Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ultimate Peace

“Peace in the Middle East”. I think I first heard this saying when I was in second grade right around the time of our first venture into Iraq back in 1991. However, unlike cars, computers, house prices, minimum wage, and more or less everything else, not much has changed in the last 18 years. The cultural conflicts that have claimed hundreds and thousands of lives over the last two decades (at the very least) has remained terrifyingly constant and all we are left with is the lingering feeling that despite our advances as a species, there will always be violence.

However, recently there has been a collection of Ultimate players that have decided to take it upon themselves to take a proverbial stab at this conflict with a movement called Ultimate Peace, an Ultimate based humanitarian effort in the West Bank. I was touched by this act of good will and I thought I would discuss my take on the situation and why I think this idea is so important.

The hostility that has persisted in the West Bank has been terrible not only for the Jewish, Islamic, Israeli and Palestinian communities but for those of us that do not fall under any of these labels. For all parties, those entrenched in the conflict and those left watching on CNN, this persistent situation is exceedingly dismal and frustrating. Continual bombings, terrorist attacks and general violence are a constant source of remorse, pain, and fear regarding the future and what horrors wait in the winds, for what is a quandary that endlessly endures? It is like a ruthless hang nail with no finger nail clippers. A seemingly small problem without a foreseeable solution that manages to steal all of your focus. You go primitive with some picking and scratching but before you know it, it's worse than before. Ultimately you are driven insane because all you want is a solution, an end, a resolution, something other than continued pain and irritation, or in this case, violence and cultural warfare. However, without a change in strategy, nothing will improve.

But such a successful strategy in the West Bank is anything but straightforward. In moving from one extreme of this country to another, I’ve learned that my perspective of the world is a direct product of my surroundings. I am fortunate in the sense that I have had constructive exposure to the opinions and beliefs of chill Southern Californianis, liberal Northwesterners, high strung Northeasterners, gregarious Mid-Westerners, friendly Southerners, cultured foreigners and just about everything in between. Such exposure is vital in understanding the extraordinary complexity this world has to offer because without it, one cannot appreciate the beauty of how and why people are so different. This type of contact enlightens the mind so that one can begin to see why something can be evil to some, but common to others. Why something can be fantastic to one group but absolutely detested by another. Why an honor to one person is a tragedy to someone else.

Nevertheless, this sort of enlightenment requires a link, a common bond. Two opposite groups of people will not spontaneously understand one another without some sort of union. This may seem impossible, but if we are clever enough, there can always be a connection to find. People from Modesto, CA to Virginia, MN, to Newark, DE, to Statesboro, GA, to the United Arab Emirates can all unite under one umbrella, if we are smart enough to come up with a common theme. Maybe it’s a shared interest in The Big Lebowski, or being a product of a divorced family, or a mutual love for candy corn. The specifics are irrelevant but what is relevant is that when such a topic emerges, regardless of the differences we may have on the outside, we find an emotional connection. If only for an instant, we find a moment where we realize that “I”, so seemingly different from “you”, am actually not that different at all.

With this in mind, I’ve always been wary of the word “diversity” because it is such a dicey subject. It usually comes up when one demographic is trying to attract attention, resources, or opportunities away from a more dominant one. However, differences are not always good and when they are highlighted over and over, tension seems to materialize. When people are constantly reminded of how different they are from one another, it is no surprise that fear, aggression and distaste begin to surface. So I ask, is this the best solution? Is focusing on what makes us different the best strategy?

So with this background, I decided to write a little bit regarding Ultimate Peace, a very basic Ultimate clinic and tournament in Tel Aviv, Israel April 1st-5th. From what I can gather, it is more or less your garden variety Ultimate event, in a location that is anything but garden variety. The goal? To use the power of Ultimate to teach cooperation and understanding between under privileged youths and adults that are more or less sworn enemies at birth.

I find this idea to be compelling for many reasons. First off, unlike a lot of ideas, it is a short term project with long term goals. Not unlike starting a college ultimate team, making progress in this region will take time and effort and it all begins with simple, short term goals with a long term objective in mind. Rather than be short sighted and attempt to bring entrenched people together with cultural advocacy, legislation or played-out humanitarian action, Ultimate Peace is trying to turn future enemies into current friends. It won’t make every Israeli and Palestinian Facebook friends, it won’t end violence and suffering in the Middle East but it’s a start, it’s progressive. It is an action to bring enlightenment to a tortured group of people that need it. Perhaps in 20 years, a participant will sit in on a discussion regarding his supposed adversary and say “No wait! I played pickup with them and they're alright”.

Why is this important? Israelis are never going to convince Palestinians to forget their cause and vice versa. However, if an emotional connection between these two groups can arise, if only a handful of teenagers chasing a disc, the propensity to resort to violence lessens. If a stranger tosses me a flick while I’m walking through the quad, I am filled with curiosity regarding this new acquaintance and I don’t even know their name yet. Where did they play? Do they read RSD? How did they pick up a flick? And before I know it I’m asking “Wanna get a beer?”. Even if they are a Harvard grad, a right wing conservative, or a liberal extremist, I’m genuinely interested in getting to know them, and all because of a 175g piece of plastic.

And what is even better is that the bigger the difference between two people, the more satisfying this realization becomes. If I’m on Tybee Island and I see a 5Ultimate bracelet on a fellow bar patron’s wrist, no big surprise, I’m over it. But what if I saw that same bracelet on a Coliseum tour guide in Rome or a Sushi chef in Fukoka, Japan? WOW, would I be surprised and fired up to start asking some questions. The same could be said for any two groups of differing people, such as Jews and Muslims. But laying the ground work for this sort of connection takes time and intelligent investment, the likes of which Ultimate Peace is aiming for.

Another reason why this is such a good idea, is that it’s just plain fun. Ultimate is a good time. When I had turmoil in my life, 2 hours of practice on RIMAC field was just what I needed. I’m sure I’m not alone in this regard and who needs this sort of distraction more than conflicted youths in the West Bank? No seminar or history class or depressing TV program can deliver this kind of relief and the more a person needs it, the more they will hold on to it. This sort of activity has such lasting power because nothing drives a person more than the memory of a good time. I have countless friends and teammates that had their Ultimate fires lit because of a single week at NUTC and my personal interest in flatball hit warp speed after a few days in Corvalis back in May of 2005.

But a lot of us are privileged Westerners. Most of us knew we were bound for college and if we came across a game of pick up and liked what we saw, we were hooked. The same could be said for people who took up things like Rugby, Model UN, or Hashing. In college, opportunities to find a weird sub-culture were everywhere and most people picked up something they really enjoyed. But what about those that don’t have this chance? What about people that spend day after day just trying to stay alive? Can you imagine what kind of impact something “just plain fun” could have? It probably wouldn’t even matter what it was, it could be a bunch of people chasing around a piece of plastic. Wait, that’s exactly what it is. If it worked for soccer, why can’t it work for Ultimate?

So what’s the catch? None of this comes free and this organization needs help. Their goal is to raise $80,000 for the event and while this seems like quite a sum, I am reminded of Obama’s campaign and how much small on-line contributions helped him win the election. With paypal as a resource, the ease of donating far outweighs any excuse one can put forth for not helping out. 2008 was a tough year for most of us, including myself, but I put down my $25 and I did it while on a plane from JFK to LAX en route to Lei Out. If that doesn’t prove how easy it is to help, I don’t know what can. Come on flatballers, pull out your iPhones and use them for the best reason yet.

Now I hate evangelism and I get the same fundraising/donation chills that everyone else gets, but Ultimate Peace is not out to convert the world and they’re not asking for your life savings. All they want to do is spread the wealth, the wealth that is passion for this little game of ours. Odds are you’re a passionate Ultimate player like me, otherwise, why would you be reading this? And if so, take 3 minutes and help a cause worth helping. You’ll be in good company. The best from Sockeye, Riot, the Condors, Brute Squad, heck even former UPA President Mike Payne is involved. The very best people are not the ones that can, but the ones that can and do.

just my thoughts

match diesel

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

If Lei Out and Wild Wood were bars...

...Lei Out would be the micro brew joint with good looking women, $11 burgers and clean bathrooms while Wild Wood would be the underage dive joint with cheap food, cheaper beer, and more character than you can shake a stick at.

I recently hit the west coast for the Santa Monica Beach Bash and while I've grown accustom to the 12 degree weather and bitterness of the North East, I still had a banging good time in my old stomping ground.  Now that I have been to 2 of the best beach ultimate tournaments, I thought I would toss out a few opinions and share some of the spittle I managed to remember after a weekend with some of our sport's finest.

Lei Out vs Wild Wood
First off, I wanted to say that comparing these tournaments is really tough because they happen at exactly opposite ends of the year.  Lei Out seems to be around MLK weekend and WW is at the end of July, so a lot of comparisons are inherently biased or flawed.

With that in mind, I definitely believe that the competition at Lei Out is considerably better.  Considering that Wild Wood is in the middle of the club season, many elite players seem to avoid a binge-fest in the cesspool to end all cesspools.  I've seen guys like Holzer, Teddy, and Jasper (Ironside) in Southern Jersey but the level of competition seems to drop off considerably outside a few select teams.  To make matters worse, if you just go for the ultimate (which some people do for Lei Out and dodge the party), there really isn't much to do outside some major vicing in Wild Wood so I can imagine a lot of focused flat ballers passing it up.

However, because Lei Out is in the middle of winter (well sort of, if you call 80 degrees and a cloudless sky, winter) not only do you have a ton of west coast talent come out, but many east coast players make the trip out to Los Angeles.  Without even trying, I spotted a few recent National Champs like Damien Scott, Mark Humphrey and Mike Namkung, not to mention a slew of other talented flatballers in Seth Wiggins and Keith Monahan and those were just the west coast guys.  Texas was there in full force, not to mention my Sunburn buddies and a bunch of east coasters like BVH, Kendra, and Chicken.  

Despite the level of competition, Wild Wood does seem bigger than it's west coast counter part.  When walking up to the fields in Jersey, the amount of teams playing seems absolutely staggering not to mention the fact that there are something like six different divisions, unlike Lei Out which only has two.  Perhaps Wild Wood seems bigger because it straddles the pier in NJ, and Lei Out was just on the North side, but I got the feeling I'd seen a bigger beach tournament on the East Coast.

Another huge element to consider when discussing these two tournaments are the costs.  I want to say that one is definitely cheaper than the other, but when I think about it a little more, it's a draw.  Santa Monica's bar district is definitely not cheap (as evidenced by the $240 I dropped the first night) but the hotels by the beach are many and they don't shoot up their prices like the shaddy spots in Wild Wood do.  In addition, despite being in a relatively cheap spot in New Jersey with respect to booze and food, Wild Wood isn't near much else and traveling to and from is exceedingly difficult unless you are one of the "lucky" locals.  On the other hand, Santa Monica is right near LAX so getting into the city (regardless of where you are coming from) and getting to your hotel isn't tough, provided you dodge some MAJOR traffic.  But then again, a lot of folks have to fly into Lei Out which probably doubles your costs and driving seems to be the mode of transportation for most when going to the Wood.

As for the party, I think it's a matter of opinion.  The free Colt 45 was money at the Lei Out party (as was the fact that I was wearing my Colt 45 team jersey which got me a few more questions than I would have liked, but it's my own fault), but the bar was really crowded.  Maybe its because everybody goes and it is tough to fit 1,000+ people into one bar, but I don't recall Wild Wood being that densely packed at whatever that 2 story place is called.  In addition, I think the grungier feel of the Wood makes it easier to take it to the streets and I can think of more than one story regarding carnival game shenanigans and under the pier activities.  I heard that the Lei Out party was previously on the pier, but not this year, so I think the party debate is another toss up.

In the end, I think it would benefit all parties (east and west coast) to hit both tournaments.  I have a few friends that have done both and I think the consensus is that both are great in their own way.  Drawing conclusions the way one could between Santa Barbara vs Stanford Invite, TiV vs Pres Day, or Centex vs Southerns, isn't really possible with the Wood and Lei Out, so I think the best strategy is to just go to both.

Finals Week Hurricane
The name of my team was Finals Week Hurricane because when I was an undergrad we used to get hjammered after finals and hurricane around campus, ie drink and sing at people who were trying to study for their remaining tests.  It was always something I looked forward to and it was something that highlighted how much fun, yet how smart, we were at UCSD.  Well, at least I was.

Because I missed out on Potlatch (broken foot) I really wanted another shot at playing with my fellow squids/psychos.  I had to have jerseys made as well and despite 2 months of stressing over adobe illustrator files and failed attempts with 5Ultimate (damn you NW snow), I managed to get them printed through the tournament and everybody liked them.

In addition to trying to win as much as possible (which we did, 5-1) I wanted to have as much fun as possible such that all the other UCSDers that were scattered across other teams would wish they were on my team.  Outside maybe Bofa (Car Bomb) and Wormser (Mischief), I think I was successful.

I got into LAX around 530p and after some major traffic and dinner with Pajohesh, I found myself at a bar called "Q's".  Because it was in Brentwood it was pretty UCLA heavy, not to mention expensive.  After Kief, Boont, Duffy, Dibs, Amy, Katie, and Miles got to the bar, I proceeded to go agro.  One kamikazes turned into 4 rounds of them not to mention more car and Yeager bombs than I could remember.  I vaguely remember going with Kief and JAM to Mickey D's around the corner, but I definitely remember getting the $200 bill.  Yikes, good thing the bar keep was hot.

Anyway, after some lip singing "Red, Red Wine" into the lounge mirror for some added entertainment, we headed back to JAM's place and despite starting out clothed on his couch, I ended up wearing my Texas Lone Star Alum jersey for a pair of pants in Jonny's bed.  Oh well, he wasn't in it.

After waking up a little dazed, I quickly realized I was in LA about to play a beach tournament with some of my better friends.  This got the blood flowing quickly as did the grande Americano and sausage P-diddy at the Bucks, thank god for the 10am start time.

Once we got to the beach, all I could think about were the jerseys and despite feelings of apprehension for any number of reasons, I got to frisbee central, they had received my check and they didn't screw up the threads.  SICK!!!  Now all I had to do was play ultimate.

Like most folks, this was also a time of "Oh hey (insert ultimate name here)!!!  Great to see you."  I quickly realized TUFF was in the house, not to mention my blood (Alex) who was playing for DTB, *wiping a tear away*.  I also got a chance to meet up with my team mates who didn't make it to the bar and before I knew it, game time was upon us.

Our first game was against Keith Monahan's team and it was probably a good thing that I was the only one that knew he was a national champ, because we played like they were any other team.  We all got the blood flowing and before long, we won something like 11-6.

After the game, I was handed a nice little pastry and despite the fact that I probably should have been a bit more conservative, I decided, what the hell?  This would prove to be calories that would cost me a few turnovers later in the day, but hey, it was tasty.

Second game was against a Santa Cruz alum team, and sorry Slugs, I really wanted to beat you guys.  We lost to UCSC wayy back at the Stanford Qualifier in '04 and UCSD lost to them at Vegas on DGP last year so I really wanted to win this game.  They took half and were up like 8-5 but we turned it around and beat them off an Elroy sky (one of many) 11-9 or so.  SICK!! 2-0.

Next game was a bit of a blur for obvious reasons, but we won easy, 11-4 I think.  In this game I still had this conception that I could cut but after dropping a bullet I decided I would wait for April to try and bust out of my handler role.  Anyway, my focus was returning by this point so I was ready for the final game of the day, which was against some Tufts alums, one of whom I knew from CT.

This game was fun because I was actually consistent.  They wanted to go to 13 because we had daylight, so we obliged.  I was a bit frustrated with the fact that I hadn't gotten a layout D yet so I was happy to take on a few more points to give myself another shot, and it paid off.

We pulled with a 12-4ish lead and I was covering some asian guy I think.  After a few cuts, TJ got the disc and sent a huck to my guy and we were both off to the races.  I was trailing by a little bit, but when the disc came, I sort of did a run/jump and macked the disc.  Now we all know what happens when you mack a disc on D in the endzone so I kept at it and made a nice little bid and grabbed my second effort in my opponents endzone.  I then popped up and sent a flick put the other way to Elroy for the game winner.  Going 4-0 is awesome.

Saturday Night
After leaving the fields we headed back and got some fish tacos.  I miss Rubio's.  After we each took showers, I pulled out the '08 WUGC DVD that I had brought and we watched the gold medal game I commentated on.  I said "phenomenal" wayyyy to much, but hey, I was excited.  The interviews were also cool and when watching my interview with Mike Grant, I couldn't help but think of Old School where Will Farrell does that debate thing and doesn't remember any of it.  I don't even remember talking to MG, I was so nervous/excited.  Maybe it's because all the blood in my head was elsewhere.  Oh well, it's on tape so I can remember it forever.

After dilly dallying for a while we finally made it to the tournament hotels/party.  I met up with my blood, Natali, Bjorn and a few others before hitting up the party and despite really wanting an alcohol alternative, I was denied.  God Damn it Natali!  They tried to pass off some Sparks Plus to me but I wasn't having it.  Sparks yes, Plus no.

But we made the party and picked up our free Colt 45's.  This party was definitely different than I was expecting because instead of dancing and drinking, I spent most of the night going booth to booth seeing who I could find.  I sat down with Chic from San Diego for awhile and before I knew it I was being whisked here and there by one Ultimate friend or another.  

I met Seth Wiggins in the bathroom line (yeah, a line for the Men's room, not cool).  I wasn't sure if he'd squash me (cuz he's huge) but instead he gave me some love and before I knew it we were tossing back some spittle while relieving ourselves.  I recall him talking about the #24 because we are both partial to it and I was wearing my colt jersey but all I can remember clearly was his ridiculously bushy goatee.  Oh well, it was fun.

Then I headed upstairs to meet up with some squiddies and in standing beside a booth I had a nice little interaction with Skip.  He walked up to me from the VIP lunge and proceeded  to sock me directly in the arm, for one of many good reasons I'm sure.  Then I looked at him and said, "You know I'm gonna get you back".  He kinda brushed me off and we partied jovially, but I would have the last laugh.

About a half hour later, I was walking up the stairs as he was walking down.  I was walking with a friend and made sure to look like I was conversing with them as Skip walked past and then FWAP!! a nice little love tap to the jewels.  He dropped quickly and said "Ahh, why there?" and I said "Because it hurts...I told you I'd get you back".  Now I should say that I don't mind being made a spectacle of, but I should warn folks that I rarely forget such things and I love getting even to the point where you will think twice before going down that road again.  I also remember Biggins giving me some props after taking down Skip, but I could be mistaken.

At some point in the night the dude from our first game found me again and handed me desert which I should have turned down, but instead I split it with Proden while we were talking about the new merge of SDU and Last Call, sweeeet!!  By the time I got up I definitely felt a bit heavier, but oh well, what else was I there to do.

I then remember hitting the head again, finding a well dressed dapper young man, who couldn't have been anyone else but Mr. Simon.  I quickly gave Chicken shit for his attire but then we talked about how small a world this Ultimate world is and relished in the fact that we've got a lifetime of credibility to look forward to.

Things then start to get a little blurry but I do remember coming across Gaf from Arizona/Barrio and let me tell you, this kid is a handful.  First off, he's about as giddy as a virgin in a whore house (at least when he's partying it up) and second, yikes he's jacked.  Apparently being an Israeli/Asian combo and a personal trainer makes you strong as an Ox, who knew?  He then proceeded to tell me that Arizona was not going away and after grabbing me on either side of my head and telling me I was going to TiV, I began to wonder if I would escape in one piece.  Oh well, he's a great, and smart kid, phew!

I should also say I met 808 for the first time and rather than talk about blogging, WEAK, all I wanted to do was hear about my blood on DTB.  Apparently his buttery flick worked out well, so proud.  Oh and I also remember talking to Bjorn at the bar as he watched the two worst teams play his favorite game.  I suppose that's commitment.  It's cool, the guy sells Uranium for a living.  Yeah and Heltzer was there as well making sure I knew what he was on the prowl for and he had me tell the Beer Mile story to another D-Mouth alum, who promptly didn't believe it.

There are probably other party details that escape me, but by this time, the bar started to light up and I figured it was time to head back to JAM's.  This time I remained clothed and in one place, but Sunday morning would not bring the excitement Saturday morning did.

Yikes, after avoiding alcohol and other party elements for a few months, Friday and Saturday night caught up with me big time.  Oh well, there was disc to be played and after another Americano and some yogurt, we were back at it.

First game was against....I have no idea.  We won.  I had a pretty sweet layout score that I didn't think I was going to get.  One of those, "Man, why do I have a bunch of pictures of me doing nothing on the field and not something like that".

At this point, I figured we were going to hit a brick wall because going undefeated only lasts for so long, that is unless you win the tourney, which we didn't.  I was afraid the whole tourney that we'd get rolled by some elite team but when we finally lost it was no biggy.  Some Bay Area team that dropped down from the A-pool.  We lost 11-9 and the game could have gone either way.  Maybe if Kief hadn't left us for Phoenix to watch the NFC Championship game and see his Eagles lose, we would have won.  Oh and I think shortly after this game I got most of the team and the other UCSD team with the goat.  HA!!  How many kicks is that?

Instead of getting another game, we were officially done which sucked because  my bro and pops were on their way over to the fields to watch me play for the first time.  They were in Santa Monica for brunch at the JC so I scrambled to find another team to play.  I convinced the other UCSD team to play a short game with us.  The game was pretty sloppy, but my family didn't know the difference. No biggy, it was fun.

After a few prolonged good byes, we all finally parted ways.  It was a great time and if I could comeback in a year and play with my fellow squids, I would.  I went back to JAM's for a shower and then had my mom pick me up for dinner at El Torito.

I wish I wasn't as tired as I was because I was basically worthless at dinner.  But hey, we watched the AFC Championship game while eating enchiladas so it could have been worse.  I then went back to LAX for my red eye back to JFK and JAM proved his worth as a friend by bringing me my winter coat that I had left at his place.

The last cool thing to happen in LA was right before I got on the plane.  I was waiting in a nearby gate where a flight from Miami was just getting in around 9pm and who do I see coming out of the jetway first?  None other than Jason Statham.  He was walking with some woman who didn't look nearly as hot as Turkish could get, but who knows, maybe they were HS sweet hearts.

I got on my 930pm flight and crashed quickly, only to wake up in JFK at 530am and then had to high tail up to the Have for my 9am lab meeting.  It's cool.  I hit the Bucks before hand and was in lab just in time to show off my successful cloning data that I had generated right before I left.

Lei Out...check.

just my thoughts

match diesel