Saturday, July 30, 2005

When Spin Exceeds the Speed of Enlightenment

photo from Australian National Archive A1200, L2714

I haven't posted in more than a week for a variety of reasons. The most immediate one is that I tore tendons in two fingers of my right hand. Before this, I had thought that ASL was the only way that people talked with their fingers. I didn't think about my third and fourth fingers much, nor did I realize that they were such a big part of my being able to communicate. Second, we were on vacation and Ive been reading the 6th book of Harry Potter which pensively explores the nature of memory and the reliability of sources. Third, I just spent several days with a family member who bravely makes his way through adult life with a traumatic brain injury. Fourth and I guess most significant as I've obsessed over Karl Roves dishonoring of the White House, I've been put under some version of the Arvada Kadavra curse. All of these events begin and end with my much too intimate relationship with the Qwerty keyboard.

In the three months Ive maintained my own site, my admiration for other political bloggers has only grown. In the ADD challenged blogosphere where something more interesting or at least different is always just a mouse click away, if you want people to read what you post you find ways to get linked by sites further up the blog chain. To do that, you have to be both clever and so fast that your reaction speed to world events rivals Roger Federer on the tennis court or Danica Patrick on the race course. btw, There is another way to get hits and thats to post pictures of Danica Patrick in a swimsuit, but that doesn't necessarily get you read.

When JFK was killed, a study found that due to tv more than 98% of America got the news within 48 hours of the event. The compared to estimates when Lincoln died roughly a century earlier of the last 20% of the population in the many parts of the country without either the telegraph or the railroad not getting the news for several weeks. Today, the Zapruder film would have been downloaded several million times within hours of the event and wildcat analyses of the evidence would appear before the next morning. This routine miracle of the information age and the internet though has its limits. While we might get more of the information at a speed thats arguably faster than our own imaginations, the general public's ability to weigh evidence and come to reasoned decisions on matters of public concern hasn't necessarily improved. In the runup to the most recent Iraq War, more than half of the American people were convinced that at least one of the 9/11 highjackers was an Iraqi national. During the election, an even larger number of Americans genuinely believed that weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq. It's possible that many of these folk didn't use the internet to check. Its a very scary thought, but its likely that many did. During the 2004 election, my mother who was 74 at the time and has always been non-political asked me to help her to clean out her e-mail. In between purchases from Amazon and routine greetings, I found scores of jokes about Hillary and Bill and John Kerry punctuated with the most extreme imaginable Swift Boat spam about how winning a silver star and two purple hearts made any Democrat a traitor and a liar. I imagine there's a left wing equivalent of these kinds of listserves, but I haven't seen them. She explained that some man whom my stepfather and she had met RVing that summer had offered to e-mail them jokes. I don't know that my mother actually read the stuff, but there was a lot of it.

Even in the case of information on the web that's less distorted, there are lots of facts, many of them repeated and cited without a source, but it seems harder to come to settle on a conclusion. 42 years after the JFK assassination, we have all this evidence available on the net, likely a lot more than the Warren Commission had unless youre a serious conspiracy buff, and its probably harder than ever to get any consensus about who did it and why. This was not the promise of the Internet. If the amount of information on the net allegedly doubles every three months or was it three weeks, shouldnt we be a whole lot better informed than we are?

In some ways we are. I can find good recipes for aloo gobi with a click of a mouse, though google might also point you to pictures of cauliflower ear and spoil your appetite in the process. The other day, a friend used the term widows mite and once again I found that it was a biblical reference to a poor widow who had given all her meager resources to God and Jesus saying that her gift was the greatest of treasures (yet another one of those gospel oddities that makes you wonder if the right really does read the Bible). The problem is that these are just facts, they're not insights. The Internet can store facts, but it can't supply insight without a mind to process it. If the Internet were a person, it would be an autistic savant. I don't blame people for getting fooled sometimes, because the net is perfectly good at storing and retrieving other peoples insights, it just doesn't have good ways to evaluate them. In Greek mythology there was the Delphic Oracle which offered almost no facts, but ultimate wisdom. Our is just the reverse. I suspect that if visiting aliens had to choose which was the product of a more advanced culture, those aliens would readily tell you that when it comes to making decisions that matter it is barbaric to defer to semiconductors over soul.

I have noticed that the acronym TMI (too much information) has already slipped into the mainstream, though it generally has more to do with overly personal revelations than with the internet. There is also something called Information Fatigue Syndrome, IFS which may be more marketing ploy to sell 12 step cures than it is medically identifiable relative to combat fatigue or PTSD as IFS attempts to insinuate. Information Fatigue link.

Is it possible that we now get information faster than we can process it? If that happens, what are the psychological consequences and social consequences. Asside from fatigue and irritability, one of the alleged effects of Information Fatigue Syndrome is that victims lose their capacity to make decisions. According to the literature, they fall into a mode of gathering more and more information well after the point when they should know enough to react.

This hit homepage for me recently with the Rove story. First it's the sort of story that suits the blogosphere in that it's a mystery that also happens to have a long paper trail. As the bloggers on each siderace to peel off each new document or oblique angle on bits from the story, theres an echydiastical thrill to following each new revelation as the next one that will finally reveal all the naughty bits in their full glory. Think of it has very high stakes strip poker. For weeks I followed each new angle and clue that peeked out from Lewis Libby to Tom Bolton to Alberto Gonzales, to Bruce Springsteen tickets.

It was bad enough that during a week long beach vacation, I had this repeated enocunter with my wife, What are you doing dear?---I'm looking at new stories about Karl Rove. Youd rather do that then sit out in the sun by the ocean? Just give me a couple more minutes. ----Well, I have no idea what could be so interesting about it. Dont you know the whole story by now?No dear, there are new parts of the story every ten minutes.

It didn't help that we also rented a copy of the Sandra Bullock movie The Net where at one point the future Mrs. Jesse James is in a black bikini doing wi-fi on her laptop. I had this fantasy that if I kept net surfing, Sandra who went to college just an hour away from where we were would show up to argue on behalf of my net addiction. Though in retrospect, I suspect Miss Congenialitys intervention would have provoked rather than convinced my wife.

In the Half Blood Prince, Harry and Dumbledore use the pensieve to explore Voldemorts past. It is certainly interesting and Rowling justifies it as Harrys way to better arm himself for his eventual confrontation with the Dark Lord. One, however, should already know enough to recognize that Voldemort is a dangerous guy regardless of what the pensieve reveals about the past. My wife is right, at one level, I didnt need to know any more about the Rove matter.
I know whether or not what Turdblossom has already admitted to was right or wrong. I also know that the President didnt follow up appropriately. Bottom line, I should have been out on the beach surfing on water or at least watching people surf.

Why was I still gathering information well after I knew enough to have an opinion? After all, Im not the special prosecutor or on the grand jury, I dont need to prove each element of a 1982 act or the Espionage Act to know when something profoundly wrong has happened. After self bombarding myself with all this information which amounted to what degree Karl Rove and/or Scott McCllelan either lied or withheld what they knew, I became oddly aware of something. I was losing track of my own feelings. Instead of that pit of the stomach sick feeling of realizing that many people could have been killed because someone wanted to win a political argument, my guts were being papered over with talking points.

Stuck in the spin portion of the news cycle, I didnt write, send money, e-mail the White House, or take anything resembling action. Instead, I did the equivalent of stare at a test pattern which outs me as someone old enough to remember when tv stations went off the air after two in the morning. Now that its the internet, the test patterns are better disguised as content that only seems to change, but really offers the same insight. A generation ago, we used to think of this as hypnosis. A generation from now, I wonder if well be referring to it as information laundering? At some point, you get out so much of the dirt that the fabric disintegrates.

This is my biggest worry. I think some folks out there are doing this by accident. I have a feeling that there are others who have already figured out how to paralyze people through TMI, information fatigue syndrome, or talking points exhaustion. There are a lot of people out there, on both sides, who already resemble talking points zombies. Im not scared by what they parrot, its more that it seems impossible for new information to get in or chage their mind.
When bombarded by information, the mind might do what it does when bombarded by anything else, it shuts down goes into reptile mode and finds some safe or familiar space. In the guise of discussion and more information, I suspect there are already groups out there who are pointedly using information to prevent insight. Say you catch your kid smoking marijauna in the back yard and the child responds by deluging with hundreds of reasons why you are a bad parent. If the child presses the right buttons, you forget to move forward with consequences. Notice, no one is now saying that Karl Rove wasnt one of the sources, instead we are getting endless posts about what bad people the Wilsons are.,how unimportant her job was, or that Wilsons information was wrong. Those of us closer to the infra-left part of the blog spectrum than the ultra-right see the manipulation. For the right though, its like a blinding spotlight aimed straight at the visible part of their spectrum with the predictable effect that all they see is a spotlight of Wilson invective at some Springsteen concert of the mind. Even worse, i's quite possible that "spinnig back" only pays into the hands of the spinnr in that it just shuts off our capacity to think and feel. The counter spell may well need to take a differen form than instinctively hitting back. Othewise the ultra-right might never see what's so plainly visible on our endof the spectrum. We need toremember that the main point of modern talking points is not to change minds but to keep minds from changing or thinking.
Way back when Remington introduced the first commercial version of Sholes typewriter, it is odd that the same company that helped modernize the handgun also introduced the typewriter, it was common for typists to jam keys. Human fingers were faster than the early typewriter. They solved the problem by laying out the keys in what we know of as the Qwerty keyoard layout. We use our weakest fingers to type the most common letters so that we dont out type the machine that existed in the middle of the 19th century. One reason hundreds if thousands of typists get carpal tunnel syndrome is that they are repeatedly forced to move their fingers in ways designed around a machine rather than their hands.

In the mid-20th century, a guy named Dvorak, not the composer, came up with a more human friendly keyboard layout now that the machines no longer tied up so easily. While not everyone agrees about the degree of difference, most believe that it allows people to learn to type faster with less training and it helps to reduce hand and wrist injuries. With the advent of the computers which have no mehanical typewriter keys, the QWERTY keyboard persisted. At a humane level, the QWERTY layout unnecessarily injures many of its users. At a human level, society resists change. Too many people were trained and too much was invested in QWERTY to make the change to DVORAK despite its longterm advantages, so DVORAK remains the metric system of the keyboard layout world.

I see the speed of the internet as an analog to the QWERTY keyboard. It spouts facts and links faster than the machine we call the human mind can process them. The result, for people like myself, is that our heads wind up with jammed keys when it comes to the business of converting all that information back into our own words and thoughts. We cut and paste instead of type. We start spinning instead of thinking. The price is a carpal tunnel syndrome of the mind where we become so numb we lose our ability to mix our thoughts with our feelings. When you cant do that, you cant have any insights worth sharing.

In this case, its the technology thats faster than we are. We may need a DVORAK interface to this great information spouting machine to enhance our capacity for insight. Im afraid I dont know exactly what that would look like though.
I just know that typing with 3 fingers on a QWERTY keyboard has slowed down my blogging for a bit and that hasnt been all bad. It taught me that one may have to post continually and quickly to get hits and links, but that shouldnt be the point. The more important purpose of any information technology whether its an oracle or an Oracle (tm) is to deepen our own understanding of the world and ourselves.

8 years ago, a member of my family was in a car accident. He woke up from his coma and retained much of his personality and identity and virtually all his physical capacities. He doesnt look different. His voice is the same, his jokes are the same, etc. Nonetheless, the accident injured his brain. His short term memory misfires, his control over his own emotions is limited, once in a while he substitutes imagined memories for events he cant reconstruct, he periodically has frightening seizures.
Despite this, he finished college. He is also intent on making the world a better place and on being able to live an independent life. fwiw, improved body armor and medical care has meant that there are thousands of Iraq war vets listed as wounded who will now be living this way.

As he struggles to meet these goals, I am too often reminded of stories I used to hear about amputees who would wake up in the middle of the night complaining of pain in what amounted to a phantom leg. Their unconscious could not acknowledge what their logical self understood perfectly well, they had lost something. There are any number of things he tries to do as if his memory were intact and as if he were untouched by his accident. The results are often painful and frustrating, because he must acknowledge his acquired limitations to move forward but to get motivated his sense of self has to insist that those limitations dont exist. Each time he gets discouraged, he takes it out on himself because of the shame that comes with acknowledging the limitations of our own mind or brain. If someone in a wheelchair finds a way to complete a marathon we applaud her. If someone with a brain injury takes on an intellectual marathon we have a much harder time recognizing the courage involved. Similarly, a wheelchair for the brain is much harder for the owner to see and learn to use. We have this cultural myth that the mind and spirit are one and that the mind should admit to no bounds or limits. I can see how it impacts the loved one with a diagnosed brain injury, I completely miss how it impacts me when I plug myself into the world wide web.

I believe the information age presents new challenges to this belief. It is critical for us to recognize that the pace of information can be faster than the speed of enLIGHTenment or our own imaginations. When I grew up, theyre used to be a lot of science fiction that amounted to the HAL fantasy of 2001. Robots, machines, artificial intelligence would some day have greater intellectual capacity than their masters. That time and technology has already come, though minus the cute anthropomorphized para-personalities of the science fiction version.

As biological mechanisms our brains have informational limits. We must learn to recognize those limits and understand what happens when the limit kicks in and causes our personal OS to bluescreen.

Our mind may not be the same thing as our spirit.

If our culture doesnt want to emulate the symptoms of autism, we must mediate the flood of facts with insight and perspective taking.

I have this feeling that in the seventh book of Harry Potter, Harrys success against Voldemort will have much more to do with what he figures out from the Pensieve than whats simply in there. Its the insight and wisdom thats the real magic. Without it, were all going to be helpless victims of those who have figured out the dark art of the internet abetted spin cycle whether it mages into Tom Riddle or some White House staffer who must not be named. Sorting this out may be the difference between the information revolution poving to be a NET gain or a tragedy comparable to two millenia of duelling monotheism.

In the meantime, Im going to get offline and listen to Dvoraks New World Symphony on my T-amp.


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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Book of Judas, as told by Karl Rove

As some of you may know, blogging doesn't pay the rent. Once in a while, I get recognized on the net and I get perks others don't. People have made special offers to help me identify any adware or viruses on my computer absolutely free or to play internet poker. One time I did get a chance to help out an actual Nigerian prince who had apparently been stranded in the United States. Still, I have to find other ways to pay for my DSL connection.

As some of you may also know, I occasionally help write things for non-top secret high level administration officials. A year ago, the vice president commisioned me to edit the Constitution down to a hundred words link . Just a few months ago, I got to write some jokes for the First Lady’s appearance at the White House Correspondent’s dinner. She was so grateful for my help that I got invited to a horse milking party in Crawford with Karl Rove, Jeff Gannon formerly of Talon News, and Ken Mehlman.

I didn’t actually wind up getting to milk any horses. Both Mr. Gannon and Mr. Rove were having such a good time, the rest of us decided not to interrupt them since both of them have had a difficult year and they genuinely seemed to be lost in the moment.
I did have the honor of watching Desperate Housewives with Mrs. Bush and Mrs. Cheney, who told me the idea for the show was lifted from her doctoral thesis.

My discretion paid off. Mr. Rove is one of those guys who notices everything. Did you know he even calls reporters to help them get their stories right? Once in a while, the reporters do stupid things like tell him top secret information about covert CIA agents and Mr. Rove always takes care to show them how not to violate some silly act from 1982. A few weeks after the party in Crawford, he called me with a project.

“Chancelucky, this is Karl Rove. We met at the horse milking party.”

“Karl, I wanted to apologize for not shaking hands with you afterwards. It wasn’t personal. I’m just a little squeamish.”

"No problem, not everyone likes to see me polish my push polling techniques up close.”

“Karl,I’d have to say the results have always spoken for themselves.”

“Let me get right to the point. I have a project for you.”

Suddenly, I had visions of being able to finally achieve some of my most ambitious dreams on the internet. I could, for instance, send hundreds of thousands of get well messages to that sick kid in West Virginia. I could pay for dozens of free three night stays in Las Vegas. If things really went well, I might even have the 800 dollars it took to buy that free Ipod.

“Im looking for someone to help me write a new gospel for the New Testament.”

My giddy fantasies quickly gave way to reality.

“Karl, I have to confess that I’ve only read the New Testament a couple times.”

“Don’t worry about it. That’s a couple times more than Rick Santorum’s read it by his own admission. The religious right happily still votes for him.”

“Okay, but why the New Testament?”

“It’s called firming up the base. Besides, the DaVinci Code was a big hit in the blue states. The party doesn’t want to be Left Behind even when it comes to apocryphal bestsellers.”

“Firming up the base?”

“Only 25% of the American people believe the President is being sincere about this Valerie Plame thing. A lot of those folk are evangelical Christian voters.”

“Can’t you just spread some absurdly false stories about Wilson being a liar and how you never knew her name? Those right wing bloggers believe anything as long as it’s in a set of talking points.”

“First of all, I don’t spread false stories. I imply them. Have you noticed that the White House itself doesn’t actually comment on any of this stuff?”

“I’ve noticed that they don’t even comment on you lately.”

“Well, as you know, the President has high standards for his staff. He even very courageously said the other day he’s fire anyone on his staff who commits a felony. That’s every bit as high a standard as they have for working at Walmart and it’s significantly higher than the one at Tyco or Enron.”

“Okay, but why a new gospel? What’s wrong with the four that have been used since Nicea?”

“As you know, fundamentalist Christian voters believe in the word of the Bible almost as much as they believe random slanderous rumors about Anne Richards, John Kerry, and John McCAin.”


“Some of them appear to have a problem with Judas.”

“Judas Iscariot? Don’t most Christians have a problem with Judas?”

“I think there’s been a misunderstanding.”

“Didn’t Judas out Jesus of Nazareth to the Romans which led to his crucifixion, all for thirty pieces of silver?”

“But, does the Bible ever say that Judas actually said Jesus of Nazareth’s name or that Judas ever really knew that Jesus might be the Son of God. Jesus in some versions of the Bible refers to himself as the Son of Man. Besides, he wasn’t declared divine for some years after his death.”


“May I point out that there is no proof in any of the gospels that Judas knowingly broke any existing Roman laws.”

“So what’s to fix?”

“For whatever reason, people read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and they think that Judas betrayed Jesus. Nothing could be further from the truth. Think about this. If there were no crucifixion, there couldn’t have been a resurrection. No resurrection, no Christianity. We should be thanking Judas not cursing him.”

“You have a point Karl. After all, it’s clear that Jesus wanted to be known as divine. He’d turned water into wine at a wedding. He’d chased the money changers out of the Temple, raised Lazarus from the dead at the vanity fair, gave a sermon on the mount, all very public acts. The Romans would have found Jesus anyway.”

“The Roman occupation of the Middle East was the catalyst for the spread of Christianity. Would we be talking about any of this if the Assyrians or Mongols had crucified Jesus?”

“What about this Nard business? Isn’t Judas the one who objects to Mary Magdalene pouring nard on Jesus?”

“That’s a fabrication spread by Mary Magdalene to discredit Judas. She did it to make Judas look bad. When Judas went to the Romans, he was trying to make it clear that God had nothing to do with the Nard cost overruns and Mary Magdalene was simply trying to make Judas look petty.”

“And the thirty peices of silver?”

“The left is always muddying the water with these conflict of interest smears. They totally ignore the fact that Judas was helping to make Jesus an incredibly significant martyr.”

“Why were the Romans in the Middle East btw?”


“Excuse me?”

“They believed that Jesus’s followers had Weapons of Man’s Destruction.”

“Wasn’t it just a few prophecies and a couple parables?”

“Judas was the one who convinced the Romans that Jesus’s followers had WMD. He gets Jesus crucified. Christianity spreads.”

“I’m confused. What does the WMD thing have to do with any of this?”

“Does it matter? Nero blamed the Christians for Rome burning. It worked for him. WMD worked then, it works now. If you read Revelations, it’s clear that Christians were talking about acquiring WMD.....Look, do you want this job or not?”

“Well, I don’t know. Do you do Paypal?”

“Sure, but we like cash better. It’s easier to account for. Look at the provisional authority in Iraq.”

“If I have this straight, you want me to write a gospel where Judas didn’t betray Jesus?”

“No, no, Mark and Luke’s notes already made it clear that Judas betrayed Jesus. He turned them over after a subpoena from the independent grand inquisitor. You know that guy Dostoyevsky who used to be a partner in Karamazov and Karamazov.”


“I want you to write a gospel that makes it clear that Judas betraying Jesus was actually a good thing. Got that. Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter get this stuff a whole lot faster than you do.”

“But no one except Time Magazine takes them seriously.”

“I can always call Rush, he’ll say anything.”

Anyway, that’s how I wound up writing the Gospel of Judas as told by Karl Rove. It’s actually easy to write this kind of thing if you think of it as just a way to avoid convictions. Besides, Karl wrote the book on this stuff already.

Other posts in the Karl Rove series


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Friday, July 15, 2005

moonlighting for Dick Cheney from 2004 volleyblog

Sorry for the delay, I've been busy with my other project. They asked me to edit the Bible so that it's under a hundred words in the hopes that more Christians will actually read it rather than quote from it randomly. After that, I get to do the Oxford English dictionary. Apparently the OED is so long because an insane American surgeon wrote a good percentage of its entries; I figure Ashton Kutcher's English vocabulary is something like a hundred words and that was good enough for him to punk Bruce Willis into believing that he was going to be his children's stepfather. If that's too many, I can use Jessica Simpson's English, but I'm resisting that one because I like having different words for chicken and tuna. I'm also in negotiations to do the U.S. Constitution. The Vice President's staff has already approved my draft which is way condensed,
"We the people of the United States will do whatever the president wants to do as long as he promises to lower taxes for rich people."
They've signed off on the draft but we're arguing about a couple things. First, they say they won't pay me for two different projects because they argue that the Bible and the Constitution are really the same document. I tried to argue back by saying, "Is it Constitutional: see Bible is kind of a stretch."
They say, "No it's not, the founding fathers were all born again Christians who hated taxes and threw tea into Boston Harbor."

"But they were really more like Deists, products of the enlightenment and the age of reason."

"Look, I have to tell you that your skepticism is only going to encourage terrorists to attack America again. Do you think Jefferson would have questioned the Alien and Sedition Act, I mean the Patriot Act."

"Well this tax thing, doesn't Jesus say something about it being easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven? and Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's?"

"That's what the gospels say, but you haven't seen Q. We rely on Q, the common source for all the gospels and the one true copy of the constitution."

"Can I get a copy."

"No, Justice Scalia has the only copy."

"Have you seen it?"

"Just when we went duck hunting. He shows some of it to Justice Thomas from time to time."

"Well, what was in it?"

"I'm sorry, I can't tell you, that's Executive Privilige."

"Okay, but what about this thou shalt not kill thing and turning the other cheek? You know, God as compassionate conservator of the universe."

"You're free to have your own religious beliefs and we have ours. The constitution guarantees that."

"But aren't your policies more like Eye for an Eye, Tooth for a Tooth. And isn't that Hammurabic Code not the Bible?"

"I'm sorry, but Hammurabi has no place in any discussion of Iraq neither do the Crusades."

"And if the Bible condemns abortion, why does God command Abraham to kill his living son Isaac?"

"But Abraham doesn't wind up having to kill Isaac, God intervenes by saying he was just testing Abraham's faith."

"Isn't that part of what make Abraham so revered in Islam as well, his unquestioning obedience to God?"

"Look, there's no reason you can't say everything the Bible and the Constitution have to say that's truly important in just a hundred words. Besides, none of this has anything to do with volleyball, except that NCVA is a Halliburton subsidiary."

"Don't you think if there were a God, that Challengers 17's would have gotten an open bid?"

"Who cares. That Kyle guy whines like Al Gore. You can have a perfectly legitimate election without counting all the votes. You can have a perfectly good selection process without counting all the wins and losses. That's what equal protection is all about. Anyway, Kyle should read the book of Job."

I've come to like the vice president a good deal now that I understand him better and I do think he has a point about the Bible and the Constitution really being the same document. Think about this, three branches of government is like having a holy trinity. Ten Commandments is almost the same as having ten amendments to the Bill of Rights. The Constitution has a Supremacy clause, the Bible has a supreme being. The Constitution has strict constructionists and those who want to treat it as a living document. The Bible has fundamentalists and those who talk about the social historical context of both the gospels and the old testament. The Bible guarantees the right to keep an unlimited unregistered supply of assault weapons in your home as long as they are not weapons of mass destruction. The constitution prohibits the establishment of religion. Whoops, darn, thought I was on a roll there.

More Chancelucky Karl Rove Dick Cheney Adventures


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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Back to the Beach (Volleyball) Pismo Beach 7/2005

The first twelve points of my daughter and her partner’s debut as an Under 16’s beach pair in the Pismo Beach tournament was memorably bad. They got exactly one ball in play which led me to believe that the beach version of our sport must be dramatically different from the indoor game. Still, I should have seen that immediately when I called the tournament director Ernie Santa Cruz about 2 days before the tournament and was told,”Yeah, just show up 30 minutes beforehand. You register in the California Beach Volleyball Association for $25 and then the tournament is $10.”
link to CBVA

In other words, no qualifiers, no arguments about pools and seeding, no club involved, no anxiety about playing time. If you had a partner, and it is sometimes possible to find one the day of the tournament, you showed up and that was it. If you didn’t like your partner, you just change at the next tournament. Well, there was the small matter that this tournament was 300 miles from home and Pismo Beach is as close to Northern California as CBVA gets this year. I came home from work on Friday evening, loaded my daughter into our station wagon, did the tournament, and drove home Saturday evening. I suspect this story might seem normal to most volleyball parents, which tells you how crazy we really are.

With all that “other stuff” that makes for flamewars and JTAWA trying to enlist more moderators (I heard he was using some provision of No Child Left Behind to find them) not a factor, there was also the matter of setting. I don’t mean the kind you do with a single clean contact, I’m talking about the “where”. My last time before this at a volleyball tournament was in a warehouse in Sparks, Nevada. The McDonald’s in Sparks has slot machines. Most of Nevada is better suited for warehousing space aliens, than for large human settlements. It’s actually pretty in a “this should be an uninhabitable part of the earth way”. Pismo Beach has the softest sand in California. You are in the sun. The courts are within a really really long serve of the Pacific Ocean itself. You don’t look down to see crud in the bleachers, you look up at a rock cliff, and a bunch of people more or less in Paradise (not the town in the desert). If your daughter has just shanked four in a row and hit two free balls out of bounds, you can look around and say,”Heck, I’m at the beach, it’s a beautiful day, etc.”
Nature has a way of putting things in perspective. Warehouses lined with sport court seem almost destined to bring out the Hobbesian quality of junior sports where all other volleyball teams and parents must be “nasty, brutish, and short”. I think of the Beach version as more like the sport as Rousseau, pre-French Revolution, might have imagined the game. “Players are born free, but everywhere they are in spandex and not allowed to wear untaped earrings.”
The other small matter. Even though the match was going horribly, it was clear that both teams were having a good time. Both teams were giggling at their mistakes. Each time they changed sides, they slapped hands and chatted. There was a peer ref, but there was no score sheet to yell about. All day the refs would lose track of both the score and the 7 point switch over. Lines were called on the honor system. It was actual “friendly competition”.
The other team, dressed in coordinated pink jerseys, showed signs of having played beach at least once before. This was the first time my daughter and her partner had played a game on sand. They had,however, attended a beach clinic between Napa vineyards for a couple two hour sessions. Hitting on both sides wasn’t necessarily effective. The serve seemed to play an even bigger role at this level in this version of the game. My daughter and her partner started to get a little more comfortable and the match ended 21-13 and with the indoor volleyball dad in me wondering if despite the happy atmosphere if this had been worth the long drive. I turned to the dad who came down with me,”Maybe this other team was one of the better teams here. Hopefully, our girls will win at least one match today.”
Between our kids’ matches, we watched some of the other teams in the pool. Some of them seemed pretty good, not Kerri and Misty good, but competent, experienced with the outdoor version, etc. The 18’s were genuinely strong with long rallies, frequent hard swings, amazing digs, etc. Also, there were guys playing in the tournament. In under 14’s boys were playing against the girls. The boys and young men were also playing on adjacent courts. Okay, there’s the hormone thing of having guys and girls in bathing suits, etc. bouncing up and down, but it added to the sense of “this is something they might actually do for fun when there aren’t coaches and club fees.”
Every now and then, balls pounded from the men’s court would find their way onto the Under 16’s girls matches 2 courts away. Between matches as well, one of the odd things was that a lot of the players were, uh, actually playing volleyball.
So, how did I get here? It actually started in Prepvolleyball. I’d exchanged some messages with a TCA parent whose daughter is an outstanding beach player and an outsstanding indoor player. Also there was some TCA pirate who was as always helpful. We had talked some about burn out, about my concern that my daughter isn’t tall and all that implied for club, recruiting, etc., and that HGH wasn’t in the cards. TCA parent said “You ought to try beach, come to Southern California, here are three web pages.”

More significant, TCA parent said,”We get concerned about burn out during the indoor season, not in beach.”
Southern California broke down for a variety of logistical reasons. For one, the time between Festival/JO’s and School Volleyball is maddeningly short unless you intend to have your kid playing in front of a 7'4” net 48 weeks out of the year. I decided to go local and rediscovered Kelly Van Winden who was offering a handful of beach camps on a sand court in her Napa backyard. If you don’t know California, think oak barrels and vines rather than surboards and sun block. Years ago, my older daughter had attended a Sonoma State indoor camp when Kelly was the coach there more than a decade ago. She also happened to be my daughter’s club coach’s college coach. One of the wonders of volleyball is that it is a closely interconnected world. No prominent coach is more than two degrees of separation from any well known player. The beach world is even tighter. Van Winden’s network stretches from Gabrielle Reece to incoming players at Napa Junior College.
On the phone she had told me,”Girls play beach and always get hooked.”
My daughter and her friend’s take after one two hour session, “This is fun, can we do more?”

More meant driving to Pismo Beach and watching them get beaten easily by two girls in matching pink shirts. Btw, there’s a whole dress ritual that comes with the beach scene. Players do shorts and t-shirt then kind of look around as other pairs start playing in bathing suits as the afternoon sun comes up. I’m not at all sure what the protocol is or whether you and partner must match kinds of attire, etc. After the first match, I was simply hoping that my daughter’s team would either get a close match or win at least one match for the day. Relief came quickly, they won the next match 21-3. One of the nice things about the format, even if you wait two matches it’s not a long time. Also waiting at the beach tends to be more fun than hanging out in front of the dumpster in a converted warehouse or fighting for folding chair and ice chest territory with other clubs.
Gang kids tag, volleyball clubs leave an ice chest and a bunch of blankets.

Before I knew it, my daughter’s team had won three matches in a row as the pair slowly, without benefit of coaches, figured the game and format out. I had seen them struggle in their two brief sessions together with the basic concept of directing your partner where to put the ball and remembering that if you don’t get a ball passed by your parnter, no one else does. They were starting to talk and identify angles, zones of the court, etc. They then dropped a close match after going down 12-2 to a pair with very good ball control. Bottom line, they were both learning and having fun doing it.

Up to this point, I’d often heard that the virtue of the beach game was that you improve your ball control because of the wind, sun, etc. and that you wind up jumping better because no one moves as easily on sand as on hardwood. It became clear to me that there’s another very significant difference. In Beach pairs, players don’t just execute skills or plays imposed by a coach, they have to learn to solve problems on the court. That includes figuring out novel ways to dig and learning to play offense by seeing openings instead of hitting through blocks. In addition, both players need to have all the skills. In baseball, they talk about the difference between being a thrower and being a pitcher. Beach forces most players to learn the volley version of the latter. Tactics and ball control become a greater part of the equation than jump touch and armspeed, hence Holly Mcpeak, Barbara Fontana, and Rachel Wacholder.
As my daughter points out,”It’s also just more fun to dive in the sand than to skid on squares of sportcourt.”

As it turned out, the seven team pool (you read that right) was surprisingly even. I believe 4 teams wound up with 4-2 records all of whom were thrown into a quick four team playoff. Although the peer and parent refs would lose track of the score and the 7 point changeover more or less routinely, it was honestly good for my inner volleyball parent not to have the score markers and brackets to obsess over. Once in the playoffs, it occured to me that nothing really bad could happen with the day. In fact, it was better than that. They actually won their first tournament. They wound up playing the pink pair from the beginning of the day in the final, probably much to their surprise. I doubt that any AVP scouts were there or needed to be there, but the competition was great fun once you got used to points being won on free balls to the corner and repeated drops rather than classic crush the third ball offensive system.

The other interesting factor was conditioning. Teams faded towards the end of the day. Once in the playoffs, there were clear signs that some players were wearing down in the sun. My daughter and her partner had spent most of the year doing weekly conditioning sessions before club practices and that may have literally left them as the last team standing or maybe diving and jumping. Two other things, I couldn’t get over how friendly the other pairs were win or lose and I actually didn’t see a single argued call the entire day. That might have been the result of some volleyboyle’s law of packing a certain number of parents into an enclosed space....I also need to mention that Ernie Santa Cruz was very gracious, low key, and a fine ambassador for the beach version of our sport. His daughter and her partner were also a very solid pair in the 16's and could just have easily won that day.

In the 1987 movie Back to the Beach,Frankie and Annette have moved to Ohio (maybe for Team Atlantis) and return to the beach to rediscover their “joy” and cure Annette’s addiction to peanut butter. It’s probably also the only movie that will ever feature both OJ Simpson and PeeWee Herman, not to mention Barbara Billingsley (Beaver’s mom). This was a long year in many ways where I felt the creep of fabfiftyitis, that syndrome where the only possible joy in the sport takes the form of a letter of intent. I also know that the worst part of the sport is arguing about who belongs on which team and who gets how much playing time. For at least one day on Pismo Beach, it felt good to forget all that. So, even if the Midwest (I'm sure we'll see Sand Performance Volleyball Club or some such in the prairies some time soon) can brag about JO’s, we Californians have the beach. Well at least until this global warming thing plays out.

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Monday, July 11, 2005

Taking the Plame

Q: Does the President continue to have confidence in Mr. Rove?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, these are all questions coming up in the context of an ongoing criminal investigation. And you've heard my response on this.

Q: So you're not going to respond as to whether or not the President has confidence in his Deputy Chief of Staff?

MR. McCLELLAN: Carl, you're asking this question in the context of an ongoing investigation. And I would not read anything into it other than I'm simply not going to comment on an ongoing --

from 7/11 White House press conference

Some things speak for themselves.

Oh heck, I have to say that Mr. Rove's comment about liberals seeking indictments and/or therapy post 9/11 now has a double meaning. I'd assumed he was referring to indictments of Al Qaeda, not himself. What are the chances that the president will pardon Karl Rove? How do you criticize anonymous unconfirmed sources when you've been one yourself? I imagine the White House misses having Jeff Gannon to call on in these press conferences.
link to 1982 law in question

link to John Dean article on the laws that were broken


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Friday, July 08, 2005

The Case of the Involuntary Cat Continues

Our dogs don't like the Fourth of July. They don't hate freedom. They just can't stand the sound of fireworks. Does anyone understand this fireworks business? I looked it up in Wikipedia and it says that July 4th 1777 was marked by 13 cannon firing thirteen times. A couple years later, George Washington gave his men a double ration of rum and they fired off more artillery, now there's a truly American combination for the holiday. Next we'll learn that George Washington then rode a supercharged stallion in the first NASCAR race on the Fourth of July
History of the Fourth of July link

The article indicates that the first published fireworks celebrations happened in New York and Boston in 1800 and 1805.

The Chinese likely invented fireworks and still make the best fireworks in the world. Does anyone out there think about maybe celebrating the Fourth by reading the Declaration of Independence aloud?
Instead of tunneling their way out of the yard, our dogs then might fall asleep, volunteer for duty in Iraq, or just bark their approval.

btw, here are some of the complaints in the actual Delcaration of Independence that Jefferson et. al. claim give peoples the right to throw off their government....

HE has combined with others to subject us to a Jurisdiction foreign to our Constitution, and unacknowledged by our Laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

FOR quartering large Bodies of Armed Troops among us:

FOR protecting them, by a mock Trial, from Punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

FOR cutting off our Trade with all Parts of the World:

FOR imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

FOR depriving us, in many Cases, of the Benefits of Trial by Jury:

FOR transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended Offences:

It's nice that we have future justices like Alberto Gonzales who respect the constitution, but maybe don't spend much time thinking about the actual words fo the Declaration of Independence. Otherwise, someone might point out that Guantanamo doesn't exactly sound like the American way as imagined by the actual founding fathers.

Anyway, one of our border collies exercised her inalienable right to be free from the sound of fireworks and tunnelled her way out of our yard on the evening of the Fourth of July. She turned up the next day at a neighbor's house where she happened to find some sort of asylum. We read her her rights and put her back in our backyard. A few days after the return of our dog, Phoebe the cat, took off once again. This time, less than a week later someone brought her into a vet, the vet scanned her yet again and she came home. Once again, she seems perfectly happy at home though every time someone opens a door she tried to run out.

These electronic chips seem like a good thing, but they are vaguely reminiscent of slave id bracelets, involuntary catitude. We're honestly not sure what to do now.
If the cat wants her freedom that badly....there should be some sort of underground cat railroad for her to get away from us and the prospect of being chipped back home by some well meaning veterinarian or animal shelter. We love having Phoebe live amongst us, but Phoebe clearly has other ideas about having a regular address.
In the meantime, the dogs who don't have chips, continue to wander our yard campaigning for something called "Interdependence Day" where we celebrate the strange connectedness of all these events and species instead of scaring them as if they were residents of Baghdad or even London.

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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Decline and Fall

Let me start by confessing that I've never read the entire million and a half word unabridged version nor even if I had a copy would I read the thousands of footnotes even if they include salacious stories about the Empress Theodora and geese. I've been thinking a lot lately about the 15th and 16th chapters of Edward Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. link to Gibbon page Gibbon had two general themes in volume 1. First, Rome fell due to moral decline. Citizens of Rome, never the entire population of the Empire, lost the will to pay the price necessary to keep their empire. For example, they sent barbarian mercenaries to fight in their wars rather than their own sons. Second, Christians refused to compromise or tolerate the presence of other beliefs in the Empire and were ruthless about making sure they got their way. As a result they had little to no time for traditional civilities or concerns about fairness. Gibbon also argued that the early Christians were more interested in securing their place in the "afterlife" than in the need to ensure the quality of what most of us think of as the here and now.

Most of what I know about Roman history, I learned from the movie Gladiator and three years of high school Latin. As in "Quo usque tandem abutere, Catalina, nostra patientia"-"Gallia est divisa in tres partis"- and some business about Rosy-fingered dawn talking to Aeneas. I'm really not the one to say whether Gibbon's analysis of Rome is credible. Despite the issues raised by his Western-European centric take on both the Byzantine side of Rome and his misunderstandings about Sung China, Gibbon's actual scholarship appears to have held up surprisingly well. Even the Catholic Church, which put the book on the banned list for 100 plus years, didn't necessarily challenge much of Gibbon's analysis of early church history. I am, however, comfortable suggesting that Gibbon has a lot to say about contemporary America. If only to remember a time in the west when the Church was bigger than the state, kings relied on God and church as a source of legitimacy, and where scripture had greater credence than "science". In modern America, that vision is alive and well in places like Colorado Springs which some call the Evangelical capital of America. It was the Puritans, after all, who came to America with their vision for the City on the Hill. Historians had a now politically incorrect name for that period 1300 years agoo when this was essentially true in much of the west, they called it the "Dark Ages". I, for one, am not especially anxious to have my descendants relive those times.
Mmmmm....if Gibbon were alive today, what do you think his webpage would look like? Wonder if he'd have pop up ads with links to online casinos, etc. Sometimes I wish we could channel voices from the past to the internet, say through a metaphyscial search engine.


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Friday, July 01, 2005

The Real Nuclear Option and an old poem

Unless it involves an invasion of a foreign country, blackouts, or massive corruption, energy policy may make the news, but it penetrates the American popular consciousness at about the same level as Crystal Pepsi. We may never know who took part in Dick Cheney's Energy Taskforce, it's privileged information because they were all either meeting Karl Rove's therapist that weekend or visiting with Matt Cooper of Time Magazine. What we do know is that whoever makes the Administration's energy policy probably isn't color coordinated with the Department of Homeland Security (Isn't it reassuring that we're borrowing nomenclature from apartheid South Africa?). How do I know that? The president more or less quietly announced his most recent plan for energy self-sufficiency. It wasn't shale conversion, alternative fuels, or trading in the bulletproof limo for a Toyota Prius. His idea of a bold forward looking initiative was to build more nuclear power plants. btw Why haven't I seen the media ask the President the obvious question, "Mr. President if you're going to build more nuclear power plants do you also have a strategy to make them safe from terrorists?"
After all, this is a bigger deal than dropping something at the Pottery Barn.

Holy Chernobyl! What a great idea! After all, even the primitive French use nuclear power to generate a substantial percentage of their electricity. At this point, the process of boiling water with nuclear fission has become a mature technology. I believe the US has been meltdown threat headline free since Three Mile Island in 1979. Since then, it got much harder to build new power plants, something about no such thing as a small accident when it comes to large uranium rods at thousands of degrees. One positive note, this was the first time President Bush ever acknowledged that "Greenhouse Gases", something that nuclear power plants don't emit, are a source of any concern to his administration. Equally surprising, this was one of the only times in the last year that the President failed to mention the social security surplus (Now there's a modest proposal for you, solve the future shortage in the trust fund by minimizing the number of recipients with one or two well-timed core meltdowns) or Terrorism.

A couple weeks ago, I got stuck in traffic near the Golden Gate Bridge after a big rig jacknifed and overturned on Highway 101. Had it been during rush hour, thousands of cars would have been stuck there. Imagine if a group of terrorists had planned the event and combined the jacknifed big rig with say a cloud of anthrax, maybe purchased from right wing terrorists in the US, and a couple fertilizer bombs a la that well known Al Qaeda operative Timothy Mcveigh. The immediate human cost and economic harm might have dwarfed 9/11.

Now imagine this, terrorists pull a 9/11 on a working nuclear power plant in the vicinity of a major city. Feel safer now? And how is it that if Iran can't or shouldn't have a nuclear program because of the dangers of proliferation, etc., but it's a goood thing if we build more nuclear plants? If we build all these new concentrated sources of radioactive material, how the heck do we keep them protected from terrorists? In the 2004 election, it came out that homeland security doesn't check cargo ship containers, guard chemical plants, key mass transportation facilities, or highways. For most of us, homeland security means waiting in long lines at airports and changing the color code each time the president drops in the polls. There's also this minor matter, fully one third of all our active military is currently in Iraq. There is no surplus National Guard or reserve unit to mind these power plants, nor do prospects look especially good for recruiting more young men and women to preserve the honor of the Downing Street Memo.
Article on 9/11 Terrorism and Nuclear Power Plants The danger is less one of a possible explosion or stolen bomb making materials, then it is a meltdown and subsequent contamination of the cooling water and its source.
I imagine if something like this happened, many of us would prefer to be in a persistently vegetative state.

Why the sudden disconnect between Energy Policy and Terror? I doubt that anyone can say for sure, but it might be fun to look at who might benefit should we take this trip back to that time in the 1950's when Oak Ridge was the vision of America's energy future rather than the place where they gathered the material for both the bomb and country music banalities. Nuclear power plants mean big construction contracts for say companies that build huge turbines, concrete structures, various meters and high performance electronics. Oddly, these same folk often happen to be defense contractors or existing energy companies. Second, until they create micro-reactors, anyone remember the nuclear powered car? btw, if you design one you can use it for a master's thesis at Princeton. More nuclear reactors means an even more centralized power grid, meaning we are even more at the mercy of our local power company and energy brokers like Enron. In general, you don't make nearly as much money from conservation as you do from mammoth decades long building projects. If we've learned anything from the last ten years, it's that if we trust big business to account for our money ethically, we certainly ought to trust them to be accountable for our safety and energy security. Why does this most recent version of the Nuclear Option sound less like a serious energy policy than something out of Gotham City? Am I the only one who thinks that the president looks a bit like Jack Nicholoson's Joker?

Paul O'neill, Bush's onetime pro-industry Treasury Secretary, and now according to the Right a Judas like liberal because he wrote a book claiming that the War on Iraq was premeditated and "tax cuts" were Republican for "deficit of economic sense", was once quoted saying something to the effect that "Other than Three Mile Island, the accident record of the nuclear power industry has been rather good."
We might quibble about that carefuly use of the word "other", if nothing else Three Mile Island made thousands of people watch a Jane Fonda movie and isn't that scary in its own way? Do we want to give Hollywood an excuse to make another Jennifer Lopez movie? We can't, however, quibble about the difference between vulnerability to "accident" and vulnerability to well-planned acts of terrorism.

There's an Einstein bumper sticker built around a very un-Albert like paradox, "You can not prepare for and prevent war."

I'm sure God would not play dice with nuclear power plants. I don't know about a failed oil man and his energy-contractor "I picked myself" vice president. Talk about a couple of old "fossil fools" or is it "facile fools". The only fusion that matters here is this. Any President who claims to be serious about preventing terrorism wouldn't be building nuclear power plants. It might even be safer to have the Chinese buy all our oil companies with their end of the trade surplus from Walmart. This President is playing Russian Roulette both with our energy policy and the real war on terrorism. The Ukrainian phrase for that game is "Chernobyl meet Belsan"


Condemned to half-lives
My nuclear family sleeps
on pillows of melted down
While I stir their milk
with a geiger counter,
fearing even the spring rains
as they fall outside

All blame has been assigned
Alì suffering encased in cement
We work our crops for winter
As we reap a harvest of exploded plants


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