Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Grand Old Game & Wondrous New Machines

Here's an email I sent to a friend in reaction to an article about baseball he sent me. I'm reproducing it here in a slightly altered form mainly because the piece prompted some thoughts about baseball and computers and advanced technology. Interesting maybe later on to see how prophetic I am.

Thanks for sending this. What sucks you in is the sensationalist lead to this piece about new technology. Nothing is going to replace the stats baseball people have relied on for years. I'm with Jack McKeon . . . You know that I'm a lover of all the baseball numbers, from the old tried-and-true we've had for years to the first generation of sabermetric measurements, the products of Bill James and Pete Palmer, things like OBP, RC, RC/G, OPS, park adjustments, WHIP, batting and pitching runs, and more. I have not embraced the increasingly esoteric measurements (see here too) that are being produced by anybody who's got a baseball blog and a spreadsheet program. There comes a point of diminishing returns with these computer tricks. More and more about less and less that really don't help further our understanding of the game.

The article in WSJ is perhaps interesting, and I do think it's neat to see the trajectory and know the speed of pitches and location of pitches, but this technology is just that, an application of the kind of measurements this technology can produce to the game of baseball. I don't see it revolutionizing the game from the fan's standpoint. Maybe it will for the overall management of the game. But then I'm a fossil who still thinks the DH is an abomination, not to mention other obscenities such as wild cards, inter-league play, 4-team divisions, and more.

Along the same lines, I'm seeing an increasing number of articles that baseball is ready for and should begin to employ instant replay, for the call of HRs only, and not for anything else. That dunderhead Bud Selig, who has screwed the game up royally during his tenure as the owners' pawn, oops I mean Baseball Commissioner, will probably allow it. Now, I'm not all that opposed to instant replay for this purpose, but I am opposed to its extension into other aspects of the game, also the province of the umpires. (Fair-foul calls on the lines occurs to me.) And I think once replay gets established in the game, it's inevitable that it will be extended into other areas. Now that's what I'm really against. I don't want a damn computer calling on the bases and behind the plate. How many baseball fans are ready for that?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Pray for What?

Memorial Day is not actually a day to pray for US troops who died in action, but rather a day set aside by Congress to pray for peace. The 1950 Joint Resolution of Congress, which created Memorial Day, says, "Requesting the President to issue a proclamation designating May 30, Memorial Day, as a day for a Nation-wide prayer for peace."
(64 Stat.158).

I sure as hell didn't know this. Did you? It's from an excellent piece by Bill Quigley in t r u t h o u t today. But that's not the way we see it, with all the wreath-laying and miniature US flags in great profusion everywhere. Indeed, we have made the holiday yet another time to memorialize the troops and not incidentally stoke the patriotic, nationalistic fires that keep us burning with self-righteousness. For example, the prayers we prayed in Church on Sunday were for all of our soldiers who have died "defending our freedoms."

I think not. Now, I'm sure I'd be dragged into the streets and stoned if I pointed out that would be more accurate to pray for all of our soldiers who have died for "whatever US policy was at the time." But all you have to do is take a look at the list of US military interventions across the globe since 1945 (see the Truthout piece). I daresay I would not adjudge a single one of these military insertions into the affairs of other people as necessary for "our freedoms." Which means all of the deaths of the soldiers whom we memorialize in the grave and ponderous language of serious remembrance gave their lives for what the national leadership thought was worth their lives at the time. Oh, they said it was about "freedom" every time, but they lied. Leaders always lie about war, because if they told the truth about why they sacrifice the lives and treasure of the people--for political purposes and to protect American economic interests, almost exclusively--it's they who would be dragged into the streets and stoned by an outraged populace. But you want to sell something, anything, to people? Wrap it in the flag, and drape it with a "Freedom" banner.

My wife and I were at Memorial Day pot luck on Monday. We had prayer and a recitation of the pledge of allegiance to the US flag. The pledge of allegiance at a pot-luck supper??? Give me a break! And we did not do them in that order, by the way. Prayer was secondary to pledge. I prayed, but I don't pledge allegiance to the flag under any circumstances. Haven't for years. Don't sing the National Anthem either under any circumstances.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Go Bob!

Hey, I just stumbled over the following rendition of several things the Libertarian Party's candidate for president favors. His name is Bob Barr, a former congressman. To wit:

– Ending the Iraq War, withdrawal of all American troops from all foreign countries.

– Ending the federal War on Drugs.

– Repealing the Defense of Marriage Amendment

– Repeal of the PATRIOT Act and Real ID.

In the main, Libertarians are at least partially insane (just have a look at their national platform) but they do have some really good ideas such as these. I'm all for these things.

A Pox on These People!

Well, they have done it again, these miserable, gutless Democrat bastards in the U.S. Senate. They have gone
passed a stripped down bill that gives the vile little fraud in the White House $110 billion more to fund the continuing obscenities in Iraq and Afghanistan. This new vote means the lawmakers have abandoned a $165 billion measure passed by both houses of Congress earlier in the week that contained domestic spending for increased veterans' benefits among other things. Bush promised to veto it and demanded a "clean" war funding bill, and damn if they didn't go and give him just what he wanted. Just what they have been doing ever since the Democrats won a majority in both houses two years ago.

The vote in the Senate on this latest abomination was 75-14. Which means the vast majority of the Democrats in the Senate--including such progressive stalwarts as Joe Biden and Diane Feinstein--voted with an almost solid bloc of Republicans to continue the war. Both Obama and Clinton voted against the measure. The 14 nays also included two Republicans, including to my utter amazement Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. Here are the fourteen senators voting against the bill:

Boxer (D-CA)
Burr (R-NC)
Clinton (D-NY)
Coburn (R-OK)
Dodd (D-CT)
Enzi (R-WY)
Feingold (D-WI)
Kennedy (D-MA)
Kerry (D-MA)
Leahy (D-VT)
Obama (D-IL)
Sanders (I-VT)
Whitehouse (D-RI)
Wyden (D-OR)

Now, I may be dumb as a frigging toad, but if Congress stopped supplying the money for this god-damned war, it would be over with. Problem is, very few members can summon up the balls to cut off funds for troops in the field. But how long do you think it would take the administration to come around if Congress got tough and exercised its constitutional responsibilities? The high crimes of this administration demand more than same old political dance.

Just for the record, I hated the first measure--the one that was abandoned--because it provided funds to continue the war at all. Here's the point: the war must end NOW. As far as I'm concerned, the war is not worth one more penny under any circumstances, and if I were in the Senate, that's the way I'd vote. Don't provide any funds for Iraq. Let the little moron in the White House figure out what to do about that problem.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


It struck me earlier today when I was adding yet another URL to my listing just how useful this community here's-a-site-I-thought-interesting-or-useful-enough-to-save tool (actually, I think the the shorter term is "bookmarks") is to me. And who knows how many other people might have benefited from my tagged sites?

I use and a number of other of these community collections of bookmarks for research all the time. Like any good idea on the Net, and I think was the first in this genre, there have been a number of imitators: Digg, Furl, reddit, and StumbleUpon to mention only the most popular alternatives. There's a fairly useful list right here.

Anyway, I got to thinking about what I've accumulated on the site over the 2-3 years I've been adding to it. So in my demented compulsion to dig into totally useless accumulations of data I discovered the following about the listing for "baysage". As of today, there's a total of 1,052 entries and 120 separate tags. It's quite likely that some of these sites have been taken down already. It's also likely that I'll never again go to many more of them. But I use frequently and in the meantime just perusing the list provides an excellent little guide to what I'm interested in, and in many cases the intensity of that interest. Of course only a tiny number of my interests would have just one tag. The whole point of is to cross-reference with the tags so that you can find that site again even if you have only the vaguest of memories, which naturally is a great feature for me. So here are all my tags, bundled under large descriptors and showing how many of my entries have a particular tag, all the way from "reference" with 258 sites to "WWII," "WWI," and "Oklahoma" with only one. Some of these are quirky. The ones labeled "most-popular," for example, are sites that over 1,000 other people also have on their tag list.

Click away. You might find something interesting.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

This Wretched War

I read today in the New York Times yet another story of this truly god-damned (in the Reverand Wright sense) war in Iraq. No matter what aspect of this horror is being discussed, it disgusts me to read it, hear it, or see it on TV or the Net. This particular piece by Timothy Egan focuses on how invisible the war is to the country and the damage that's been done to soldiers who survive the conflict and come home. Evidently suicide rates among them are soaring. Just in passing he mentions that this war has cost twice as much as WWI in inflation-adjusted bucks, and ten times as much as the First Gulf War. The vile little fraud in the White House whose hands are stained with the blood of hundreds of thousands of deaths in this war he lied through his smug teeth to get us into, including over 4,000 Americans killed and over 30,000 wounded, many of these crippled for life, shows his solidarity with the parents of the killed by giving up golf.
“I don’t want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf,” he said in a bizarre interview with Politico last week. “And I think playing golf during a war sends the wrong signal.”
Don't you love the way he refers to himself in the third person, "the command in chief"? He never lets us forget that he's got the power, does he? Don't forget he's also "the decider."

But I digress . . .

To me, one of the most horrifying aspects of this war is what it does to the people we send over there to do our dying for us. War debases people; it turns them into animals. Why aren't we being inundated with reports of the war crimes our own returning veterans admit? Check out the videos here. Why aren't we being shown pictures of the thousands of kids we're maiming and killing over there, like the picture of the little girl above?

Why aren't we out in the streets by the thousands saying NO to this criminal waste of life, money, and precious resources? Is it because we're as callous and criminal as the president and the war profiteers who see no reason for this nightmare to end? What has this war done to all of us?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Lay Your Money Down

There's a report today that a U.S. Appeals Court has ruled that the U.S. discriminates against the blind by the way it designs its paper money. Well, it's about time. It's been apparent to me ever since living in Europe and seeing how the rest of the world does money that the U.S. is once again provincial to the point of ridiculousness. I don't know of any other country whose paper bills are all of the same size and color. One of the things I wondered about while I was watching the movie "Ray" a few years ago was how Ray Charles knew he was being paid enough in those early days before he could afford to hire people to take care of things like that. I'm sure it's the same problem for every other blind person. (Of course, in the middle class world, credit cards are the thing. That's because the middle class is borrowed to the eyeballs supporting the country and their overstreched consumption since the moneyed classes don't pay anywhere near what they ought to.) The story says this decision could force the U.S. to redesign its paper money, either making bills of different sizes or raising the numbers and lettering on them. Good idea.

While I'm on the subject, where in the hell are the dollar U.S. coins? These things should be circulating freely and helping us all out. But they don't; they get hoarded. And why don't they circulate more freely? Well, apparently as long as the dollar bill stays in circulation, the coins are doomed. Moreover, there's all kinds of ambivalence about the coins among Americans. Check out the comments here.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Here Comes the Groom

OK. This gay marriage decision in California. It's raising the predictable shit storm across the blogosphere, and opponents of the court's ruling say they're going to push for an amendment to the state constitution to define marriage as being between a man and a woman. If you want to go read all about it, fix yourself a big pot of coffee, sit in a comfortable chair and Google "California gay marriage ruling" then search the blogs, too. I saw and heard all I wanted to see and hear about this on the Lehrer News Hour yesterday. I'm really tired of the subject, to tell the truth, and let me be straight out here (no pun intended) and tell you that a couple of seconds shot of two dudes kissing each other on the lips is enough for me. I thought the news story on the News Hour was a little over the top in that aspect of its coverage.

Let me make these observations:

  • First of all, I can't get worked up about this. If these people want to live together and say they're married, if they want to have a ceremony with their friends where the groom gets to kiss the groom, and the bride, the bride . . . well, have at it. How does this threaten anything at all, much less the institution of marriage as the religious right (what a misnomer) contends? Does the fact that some people put their money under the mattress threaten the institution of banking? And what materially is changed in California by this decision? Gay unions there are already thoroughly protected by the law. They just aren't called "marriages."
  • Second, the only reason I think there's any importance to this issue at all is that it will be whipped up into a slavering frenzy by the right, and they will try to make it a central issue in the coming campaign. It may not have the salience it did previously, though, because McCain is fuzzy on the issue, not foursquare on God's side like some other Republicans. His campaign issues site doesn't say anything about this. He's on record as saying this is a matter for the states to decide--same thing Hillary and Barack say, too--everybody's tiptoeing on this one--but he's against what the California Supreme Court decided.
  • The usual blather about "activist judges" is abroad again . . . "one judge" deciding the case and all that. These people ought to find out how the American constitutional system works.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Hmmmm . . . .

An experimental poetry effort. All the facts are from Harper's Magazine's "Findings" section of the past few months which reports findings from various scientific research labs and other studies worldwide. Selection, wording, and juxtapositioning are mine.

A One-Question Quiz

1. Human urine is excellent fertilizer for growing plankton in fish farms. Significantly better than cow urine, vermin compost, chicken droppings, or cow dung.

2. 40 percent of Melbourne’s prostitutes are college students.

3. What robots can do: navigate a 30-inch step and cross a 70-inch gap solely on native self-awareness; play the violin; solve Rubik’s Cube; eat snow and excrete ice bricks; recognize themselves in a mirror.

4. It takes a long time to tame a wild ass.

5. A Russian boy raised among birds speaks only in chirps.

6. Barnacles change the shape of their penises according to the choppiness of the water.

7. Survey results: children universally dislike clown wallpaper, find it “frightening” and “unknowable.”

8. The world’s dirt is disappearing faster than ever.

9. Physical scientists are less likely to believe in God than social scientists.

10. One-third of Americans Google themselves.

11. Snowflakes often form around atmospheric bacteria. France and Montana have the most germy snow.

12. Women’s butt fat can be used to grow new breasts.

13. Young mice separated from their mothers and fed junk food have less stress than orphan mice on healthy food.

14. Study results: whites in the ER are more likely to get narcotic pain relief than blacks or Hispanics; most free drug samples go to wealthy, insured patients; blacks receive poorer nursing home care than whites.

15. “Natural Viagra”: pomegranate juice, French maritime pine-tree bark, and poverty.

16. Butterflies and moths remember their lives as caterpillars.

17. Established: 4 percent of the earth’s oceans remain undamaged by human activity.

18. Cocaine-addicted rats have a love-hate relationship with the drug.

And now the question: is this a message, finally, or just another day?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Kicking It Down Under

What the hell is this? Good question, especially since I cannot get bigger image here. Well, what this is is a small fraction of the 1,840 people who stripped down to their bare booties for a photo shoot by the artist Spencer Tunick in an Australian soccer stadium. See all the soccer balls above? You might say they all reverted to their aboriginal state (har!) for the work. You can read the whole story here. I've always wondered why in the world someone would consent to take off all their clothes to participate in one of Turnick's pieces . . . but then upon further reflection, I think if he asked me to do it, I'd say OK. It's a real once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, no? How many could say no that?

I'm not sure what these works of art are supposed to be about or what they're saying, but there's something about myriad--meaning "a whole bunch" "a sizable crowd" "a throng without thongs"--naked bodies all in one place that's just downright thought-provoking (at least for me it is.) Thoughts like "what can these people possibly be thinking?" and "is this what constitutes naked truth?"

I can't help it: I have to show you another one.

This is on a college campus in Mexico City. 18,000 people. Is this amazing, or what?

Friday, May 9, 2008

I Do Solomnly Swear

OK. I've been holding up on this rant for a while now, but it's time to launch it. I am going to be teaching online for an institution of higher learning come fall, and along with the usual sheaf of papers to be filled out and filed back with the admin bureaucrats is one piece of paper that has to be notarized ($3 if you're not a customer of the bank, I found out). This is the Loyalty Oath by which I "solemnly swear" that "I will that I will support the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America and the Constitution and laws of the State of [my employment]." Are you kidding me? This is beyond outrageous, this is contemptuous, this is beyond belief in the United States. But, of course, there's no choice but to sign if you want the job (and I need the job).

How many objections do I have to this idiocy? Where to start?
  • The first thing that struck me was how the language of the oath would be interpreted. What exactly does "support" mean? Does this mean if I say some provision of either is "stupid," or "unenforceable" or "dubious" or "nonsense," will I be hauled into court for violating the oath?
  • Does anybody besides lawyers know what the state constitution says?
  • What chance would an obvious socialistic bastard like me (subscription to Harper's magazine, member of the ACLU, contributor to peace organizations, publisher of this blog, etc.) have in such a court?
  • What chance would anybody brought to court for violating this oath have?
  • How much does this muzzle teachers at this institution of higher learning from saying what they want?
  • Is there any conception of academic freedom at this institution?
  • How many other states require such an oath?
  • Has anybody ever tested this oath in court? (would obviously have to be somebody who has secured employment elsewhere)
  • There are some laws of this state that I will not support . . . like the draconian immigration law. Does this disqualify me from the start?
You get the point: this oath is about making sure that people teaching in the flagship university of this state say only what is approved by its conservative power structure. It holds a hammer over the heads of any dissident voices in a university, the very place where the voices of dissent ought to be welcomed, if not respected.

I can remember a time in this country when everybody defended somebody's right to say what they wanted, the right to have an opinion (unless you were black in the pre-1964 South, a communist, socialist, or pacifist). That was before we became possessed by fear. Those days are gone, brothers and sisters. America is going fascist before our eyes, and worse: with our tacit consent. We are but one more terrorist attack from giving over the tattered remnants of our liberties to our "protectors."

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

We've Been Corn-holed

About that world food crisis I was just talking about. Coincidentally, I just ran across an entry in James Fallows' blog that lays out several excellent reasons that the diversion of grain into ethanol production is stupid. In fact, the stupidest bi-partisan policy of the last 50 years by popular acclaim. Naturally, it isn't stupid for the beneficiaries: all the big corporate agricultural giants, who, in keeping with the policy of this administration, belly up to the trough of the hundreds of millions of dollars that we middle class saps have poured in there. And who lobbied themselves a fat subsidy for this stupid policy in that abortion of an energy bill Congress passed last year.
It's harmful because: 1) it helped to catalyze higher levels of food inflation, 2) it consumes as much energy to make and distribute as it provides, 3) it deflects attention from developing trying sound policies to enhance our energy security, 4) it didn't allow for removal of taxes on the import of truly energy efficient ethanol produced in Brazil from sugar, and 5) it's a such an extreme example of government disfuntionality it causes people like me to become truly disillusioned with the political process."

I would add on my own that, to my limited understanding, most of the money for ethanol goes to large corporate farms and trickles down and around through agro-business, with only minimal impact on small family farmers (the ones our politicians claim to support), making the whole venture politically disingenuous in addition to economically-unsound and environmentally dubious.
[Inspiration for the title of this little essay from a recent Stephen Colbert "Word" segment on The Colbert Report, an incisive, satirical, and hilarious TV show I never miss.]

Agribusiness Is Getting Fat Off Starvation

A dear friend send me this piece that lays out a very familiar tale for George Bush's America. I.e., corporations raking in obscene profits to the cost and on the backs of millions of regular people. This, my friends, is what you get from letting the market adjust things. Monsanto, Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland . . . all those big boys are making record profits. They think market forces are just ducky.

Now, the food crisis is the result of many things: increased demand for meat (read more feed grains for cattle) in China and India, a drought in Australia, record low world food stocks, the siphoning off of huge supplies of corn--up to a third of the U.S. crop--and grain for biofuels [and part of the reason for the obscene profits is government subsidies both in the US and Europe to the producers], and export bans have all contributed. But there's also been a five-fold increase in the past year in investment in grain and meat index funds. So food speculators have helped push the price up, too. Congressional hearings are going to be held, as if those milquetoasts are going to do anything about this.

Food riots are breaking out everywhere: Haiti, Yemen, Egypt, Somalia and other African countries, and other places. Know what I think? I think we ain't seen nothing yet.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Wind-Up Toy Soldiers

The last ten days have been among the most shameful in the history of American journalism.
So begins a piece by Arianna Huffington in today's Huffington Post. She decries the lack of media attention to the revelation by the New York Times Sunday a week ago about what can be described only as collusion between the Defense Dept and the tribe of so-called "military analysts" who beguiled us with their charts, maps, and expertise during the early days of the Iraq war. It seems these retired brass guys were specially schmoozed by Rumsfeld and cronies with special briefings and provided talking points on the Iraq situation. In other words, all these guys were primed and prompted by the Defense establishment to say exactly what it wanted them to say. So these guys dutifully trotted out Bush administration propaganda under the guise of unbiased expertise on military matters. Wind-up toy soldiers marching to their pre-programmed beat. This comes as no surprise to me. I was around the US military long enough to know what a duplicitous organization it is. I can remember how TV was full of testosterone chest-beating about the glorious US march to victory in the early days of the war. "Mission Accomplished" was right around the corner.

It also turns out that a large percentage of these mouthpieces are also lobbyists for various and sundry defense contractors, the bloated bastards who have and are still making obscene profits from the death and destruction in Iraq. Not to mention the billions upon billions they're getting for weapons systems still in development.

All of this dovetails with a very good movie I watched with my wife last night: "Lions for Lambs", a Robert Redford-directed flick (also with Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep) about Afghanistan conflict. Streep a TV reporter gets and exclusive one hour interview with Cruise, a high-flying GOP senator with his eye on the White House. Long story short: he advocates a "new" strategy to win the war, one that in Streep's eyes, seems destined to the same futile and bloody failure as all the previous strategies. The movie seems to bear this out. But . . . Streep's boss refuses to frame the story through her eyes, but rather insists that being a shill for the senator's views is the only correct way to go.

By the way, a lot of critics didn't like the movie . . . some explicitly damned it because it was more about ideas than characters. Well, there you go. Maybe that's why I liked it.