Monday, July 30, 2018

The jockey's baton

Whenever I find myself getting longwinded on Facebook, I save my rambling comments because they're always potential fodder for a blogpost. Lawd knows people make a dubious career of writing about less titillating drivel.

Trouble is, my Facebook comments are stacking up fast and furious, never to be transcribed to my blog because I'm lazy, and because that would require even more work to whip them into shape. A beginning, middle and end. You know, a framework? Not to mention polishing the dubious merit of the content. 

The fun part is how I find myself writing about absurd things I would never otherwise dream of as appropriate fodder—like the judicious use of jockey's batons on horse’s butts in races, for example.
(See this ABC video: A jockey knocked from his mount mid-race manages to leap back in the saddle—to win the race at the last second.)
Well, that Kiwi horseracing video brought out all the bleeding hearts who perceived the race as a perfect exemplar of animal cruelty. They whinged, whined, and condemned every jockey within a 3-million-mile radius, for using a riding baton, so, naturally I wrote back:
A jockey perched atop a horse has zero leg contact with the horse at all. Only reins and his riding crop. At that speed, voice commands are useless. He can't use his legs to communicate. The popping sound of the riding crop, or baton, is often his only form of communication with the horse. And there are so many variables. Also, a jockey may not be familiar with his mount, and effective communication is needed.
A riding crop is also used as a communication tool—to move right, left, change leads, etc. Even buggy whips are not used to whip a horse, they're used for steering, and for the noise factor]. If a horse doesn’t want to run, it won't run. They can be real headcases. You can't make a horse win a race by whipping it. The horse has to want to win. Seabiscuit is a case in point. It's a partnership.

One Facebook reader, Luke Broadbent liked my point and wrote: "Thank God someone knows what they are talking about!" Well, you know that only spurred me on. Wait. The subject was riding crops. These spurs were made for jangling....

Another reader took umbrage at my statement, and said," I call BS on "using the crop properly". She said, "My horses preformed beautifully on voice commands and hand cues. Never had to touch her with anything. We did barrels."

Well since the bullshit was flying fast and furious anyway, I asked Kristina, "Do you sit deep in a western saddle when barrel racing? Do your legs touch the horse's sides, do you use leg or hand commands? Do you ride an unfamiliar horse for each race? I sure used leg commands when I barrel raced. A jockey has no leg contact at all. He's up there on top like a human fly. With only reins and crop. At that speed, trust me, voice commands are useless."

Someone else with a modicum of common sense piped in: "Why would you use a crop barrel racing? Your analogy makes no sense." And Mike Childers, who rode a mount called Charlie Horse to victory at Churchill Downs, said to her, "I don't remember you winning the Kentucky Derby." I had to laugh. 

Another commenter needed a serious horse anatomy lesson. I said: Jockeys don't whip the horse in the flank, or belly, that would be near impossible (and illegal) to do, no matter how long the crop was. Besides, a jockey is sanctioned for improper usage of the baton. The racing industry is well regulated.

Using the baton is allowed on young horses everywhere—even in Norway, where the crop has been otherwise banned for use on older racehorses who are a little more track savvy. And two-year olds do need that abrupt form of communication—especially on the turns—to prevent pile-ups. They're dumb as fenceposts. Sometimes they even think they're fenceposts. I didn't even mention the horses' quirky personalities and running styles...or that most are stud colts with plenty attitude.

But even mature racehorses horses aren't always savvy judges when it comes to making split-second decisions: hugging the rail, threading the needle, or getting out of a tight knot of hoses packed in on the turn.That's where the jockey comes in. One misstep, and they all go down, ass over tea kettle—with dire consequences.

Jockeys have to read the track and the situation, often astride an unfamiliar horse. It's a high speed strategies game. Enter the riding crop. Think of it as a turn signal. And a good jockey can save the life of his horse.

 Most people envision the whip as something used to inflict maximum pain for corporal punishment, like a cat-o-none-tails‚ not to be confused with the House Whip. Dressage whips, a true whip, are strictly used for signaling, and hunting whips aren't even used on the horse, but for opening gates. A riding crop, or baton, made of fiberglass, has a flat leather tongue, or keeper. The baton stings if used wrong, but it's more about the POP factor. There are two flat leather padded parts at the end that snap together, like a quirt. It's more like a loud hand clap.

In Britain, a maximum of five strokes can be used during the last furlong or from the final obstacle, or seven strokes total. Improper or excess usage gets jockeys sanctioned, or even banned from racing. Apparently there's a groundswell to ban using the bat at all—not because it's inhumane, but because it looks bad, and the betting public is what feeds horse racing. A PR nightmare.

Also, appearances can be deceiving. It may have looked like American Pharoah's jockey Victor Espinoza, was beating the stuffing out of his mount at the 2015 Kentucky Derby, his arm was whirring like a helicopter. But post-race analysis showed that he was hitting the horse's saddle towel. The Blood-Horse writer Steve Haskin, who condems whip overuse, said that Espinoza "did a lot of waving with the whip" and may not have actually hit the horse as many times as it seemed." Espinoza did not use his whip at all in the Preakness, and the horse still won.

 Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah, first horse to win Grand Slam

So, because of all this controversy, of course I had to Google the pros and cons of using the riding baton. Oh, how kinky! No, wait, I mean, it looks like the jockeys are striking back against Australia’s animal rights activists, literally. I found an article on the proper usage of the bat, with a jockey spanking a reporter's hands to demonstrate how it didn't hurt. I kid you not. So of course I had to post that link. Now, to kick back and wait for the uproar to commence.

Aren't you glad you asked? And today, because I wrote a comment about jockeys, I was flagged with a Facebook ad for a job as a wagering assistant at Golden Gate Fields. Coinciodence? I think not. Now Facebook is spying on the content of my comments as well? Maybe I need to flog Facebook. With a cat-o-nine-tails. Kinky!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Bread & Roses award for volunteer service

My connection with Bread & Roses began when I landed a job through my childhood friend, Micaela Wall to clean the Mill Valley office for Mimi Fariña in the late 1970s.

When Mimi discovered I was also a calligrapher, she put me to work making all the signage for the big benefit concerts (1979-82?) at the Berkeley Greek Theatre. I was promoted to calligrapher-in-residence and chief hooverer. I still have all the vintage B&R T-shirts designed by Stanley Mouse, and my backstage passes. (They all mysteriously shrank! Hmmmm.)

When College of Marin classmate Robin Williams spotted me backstage after a concert (we survived Jim Dunn's theater bootcamp together), he gave me a bone-crushing sweaty hug, introduced me to Eric Idle, of Monyt Python fame, who reminded me of a Siamese cat, and local comedian "Big Mike" Michael Pritchard. I can't remember a thing—other than I laughed so hard I wet my pants.

In the long run, the annual B&R weekend benefit concerts proved costly to produce (but they were memorable—a musician's wet dream) so Mimi began producing local benefit concerts in Marin. I moved to Sonoma Co. We lost touch. But Mimi did write me a glowing letter of recommendation.

Fast forward, about a decade later, I met musicians Neil O'Neill and Wendy Worsley, who, coincidentally, were performers for B&R. Which led me right back to B&R. I was the background roadie getting Neil ready for concerts, etc. Sadly, Mimi got cancer, and stepped down from B&R... The end of an era.

Then, ca. 2004, B&R staff asked Neil and me to sing in the holiday concerts for the old folks. I think I missed a few years due to viruses (no sharing colds with the old folks).

Also, beginning in 2004, Neil and I volunteered at the B&R booth at the Kate Wolf Music Festival, and we've attended that festival off and on since then.

I mentioned to one of the B&R coordinators, Lisa Starbird, that I used to work for Mimi way back when, and she immediately put me on the Appreciation list, as a form of documentation. And now I'm actually getting an award for something like 40 years of service! OK, so I missed a decade, plus change, and was incognito for another decade...but I was always rattling around in the bushes.

I'm floored and flabbergasted and honored to be getting this award this afternoon at the annual B&R jam. So, if I hadn't whined to Lisa that I wanted my own invite to the annual B&R Jam, vs always being Neil's plus one, this award recognition would've never happened.

So many fantastic folks I've met through B&R: Peter Mertz, Jeannie Bogardis, Ken Harrison, B&R coordinator Marian Huebler, Brenda Laribee, and Dennis McIntyre, have been my steadfast and stalwart connections throughout all this. So many dedicated folks at B&R. I am honored to be among them. If not for them... Just wow!

Who knew that hoovering and spit-polishing Mimi's B&R office so many years ago would lead to all this? Give us bread and gives us roses. And vacuum cleaners too. It really was a Hoover.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Just say no to two spaces after a period

Just say no to those two spaces after a period unless you're typing in a fixed width font, like, say, Courier. Typesetting does not require two spaces. Ever. Two spaces after proportionally spaced typeset periods creates distracting white rivers.

It comes down to this. Two spaces is fine on an old school typewriter, but nothing else. Not even calligraphy.

As a practicing dyslexic, I completely disagree with Rebecca Johnson's harebrained notion that two spaces after a period facilitates reading comprehension. Saying that it "drastically hurts our ability to read fluently" is utter rubbish. People couldn't read fluently before the advent of the fixed-spaced font typewriter? I think not.

If she had a modicum of historical perspective on typography, she'd know the origin of the two spaces after a period and how it came to be accepted. The typewriter pool. Yes. To keep keys from jamming. That's how it came to be. A freakish accident.

I too find two spaces after a period unsettling. I would question her data. And 60 people (from Skidmore) is far too slender a pool of test subjects. In the age of proportional fonts, using two spaces is retro, a dinosaur's nod to the typing pool, and it needs to stop.

Steve Jobs sat at the feet of master calligrapher Lloyd Reynolds, and then invented the proportionally spaced fonts that we ALL use today via computers, based on calligraphy, so why would we even want to go back to those mono-spaced fonts? Let the dinosaur die.


Once we were the old timers;
we could find & remember everything—
But now we have found Alzheimer's.


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Growing up redneck in Nevada County

Nevada County was fiercely and proudly redneck during the 1970s—even towards their own prodigal white native sons, born and raised in the fold s of their tight-knit community. There was no place for their returning sons who were drafted, and fought for their country—when they returned. They, who saw the light and grew their hair long. This was no county that recognized a passport for weirdness, or otherness. This is why my Sweet Old Bob didn't move back home, he was harassed for his hair. In those days they hurled epithets and beer bottles at us as we drove by in our VW bus. Xenophobia was alive and well and living in Grass Valley. Why we never moved back and settled down. Of course, not it the epicenter for coolness. Not not for those of us who were among the first to return home to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada range, what Ansel Adams, dubbed The Range of Light.

Sunday, July 8, 2018


I once stood toe-to-toe with the Columbia Icefield,
we were stuck beside it for days, hitching south.
It was like standing in an open sky refrigerator, 
we feared we might freeze to death at its foot.
I wore every bit of clothing I had in my backpack, 
and my upside-down sleeping bag as a shawl,
looking like the Michelin Man with strange headgear,
the toe of the bag, a lofty orange helmet.
In that odd get-up, I scared off all the prospective rides.
We were so grateful when the redneck PG&E worker
that picked us up in Oregon, came to our rescue. 
Lord knows why they ever stopped. Maybe
they felt sorry for me, but Bob, with long hair & beard,
was from the camp across the river from status quo.
Over the campfire, we sipped coffee, and were humbled, 
not realizing we too were redneck in our own way.
For a while, the divide between us was diminished.
The vast Columbia Icefield, older than Mankind
taking its first steps, moaned and groaned and seethed
like an old dog on its last legs, rising from the hearth.
We parted company again in Banff, they were like family,
we meant to keep in touch, never did send that postcard.
The idea of global warming hadn't yet been parsed,
nor had it begun its irrevocable spiral. The ice is melting.
Now, you need to take a bus to the glacier's edge.
Soon it will be gone, like all the rest. 
Another snapshot lost in time.

7/8 & 8/15/18

Saturday, July 7, 2018


Nothing quite like fully-developed 
male egos stoked with half-baked opinions 
trying to prove themselves right.

It's like pissing in round corners.