Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I am discovered at last

Click on cartoon to enlarge


One Law for All?

I don't understand why everybody is getting so worked up about Roman Polanski. It's not like he raped a child. No, wait.....

The scandal, even more than that he did it, is that he got away with it. He got the rape of a child, among the most heinous crimes possible, pled down to a misdemeanor. And then escaped even that shamefully minor punishment by escaping to France. There he lived rich and comfortable in Paris for 31 years. He made no secret of his whereabouts during that time - protected by American indolence and French politics.

That such a sequence of events could happen suggests that the values of both countries are empty phrases for the rich and powerful. And the rest of us are so supine and gullible they don't even have to hide it.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

You Can't Live Without It

It turns out that fancy speaker wire is a hoax. This article also contains a good use of the word "pervert" about someone named Kessler.

Even "bigger is better" isn't necessarily true of speaker wire either. It just has to be big enough that the difference with the next larger size is inaudible.

Which is long and technical but, taken with the first article, means "For lengths under 50 feet, use 12 gauge hardware store lamp cord no matter how fancy and powerful your stereo and speakers are."

Being skeptical even of other skeptics, I am going to compare 12 awg (American wire gauge) lamp cord with an absurdly fancy cable. A pair of cables came with some used speakers I recently bought. I will connect the lamp cord to the right speaker and the el fancioso cord to the left and see if I can hear any difference. Then switch them and try again. If I can't hear a difference I will sell the expensive cables on eBay to recoup part of the price of the speakers.

The cables are an inch thick and a tripping hazard. Since one of them would run directly across the top of the stairs, this is an issue. The lamp cord would go safely and inconspicuously under the rug. Not being a fool, getting some money back, and not going headfirst down the stairs, are starting to look like a good alternative.

There are a number of illusory products like speakers wires. Wine is one. There are those who can tell the difference between a 2008 merlot and a 2006 one. Who can tell Santa Barbara cabernet from Napa. Mondavi pinot from Charles Krug. Most importantly they can tell $26 wine from $8 wine. The shelves at Trader Joe's are stickered all over with little signs - "earthy", "berry flavors', "chocolate-y", "fruit', "woody", "oaky", and on and on. Unfortunately they are kidding themselves.

Famously, in a blind tasting the best wine connoisseurs in France thirty years ago, people who claimed that not only could they tell which vineyard a wine came from but which part of the vineyard it was from, could not even tell whether a wine came from France or California.

For twenty years after humiliating themselves they refused any further blind tastings. After a score of years, having fooled themselves for decades, they were able to fool themselves again. They were able to persuade themselves that there had been something wrong with the test, not with their belief that they could taste subtle differences in wine. They were wrong and a second panel of French wine columnists humiliated themselves again when they still couldn't tell which was which.

Stereo amplifiers attract a similar crowd of the tone-y and self-deluded. Their palette of adjectives is even wider and more florid than that of the oenologists. As with wine there are columns and reviews and monthly magazines devoted to touting the latest and most expensive with all sorts of erudite prose.

Nevertheless, in blind comparisons they are unable to dstinguish the fanciest and most expensive amplifiers from department store models unless the latter were so bad as to be all but broken.

It is even worse for the audiophiles than for the oenophiles. The technology of reproducing a wave signal accurately has long since been perfected. And even stupider. In between the sophisticated and standardized electronic device and the listener is the crude-by-comparison speaker. Speakers are so crude and inaccurate that even mere mortals can easily tell them apart, even blindfolded. Yet the writers and opiners continue to rhapsodize over the part that is always the same and have little to say about the part that can be quite various.

Many other products are the same. Does a Rolex tell time better than a Timex? Does a fat old man in Armani look better than a young fit one in Land's End? Are Henkel knives sharper than Ikea stainless?

One benefit of the current hard times, and the benefits are few and widely scattered, is that this kind of pointless consumerist anxiety diminishes, at least for a while. In the midst of plenty one may feel poor because one can't afford a Rolex. Once the economy has made the Rolex both out of the question and ridiculous, one discovers that one has more than enough money for a Timex and isn't so poor after all.

Being forced by hard times to go down-market is a hardship UNLESS what is 'up' about the up-market is an illusion created by capitalist marketers. When the illusion evaporates, one may actually be better off for having gone down-market to goods that are both more functional and more relevant to the need they were designed to fill.

This is relevant to me lately because I have been stressing since I discovered that Abraham Lincoln, whom I admire, wore Brooks Brothers shirts. I like Brooks Brothers shirts but can't afford them and don't need them. Unlike me, Lincoln had a job.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Enormous Changes at the Last Minute

[Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park]
In anticipation of the rainy season I thought I ought to have the small leaking area of the roof repaired. Patty had some work roof done recently and she recommended the roofing company who did it.

I called them. They came out and did an inspection and an estimate. The roofer claimed he could not patch the section that was leaking but had to replace the whole section of roof, ideally the whole roof. With my usual charitable view of human character I assumed the man was a liar and a cheat in addition to being a shagetz. The last one wasn't his fault but it didn't make me any more inclined to trust him either.

Another guy has just been here and said almost verbatim what the previous guy had said. I could not initially credit what either said. How could a roof be worn out? It didn't move. It doesn't do anything. No moving parts. If just lies there passively, periodically getting pee'd on by the rain. But the human analogy soon came to mind. Most people, men in particular, live lives much like that of a roof, yet we wear out and die all the same. And when in old age we do develop a new case of shingles, it is not a good thing.

The first guy I attributed to Patty occasionally being a guppy and too ready to spend money. But the second guy came recommended by Frank, an almost pathological skinflint. (Frank once invited me out to lunch at a particular lunch place in the city near where we worked. It turned out he had a two-for-one coupon such that if I bought my lunch there, he got his free.) The company also has recommendations from online home maintenance company recommenders.

So I really am on the hook for at least the weather side of the roof, and probably for the whole thing. The weather side - the south side - will be worst but much of the decay process is "drying out", i.e. oxidation. The shingles would eventually fail even in a cave, exposed to neither sun nor rain. Like us they fail by aging alone.

The first company said they could replace the whole roof for $7200. The second guy said that for $8000 but he would also replace the gutters and the side roof over the former sun porch. This sum matches neatly what spending the winter in New Zealand would have cost.

I came pretty close to buying the airline ticket SFO-Auckland-SFO last night but decided to wait until today to see if I could buy it with credit card airline miles. Now this.

Maybe I can recast the issue. I meant to go to New Zealand because in the winter El Cerrito is dreary and dark. It rains all the time and the rest of the time it is overcast. Daylight hours will shrink to 9 1/2 hours, darkness swells to half again that long.

But perhaps I could escape not to the southern hemisphere but only to the dry pines of the mountains of Nevada. If I lived in my bus in the sunshine under blue skies, the hours of daylight would be no longer than in El Cerrito, but all of them would be sunny.

In driving to see the ichthyosaur (Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park) a few years ago, I happened into the mountains of central Nevada and liked what I saw. Nothing so grand as the Sierra, but attractive nonetheless, pines, not steep, easy to hike, utterly remote, no people, no cars. No underbrush so no deer and so no hunters. Trees small so no loggers. The nearby Berlin silver mine closed in 1911. Even so, a good paved road part of the way. One could park an RV up there and be not only undisturbed but undiscovered for as long as one liked.

I wonder how cold it would be there in the winter?

Cheap and a day's drive from home. Even more isolated than the Northwest Territories in 2007, I could read and write and walk and ponder. Having long since become a curmudgeon, am I becoming a recluse as well? I guess it is OK to be a curmudgeon and a recluse so long as one is good at it.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Pair

[Sarkozy has 'em]
The President of France, Nicholas Sarkozy, has refused Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's offer to release a French journalist arrested in Iran in return for the release of Ali Vakili Rad, an assassin convicted of murder in a French court. President Sarkozy said France would not submit to "chantage", to blackmail. He announced there would be no exchange of the wrongfully arrested journalist for the convicted murderer.

One thing interesting about this is that it neatly demonstrates what few doubted about the Iranian regime. One is that they are thugs who engage in false arrest and blackmail as a matter of course. The other is that they consider a convicted murderer one of their own. Civilized nations imprison or extradite murderers. Iran strives to free them.

Which illustrates a fundamental difference between civilized peoples and barbarians. Civilized people do not consider murder a legitimate instrument of government. Barbarians do.

Civilized governments respect the rule of law. Barbarians do not.

Contrast the UK

The United Kingdom recently released Abdel al-Megrahi, a Libyan murderer convicted of bombing a 747 jumbo jet over Lockerbie, Scotland. Among the 270 people al-Megrahi and his accomplices murdered were 180 Americans. The official explanation was that it was a "compassionate release" based on al-Megrahi being expected to die of prostate cancer in less than three months.

Since then it has come to light that both Scotland and England are involved in negotiations for lucrative oil deals with Libya. That the doctors who made the diagnosis were in the pay of the Libyan government. And today that the doctor who made the diagnosis knew nothing about prostate cancer and could not possibly make a prognosis of death in three months.

The Scottish government claims that the release had been approved by the prime minister's office. The prime minister, Gordon Brown, has denied responsibility and claims it was the Scottish government's decision. Each day brings a new revelation of scandal.

The mass murderer Al-Megrahi was given a hero's welcome in Libya - speaking of barbarians as we were, this was both the Libyan government and the Libyan public who gave him the welcome. The US Senate passed a resolution condemning the release of al-Megrahi. President Obama said that it is not the end of the US-UK special relationship. Meaning that it was a significant enough affront to American relations with Britain that the special relationship was called into question.

What does this say about British respect for the rule of law? What does it say about the sincerity of their condemnation of murder? The British are polite enough, but are they civlized? The Mother Country has become the muthah country.

Compare President Sarkozy's response to the gangsterism of Ahmadinejad, to the sorry spectacle of British corruption, hypocrisy, and pandering to Qadaffi. Maybe we need a better criterion of who our friends are than whether they speak English or not.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Crises of Faith

I have discovered that I am a lapsed atheist.

Larry Prager is a lapsed Yankees fan.

Harvey points out that after WWII Argentina had lapsed Germans.

When Christy sobered up he became a lapsed Irishman.

According to the Lukes someone who no longer attends the Church of Latter Day Saints is a jack Mormon. Why are they different?

Peace in the Middle East - at last

[Abbas, Obama, and Netanyahu going through the motions]

The Times reported yesterday that President Obama was pressing Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to start final status peace negotiatons. The precondition pressed on Israel was that the settlements must be frozen before talks could begin.

The Times reported today that the President "pivoted" on that position. "Pivoted" is how a politicized Democratic newspaper reports that a Democratic president backed down.

Little Israel was able to get the mighty United States to back down by relying on its faithful allies - the Arabs. The US was unable to get ANY of the confidence-building measures from the Arab states that it suggested. Since the proposed freeze on the settlements would also have been a confidence-building measure, the president hadn't a leg to stand on in talks with Netanyahu.

Netanyahu had the advantage of representing not only a democracy but a volatile one in which the knesset can remove a prime minister in a minute. Netanyahu simply cannot make disastrous behind-the-scenes deals because the knesset would remove himand send somebody else if he did. It, and the Israeli public opinion it represents, are an external immovable object.

The Israeli public recalls vividly what the concessions at Oslo in 1993 cost them in lives and what they got in return. Concessions of land and security in return for Palestinian promises and American assurances will not happen again.

There is a peculiar symmetry to the positions of Mr. Abbas and Mr. Netanyahu. Abbas cannot do much because he has little power. His government lost the Palestinian elections to Hamas yet remained in power by force. He basically doesn't represent anybody but the security forces.

Netanyahu won the Israeli elections but in Israel the knesset rules, not the prime minister. And the knesset is kept on a short leash by the voters because governments are coalition governments. A rebellion by any bloc within a party often makes a party withdraw from the coalition rather than risk a party split, whereupon the government falls and there are new elections. So every interest group must be placated simultaneously for the government to remain in power.

So Abbas has little power because he doesn't represent anybody. And Netanyahu has little power because he has to try to represent everybody.

Notice too who's missing from these negotiations. Where is Mrs. Clinton? My guess is that she will continue to enjoy her stately office, but not the actual office of State. If a peasant like me has noticed her ineptness just from the reporting in a staunchly Clintonista newspaper like the Times, it must be notorious in Washington.

What is also missing from the final status peace negotiation is what has been missing from every peace negotiation with the Palestinians - any Palestinian desire for peace. The Arab countries and the Palestinians are not just being pointlessly obstreperous in refusing the confidence-building measures. They are genuinely unable to provide any confidence building assurances of their sincerity for the very reason that they aren't sincere.

Israel gave up the demilitarized zone of 6 miles of southern Lebanon on Israel’s northern border. Within a year Hezbollah used that zone to launch persistent and powerful rocket attacks on Israel’s northern cities, including Haifa. It took a long and bloody war to persuade Hezbollah to stop.

When Israel unilaterally gave up Gaza, Hamas used their control of that territory to launch persistent and indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israel’s southern cities, including Sderot and Ashkelon. It took a long and bloody war to persuade Hamas to stop.

Would Israel ceding control of the West Bank bring peace? Palestinians have not given much reason to believe it would.

A writer asked what the Palestinians have that they could give up in return for Israeli concessions of lands and cities. One thing they could give up would be the persistent indoctrination of their school children to hatred of Israel and Jews. They could give up the glorification of suicide bombers. They could give up the endless hate propaganda in their media.

Another thing they could give up would be the Palestinian Covenant and the Hamas Covenant both of which call for the destruction of Israel. The Palestinian Authority could give up its adherence to the Rejectionist Khartoum Declaration which commits its signatories to the destruction of Israel.

Palestinian claims to peaceful intentions would be more credible if they acted like they meant them.


Oy, now it's the medical insurance fight

[click on the cartoon to enlarge]


Monday, September 21, 2009

We've Had It All Along...

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Saturday, September 19, 2009


Rosh Hashonah - dawn of the first morning of the new year. The clouds are just turning pink high above the pines on the Chico skyline. I am visiting Harvey and his family of beautiful women, Lisa and their daughters Mia, not quite seven, and Lucy, two. How good is it to live surrounded by people one loves in a city that has trees rather than buildings as its skyline?

Last night in the synagogue at the kiddush after services, people were wishing each other and me a good year, as is the custom. But it occurred to me that having a good year, without a plan of how to do it, is just that - a wish. Having a good year is not just something that happens, though it can. In general it is a deliberate choice or set of choices.

A set of choices is a plan. I am going to create a plan, probably in the form of an Excel spreadsheet of how to spend the year.

I have made some version of such plans before and they have worked. The years between my retirement in 2004 and the summer of 2007 were largely scripted and they were some of the best years of my life. But I have not had one for a while because they degenerated into a series of travel plans and I hadn't much planned for when I was home. Also, since last fall's buttkickathon in the stock market I have been less sanguine about what sorts of things I can do and more tied to staying home and being an innkeeper.

My daily plans have degenerated into a series of errands and a few pious wishes that rarely happen.

I am going to try a new kind of plan, one based on quantum theory. Life, like the universe, has a quantum nature. The quanta of life are days. Just as it is meaningless to specify the location of an electron in an atom rather than its quantum energy state, it is meaningless for me to specify a series of things that I will do during a day. Some of them might happen, some not. Looking at my day book afterward, it does appear that most things do eventually get done, but it feels somewhat random and not intentional. My planning to do something during the day gives it a certain probability it will happen, just as there is a probability that a photon will pass through a detector, but no certainty, even if it is aimed right at it, even if it is on my list of things to do.

So I am going to experiment with doing what I do well, which is to somewhat obsess on one thing for a whole day and do only that the whole day. Obviously errands and small tasks have to get done too, but that can be made a category of day. The moral trick is to feel the tug of the need and desire for small tasks and easy closures and not give in. Maybe limiting small task days to two or three a week will mean I will get more of them done on their allotted days.

Now that I think of it, even a one-task day has to be planned. Going out to whack my yard won't amount to much if I don't plan on chopping out the now-crappy-looking and overgrown daisy bushes, then buying a weed whacker, then blah blah blah. But that is just making a hierarchy within a kind of task, it is not a palette of competing tasks.

Another thing I learned during my kiddush reverie was that I can make the prospect of spending the winter in New Zealand less intimidating if I make the first month a trial period. I have been afraid that I will get bored or lonesome or just find it pointless. Since I plan to come home for the family Chanukkah party in early December in any case, I can make November a trial period. If I am not enjoying it, I don't have to go back. Committing to November is much easier than committing to the whole winter.

So the coming year, heretofore shapeless and blank, begins to hove into view. Having a plan, even one not consistently adhered to, is light. Not having one is stumbling in darkness. Without a plan, no one is minding the store, not even me.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Life in the Cenezoic

Click on cartoon to enlarge

I Have Good News and I Have Bad News

[Ford SuperChief F250]
Since you didn't say which you wanted, first the good news.

The administration has announced a regulation reinstating the automobile fuel efficiency standards dropped by Republican presidents a generation ago. It will require automobile manufacturers to maintain a fleet average of 35.5 miles per gallon of fuel. The 35.5 is to be the average of city and highway. They are simultaneously required to meet stricter clean air emissions standards.

They have until 2016 to meet the standards and must make incremental improvements until then. The Times didn't say whether that meant the calendar year or the model year. Neither did the Post. Now that I think of it doesn't matter. Even if the 2016 models come out in 2015, they will be the same cars as those sold in 2016.

The higher mileage and lower emissions equipment will add either $1100 (Times) or $1300 (WashPost) to the cost of a new car. Over the life of the car the fuel savings will be $3000. The savings to the consumer will be either $1900 or $1700 per vehicle.

The regulation over the first decade will reduce American greenhouse gas emissions by just under a billion tons of CO2.

In addition to the cost savings there is also a cost transfer. The $1100 or $1300 will go to the folks who make the car - Americans, Canadians, Japanese, Europeans. The $3000 fuel savings per car will fail to go into the pockets of our friends and allies in OPEC. Friends and allies like Hugo Chavez, Ahmadinejad, al-Assad, King Abdullah, Putin, and Qaddafi.

And to satisfy our Fenian friends concern that it might not be about the Joos, the less money and power, particularly weapons and propaganda money, those antisemitic, anti-Israel bastards have, the better. It might help save the world from being taken over by the Muslims

That's the good news.

The bad news is that it is too late. Muslims have petitioned to have New York City schools close on Muslim holidays as they now do on Christian and Jewish holidays. And they have a case. 10% of NYC public school children are currently Muslims, and the number can only rise.

Taking over the NYC public schools is how the Irish, the Jews, and the Italians took over the Ivy League, and from there the US. Still, it didn't work for the blacks and Puerto Ricans* so we may be OK.

*Except for the 'White' House and the Supreme Court.

An Offer He Couldn't Refuse?

[Shoeless Joe Jackson]
I am not convinced the US Open was on the level.

The headline in the Times says that Juan Martin del Potro won the US Open. Nothing of the kind happened. He happened to be standing on the other side of the net when Roger Federer lost the US Open. Federer, who usually gets 60 to 80% of his first serves in, got in 42%. Federer, whose shots invariably land within inches of the lines, against del Potro endlessly missed by feet.

In his previous matches with del Potro, Federer won all six.

In his previous match, the semifinal, Federer effortlessly wiped the court with Novak Djokovic, ranked fourth in the world. Djokovic has powerful ground strokes , a good serve, and is rangy and fast. Were this not the Age of Federer and Nadal, he would be the best player in the world. Federer dominated him so completely that by the third set Djokovic was laughing about it.

Djokovic has beaten del Potro all three times they have played. Of the seven sets they played in those matches, Djokovic won all seven. Djokovic is easily a better player than del Potro and Federer made short work of the Serb Saturday.

In his previous match, the other semifinal, del Potro won in three sets against Rafael Nadal. The rule in tennis is that Nadal loses occasionally but only he can beat Federer, The Federer-Nadal matches hae been struggles of titans and have been some of the best tennis ever played. Players like del Potro and even Djokovic are mere pissants who can only watch in awe with the rest of us.

Of the 6 times they had played before Saturday, Nadal had won 4 times, though del Potro won the last 2 times. Nadal had had tendinitis in his knees at least one of the previous times he lost to del Potro and possibly both. Rafael Nadal would otherwise beat a player like del Potro regularly. It is what he does for a living.

Even so, there would have been no reason to think anything amiss were it not for the way Nadal played. He lost not because he didn't run well as one would expect if his knees were sore, but because he was hitting pattycake serves to del Potro. Players like Nadal serve at 120 to 135 miles per hour. In the del Potro match he was serving 90 to 105 miles per hour. Women serve that fast. Nadal was inexplicably serving like a girl through the whole match.

Unlike Serena Williams who only threatened to shove the ball up the lineswoman's ass, these boys when they serve will really do it, and do it from the opposite baseline. They serve not only incredibly fast but with all sorts of spins and angles, such that if a good player gets his first serve in he has a tremendous advantage in the ensuing point. So to miss the first serve constantly and have to start points with the much softer second serve, as Federer did, is to concede. Similarly, to start points with a soft first serve, as Nadal did, is to concede.

During his match Nadal was not happy and excited on points he won, as he usually is. He looked sad and tense throughout. Curiously, at his post-game interview Rafa, invariably gracious, forgot to praise his opponent's play, saying only that it wasn't his day. (almost a verbatim quote from the fixed boxing match in "On the Waterfront" - from a young Marlon Brando).

During his match with del Potro, neither Federer nor his wife Mirka who was in the stands, smiled at any time, even when Roger won the two sets he won. They both looked tense and unhappy from beginning to end. I turned the television off after the last point of the final so I don't know what Federer said in the interview.

Del Potro, though raised in Argentina, is an Italian. Just like Tony Soprano from across the river in Jersey.

It is inconceivable that the 2009 US Open could have been fixed. In 1919 it was equally inconceivable that the World Series could have been fixed.

Disclaimer: I have been called paranoid and obsessive by some people - okay, by Patty. But just because she and I lived together for 17 years does not necessarily mean she knew me. Indeed, this is a woman who could take a long look at a double closet bursting with clothes and shoes, and with complete seriousness announce, "I don't have a thing to wear." So her declarations are not to be accepted without consideration.

But I will admit that I have more than once toyed with the line between skepticism and suspicion. :o)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Modern Times

[Djokovic, a Serb, arguing in English]
The finalists in the US Open are trilingual. All of them.

The runnerup woman, Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, gave a post-match interview in unaccented English, then asked permission to speak in Danish, and then spoke in Polish as well. Given her name, her family are immigrants from Poland to Denmark. Her English is that of all educated middle class Europeans.

The winner, Kim Clijsters, spoke in barely accented English. Given her name, her home language is Flemish. Being a middle class Belgian it is certain she speaks fluent French as well.

Roger Federer speaks fluent, slightly accented, English. He is from Basel so his home language is Schweizer Deutsch. Having gone to Swiss schools, it is certain that he speaks both French and hoch Deutsch (high, or regular, German).

Juan Martin del Potro who is in the process of losing the second set to Federer as I write, speaks accented English. He is an Argentine and speaks Spanish. His family are immigrants so he speaks Italian as well.

What these kids all have in common is that they are middle class and from wealthy countries. If trilingualism is the norm among young first worlders, what does that say about education in the US?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

More Female Trouble

When women tennis players do not perform to expectations, and show temper and irritability on the court, the announcer Mary Carrillo goes on about what pressure they are under and how difficult the life of a professional tennis player is and blah blah blah. The fact is that these are healthy young women, about one seventh of whom are likely to be menstruating at any given time.

Some of them may be amenorrheic because of chronic over-exercise and low body fat. These are the flat chested athletes one sees so often on the court. Serena Williams is not one of them. She is bosomy, curvaceous, and 27 years old.

My guess is that this had everything to do with her going haywire on the court in the semifinals against Kim Clijsters this evening.

Toward the end of the first set she had a temper flare up and smashed her racquet on the court. She was penalized one point for unsportsmanlike conduct. She lost the set 6-4. She was serving badly and Clijsters was serving well and Williams would have lost the set in any case.

She continued to serve badly in the second set but was able to stay even. It is the mark of a champion to be able to play badly but still stay even and even win. Clijsters was ahead 6-5 and Williams was serving to get into the tiebreak game. With the score 15-30 a lineswoman called a foot fault which, added to a prior bad serve, made a double fault and made the score 15-40. Which suddenly made it match point in favor of Clijsters.

The replay showed, as one would expect, that Williams hadn't even come close to foot faulting. Which meant that the lineswoman was being an officious incompetent at the worst possible time. There is provision for review of bad line calls by a high speed electronic camera. To my knowledge there is none for wrong (in this case wildly wrong) foot fault calls. In the video Johnny McEnroe the announcer and former tennis great who famously has very good eyes for line calls, can be heard saying, "You can't call that a foot fault." The bad call gave Clijsters two match points.

Williams went crazy and began screaming at the lineswoman. CBS bleeped out whatever she said but it was some sort of obscenity. The lineswoman lied and claimed Williams had threatened to kill her. Williams quite correctly said that was ridiculous. We can also assume that the lineswoman, who is Chinese, may not have a perfect grasp of English and literally didn't know what she was talking about.

The later explanation was that Williams had offered to shove the ball she was holding down the woman's throat. Which is not an obscenity and would not have been bleeped. From which we can reasonably deduce that Williams had offered to shove the ball into another orifice than the lineswoman's throat.

The tournament referees came out, spoke to the lineswoman and to Williams, and penalized Williams a point for unsportsmanlike conduct. Since it was match point for Clijsters, the point penalty meant that Williams lost the match. Clijsters goes to the finals and Williams goes home. (Actually Williams goes to the women's doubles final with her sister Venus on Monday, but that doesn't make as good a line.)

I can identify with Williams here. For some reason, willful stupidity is more infuriating than even dishonesty. The lineswoman first wrongly called a foot fault and then misreported what Williams had said to her. And at the very moment when her incompetence would be disastrous for Williams. If the moron hadn't called the foot fault the score would still have been 15-30 with Williams serving and she would likely have won the game and gotten into the tiebreaker game.

Clearly Williams ought to have had better self-control than to publicly berate and threaten to refecate (a back-formation word, so to speak) the tennis ball into the lineswoman. On the other the combination of being frustrated by her own bad serving, and having it compounded at the worst possible moment by the efforts of an idiot whose probable motive was to get attention, and it probably not being her calmest time of the month, make it understandable albeit not excusable.

One is reminded the recently dismissed administration official ,Van Jones, who was dismissed for calling Republicans in congress, "assholes". For all the discussion of the political difficulty and friction with the opposition party created by it, the real reason was that he had talked dirty in public. It certainly was not news to anyone that the congressional Republicans actually are assholes, but in our political culture one may not say so by talking dirty. Thirty-six years ago, Nixon was forced out but not because 18 minutes were erased from the tape. Rather it was after having pretended to probity all his life, he was exposed as both foul-mouthed and hypocritical.

On the feel-good side of the net, Kim Clijsters , a Belgian, is coming back from a two-and-a-half year break from tennis. She is well-liked and her nickname among the other players is "Miss Congeniality". After winning $14 million dollars, and winning the US Open in 2005, she quit to have a baby. She is now the mother of a little girl, Jada Ellie. Clijsters, though only 5'8", is a power player who was and is able to go toe-to-toe even with the likes of Serena Williams. As Mary Carillo said admiringly of her powerful forehand strokes, "Mom can still bring it."

Female Trouble

I saw a Netflix DVD of The Scottish Play tonight. It was made in 1971 by Roman Polanski. It starred Jon Finch and Francesca Annis. They were both too young and slim to be persuasive as a Scottish thane and his thaneatrix. They were also too young and pretty to be persuasive as medieval usurpers.

The sets emphasized verisimilitude. They were what one imagines medieval Scotland looked like, which wasn't too good. The acting by Finch and Annis was OK but not great. I was surprised to see that the executive producer was Hugh Hefner. At first I thought it was somebody else of the same name but it turned out that Playboy Enterprises produced the movie - apparently on the theory that even a soft-core pornographer can buy respectability by paying for Shakespeare. One assumes Francesca Annis had to sleep with Hefner to get the part.

Once again Lady Macbeth proved herself a real chalariya. Duncan, his posterns, Banquo, MacDuff's family, the MacBeths, their hired murderers, and pretty much everybody in Scotland all took it in the shorts. Except for that, a good time was had by all.

Apropos of very little, I recently read a description of Toronto as being a city founded by people who liked Scotland well enough but wanted to go someplace where the people were dourer and more tightfisted.

A Familiar Song

[Whites protesting in Washington]
Tens of thousands rallied in Washington today against big government, against government intrusion, against unconstitutional actions by the administration, and against socialism. No one rallied eight years ago against an identical sized government which took the same kinds of actions and was equally socialist. But then again that government was headed by a white man.

The underlying motive is made clear by the vagueness of the complaints. No one is objecting to anything in particular, just to Obama in general. No one took to the streets to protest when the Clintons proposed a considerably more comprehensive and intrusive health care plan. This isn't about health care, it isn't about socialism, it isn't about big government. It is about the ban on the use of the 'n' word in public. It is no longer permissible to call a spade a spade.

This comes as no news to American Jews. Explicit antisemitism, like explicit racism, is socially unacceptable though far from rare. The abuse and unfair treatment of Israel is how hatred and dislike of Jews is expressed. It is why actions of governments which inspire no interest when undertaken by gentile countries, inspire outrage when taken by Israel.

I suppose that among the tens of thousands protesting today in Washington, there are a few black dupes or blacks with distorted psyches, just as among those protesting Israeli self-defense there are Jewish dupes and those acting out inner shortcomings. But most of those in the streets of Washington today will be angry whites.

And just as not one of those tens of thousands protesting in Washington today will admit that this is about color, none of those groundlessly denouncing Israel ever admit their protests are about antisemitism.

In both case the tenacity of their denial is based on the sincerity with which they are lying to themselves about their real purposes and feelings.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


Look for tensions in the Persian Gulf (and Northeast Asia) to ratchet up a notch.

The United Arab Emirates recently seized a shipment of North Korean arms bound for Iran. Diplomatic sources indicate that the UAE notified the UN of the seizure two weeks ago, shortly after it occurred.

Not surprisingly, the Abu Dhabi government has been rather tight-lipped about the seizure. But other sources tell Reuters that the intercept occurred on 14 August, and the cargo included rocket launchers, detonators, munition and ammunition for rocket-propelled grenades--the very items Iran has used kill U.S. troops in Iraq.

The shipment represents a clear violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1874, which bans all arms transfers from Pyongyang. It was passed earlier this year, after North Korea conducted its second nuclear test. The measure also authorizes other nations to search suspicious vessels, and destroy banned items.

Pyongyang used elaborate measures in an attempt to conceal the shipment. The ship's manifest listed its cargo as "oil boring machines;" the intercepted vessel belongs to an Australian firm that is owned by a French conglomerate, flying the Bahamian flag. An Italian firm, with offices in Shanghai, reportedly arranged the shipment.

Under the UN mandate, North Korea and Iran now have 15 days to offer a detailed explanation for the shipment, but don't hold your breath. Having been caught red-handed, the two rogue states will likely accuse the U.S. and its allies of "manufacturing" the evidence.

Perhaps the most intriguing element of this episode is the claim that Abu Dhabi discovered the shipment on its own. That scenario is plausible; the Emirates spend freely on national defense and have a credible intelligence service for a country their size.

But ferreting out a complex arms shipment--and tracking the vessel on its journey from North Korea--required more extensive SIGINT, IMINT and surveillance resources, something the Emirates currently lack. It doesn't take an intel analyst to see the hand of the U.S. in this intercept. Indeed, it would be interesting to learn the proximity of the nearest American naval vessel at the time of the seizure, and the radio chatter/information sharing that preceded it.

Of course, that raises a couple of questions. First, if Washington provided the intel information that prompted the intercept, why not assign the job to American naval forces? True, letting the Emirates handle the task creates the impression of international resolve and a united front against Pyongyang. But it also suggests that the Obama Administration was trying to avoid a direct confrontation with North Korea and Iran, still hoping for negotiations with both regimes.

Such a "strategy" amounts to little more than a fool's errand. As Tehran and Pyongyang have demonstrated--time and time again--they are undeserving of unilateral talks with the United States. Moreover, if Mr. Obama wants to lead the global effort against banned arms exports, then he must be prepared to take a more active role militarily.

Instead, naval forces from the UAE did the heavy lifting in this operation, and that entails risks for Abu Dhabi. The Emirates have a long-standing dispute with Iran over islands in the Persian Gulf and its possible that Tehran may test its rival, in retaliation for the weapons seizure.

And that brings us to our second question. The UAE has advanced weaponry (its state-of-the-art F-16s are currently participating in Red Flag at Nellis AFB, Nevada) and trained personnel, backed by the best contractor assistance money can buy. However, the Emirates would require help from the U.S. in fending off certain types of attacks--say a missile strike--or a sustained Iranian campaign against oil targets in the Gulf.

At what point is the U.S. prepared to support its ally, which took a calculated risk in boarding that Australian vessel, carrying North Korean arms to Iran? It's a query that is likely being posed in Abu Dhabi (and other capitals) from the Gulf, to the Far East. Unfortunately, the answer to that question is anything but clear.

UAE seized N.Korea arms shipment bound for Iran
28 Aug 2009 22:38:46 GMT
Source: Reuters
* Arms included rocket launchers, detonators, RPGs

* Seizure of shipment took place on Aug. 14

* Countries linked include Australia, France, Italy, China

(Adds details about weapons, countries involved)

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 28 (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates has seized a cargo of North Korean weapons being shipped to Iran, which would have violated a U.N. embargo on arms exports from the communist state, Western diplomats said on Friday.

The weapons seized on Aug. 14 included rocket launchers, detonators, munitions and ammunition for rocket-propelled grenades, they said. The ship, called the ANL-Australia, was Australian-owned and flying a Bahamas flag.

Diplomats said the UAE reported the incident, which occurred two weeks ago, to the Security Council sanctions committee on North Korea. The committee sent letters to Tehran and Pyongyang on Aug. 25 informing them of the seizure and demanding a response within 15 days.

"Based on past experience ... we don't expect a very detailed response," one of the diplomats said on condition of anonymity.

The diplomats said the Australian firm whose ship was seized is controlled by a French conglomerate and the actual export was arranged by the Shanghai office of an Italian company. The diplomats did not name any of the firms involved.

"The cargo was deceptively labeled," said a diplomat "The cargo manifest said that the ship contained oil boring machines. But then you opened it up and you found these arms."

Diplomats said both North Korea and Iran appeared to be in breach of Security Council resolution 1874, which banned all arms exports from North Korea and authorized states to search suspicious ships and seize and destroy banned items.

The resolution was imposed after North Korea's second nuclear test in May. The council imposed sanctions on Pyongyang after its first test in October 2006, but the measures were never enforced, mainly because China showed no interest in seeing them implemented.

Diplomats said the UAE seizure, which was done on the basis of the country's own intelligence reports, was an important success for the beefed-up North Korean sanctions regime and would hopefully deter further attempts at skirting sanctions.

Tehran has also been punished with three rounds of U.N. sanctions for its nuclear program, which Western powers fear is aimed at producing atomic weapons. Iran says it has a peaceful atomic program that will generate electricity, not bombs. (Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; editing by David Storey)

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Michael Jackson Interment

Michael Jackson will be laid to rest tonight. A saddened nation grabs its crotch in tribute.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


[Hackman and Pacino on the road in 'Scarecrow']
I just saw the movie 'Scarecrow' which I missed when it came out in 1973. It is a slow-moving, not to say tedious, road movie which finally dissolves into melodrama and bogus psychology in lieu of an ending.

We know from Benjamin Franklin that time is money. By deferring having wasted two hours in 1973, I have gained 36 years of interest on them. If I had deferred wasting the two hours forever I would have gained even more.

One of the many things that is irritating about this movie is that it takes Hackman and Pacino weeks to hitch-hike across the country. In fact hitch-hiking, with any luck or skill at all. is one of the fastest ways to travel long distances because there is always someone else driving. A season actually changes while they are covering a few days worth of car travel. Clearly it is a device to drag out the movie but it is irritating all the same.

Though Pacino and Hackman hog the camera, there is a brief but excellent performance by Penny Allen as the estranged ex-girlfriend at the end. It only momentarily resuscitates this moribund pot-boiler.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Why the Lockerbie bomber was set free

[Qaddafi - nicer than Hillary?]
In 1988 a bomb went off aboard a Boeing 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland. 270 people were murdered, 180 of them Americans. The bomb was proven to have been planted by the Libyan secret service.

From today's Times of London-
The Libyans, however, were not the only country lobbying hard over the PTA. In Washington, Eric Holder, the Attorney General, and Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, were making plain to the British and Scottish governments that letting al-Megrahi be transferred would break a decade-old agreement that anyone convicted of the Lockerbie bombing should serve their sentence in Scotland.

This had been a compromise painstakingly negotiated by Robin Cook, then Foreign Secretary, to overcome Madeleine Albright’s opposition to plans to try the Lockerbie suspects in The Netherlands. Mr Cook later said the insistence that those convicted should be jailed in Scotland as a matter “of principle” for both nations.
The PTA is the Prisoner Transfer Agreement which trades al-Megrahi for an unspecified but certain-to-be-large quantity of oil.

It is hard to imagine this happening if Condoleeza Rice were still Secretary of State. Ms. Rice left the impress of her Pradas on diplomatic crotches all over Europe. Even representing an uncommonly unpopular president, she went from diplomatic victory to diplomatic victory.

Secretary Clinton is just the opposite. Though representing a president reputed to walk on water, she has gone from diplomatic defeat to diplomatic defeat. (Remember Uzbekistan closing our airbase there?)

In retrospect Mrs. Clinton was an odd choice for Secretary of State. She is notorious for her grating personality. It is a handicap in domestic politics. In world diplomacy it is likely fatal. It is hard to imagine her appointment was about anything but unifying the Democratic Party after a bitterly fought primary contest against Obama.

During her husband's administration she was identified with health care reform and unsuccessfully managed the reform bill in Congress. As senator she was identified with child welfare. So why was she not appointed Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare?

She was appointed because Secretary of State was the biggest plum the administration could give her, senior to the Secretary of HEW and more visible. The appointment was to mollify her loyalists within the party, not to get a competent Secretary of State. One has to hope her loyalists were mollified because we sure as hell did not get a competent Secretary of State.

Would it be petty of me to suggest that two other reasons may have been to keep her from sinking this health care reform bill as she is reputed to have sunk her husband's? And to avoid her rather than Obama being identified with it if it should pass? The president will need all the legislative record he can muster in the 2012 election.

Might it also be shamelessly petty of me to suggest that Secretary of State is not that big a deal in an administration which has made it abundantly clear its main concerns are domestic?