Monday, January 31, 2005


Here is an interesting battle between the Boston Red Sox Baseball Club and first-baseman, Doug Mientkiewicz. Mienky, by virtue of being adept with the leather, was acquired by the BoSox for the stretch drive and inserted at first base at the tail end of Game four, to help seal the sweep and the end of the 86-year curse.
As the rise of the memorabilia market makes such items increasingly valuable, baseball is being forced to confront the issue of who owns the otherwise interchangeable pieces -- the bases, the balls, the uniforms -- that make the game go. On the same day the Red Sox clinched the Series, the ball Barry Bonds hit for his 700th career homer sold for $804,129.
Usually, the ball is tossed into the stands, put into an equipment bag, or routinely handed to a player who reached a milestone that day. Rarely does the team's front office demand the return of the ball to the club. But lawyers agree that it is the team who owns the ball and not some schmo who takes it home and locks it up for safekeeping.
The ball (that Bonds hit) belonged to Major League Baseball until it was hit, and as it flew out of the ballpark it became "intentionally abandoned property." The first person who came in possession of the ball became its new owner. But that ball left the playing field; Mientkiewicz's was still part of the game when he gloved it. And he wasn't a fan who bought a ticket in the outfield arcade; he was a Red Sox employee in his workplace doing his job. That makes Mientkiewicz like a research scientist who makes a lucrative discovery at work. He's sure to get an attaboy from the boss, but the royalties and patents probably belong to the company.
An interesting tidbit: just yesterday, I learned that a friend of mine is the great grandson of former Pirate player/manager, Fred Clarke, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1945. I looked him up. He was the first of the so-called "Boy Managers", acting in his dual role of left fielder and manager for most of his career. His teams were always contenders, and he in fact was the losing manager in the first modern World Series played in 1903.

I asked my friend, John, if he had any paraphenelia from that era, and he began listing the stuff that had trickled down to him, one of which was the final ball of the 1909 World Series, the first-ever Game 7, which was won by the Buccos thanks to a remarkable complete game shutout by 27-year-old rookie, Babe Adams, pitching on two days rest.
MILLION DOLLAR BABY (A movie review) - Semi-Spoiler warning. I tried my best but may have given away too much.

Clint Eastwood is the greatest working star in Hollywood. Ten years ago that honor may have gone to Paul Newman, but he only co-stars in a few movies now. Clint stars and directs and this time even writes the music. Eastwood portrays his own vulnerability in a way that other directors might not attempt. He looks plain old in the way Henry Fonda did in the last ten years of his life and I say Fonda because Eastwood makes a face that reminded me of Fonda. He did this thing with his mouth that I saw Fonda do in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and ON GOLDEN POND. I’m not sure why it works but it made both of them look almost helpless. Fonda saves it for the last 20 minutes in “Once Upon a Time” when he realizes he’s being hunted by his own men. Eastwood shows it to us pretty early on here.

It’s been the unspoken conventional wisdom that Eastwood the director outshines Eastwood the actor, but Clint proves more than once in this film that it isn’t always so. I’m not surprised that he was nominated for best actor, because Eastwood the Director needed Eastwood the actor this time more than usual. You can’t teach a good actor to be a movie star, but sometimes a movie star teaches himself to be a better actor as he ages. Both Clark Gable and Paul Newman got better with age and the same goes with Eastwood.

It helps that Eastwood continues to give himself the kinds of roles where he seeks redemption. He blames himself for the Kennedy assassination (In the Line of Fire) or he has estranged children and he seeks reconciliation (Absolute Power, Million Dollar Baby). Way back in 1981 he played a drunken country singer that wanted to record an album before he died of consumption. In Heartbreak Ridge he redeems the loss in Vietnam by winning the battle in Grenada while winning back his ex-wife for good measure. In Unforgiven he balances the promises he made his dead wife with the realities of feeding his children. He’s the Astronaut in Space Cowboys that gets a second chance to go to space. In all of these movies he plays against the heroic action hero that we grew up with. He frequently shows naked vulnerability in a way that only an artist or an exhibitionist would attempt. Overcoming these obstacles makes him a different kind of hero than he use to be, but there is no doubt that he is a hero.

The Oscar nominations told me that this was going to be a serious movie, but I was pleasantly surprised with the way Eastwood used natural humor early on between his character and Morgan Freeman’s. Eastwood can be one of the most intimidating people in real life. I’ve seen his look scare interviewers and even Michael Moore didn’t talk any trash after he warned Moore to stay away from him. The humor here softens him up for the audience so when he gets tough with Hilary Swank later we know he doesn’t mean it. But I don’t think it’s just a device here either. Eastwood has always used humor in his films. Space Cowboys has running old age gags. In the Line of Fire has the joke of them ripping off their clothes and guns. True Crime has the race through the zoo. Even Dirty Harry had a witty catch phrase in each film.

Add the vulnerability and the humor and you have a real regular guy who also has the potential to be heroic. If you think about it, that’s a combination more recognized in romantic comedy than dramas and yet he always seems to make it work. It’s a treat this time too. Hilary Swank is everything she needs to be in the role. She shows guts, determination, and yet she never loses her innocence. Eastwood always picks good actresses over famous movie stars. He chooses Laura Linney and Marcia Gay Harden for roles when Hollywood would pick Helen Hunt or Gwyneth Paltrow.

But part of the effectiveness of Swank’s acting job here is that we see her through Eastwood’s eyes. She becomes the daughter Eastwood lost and we want her to win to please Clint. No one is surprised that she and the always interesting Morgan Freeman were nominated. But they shouldn’t be surprised for Eastwood either, because for as good as they are, it’s really a picture about an old trainer and how he comes to manage this girl.

There are certain moments in the film that will be played in Eastwood retrospectives. When Hilary Swank asks Clint to fix her broken nose so that she can go out and win the fight you cringe with the pain she must feel and see the love that Eastwood has for her at the same time.

One of Eastwood’s weaknesses as a director is that he doesn’t always get the proper payoff for his emotional moments. Space Cowboys plays as this geriatric romp which makes Tommy Lee Jones’ death surprising. They handle it by shooting him to the moon as some sort of last wish. It’s not the least bit believable in execution or emotion and yet it stands as some sort of attempt as a serious denouement.

In Mystic River, Tim Robbins' needless mistaken identity revenge murder doesn’t seem to bother the killer or the cop, though they were all kids together. Instead we’re left with his wife sadly wandering around in the middle of the street while life is normal for everyone else. The buildup between Penn and Robbins before the killing was such that it was for nothing if Penn doesn’t show some sort of remorse at the end and yet the moment is wasted.

Here the emotion seems to play out correctly all the way through. The tone seems consistent except for a few odd scenes with a priest. It’s the kind of movie where you’re happy for the characters and want to see them succeed.

One of the key points of the movie was how effort and persistence pay off. We see Hilary Swank work her way up from nothing through determination and hard work. It’s even more impressive when you meet her mother later who is angry that Hilary bought her a house. The mother is afraid that she’ll lose her welfare check. Later the same lazy mother is trying to money grub. Both scenes are great examples of Libertarian philosophy. The mother isn’t a victim of society, but a poor lazy fat old hag.

Our heroes struggle and yet win. Eastwood is estranged from his daughter, but he gets a new one. Freeman was blinded in the ring, but he’s still man enough to punch out a bully. Swank comes from poor lazy white trash and yet she has the spirit to win.

So it came as a complete surprise to me that Swank gives up at the end. The screenwriter penned a nice little speech about how she was only two pounds at birth and her daddy called her a fighter. The lesson she seems to learn from her life experience is that she should use her last dying breath fighting to give up. Her desire is consistent with the earlier libertarian philosophy of self-determination, but inconsistent with her life up to that point. If Swank was such a quitter why did she leave Missouri? Why did she train so hard to fight against the odds?

Was the ending intended to make a political point or was it a device so that we could see Clint struggle with his own heroism. Is Clint strong for giving her what she wants or weak for going against his own beliefs? I think the movie tries to have it both ways. Even his exile at the end is never explained as a punishment for immorality or a new lease on life. And I don’t think it’s meant to be ambiguous. I think you see Clint struggle to show what a good man he is and yet doing what he thinks is the wrong thing has no consequences for him. Just like Penn’s decision to off Robbins in Mystic River lacks reflection and consequences. Although it is preposterous that the authorities cannot locate Clint on his own property, you’re left with the impression that he’ll spend his life in safe seclusion.

I think it would have been consistent to have Clint worry over his mistakes and yet have Hilary be the beacon of hope as she had been all throughout the earlier part of film. It might not be a perfect life but Eastwood and Swank still would have had each other despite the negatives. Heroic people are capable of weak acts, but the script doesn’t even hint that she is being weak.

The more I think about it, the screenwriter must have wanted to make the point that her decision was heroic and not cowardly thus it should be legal. Now while you can make the case that her decision should be legal because of self-determination, the writer didn’t do enough explaining of why it was heroic. He seems to be saying “well this character is very heroic throughout and has done nothing un-heroic, therefore her every decision is by definition, heroic.” That’s no argument just manipulation by the screenwriter god.

I’ve got more thinking to do on how this could have ended better, but it’s too Eastwood’s credit that I can’t stop thinking about it. It's a film that shouldn't be missed by the serious moviegoer.

The State has been pimping us out for a long time by making us work so that they can spend our money on votes. They've taken it even further in Germany.
A 25-year-old waitress who turned down a job providing "sexual services'' at a brothel in Berlin faces possible cuts to her unemployment benefit under laws introduced this year.

Prostitution was legalised in Germany just over two years ago and brothel owners – who must pay tax and employee health insurance – were granted access to official databases of jobseekers.

The waitress, an unemployed information technology professional, had said that she was willing to work in a bar at night and had worked in a cafe.

She received a letter from the job centre telling her that an employer was interested in her "profile'' and that she should ring them. Only on doing so did the woman, who has not been identified for legal reasons, realise that she was calling a brothel.

Under Germany's welfare reforms, any woman under 55 who has been out of work for more than a year can be forced to take an available job – including in the sex industry – or lose her unemployment benefit. Last month German unemployment rose for the 11th consecutive month to 4.5 million, taking the number out of work to its highest since reunification in 1990.

The government had considered making brothels an exception on moral grounds, but decided that it would be too difficult to distinguish them from bars. As a result, job centres must treat employers looking for a prostitute in the same way as those looking for a dental nurse.

There are a many things I could say about Germany. I could talk about how their job protections laws cause this unemployment. I could talk about how bureaucratic procedure trumps the lives of real human beings. But most interesting is that Germany has found a way to discriminate against beautiful people. Unemployed German women now have a greater motivation to put on weight.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Iraqis defied violence and calls for a boycott to cast ballots in Iraq's first free election in a half-century Sunday. Insurgents seeking to wreck the vote struck polling stations with a string of suicide bombings and mortar volleys, killing at least 44 people, including nine attackers.

Officials said turnout among the 14 million eligible voters appeared higher than the 57 percent that had been predicted, although it would be some time before any turnout figure was confirmed.

44 people is a big number, but on the other hand, Zarqawi and that bunch did everything they could to stop this election and they could only stop 44. That people would vote anyway is a testament to freedom and self-rule. Ted Kennedy said last week that the U.S. was making the Iraqi situation worse and not better. He was also for letting the Russians have their way during the cold war. He also supported the Sandinistas who couldn't win the first free election in Nicaragua. What exactly about human freedom repulses Kennedy so?

While Kennedy might support his own personal freedom, but its clear from his own voting record that he doesn't trust people with freedom. Freedom is too random. People might choose to do something the Senator doesn't like. The Senator is in a much better position to know what's right for people. He's here to give it to them if they'd only listen.

Senator Kennedy is just the sort of person who'd aspire to be a dictator if he were born rich into a country without a constitution is strong as ours. As it is, he'll have to settle for 1/100th of the power in Senate that will continue to check and balance his every last utopian scheme.

We can afford Senator Kennedy as some strange throwback to a time when we thought the government must and should do everything for us. The captive people of the world under the oppressive boot are hurt more by his mouth than his fellow citizens. The funniest thing is that some day Sen. Kennedy will be dead and instead of pointing out how many times he was wrong in the course of human history, journalists will label him an idealist that strove to better the lot of mankind. They’ll forget his pessimism and the lack of vision. The elite won’t measure the results of his ideas, because they would have to re-check their own premises of the world. Kennedy’s mistakes will not be his fault. He was right, but strange quirks in history hurt his chances at success.

But in the far far future, Kennedy will be the guy who lived off his dead brother’s name to oppose many of the things his brother stood for. Jack supported civil rights in the language that everyone should be equal. Ted supports equal rights with voting that suggest that some are more equal than others. Jack was a cold warrior that was determined to beat the Russians. Ted considered the Russian victory inevitable. Jack lowered the tax burden on the American people to spur growth. Ted favored raising taxes in order to dole out money to who he thought deserved it.

History will remember Jack Kennedy as a guy on the right side of history and his brother as the twerp who never learned.

Here's a gem from Richard Roeper
Too bad Liam Neeson wasn't nominated for an Academy Award for his passionate performance in "Kinsey." For one thing, if Neeson lost on Oscar night, it would have been interesting to see the reaction from Neeson's wife, the actress Natasha Richardson.

Acting on a tip from a friend, I Tivo-played the moment in the Golden Globes when Neeson lost to Leonardo DiCaprio for Best Performance in a Drama. Richardson clapped and flashed a sunny smile, but even an amateur lip-reader could see what she said to her husband as DiCaprio headed for the stage: "F------ joke."

Not that I'm suggesting Ms. Richardson was bitter about Leo's name being called. Maybe she was talking about the selections from the dessert cart.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

BOOK REVIEW: THE MARINE CORPS WAY: Using Maneuver Warfare To Lead A Winning Organization (2 stars of 5)

An expansion of the seminal WARFIGHTING: The U.S. Marine Corps Book of Strategy: Tactics for Managing Confrontation. The problem: the expansion is not necessary. Warfighting is itself a masterpiece, one of my all-time favorites in any genre. I got it the first time. Like covering a classic song, there is no need for this reworking. I'm groovin' to the original and all these authors did was expose their relative weakness. In this case, less was more.


I watched the documentary clip that Tom linked and it reminded me of this. A conspiracy theorist should at least have a theory, rooted in something, not just a big bogus nothing.

Remember the claims by John Kerry and others of one million black voters disenfranchised in Florida during the 2000 presidential election? Peter Kirsanow, a black attorney and member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, says the commission's six-month investigation failed to find any evidence of black voter "intimidation." "Not one person was intimidated," says Kirsanow, "[or] had their vote stolen. There was no disenfranchisement . . . no truth to any of those allegations." According to columnist John Leo, contributing editor at U.S. News & World Report, "If an effort was underway to suppress the black vote, it clearly failed: 900,000 blacks voted in Florida, up 65 percent over the 1996 presidential election. That unexpectedly high total clearly strained the system, put pressure on officials and voters to move along quickly, and kept phone lines clogged when voter verification calls were needed."

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Larry Holmes wants to fight George Foreman

The rest of the article is pretty interesting too. Holmes is a pretty shrewd investor.
The assassin makes plenty of money from his business interests. Some might think that he needs to keep fighting to make some money, but he receives considerable income. He said over a lunch, “I consider myself a boxing executive,” (definitely not to be confused with the term “white collar boxer"). Among his many interests, all located in his hometown of Easton Pennsylvania, Holmes owns the Ringside Restaurant and Nightclub (above which the offices of Larry Holmes Enterprises), a five-floor office building, and several residential properties. Larry extended his holdings to Internet sports betting and gambling casino, and he endorsed a gaming machine, the “Larry Holmes slot machine.” He just keeps moving forward, and not all for the money. Larry actually makes $700,000 per year from the various enterprises. He made the game pay off. He plans to take on some of the old boys–for the right price. Bob Holmes, his brother, helps him run his real estate matters.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Color: Green
Message: "The money we're taking from your paycheck is somewhere safe, so don't worry, you're likely to get a lot of it back."

Color: Yellow
Message: "Improvements in health care are causing people to live longer and we had to give the old people a bit of your money. Don't worry, we'll find more money."

Color: Orange
Message: "Listen, about your retirement savings...uh...hey, do you want to watch some TV?"

Color: Red
Message: "You can feel good about knowing that the money you put into Social Security has helped a lot of needy seniors. A grateful nation thanks you for your personal sacrifice."

Maloney was at the innagural and interviewed some protesters on camera. Funny Stuff.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Evan Coyne Maloney

You may have noticed Brain Terminal linked on the left hand side of the page. It's the work of Evan Coyne Maloney. The New York Sun has an article on his upcoming film.

The hype unaccompanied by output says a lot about the room for growth in the conservative documentary community. But a number of those on the right expect Mr. Maloney's unfinished debut film, "Brainwashing 101,"to emerge as a breakout theatrical hit - or at least to make it to theaters, a feat few films of its political ilk have managed to achieve.

On the road with Mr. Maloney across the country, the viewer watches an economics professor from Mr. Maloney's alma mater, Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, explain to the filmmaker that most white students at the school are "unconsciously racist" and that much of the "cutting-edge" work in his field is "being done in feminist economics."

Mr. Maloney then turns his camera to the case of Steve Hinkle. A student at California Polytechnic State University, he was disciplined by school officials after posting a flyer promoting an upcoming speech by a black conservative who equated welfare and slavery. The school dropped charges against Mr. Hinkle only after a civil-liberties organization sued, saying the university was violating freedom of speech.

To top it off, Mr. Maloney interviews Sukhmani Singh Khalsa of the University of Tennessee, a Sikh convert who received a death threat by e-mail from another student angry over his conservative opinion pieces in the student newspaper. The university refused to punish the author of the e-mail, who called Mr. Khalsa a "towel head" and reportedly urged students to shoot the student in the "face."

"The problem on campus becomes who defines harassment," Mr. Maloney said in a recent interview with The New York Sun. "Who on campus is going to stand up to a multicultural office or a diversity office?"

'bout time

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

MOVIE ROUNDUP January 2005

Here are the movies I’ve seen since last time.

+CELSUIS 41.11 (2004) Documentary produced by Lionel Chetwynd, one of the few out-of-the-closet conservatives in Hollwyood. Chetwynd was also behind the Tom Selleck IKE film that showed on A&E last year. The main purpose of this film is to refute Michael Moore and type critics before the November election. The movie begins with interviews of the unwashed protesting in NYC before the Republican convention. They let and old leftist lady tell us that she doesn't mind dictators if they provide education and healthcare. That footage is cut together with scenes of some Mullah cutting off a guy's hands. The other genius play is cutting together Michael Moore insisting that there is no terrorist threat with the twin towers footage. The rest of the film is a refutation point by point about the war in Iraq and John Kerry's leadership ability. For this we get interviews from noted conservatives like Fred Barnes, Charles Krauthammer, Michael Medved (A Yale Classmate), and Fred Thompson. I liked it quite a bit but it seems to have lost its punch with the election over.

OCEANS 12 (2004) – is one of those sequels born out of box office expectations rather than compelling continued storyline. There are some good moments like a Bruce Willis cameo and Julia Roberts impersonating herself. The first movie had such a great cast that it was fun to see them again. It’s not difficult to figure out some “surprising” elements of the story and yet the central heist is so convoluted that you might as well wait for them to explain it at the end.

+ TOKYO STORY (1953) As I continue to make my way down the Sight and Sound list, I came across this Yasujiro Ozu film about a postwar Japanese couple that travel to Tokyo to visit their grown children. The children are busy. The oldest son is a doctor always on call. The daughter is a shrew that’s outwardly critical of her mother at every turn. At first the parents seem pathetic, but as we get to know them we realize it’s the kids that are missing a wonderful opportunity to know their parents the way we’re getting to know them. This is especially true when the mother spends the night with her war-widowed daughter-in-law that appreciates mama more than her blood children do. The movie was a great reminder of how we have but one set of parents and when they go we don’t get another chance to live those moments. Ozu does all of this with subtleties instead of mallets over the head. It’s even better on reflection than it was a few weeks when I saw it.

DARK DAYS (2000) - A documentary about a group of bums living in the Amtrak tunnels below Manhattan. Using plywood they have constructed these little shanties. They all have electricity and thus television and cooking capabilities. Some of these people are crack heads and others are just hustlers selling trash-rescued goodies on the street or recycling bottles to make money. Interesting, but it had no unifying point.

+THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (2004) – I’m not a fan of remakes, but Demme and company did a pretty good job here. Despite the movie critics looking for and finding Bush parallels, the criticism is really leveled at Democrats by members of the farther left. Senator Meryl Streep can say that her character was based on Peggy Noonan or Karen Hughes, but the director made sure she looked just like Hillary Clinton. Liev Schreiber is the decorated military hero that uses his accomplishments to fuel a political career (John Kerry). His father is a famous Senator that never reached potential (Al Gore Sr.). Though no political parties are named, and I even heard one critic claim that the mother and son were of different parties, it’s obvious from a political junkie POV that these people are Democrats. No Republican would give the speech that VP hopeful John Voight gives at the Convention. The company Manchurian Global (A way to use the 1962 title) was compared to Haliburton in the newspaper rags and that was probably their target, but Haliburton was on no-bid contracts under Clinton and that seems to be the point here too. The movie has a socialist bent in that we should fear corporations not governments, but its not a Bush hit piece like the critics wanted it to be. It was even entertaining if a bit hokey at times.

MEAN GIRLS (2004) The dialogue is a little wittier but the story is no better than average teenage comedies. There was a period in which Clueless, Election, 10 Things I hate about You, and Cruel Intentions gave teenagers meatier scripts, but those days seem to be over.

THE HUMAN STAIN (2003) A decent effort by the usually reliable Robert Benton, but I can see how this material was much better suited to Phillip Roth’s novel than it is to the screen. I think novels are more about the journey and movies are more about central conflict. Some movies can play the journey card, but they often lose the descriptive prose that made it work in the written form. The main character’s central secret would fit well inside your head, but it didn’t seem believable played out. In fact, the secret wasn’t big enough for a big movie bang, while I can imagine it being a shocker in print. It had some good moments and a wonderful cast, but it didn’t work for me as cinema.

MAKING OF THE MISFITS (2001) A rather pedestrian look at the making of the classic film that failed to be a classic.

+BOTTLE ROCKET (1996) Wes Anderson’s first film has the style that you’d expect and the Wilson brothers to remind you further. Scorsese said that it was one of the best films of the 1990s, and my guess is that he liked it because Anderson uses color and music much like Michael Powell does in Scorsese favorites, THE RED SHOES and TALES OF HOFFMAN.

+BROADWAY: THE GOLDEN AGE (2004) This was an interesting documentary about New York theatre from end the of World War II to the beginning of the Vietnam War. It was the pet project of Rick McKay, a PBS guy who couldn’t convince any network of its worth. McKay spent 5 years interviewing every surviving Broadway star of that era that he could find. There was a lot of interesting tidbits including a horde of cast members talking about a particular actress that one remembers today. We also got to see a lot of old rare footage of Time Square.

SOMETHING'S GOT TO GIVE (2003) Womanizer Jack Nicholson has a heart attack at Diane Keaton's house. Nicholson is dating Keaton daughter, the winning Amanda Peet. Keanu Reeves plays the Doctor Dude that mends Jack's heart and tries to steal Diane's. The movie's purpose is to get Nicholson to realize that he's supposed to be with Keaton and not those youngsters. It takes a rather long time for a comedy (a little over 2 hours) to get there. It's the kind of movie that casts faces in even small roles. Jon Farveau shows up at Jack's assistant for two scenes. Paul Michael Glazer (Starsky) shows up twice as Keaton's ex. I enjoyed it more than I would have predicted, but that doesn't mean that it's not predictable.

WILD BILL (1995) Quirky western directed by Walter Hill with Jeff Bridges as the famous lawman. The critics didn't think much of it and it the public didn't show up. Rather than a straight plot the movie contains a bunch of random scenes of Bill killing people and romancing Diane Lane. Lane's son feels that Bill did her wrong and he returns to get revenge. It's laughable as history, but Bridges is good and the supporters are good and it had its moments.

It took me a bit of research to realize that this story is for real. Hurtubise is an eccentric Canadian inventor-type, who years ago survived a deadly encounter with a Grizzly bear in the wilderness. He then set about spending tens of thousands of dollars over several years to build an impervious, yet flexible suit of armor which would allow him to go toe-to-toe with the big fella. His escapades in testing the suit and confronting a black bear were documented in the cult film PROJECT GRIZZLY, which Quentin Tarantino endorses as his all-time favorite documentary, but which is sadly absent from the Netflix roster.

Hurtubise took home a Nobel Prize in 1998 in the catagory of Safety Engineering for his invention. So what is he working on nowadays? Check out The Angel Light.

Monday, January 17, 2005

TILT – Original ESPN Series

The premise that a famous poker player is also a big cheater that needs to be taken down was interesting enough. Michael Madsen seems right for the part. The ingĂ©nues all look TV typical, much more time in the gym than in the card room. The first episode had an uncomfortable cameo by Daniel Negranu and TJ Clotier (will there be more?). Daniel did the talking and seemed natural, TJ looked as frozen as the professor on that episode of Gilligan’s Island.

The website gives away too many details like Madsen will eventually groom one of the youngsters and he will in turn date Madsen’s daughter. This could lead to soap opera territory soon.

One positive is that the little poker that did exist seemed creative. We get to see Madsen go up against one particular mark and Madsen psyches him out enough that the dude checks his set in order to let Madsen draw to his gut shot.

We also get to see the young phenom (compared in the show to Stu Unger) get over-anxious and push a hand too far and get booted from the tournament. I suppose we’ll get to see his continued growth as a player.

The young lady poker player is named Miami, because someone has to be named after a city.

The shady president of the Casino is nicknamed “Lowball” which I suppose is pregnant with meaning.

I don’t have the best expectations for this, but thanks to Tivo, I can record the first few and get around to deciding whether future viewing is worth the time.

Sunday, January 16, 2005


Lynette and I have been debating the American education system for nyon 2 years. She went to Japan a few months back on a Fullbright. These are her observations.
After reading your email on free education in the United States, I felt I could shed little light on the Japanese. What better place than this BLOG I’ve heard so much about? I wasn’t sure how to post this officially, so I’ve emailed it to you, and you can post it on my behalf.

I’ve been back for nearly three months, and I have to admit, I haven’t really discussed the ramifications of what we learned with anyone outside of the Fulbright experience. I think we all feel a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Japanese government for giving us the opportunity, and anything negative we might say in regards to their system would be considered disrespectful. This program provided a rare, insightful view into their culture. The people we met (from the Ministry of Education down) were open and honest with us -- a complete contrast of what is regarded and revered by the Japanese people.

After I read your email, I had to smile. Like most Americans, you are impressed with Japan’s math scores. Internationally, the United States ranks poorly in the areas of science and math. What are we doing wrong? What is Japan’s secret to success? These were the prevalent questions on my own mind as I entered into the whole experience.

Since we all know that politics and economics drive educational systems in the US, you won’t be surprised to learn it is the same in Japan. They have the same concerns: how to educate the people in a way that will maintain and promote a quality of life that is valued by all. They call it, "Zest for Life".

What you may not know is that Japan is having a population growth problem. Members of the Diet (their Legislative body) reported to us that if something did not change soon, the expected population by the year 2050 would be nearly one half of their present day figures. Since everyone from office workers to teachers are expected to work until at least seven at night, it’s no wonder. Lawmakers are seeking options for sending workers home earlier with financial incentives to the companies that comply. Most of our host families were led by men who commuted to work on Monday and returned home on Friday. Mothers now tell their daughters to find careers before having children. Schools are merging and closing in response to the phenomenon. They constantly analyze their own growth in comparison to China and Korea’s, and the findings don’t look good. All in all, most are dumbfounded on this issue.

Financially, the country survived the bursting of the " bubble" in the early nineties with flying colors. The reason? Japan is a country made of cash. You’ll find no talk of 401Ks or mutual funds. The average guy has no interest in the stock market, and most still save money the old fashioned way -- in the Japanese versions of piggy banks and under futon mattresses. More impressive, Japanese corporations own an admirable percent of our own stock market, and we were surprised to learn they are becoming a growing investment giant in land purchases in the United States.

Japan is a country that is still experiencing great shame and confusion after their defeat in 1945. What they do have, the United States helped build. The reason they spent so much money on the Fulbrighters (we figured almost $30,000 per participant) is their profound need to pay back a debt. At the end of WWII, the US placed thousands of Japanese into American universities to be educated as leaders in every industry -- engineering, communications, finances, and yes, education. Most everything we heard, from the politicians to the classroom students, were words of gratitude and admiration. No one we came across (administrators, teachers, and parents) could understand why WE would want to study THEM. Their questions touched us deeply, "Why do you want to study us when you have a far superior system?" Talk about surprise! They are taught at a very young age that the United States is their friend.

But the winds of change are upon them. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has held power since the 50’s. Don’t let the name fool you. They are more conservative than the most right-winged faction in our own country. They are made up of the oldest generation - some Representatives in their early eighties. The Democratic Reform Party (formed in the late nineties from smaller reform parties that were looking for ways to kick the door down) is nipping at their heels, and they were outraged at Japan’s decision to commit troops to Iraq. The DRP (we quickly learned that the Japanese love acronyms) smacks of the Democratic Party in the US with strong interests in the environment, social programs, and yes, avoiding war. In most meetings, I had to hold back my own conservative thoughts, as John Kerry’s name was hailed as the savior of the world (even from my own group -- of the 20 administrators and educators from the United States, only three were Republicans).

So, what about the schools? The country of Japan is 87% Japanese. Any comparison to our own, or any other country’s system for that matter, is nearly impossible. When asked, "Is teenage pregnancy a problem in your country?" A senator from the House of Counselors replied, "Yes, of course." As a nosy American, the teacher pressed. "Well, how is this problem dealt with?" Without reviewing her political correctness or even questioning the uproar she was about to create, she answered, "Abortion. But, this is not something that is discussed."

It is answers such as this that foreshadowed what we were to learn about Japan. What is not discussed as a problem is still a problem.

The United States reflects a poor education of students in the areas of math and science. We know this, because oddly enough, our country is able to do something the Japanese cannot: admit there is a problem. Our figures reflect every Latino, African-American, Eastern European, Back Woods Redneck, and Middle Eastern immigrant that goes to school. We would learn the same is not true for them.

You’ve probably heard about the suicides and tremendous pressure put on Japanese children to succeed in school. At every temple we visited, hundreds of prayers were hung asking for help with exams and entrance into the best schools. (We found this to be quite odd, as most Japanese are not religious -- another fallout from WWII). Their central government runs ALL of the public schools in Japan. Like the missals of the Catholic Church, you can expect to find identical units, textbooks, lessons, and even page numbers being covered from one end of the country to the other. Japan offers every child a free compulsory education through grade nine.

After that, it costs money -- a lot of money. If your child tests into the BEST high school, the government may subsidize, but should you not be so lucky, you can find yourself paying BIG money to keep your kid in a high school that is substandard (faculty and facilities). If your family can’t afford to send you to high school, you are done (at age 15). That is a LIFETIME of pushing people onto subway trains or promoting perfume scents at Tokyo Hands. In Japan, there is no such thing as a career change, and you cannot go back and "get your degree." There’s a lot of disgrace and embarrassment attached to these factors, but again, these problems are not discussed.

The high school we visited (an institution of average quality) was filled with kids who slept through class, never complied with the instructor‘s instructions, and in one class, the girls were using a curling iron during class. When we returned to Tokyo and met with teachers who had visited other prefectures, the reports were the same. We were in shock!

Japanese teachers told us that it was impossible to kick a student out of class (parents would never allow such a thing) and because parents rarely disciplined their children at home (they want to keep them from the sadness of being an adult for as long as possible), they are increasingly faced with teens who are (in American terms) "oppositionally defiant". Most go to "cram school" till 9:30 at night (as early as the third grade) two to five days a week to memorize formulas and definitions for the national exams, so school becomes a place they must go to get good recommendations.

WHAT??? Where were the superior math students? Well, again, look at the culture. Most shops do not use cash registers or computers. Kids are taught to count and multiply numbers with an abacus, and in every high school math class from Pre-Algebra to the highest Calculus, they are discouraged from using calculators. (also, girls are not expected to do as well in math -- but, that’s another story). From the days of the Samurai, the Japanese have used math games in everyday life, and often temple walls were filled with riddles that required logic and reasoning to solve. As Dave Bosso (our group leader and AP teacher from Connecticut put it, "All we’d need is 2000 years of cultural reform, and we too can be this good at math.")

Science is taught from a book, and again, those concepts are largely MEMORIZED in cram school. Most teachers agreed that students would have trouble knowing when to apply scientific theories or concepts -- a skill that would be taught in the university or the corporation for a very specific need. I had to wonder, could the average Japanese student pass the FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test), a test based on higher level thinking skills?

Those math and science scores you read about do not reflect nearly 1/4 of the students (we could only estimate with the absence of firm figures on this issue) in Japan who either never enter high school or do not pass their college entrance exams. We were confident that if we reflected similar statistics, we could easily compete with scores from high school graduates who applied to MIT or Yale.

Are they far superior in math and science -- absolutely. Are we hearing the entire truth? Absolutely not.

Here’s my prediction: Japan is on the verge of their own cultural reform. I figure they are where we were in the late 60’s, early 70’s. The young college graduate is getting angry that he worked so hard to pass exams, get into the best university, and he still can’t get a job with a "corporation" -- the driving force for most workers in that country. My own host family has an eldest daughter who did pass her exams and attends Sophia University in Tokyo. She wants to work for a corporation alright, Phizer, in America. She and her best friend are visiting us this summer -- they both want to go to New York to see a Broadway play.

The young are discovering music, art, and drama that are not found in Japanese history books. Since the language demands students to memorize some 10,000 Kanji characters before high school, students have no time to read for pleasure (unless you count anime). Literature is NOT part of any compulsory curriculum, and we met so many young people, instructors, and professors who were discovering titles like To Kill a Mockingbird and the works of Shakespeare. The country is vehement about peace and harmony, so I’m not sure whether to be thrilled or horrified for them. It will cause a great uproar if it happens.

There is an ancient Japanese proverb "The nail that sticks up must be hammered down." Trust me. That is personified in every aspect of the culture. We cannot compare ourselves to them because we are infinitely different. The last thing they need is to model themselves after us, and we can’t begin to solve our own problems with what works for them. The best we can both do is maintain a healthy respect for one another and call it a draw. (Well, that AND order Sake #12!)


P.S. - Thank you for taking the time on the DOE issue. It does give me a lot to think about.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

THE WINNING EDGE by Don Shula: A Book Review (1 star of 5)

Knowing what we know now but Shula didn’t know then, I wonder whether declaring that they had the winning edge was the main factor that caused the Dolphins to have the winning edge in 1972, their legendary perfect season. Psychology and neurology have recently taught us that our words (self-talk and conversational talk) have great power over how we feel, how we see the world, how the world responds to us, etc. The word center in the brain, unlike other brain functions, is said to directly influence the entire nervous system. Of course, philosophy and religion had been telling us that for a very long time, but it takes a doctor to make us listen.

Shula discusses how Csonka and Kiick shared an agent who held them out of camp jointly for bargaining power. Naturally this irked Shula. He fined them each $2,000 for being late to camp and made sure they paid it. Today’s players drop $2,000 at the strip club and never miss it. Considering how the end of Shula’s coaching career played out, it was probably the escalating player salaries and the change in mentality and balance of power that caused Shula to be the wrong coach for a new generation of players. This is even more the case today. You see that in Minnesota, for example, where Mike Tice has his hands full with Randy Moss, but what’s a coach to do? Or with Lawrence Phillips, a repeat criminal who was given chance after chance. Shula had power. Tom Coughlin has the same approach today but not the same power. It’s a different set of dynamics. Sort of. Shula says boo hoo, the most he ever made in his 7-year NFL career was $9,700, but compounded at 4% annual growth for 45 years, that’s $454,000 – not a bad living, but a far cry from the millions players earn today, some of them even before they ever take the field, and before endorsements and incentives.

Incidentally, the agent was employed by Mark McCormack’s group in Cleveland. McCormack was a sports marketing pioneer and his books I do recommend. McCormack’s work with Arnold Palmer put golf on the map and paved the way for Tiger Woods some decades later.

I follow the Steelers pretty closely and I can see some Shula in Bill Cowher’s program. For example, Shula was unusual for stressing the importance of off-season conditioning. He expected players to show up ready to play. His players hated but understood the “gassers” Shula would make them run on the first day of camp – wind sprints designed to test the players’ endurance and separate the conditioned athletes from the unconditioned. Cowher conducts a similar “run test” on the first day of camp. I remember a few years ago, former first-round pick Jamain Stephens showed up fat and weak at camp. His wife had had their first baby and he discovered Sun Chips and late night TV or something. He failed to finish the run test and Cowher cut him that very day. Stephens had started 10 games the previous season under Cowher. Now THAT will send a message to the team about why you play, how you prepare, and how disrespecting your team will cause you to have to find another team. Stephens did find another team, actually two, but has only started four games since 1999.

Shula repeatedly remarked how intelligent Bob Griese was and how he stuck with Griese early in his career because of his mental gifts, not his physical gifts. Obviously that paid off, and continues to – Griese’s son is now an NFL quarterback. You could say the same about Archie Manning – his mental gifts helped him outperform more “talented” quarterbacks, and his mentoring of Peyton and Eli is paying clear dividends, although some criticize Peyton for his purely analytical approach to the game. They would like to see him jump around once in a while after a big touchdown. But if I have one big game to win, I’ll take the technician. I have seen too many games won and lost by one team outscheming the other in their game planning or taking advantage of a specific vulnerability on a particular big play. In the Steelers’ December 12 victory over the Jets, for example, they ran Bettis off right tackle in a certain situation. In a similar situation later in the game, they ran the play out of the same formation, which pulled the linebacker in and allowed Bettis to throw a TD to the tight end. Later in the game, at the same spot on the field, they ran the play a third time. The previous throw loosened up the defense and Bettis ran it in for the clinching score. I’ll take that kind of methodical game planning and situational execution over a Mike Vick who can run around and make plays. Manning’s 49th TD pass was a good example of a methodical QB who assessed the defense, nodded at his receiver, and threw to a spot before the receiver had even made his break. That pass was a thing of beauty, made possible by understanding the other team’s tendencies and understanding how to exploit them.

Disappointments: It was clear that the ghost writer wrote the book. Much of the book is garden-variety recaps and reflections on each game of a season, as if lifted directly from the Miami Herald or post-game quotes. Also, the author’s accounts use vocabulary that writers use but coaches don’t, like “gridiron” for example. The author refers to the thousands of “Miami Dolphins’s fans” who welcomed the team back home from a Christmas Day win. What Dolphins fan would ever say Dolphinses? I got the feeling the author was not a big football guy.

The biographical section was very shallow. Hungarian immigrant, mom didn’t want him to play football, got a scholarship to John Carroll University, and on to his playing days, all in the space of a few pages. Tell me about your childhood, your formative influences, your playing years, your triumphs and disappointments, why you always wanted to coach... I got the impression Mr. Shula is not an introspective kind of fellow. That impression was magnified by his sharp recollection and outing of everyone who had ever said anything bad about him, and how he got them back.

I was looking for some deep insights into the psychology, the craft, of coaching. After all, Shula inherited a Dolphins team in 1970 that had never had a winning season, and in 1972 they made history at 17-0. The payoff came in the form of his “Winning EDGE”: E for Extra study, D for Determination, G for Gassers, and E for Extra effort. Oh happy day.

Point of interest: I never realized that Garo Yepremian’s oft-replayed botched field goal, where he recovers his blocked kick and feebly tries to throw a pass, which is intercepted and returned for a touchdown, took place in the Super Bowl at the end of Miami’s perfect season with the Dolphins nursing a 14-0 lead late in the game. Shula explained his reluctance to attempt the field goal, since the only bad thing that can happen to you at that point in the game is a blocked FG returned for a cheap TD, which is exactly what happened. He explained that soccer-player Yepremian had never been told to fall on the ball in that kind of situation, which was a failure in coaching, not a failure on the kicker.

All in all, pretty dry, pretty tame, and exceedingly boring. I skimmed most of it. It was billed as a tell-all but is not very spicy by today’s standards. After all, he still had to go back and work for the same owner and coach the same team after they read his book. It read more like the “All-Pro Heroes of the NFL” paperbacks that were common in those days.

The last few sports books I've read have been disappointing. Any recommendations?

Addendum: I looked up author's Lou Sahadi's credits at Indeed, he made his living churning out such mass market paperbacks as Pro Football's Gamebreakers; Ken Stabler and the Oakland Raiders; The Steeler Gang: Bradshaw, Harris, and Their Super Teammates; Basketball's Fastest Hands; The 49ers, Super Champs of Pro Football; Steelers! Team of the Decade; Broncos! The Team That Makes Miracles Happen; The L.A. Dodgers, The World Champions of Baseball; All-Time Basketball Stars; and Great Pro Running Backs. Today's equivalent is the special commemorative Sports Illustrated offer that appears after every major sports championship.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

So the lawyers hired to independently investigate CBS have a lawyer/client relationship with CBS. Presumably, as a senior member of that firm, Independent Review Panel Member Richard Thornburgh also has CBS as a fiduciary client. Thus, unlike similarly named government independent investigations — this one is paid for by, and carried out on behalf of, the target of the investigation.

The foregoing is not meant to impugn the integrity of Mr. Thornburgh. He is a man of proven integrity. But it is meant to try to determine what his ethical obligations required of him. If CBS is his legal client, then he has an ethical obligation to represent CBS's best interests — and certainly to minimize any exposure CBS might have to legal liability for their conduct.

So, for example, if CBS's own hired lawyer, Mr. Thornburgh had found that the document in question was actually a fraudulent Department of Defense document, or that anyone at CBS subjectively believed the document was fraudulent before they used devices of interstate commerce to broadcast it, he might have exposed CBS to criminal and civil liability on both forging government documents and wire fraud charges. The Thornburgh/Boccardi Report makes no such conclusion, although it does present facts that might lead a reasonable person to reach such a conclusion.

The two greatest dangers to CBS coming out of the September 8 broadcast were that it would be found that they: 1) knowingly broadcast fraudulent Defense Department documents, and 2) were motivated to do so because they are biased against George Bush and the Republican Party.

And it was on those two vital points that the Thornburgh Report failed to come to a conclusion. The report's concession of bad journalism merely conceded the undeniable. That fact had been apparent to most of the public and virtually all of the major news outlets by about September 10. Conceding bad journalism was merely a belated bow to undeniable reality. They couldn't possibly have conceded less than they did.

But the "Independent Panel" provided one more service to CBS. It showed the report to CBS executives before it released it to the public. Thus CBS was given a public-relations crises management expert's dream — the extraordinarily valuable opportunity of simultaneously announcing the report's findings and CBS's corporate response to the findings — which was to fire key executives and producers below Mr. Rather.

Thus, there was no headline this week stating that CBS admits documents were a fraud or caused by partisan bias. Instead, the headlines in papers as diverse as The New York Times, The Washington Times and The Washington Post were all the same: CBS fires 4. That headline was followed by the finding that CBS's journalistic standards had been deficient. As they say — that's old news.

Monday, January 10, 2005


Asked to resign were Senior Vice President Betsy West, who supervised CBS News primetime programs; 60 Minutes Wednesday Executive Producer Josh Howard; and Howard’s deputy, Senior Broadcast Producer Betsy West. The producer of the piece, Mary Mapes, was terminated.

The correspondent on the story, CBS News anchor Dan Rather, is stepping down as anchor of CBS Evening News.

“We deeply regret the disservice this flawed 60 MinutesWednesday report did to the American public, which has a right to count on CBS News for fairness and accuracy,” said CBS President Les Moonves.

Credit Powerline and the Blogosphere for this one.

Michelle Malkin has a good take on this.

The Weekly Standard wonders why its so hard to prove the bias.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005


Andrew McCarthy writes of the nonsense of giving terrorists POW status.
on Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Gonzales. Critics are urging committee Democrats to question the nominee aggressively on the benighted administration policy of no Geneva protections for terrorists whose lives are singularly dedicated to annihilating Americans. Fair game, one supposes, but no senator should be allowed to take up the torch without at least answering a simple question: Do you favor a treaty with al Qaeda?

The inarguable, inconvenient fact is we have no such treaty. Al Qaeda is not and, indeed, cannot be among Geneva's high contracting parties. It is not a country. The U.S. has for over two decades expressly rejected a treaty — the 1977 Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions — that would have vested terrorists with Geneva protections. I hate to spoil the party, but if we're going to have such a treaty with al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, it will have to be a new one.

Under Article III of the Constitution, the consent of two thirds of the Senate's membership is required before a treaty can be approved. Although we haven't yet been able to arrange getting President Bush and Emir Zarqawi together for a signing ceremony, getting the senators on record — especially given the caviling over Gonzales — could really get the ball rolling. So let's ask them. All of them. Plain and simple, so the folks back home know just where you stand: Do you favor a treaty with al Qaeda?


Maybe USC would have clobbered Auburn too, but Oklahoma's weak effort makes one wonder how valuable the pre-season polls are. Although Auburn had a tougher schedule, they were penalized by beginning the season in the teens. Sportswriters made it impossible for Auburn to be recognized for their 13-0 season.

It shouldn't matter where you start but where you finish. It's un-American to allow kingmakers to pick champions when the champion can be decided on the field. Until college football develops a playoff system the sport is merely an exhibition of random teams and not a true competition looking for the real McCoy.

Boggs is automatic with his 3,000 hits and lifetime OBP of .415. The case for Ryne Sandberg seems to lie in the Ozzie Smith area of great middle infield glove man who also put up numbers we hadn’t seen at 2B with 282 homers and a .285 batting average. Other than the HR his numbers are equivalent to Don Mattingly who was a great defensive 1B. One year Mattingly turned something like 50 363 double plays. Mattingly probably never makes it unless through Veterans committee chaired by Mike Pagliarulo. Nowadays it's not strange to see SS and 2B with power. Sandberg was rare.

Jim Rice seems to be a tweener. Though he didn't put up numbers mirroring the steroid kids currently check-swinging homers, I remember him as one of the most dominant sluggers of his time period. He career slugging percentage is .502. He needed 18 homers to reach 400 and that may keep him forever outside.

Andre Dawson has the 400 homers but isn't doing him any good. Maybe it was the way he promised to enter the hall under the uniform of the last team that let him play. Too presumptuous.

Rich Gossage threw 90 innings or more 5 times as a reliever. How many closers do that today.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


article in today's Wall Street Journal on how America goes around doing good, and how people have to notice. But surely Bush also has strategic and political motives for calling in two former presidents to appeal for cash donations (using your opponent to rally your own base -- splendid!), dispatching Colin Powell and another Bush to survey the wreckage (remember, Florida, the President loves you!), and partnering with Japan, India, and Australia to lead the relief effort (making manifest the UN's posturing, slow-moving bureaucracy, and general irrelevance).

There are times in life when we are all called to stand up and chose sides in the great moral struggles of our time. What the people of Southeast Asia are seeing is that in a region al Qaeda has been actively targeting, it is America that is standing up when it counts. It's hard to see how that Bush policy will alienate the very people al Qaeda seeks to dominate. Quite to the contrary, it is the American system--free people governing themselves--that is now standing shoulder to shoulder with those who have lost nearly everything.

Here a blog with a lot of examples.

Monday, January 03, 2005


David Broder thinks so.
What has been missed by most of the historians and political scientists is the fact that political conditions in Washington began to decline in 1971, the year the baseball Senators decamped for Texas and became the Rangers.

Baseball was the tonic that soothed Washington's nerves. After a hard day in the Senate, members on opposite sides of the foreign aid bill debate could repair to Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, 22 blocks away, knock back a few beers and watch Frank Howard pound the stuffing out of the ball. By the same token, disgruntled bureaucrats, bloody from fighting to save their pet programs from the fiscal surgeons in the Bureau of the Budget, could sit in the stands and enjoy the sight of Camilo Pascual baffling the Yankees with his curveball.

That tonic has been missing from Washington lo these many years, and look at the mess we are in. The city and its resident politicians now fixate on football's Redskins, who play only eight home games a year -- and in one of the ugliest stadiums ever constructed, with no certainty except that the traffic will be maddening on the way in and worse on the way out. And you wonder why the atmosphere is poisoned by anger and frustration.
National Review's Predictions for 2005