Monday, July 27, 2009

Left Lane Bandits: Right Lane Bullies

So I just drove from Portland, OR to Mountain View, CA. 10 hours of fairly nice scenery, mountain passes, and really boring and hot central California. Would you believe 112F in Red Bluff (about an hour south of Lake Shasta) at 4pm??

For the most part, people are fairly polite on the road. However, our police surveillance society always makes passing long, tedious, and dangerous. People are always paranoid about going too much faster than the speed limit, so in a 65 MPH zone you might be going 72 MPH passing someone who's going 71.5MPH.

I'm told that the New York State used to have a rule where for up to 1/4 mile you could drive at unlimited speed, so that passing could be quick, efficient, and safe. I doubt if that's true now.

So people tend to set their cruise controls and motor along in the left lane, because it's too easy to lose time if you move to the right and get caught in a squeeze play. This is where you need to pass a slower car, but you can't move back to the left lane because someone is closing just fast enough to keep you there, and just slow enough that you have to slow down because they're taking so long to get by you both.

This inevitably leads to those rude people who 1) pass you on the right and 2) butt in while you're passing traffic, forcing you to slow down and waste a lot of energy/gas in the process.

These people have an attitude problem. They just assume you don't mind slowing down for them and that the gap you leave in front of you is not reaction time buffer but instead reserved for them. They also rarely signal - perhaps out of general rudeness, but perhaps also as part of a "surprise them!" strategy.

This irks me for all sorts of reasons. This all happens under the noses of highway cops, who are measuring car speeds for ticketing instead of looking out for dangerous drivers.

In the vein of Friedman's "China for a Day", I wonder if we could become a bit more Teutonic about driving behavior. On Germany's Autobahns it is Simply Not Done to pass someone on the right. I did it once and received quite the disapproving glare. In Europe, passing on the right seldom becomes an issue, because everyone is trained to stay in the right lane(s) except to pass.

I know, I'm just dreaming. In America, driving is a right (despite what the DMV booklets all say) and if you can't stop people from buying SUVs, you sure as hell aren't going to keep them away from their left lane entitlement.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

So I found my old Vectrex game. It was mind-blowing when it came out - a vector console for your desk!

There are emulators, but they just don't have the same game play.

Methinks I'll take it to work and hang a sign on it, "Play this game if its older than you."

Kim Il Jong: Pancreatic Cancer Poster Dictator?

Unless you are both rich and very lucky (this means you, Real Steve), pancreatic cancer is pretty much a death sentence. By the time you are diagnosed, you can count on the fingers of one hand the number of months you have left.

My dad managed about 18 months, due to an experimental "drip system" chemo developed at UCLA. He barely made it to 1994, which was just about when the Web started exploding. He went back in computing to the days of analog computers (for example, modeling the Lockheed Electra wing problems with differential equations), and I know he would have loved the Web.

1994 was some years after Dr Bernard Bihari started exploring the use of Low Dose Naltrexone for the treatment of cancer and other dread diseases like AIDS and Multiple Sclerosis
...almost all cancers have a lot of receptors for endorphins on the cell surface, and that seems to be necessary for it to work. Some of the cancers that respond most dramatically are Multiple Myeloma, Lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease, breast cancer, all the cancers of the gastrointestinal tract, like pancreatic cancer, non small-cell cancer of the lung, the kind associated with smoking. I've got several patients with tumors that have stopped growing; they have no symptoms, and then after a year, year and a half, in about half of that group, the tumors start shrinking and disappear.
There have been other results since then, notably from Berkson. Why isn't mainstream medicine pursuing research along these lines? Simple - the patents on Naltrexone ran out long ago, and nobody would make any money on curing cancer with it.

Perhaps LDN isn't The Answer - I wish the FDA and NIH would do their job and get on the case.

Meanwhile, in resource-poor no-health-care North Korea, I'd put even money that Dear Leader will happen along this treatment. It would be ironic indeed if he survived, and the world "discovered" a cheap, effective treatment through its use on a murderous despot.

Other LDN/cancer references:

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Krugman on Health Care and the Free Market

In other words, "insurance" is the wrong model for health care.
There are a number of successful health-care systems, at least as measured by pretty good care much cheaper than here, and they are quite different from each other. There are, however, no examples of successful health care based on the principles of the free market, for one simple reason: in health care, the free market just doesn’t work. And people who say that the market is the answer are flying in the face of both theory and overwhelming evidence.
If you still find the concept difficult to fathom or swallow, try looking at motivation. Listen to the various players in the health care debate, and ask yourself what are their stakes in the whole thing. Including following the money to their campaign contributors.

Then contemplate Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Up To No Good (continued)

From DailyKos,-instead-go-for-the-kill

Taking a page out of the Jim DeMint playbook on health care reform Republican-style, Bill Kristol doesn't even pretend that there is any goal other than to kill it:

With Obamacare on the ropes, there will be a temptation for opponents to let up on their criticism, and to try to appear constructive, or at least responsible. There will be a tendency to want to let the Democrats' plans sink of their own weight, to emphasize that the critics have been pushing sound reform ideas all along and suggest it's not too late for a bipartisan compromise over the next couple of weeks or months.

My advice, for what it's worth: Resist the temptation. This is no time to pull punches. Go for the kill.

It's hard to believe that this needs to be said again, but obviously it does: Republicans aren't interested in bipartisanship. They aren't interested in meaningful health care reform. And God knows they don't give a damn what it means for millions of Americans. The only thing they want is a political victory. Period.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Up To No Good

So it's getting down to crunch time on health care reform, and despite the Democrat's huge margin of victory in 2008 and the overwhelming desire of the electorate to have at least a Public Option, if not actual Single-Payer health care, there seems to be serious doubt as to whether Obama can deliver on Big Issue H.

Who's at fault? Certainly the Republican party carries most of the blame. Whether it's because of hyper-partisanship or complete deference to their corporate benefactors, the idea of absolutely all Republicans voting as a bloc against everything Obama does is truly repulsive. These people are beneath contempt. They are up to no good, and have no shame or principle.

There are unfortunately enough "Blue Dog" Democrats who feel they can hold health care hostage for their few measly votes (simply because they know the Republicans will vote 40-0 against). I very much doubt if they have any actual principles at stake - Lieberman comes to mind here - aside from simply being bought and paid for by the very corporations that their voters hired them to regulate.

This Salon article about Big Issue E is both relevant and depressing.
The final storyline of criminality is the biggest of all. It is bigger than the current financial crisis. It is corporate America's complete control of our nation's elected officials, especially our Congress, through lobbying and campaign donations. Yes, the banks played this game, but the game was much bigger than just the financial industry. Coal-fired utilities have so watered down impending legislation concerning global warming that they have now come out in favor of it in the House vote. TARP money went to banking friends of Hank Paulson, although 97 percent of congressional correspondence from the American people was against it. The credit card industry took a minor slap on the wrist, but faces no limitation on the egregious interest rates it can charge its customers. Pharmaceutical and hospital corporations are fighting hard to keep Americans from having a public alternative to their healthcare, and right now are winning that fight. The transportation industry is at the government trough trying to pass a $500 billion windfall. The AARP prevents any meaningful reform of Social Security; the teachers' union does the same for education reform. Is it crazy to think that defense companies like Dick Cheney's Halliburton (which saw its stock price increase 700 percent during the Iraq war, thanks to no-bid contracts) may be promoting U.S. aggression around the world?
Basically, it amounts to the US having the worst of all worlds. There is no central authority with any ability or stomach to make long-term plans. Friedman's "China for a Day" can be tempting until you remember that China is actually a GOP capitalist paradise, with no health care, redistribution of wealth, or dissent.

Perhaps Obama should listen to Bill Maher and become George W for a day. He was "elected" by the thinnest of margins (twice!), yet claimed a mandate and managed to ram most of his degenerate agenda through Congress. Obama has way more popularity and persuasive power - it's time he used it.

If he doesn't, American will fall further into Third World status and be ripe for a takeover by an even cruder version of the idiocracy that plundered it during the last administration.

Monday, July 20, 2009

40 Years Ago Today!

What more is there to say? It's still a mind-boggling achievement. And from JFK's announcement in 1962 to Apollo 11 was, what, 7 years?

The earliest estimates of our ability to return to the Moon are targeting 2020, 11 years from now. This is with all the prior art, the literally million-fold increase in computing technology, etc etc.

Color me disappointed. If and when we finally send a few people out of Earth's orbit, it will again be in flying gas cans, not from, say, a sky-hook. It will still be the projection of a nation's resource to send a teeny few.

Which is not to say I have anything but admiration for the astronauts and the organization that pulled it off. Neil Armstrong is a pilot's pilot - he held a number of altitude and speed records as an X-15 test pilot long before he was an astronaut. Multiply that across the whole of NASA - everywhere you turn, you have the best people in the world pushing back the frontiers of science and technology.

July 20, 1969 - when men were men and giants walked the Earth ... and the Moon!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Gang of Sickos: Frenemies of Health Care Reform

This "bipartisan" groups of six senators have issued a demand for a slowdown of the health care reform process. While claiming to be heeding the wishes of their constituents, they are in fact doing the bidding of their benefactors in the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries.

Below is the article exposing all this, plus the list of senators and their industry contributions. Hopefully shining some light on these sickos will take some wind out of their sails. The article also lists contact information for these senators, for what that's worth.
  1. Ben Nelson (D) Nebraska $2.2 million
  2. Mary Landieu (D) Louisiana $1.6 million
  3. Ron Wyden (D) Oregon $1.4 million
  4. Joe Lieberman (I) Connecticut $3.6 million
  5. Olympia Snowe (R) Maine $1.1 million
  6. Susan Collons (R) Maine $1.6 million
Can anyone be surprised by the appearance of Joe "Sleazebag" Lieberman on this list? I am however shocked to see Ron Wyden, who I thought was a very progressive guy.

While the appearance of a "public option" in the House and Senate health care bills is somewhat of a relief, I wouldn't bet against the whole thing being stopped in its track by groups like the above. Or worse, neutralized by bazillion amendments that will keep us locked into the current system forever.

By far the simplest and least expensive option for health care reform would be
  • extend Medicare to everyone - it's already covering the elderly, who are by far the most expensive health demographic
  • undo the Bush drug non-benefit and insurance leeches (Medicare middlemen) additions
If you aren't angry about the health care situation in America, or your anger has cooled a bit, go watch Sicko online now. And tell your friends.

Boom-Bust: Positive Feedback Economies are Unstable

This is part 1 of my General Economic Theory. It's very complicated and difficult to understand. Ready?
  1. Positive Feedback Systems are Unstable
  2. Economies are Positive Feedback Systems
  3. Economies are Unstable
Got that?

Control Theory is an arbitrarily complex field. I took it for a year in college, and unfortunately forgot most of it. Stability is a formally defined concept within Control Theory. If you can model a system, you can discover if it is stable.

Generally speaking, most stable systems use negative feedback. That is, for any fluctuation there is a corresponding correction. Think of what you do to keep a car going in a straight line - if the car veers, you steer in the opposite direction. Eventually you don't even think about it, and your passengers never notice the infinitesimal corrections you constantly make to keep the car going straight.

One of the simplest and best analyzed forms of negative feedback control systems is the Phase-Locked Loop, which for example is the basis of all modern radio and TV tuners.

Economies are complex, non-linear systems with lots of feedback loops of varying amplifications ("gains") and delays. Most of them are positive feedback, and all of them are difficult to model.

Capitalism is of course positive feedback. Making money gives you more opportunity to invest, where you can make even more. Speculation is an extreme example - you make money on something, and other people want to get in on the action. People become convinced that Tulips are a fantastic investment, and the price of Tulips shoots through the roof .. until the bottom falls out and the last people in lose everything to the first people in (to use a zero-sum oversimplification).

As with other systems, negative feedback provides stability in economic systems. The extreme form of this is Communism ("from each according to his ability, to each according to his need"), in which the lack of incentive for personal gain slows everything to a crawl.

Stagnation is an undesired form of stability.

How do you create a "vibrant" (e.g. unstable) economy, yet avoid economic bubbles? Two words: regulation and taxation. Part 2 of my General Economic Theory comes later.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Thomas Jefferson in the 21st Century

I've often wondered what artifacts of today I'd want to take back or forth in time with me ("Which three books would you take?" said Filby to H.G. Wells' housekeeper). Electronic gizmos would be really cool .. so long as they don't depend on Internet, GPS satellites, or cell networks, for as long as the batteries hold out.

Even then I wouldn't be sure if people will gawk in wonder at my iPod Touch or burn me at the stake. And how much time would I have to explain the cascade of technologies that make it possible?

I was never a big fan of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. But really, it would seem far more satisfying to bring people from the past into the present. Once they got over the shock of indoor plumbing and electric lights, it would be great fun - and often more than a little embarrassing - to show off the tech wonders of our world.

I got to thinking about this again while watching the excellent John Adams series on DVD. We can revere the Founding Fathers, call them lucky gentlemen revolutionaries, or whatever, but it's pretty amazing what they came up with given the times in which they lived, and their inability to predict the future.

Thomas Jefferson seemed particularly interesting. He authored most of the Declaration of Independence and is the subject of quotes like JFK's about how a gathering of the Best and Brightest might have approached the intellect of Jefferson when he sat alone in the same room.

Aside from all of his political and historical significance, Jefferson was also an architect and an inventor. Look around you and imagine how he might appreciate even the smallest detail of what you take for granted. 20th century stuff for sure - cars, airplanes, radio, etc. But I think he would even more appreciate the expanse and growing organization of human knowledge.

He would never get over the shock of computing in general. Hell, I have a hard time grokking the fact of my laptop containing many billions of transistors. But the Internet in general, and Wikipedia and search engines in particular would really fascinate him. I can almost see him nodding in appreciation as he learns about inverted indexes, divide and conquer computing, etc etc.

Motion pictures would blow his mind. He'd seen plays, of course, but the simulated realities necessary in rendering special effects would really impress him. The Navier-Stokes equations had yet to be derived in Jefferson's time, and most people today have no appreciation of how essential is actual simulation in the making of effects. Jefferson would appreciate it, and his hosts would have to play tag team in explaining all the math, science, and technology that makes it all work.

Great stuff.

Well, that is until we get to television. Jefferson would be aghast, not just at the crassness and shallowness of TV in general, but the complete distortion of political discourse that TV enables. Watching Fox News would probably make him wonder about the wisdom of repealing the Alien and Sedition Acts that Adams signed into law.

Jefferson would be particularly troubled at the Idiocracy that is today's Republican Party. Watching John Boener and his blow-dried colleagues reciting their corporate talking points, knowing they are false yet having no shame in doing so, would probably make his blood boil. He would think of the massive sacrifice, the care of thought, the hardships .. and wonder if it was all for nought.

We might have to work hard to cheer him up ("Hey Thomas, you'll never guess what's at Mount Rushmore!"), but then again maybe he would enjoy retreating into the massive study and exploration it would take for him to catch up on the last two centuries of technology.

In that respect, Thomas Jefferson might find solace in the company of fellow nerds who know they can't fix the world, but do their best to advance technology and understanding when they can. And after all, he should be proud of his enormous contribution to history.

Pulling Jefferson forward in time would of course lead to the question of whether to send him back (he wouldn't want to go), but then early America would lose the correspondence he and Adams shared in their later years, and our history might change in some small respect from losing the fact of them both dying 50 years to the day after July 4, 1776.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Looking Back: The Omega Glory

I hadn't seen this Star Trek episode in a very long time.

When I first saw it, I was fascinated by the not-quite-parallel planet depicted on the show. Said planet had Yankees (Whites!) and Communists (Asians!), and even the minutest detail of the US Pledge of Allegiance and Constitution .. yet differed in a slightly larger sense of having suffered a biological war that wiped out most of the planet. Hmmkay..

Viewing it today, it's funny/sad to see the characature of Americans that is the Yangs:
  • "Impossible even to communicate with!"
  • "Totally contemptuous of death!"
  • "Freedom? That's a worship word - Yang worship!"

And I tell ya, them Yangs remind me a lot of today's Republicans, who
  • attempt to substitute talking points for reason, and are bound by a hyper-partisanship that goes beyond ideology
  • have no problem sending other people's sons and daughters into harm's way to protect their business interests
  • keep saying "terrorists hate us for our freedom"
Star Trek was televised about 15 years after the McCarthy days, and I wonder if Roddenberry (who also wrote the episode) was at the same time telling a morality tale and poking fun at his contemporary wing-nuts (aka "Birchers").

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Fall Guys: Lynndie England

This American Life is such a great show, and podcasts are an ideal way for non-radio types like me to follow it.

A couple weeks back they ran a story about fall guys. The most interesting of its four parts was the segment on Lynndie England, the poster girl for American torture.
The story of a famous but not well-understood political fall guy, someone who became a scapegoat for American policies worldwide. Philip Gourevitch writes about listening to nine hours of interviews with Lynndie England, the American servicewoman photographed at Abu Ghraib prison holding a leash with a naked, Iraqi prisoner on the end of it. Philip Gourevitch's book about what happened in that prison and in those photos is called The Ballad of Abu Ghraib. Audio in this act came from Errol Morris's interviews in the film Standard Operating Procedure. (15 minutes)
It's an amazing story, and not a little surprising. Perhaps most amazing is how little involvement she actually had - she was an admin, ordered to pose for a The Photograph - yet how she was one of very few people convicted or even accused of wrong-doing in the whole Abu Ghraib affair.

And of course the entire chain of command, leading up to Generalissimo El Busho himself, managed to avoid any sort of consequence.

Lynndie England is recognized everywhere, and hated as The Person most responsible for stuff like beheadings of captured Americans.

And she was a Fall Guy, big time, for the most criminal administration in US history.

It's Just Not Practical

I may never forgive Ralph Nader for killing the Corvair (my first car), or worse, for taking enough votes away from Al Gore in 2000 for the election to be stolen.

But he speaks the truth:

Last year, the excuse was a Bush veto. So the Democrats didn't even try to advance reforms they believe in, knowing Bush and his Republican Party would stonewall. What's the excuse this year with Obama in the White House?

After all, it was only a year and a half ago when nominating and then electing an African-American President was "not going to happen, was not practical."

But since it did happen, why aren't these and many other long overdue beneficial redirections and efficiencies happening for the American people? Why aren't there rollbacks, at least, of the Bush-driven inequities and injustices that have so damaged the well-being of working people?

Why isn't a simpler and more efficient carbon tax more "practical" than the complex corruption-prone, corporatized cap and trade deal driven by Goldman Sachs and favored by most Democrats? The avaricious tax cuts for the super-wealthy are still there.

The statutory ban on Uncle Sam negotiating volume discounts on medicines purchased by the federal government are still there. Taking the huge budgets for the Bush wars in Iraq and Afghanistan off their annual fast track, and putting them a meaningful House and Senate Appropriations Committee hearing process has not happened.

Face it, America. You are a corporate-controlled country with the symbols of democracy in the constitution and statutes just that-symbols of what the founding fathers believed or hoped would be reality.

Even when the global corporate giants come to Washington dripping with crime, greed, speculation and cover-ups, and demand gigantic bailouts on the backs of taxpayers and their children, neither the Republicans nor the now majority Democrats are willing to face them down.

It's really depressing that a lot of elected Democrats are acting like they have the moral high ground, but are just as beholden to corporate benefactors as their wingnut Republican counterparts.

There's a difference between "giving the Health Insurance Industry a seat at the table" and presenting Aetna president Ron Williams as a friend to health care reform.

Blowing the Whistle on the Health Care Industry

Bill Moyers interviews ex-Cigna PR chief Wendell Potter:

Insurance is just the wrong model for health care. Too many conflicts of interest.

BILL MOYERS: We obtained a copy of the game plan that was adopted by the industry's trade association, AHIP. And it spells out the industry strategies in gold letters. It says, "Highlight horror stories of government-run systems." What was that about?

WENDELL POTTER: The industry has always tried to make Americans think that government-run systems are the worst thing that could possibly happen to them, that if you even consider that, you're heading down on the slippery slope towards socialism. So they have used scare tactics for years and years and years, to keep that from happening. If there were a broader program like our Medicare program, it could potentially reduce the profits of these big companies. So that is their biggest concern.

BILL MOYERS: And there was a political strategy. "Position Sicko as a threat to Democrats' larger agenda." What does that mean?

WENDELL POTTER: That means that part of the effort to discredit this film was to use lobbyists and their own staff to go onto Capitol Hill and say, "Look, you don't want to believe this movie. You don't want to talk about it. You don't want to endorse it. And if you do, we can make things tough for you."


BILL MOYERS: So your plan worked.

WENDELL POTTER: It worked beautifully.

BILL MOYERS: The film was blunted, right?

WENDELL POTTER: The film was blunted. It--

BILL MOYERS: Was it true? Did you think it contained a great truth?

WENDELL POTTER: Absolutely did.

BILL MOYERS: What was it?

WENDELL POTTER: That we shouldn't fear government involvement in our health care system. That there is an appropriate role for government, and it's been proven in the countries that were in that movie.

You know, we have more people who are uninsured in this country than the entire population of Canada. And that if you include the people who are underinsured, more people than in the United Kingdom. We have huge numbers of people who are also just a lay-off away from joining the ranks of the uninsured, or being purged by their insurance company, and winding up there.

And another thing is that the advocates of reform or the opponents of reform are those who are saying that we need to be careful about what we do here, because we don't want the government to take away your choice of a health plan. It's more likely that your employer and your insurer is going to switch you from a plan that you're in now to one that you don't want. You might be in the plan you like now.

But chances are, pretty soon, you're going to be enrolled in one of these high deductible plans in which you're going to find that much more of the cost is being shifted to you than you ever imagined.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

20 Years After the Al Franken Decade

When in 1979 Al Franken announced on SNL that the 80's would be "The Al Franken Decade", I thought he was an arrogant jerk. No more so than, say, Chevy Chase, but it just seemed a bit presumptuous.

Of course, the Al Franken 80's might have been better than the Reagan 80's .. but we'll never know.

SNL was the first time I saw him draw a map of the US, while discussing something else. I wish I could remember what it was, and there's probably video of it somewhere (too bad NBC's video archives are so suckily unsearchable).

But it's cool to see he's still doing it! Consider the following, in which he carries a Q&A on health care while drawing the map.

The average politician doesn't seem all that smart to me. I'm glad the US Senate finally has Al Franken .. or rather, that we now have The Al Franken Senate.

BTW I second Victor Navasky's wish that he allow himself to be funny. Most humor comes from observation and analysis anyway. Most politicians are unintentionally funny - I'd rather have a professional funny man on the job.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Watchmen: This American Life on The Meltdown

This American Life is a great show, and I only recently started listening to its podcasts on a regular basis.

TAL has done a number of shows during the financial meltdown, and doing a marvelous job of explaining just what's been happening.

The most recent of these is called The Watchmen, where they look for the agency or agencies whose job it was to regulate AIG. Partly because they don't expect the Congress to perform such a search, and partly because even if they do it would be in a circus atmosphere with no positive outcome.
Since Congress hasn't held 1930's-style hearings into the causes of the financial crisis, we stage one of our own. The subject? The regulators and watchdogs who were supposed to be overseeing the banks and the finance industry—to make sure things wouldn't blow up like they have. Clearly something went wrong. Today we pound a gavel and ask: where were the watchmen?

This is very worth an hour of anyone's time to listen to. As much as the show cautions against anger towards each of the miscreants as they are revealed, it struck me that the Office of Thrift Supervision was nominally in charge. This agency had formerly been the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp FSLIC (or was it the Federal Home Loan Bank Board FHLBB?) .. and was simply rebranded and, yes, de-fanged by Bush I and later Clinton.

Alas, it's not so simple, and listening to the twists and turns basically leaves one with the impressions that
  • the system was structurally incapable of preventing the problem
  • all reform was pretense, and the issues of the S&L crisis were simply swept under the rug
Listen, be angry, and try to think of ways to really prevent another recurrence.

Tennis: Kind of Offensive

I can't say I actually hate tennis. I've watched various championships on and off over the years, including a lot of this year's Wimbledon, and one has to admire the skill, art, and athleticism of professional tennis players.

However, I am always creeped out by the environment in which they play. First off, you can't really have much fun playing tennis unless you have someone else chasing errant balls for you. Although, I suppose you could bring a bucket of balls if you aren't too concerned with stepping on one during a game.

At the professional level, of course, there is a small army of ball/towel kids waiting hand and foot on the players. I wouldn't be at all surprised if tennis ball kids do their job for free (and the thrill of being on the same court as tennis greats). But, jeez, the manner they have to exhibit is just so demeaning. When they have a ball, they hold it up as high as possible and only bounce it to the player when bidden. "Here, sir, I have a ball for you, sir, may I please bounce it to you? Pick me oh please pick me sir!"

On the baseline, a player might condescend to holding out his racket, upon which the ball kid carefully places three balls, standing at attention until dismissed or until said player finishes wiping his brow. The players don't even acknowledge their existence. "One doesn't break concentration to notice the help."

For a sport of gentlemen and ladies, it sure has a lot of refs. I think tennis holds an all-sport high for the ratio of umpires and linesmen to players. It's got to be nearly a dozen people, each carefully watching one line for the all-important in/out decisions. Most team sports have 2-3 referees watching 10-30 players and the court boundaries.

I suppose polo tops tennis for sheer snoot value, but I can't think of any other sport that expends so much resource for so few participants.

And don't get me started on tennis scoring...

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The World is Still Watching (We Hope)

So much has been said of the Iranian crackdown having silenced the protests. There are a lot of ways this can be so:
  1. people have been cowed
  2. the movement has lost steam
  3. people have been eliminated
1 and 2 are certainly part of the equation, but I think what really happened is 3, and the survivors are scared of the same happening to them.

In the words of Josef Stalin, "One death is a tragedy. A million is a statistic." Remember the uproad of Neda a few weeks ago? Iran seems to be heading toward the realm of statistics.

Iran has suffered under dictatorships for 55+ years. It's shameful that the US had a major hand in the first 25 of those, and very sad that the revolt against the Shah enabled the last 30.

Recent events have shown the Islamic dictatorship to be the most brutal. This is the direct effect of religion's ability to get people to think of Us vs Them and treat the opposition as sub-human. The Shah stepped down partly because he wouldn't order his forces to shoot into crowds. Khamenai and Ahmadinejah seem to have no such compunctions.

All very scary and sad. Scary for the US as well, as the neo-cons who are most vocal about how we should intervene are the same people who would have the US become more of a Christian dictatorship than it already was during the Bush years.