Sunday, October 30, 2005

Northgate Tournament (volleyball) 2005

At about 6:00 Pm last night, I found myself standing next to two of the only adults in the Northgate High School gym who weren’t the parents of players, though one was the mother of a coach.  I also found myself next to a hamster armed with nunchucks.  (I still say it’s rarer to find a non-parent or coach watching a high school volleyball match than it is to see a rodent with martial arts training)  For those of you who read posts on prepvolleyball or volleytalk, I was also standing next to two members of the species volleyposter ursinus though neither appeared to be covered in fur or claimed to be related to Winnie the Pooh though one had a grandchild who was just as cute as Winnie the Pooh and maybe even Eor.  At the moment, Redwood was rather surprisingly taking it to Campolindo and had a seven point lead early in the first game.  

I’ve personally never “smelled” an upset.  For many years I theorized that upsets smell like cotton candy or old beer in Fenway and Comiskey Park, I am convinced now that I don’t know what they smell like because I was around a few of them at the Northgate tournament yesterday and I don’t recall a particular smell.  That’s the trouble with clichés, most of them don’t even make sense.  Even worse, does anyone know how hard it’s been to be a Giants fan these last four years.  First the Angels then the Red Sox and now the White Sox.   At this point, Willie Mays is one of the last living participants in the 1954 World Series and he's already a statue on Townsend Street.  Even Hufflepuff got to win at Quidditch one year.

The biggest upset happened on this same court just before the Campolindo/Redwood match.  I only heard Lewis Libby’s name mentioned once the entire day.  I suppose had he been indicted for the real crime of essentially killing 30,000 people, there might have been more talk.  Instead, he was basically just indicted for being a schemer and a liar protecting what amounted to an act of treason, I don’t mean the outing of a CIA agent I’m talking about misleading an entire country into preemptive war.  Oh, there was also the matter of Maria Carrillo, a Santa Rosa School, known for the last 6 years as Sather Prep to volleyball folk.  The middle one went off to UCLA and most people assumed this would be a rebuilding year there.  This year Jeff Nielson is working with a very young group anchored by seniors Jean Lightfoot and Kathryn Robertson who share the floor with three sophomores Meredith Johnson, Elaine Poulsenand Danielle Loyola, and a freshman Ally Sather.  Mara Carrillo is in first place in the North Bay League but I doubt that many people expected them to do much at this 32 team tournament.  Instead, they took apart a very good senior dominated Northgate team that was playing at home and had won both the Castro Valley and Deer Valley tournaments earlier in the year.  In fact, Northgate’s only prior loss had been to Campolindo.  Carrillo then went on to go three with Liberty, a fine team from the outer East Bay, that also doesn’t get a lot of attention.  In fairness to Northgate, the Carrillo match went three games and this was not the same steady Northgate team that I saw early in the year.   I understand that they lost a starting middle in warmups just before the match. They also may have been looking ahead a bit to their planned final with Campolindo and I’m sure they will be fine when NCS 2 comes around.  

Campolindo, fwiw, likely wasn’t the best volleyball team at the tournament.  I think even they would have a hard time playing against the assembled coaches which included Kim Oden (St. Francis), Sarah Dukes (Carondelet), Elsa Stegemann-Binder (El Molino), Scott Bishop (Campolindo).  Okay, even if you don’t let the boy play after he makes his Title 9 claim, I say let those three play with Katie Pease (Redwood, SonomaState) and any two other coaches there and it might have been a very entertaining match.  I would comment that there may have been stretches when Norcal volleyball had more monster bodies playing high school,  as in no one was doing the “look at that girl she’s a certain fab 50” thing much yesterday, but there are a lot of very good coaches working the sidelines in NCS and environs.  It shows.  I would say that this tournament in particular ran much deeper than what I’ve seen in the past because the coaching’s been really sound at so many schools including the ones whose coaches weren’t star players.  Just watching Redwood, for instance, you always see a team that’s well conditioned, technically proficient, and that runs a varied offense.  I suspect that program has an Absolutely bright future. Whatever gets said about St. Francis these days, even if the results aren’t as elite as they were a couple years ago, it still looks from a distance like “real” volleyball and a very serious program.  It’s just a young team.   Northgate, Liberty, Maria Carrillo, and Carondelet all look to be solid for a while.  

     We spent the early part of the morning at Ygnacio Valley.  Castro Valley, which has a very good middle and libero, wound up out of the top 16.  Carondelet, a very strong team with an excellent middle and steady setter, didn’t make the final eight after being upset by both San Ramon and Deer Valley.  Justin Sienna, one of the stronger division IV teams, also came up just short after losing in three to both Carondelet and El Molino.  Justin Sienna is entertaining at least partly because their coach wanders the sideline with a tootsie pop in his mouth to keep himself from “speaking up” too much when his team doesn’t Crush the ball as often as it might.  At its best, Justin plays intense defense and you know what they say about defense and winning.  

     We had left Ygnacio Valley happy to make it to the “Honors” gym class at Northgate only to find almost all the other Empire club parents we know there too.  Fwiw, the physical contrast between Northgate High School and Ygnacio Valley is very striking especially given the fact that the two schools are two miles apart.  Northgate looks like a college campus with impressive main building and landscaped grounds.   Ygnacio looks as if the District hasn’t had the money to build a new high school for more than twenty years.  I’ve said this before, but California needs to show its children that high school is a priority.  If we’re going to mostly live in the suburbs, the schools should be the Cathedrals of our communities not the shopping malls that invariably appear to be our most impressive and best kept public places.  Please understand that I don’t wish to imply anything about the relative quality of Northgate and Ygnacio as schools.

     That said, as nice as the Northgate facility is as a school (they even had a dedicated snack bar), their gym is a bit compromised as a two court site.  First, the ref stand is directly under a basketball hoop that either doesn’t retract or that may retract right over the net.  This meant that the referees literally had to hunch their heads under the backboard, which may have been a good way for the refs to gauge various jump touches, but I can’t imagine that it improved their ability to survey what was happening on the court.  At one point in the semi, a ball bounced up off the backboard and through the hoop then hit the referee on the head as it went through the net.  I checked the CIF rules and apparently, this does not count as two points.  Had that been the case, El Mo might have won its first game against Campolindo had we been playing Aztec volleyball.

In general, both refs in the “Honors gym” seemed to enforce “general ed” ballhandling standards.  I don’t know what the “college prep” gym looked like except that I think College Prep the team wound up in the “general ed” gym at the end of the day.  A bigger issue with the site was that the two courts run pole to pole meaning that the refs were enforcing a “no player may set foot more than two feet outside the sideline” rule between the courts, depriving the matches of some potentially entertaining athletic plays beyond the sidelines.  It also made for a bunch of ball ons.  I don’t mean to imply that Northgate was a bad host at all, quite the opposite, but I’d argue that these are significant tradeoffs for what are supposed to be championship matches.  

     Back to the match, even though Redwood was cruising, Campolindo would send little reminders back that this wasn’t going to be easy.  In particular, Kristen Kathan would periodically send a ball cross court that would suck all the air out of the bleachers.  
Redwood had built its lead around Taylor Hadfield’s hitting and blocking.  In my own very biased opinion, Hadfield looked as good as any middle I saw in the tournament including Campo’s very good Devon Farrell.  Also Emily Botts was giving Redwood a credible answer to Campo’s incredible lefts and Carly Morrison was setting cleanly and keeping Campo just a bit off balance.  Camp closed to tie it at 15 and the two teams went point for point to 20-20.  Campo ran off three or four points, Redwood got a couple points then the game ended on a monster cross court by Kathan.  One of the joys of watching high school is watching players like Kathan who don’t have USVA or Fab 50 list approved length bodies.  Fwiw, my daughter’s coach who was a pretty good D1 hitter herself said quite voluntarily that she thought Kathan could be a perfectly effective D1 hitter.  The next game wasn’t as competitive.   I suspect that when and if St. Francis and Campolindo meet in Norcal D3, it’s going to be pretty memorable. The two teams have almost inverted strengths and weaknesses, not that they do anything less than well, but it tends to make for a great match when teams have opposite strengths.  St. Francis has a very good big setter/hitter with a great jump serve.  Campo’s best known for its leftside hitters, Kathan and Britt Erickson.

     El Molino played Deer Valley for the second time on Saturday in one of the other quarterfinals.  Deer Valley has a not very tall but extremely athletic team that features two jump servers and three to four very good arms.  In pool play, El Mo was able to take advantage of its own strong serving and Deer Valley’s ballhandling to take two surprisingly easy games.  In the first playoff, Deer Valley found its mojo and were literally teeing off from the left on Carondelet.  It’s always dangerous to play a good team twice in the same day and yesterday Deer Valley was clearly a good team.  El Molino had come off an up and down match with Justin Siena in which it blew a 24-20 lead in the first game and wound up down 18-8 in the second only to somehow pull the match out.  
Against Deer Valley, El Molino wobbled to a 25-23 win the in the first game as they made several errors and Deer Valley continued to hit well from the left.  In the second game Deer Valley broke out to a huge lead as their back row defense adjusted to the El Mo hitters.  El Mo had gotten to come from 18-24 to 21-24 when there was a controversial back line call and I broke my parent pledge of serenity about such things.  Mrs. Boris wasn’t happy with me.  El Mo had a much easier time in the third game as their middles used their height to punish Deer Valley overpasses.  

     This meant that El Mo’s next mission was to serve as sacrificial lambs to Campolindo.  Having watched much of the Redwood/Campo match, I looked at my daughter and her teammates and they had that “I just hope we don’t embarrass ourselves look” that sometimes teams get when they have to face an obviously first rate opponent.  Somewhere around 15-15, it occurred to me that it wasn’t that bad a mismatch.  El Mo starts three juniors and three sophomores and often has a rotation on the floor with no seniors at all.  Sometimes they still look very young and easy balls fall between them, free balls go into the net or out of bounds, or they run into each other in the course of a play.  Other times, the lefts look like identical hitting machines (St. Francis also has a pair of twins though one sets and the other hits), their middles get kills in bunches, etc.  This was one of those other times and the score was 23-23.  One of Campo’s middles took a big swing at a ball, the El Mo libero slid right in its path, the ball went straight up into the girders of the Northgate gym and deflected back and left.  The El Mo ds couldn’t track it.  On game point, El Mo got a clean pass and set a one to their left-handed middle, who had been effective throughout the day, only to find a double block.

Just before the second game, I happened to be close enough to hear Scott Bishop in the huddle.  I was impressed by his calm instructive style that underscored the point that you don’t have to yell to reach or motivate kids.  In the second game, Northgate, appeared to adjust its defense and got four blocks on El Mo’s first six attempts while El Mo made two unforced hitting errors.  After going down by ten points, El Mo recovered some to finish the second game 25-16 and lay claim to the distinction of having almost sort of put a scare into a really good team.  With Analy, the still mysterious Bishop O’dowd, and Campolindo all in NCS D3, the section playoffs should be very interesting.  As an El Mo parent, I just hope we get the chance to play a couple of them.  I wasn’t there, but Campolindo went on to beat Liberty relatively easily in the final.  

As I understand it, the Northgate tournament was originally expected to be 16 teams until demand bid this late season volleyball version of a pre playoff meet up to a four site 32 team affair.  Given the number of teams and the complex logistics, the tournament was run very well.  One gym went a little late so the event organizers showed flexibility by adjust the round of 8 to let the teams that finished early play one another.  This meant that Liberty played St. Francis in the quarters when one of the semis was almost over.  At the same time, it saved several dozen families from driving home at midnight.  While the tournament mostly underscored Campolindo’s top dog spot as the likely best team in any division of NCS, it may also be equally notable as a breakthrough for Maria Carrillo as a program to be reckoned with even when all the key players don’t have the same last name.  I only got to see about two minutes of Liberty this time around, but they also clearly made a statement of their own by making the final.

I hope the Northgate tournament continues and that my daughter’s team earns a couple more visits to the “honors” gym there. In the meantime, I’ve told my wife that I’m going to get my own nunchuck wielding hamster through E-bay because once that hamster left the gym, my daughter’s team lost.  

In the past, I’ve generally avoided naming players in my court reports.  That’s always flown in the face of the first law of volleyball posting that says that most parents only read this stuff to see their kids’ names on the internet.  I’ve started naming some names and those, at least for now, tend to be players I know, usually through some club association. I do try to say as little as possible about my own daughter.  She doesn’t like me writing about her per se, though she loves seeing her name in the newspaper every now and then, and there are more creative and subtle ways to brag about your own kid’s athletic prowess than writing lines of “I’m so proud of “xxxx” and so humbled to be the parent of such a great and talented….” Actually my favorite is "John Dunning calls me about my daughter every week, is that a good thing and do you think I should take this invite to play on the junior national team instead of having her go with the family for a week in Bakersfield?
While I’m proud of my child, she’s quite normal in most every way and may well never appear on any prepvolleyball list of special children even though I look for her name very anxiously whenever John puts them up.  She really likes the sport, works hard at it, and has made any number of adult and peer friendships from that involvement.  I’ve learned to remind myself that that’s plenty and wonder how many other kids there must be in each gym who one could and should say that about.

Since there were no rosters available at site, I’ve had to not name a lot of very good players who were equally or more deserving of this very limited form of attention.  However John Tawa does it, it’s a lot of work to get all those names straight.  Please feel free to fill in names or even to correct descriptions as you see fit and I’ll make the adjustments accordingly.

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

Ozzie Goes Through Withdrawal Sans Harriet

Harriet Miers withdrew her nomination for the Supreme Court today.   Her letter to president flip flop cites her concerns that the demand for documents relating to her duties as White House threatened the independence of the executive branch and the separation of powers.  This letter remains one of the few public documents where Ms. Miers expounds on any constitutional issue.  I do understand her separation of powers concerns, but she also somehow failed to mention that she was the head of the president’s search committee.  In essence, this top 50 attorney in the country makes a strange tacit admission here.  As the person doing the choosing, she failed to anticipate that her chosen candidate might be pressured to expose her work as White House counsel to senate scrutiny. Well, you know what they say about the attorney who represents himself or herself.  It’s probably also true for the one who chooses herself, that is unless you’re looking for a vice-president. This isn’t the time to pile on and I am guilty of that here, but it continues a pattern of marginal competence from White House staff and the administration.

I suspect the big reason that Ms. Miers withdrew was that someone found an old speech she had made to a Dallas women’s group about the importance of “choice” in reproductive matters.  As far as the right was concerned, they might as well have turned up pictures of Harriet Miers holding hands with Hillary Clinton and Cindy Sheehan.  Over the last ten days, the President had worked hard to sell Miers as both a good evangelical who would follow conservative principles of legal construction by voting to overrule Roe v.Wade at her first opportunity.  I never was sure what that had to do exactly with being qualified to sit on the Supreme Court. Since 2000, respect for the court as an institution has suffered.  One sad result is that the debate on both sides over prospective justices has degenerated into bald political jockeying  about reproductive rights.  It’s as if the Supreme Court were just a rarified legislature that votes only on abortion.

I don’t know what it means to be qualified to be a Supreme Court Justice.  The demonstrated ability to sustain clear, complex, analysis does seem to be one of the markers everyone can agree on in principle.  The second quality is harder to talk about and that’s judicial temperament.  John Roberts came across as having it during his confirmation.  I’d argue that Robert Bork, who was clearly qualified intellectually, didn’t show it.  There is a third quality, particularly while the court remains 5-4 on so many issues, that has not been mentioned at all and that’s a sense of the institution itself.  Whatever one thinks of Earl Warren, who happens to be one of my heroes, his signature achievement on the court was Brown v. Board, the school desegregation case that changed America.  Warren fwiw had never been a judge before Eisenhower kicked his political rival to the Supreme Court, understood that the Court could not enforce its own very controversial decision.  He, therefore, insisted that the decision be unanimous.  Compare that to the signature decision of the Rehnquist court that decided the 2000 election and the impact it had on fracturing both America and respect for the court.  Whatever one thinks of Warren, that was an instance that demonstrated that the former governor of California brought political wisdom to the court. It’s a quality that’s not just missing from the current court as a whole, but also from the leadership of both political parties.  Fwiw, had Warren been nominated today, civil libertarians would have strongly opposed him because of his role in the Japanese internment in California.  We never know what happens on a single issue when someone gets that life appointment.

Most scholars agree that John Marshall was the greatest Supreme Court Justice and that he was extremely conservative.  It was Marshall who took a case about political cronyism, lame duck appointments, in Marbury v Madison,  and more or less unquestionably made law by asserting the concept of “judicial review” , which became the basis of the Supreme Court’s power as the third branch of government.  Even there, he split the difference.  Marshall let the democrats win the case, but in doing so he established a very conservative check on the actions of elected officials.  I’d personally like to see Roe v. Wade upheld, but it’s far more important to me that whoever serves on the court have both wisdom and vision.  

I wish Ms. Miers well.  I know it’s hard to identify qualities like “wisdom” and “vision”, unless you happen to be named “John Minor Wisdom”or "Learned Hand", but our nation is headed into what will be very critical times and the court needs both more than it needs a specific ideology either left or right.  My fear is that the current administration cares little about either and lacks the capacity to recognize it even if it did care.  

Random Thoughts

If W was told by God to appoint Harriet Miers, what's he going to tell God now?

Now that she's back to being White House counsel, does W ask her to head up the search committee again?

How about Michael Brown? He's a lawyer who has similar experience on the bench to Miers and he's already been before congress. He even has a paper trail, though it's a little soggy.

Maybe Rafael Palmeiro? Very loyal. testified in front of Congress very well early in the year. Not only has a record, has several of them. Also worked for same company as Bob Dole for a time. Good for Hispanic vote as well. Long record of being part of 9 man team.

Pat Robertson, appeals to the religious base. has a law degree. has long record of opinions and writings on a variety of Constitutional issues. Proven abhorrence of anyone named "Hugo" . Father was a senator.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

WNBA Star's Slam Dunk

I’m not a big WNBA fan though I enjoy watching college women’s basketball.  I never quite forgave the WNBA for pushing the ABL out of the marketplace.  I am a fan of Sheryl Swoopes, courageous statement, who recently came out as a lesbian.  This may be confusing to some because the three time Olympic Gold medallist and three time WNBA mvp is also one of the few women who took a year out from her sport to have a baby then returned to stardom.  She has an eight year old child.  She was once married to a man.  She doesn’t believe that people are necessarily born gay (a very unpolticially correct thing to say when coming out).  She says simply that she’s tired of pretending to be hetrosexual now.  She is involved with a woman and she doesn’t want to pretend that their relationship is just a friendship, a business relationship, or that they don’t really socialize with one another.  She wanted people to know that she’s making a choice to be public about it not to avoid being blackmailed or to get publicity.  

We celebrate male athletes for their courage on the field as if they were actual warriors.  Most insiders believe that there are the same number of gay men in professional sports as in the rest of society.  Yes, that includes figure skating, bodybuilding, and the military, yet no active star player in men’s football, basketball, or baseball has ever come out as gay.  Martina Navritolova did it in tennis and now Cheryl Swoopes has done so in basketball.  What’s this say about the relative actual courage of male and female athletes?

Perhaps the most interesting part about Swoopes decision is that her own life provided her plenty of cover.  Being a mom, she was demonstrably heterosexual, by our social norms.  She also did this right after winning yet another WNBA championship, in other words she did it at the top of her marketing curve.  Another aspect of Swoopes’s decision is that she chose to take on another inverted form of political correctness.  The WNBA has fought a war with itself for several years.  The truth is that a large number of its players are gay and that a very significant part of its fan base is lesbian.  The league, which is owned by the NBA, has taken huge pains to sidestep this fact.  There have been any number of stories of directions from the network to avoid random shots of the crowds for fear that America would see clearly lesbian women cheering at a sports event.  Part of this fear was built around possible speculation that if lesbians liked the sport that the athletes themselves might not be unanimously heterosexual and then what would that do for the league’s image?  Swoopes took that one on too.  

In men’s sports, if I understand things the Vikings are currently accused of well being real Vikings and having an orgy on a cruise boat (aberrant sexual behavior).  There was a Carolina wide receiver, Rae Carruth, a few years ago who was convicted of trying to have his pregnant girlfriend murdered.  Last year an NBA game was interrupted by a riot with players hitting fans.  Hockey players have gotten into all sorts of mischief and mayhem  as well including contract murder and mayhem with hockey sticks, though it’s the NBA that’s always characterized as the “outlaw” gang culture league. We’ve lost count fo the number of times athletes in all major sports have been accused of drug use, both performance enhancing and recreational, rape, murder, and making really unlistenable rap records.  The only crime I've never heard a pro-athlete accused of is breaking the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, though some of the gymnastic straddles being done by current White House staff might qualify them for various 2008 Olympic teams. Given that context, how is the fact that a couple star players happen to like men really going to hurt any of these leagues’ marketability?

Believe it or not, the consensus is that “yes”, one active gay star just letting America know that he prefers the company of men to women would bring the whole sports worship house of cards down.   In the meantime, O.J. Simpson got a hundred dollars an autograph at a Horror Comic convention.   It’s a little odd, because the original Olympics were nude and wrestling was one of the events.  Given what I’ve read in Plato, I strongly suspect that the original Olympians may have partied in ways that dareth not speak the name today or in Oscar Wilde’s day.  Where’s Larry Krueger to rant about things like this?  And does anyone in tennis even say Bill Tilden’s name anymore?  

I’m now telling myself that I’m going to go pay to see a WNBA game to watch Sheryl Swoopes.  She’s a great player, she’s got more guts than any male basketball players, and she’s one of the few people in sports who talks straight instead of fakes it.  

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks died yesterday at the age of 92.  One of my regrets in life is that I’ve managed to see Richard Nixon and Hunter Thompson live yet I passed up a chance to see Rosa Parks accept an award from the Children’s Defense Fund when I was in Washington D.C. in the mid nineties.   This may have been one of her last public appearances. While she led a long active life, Rosa Parks is remembered for one act of defiance, her refusal to give up a seat in the colored section of the bus to a white man when the white part of the bus happened to be full.  Parks is often called the mother of the Civil Rights movement, something that tends to minimize individuals like Sojourner Truth, Ida Wells Barnett, Harriet Tubman,, and others who came before her and Fannie Lou Hamer (one of her contemporaries).  For whatever reason, she became a maternal icon in our culture.  In that iconography, she turned into this innocent seamstress who one day just had enough and happened to stand up for her dignity.  After that seemingly single act of giving birth, she was then more or less put on permanent maternity leave from being an activist or an individual with anything much to say beyond that act.
At least that’s the way our culture tends to remember her.

It’s worth noting that Rosa Parks died in Detroit.  After Montgomery, she couldn’t find work.  After many years, she found employment as an aide for Representative John Conyers for close to twenty years.  The iconography also tends to gloss over the fact that Parks was the secretary of the local chapter of the NAACP and she was a trained activist before that day. She had worked on the Scotsboro Boys case as early as 193 and as youth advisor to the NAACP actively campaigned for better library facilities for black youth in Montgomery   She was not the first black person to refuse to give up her seat on a bus.  She was the first one the NAACP threw its national resources behind since Homer Plessy and the Creole Society challenged streetcar segregation in New Orleans at the end of the 19th century.  It’s notable that President Bush passed over these aspects of her history in calling her an “icon” today and saying that she made America “better” and thus suggesting that her work was completed.

Many people remember that Montgomery was the moment that brought Martin Luther King to national prominence.  Too many forget that at the end of his life, King had broadened his cause from desegregation to poverty and his opposition to the war in Vietnam.  To him it was all connected. I doubt that he saw the journey ending just because the US has a Ferragamo clad Secretary of State whose father was one of his supporters.    

I visited Detroit on two occasions in the late nineties.  The most segregated schools in America are in northern cities.  Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and Cleveland have public high schools that are entirely black.  Few of those schools do well academically.  At the time, the running story was the state of Michigan offered free tuition to state universities for any Africa-American student who had better than a 3.0 gpa.  The city of Detroit supposedly had one African-American male who qualified for the scholarship.  I never confirmed it, but if it was an exaggeration it likely wasn’t far off.  The local schools generally didn’t welcome outside visitors or even observations by parents.  The African- American administrators claimed that parents might show up at schools drunk or high and embarrass their children and cited that as their reason for not having a visitation policy.

In 1994, a young black man came into Rosa Parks's Detroit area home and hit her and robbed her after realizing who she was. She personally forgave him after he was sentenced to prison. One thing is clear to me from reading interviews with Rosa Parks, she was about much more than a seat on a bus.  She didn’t stop the work after she won her court case and I’m certain that she was convinced that America had a long ways to go.  The best way to honor Rosa Parks’s memory is to recognize that the bus that may have started its route in Montgomery in 1955 still has a way to go and that we must continue that work.

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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Referendum Addendum

For the last week, there’s been so much in the news that I haven’t been following a number of stories very closely. For instance, they had this big constitutional referendum in Iraq almost ten days ago. I learned that they got a turnout comparable to an American presidential election, the polling was generally peaceful, and that a surprisingly large number of Sunnis turned out. Condeleeza Rice even more or less guaranteed a victory for the referendum, then mysteriously backtracked because they actually hadn’t finished counting the votes. Did they ever count those votes? The last I heard, they were getting some odd numbers out of districts likely to ratify the constitution anyway like 97% to 3% with 115% of all voters participating. I don’t have any problem with that myself. I figure if it’s good enough for large sections of Ohio and Florida, it should be good enough for a fledgling democracy. Besides, it sounds exactly like the elections Dickens described in Martin Chuzzlewit when America was still relatively new to holding popular elections for the presidency.

Second, I know that Congress has been having these bipartisan hearings to look into what happened or didn’t happen during Katrina. I thought it would be nice to have heard about what Michael Chertoff had fixed before Wilma makes landfall in the United States. I know it takes a lot of time to hear all those witnesses, write up the report, etc, but why am I not hearing about all the adjustments FEMA’s made in advance of the next hurricane. It makes me wonder about the issue with different emergency responders from different states not having a common radio frequency that came out after 9/11. I was shocked to hear that the problem hadn’t been fixed by 2005 since all those voters were so certain that they were voting for the candidate who would keep us safe.

Here’s another story. A United Nations report claims that Syria had a role in the assassination of the prime minister of Lebanon, talk about your state-sponsored terrorism. The president, who has repeatedly gone public with his confidence in the United Nations and its reports, immediately started urging his underlings and the world to act decisively and quickly on the Mehlis Report. A couple things seem strange here. Why is Mr. Unilateral so ready to accept a UN report and so anxious to go to the Security Council?
Second, if the evidence that Saddam was involved with Al Qaeda and terrorism against Americans was so tenuous, why did we invade there in the name of 9/11 and the International Struggle against Religious Extremism instead of say Syria? There was an odd story that Mehlis had prepared several versions of the report with varying levels of complicity from Syria and that only one of them got leaked. I’m not advocating invasions in either place btw, it’s more a question about the logic of preemptive war and what it implies. I’m getting this image of the Middle East as the instrument of US Foreign Policy modeled on Dot.Com startups. Invade, have a referendum instead of an IPO, even before the certificates get distributed and the democracy there has ever turned a profit or held a second election, you invest in an invasion in the next startup. I wonder who their accounting firm is going to be? Also, once we invade Syria, where do we get the next batch of troops um er human capital?

What I gather is that Theobertarian math simply works differently when it comes to counting millions of votes or spending billions of dollars. Traditional accounting is more or less a zero sum game. Whatever happens on one side of the ledger must have an equal and opposite effect on the other. That great far right economist John Maynard Keynes came forward early in the century to argue that governments might sometimes take a longer view of when it all needs to balance out, “priming the pump” or “deficit spending” became an honorable strategy under the four time elected Republican president FDR who saw us through a major war. It is, after all, FDR’s legacy that has made the Republicans the national security party for most voters. Many get confused and assume it has something to do with McCarthy or Richard Nixon’s notions of peace with honor, which made it possible to get manicures/pedicures for a reasonable price and high quality Pho in most any major American city. I do look forward to getting better Kefta Kebab in a restaurant in my hometown soon after we withdraw with honor once again.

Even though I haven’t been following the last week all that closely, the blog story one almost can’t avoid these days has been “Where’s Patrick and What’s He Really Going to Do?” I keep coming back to this one thought. The prosecutor needs to gather information to get a conviction, but we don’t need more information to have convictions of our own based on what’s already known. Why does the general public just seem to buy into the White House’s line that we can’t comment until the investigation is completed and possibly until after every one is indicted and all appeals are exhausted seven years from now? I’m thinking that’s like Laci Guerra Petersen’s mother saying “Well since Scott’s appeal of his conviction isn’t done yet, I guess I shouldn’t cross him off my Christmas list until the justice system completes its findings.”
When did indictment become the standard of fitness for holding public office? What happened to values like competence, trustworthiness, and foresight?

I do have a corollary to Collin Powell’s Pottery Barn rule. Now that I know what I know about Iraqi democracy, the President’s real willingness to trust UN reports about the Middle East, and how we got to war via forged documents, I don’t know if it’s “You break it, you buy it.”
I’d just suggest that we send the President, the Secretary of State, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Judith Miller, Karl and Scooter, out to live in what they created for six months. If there are any emergencies, now that Michael Brown doesn’t have any duties stateside, I’m sure they’ll trust him to help organize any relief operations if needed. I’ll even let them rehearse, should they broadcast this special edition of the “Surreal Life”.

postscript as of Tuesday 10/25

the referendum officially passed after an audit. It's worth noting that it took a 66% no vote in a given province for it not to pass. If 3 provinces had voted no, the referendum would have lost. 2 provinces clearly did. In other words, the referendum could have won with less than 1/3 of Iraqi voters nationally actually voting "yes". Nineveh was very close and there were accusations of ballot tampering. The AP story didn't give any actual vote counts. The NY Times story mentions the count in Nineveh, but doesn't mention alleged irregularities there. In Nineveh more than half the voters voted no on the referendum. The UN played a role in the audit. The national vote was in fact overwhelmingly "yes", but the result could be fodder for some interesting arguments.

President George W. Bush stressed (re Saddam) it was crucial "that there will be a fair trial, which is something he didn't give many of the thousands of people he killed".

Isn't this pretty much the same thing as saying "I can guarantee that he'll be convicted fairly..."

I have no great love for Saddam, but I'm wondering if the W understands the concept of a "fair trial".

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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Fortune Cookie Surfing (fiction)

“Help, I'm trapped inside a Chinese restaurant and I can’t get out.”

     My father mailed this message, baked inside a fortune cookie, to five hundred prospective customers three weeks before he opened his restaurant.  He had special-ordered the cookies with their message from a bakery/print shop in San Francisco Chinatown.  They came in a big clear plastic bag tied at the top with string and each cookie had that same message.  

     My parents bought a ten foot stack ofunfolded crushproof cardboard boxes and two thick spools of postage stamps and for several days we folded the flattened t-shaped cardboard into three dimensional box form, dropped in a cookie, a message announcing the opening of the restaurant, and then hand addressed and stamped the box.  The cookies looked vaguely like the rearview of an origami crane, so it was strange to lock them into pedestrian 5 inch by 5 inch cardboard cubes.

     At various points, I got bored and used the completed boxes to build a fort on the far side of the dining room table.  In the meantime, various employees of the restaurant to be came by the house to talk about the details of the opening, to share their lists of prospective customers and to fold boxes. For three weeks, I ate a lot of fortune cookies even though I knew exactly what the fortune inside had to say.  My dad had had the foresight to buy more fortune cookies than boxes.  He had figured that fortune cookies break from mishandling.  He, however, didn’t have the foresight to see that the post office was going to complain when we put two hundred of the boxes in the midnight pickup one evening.

     People liked getting the cookies in the mail and a lot of them did come to the restaurant after the grand opening party.  I remember it as the most optimistic I ever saw my father about his own business prospects.  The cookies were actually my mother’s idea, but that made it even better because they liked to think that they were working together on making the business a success as a restaurant that would stand apart from the dozens of Chinese restaurants already in Sacramento.  

     Over the next thirteen years, my father really was trapped inside a Chinese restaurant.  The business survived, but it never grew into something to celebrate or brag about.  As he moved into middle age, my father had trouble imagining alternatives for himself.  He died at age 50 of a heart attack.  The last time I spoke to him, I was home for the summer and getting ready to take care of the restaurant that  afternoon because he was getting over a case of pneumonia.  

     Maybe because of all that, fortune cookies, the single clearest reminder that the “Chinese” restaurant is really an American invention, have always had a special power.  I believe that the fortunes find you in some way and set up some kind of resonance with your life.  In their way, they are a peculiarly American take on the very Chinese I Ching.  My father sent out his own fortune five hundred times and somehow accidentally turned it into his actual fate.  He hated the restaurant and always told me to go to school for something that would give me better choices.  He never wanted to me to spend one more day than I had to taking care of the place.   We didn’t.  My mother and I closed it and sold it as soon as my dad died.

     There was a three week period after the restaurant opened when I was especially fascinated by fortune cookies.  My dad kept them near the tea dispenser inside a white tin container with yellow daisies around the perimeter roughly the size of a breadbox, if anyone remembers breadboxes.  It had a red top that split in half.  The waiters would take the bill from the kitchen cashier on its brown plastic tray then reach in and match the number of fortune cookies to the number of diners at the table. I never saw anyone fill up the box with new fortune cookies, yet somehow it never seemed to be empty.  For some reason too, all the waiters followed the same ritual.  They would never look directly into the box when they fished out the fortune cookies.  They also never showed any interest in eating the fortune cookies themselves.  Perhaps, they already understood the possibility that they carried some sort of curse.

     My cousin was was ten years old like me happened to be with me at the restaurant on a Sunday afternoon when the place was closed at lunchtime.  The restaurant was so new at the time that you could still smell the paint on the walls and there were no grease stains even in the kitchen area yet.  For my cousin, it was a thrill to have access to all the fortune cookies you could want.  We had already hit up the supply of juicy fruit gum at the front counter.

     Somehow, we determined without ever agreeing out loud that we would find out just how many different fortunes there were in a box of fortune cookies.  It didn’t take very long to get to the point where we didn’t care to eat the cookies and we did understand that we couldn’t empty the breadbox of its trove of cookies anyway.  My father wasn’t going to care that we were eating fortune cookies, he just didn’t like waste.  

     With the help of toothpicks from the front, we figured out how to fish the fortunes out of the cookies while leaving their sea-shell shaped outer bodies intact.  There were forty five different fortunes.  None of them said, “You have an incurable disease and will die in the next six months.”  In fact, virtually none of them had anything bad to say, certainly nothing so bad as “I’m trapped inside a Chinese restaurant and can’t get out.”  I think the worse was something like “You should be cautious in finance with people you don’t know.”

     A few of them had quotes from Confucius though even then it occured to us that Confucius probably didn’t really speak pidgin English and make jokes about the bird of happiness dropping things or mother in laws. There were a lot of “long and prosperous life” messages which as it happened my cousin seemed to get far more often those than I did.  For whatever reason, I was getting more of the life observation fortunes like “virtue is its own reward” or “saving money keeps squirrels fed in the winter”.  

     Not all the fortunes were the same color.  Some were printed on pink paper. Other were yellow.  Every now and then, one of the cookies would have more than one fortune in it. The machines the fortune cookie company was using weren’t perfect yet and they’d sometimes drop an extra one in.  It wasn’t quite the same thing as finding an oyster with two pearls in it, but we assumed that the double fortune fortune cookies might have more significance or fate in them than the more usual single variety.

     I’m not sure how long it took us to get tired of our controlled experiment, but by the end of the afternoon my cousin and I were convinced that we knew everything there was to know about the fortunes inside fortune cookies and that we had seen all that fate had to offer.  Given that valuable lesson, we then got distracted and more or less forgot about our invasion of the sanctity of the fortune cookie box. My cousin went home.  I went back to school on Monday.

     A couple days later, my father came to me.  “We’re you playing with the fortune cookies?”

     “Well, sort of? But we didn’t break any of them.”

     “My customers are complaining that they’re getting fortune cookies with no fortunes in them.  One old lady got scared that it meant she was going to die.  The waiters are saying that they’re getting smaller tips because the fortune cookies don’t have fortunes.”

     One of my friends had told me a scary story about some friend of a friend who went to a palm reader only to have the old lady turn white and scream because his palm had no lines whatsover on it.  As my father told me about the woes of the fortune cookies, I began to realize that I’d created all these blank palm readings for all these customers desperate to have their future foretold after ingesting large quantities of MSG and green tea.  

     My dad wasn’t mad at me, but he wanted me to apologize to the waiters which I did reluctantly.  Nobody laughed about it and I don’t know why that was.  At one point, my dad offered to give me a bag of as many fortune cookies as I wanted as long as I didn’t mix in my cookie mutation experiments with anything that might get to a customer.  My mom said very little about it.  She felt guilty for not watching my cousin and me that afternoon.  After that, the white box disappeared from the kitchen and the fortune cookies just sat in the kitchen in the clear plastic bag with the string tie they came in waiting for the waiters to grab a few.  Their mystery was gone and maybe I wonder guiltily if that’s when my father gave up dreaming about his restaurant.

     I hadn’t thought about this much until I realized a few weeks ago that I’m addicted to surfing the web.  Surfing the web is arguably the same thing as surfing fortune cookies.  As I sit in the middle of my life, the same age as my father the year he died, I think to myself that I’m not nearly as successful as I once hoped I might be.  While I never opened a Chinese restaurant, in fact I’ve never risked opening a business of any kind, I never did anything that other people celebrate much.  With this, there are days when I think that life is like those fortune cookies, there are really just a limited number of fates distributed at random to the billions of souls out there.  Most of them can be at least minimally positive, but it really depends on what you read into them.  I also now see that the oddly distinctive shape of the fortune cookie can be seen as a stylized infinity symbol.

     Where my dad dreamed that one summer of building a Chinese restaurant empire and having a business identity separate from my grandfather’s, I’ve spent much of my adult life dreaming that other people would read what I write half as attentively as they read those quarter inch by two inch strips of Chinese restaurant haikus.   Maybe I should never have opened Pandora's fortune cookie box that day.  Maybe I saw too much of my own fate and fate is punishing me back.  

     If I had all those boxes again, I would make a great wall of those fortune cookie bricks, each one loaded with blandly sweet possibility in a world too filled with disappointment,
and I would use the wall to seal my father and mother there, their dreams of self-made success intact, just waiting to be opened.


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Sunday, October 16, 2005

What I Didn't Find in the New York Times this Weekend

  This weekend Judith Miller finally went public with her version of  her testimony for the grand jury.  Most people, I imagine, will take notice of the unexplained appearance of the name “Valerie Flame” and “Victoria Wilson” in her notebook that included her notes from interviews with Scooter Libby.  According to Miller, the names just sort of got there and she’s doesn’t think they came from Libby.  Both seem to have appeared in the notebook before Joe Wilson published his op ed in Miller’s newspaper, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.”  I read over her article and the Times’s version of the events last night and I literally just kept staring at the page.  

First, tens of thousands of people have died because Judith Miller trusted information fed to her by these inner circle sources.  I’m inclined to believe that she’s an accessory to mass murder.  Apparently, she insists that she was doing her job and just fell victim to faulty sources.  Second, while she was hiding behind “journalistic integrity”, there are a bunch of creepy people who put American human intelligence assets at risk.  There’s no indication whatsoever that this troubled her in any way.  In fact, she appears to go out of her way to persuade us that the vice president in particular knew little to nothing about it.  
Judith Miller didn’t protect the confidentiality of her sources, she was and still is protecting the sources themselves.  

Most shocking of all, her 5 page explanation of her role shows no awareness of the fact that as a reporter she had any duty to be protecting our right to know.  Libby is complaining to her that the CIA was hedging on its WMD information by leaking doubts about it.  It never apparently occurred to Miller to ask what those doubts were, how credible they were, or to follow up in any way.  In the meantime, Libby appeared to be telling her more and more about who Joe Wilson’s wife was and what she did for the CIA.  Miller did nothing. In fact, she took steps over the next two years to cover up Libby’s identity as her source and allowed the Republicans to win the last election knowing what they had done.  

After she wrote the article, she then flew to San Diego to present Mark Felt with an award for his contributions during Watergate, as Deep Throat.  Felt wasn’t there.  
Judith Miller is not a champion of the rights of free press,  she’s a more pathetic version of Armstrong Williams.  

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Neo-Con Poets Society

“You went into jail in the summer. It is fall now. You will have stories to cover – Iraqi elections and suicide bombers, biological threats and the Iranian nuclear program. Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning. They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them. Come back to work – and life. Until then, you will remain in my thoughts and prayers.”
From Vice Presidential Chief of Staff Scooter Libby to Judith Miller releasing her from her pledge of confidentiality.

A lot of people out there are assuming that Scooter Libby wrote this to send the Neo-Con Times reporter some kind of coded message because it pairs WMD references to nature.  This is unfortunate and is typical of the way we have come to misunderstand the current administration as heartless-corporatist profiteers who only pretend to faith.  
For the last several months I have had the privilege of helping my friend Karl Rove by facilitating a poetry workshop in what used to be the White House bowling alley.  Mr. Rove recently released me from my pledge of confidentiality about the workshops through a recent phone call.

“Dude, this is so cool.”

There was a plunking sound over the phone that sounded like a running shoe slapped against bone.

“What was that?”

“That was my head.”  

Karl Spicoli, shouldn’t you be out making up cool rules for the Gulf reconstruction?”

“I wish Dude.  That Mr. Hand wannabe Patrick Fitzgerald has been making me like a regular with his grand jury.”

“Karl, I told you that having a pizza delivered mid-session that first time wasn’t a good idea.  This special prosecutor isn’t like the last one, he doesn’t like having the people’s time wasted.”

I may be the only person  who knows that the Deputy Chief of Staff is a huge fan of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, though now I guess I’m one of two.

“Guess, who I’m with here, Dude?”

“Karl, I have no idea.”

“Come on, guess.”

“Harold Pinter?”

“No, no, really.”

“Farah Fawcett, Jenna and Barbara, Anne Richards….who?”

“I’m here with Dr. D himself.”

“The rapper?”

“No, no, Dr. James Dobson, talk show host, psychologist, reverend, the conscience of millions of evangelical Americans.”

“Wow, are we on speaker phone? No way.”

“Yes, way.”

“Go ahead Dr. D.  you can tell CL.”

“Karl’s convinced me that Harriet Miers walks with the Lord.”

“And that qualifies her for the Supreme Court?”

“The Lord did write the constitution so one must know his original intent for that holy document.”

“CL, this is Spicoli again.”

One would think that Karl Rove would hate anything that had to do with Sean Penn, but it just goes to show how open-minded the president’s brain really is.  

“Scooter may need your help.”

“I know, that poem was pretty lame.  It didn’t really have the resonance of traditional haiku.  It almost read like a threat of some kind.”

“No, no. people just need to know that it wasn’t some kind of code.  I’d like you to let people know where it came from.”

“Can’t you just do that by playing phone games with Bob Novak again?”

“You’re way too funny there CL.  I want four hundred words in forty eight hours.  You got that.  Otherwise your wife and kids will be fair game.”

“Got it. Mr. Rove. Say bye to Dr. Dobson for me.”

I have assumed that this phone conversation with Karl Rove has released me from my obligation never to discuss the Neo-Con Poets society in public. So here goes.  The first time, I honestly didn’t know what to expect.  One of my friends had taught poetry workshops in a prison a long time ago and she told me that it was an amazing experience.  Anyway, after I got through security, signing my name just below Jeff Gannon who had apparently spent the last six weeks in Karl Rove’s office, they led me into the old bowling alley.  There in front of me were the most powerful people in the entire world sitting cross-legged in a circle. The vice-president had already started.  He was wearing a red white and blue kaftan  and held a set of bongo drums on his lap that he would play on as he recited.

No Bid
America is not for sale
It is not some unrecused duck hunt
My daughter Mary missing from the stage
Of the Republican convention’s family values
Freedom is not free
It has a price
And I have all the options
Vote for me and I will keep you free
But someone has to get the contracts.

The next reader was a slender woman who seemed to a little preoccupied.

My favorite shoes cost twelve hundred dollars
The straps are on the back
And there is a bow on the front just where the toe
Comes to a closed point.
A few people die
And suddenly no one can see the value of
Shiny black leather
On stately feet
As progress

“Don’t mind me, I’m just here to facilitate,” I said, as I took a seat in the circle between Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz.

I am as qualified as anyone
To preside over another disaster
Some day
I will ride an Arabian horse
Along Canal St.
On the last night of Mardi Gras
The people will throw beads at me
Thanking me for blaming the real culprits
As we head towards the convention center
Of course, I know where it is.
This night, it’ll be filled with gumbo and wine served in hurricane glasses.

Not all the poetry was of the same high quality.  Some in the circle appear to have been distracted.

Harriet Miers Bush
He’s so brilliant
Everybody said he was going to ask Priscilla
Or maybe even that weird Janice just because
She’s from California and they’d been judges before
Laura might be Mrs. W
But, I’m the one he nominated for the prom
See, sometimes you can be friends for years
And he’ll see something deeper in you.

But for every one of those, there were at least two like this one from the Senate Majority leader.

My vision is so clear
I can see evidence of consciousness
On videotape
So why does it surprise anyone
That I can still see through blind trust
My judgment on health matters
Is clean
I don’t need an investigation
My actions were surgically precise
Never quite cutting into that artery
Of insider trading
This is how surgeons make the big bucks.

Tom Delay never did quite get the hang of it.

Ronnie Earle is a scumbag.
I’m going golfing at St. Andrews
When I come back I’ll still be the Hammer.

Ken Mehlman also wrote a wonderful poem about how he built a log cabin and forgot to leave room for a closet, but he declined to share it with the full group.  Still, the level of trust in the circle was very high.  I was especially impressed by the way the members of the group were already supportive of one another’s poems always taking care to start with positive comments and avoiding personal attacks.  As John Ashcroft put it, “The Mainstream Media is never constructive and nurturing.  All they want are scandals.  I wish the world could be like this poetry circle then better people would get into public life.”
The circle was so moved by this, that we wound up in a five minute group hug.  

It was that atmosphere that I think made the following possible.

Fair Game
I don’t care if the public hates me
But I’m the one who navigates them from crisis to mandate
Spinning like Penelope  holding off her suitors
They trust me to spread any rumor
To be vicious, to smear, to lie
Because I alone have faith-based initiative
This is what real fathers do
To protect their families
If only my mother had lived to see the day
When even liberals would have to admit that
“I’m their Daddy now.”

I do hope that Scooter does come back to the group so that we can workshop his poem further. I did enjoy having Judith Miller join us for two of the sessions and I have certainly understood her reluctance to discuss this poetry group, but I think when people see this other side of the "inner circle", they'll actually react quite positively.


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Saturday, October 08, 2005

Dancing With Unmatched Legs (music review)

I compare Thelonius Monk’s music to watching a man who has one leg six inches shorter than the other.  First you notice how awkward each step appears and how noticeably difficult it is to simply walk with a minor asymmetry.  Next, you start to admire just how efficient the guy is and how he’s getting across the room despite the fact that it looks so different.  After a few minutes, it occurs to you that he’s not just walking that he’s dancing and that he’s not awkward at all, but as graceful as any ballerina.  

     I think it was Ralph Gleason who compared John Coltrane’s music to “the sound of a very large man in a very small room”.  Coltrane’s music always verged on being energy rather than notes played over a structure. While his music started very much in the bop tradition playing alto like Charlie Parker, even in the 1954 recordings of Coltrane playing with the Miles Davis quintet you can hear how his sound felt almost too big for the darting-linear solo lines of bop. After he left Miles Davis the second time, Coltrane’s music evolved away from the bebop idiom into almost pure abstraction where he began to challenge bar lines, traditional harmonies, and most of the conventions that bound jazz to the European classical musical vocabulary with which it started.  At its best, Coltrane’s saxophone bypassed the ear and mind and bonded directly with the soul.

     For about seven months of 1957, Coltrane was the featured sax player in the Thelonius Monk quartet.  Coltrane had left the Miles Davis Quintet at least partly due to his then still active heroin addiction.  Monk had just regained his cabaret card after losing it for several years to a possibly bogus drug conviction.  Due to recording contract problems, there was only one studio recording of the group.  Early this year, Larry Applebaum, a jazz archivist at the Library of Congress, found a reel to reel tape marked T. Monk with no information other than the date in the proverbial unmarked box.  By the way, there’s a lot of this in jazz.  I have an old friend who is Art Blakey’s grandson.  He tells me that the family literally has a closet filled with old tapes of the Messangers.  The Library of Congress tapes turned out to be a Voice of America radio broadcast (propaganda used to be a whole lot better fifty years ago.  I mean Monk and Coltrane vs. Armstrong Williams on No Child Left Behind?) . Apparently, the recording quality is better than the studio date.  link to blue note and samples  This is the equivalent of finding an unsigned DaVinci or an unpublished Chekhov story, film showing Josh Gibson hitting against Dizzy Dean, or finding a slice of the original Original Ray’s pizza.  

     One of the problems with hearing a gift from fifty years ago is that we hear into it things that hadn’t happened in 1957. Our present ears want to believe that this tape documents the magic moment when Coltrane began the “Moment’s Notice” metamorphosis from bop sideman to avant garde icon.  The reasoning seem to be that Monk as the high priest of bop eccentricity waved some odd chord progressions in front of Coltrane and mysteriously changed his musical horizons. I believe that Coltrane was already a more mature musician than that. But Monk was, after all, the man who danced around the piano in a beanie.  Because, the Monk-Coltrane quartet managed to avoid the studio so well, there’s a mystery to it that makes this version of Coltrane’s evolution so appealing.  
     On the Carnegie Hall tape, you do hear Coltrane sounding different than he did with Miles.  It’s darker, a bit more thoughtful, certainly more angular, but that’s also the difference between Monk and Miles Davis of the time.  Miles’s music was more brooding and Monk’s music always had both a bit more humor and a more probing quality.  One could just as easily point to Coltrane’s much-documented participation in the “Greatest Jazz Recording of all time” A Kind of Blue and its use of modes rather than chord progressions as the sound-changing event for the sax player.   The Carnegie Hall tape is not any clear precursor to Trane’s eventual “sheets of sound”.  While I’m sure that Monk’s interest in odd chord changes did play some role in Coltrane’s evolution, I honestly don’t know that I could take say Trane’s late Paris Concert or his work with Pharoah Sanders and trace it back to his time with Monk or this tape.  Carnegie Hall sounds like a Monk concert.  

     I’m not a musician, but I’d argue that Coltrane might have found his way there had he simply stayed with Miles Davis.  If jazz is as Whitney Balliet put it “The Sound of Surprise”, no figure other than maybe Mingus epitomized the music’s constant need for change and exploration more than Miles Davis.  Certainly, Miles’s restlessness must have influenced Coltrane.  Because so many want to make so much of these suddenly apparated tapes, I suspect no one wants to say the obvious right now.  After Monk’s music was formed in the early fifties as kind of a cubist version of stride piano, his music barely changed.  Always sui generis, once Monk created his musical world, it has to be said that he never left it.  Monk’s last European concerts on Black Lion honestly don’t sound noticeably different from Monk on Columbia or Monk on Riverside.  I do think there are differences between Monk with Charlie Rouse, Monk with Sonny Rollins, and now that we have enough of it to make more of a judgment Monk with Coltrane, but I’m not sure any of these great musical minds necessarily influenced Monk all that much.  While Miles for many years played the same bop and popular standards, they also always changed.  The All Blues of Miles’s 1963 concert pushes forward at a speed that makes it sound like Oleo at points.  The All Blues of a Kind of Blue glides.  Monk, on the other hand, played the same 30-40 songs of his cannon along with an occasional standard with a stubborn classicism.  Sometime the tempo changed, but the compositions never much changed form.

  The one musician who did seem to bring out something a little different in Monk to my ear was Art Blakey, the drummer on Monk’s earliest Blue Note recordings.  I would argue that there is good reason for this.  The piano has a dual nature.  It is both a percussion and a stringed instrument.  More than any jazz pianist, I believe Monk conceived the piano as a kind of tuned drum.  While others might debate how Monk influenced Coltrane, I don’t think anyone would seriously argue that Trane’s stay with Monk had much influence on Monk.

     That said, this is a great record.  Monk was a master at creating space and no other horn player was better at filling space than Trane, to the point where even early on he seems to be playing chords instead of single notes.  One of the best things about the better audio quality is that you actually hear the way Malik and Shadow Wilson both embellish and push Monk’s piano lines.  On the opening ballad , Monk’s Mood, the sparseness give the sound an immediacy and freedom that’s sometimes missing in later Monk.  Epistrophy also has an energy and mystery to it that typifies Monk at his best.  More than anything, the Carnegie concert has a relaxed feel especially from Coltrane.  In the earlier much compromised tapes of Coltrane and Monk, you can hear Coltrane still trying to clear some of the hurdles that come with negotiating Monk’s music.  Here Coltrane, after five months of playing the Five Spot with Monk, confidently answers Monk’s solos and prompts as a full partner now fluent in Monk.  In sum, it’s two of the seminal musicians of the century playing together and in great form.  Four musicians, play, listen to one another, and push one another forward.

Anyone who loves music should be celebrating this recording.  It’s not the Rosetta Stone to late Coltrane, but it shouldn’t have to be.  The only thing that’s painful for me is that I find myself wondering who will push America’s most fully realized art form ahead in the next century? In the meantime, I have the sound of Monk and Trane, who was the only sax player who could tap dance and tango at the same time, somehow magically dancing together for almost a full hour.  


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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Who are the real hackers?

Viruses in Playstation Story   reading this story gave me the first clue that I’m getting increasingly paranoid.  My first thought was that the virus that destroys playstations masquerading as a hacker’s code to allow you to beat the games wasn’t the product of other malicious hackers, but more likely to be the brainchild of someone at Sony.  I think that’s because I had a horrible experience with my Sony Vaio laptop, the connector to the AC adapter went bad and no one was allowed to fix the electrical part except Sony.  I sent it to Florida for an estimate and they wanted 550 dollars.  “How can the ac connector in the case cost 550 dollars,” I asked after going through five levels of technical support and waiting on the phone for three hours.

“Well there were other things to fix?”  

They sent me an itemized bill and wanted to change an IC on the videoboard even though there were no problems with the video.  The bill for the IC was 250 dollars.  The laptop was about fifteen hundred dollars new at the time.  When I asked the skilled tech support professional how a single IC that wasn’t a cpu could cost 250 dollars, he responded by asking “What’s an IC?”.  

“An Integrated Circuit, you know what those are?”

No, I don’t know what an Ingegrated Circuit is.”

“What are you doing working in technical support for a computer company?”

“I’m a third level technical support person.”

Meaning there are two levels of people who know less than you?”

“That’s correct?”

“Do you have to follow a script?”


“Have you ever actually fixed a computer yourself?”

“I don’t do that as part of my job here. No.”

After three more phone calls, a supervisor called me and gave me a small discount on the repair job, but the bottom line was that the socket where I plugged in the AC adapter needed to be resoldered. He explained that the simple answer was that Sony gouges its own customers on Sony specific parts.  I’ve never trusted Sony since, though I still admire their products.

I do understand the economics of repairing electronics, but I think it’s sad that we’re losing any sense of how to fix things or that anything manufactured can and should be repaired locally.  In the meantime, I’d be absolutely convinced that someone in Sony technical support wrote the Trojan to keep people from hacking their Playstations, if only I hadn’t learned what I learned about Sony Technical Support.  Anyway, I’m supposed to believe in computer terrorists who have nothing better to do than play mean tricks on fellow hackers.  In the meantime, there’s one clear beneficiary in this story and it’s not a 14 year old who sits in his bedroom with a lot of time, great codewriting skills, and no other motive than a desire to wreak havoc in living rooms across the world.  Maybe I shouldn’t have seen that movie “The Village”.  

But it makes me wonder why the number of Right Wing terror incidents in the US is far higher than the number of Islamic terror incidents in this country and exactly why no one ever comments on it.  
I don't even want to think about all the security holes that Microsoft bundled into Explorer.

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Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Color of Virtue

Bill Bennett said something on his radio show that was so beyond politically incorrectthe quote that it reminds me of a time when I was in school and a fraternity that happened to be next to the Hillel House began chanting “Hitler had the right idea” at some party.  I didn’t think that the fraternity which probably even had some Jewish members was advocating for the reopening of Auschwitz in the East Bay.  I understood that they probably had too much to drink that day and got carried away.  Believe me, I’ve done any number of stupid things myself and wished I never said or did whatever it was that I did.  The deeper mystery was how these guys were making it through a reasonably competitive college at a time of intense political correctness.  In Bill Bennett’s case, I’ve listened to the tape a couple times and recognize that he was attempting a reductio ad absurdum.  He obviously wasn’t advocating eugenics or forced abortion.  It’s just that when you say “We could reduce crime by aborting every black baby in America,”  it might occur to you that some folk might not understand the sophisticated and subtly  elegant philosophical proposition as stated.

That said, I’m less stunned by what he said than the fact that the guy used to be the president of Duke University.  He’s not a twenty year old drunken frat boy and he said it on the radio while sober.  I suspect he wasn’t even gambling at the time though you can do all sorts of things online these days.  I do wonder what happened to those frat guys now that they’re middle aged.  Did the reaction to the incident raise their own sensitivity?  Are they staffing the Department of Homeland Security?  Are they the arugala and endive buyers for an extensive chain of gourmet markets?  Are they keeping blogs?  

When Larry Krueger, a local sports talk host who has never been president of a major university or the Secretary of Education, ultimately got fired for his off the cuff comment about “brain dead Caribbean hitters on the Giants”, my  first instinct was to look at the Giants actual statistics to see who had the highest ratio of strikeouts to walks on the team.  The answer turned out to be that two of the worst offenders were Mike Matheny, one of the “smartest” catchers in baseball, and Lance Niekro  whose uncle and father were “crafty” knuckleballers.  The most “disciplined” hitter on the Giants was Moises Alou, the manager’s son who had grown up in the Dominican Republic.  The statistics told me that something other than the facts had shaded Krueger’s comments., despite what all his friends said about how nice he normally is to people who speak Spanish and play baseball.

I thought I’d do the same with Bill Bennett.  I put “race and crime statistic” in a google search and got a surprising number of sites right off that claimed to have the statistics on black crime in America.  Three of the first five had ties to the Aryan nations, David Duke, etc.  I have no idea if any are currently run by former fraternity brothers from more than twenty years ago who happened to live next to the Hillel House.  I don’t mean to say that in modern times a person should be judged by the google company he or she keeps, it just surprised me.

One of the interesting things about these sites is that even their numbers show that most murders in America are committed by whites.  For some reason, the sites I saw  broke America down into just two races, black or white.  They didn’t appear quite as concerned about  those of us who are neither or the growing number of Americans who happen to be both.  For what it’s worth, members of the Bush family appear to commit crime at a far greater rate than any other group in America not named Gotti.  They, however, seldom get indicted.  Instead they become partners in baseball teams etc.  

Blll Bennett said any number of things afterwards about what he intended to say and the context of his Freakonomics argument.  He insists that his words are getting twisted, a fascinating admission in itself from someone with a PHD in Political Philosophy, a law degree from Harvard, and twenty five years in national politics. I think though , much like Larry Krueger, it’s not what he meant to say, it’s what it revealed.  Krueger apologized and still lost his job,  Bennet hasn’t and still appears to be on the air along with that drug addict guy who shares Terrell Owens’s opinion of his quarterback and the phone sex guy.  After all, accountability is one of their “virtues”.

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