Life generally speaking is driven by a series of dangling incentives; promises that motivate people to make a greater effort in exchange for monetary rewards.

While I don’t believe in the “carrot and stick” metaphor, I still think that carrots will prompt individuals to try harder at what they are doing.

The success of a pétanque tournament is often measured by its attendance. The promise of monetary gains will persuade players to attend a certain event while bypassing affairs with negligible financial incentive. They don’t have any motivation to drive 50 miles for the eventual reward of just a few bucks.

For many players (like me) this is not an issue. They come to a tournament for fun, for the sheer pleasure of competing with their peers. They know that they have little chance to progress to the finals or even the semi-finals of a tournament. But beating the odds is a powerful incentive and winning a tournament would be plenty a reward; a few additional bucks would just be the icing on the cake.

A select few have a good chance to win and be rewarded with cash. But nothing in life is certain except taxes and death. A few missteps or rugged opposition and the dream is over.
In my opinion, the larger the piñata, the greater the attendance. And that is what a club should strive for, maximum attendance.

This is why I favor the idea of a club always offering topmost financial rewards. The sponsoring club should keep a certain percentage of the purse for maintenance and unexpected expenses but return most of the gross money in cash prizes.

In my experience, “agitare la carotaalways works. Dangle cash, and like common piafs attracted by breadcrumbs scores of contestants will show up.

“All I ask is the chance to prove that money can’t make me happy.Spike Milligan.


Northern California catastrophe

After watching daily broadcasts of the terrifying firestorms engulfing Northern California, I cannot find the words to express my dismay and compassion for all the people affected by this unprecedented catastrophe.

The sheer size of this disaster boggles the mind. According to news channels, over 4000 homes and businesses have been destroyed. Aerial views of the fire areas are eerily reminiscent of photos taken after the bombing of Hiroshima. It is an apocalyptic vision of hell.

My heart goes out to all the people who lost their homes. It is a terrible emotional and financial blow, especially for senior citizens; they might find it more difficult to recover from this heart-rending shock. When you lose your home, you lose a good part of your life and for older folks, the clock is ticking.

And then, you have to find a new place to live while your house is rebuilt. It is going to be very difficult. There is already an acute shortage of housing in this area and it will get worse before it gets better.

Considering the enormity of the task, finding a sufficient number of architects, contractors, and skilled construction workers to do the job is going to be arduous.
Dealing with insurance companies is also going to be laborious and frustrating. A lot of paperwork is going to be involved and proving ownership of a multitude of items will be problematic.

Some pragmatic individuals though have taken this catastrophe in stride. I know for instance of some people who were booked for a vacation. Instead of cancelling and lamenting about their misery, they decided to go ahead and enjoy their getaway. They reasoned that there was not much they could do by staying and they decided to enjoy their vacation before mourning their losses.

In such critical times, family, as well as friends’ ties, is crucial. Moral support and practical assistance help to ease the blow for the unfortunates.

There is no doubt that California will recover. It is one of most dynamic and progressive state in the Union and its politicians are more willing to assist their constituents than anywhere else. No matter what the odds, California will thrive and show the way to the nation again!

However long the night, the dawn will break. African Proverb


Frustration and elation

I heard a few times yesterday that if you spend 5 weeks in France practicing the fine art of pétanque, it is child’s play to win a local tournament; Jean-Michel Poulnot (aka Le Facteur) proved it conclusively Sunday in San Rafael.
He and his teammate Bernard Passemar played extremely well and delivered the goods. They thus defeated all their opponents rather easily and to Jean-Michel’s elation, they glided smoothly to victory.

Le Facteur pointed extremely well (the best I have ever seen) and Bernard did a very effective job in knocking out troublesome opposing boules. Bernard, unlike Jacques Rattaire or Kevin Evoy, is not a flashy shooter but a very convincing one. He took his time and did his enforcing job very effectively.

I have always been of the opinion that in life (as well as in pétanque) we all have good and bad days; we all go through peaks and valleys and yesterday many teams muddled miserably through deep canyons.

Jacques Rattaire and Liza Moran started the day rather well but lost their touch later on, especially against Evoy and Grace. The same can be said about Henry Wessel and Calvert Barron. The Force was not with them yesterday.

This is why pétanque can be such a frustrating seesaw of elation and frustration.

Yesterday morning after coffee and pastries, the following doublettes lined up for action:

  1. Shirkey & Shirkey
  2. La Torre & Knuckles
  3. Marcovecchio & LaVelle
  4. Rattaire & Moran
  5. Evoy & Grace
  6. Rose & Sirico
  7. Moser & Facchini
  8. Bunand & Davantes
  9. Passemar & Poulnot
  10. Crossley & Okawa
  11. Wessel & Barron
  12. Casad & Brown
  13. Falcone & Drier

Eight teams made it to the Concours and five teams played in the Consolante.

In the afternoon, it was do or die time and many teams went belly up right after lunch.

In the Concours’ finals Jean-Michel and Bernard faced Kevin and Adam. Due in great part to Jean-Michel’s excellent pointing, they defeated Adam and Kevin conclusively.
Well-deserved congratulations to Le Facteur and monsieur Passemar.

At the end of the day:

1st place: Jean-Michel Poulnot & Bernard Passemar
2nd place: Kevin Evoy & Adam Grace
3rd place: Jacques Rattaire & Liza Moran

1st place: Bleys Rose & Teri Sirico
2nd place: Mark Shirkey & Sandra Shirkey

And that’s the way I saw it.


 PS: As soon as I can, I will try to spend five weeks in France.

To look at photos of this event, click on the “My Photos” link located on the right side of this page. For best viewing, go Full Screen.



Batten down the hatches! Prepare for stormy weather… After a multitude of hurricanes battered the American soil insurances companies are readying to cover… themselves.

Today, you would not dream to live without insurance. Health, car, fire, flood, travel, pet insurance… Name it, there is an insurance for it. But what exactly is ”insurance”? According to various dictionaries, it is defined as follows:

“A practice or arrangement by which a company or government agency provides a guarantee of compensation for specified loss, damage, illness, or death in return for payment of a premium.”

 Everything looks great on paper, until disaster hits. That’s when you discover the notorious “fine print” tucked at the end of a lengthy document… it tells why you won’t be compensated fairly and squarely.

No matter how long and how much you paid, the insurance company will find plenty of reasons for denying coverage or raising your premium.

I have been with the same car insurance company for 31 years. I never had an accident. Two years ago, while pulling out of our mutual parking spots, my neighbor and I rear-ended each other. A casual fender bender. Despite my long stretch of accident-free years, my premium immediately jumped up.
What about all those accident-free years? Isn’t worth something? Sorry mate, it does not count!

To me, an insurance policy is like a Ponzi scheme, where the operator constantly collects money from new investors to pay old investors.
It is a calculated gamble. The insurance company gambles that it won’t have to pay you anything for a long time (preferably forever) while pocketing your money.
But if coerced to pay, it will find be a multitude of reasons to penalize you.

My heart goes out to the residents of Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico who lost practically everything in successive storms. Despite solemn promises, it will take a very long time (if ever) for victims to be compensated.

When you look carefully at your insurance policies, you realize that what they protect best is the insurance company.

But to be able to sleep at night, you need to continually feed the hungry beast. If you dare to stop, you will lose everything. All the money that you have already paid and some eventual coverage.

But cheer up… If you are lucky, POTUS might toss you a few rolls of toilet paper.



Familiarity breeds contempt, while rarity wins admiration. Apuleius

Ancient Roman Discus-thrower

Recently, numerous accounts of athletes refusing to stand for the National Anthem have grabbed the headlines.

I understand how this position can hurt the feelings of many Americans, especially the veterans of foreign wars. But personally, I believe that too much familiarity leads to disrespect. When the National Anthem is played too frequently, it loses its special aura.
To keep its cachet, it should only be performed on solemn occasions, not in every stadium, state fairs or rodeos.

Human beings have been conditioned to only show reverence for rarity. Playing The Star-Spangled Banner too often cheapens its value.

All objects lose by too familiar a view. John Dryden

There are many ways to voice political concern and shunning the National Anthem is not one of them. It is too divisive. It makes immediate enemies of people otherwise united by a common passion.

Politics is like religion. It does not belong at the dinner table, the bedroom or the arena. It is toxic and destructive.

If you are famous and want to express a political point of view, it is better to call a press conference. Spoiling a public event for thousands is not the way to rally people to your cause.

Politics should be excluded from sports, especially when brought to the fore by very well paid athletes. A jock is basically an actor, paid to entertain the public.

Can you image a thespian intoning:

“To be or not to be that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles…”

and kneeling for a few minutes before continuing his soliloquy? I can already hear the boos and catcalls…

Athletes should do what they are (very well) compensated for and leave the National Anthem and politics out of the entertainment sphere.



Mistress… Curiously this word rhymes with stress, underlining the fact that a liaison can indeed be very stressful.

I recently read in AARP magazine an article by Joe Queenan called “Men who don’t cheat”.

Here is an excerpt:

“Men like to plop down on the couch and watch sports and drink beer. Romance, by contrast, is labor-intensive; you have to shower, shave, put on something other than sweatpants, buy flowers, go to the movies, read a book every once in a while, engage in a conversation.
Cheating on your wife involves travel, dinner reservations, booking hotel rooms. Once a man has been married a few decades, the energy he would need to expend on an extramarital affair would be a life-threatening shock to his nervous system. That’s why so many older men wouldn’t even think of cheating on their wives. It is too exhausting.”

This is true. For some men (just like some dogs) the chase is way more exciting than the catch. Once they have caught their prey, they quickly lose interest in it.

“Next to the pleasure of finding a new mistress is that of being rid of an old one.”  William Wycherley

The pursuit is often a way to reassure an aging person that he is still a “player”; that he still can please and seduce.

But for a married man, keeping a mistress is a luxury that few can afford. It is time-consuming and costly. And with the advent of the tell-all smartphone, it has become increasingly difficult to keep an affair under wraps.

An older man falling prey to middle-aged lust is better off using the services of an “escort” (love those euphemisms) than making a Faustian pact.

Having a mistress is definitely a young man’s game. He has the energy and the naivety to propel him forward. The possibility of getting caught never crosses his mind. But caught he will be, because leading a double life is an exhausting enterprise, requiring superior fibbing capabilities and above average stamina.

When engaging in amorous pursuit, it is much wiser to stick with unattached people rather than diddling with tethered femmes fatales.


What is a Mistress? Something between a mister and a mattress. Jim Backus

A war of words

We are currently witnessing a war of words between two spoiled brats: our volatile commander in chief and North Korea’s grandstanding autocrat. It would be a laughable interlude except for the fact that this could easily degenerate into a nuclear war.

Any sensible head of state has to show restraint before unleashing the dogs of war. None of these two airheads display any hint of that.

There is no doubt that in a war between North Korea and the United States, the US would prevail; but at what cost? While the two halfwits at the top might survive, thousands of people would surely perish.

And who knows what might follow? World War One was ignited by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. Armageddon unexpectedly followed.

“The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was more than 41 million. There were over 18 million deaths and 23 million wounded. The total number of deaths includes about 11 million military personnel and about 7 million civilians.”

“Speak softly and carry a big stick” was once Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy precept. Any well-read individual knows and probably agrees with that; but is our present leader well-read? Or does he read at all? Besides authoring a book (written by somebody else) and sponsoring beauty contests, this remains very much in doubt.

Bombast and blustering never accomplished anything constructive. Let diplomats deal with each other quietly and cut out the juvenile cyberbullying.

Where are the great diplomats of yesteryear for crying out loud? Where are the Talleyrand, Benjamin Franklin, Henri Kissinger, Dag Hammarskjöld, Golda Meir, Abba Eban… the very people who valued peace and thought that diplomacy was preferable to whistling bullets?

An ignominious exit usually follows a populist leader who gets ensnared in his web of deceit. Let us hope that this happens way before the unthinkable occurs.


PS: Due to a request from Marc’s family, the previous posting (In Memoriam) was removed.

Hello Mars? Do you copy?

Effective communication between a man and his spouse is often difficult challenging.

Geography and the topology of the battlefield seem to be the main obstacles to this elementary process;  women clearly prefer speaking from a separate room when engaging in a conversation, They seem to imply that a face-to-face dialogue is not as helpful as a room-to-room exchange. I am in the bathroom doing my nails… let’s talk.

A woman often prides herself to be multitasking. She can be ironing, watching General Hospital and have a meaningful conversation at the same time. A man is different. Genetically, he is programmed to be single-minded; one thing at a time. Arguing and chewing gum simultaneously can prove difficult.
For a woman, it is child play. The trick is her uncanny ability to tune out what she hears to focus on what she wants to say.

Later on, she will be surprised (and irritated) if you didn’t catch everything she mentioned earlier. You never listen, she will declare.
I beg your pardon Liebchen, but I was in the bathroom emptying my bladder.
Did you really have to do that? Or was it a lame excuse to ignore me?

In the early days, proximity was never a problem. She would always listen adoringly to your golden sayings. But familiarity breeds nonchalance. After many years of cohabitation, aural faculty on both sides seems to falter and make conversations more challenging.
Hints of hearing aids and Alzheimer allusions are also perfidiously dropped.

This problem though is elementary!
To have a conversation, both parties need to be in the same room, ideally at the same time. Then, speaking clearly (preferably in the same dialect), and waiting for an answer can also help.
A conversation kroshka, is akin to a Morse code exchange. I send, you listen. Then you send and I listen. Capisci?

And lastly,

The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said. Peter Drucker


 If everything fails, summon help  ▄ ▄ ▄ ▄▄▄ ▄▄▄ ▄▄▄ ▄ ▄ ▄

The Bionic Brigade

Fairly unnoticed by the public at large, a large portion of the American population has gone bionic. That is, sporting man-made body parts tailored to replace human organs or limbs.

“At some point in every person’s life, you will need an assisted medical device – whether it’s your glasses, your contacts, or as you age and you have a hip replacement or a knee replacement or a pacemaker. The prosthetic generation is all around us.Aimee Mullins

After years of wear and tear, some body components start to misfire and need to be upgraded. Replacing them with bionic elements is presently a fairly common practice. Some bodies are now fitted with sophisticated prostheses that mimic pretty well what genuine components do.

When I was a young child, I remember seeing decorated World War One veterans hobbling on crutches. Leg amputation was then the only way to salvage the body. These poor souls would be incapable thereafter to resume a normal life.

But now, war veterans and civilians alike can be fitted with artificial limbs and resume a fairly conventional life. Hip or knee replacement is as a common today as replacing a car battery. Prosthetic technology firm Touch Bionics has created a hand so advanced it can be controlled using a smartphone app.

Our local club is very special… For many reasons. One of them is the fact that probably half of our members are fitted with titanium devices. If some of us would go on a trip together, passing through the airport’s metal detectors would surely trigger a massive commotion. This would in turn greatly unnerve the authorities. Before long, hooded men bristling with weapons would order us to drop our Uzis and hit the deck.
And our case would not be helped by carrying suspicious metal spheres in our handbags.

Our bionic brigade is still fairly small but growing. Regardless of sex, creed or race, we accept anybody who can prove that they have what it takes to be called a Titanium man (or woman).


PS: We are also known as the Titanium Titans.

Let’s Make Fences Great Again.

“We will build a beautiful fence around the Pétanque field and make the Dog Park People pay for it.”

This is the persistent rumor that I heard last year in our club’s locker room. The purpose of this fence I was told, is to prevent thieving, drug dealing dogs to cross our field and go on a crime spree.

Some people did not believe that this would happen, but happen it will, very soon.

Herb, Brigitte and Charlie. Photo by Alain E.

This fence (unlike another infamous barrier) will be built, and we owe it all to the dogged determination of the Davantes/Moran clan.
Charlie and his daughter Brigitte are not from the wood matchsticks are made of. They are determined and resourceful and they managed to raise the prerequisite amount of money demanded by the county.

Everything new is sometimes difficult to accept; but eventually, even the naysayers will grudgingly admit that this was a project worth pursuing.

Over a hundred years ago, when the Eiffel Tower was built in Paris, some famous detractors (Alexandre Dumas, Guy de Maupassant, Charles Gounod, etc.) called it a monstrosity. They clamored for its destruction and removal. The same ruckus was raised over the San Francisco  Transamerica Pyramid. But both buildings are now proud, beloved symbols of their respective cities.

There are two ways out of a problem: accept what’s happening, see the positive, and choose a peaceful state of mind; or fight against it, be miserable, and struggle against the universe.

I am convinced that our pétanque field will become a shining example of what all American “boulodromes” should look like. Spacious, well groomed, attractive and free from party-crashing bow-wows.
Don’t get me wrong! I looove dogs, but not petanque roving mutts. To avoid futile conflicts, we need to keep the hounds and the swines (cochonnets) separated.
A dog often wags its tail to show his approval. I think many tails will soon start wagging.

In all likelihood, when the fence is completed, I am convinced that all our club members will definitely say, “well-done mates”.