I stopped again Sunday night and there were even fewer people there. In fact, they closed early, and in consideration of this, gifted me with a free drink coupon for the next time I stop by. Not sure when that will be – probably a couple of years from now at the least. But the thought was nice. I was also able to purchase a t-shirt that’s very nice looking.

This is definitely a worthwhile place to shoot. I’m not sure what it’s like when they have darts and cornhole and bocce ball all going at the same time. I assume they have pool leagues as well. But it’s definitely the only real pool hall in the area and worth checking out if you have the time.