Wednesday, June 29, 2005

My Internet Adventure

I honestly believe that the Wikipedia is one of the treasures of the Internet, but it's not a completely dependable source of information. Most of us know this in theory, but I think it's easier to simply cede ultimate authority to some written or broadcasted source. Legend has it that the Guinness Book of World Records was created to settle bar bets. You met, you insisted something was true, someone pulled out a copy of the book and you just assumed that the world's fattest man, etc. is the guy identified in its pages. Hardly anyone ever asks what the Guinness Book people did to make sure they were right. They don't go from town to town across the world with a truck scale. They don't send out surveys to millions of people, "Who's the biggest person you ever met?"
Brilliant, Brilliant....

About a week ago, I started writing for the blog about the similarities between the Phillipine Insurrection of 1898 and our current occupation of Iraq. I learned two interesting things. First, because the war happened while Mckinley was president, I assumed that Mark Hanna, his pro-business political strategist who was the beta version of Karl Rove, had helped to orchestrate the war. Further research indicated that Hanna actually opposed the war. Rove studied and admired Hanna. It simply made sense that Rove's use of Iraq must have been pulled from his study of Hanna. It just didn't happen to be true. In that war, Theodore Roosevelt was the hawk and Hanna the "Isolationist." It was this Blogkeeper's first reminder that you shouldn't believe every "fact" repeated in a blog, even my own. Many of us really are just some guy who looks things up on the net and possibly double checks it in a book. In this case, it appeared to fit so well, I simply made an unwarranted assumption before I took the time to hunt down a more detailed version of Hanna's career.

When I looked Hanna up on the Wikipedia, an internet "open source" encyclopedia, I was very surprised to learn that Hanna had served in the Civil War and according to the Wikipedia, last week, had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1895 for his service during that war. "Wow," I thought, "This guy was no chickenhawk neo-con."

I looked up a handful of other Hanna biographies on the net. About four of them contained the same bit about the Congressional Medal of Honor. Each looked suspiciously like the Wikipedia article. One problem with HTML is clearly that it's much to easy to cut and paste. Two things bothered me though. First, the original Wikipedia said that his service in the Civil War was very "brief". Second, I wondered why would a prominent Republican political advisor be given the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1895, thirty years after the war and with a Democrat in the White House. If he won the thing, why didn't any of these sources say what he did to win the highest military honor an American can receive?

I did a little more searching on the net to see if I could find a list of Medal of Honor winners. Via Yahoo search, I turned up
a story about a lighthouse keeper in Maine, named Mark Hanna who also won the Medal of Honor in 1895 for his service in the Civil War. There were at least two Marcus Hannas who served in the Civil War. The other was a quartermaster from Ohio who went on to advise a future president.

I sent a note to Wikipedia and much to my surprise they changed their entry to reflect the information that I'd found elsewhere on the Internet, which I suppose makes me an actual "Wiki". That's the good news.

At the same time, I am thinking about the ways the Net is playing an increasingly prominent role in everyday life as a de facto source of authoritative information, a Guiness Book of World Records on electronic steroids. In the last presidential election, both candidate's military records became a swift
source of controvery. Many complained that mass media was somewhat AWOL with respect to getting out accurate information about either. There are some fascinating sources of information on the Internet. You can get copies of speeches, the text of every bill a major politician has ever endorsed, voted on, written, etc. Still, the sad truth is that the Internet probably served as much as a source of disinformation about both stories as it did to confirm any facts. Making matters worse, military records happen to be one of the best kept types of documentation, apparently because they need to get pension information right. 102 years after he died, the Internet promoted Mark Hanna from a quartermaster who went into business into a Medal of Honor Winner. At least five other sites simply copied and repeated the information. How much of that goes on with contemporary political blogs? How much happened in Swift Boat vs. National Guard?

The Greeks looked to the Delphic Oracle. A significant portion of the modern world believes that either the Bible or the Koran contain answers to all significant questions. Unwittingly, we have begun to trust a secular oracle, the World Wide Web in combination with the Google Search Engine. We know very little about how information gets to either one, yet it's becoming a kind of collective consciousness/unconscious.

As we grow more dependent on this ever changing Gaia like promise, we should be thinking about the dangers. Consider the possibility of "information" terrorism. How hard would it be to manipulate common sources on the Internet? WMD could appear in Iraq. The Holocaust could disappear. The President's national guard records could change. A political strategist could be given the Medal of Honor. It might be as easy as getting a hundred different bloggers to repeat something enough times and it then appears at the top of a Google Search. If the Net is going to be our collective folk memory, shouldn't we be thinking about ways to maintain its integrity?

Should we be teaching kids to be "critical" net users rather than just consumers?
Something like the Wikipedia takes pains to continually augment and edit what it posts, a kind of truth by recursion approach. In the meantime, I honestly believe that various individuals have found more techniques to distort rather than uncover the truth as it appears on the Internet, while most internet users become less and less critical of what they find there.

So, let this be your warning. Be careful about any assertions of fact that appear in mine or any other blog.

Chancelucky: The Phillipines (1898) Iraq (2003)


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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Flag Desecration

I'm inspired by congress's latest resolution to adopt a constitutional amendment to outlaw "physically" desecrating the American flag. I assume the sponsors are thinking about people who burn the flag as a symbolic expression of dissent. At least, I can't imagine them wanting to prosecute some boy scout who accidentally drops the thing as he tries to fold it into the perfect red white and blue as opposed to pink triangle. They certainly didn't mean Mary Carey, the porn star gubernatorial candidate as opposed to the steroid using, trash movie starring, governor, who wore a dress to republican fundraiser that was designed around stars and stripes decolletage. As far as I know, the party accepted her donation. They probably aren't targetting things like flag napkins, bumper stickers, or advertisements.
It's really only symbolic speech that seems to matter here, sort of like an annex to the first amendment. Congress shall make no law that abridges freedom of speech unless it's symbolically critical of the current administration.

All in all, I think this notion of annotating the Bill of Rights isn't a bad idea. The Founding Fathers certainly left considerable ambiguity.
For instance, "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

Obviously someone might read that and wonder if they really meant give automatic weapons to any wacko who has the money. It makes sense to anyone that that would be part of a well regulated milita. In fact, I understand that military recruiters have gotten so desperate for fodder that they are starting to overlook minor items like mental health histories. So, let's say an amendment 2a that says "congress shall make no law abridging the power fo the NRA to influence elections."

And this abortion thing. Nothing in the Bill of Rights even seems to contemplate banning them. Even worse, there's this weird penumbra of rights (note that it's a penumbra not a vagumbra), which sounds vaguely sexual anyway, allegedly implied by the constitution. It seems simple enough, Amendment 4A might say something like "Abortion needs to be illegal, but viagra should be advertised on tv at any time, and sex education and information about contraception should never be publicly distributed despite the first amendment. Oh, and by the way, none of this gay marriage stuff. That's immoral. Just ask the mayor of Spokane."

The document is more than 200 years old, a little updating wouldn't hurt it.

I am also interested in the very careful distinction the House made to limit it to "physical" desecration of the flag. Is it because they worried that someone might try to prosecute people for some real desecration of the flag?

1) Lying to the American people and starting a war that kills tens of thousands of people. It's really pretty simple as far as I'm concerned. When the Bush twins enlist and go to Iraq, I'll believe that the president truly believes that this war is critical. If you're a Christian, you know that sacrificing your own children would have been the Godly thing to do.

2) Holding a midnight session of congress to pass Terri's law as a cheap publicity stunt for a woman who had no medical hope of recovery. Well, Dr. Frist thought she did, but then he insisted that he never said that, until they showed him the tape of his saying that.

3) Re-editing government studies to soften warnings about environmental dangers.

4) Running uncontrolled deficits that risk leaving all our children behind.

5) Keeping people from voting, but apologizing for that lynching thing a hundred years ago. Talk about a senate that reacts swiftly and has no fear of doing the right thing, so what if they did it by voice vote for some reason.

So, if you want to talk about desecrating the flag, let's have a serious discussion of what it means to desecrate the flag.

I still also have this odd question. What happens if various terrorist groups start reading this proposed legislation? Could you imagine the dilemma if they say started covering themselves and all their camps in the American flag? I could see the American commander.

"Well, the attorney general says it's okay to torture them, but gee....we can't blow up a flag, that would be un-American. I guess we'll have to pass."

"Yes sir, you're absolutely right. Only scoundrels would cover themselves in the flag. True patriots honor what it stands for, they don't hide behind it."


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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Phillipines (1898) Iraq (2003)

I was going to write something about the similarities between the Spanish American War and our current struggles in Iraq and in the process found this Parallels Between Spanish American War and Iraq
which does a much better job than I could have. It's from the Washington Times of all places, though it appeared there as an outside viewpoint.

It's often said that Karl Rove, despite the fact that he never finished college, is a keen student of political history. A lot of historians look at Mark Hanna/William McKinley as one of the lower points in American political history. It is embarrassing, for instance, to learn that American naval commanders actively planned naval battles in the Phillipines with Spain well in advance of the war actually breaking out. Also, Mckinley's claim that he got down on his knees and prayed to God for guidance about taking sovereignty from the Phililipines, after a war premised on ensuring soverignty for Cuba, has not generally been interpreted as an exemplar of either American greatness or proof of divine intervention. It wasn't until I came across an article by Morton Kondracke Kondracke Article, on a conservative site that argues that the supression of the Phillipine insurrection at the turn of the last century might possibly be the road map for Iraq, that it occured to me that Karl Rove has both studied the Spanish American War and is using it as a model for how to conduct both modern American foreign policy and to keep his party in power.

It can be argued that 1900 was the height of Republican power in American History. It is the apex of the merger between unregulated big business, congresss, the supreme court, the presidency, and fledgling big media. At the time, for example, the 14th amendment had been successfully invoked to protect corporations, but had not yet been used to prevent racial segregation (Plessy v. Ferguson 1896). Anti-trust was just a gleam in the vice-president, Theodore Roosevelt's eye. From Karl Rove's perspective, the Spanish American war and the aftermath of the Gilded Age might really have been the good old days.

The Kondracke article makes the point that the Phillipines only cost 4,200 American lives and took a mere three years beyond the end of the Spanish American war. By those standards, we might be well ahead of schedule in Iraq. Kondracke somehow fails to mention that anywhere from 250,000 to 600,000 Fillipinos also died in the process of fighting for their right to self-determination. It was, after all, an odd way to teach our " poor brown brothers" the virtues of democracy, just ask Mark Twain and the Anti-Imperialist Leauge. Also, America lost some credibility for beating the insurrection by using tactics that included torture and burning entire villages that might be resisting the American way. It's also hard to find a serious historian who believes America was sincere about its "Noble" motives for keeping the Phillipines. Most agree that it never was about Christianity or democracy, it was simply about keeping international market share. In other words, one can claimn that the Spanish American war and its aftermath succeeded in terms of Empire and enhancing American power. At the same time, it put the lie to American claims that it was a kinder, gentler kind of Imperialist power. No actual compassionate conservatives there, I guess.

It should be mentioned that some 40 years later, Phillipino soldiers helped fight the Japanese in World War 2. Some of them were rewarded with US citizenship, which I have to say is pretty darned ironic. So maybe Morton Kondracke et. al. are right, the annexation of the Phillipines might be a positive model for our Iraq adventure from a purely American perspective. (If the purpose of the UN is to defend American interests, the president has identified the right ambassador.) If the purpose of US military intervention is not really to spread democracy, we've picked the right war and the right way to wage it.

I do wonder if the average Iraqi looks at places like Cuba, the Phillipines, or Puerto Rico and thinks,"Gee, I hope the US occupation will let us be like one of those countries some day. Each is such a reassuring example of 100 years of self-determination and the application of democratic principles."

It is fascinating to me that Karl Rove chose Hanna/Mckinley as his model. I do want to mention that Rove especially admires Hanna, though in the interest of historical accuracy I've since learned that Hanna himself actually opposed the Spanish American War, quite likely because he thought it was ultimately bad for business. Perhaps Rove is copying the strategy for the war rather than just Hanna's strategy. Unlike Rove as well, Hanna had served in the Civil War and was according to some sources (wikipedia) awarded Congressional Medal of Honor some 30 years after the fact (I think this may be an example of trusting the internet too much though. There appears to be a lighthouse keeper in Maine in 1885 who was also named Marcus Hanna who was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor and I'm starting to believe that this is a much repeated mistake) (I'll post something about this in a coming article on the nature of the internet). I know Rove uses Lincoln, the republican president even Democrats approve of, but only the Ex Parte Milligan Lincoln and instead of using the Muscular Christianity peice of Theodore Roosevelt, he's lifted the jingoistic side of the Republican president who sought to rein in the excesses of the gilded age through anti-trust, conservation, etc. I suspect Rove believes that TR's split with Taft led to a Republican decline until the party rallied against the League of Nations. It's even more fascinating that what worked with the early mass consumption newspapers of Hearst and Pulitzer, still works with the Intenet. In the information age, we have such powerful tools to keep people well "informed" about what their leaders are really doing. Instead, it seems like some have more successfully harnessed mass communication technology to disinform and divert.

A hundred years ago, Remember the Maine was a rallying cry for war. A hundred years later no one has any idea who actually blew up the Maine, other than a likely boiler failure. Today no one in the administration seems to seriously care about catching Osama, the man who helped mastermind the World Trade Center killings. A hundred years ago, the party of commerce used war to advance markets. A hundred years later, most Americans have forgotten the story. That is, most everyone except Karl Rove who is successfully using it as a model for America's future.
Like Mark Hanna, I suspect history will judge him to have been a great political strategist, but not necessarily a great American, that is unless Fox News winds up writing all the histories.

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Sunday, June 19, 2005

Grace Notes: Sonic Impact T:Amp (gadget review)

One problem with keeping a vaguely political blog is that it's far too easy to slip into a vortex of despair. No doubt, there is too much wrong with the world and we should each do some part to address the world's macro-issues. Global warming, peak oil, the decline of informed democracy, the evils of the Happy Meal, and a growing resemblance between everyday life and a Microsoft Operating System where our media player keeps growing, but we are more and more subject to viruses, terrorists attacks, pop up ads, recurring shutdowns, memory leaks, and constant talk of security holes, aren't going to change any time soon despite our efforts. At the micro-level, anger and frustration must be balanced with some measure of laughter and joy. Music remains one of the most direct paths to joy.

If you ask me what's actually improved in the last century, there are a handful of things that I'm sure about. Along with the quality of bread in California grocery stores, recorded music has virtually unqualifiedly qualitatively improved our lives. Television, telephones, and the internet may all be mixed blessings, but it's hard for me to see the downside of the invention of recorded music in the last century. I can actually hear Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday, maybe not in full fidelity or due to the limitations of pre-lP recordings not in segments longer than 3 minutes, but it's hard for me to imagine a world where great musicians had their music as they played it die with them. I even once heard a recording of Brahms and Debussy playing the piano. About the worse thing I can think of about recorded music is that the US apparently tried to use Christina Aguilera to torture prisoners at Guantanamo. Well, there is the whole business of William Shatner and Brent Spiner singing. There's also the question of whether recorded music has discouraged regular people from making their own music or at least attending live concerts. Still, it's hard to calculate the joy that's been made possible by recorded music.

For most of my adult life, I've collected and listened to recorded music, a habit that led me into the bewildering audiophile wilderness where the mystical battles on a daily basis with the scientific usually at high retail prices. When music is reproduced with greater fidelity, more of the pleasures trapped inside the recording come out. For decades, many audiophiles have insisted that audio technology has taken a step backwards when it comes to fidelity. Records were better than disks, tubes were better than transistors, and horn loaded speakers sounded better than bass reflex or acoustic suspension counterparts. In other words, to care about sound often made you a kind of technological Trent Lott, extolling the beauties of some lost order of things which wasn't either all that orderly or idyllic.

Recently, via the internet, I came across a battery powered amplifier called the Sonic-Impact T-amp based on something called the tripath chip.
link to T-amp review

Bottom line, it sells for 19.99, though at that price the suppliers are always out of the things, and it actually sounds good enough for me not to wonder how much more joy is trapped inside my CD's and Mp3s. The average boom box makes me think that someone is torturing my old Blue Notes by playing Christina Aguilera into them so they sound compressed and lifeless. As the audiophiles will tell you, real music breathes. The T-amp isn't perfect, but it manages to breathe. Music, like good bread has texture, the T-amp seems to be made from good dough. Last night I found myself listening at loud volume to Bach Orchestral Suites, Steely Dan, Michelle Shocked, Kenny Drew, and Lee Konitz through the T-amp, a concert that would have been impossible in real time. Maybe it won't fix the hole in the ozone layer, but it's progress. Of course, now someone's going to tell me that the chip dies are made from some toxic substance and that the cases are made with slave labor in some South Asian country where workers aren't allowed to listen to music on the job or are limited to the Backstreet Boys.

I've noticed that I get a lot visitors here who are probably looking for more conventional reviews of the T-Amp. Some of my "audiophile" thoughts follow. No one pretends that this amp has much power. You will need either high-efficiency speakers or a very high output source. For some reason, my Dell Axim 5, maybe because the output has to feed a small speaker, mates very well with the T-Amp. If you don't have a high output source, I strongly recommend a pre-amp. If you have a high output source or pre-amp, reasonably efficient speakers 89 db will sound fine. I use a pair of SEAS 5" two ways, home brew speakers most of the time. The overall result is better than my SWANS M200s at my office, but after you figure in speakers, the T-amp+speakers is actually more expensive.

I've had an 800B tubed amp. The T-amp sounds nothing like low powered tubes. It does however share a kind of presence or immediacy in the midrange with them as well as a slightly rolled off quality at the frequency extremes. At the same time, it's not as "rounded" sounding as a tubed amp. One reviewer mentions that the T-amp is very appealing, but maybe ever so slightly artificial and suggested that it had something to do with the frequency filter in the chip. I'm inclined to agree, but we're talking about a $20 amplifier and to be honest the 800B tube is on the warm side of natural as well(something most of us like)

Power, I've used 8 nimh aa batteries, a separate 12 volt batterry and a regulated 1 amp power supply from Fry's. The 12 volt battery sounds best, but it's not a huge difference. A set of nimh 1800 mah batteries runs for something like 15 hours at moderate volumes. I'm wondering if the tripath chip might be great for an amplified speaker that doesn't need AC. Being 12 volt single-ended, it's even well suited for cars or RVs.


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Friday, June 17, 2005

Jeb Bush and delays

On the heels of the Terri Schiavo autopsy, the Governor of Florida has asked for an investigation of Michael Schiavo's alleged delay in calling 911 when his wife orginally collapsed back in 1991. Wow, I'm excited about this.

This means the governor might check into some other delays in his state.

1) On 9/11 2001, the president, who has the same last name as the governor of Florida, apparently took 10 minutes to respond to reports that commercial airliners had been highjacked and flown into the World Trade Center.

2) In November of 2000, several hundred African-American voters complained that they were delayed from voting by a variety of police stops, traffic checkpoints, etc.

3) It's been alleged that some of the 9/11 highjackers were trained in Florida flight schools. Glad to hear that the governor will be investigating how that happened after a long delay.

4) And how about the governor's role in delaying the return of Elian Gonzales to his own father? fascinating example of family values in action there.

Apparently, the governor of Florida has a lot of time on his hands. Everything else in the state of Florida must be just fine.

Chancelucky on Florida

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

WE Are the World, Debt Relief, and Neverland

I realized yesterday that I can ask more detailed questions about the state of Michael Jackson’s finances like whether or not he can pay either his attorney Thomas Mesereau or his Neverland electric bill and if that will force Jackson to sell the rights to the Lennon and Mcartney song catalog back to Sony Records than I can about G8’s recent decision to cancel the debt of 18 highly impoverished countries. Compounding the irony, most of the 18 countries are more or less the same places they were singing about in We Are the World, that celebrities meet world hunger and enhance their profile in the process event that Michael Jackson of all people helped to pull together some twenty years ago. I understand he’s now planning a similar musical fundraiser for celebrities who need to pay their criminal defense attorneys. fwiw, it’s a very real, but odd sign of racial progress in this country. If you’re rich and black, you can now afford better attorneys than the Catholic Church or Martha Stewart, and get the same kind of justice that rich white people have always gotten. Let's just say that the price of reasonable doubt in America isn't all that reasonable.

What is this Jubilee/Debt Relief business? Human life most likely originated in southern Africa, but the humans who made it north of the equator now own the world. All of the world’s high poverty countries are south of the equator. All the members of the G8, Russia was the last member, are well north of the equator. One of the big signs that we are moving in the wrong direction is that G8 has 8 members and there are something like 45 high poverty/high debt countries in the world. More significant, all those countries are growing at a faster rate than any members of the G8. When it's G53, we'll know that the world is definitely better off. In the meantime, the US needs to decide whether the emergence of China and India as economic powers is a hope or a threat for the future.

Over the last fifty years, wealthy countries have lent enormous amounts of money to “developing” countries. Instead of developing, countries like Rwanda (after I saw the very good movie Hotel Rwanda, I then went to find Kigali on a map), Congo, Bolivia, Tanzania, etc. simply wound up owing even more enormous amounts of money to the developed world through the magic of compound interest. One result was that a country like Tanzania owed the developed world something like three thousand euros per child per year in interest payments and had like six euros a year/child to spend on school for those children. The result was a kind of Internationalized version of Dickens with whole countries wasting away in Debtor’s Prison instead of families with quirky but plucky personalities. The other way to look at it is that the Industrialized nations were going to foreclose on the Garden of Eden.

What happened to the money? The current view is that little to none of it got spent on education, health care, or serious economic development. Instead, it fell into the hands of corrupt but outwardly anti-communist regimes who took the money and built houses just like Enron’s Ken Lay. Apparently if you molest thousands of people’s pension plans, it’s not worth prosecuting if the president calls you Uncle Ken. (I imagine, there's more to the story than that and it has to do with colonialism, anti-communism, and resource exploitation as well) In any case, those regimes are now gone and millions of children are left to pay back debt on principal they never actually benefitted from. The irony of this is that the biggest dude in G8 happens to be the United States which also happens to be the world’s biggest deficit spender and is currently running up huge trade deficits with countries like China. A lot of that money is currently going to the ongoing liberation of Iraq as foretold by the Project for the New American Century. Is it possible that a couple generations from now, our own exercise in shaping the world to our Superpowerhood will collapse on the kryptonite of our own debt? Instead of living like Ken Lay, our grandchildren might be living like the children of Tanzania without public education, effective health care, and limited prospects to live as well as their parents did.

Making this whole international financial picture even more of a mobius strip, one of the key players is the new head of the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz. If you remember, Wolfowitz was one of the guiding lights of the Project for the New American Century and some say New American Century's voice in the defense department for the war in Iraq. As the story goes, Wolfowitz met with Bono (I can’t make this stuff up) and is endorsing G8’s decision to cancel the debt of 18 of the world’s very poorest countries which goes to show that neo-conservatives don’t necessarily take the wrong stance on everything.

I’m currently applauding G8’s decision to cancel the debt for these 18 countries. Frankly, I don’t spend a lot of time waiting by my mailbox for my 25 cents a day from a child in Mali. In fact, I don’t even send warning letters like, if you don’t pay us what you owe plus penalties and interest, we’ll send you Average Joe reruns and leftover CD’s made by the losers on American Idol. It makes much more sense to me for the money to be going in the other direction via Sally Struthers. I also can’t fault G8’s conditions. If we cancel the debt, don’t use it to buy 10 Hummer H2’s for yourself while you blame public employee unions for all that is wrong with your state. You have to actually reform your economy and make sure the money goes to schools, vaccinations, water purification, farming machinery, etc. istead of say to Halliburton. It probably wouldn’t hurt if some of the money went to birth control, but if the US is involved I kind of doubt that it will.

My one fear though is that this latest round of debt relief really isn’t about a humanitarian vision of the world’s financial system.
Given the sudden involvement of Paul Wolfowitz, who may well be a Wolfowitz in sheep's clothing, I’m wondering if it’s also tied into a kind of neo-imperialism, which is after all the proper name for neo-conservatives since they aren't actually conservative in any way. Not only do we want you to spend the money on schools and vaccinations, but we also want you to open your markets and adapt policies favorable to U.S. interests. If you don’t we’ll keep you in poverty for another couple generations. We live in a country that just changed its bankruptcy laws, some say at the behest of credit card companies. International Debt Relief is kind of a world bankruptcy court currently being promoted as an examplar of the Northern industrialized world’s moral solvency in the wake of its too well documented history of moral bankruptcy towards the developing world. It appears to be a step in the right direction, but what’s on the back end of the deal?

To me, international finance remains maddeningly abstract. One of the issues the world keeps dealing with is how long do you hold someone else’s descendants responsible for things that happened generations ago? Put another way, what is the obligation of the living to redress the past? Apologizing for lynching a hundred years after the fact might be nice, but it’s also strangely hollow. Keeping literal accounts of debts and obligations across generations and governments also seems hollow. What I do know is that some 4 billion people share the earth and the responsibility for sustaining it for future generations of a species that has spread from southern Africa to all but one continent. It’s a tragedy that Michael Jackson went from someone known for raising money to save starving children to a bankrupt weirdo accused of molesting them. It’s a much deeper tragedy that almost the same can be said for America the nation. (we like to forget that there are other ways to molest children, sometimes millions of them) Our pretense to international benevolence has always been something of a Neverland. Perhaps that's why the administration wants to turn the United Nations over to as benevolent and diplomatic a guy as Tom Bolton.

If we are to be acquitted by our own grandchildren, it’s time to concentrate on fixing the future instead of fixating on the past.
Let me start with this. All children should have the right to grow up fed, educated, healthy, and with some prospect for the future. (this may include some foresight about how many children we can guarantee that to) The question of who owns what and who owes what should always be secondary to that. Getting there may be A Long and Winding Road, but it beats having to play Yesterday over and over again.

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Monday, June 13, 2005

Downing Street Memo and the real DSM

I’m not sure what to make of certain kinds of coincidences. How does one make sense of the fact that we all dial 911 in an emergency while 9/11 more or less proved that America’s emergency response system didn’t work in a real EMERGENCY? In the last week, I’ve been seeing references to the Downing Street Memo as the “DSM” which is also the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. So which disorder in the DSM is best described by the Downing Street Memo? There are a number of candidates including, Disassociative Disorder, Depersonalization Disorder, and perhaps the best candidate of all Antisocial Personality Disorder 301.7 in the DSM.
Here are some of the DSM sysmptoms for Antisocial Personality...

1. failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest
2. deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure
3. impulsivity or failure to plan ahead
4. irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults
5. reckless disregard for safety of self or others
6. consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations
7. lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another

They are afraid of intimacy and of assuming responsibility for it. They cannot believe that others can tolerate their anxiety, and all devoutly fear responsibility for achieving success by open competition. They can neither identify with authority nor accept this criticism, and they resent any thwarting of their actions, even when such intervention is clearly in their interest. Their consciences are too rigid, not too lenient, and so they reject all moral standards and ideals, rather than experience their punitive self-judgment.
Source Article Quoted on Discussion of Treatment
Before treatment can begin, firm limits are critical. The therapist must find some way of dealing with the patient's self-defeating behavior. To overcome the patients' fear of intimacy, the therapist must frustrate the patient's wish to run from tenderness and from the honest pain of human encounter...

We have to remember that the DSM is a relatively new way to catalog and conceptualize mental disorders. The ancient belief was that mental illness was the result of being possessed by supernatural forces.

In short, the Antisocial personality disorder individual, they used to call them “sociopaths”, is just the sort of person who would take a 911 call and have no compunction about turning it into a means to exploit the callers in the name of protecting them from further harm. Now that the Downing Street Memo (DSM) has provided us with the diagnosis and now that we know that calling 911 doesn’t work for a danger of this magnitude (see Office of Homeland Securingity threat level codes), what are going to do to treat it?

My suggestion, put the President, without benefit of either body armor or black boxes in the back of his suit, on Oprah for an hour long show with Pat Tillman’s family and say a few thousand victims of our twin war in Iraq and on the Earth itself. Let the world watch and come to its own conclusions about the sort of people who currently have custody of the “football”. My guess is you won’t have to look at the DSM or even at the Downing Street Memo to see that there’s a problem that needs to be “fixed”.

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Beyond the Sea and the future of the Meta-Musical

I just rented Beyond the Sea, Kevin Spacey’s take on Bobby Darin. Beyond the Sea is the latest installment in a genre best described as the “Meta-Musical”. As most people know, the musical and the western were staples of the Hollywood studio period. With the introduction of both sound and color, the musical was perhaps the fullest expression of the power of the new technology at a time when movie theaters were still pushing asside nightclubs and theater shows as venues for the downtown entertainment dollar.

The formula was simple enough. You combined a sentimental plot, usually a love story involving attractive people, with lavish production numbers built around multiple costume changes, surreal sets, and more activity than the eye or ear could handle. When it worked, audiences would leave theaters singing to themselves, dancing with streetlights, and traipsing up and down stairs.

As the 60’s approached, the formula wore down. TV was a more immediate medium for singing and dancing and “sentimental” gave way to “realistic”. There were still great musicals, but movies like West Side Story and My Fair Lady, both adaptations of Broadway Shows, had a darker more class conscious edge. Even the Sound of Music had Nazis in it. Musicals, in general though, stopped justifying their production costs and the studios had a hard time figuring out ways to adapt the medium to a more modern audience. Paint Your Wagon a western musical more or less about wife/husband swapping and starring the strangest musical cast ever of Lee Marvin, Clint Eastwood, and Jean Seberg probably marked the apotheosis of Hollywood’s confusion about where to take the genre.

The notion of the complete movie star who could act, sing, dance, and kiss convincingly on screen gave way to “method” stars who acted and made no pretense to any of the other skills. In other words, no more Marlon Brando as Sky Masterson, though the decade did produce Susan Sarandon and Tim Currie in Rocky Horror Picture Show. In the 70’s America and the movies became more introspective. In 1977, Annie Hall won best picture by taking cinematic self-consciousness in Hollywood to new levels (fwiw in 1997, Woody Allen made his own version of a musical Everyone Says I Love You).

In 1979, Bob Fosse made the first and maybe only great Meta-Musical, All That Jazz. All That Jazz combined some of the best dance routines on film with a dark self-referential plot based on Fosse himself that turned musical conventions on their head. The movie’s plot was basically this. Fosse’s devotion to creating song and dance routines had rendered him personally incapable of living out his own life as a Hollywood ever after musical plotline. He smoked too much, was tyrannically demanding, couldn’t be sexually faithful, and he was being inexorably drawn to Jessica Lange, the angel of death. In other words, making musicals caused coronaries. The movie was generally well reviewed, but for some time, there were few followers possibly because of a vision that could jump from its romantic vision of dancers at work inGeorge Benson’s On Broadway to the satirizing the significance of the song and dance way in Bye Bye Life set the bar at a daunting height.

For some time, the tradition of the Hollywood musical was left to two unlikely heirs. First, Disney studios began to reinvigorate its production of full length animated features with movies like Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and the Lion King, which in a reversal of tradition then got transformed into Broadway musicals. Second, the world’s most prolific movie making country, India, found a way to marry their traditional imagery and sentimental plots with the Hollywood musical in a mix now known as “Bollywood,” which I would argue stays truest to the spirit of the original Hollywood musical by remembering ther "feel good" ethos of the genre.

After Win2k and 9/11, two movies brought the meta-musical forward into an era that is both haunted by the disasters possible in this new century and in desperate need of escape. Moulin Rouge was a recreation of Lautrec’s Paris that took the bold step of setting its numbers to pop music from the late twentieth century. It was about music halls and musicals but through the funhouse mirror of an MTV consciousness. Nicole Kidman and Ewan Macgregor not generally known as actors sang and danced credibly, but the whole point of Moulin Rouge seems to be the post card flatness of both the music hall and the movie musical and how a whole generation of music had missed being brought to life by the musical. The second was Chicago, which not coincidentally was based on a Fosse vehicle, that combined vaudeville with barely disguised commentary on the tabloid now mainstream press culture that today's America substitutes for informed thought. Both movies managed to extend the life of the Hollywood musical while apparently promising a possible new way forward.

Since that time, Hollywood has sought to explore the possibilities of the meta-musical further. The Singing Detective brought together a debilitating skin disease with choreography straight out of Steve Martin’s Pennies from Heaven. De Lovely deconstructed Cole Porter’s bi-homosexuality through elaborate musical numbers that offered new contexts for songs like Love for Sale and Easy to Love. Now, Beyond the Sea, attempts a similar deconstruction of Bobby Darin’s relatively short but oddly complex life.

Kevin Spacey who is several years older than Darin ever lived to be (37 when he died) insisted on playing Darin at all adult ages. In addition, he sings all the songs, unlike Jamie Fox’s Ray in which Fox mixed his own versions of Charles’s songs with lipsynching. For the first 30 minutes of the movie, the effect can only be described as strange.
Even though I understood that this was supposed to be Darin’s spirit, looking at his own past and seeing himself, Kevin Spacey as a 20 year old was just too distracting. Spacey actually sings and dances quite well, but I kept wondering if this was supposed to be a movie about a Bobby Darin impression or about Bobby Darin.

Making matters worse, there was only one aspect of the plot, story, that got told with any sense of pacing or build, the relationship between Darin and his older “sister”. Jack Nicholson brought a similar scene to life with Faye Dunaway in Chinatown by exploiting the resonance from his experience of having discovered that his sister was really his mother, Beyond the Sea never quite breaks the surface. As a result, it uses montages to show Darin’s rise, his political awakening, and the shifts in his relationship with Sandra Dee. “But”, you quickly point out, “that’s the way musical plots have ever worked. They're always shallow.”

That’s exactly the problem with Beyond the Sea, it wheels out the heavy emotional artillery, the thing that distinguishes meta-musicals from the sentimentality of the traditional musical, without scoring any direct hits. Bobby Darin the human still eludes us and we are left with little more than “Gee, that Kevin Spacey sings pretty good.” It's interesting that Darin's life had some parallels to Fosse in that both were driven showmen. While Darin's personal and polticial growth may have continued away from his music, Fosse found effective ways to bring serious subjects to the musical medium. If we are to believe, Beyond the Sea, Darin brought gospel singers to his nightclub act.

I do have to mention though, for whatever reason the movie stays quite watchable. Even as all the faults emerge, there is something compelling about the music itself and its intriguing picture of Sandra Dee (I’ve wondered how it might have been had they gone really imaginative and let Kate Bosworth sing back to Darin)

If the meta-musical is to continue to grow as a genre, it’s going to have to find ways to match All That Jazz’s ability to illuminate Fosse, the human being and creator. It’s much more than simply having main characters reflect on themselves between musical numbers and making double-edged comments about what they see.

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Sunday, June 12, 2005

Another Adventure of the Voluntary Cat

Phoebe left and came back yet again. If you follow these things, our voluntary cat had just returned after she turned up in the parking lot in front of my Tuesday night basketball game. Four days later, she wandered off for a fourth time and we figured that once again she was gone for good. My daughter and I left the house on Saturday to visit with my mother and stepfather. My wife gets a call from the SPCA, "A woman found your cat in front of the sushi place in town and brought her in for scanning." For a second time, the microchip brought her back to us. We're not sure how we feel about this if Phoebe really did intend to run away. We fully expect Phoebe to take off yet again in a few days. In the meantime, she's once again hopping on favorite chairs, jumping into our bed, and playing with our other cats just the way she did before.

I've decided to write Congress and see if they would consider passing a bill to put one of those chips in the Bill of Rights.

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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

I.F. Stone

Found myself thinking about I.F. Stone, the old progressive journalist who passed away more than fifteen years ago. In the middle of that thought, two things struck me. Now that I have a blog, if I have a thought and want to find out if there might be someone else who was thinking similar thoughts, insteads of just putting them asside, I can put it here at the intersection of Al Gore Highway and Tim Berners-Lee Place. If it turns out to be a dumb idea, I just take it down. The second was that the I.F. Stone weekly was a precursor of the modern political blog. Stone's writing was almost perfect for this medium.

Stone was a conventional journalist who started his own weekly just after World War 2 at least partly because he wanted the independence to write about and say what he wanted. With the emergence of the Cold War, McCarthy, etc. mainstream press became increasingly timid. Stone wound up being prescient about a number of issues including McCarthy, Korea, the need to recognize and engage China, the vagaries of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, etc. Just as interesting, his resources were always limited. He didn't rely on inside connections or exotic research tools. Often his best source was the Congressional Record and other generally available public documents. Eventually the I.F. Stone weekly had a circulation of 70,000 and it was the subject of a relatively popular documentary movie in the 70's.
Good Article on I.F. Stone

While he was a hero to many on the left, his approach influenced bloggers on both ends of the spectrum whether they even know to acknowledge his influence or not. Sadly, while his methods are very much alive, I don't know that any Internet blogger (there are some very fine bloggers) has yet combined the ability to combine clear democratic/progressive values with keen analysis and ability to see the whole picture the way Stone did. I still remember his analysis of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution and the question of who fired on whom and his pointed humor about a 1950's geography teacher trying to explain the hole in the map where China should have been as near perfect examples of how to make a point by combining facts, analysis, and just a little bit of humor.

These are times that call for a hundred I.F. Stone's. I'm always looking for them and would love to link a few of them here.


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Sunday, June 05, 2005

Volleyball Great America Tournament 2005

There’s an In and Out burger place in Mill Valley just off 101 after you cross the Golden Gate Bridge. If a tournament ends late on a Sunday, we stop there. Anytime we do, we run into at least one of my daughter’s teammates which proves that not all people from Northern California are vegetarians. This time, though, the food tastes much better than usual. My daughter’s team just won the under 16’s in the Great America Tournament. To be honest, most of the stronger under 16’s skipped the under 16’s part of this tournament. Even City Beach’s very good 15 one team played in the 18’s division in their own tournament. As I sit here at the computer still digesting some mixture of french fry grease and that Russian dressing like sauce from In and Out, I don’t care. It’s just nice to come home without “if only” thoughts. As you see when something like this happens, I don’t ruminate on politics, B movies, reality tv, or my possibly imaginary conversations with Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, I go straight to talking about volleyball.

Winning the Great America 16’s is roughly like winning the Oklahoma primary. If you track these things, Wesley Clark won the 2004 primary there then withdrew from the race in the same week. It’s too late to have anything to do with JO’s. It comes right after Bayview and just before most kids have high school finals. In fact, when you win you don’t get tickets to go to Great America (the amusement park that overlooks Santa Clara’s City Beach facility), they give you a plaque (why is it that it’s good to have your name on a plaque but really bad to have plaque on your teeth?) that says City Beach Volleyball Club in very big letters and first place 2005 in very small letters. Maybe Wesley Clark has a plaque from the Oklahoma democratic party that says “Winner 2004 Primary”, you got almost 2% of the vote here that Carrie Underwood got for American Idol? So it’s not that big a deal, but we don’t care it’s still a big deal to us. In fact there were some decent teams in the field. Besides, my daughter’s team now has more tournament wins than Anna Kournikova did in tennis singles and she's rich and famous.

Last week, imho the power pools made the Bay View tournament much more interesting across the three days. Even though my daughter’s 15’s team was the third seed at Bay View and the 4th Seed at Great America, the field had even less gold and silver quality teams in it. I’m not sure a 2 day format permits the use of power pools, but the first day didn’t look very competitive. The second place team in our pool was probably a good 25 places behind us in the region. There was, however, at least one upset in the first day pools, Delta Valley 15 one, the fifth seed, dropped a match which shifted them to the other side of the draw. There are three things I like about the City Beach facility. They have pool tables, air hockey, and ping pong tables in the waiting area which gives the parents a way to mix with the kids between matches. It also keeps the various captive younger siblings from getting even more bored. Second, they have nets between all the courts, an increasingly rare amenity in Northern California. At regionals, it seemed like every third point was stopped by two thumbs up and a “ball on” call.
Third, the place is within a mile of Fry’s Electronics, a toy store for geeks. The play went so smoothly or there were so many mismatches, the afternoon pools even ended an hour and a half early.

On Sunday, the 16’s were supposed to start at Foothill College at 11 in the morning, but the 14’s were running slow. We played our first match at 1 and at 4:45 had played 2 matches. In our pool, Empire’s 15 two team upset Club Kalani in a two game match. Kalani started the year in gold and spent most of the year in the silver division of 16’s, so this was a great win for the fifteen twos who pass well and played very steady volleyball throughout the tournament. We beat a pretty good Salinas team in the first match to set up a match in the quarters with our own 15 twos. btw, the second gym at Foothill is very cramped for 3 courts. There’s only about three feet of perimeter around each court.
In a similar match, Gold Cal 16’s beat its own very good 15’s team.

Perhaps the best match of the tournament was between Delta Valley 15’ 1 and City Beach 14’s in the round of 8. Both are relatively small very strong ball control teams. If anything, City Beach 14’s may have had a slight edge in power and height. Each of the three games was point for point. City Beach took a 12-10 edge in the third game only to lose 16-14. My guess is that City Beach 14 will do very well in open at JO’s. They play very clean, hit well for a 14’s team, and have that quality that makes for a tough opponent, they make you beat them. This can be done with height and power that few 14’s do have and possibly by taking advantage of occasional missed serves, the one reminder that CB 14’s is a 14’s team. Delta had recently moved a middle #7 to the left and it seemed to make a difference in their attack.

In the quarters, Empire 15’ one beat its 15 2 team in 2 games. The two team played better than the score suggested and they had a good tournament. It also was a relief for the 15 ones to win the match. In a similar match, City Beach 15 ‘2 beat the City Beach 14’2s. Delta beat Gold Cal 16’s in one semi in a close match. Empire 15’1 beat City Beach 15’2 relatively easily in the other semi. CB 15’2 is a solid team btw, their middle hit the ten foot line a couple times and they played good consistent volleyball, it was more a matter of something was happening for Empire 15’1...their big hitters were looking like big consistent hitters and their back row was playing very dependably. I’d also mention that one of the team’s setters has wound up playing a more reduced role than she expected, but has stayed positive and worked hard throughout, and she made huge contributions in this tournament as she has throughout the year.

I should also mention an interesting moment. The tournament director let one team, which had a long drive, leave early. He came to our coach and asked us to ref. She responded that "she wanted to do as well as possible in this tournament and the team needed the rest, which they did (we were missing 3 players this weekend). It wasn't necessarily the most accomadating response, but it made a difference in the team's energy level against City Beach 15'2 in the next match.

There’s been a nice rivalry between Delta 14-15 and Empire 14-15 for a couple years now. The Delta parents are extremely friendly and pleasant for one thing. For another, Delta’s coach Larry has been a credit to the region for some time. He’s a not very tall, older man, with a moustache and sometimes beard who coaches with his son. He does odd things like he actually talks to the players on the other teams and says encouraging things to them between matches. One time, he even appeared in my daughter’s team’s huddle in the middle of a match to say something to them. His teams are always well prepared, tend to win a lot, and I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen him be anything less than positive in a match.
Two years ago, we lost to the Delta 14’s in the finals of the Stockton tournament. Last year my daughter’s 15’s team just narrowly beat the Delta 14’s at Great America. This year, they most recently beat Delta 15’s to stay more silver than bronze at Regionals, which makes this sound like a pretty lackluster final. The truth is though, it wasn’t. Delta 15 was playing extremely well today and has steadily improved throughout the year. Empire 15 also found a new gear during this tournament.

The actual final wasn’t that close this time. Delta’s libero played extremely well, but when you are mostly noticing a libero make great saves in a match that often isn’t a good sign overall. In any case, her pink jersey would appear on either side of the ten foot line and any of dozens of places beyond the back line to keep points going. Empire 15 probably played its best match of the year, particularly in transition. At the end of the match, I told a Delta parent that I thought they had a much tougher road to the final and it looked a lot out of them. She replied,"No, you guys just kicked our butts today." As I said, it's a nice rivalry. I looked up and the Delta team and the City Beach team that reffed the match were picking up water bottles in the gym and putting them in the trash.

There are some people who think the only meals that worth bragging about have to be had at five star restaurants where great chefs work with only the best ingredients. I have to say, that sometimes In and Out Burger can be awfully satisfying especially towards the end of a long year. We'll have to stop at one on the way to Reno this month.

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volleyball from 2003 (Bladium just before the war)

(this is from 2 years ago)

The Bladium is a private sports faciity built into a huge airplane hangar at what was once the Alameda Naval Air Base. The facility fronts what used to be a runway. There’s a clear view of a decomissioned aircraft carrier and several military cargo ships on one side and the other side has a full one hundred and eighty degree view of downtown San Francisco. The Bladium itself is a marvel of what appears to be more than twenty five thousand feet of seventy five foot high ceiling supported by an arrray of what must be several tons of geometrically arranged steel girders. There’s a indoor soccer field near the front and two roller hockey rinks in the back. One rink stays intact for roller hockey, the other is divided into four volleyball courts. The first time I went there, I thought that volleyball was demanding enough of a sport and it was sort of excessive to expect the girls to play it on rollerblades. FWIW, there was probably nothing more hopeful than to see a building once devoted to the business of war turned over to children’s games. Given current events, the juxtaposition of the two gave the place the feeling of one of those pivotal moments in time where the process of swords to ploughshares or in this case aircraft aluminum into volleyball poles seems just on the brink of possibly reversing itself. In any case, I’m glad my own children have had the luxury to spend so many weekends thinking that staying in the gold division was the major event in their world for the month and I dearly hope that in a few months that’ll either still be true or true again both here and in Baghdad where I understand Club Euphrates Saladins have a slight lead over the Hammurabi Tablets, but everyone claims that Desert Storm 2 is the team to watch out for.

I should mention the other small bit of resonance about the Bladium: probably the most famous volleyball scene in movie history takes place in Top Gun at Miramar Naval Air Base. Tom Cruise, who in real life would definitely be a libero, gets so caught up in a fiercely competitive two on two volleyball match that he nearly misses a date with Middle Blocker and flight instructor Kelly Mcgillis. As I understand it, that was the beginning of the push for rally scoring. Anyway, she forgives him, he loses his setter to a freak training accident, and then he nearly starts World War 3 but instead makes America safe for Righteous Brothers Karaoke pickup techniques. The movie had a major impact on my life. I swore that my own children would play volleyball well enough to hit fours over Tom Cruise until he left crying “Show me the money, show me the money.” I also think Nicole Kidman definitely looks like an outside hitter and that she sings better than Catherine Zeta Jones.
Before I talk about the volleyball from Saturday, I did want to make a couple things clear. I’m a parent who personally has neve played or coached competitive volleyball. Whatever I say here about the sport is just some parent talking. If you want to disagree with me, feel free. If you want to correct me factually, assuming you ever get past the first couple paragraphs of these things, feel free to do that as well. All those things make this place more interesting. America is, after all, a free country unless you choose to wear a “Peace Now” t-shirt in a shopping mall in Albany.
One thing about converted hangars, since some bankrupt company in Texas stole all of California’s money for utilities, there’s basically no way you can hope to heat a place like that even if we controlled all the oil in the Middle East. It was cold in there and my daughter’s team started the day playing as if they were in the cast iron or the tin foil division instead of gold. City Beach black stomped them. Once again, they seemed to find every seam in the defense, serve every ball below knee height, and always stood exactly in the right place whenever my daughter’s team managed to get a ball set for a decent swing. This is, after all, the City Beach division where one club has three team’s in the region’s top nine. The result was so one-sided, we couldn’t even get to complain about the ref. To be honest, there was some talk about the ref who was for the first time this year calling the sets very very tight. If the ball spun at all, the whistle would blow. She did it in consistent fashion, but it raised one of those interesting questions about how tight should you call fourteens matches.
I’m not sure my daughter’s team broke sixteen points in either game.
For whatever reason, we were dropped into a pool that included exactly the same teams we played or would have played in Salinas in the last qualifier, so the next match was with Delta Valley. The first game against Delta Valley was even worse. Delta Valley has two good setters, a very tall middle with good agility who can even dive for short balls when she’s in the back row, another less tall middle who serves extremely well, steady ball control type leftside players, and a coach who I think has been coaching top 14’ teams since Top Gun was actually shown in theaters. All those things seemed to come to bear as the score was something like 25-8. I will confess. My daughter has played on teams that had whole days like this where they never won a match. Actually, one time, they played five matches without winning a game. It’s a horrible thing. Someone else’s chlidren are stomping your children and you’re sitting in your folding chair thinking of things to say like, I liked the way you passed that one ball or that was a good dig in the back corner or worst of all, “Did it hurt your arms when you had to try to dig that big girl’s hits?” The rest of the time, you sit there and do things like blame your daughter’s coach, complain that they have her in the wrong position, or that all her teammates are talentless oafs who don’t deserve a teammate like your kid. Certainly, you stop posting on volleyball bulletin boards.
Anyway, let’s say I was having a few of these thoughts as I marvelled at the way the entire Delta Valley team seemed to be willing to give up their bodies to keep the ball from bouncing off their side of the roller hockey rink. Sad to say, I was not thinking in the least that what happened would happen.
The second game started and suddenly Delta Valley went flat. They missed serves, hit easy sets into the net or out, and shanked balls. My daughter’s team didn’t do anything especially well, but somehow they held a slight lead in the second game. Somewhere about 10-6, ann odd thing happened, my daugther’s team started to remember how to get balls back over the net. At this point, I turned to the parent next to me and said “Please just let us to get to 20, so our team doesn’t wind up totally demoralized.”
This seems to be the wondrous thing about fourteens volleyball. You never know what to expect or when to expect it. The leaden uninspired play suddenly achieved a flow and connection which had thus far seemed the exclusive property of City Beach and Delta Valley. Somewhere in there a rally happened. The ball went back and forth at least ten times, players slid into position without colliding, hitters hit nice clean down balls, dumps found flesh instead of floor, and the back row became a wall instead of one of those stretches where all the inhabitants act like they’re praying for the next ball to go out. Delta Valley, of course, is one of those teams that gets into those kinds of rallies and sends the clear message that they simply will not make the first mistake. The third ball on our side went to a left who had seemingly last gotten a ball in two weeks ago. She hits a cross court shot that falls just beyond the ten foot line. Suddenly all the players find the extra six inches or so to their game and before you know it, we’ve started the rally game.
The rally game is dead even until the sixth point, the Empire server then served six points in a row including three aces and an absolutely wretched morning turned inspiring. There’s something about those times when you realize that your kid doesn’t quit quite as early as you might have and that just maybe that little lesson will generalize through her life. My wife and I looked over at one another with that kind of look where you both just want to say,”Gee, maybe this is worth thousands of dollars, half our weekends, and a good percentage of our evenings.”
We went out for an early lunch break, certain that a dejected and broken Delta Valley would then lose to City Beach and leave us second in our pool. After all, City Beach had had an easy time with Delta just two weeks earlier. Naturally, that’s not what happened at all. Delta Valley regenerated itself and swept City Beach Black which left us third in the pool after all and at risk of dropping into the pool of death where you have to win two matches to avoid transmuting into silver.
In the crossover match, we had our first vision of Vision this season, one of the teams that went into the season with very high expectations. I’d even heard one parent mutter that Vision had wound up with the first choice of many of the players who tried out in the Vision, City Beach, Yahoo troika back in the fall. This, of course, is the nature of parent talk. You’re not at all sure what to believe. In any case, Vision looks phsyically imposing. They have a middle who is about six two who will likely be quite scary some day soon. They have a good coach with Sonoma County roots and they are prone to runs of mistakes. At this point, the Empire team had become very confident and came out very determined not to run the risk of flirting with silver. The two teams are actually quite similar in many ways. At the top of their game, I think they can beat anyone. If things go bad as they did earlier in the morning, they can lose to just about anyone. Empire was at the top of its game. Vision was not.
City Beach Green was the reward for winning against Vision. The Green team looks quite similar to the Black team except there are no twins on this one. They have a left #12 who is very athletic and a very intelligent hitter. They have a middle who looks strikingly like a close relative of Kerri Walsh (who for what it’s worth remains the best player I’ve ever seen in the Norcal juniors) They also have the expected discipline and fundamental soundness that seems to characterize all City Beach teams. This was an extremely close match. Neither team really seemed able to run points or find a consistent soft spot in the other team’s defense. Ultimately, the first game came down to a line call by a peer ref who jumped out of the way, signalled out in the process, and never looked at the ball as it landed and a very close in the net call against the Empire setter at 23-24. The second game was similarly close and ended with yet another in the net call against the Empire setter at 21-23. I suppose these things happen and City Beach green played good solid volleyball. It’s honestly hard to say if Black or Green is the better of the two teams and I hope there will be opportunties to reprise this matchup.
Ironically, Empire, City Beach Black, and Delta got dropped into a pool for the 4-6 spots which might explain why they split matches in the morning pool. Delta once again handled City Beach quite easily then exacted its revenge for having let up against Empire in the morning.
The best match of the day fittingly wound up being the one for the number one spot. I’m a little embarrassed to say that I wound up watching Yahoo which came in as the number 9 and City Beach Green while keeping the other eye on my own daughter’s match against Delta Valley. I have to say that I’ve come to really enjoy watching the Yahoo team, because they appear to have a readily apparent poise and focus that really stands out at this age level. On top of that, Yahoo has no players who physically would make any college recruiters drool at this point, they just play good consistent, gutsy volleyball. In particular they have a left #9 who occasionally hammers the ball, never seems to let a ball drop in the middle back spot, and who will somersault after balls in the far right corner and a libero #12 who at least this day always seems to approach the ball with uncannily perfect passing form. In this match, City Beach Green went out to an 11-3 lead in the first game. Very few teams recover from an eight point deficit in the rally score format, Yahoo did and even took the lead at 18-15 or so. CB closed the gap and then the teams essentially traded points to 25-25 with every point a small war. At 26-25 a Yahoo left put a ball hard into the deep right corner. Two points later, the City Beach Green left puts a ball hard into the deep right corner to make it 27-26. City Beach won the first game 28-26. During one key point, a ball rolled across the court with the point very much in question and the ref refused to call the do over, a call that provoked a huge sigh from the Yahoo parents and unleashed murmurrs about some sort of City Beach conspiracy :}. These normally are the hardest kinds of games to recover from. You spend a lot of energy to come back from a big deficit, play well from there, and still lose on a tough call. Most teams go flat. Yahoo didn’t. They won the second game relatively easily to set up the rally game. Once again, CB broke out quickly and took the lead. Once again Yahoo played focused relentless volleyball and caught them, then won the match and the first seed 15-12.
The day ended with the number 9 seed leaving as the number 1 seed. The number 1 seed, City Beach 13, left as the number 9 seed and fell to silver along with Club Kalani. I left thinking about how wondrously unpredictable and joyful the day had been. As I passed the soccer game on my way out, I took one last look at the ceiling and its intricate network of girders, each somehow connected to the other, tons of steel suspended high in the air, as if, much like the state of the world, seemingly ready to collapse at any moment if not for the happy shouts of the children playing below somehow pushing upwards, refusing to let any of it come crashing down. I wanted this day to last forever and I don’t want March 17 to come even an hour closer.

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Friday, June 03, 2005

The Case of the Voluntary Cat

On the same day the world found out about Mark Felt, our cat Phoebe who had been lost for roughly two months returned unexpectedly. We first got Phoebe from the animal shelter about six months ago. A few weeks later, she apparently followed some passerbys right out of our neighborhood and disappeared. My daughter was distraught. She photoshopped several missing cat signs and had me help her staple them to all the telephone poles near our block. Every few days she pushed my wife to drive her to various animal shelters to see if someone might have found her. Two months passed and we became so certain that we’d seen the last of Phoebe laying on the green chair with the hole in the bottom, that we even got a new kitten from the shelter, Luna.

One day, our veterinarian left a message on our answering machine. “We may have found your cat,” they told us.
When you claim an animal from the shelter these days, they stick an identification chip between its fur and neck. If someone brings the animal in, the vet can use a device similar to a supermarket scanner and retrieve the necessary information to contact the owner. I’m not sure about the moral implications of all this, but it meant that the vet could say that the black and white cat was definitely our black and white cat. There was just one problem, the 81 year old woman who had found Phoebe didn’t want to give her back. The vet had to call her three times to negotiate the return of the cat.

The lady lived a little less than a mile from us and apparently loved to take in stray cats. She had sixteen of them. She had renamed our cat “Patches” because of the two black continents on her white fur, and had decided that Patches was a special cat out of all the many cats she had taken in over the years. She sent us a five page handwritten letter explaining that special connection before she returned Phoebe to hour house. A few days later, she appeared at our front door because she wanted to visit with “Patches”. She even brought along a peice of string that she told us Patches loved to play with. In other words, one day I found myself with an 81 year old woman in my living room who had come to specifically visit our cat and call her by the alternate name she had chosen for the animal. It was one of those life moments that are both touching and strange all at once to see how strong this woman's feelings wer for our cat as she petted the animal and chased away tears at the same time.

Two weeks later, Phoebe disappeared again. The first place we checked was with the woman who loved Patches so much. She was a little indignant that we would even suggest that she wouldn’t call us if the cat had reappeared at her door. A little girl on the same street then told my wife that a cat matching the description had been coming to her door and eating. There’s an open space on that block that fronts a public school. Apparently it’s a haven for stray cats. We came back to check with the little girl a couple times, but she informed us that the cat with black spots had stopped coming by. Honestly, we wondered if the old woman had simply taken our cat in a second time. Once again, we decided to assume that Phoebe had left for good.

Two months later, which means that since we got Phoebe she had spent more time away from us than with us, I was in my regular Tuesday night basketball game which happens to be at the public school just below Phoebe’s alternate address. I stepped out of the multi-room, we play on the astro-turfed floor of the school’s multi-purpose room, to find one of the guys petting a white and black cat.
“Oh my god, I think that’s my cat,” I said.

“You think it’s your cat?”

“Well she ran off and it’s been a while.”

It’s more than little embarrassing to admit that you can’t recognize your own cat, but you have to understand that my wife and daughter have a habit of rescuing cats from shelters. I’m not sure they believed me, but ultimately someone let me use the cellphone to call my wife and daughter. Actually, he called and talked on the cellphone while I held the animal which I may or not have been my cat. This was the dilemma. I ride my bicycle to my basketball game. I would have had to carry the cat in one hand and push my bike with the other, walk home, appear at the door, and tell my wife...
“Gee, I’m so excited, I found the cat.”

“Dear, are you crazy? That’s not our cat, where did you find that thing?”

Cats don't do especially well in cars, even I knew that they do less well on bicycles. I think because they don't have the opposable thumbs necessary to shift gears and few bicylce seats are designed to accomodate tails. I have seen a number of chimpanzees ride bicycles and occasionally circus people train dogs to ride them as well. With the Ed Sullivan show a memory for less than half of America, I doubt that anyone is training this generation of cats to ride bicycles. Also, cats no longer have owners trying to pose them like that "Hang in There" poster.

I also had decided to keep playing basketball that night. We did the only thing that made sense. We locked the cat in the teachers’ work room adjoining the basketball court and I finished the game. Eventually, my wife drove up and I brought the cat to her. Immediately, she said, “Phoebe, where have you been all this time? You’ve lost so much weight.”

I’m not sure why Phoebe the cat decided to appear to me, of all members of the family, once again in the parking lot in front of my basketball game. It amazes me that she apparently had chosen to live more or less feral in an open space less than a mile from our house all this time. the first night she hopped right on to her favorite green chair. The second night she slipped onto our bed to go to sleep as if she never forgot that she lived with us. I normally hate finding the cats in our bed, but for some reason this made me feel good. Otherwise, I might have obsessed, Howard Hughes like, about all the strange fleas and parasites this semi-wild cat must have been sharing with us. A few days later, my wife left the door open and Phoebe wandered out once again only to reappear at our front door several minutes later. Perhaps one day, she’ll take off again for good. Perhaps she'll stay for the rest of her life. Cats, apparently, can survive perfectly well without humans. Occasionally, they just choose to hang out with us.

In the meantime, I’m left to contemplate this semi-miracle of our high tech stray cat that refuses to stay either lost or found. I ask my wife if maybe we should turn Phoebe over to the lady who wants to call her Patches and feeds her string. My wife says “Absolutely not. Phoebe is our cat for as long as she wants to be our cat.”

I wonder what her next adventure will be. Perhaps she takes off, becase as a shelter cat she never developed a sense of home. Perhaps, she has some form of cat schizophrenia. Perhaps, she's simply a free spirit that took cat form. I will admit this. It's the first time I've ever considered the possibility that cats might actually be interesting.


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Thanks Mark Felt

I expected to one day find out who “Deep Throat" was. I didn’t expect to find out that Mark Felt, former number 2 at the FBI, had been living in my county for the last twenty years. It’s possible that some older man I passed in the aisle at Safeway might have been the most famous anonymous source in American journalism. Felt, himself, apparently felt conflicted about the choice he had made between two different concepts of duty, the traditional one to follow explicit rules and orders and the deeper one dictated by conscience. He never hopped on the talk show circuit, signed a book contract, etc. while the story was hot. Instead, he’s lived the last thirty two years in quiet-dignified fashion. What ever happened to people like that?

I have honestly been surprised by some of the reaction. At the extreme end, you have Pat Buchanan, Spiro Agnew’s speechwriter, and Rush Limbaugh claiming that people like Felt caused the fall of Vietnam and the killing fields in Cambodia because they helped to expose and ultimately bring down an administration that had little regard for the rule of law. If you remember, Nixon tried to fire his own special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, another guy who quietly disappeared into history. Robert Bork was the highest ranking person at the justice department willing to carry out the president’s orders. Apparently, Karl Rove was then on the fringes of the of the Nixon White House, one of the last people there encouraging the President to fight on.

Much like the election of 2004 turning on the Swift Boat Veterans and Rathergate’s expose on the president’s National Guard service, Mark Felt reminds us that the 60’s and 70’s remain strangely alive politically in America. Cultural time is not necessarily linear. The basic choices of the 60’s, between following the rules and remaking them in the name of a deeper justice still have deep resonance for us. In particular, what was supposed to be a new beginning so many decades ago built around a civil rights and peace movement that drew its moral force from a socially conscious church that questioned the authority of government that fought unjust wars and an economic structure possibly built on racism and persistent poverty seems to have slipped away. Those who identify most publicly with God now endorse a culture where the president’s authority and motives go unquestioned, a war in a foreign country is touted as moral, and what’s good for American business is good for all Americans. If the Civil War defined 19th century America, the social civil war of the 60’s and early 70’s appears to have defined 20th century America.

Mark Felt may be a kind of John Brown figure in modern history. Brown made a choice between his notion of Christianity and the authority of the Missouri Compromise and the Dred Scott case. Felt chose between his duty as a member of the FBI and what he deemed to be the spirit and letter of the Constitution. In the 60’s I remember a respect for the Constitution and Bill of Rights as holy American documents. Today, the argument seems to be that the Bible, or a particular interpretation of the Bible, is the real holy American document. In one view Mark Felt, Daniel Ellsberg, and Richard Clarke are heroes. In the other, they are scoundrels. I guess I’m not a fan of theocracy. I thank Mark Felt for having chosen conscience over literal duty and for risking his career for the sake of some greater principle. Bottom line, I’m proud that he lives in my county and my country, the one that respects its Constitution.


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